Non-Fiction by Adjeiwaa A-Adem
Those first few years are but a blur. Your every need provided, your every wish their command. Everyone coos over you, and while you may do things wrong a lot of the time, no one holds it against you. When you’re sad, everyone wants to know why. They might go out of their way to cheer you up, babbling silly sounds and making silly gestures. If you’re Ghanaian; they might even sing you a song. Something that goes a little like
Maame diɛ ɔnpɛ su
Sɛ osu’a na ɛkɔm n’ɛdi no
Mo ma ne kooko, mo ma ne nufuso
Mo nsɛ no kɛtɛ mma ɔnda
As for Maame, she doesn’t
If she cries, then she’s hungry
Give her porridge, give her milk,
Lay her a mat, let her sleep.
Those four lines are enough to make you smile. You don’t know what they mean but the rhythm of the song makes you happy, or perhaps it’s just gas, and if they’re lucky, it eventually puts you to sleep.
The Early school years
Mummy loves you, but someone has to bring home the bacon. Besides, her little angel needs an education, so they put you in school. You learn your ABCs, and how to differentiate between the kicking ‘k’ and the caterpillar ‘k’. Mummy is happy; her little angel knows her letters. But that’s not all you learn, you learn your numbers, maybe in a song. You also learn some poems, and you while away the rest of the time with catchy little songs, one of which might be something like
How much is that doggie in the window,
the one with the waggly tail?
How much is that doggie in the window?
I do hope that doggie’s for sale.
Those songs make you happy, there’s not much that makes you sad. There are a few altercations, perhaps a shove from that unruly boy the teacher seats next to you. You start to learn that actions have consequences, but still, no one holds much against you. Your world is one of hugs and kisses, and something as little as a print of your hand on paper makes you a superstar.
The Middle School Years
There’s less rhyming and singing. Drills and exams are becoming a thing. The hugs are a little less frequent. You’re still a superstar but it takes a little more effort from you to fill people with awe. Your mum’s friends still hear about your exploits, everyone must know how awesome her little angel is. You’re still learning things, arithmetic and English, with science as a side. You learn all kinds of songs; not as many as before, but your artillery is full of hymns and marching songs for morning assembly. You like it when you march to
Oh when the saints, go marching in
Oh when the saints go marching in,
Oh Lord I want, to be in the number
Oh when the saints go marching in.
You like it even more at break time when you get to play with your friends. You’re always on Afia’s team for Ampe, everyone knows ostraighty always wins.
The Early teen years
Lessons have gotten harder, and there is a lot more they expect you to remember. Everyone is concerned with preparing you for some exam or the other. Frankly, you can’t be bothered, you would much rather read your Baby Sitters Club or R. L. Stine. Amidst it all you notice everyone’s body is changing, well…everyone’s but yours. The boys have grown taller, and the girls, well the girls have boobs. You? You’re still the same as before, standing at the front every morning because, well, shortest in front.
Westlife is all the rage now. They call it cools and everywhere you turn someone seems to be playing a Westlife song. You like
Uptown girl, she’s been living in her uptown world,
And now she’s looking for a backstreet guy…
You like Queen of my heart even more because although you act tough, deep down inside, your foolish heart likes to pretend your crush is singing…
until that day…you know you are, the queen of my heart.
It is with more than a little distress you realise you’re not your crush’s crush. All the attention you hoped he would lavish on you, he’s giving to Judy. Your budding boobs are no match for her humongous pair. Suddenly you’re more like
Can’t believe that I’m a fool again
I thought this love would never end
How was I to know, you never told me..
You’re singing all these Westlife songs, each one more poignant than the next. Never mind that they’re only covers, you’re still crushed when the group disbands.
You don’t know it but years from now you’ll be cruising down the motorway with (a different) him, hand in hand belting out old Westlife songs. In that moment it just feels right. You’ll be laughing at the cheesiness as he pretends to serenade you with songs you once called cools but most of all, you will just be overwhelmed by how much love you feel for this person you’ve only known for a short time.
