Fiction by Akua Serwaa Amankwah
Afrakoma has been found. Kwame Life calls me that Monday morning with the four words I’ve been waiting to hear for years, four words that slash me into two pulsating halves, four words that taunt me and haunt me in turns.
I want to gather all the words my uncle is spewing out and shovel them back into his mouth. It is cruel that this is happening on the day I am reporting as the assistant lead on market research for the newly rebranded MTN. You have to be God to pull that off in your sixth month at Nielsen. Yet, how can I stand in front of these people when my memory now plays hide and seek with me? I feel a burning at the back of my head, and the hairs on my body jut out. It is as if someone is trailing their fingers over my skin, and I jump without provocation. I can’t stay here.
“Madam, may I please excuse myself? I have a family emergency and I have to leave”, I whisper to my boss. I am expecting her to flare up, but she nods slowly.
“I…do you need anyone to go with you?” she says instead.
“No, no”, I insist with a weak smile. I must have gotten onto her good side today. Lucky me.
Afrakoma is home.
Where has she been? What does she look like now? Will she remember? Will she hug me into smithereens or lunge at me with a broken bottle she has hidden at her back, crowing “It was all your fault!”?
My knees pool to jelly, the ground threatens to give away, but somehow I make it downstairs. Afrakoma. I get to see Afrakoma again.
The taxi I flag down looks like one of those tin cans that will collapse into shambles if prodded, but there is no time to wait for a presentable one. Its feeble honk is a second warning, but I am a faithful servant. I rummage in my bag for something to chew and roll my eyes when I see the familiar green and cream capsules trapped in the strip. I thought I had thrown them out. Ah well. I pop some Tic Tacs into my mouth and sigh at the traffic I’ve lured myself into. I roll up my dirty windows to drown the noise around me. I don’t have to try hard, the voices in my head never shut up. I don’t discourage them anymore. It is my fault, anyway.
The year you lose family begins on the most innocent of notes. That is what breaks your heart, because nothing prepares you. As if preparation can salve the waves of pain you wade in. You can’t undo it, you can’t restart the year and end it the way you want. One day you’re living your very normal life, and the next, the person is wrenched out of your life into nothingness because of your negligence. You can’t look at family pictures the same. They will be there, staring at you, smiling at you, screaming at you.
1998 swung open in our favourite Aunt Adwoa Preman’s house. We were huddled in her kitchen waiting for freshly fried poloo to cool so we could bite into them. We had already fed our faces with rice and Hausa chicken stew, but we wanted more. We had sampled coated groundnuts and washed them down with chilled Maltina. When our aunt peeked into our room and asked if we wanted poloo, we nearly kissed her in excitement. It would be the perfect outro.
My two little sisters and I had come to our aunt’s just before Christmas. Our Maa had travelled to Lagos to buy sauces and seasonings for her store in Adum. Our taxi driver father, OneTouch, was busy milking his customers and never returned early. He had earned his nickname because he was the first resort if you needed anything. Wanted to buy a fridge? Better call OneTouch—he would get you the deal of the century. Wanted to confirm if the house you were renting was available? Ask OneTouch. His nickname was so funny that we swapped Daa for OneTouch without even realising it.
Adwoa Preman’s house was the ideal place for Christmas. We overate, overdrank, over gossiped. We eavesdropped on snippets of juicy tattles about our oldest cousin Sweetie and her brand new husband, who was almost fifty. The help suspected Sweetie was pregnant, with the way she kept rushing to the bathroom, how she dozed off at every chance, how she refused even her favourite foods.
At fifteen, I marvelled at how brazen Adwoa Preman was to have given a girl who had barely become legal to an older man to marry. Even with the four-year age difference, I felt like Sweetie was one of my little sisters. She was sweet and soft-spoken. Yes, sister. Okay, sister. Good morning, sister. She was a girl-reluctant-to-be-woman-controlled-by-a-controlling-woman. Kwame Life was against the marriage, but Maa always said if a husband spent his days lazing about on the sofa watching TV and changing channels, it would get to a point where he couldn’t even choose the underwear he liked.
My sister Biama and I exchanged looks when the help spilled family secrets. Our mother was in for a treat when we returned home. Our youngest sister Afrakoma, just six at the time, was pampered the most. Our youngest sister Afrakoma, just six at the time, was pampered the most. Afrakoma had been sick the first two years of her life, and so she was an egg we all protected. She missed Maa. I would cradle her, tickle her, and watch her dissolve into laughter.
Our mother returned mid-January, and her first stop was our aunt’s. Maa stood at the door, gaping at the three of us. We had become fattened versions of ourselves. When we smiled, our eyes disappeared into slits.
