Fiction by Nunya-Nelike Apetsi
In Our Minds
She lay outstretched on the bed that should soon be her death bed, her head on the pillow which had now become a companion for her numerous thoughts. She looked pale and fragile. Old age had already caught up with her. Her once tough black skin was now dehydrated; a pale brown shade of its original color. The deep lines of wrinkles that defined the outline of her face proved that she was old. Very old. It’s a shame she had no record of her actual age. All she knew was that she was born in the early days when the ingrisi people had just arrived in the Gold Coast. That was how much old she was.
Today, she was thinking about the Great Past like she always did. She thought of the ingrisi people and how they deceived them. They feared them. But what could they do? They worked tirelessly for them every single day. The ingrisi people threatened them. There was this particular man. He always stood in the middle of the town square and held a gun as he watched them work. He seemed never to get tired, and the fathers and grandfathers worked hard afraid of the white man and his big gun. They never knew this man was just a statue. Ridiculous! But to her, it was not funny, because her own father was one of the men who worked for the statue.
Then there was sukuu. Oh how the mothers cherished sukuu! They all strived to send their children there. She went there too. At least she could boast of about three years in sukuu. She knew her ABCs and her 123s very well. It was unfortunate she had to stop even before she got midway. But again, it was the fault of the brɔfo people. It was their papers. The papers they demanded in exchange for everything. They called it money. No one could just exchange a few goods in peace. And then there was the church. The church with all its doctrines and principles. The principles they were expected to follow on a daily basis. For which the mothers and fathers will kill them if they went astray. She loved the church and the faith. It made sense. In a way. It was so unlike the gods the village folks worshipped. Those gods made no sense. They could not walk. They never spoke. And worst of all, they were forced to waste good food on them. Food like etɔ and pito. Food they never ate. And the food always went waste while the children slept hungry. Such a pity! The church came to save them from all that. And they loved the religion. It gave them a sense of unity and the protection of an unknown God. It intoxicated them and healed them from the pain and destruction of the brɔfo people. Indeed, religion was their opium, their tramadol. The bad thing about the church was its numerous laws. They turned against them like karma on her period. Once, she was sacked from the church for allegedly sleeping with an elder. She knew it was a lie. Deep down, she knew. And it pained her. A streak of tear drop run down the sunken pits of her eye sockets, down her temple, and unto the pillow as she remembered the open disgrace they put her through. Since then, she vowed. She vowed to leave the church. To be an atheist. The last time she ever went there was the day she married Mensah. Mensah! The love of her life. She needed the church’s approval in marriage before any man could ‘enter’ her. And she couldn’t wait at that time. All the newly married girls talked about how good it felt to be ‘entered’. After Mensah died, she shut the doors of her heart. Locked securely with grief, and panic and loss. And then she lay down, ready to be snatched by the cold hands of death into the presence of the love of her life. She was a historian, a legend, the oldest living custodian of the happenings of the Great Past. She herself knew that all the information she had seen and stored could never be compared to all the books from archeology to zoology in the Balm Library of Ghana. That is why she was never bothered to be her own source of entertainment; to pick an incident out of her own bookshelves of memories from her very own mind. And today was just like one of those days. Except that she knew today was the day when she’ll finally stand between the crossroads of life and death. So she chose to close dockets on her thoughts of the Great Past by reminiscing on its last event; independence.