Before you know it, you’re in high school. The boarding house you’ve heard so much about. The night before your first day you can’t sleep because of all the excitement. You’re proper grown now! Your first night in the boarding house comes as a bit of a shock. These seniors seem to think you’re there for their amusement. It’s not at all what you expected. It’s a race for water in the morning and then a race to finish your duties on time. You’re half-dead by the time you sit in class for first period but you take your notebook out anyway. Fridays are your favourite days…not just because it’s the weekend, but also because it’s entertainment night. No matter how bad a week it’s been, you can lose yourself for two hours, watching others pour their heart and soul into dancing to…
Sean da Paul say
Well woman the way the time cold, I wanna be keepin’ you warm
I got the right temperature fi shelter you from the storm
You watch from your seat as they wind their waists and transition smoothly between moves. You move your shoulders to the music, revelling in a fantasy world where you’re able to make the same moves when you leave your seat.
You’ve seen it happen time and again, your strongest friends losing themselves to the monster that’s heartbreak. So, you vow not to do it. At least not anytime soon. You’re content to be the shoulder everyone cries on. The price of those few moments of happiness is just too damn high. Until, one day, there’s a boy. No matter how much you tell your heart it’s a bad idea, it goes and falls anyway. Contrary to your expectations you are happy, happier than you have ever been.
808s & Heartbreak
For a long time, everything is perfect, until suddenly it’s not. Your playlist is a mix of Sam Smith, Ed Sheeran, and Adele. You’re not physically ill, but the way your heart hurts you might as well be. When you’re with people you watch and wait for a time when it’s acceptable to make your excuses. You’re in a hurry to get back to your warm bed and your playlist. It’s as if your heart can’t decide whether you’re sad or angry. One minute you’re:
we are never ever ever getting back together!
other times it’s:
turns out freedom ain’t nothing but missing you
wishing I realized what I had when you were mine…
You don’t think it’s possible but eventually your heart does heal. Soon, you met a different him. The one to make all your past failures seem irrelevant and make nostalgia feel like child’s play. There are moments when you can’t believe it happened, and yet, here you are. You want to shout it out from the roof tops, but you can’t, and you feel like
Superstitiously, I’m watching my words, all of my words, now
Like a birthday wish, I don’t say it out loud, never out loud and
I want to tell everyone, scream it at the top of my lungs,
But I’m whispering, ‘cos I don’t want to jinx it.
The years have flown past. You don’t know when it happened but you’re an adult now. Or at least that’s what everyone tells you. Little children call you ‘miss’, regardless of how many times you try to get them to call you by your first name. Older people ask you about marriage plans. In your mind, high school was just yesterday but the continuous parade of your friends’ weddings and babies say otherwise. It feels like everyone grew up while you weren’t looking. Everyone seems to have it figured out while you look on from the fringes, not sure how to get into the club. When Adele sings
…Oh, I’m so mad I’m getting old
It makes me reckless
You can’t help but identify. You don’t quite feel reckless but you’d very much like to go back to the time before you realized you were getting old. You’d like to press pause on time while you figure this business out. It’s hard, but you keep moving anyway. On days when you’d rather stay in the comfort of your bed, you go out and face the world.
You don’t know what the future holds. Sometimes, you wish you had a time machine, some way of propelling yourself ahead. You would very much like to see how your little every day actions become. Other times, thoughts about the future overwhelm you and the feeling builds and builds until it feels like a wave that’s about to crash over you. On those days, you have to remind yourself to
…Just keep breathin’ and breathin’ and breathin’
Eventually, you come to realize that…
You don’t have to try any longer…
You go ahead and let your hair down, comforted by the thought, that…
You’re gonna find yourself .
How much is that doggie in the window? – Patti Page
When the Saints Go Marching In
Uptown Girl – Westlife
Fool Again – Westlife
Temperature – Sean Paul
We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together – Taylor Swift
Back to December – Taylor Swift
Jinx – DNCE
When we Were Young – Adele
Breathin’ – Ariana Grande
Put Your Records On – Corinne Bailey Ray
Originally published August 10, 2021