Adwoa Preman was laughing. She was a shinier version of Maa.
“They’re looking well, aren’t they?” she cackled, and Maa only smiled.
“I leave you for three weeks and you’re all looking like bofrots? Do you want to kill me?” Maa whispered to me when we sat at the dining hall for our last lunch. I burst out into laughter, spluttering my Fanta all over my food.
In February, OneTouch was able to pay off his taxi, and we had a party. His car owner was a hard man, and called OneTouch incessantly to run errands, or drive his wife around, or pick up this and that at the most inconvenient times. We were free from his talons. In school, Kobina Baiden wrote a love letter to Oparebea, and our headmistress read the letter at assembly. Everyone went wild, and for weeks, we greeted each other with, “Will you be my Valentine, Sweet ‘O’?”
Sweetie gave birth to a girl in March, and Adwoa Preman made Maa promise not to tell anyone. My aunt was a womb inspector: she was quick to chastise anyone who had gotten pregnant before marriage, or seemed to delay with childbirth. If Sweetie’s birth was discovered, the women at her church would have a field day. We visited her with baby clothes and baby cloth nappies. Sweetie’s husband was all over the place, buying this and that, and we realised that with each day, our aunt added a new gold ring, a new necklace, a new gold tooth. I felt sorry for my cousin.
I passed my BECE mock examinations in April. We travelled to Bompata to visit OneTouch’s mother in May, and for the first time, she didn’t harass Maa, or ask when she would have sons. “She’s toned down on the wickedness. Maybe she’s dying”, Maa said, her eyes full of amusement and mischief. I shushed her, stifling a giggle. Nana, amongst all her superpowers, was sharp-eared.
June came and nothing was the same again.
I was preparing to write my final examination. I was consumed with getting into my dream school—Aburi Girls’ Secondary School. My school organised extensive classes which helped us go through the basics of each subject, and I would come home feeling as if someone had whipped me and stomped all over me for good measure.
That was the weekend it happened.
I’d come home from a Science class, and my mind was fuddled with Energy, Alloys, Density, Acids and Bases, Force and Pressure, The Solar System, Magnetism. OneTouch was working, as usual. Maa had gone for a wedding. Biama had gone for a school excursion to Boti Falls, and I was home with Afrakoma. She was playing with her dolls and made me a very reluctant audience of one. I yawned throughout.
I boiled some rice for Afrakoma and heated the fish stew as Maa had instructed. I washed her hair and braided it into neat cornrows, and adorned the ends with tiny ribbons—red, pink, green, yellow, blue. My hands were blessed that way. I was watching her, but with my Past Questions for Science book perched on my lap, I was distracted, and I could hear her bossing one of her dolls when I dozed off.
I remember she woke me up at some point. I didn’t get everything she said. She mentioned playing. She mentioned Twumwaa. She mentioned dolls. I knew Twumwaa, the daughter of our neighbours, the Boatengs. I might have nodded. She might have scurried away, and I might have slipped back into sleep. I didn’t remember.
Later, I wished I had slept and not woken up, because my eyes opened to Maa hovering over me, her questions similar to slaps on my face.
“Akyaama! Where is Afrakoma?”
“You have not made dinner?”
“You did not even turn the street lights on? Ɔkwadwofoɔ!”
“Won’t you respond? Where is Afrakoma?”
“Sh-she is next door. With-with Twumwaa”. I checked the clock. I sucked in a breath.
“It is past eight and she is still playing in someone’s house? Ah? She has not eaten?” The room was vibrating with Maa’s screams and they scalded me.
“Go and get her, Akyaama. You’re so irresponsible. Ah!”
I jumped out of the sofa, unsteady with shame and fatigue, but I could make my way to the Boatengs’. I was trembling as I knocked. She too. Could she not have come back after playing for a while? She was six, not a baby.
Mrs Boateng was smiling when she opened the door. She smelled of lemons and butter.
“Akyaama, how are you?”
“Good evening, Maa Boat. Please I’m coming for Afrakoma.”
“Yes, Maa. She came to play with Twumwaa.”
“Yes, but that was hours ago. Twumwaa is already asleep.”
“Oh. Okay. Maybe she’s home. I’m going to check again”, I fumbled for the right words. The sleep had disappeared from my eyes, my being, and even at that time, I sensed something was not right.
We spent the night searching every single crack in our house, and the Boatengs’. Boadiwaa, their nanny, testified.
“Oh Afra was here. They played tumatu and ampe. After, I fed them, and she left around five”, Boadiwaa narrated. Her voice trembled, and she shrivelled under Maa’s gaze.