Yes, she knew they will leave one day, those brɔfo people with their ingrisi, and yes indeed, they got a god to fight for them. That man. She smiled to herself as she remembered him. He was tall and lanky with that smooth black charcoal skin she herself was proud of. And a forehead as wide as the length and breadth of Adomi bridge. They called him Nkrumah. He saved them. He sacked the brɔfo people away. But one thing bothered her. It was this kwelenialisin they talked about. She heard her father and her grandfather talk about it. It was one of the products churned out of the gossip mill of the women by the riverside every morning. They feared it. Even her. Those brɔfo people. They wanted to make them a replica of themselves in every way. Every day, they brought new things that changed them from who they really were. Once, it was even rumored that the brɔfo people had planned on pouring a strong acid on them that will remove their beautiful black skin and make them like a swarm of white locusts in the rainy season. Just like them. This kwelenialisin. It was like the Holy Spirit that the church people spoke in hushed tones about. The brɔfo people left, but their kwelenialisin remained. It was in everything they did. She lived to see the days she always feared. They no more ate in fresh green leaves and clay pots. They used strange items that made irritating noises. Akweley treasured them like her very life. She called them utensis and cutlassery. But what was their use when they broke every time they met the floor? Oh the floor! That was another thing. She remembered when they used to spread fresh red clay on the floor every krisimast back in the days. Now the floor was different she saw herself in the floor every day and it frightened her. It reminded her of old age and death. Now who had time to go to the river side and chit chat while they fetched good water? The children were too busy with the glass plates. They were always touching it. She could see they loved the glass plates. Sometimes, they will put it on their ears and talk to themselves and laugh happily. Madness! And their father, Akwetey. He had a bigger glass plate. He’ll put it on the table and stare at it all day as he pressed furiously on some knobs on the table. Hmmm. Awo kwelenialisin! She was not surprised, just sad. She knew all this will happen someday. If kwelenialisin was a person, she’ll call it here for a handshake. It had come far. Very far. She shook her head as she saw Akweley walk into her room. She was a pretty girl. Round face with deep dimples. She had straight, well defined breasts and a lower body that looked like an elegant water gourd. Slim waist with wide hips and pointy buttocks, with good calves to support child bearing. She was the definition of a woman. And although Akweley was her great granddaughter, she always reminded her of her own youthful self. But what bothered the old woman was all the paint on the young lady’s face. Her face looked like the Ghana flag they all adored at first sight. She always wondered if the younger lady went to work or for a clown and puppet comedy show. And the hair. It was strange. Last night, Akweley had short hair braided in neat corn rows. Today, her hair was long and flowy, almost touching her calves. How does this woman grow such a voluptuous amount of hair in one night? And her skin. Oh God! Her skin. She was sure Akweley used the acid. The acid the brɔfo people threatened to pour on them. Now, Akweley looked a pale shade of white. She lost her beautiful black skin. She walked towards her. Her shoes had long sticks under them that made an annoying sound of kron-chia, kron-chia, kroon-chia. How did she even manage not to fall? She brought her food. Rice. In her days, they ate rice only once a year. Then she smiled with her red painted lips and bent down to peck her on the cheek. Her ear rings, the size of watermelons, almost swallowing up the old woman’s face. She left. Then Akwetey walked in. He was wearing swit-an-taya. How didn’t he die after being strangled by that thing every morning? He said some things in ingrisi, smiled and waved. Then the children walked in. All four of them. Talking and laughing as usual. She loved them. She treasured them. She adored them. She wished she could sit them down each night and tell them the stories of the Great Past, that she had told her daughter and granddaughter and even Akweley her great granddaughter, their mother. But no! They were always too busy with the glass plates. Well, except the second one. They called her Beaulomariaestellevador. Oh Lord! Even the names. That girl always had her head in a book. She was smart. That is what they called the book people in her days. Smart. She could be a chicha, or a dokita, or even a lorya. But that short skirt she always wore. Any foolish man could steal her innocence before she could become ‘a person’. But what could she do? They said it was a uniform. She looked at her great great grandchildren with love in her eyes. She had lived to see them. But behind her smile was pity. The days she feared most had hit her descendants. The days when kwelenialisin still lingered and lurked in the shadows of their minds and actions. Then she remembered some words that the Adomi Bridge fore headed man had once said. It was the best ingrisi she knew, and she muttered the words under her last breath; “though we are independent, we are still colonized in our minds.”
Originally published September 4, 2021