The days were heavy and accusing and the nights, eternal. Sleep played hide and seek with me, and when it surfaced, all I saw was Afrakoma shaking me from my stupor. I’d only shoo her away, and by the time I was ready to listen to her, she’d have flitted away, as if she’d only existed as a memory.
We printed her picture and shared it with every human we encountered. I am looking for my little sister Afrakoma, I wanted to scream. She is six. Small for her age. Has cornrows. She is dark, and she always has her dolls. She has a red toy parrot she’s named Kuukua. She loves to smile. She likes fried chicken. She can eat rice balls with groundnut soup every day. She loves guavas. She likes her waakye with wagashi. Her favourite medicine is Beehive Balsam, and she always sneaks into the medicine cabinet to steal a little more because of the honey and the lemon. We hide it, and watch her fake coughs just so we can give her another teaspoonful.
I was the big sister careless enough to have allowed my little sister to slip through my grasp. I prayed. I followed the family as they moved from our neighbourhood to Edwenase, Patasi, South Suntreso, Asuoyeboa, Adum. We tried radio stations. Television announcements. Nothing. No false lead to even give us a false sense of hope. I tried to make sense of how a child had moved from her house to the house next door, back to her house, and disappeared off the face of the earth. My mother wouldn’t talk to me. OneTouch tried his best, but his agony repelled me. Biama wouldn’t stop crying. They tried to jostle answers out of me, answers I didn’t have.
Enti wo nkae?
Don’t you remember?
I was being forced to recall things that had happened when I was asleep, and I wondered if I should have lied to keep them from probing any further.
I had to put my BECE on hold, and when I saw my schoolmates, I hid.
Even when the police stopped, I searched for my sister. I combed area after area, and OneTouch would come find me and bring me home. Kwame Life and Adwoa Preman asked me to move to their place for some time, but the next evening I was hovering around the Boatengs’ house. They knew something. Boadiwaa knew something, and she was hiding it. When OneTouch came for me that night, he held me, and cried. I was shaken. My father had never cried in my lifetime.
The traffic has thinned out, and we are slowly heading home. I make several stops. At the pharmacy, I buy Beehive Balsam. I get guavas, Ayigbe biscuits, atsomo, poloo. Afrakoma’s favourites. I am jittery with excitement. I don’t even haggle with the taxi driver who charges one cedi from Suame to Santasi.
When I get out of the car, I straighten my dress, brushing the dust from it.
Home. My heart leaps. It has not changed much; the grey shutters and gates, the white walls, the chimney. The place seems quiet. I wonder if everyone is here already; Kwame Life and Adwoa Preman, my parents, Biama, who has never forgiven me. She will forgive me now. She will love me now. She will be my sister again.
I try to swing the gates open, and then realise they are locked.
I rap at them, slightly annoyed. I expect Afrakoma to come running out, but a tall thin woman wearing a long flowing dress walks out. Her flaccid breasts dance underneath her dress. I have never seen her before.
“Yes? Fine aft’noon”
I am taken aback.
“Good afternoon. Please, who are you?” I am puzzled.
“Ei. How can you come to my house and ask who I am?”
“No, surely there must be some mistake. My name is Akyaama, and I’m here to see my sister Afrakoma. I’m told she’s home. I know she’s finally back”.
“I….I,” the woman’s voice trails off. Her eyes widen. I have never seen her in my life.
“Akyaama”, her voice softens, and she clutches the gate as if without its support she would fall. Her voice is faint, almost as if she’s whispering to me.
“Akyaama, y-you don’t live here anymore. I moved here after you and your family left”.
I stagger, and for a moment I feel light-headed. Kwame Life called me. He told me to come home, that I’m sure of. This woman, she knows something.
“No! That’s a lie,” I sputter. I am looking past her, peering through the gates, expecting my sister to peek out of the kitchen. Nothing.
“No! No! No! You’re like Boadiwaa. You know something!”
My eyes are burning with tears, and I bang the gates, yelling at the top of my voice. Afrakoma is inside. She’s home. They still want to punish me.
“Let me in! Let me inside! She’s there!” I am shaking the gates and they squeak in defiance. The woman now is weeping softly, and it just annoys me.
I try again, and this time, tears get in the way. I try again, at the top of my voice.
“Afrakoma! I’m here. Come outside. I brought you guavas, juicy like you like them. I brought you atsomo, poloo, Ayigbe biscuits. Please, come out, I’m waiting for you. Please come out, I love you! Please come out, I’m sorry!”
Akua Serwaa Amankwah (otherwise known as Mansa) is a Ghanaian writer and blogger. Her stories have been published in The Mirror, Flash Fiction Ghana as well as Kenkey For Ewes, an anthology of short stories. Check out her website: artofmansa.com
Originally published March 20, 2023