Fiction by Nana Yaa Asante-Darko
Today is not a disappointing Wednesday. The market has woken up to a pleasant sunny day. It rained heavily the night before so the sky lies clear and sharp, like a whistle. Slowly, the heat in the market builds up on many dimensions. A group of men in wellington boots and dirty nose masks stand ankle deep in the perpetually open gutters. They shovel up and heap by the side of the road mounds and mounds of dark silt and rubbish. This is an after-rain ritual. The sun slowly cooks this collection of night-soil, black and white polythene bags, water sachets and coconut husks, and their stench wafts and assaults the noses of everyone in the market. But only visitors to the place would pinch their noses. Just a short distance away from the men in the gutter, there is an amelia setting out her pans to sell her morning waakye. Her shelved shed straddles the gutter confidently. Lined up on the first shelf are transparent bowls; one with oiled talia, another with wet, salted and oiled gari, then chopped cabbage, spring onions, and shredded lettuce which pass for salad. She also has baskets of hard-boiled unshelled eggs, fried fish, fried ripe plantain and ripe avocados. On the next shelf above that, she has on display full and empty cans of Heinz baked beans, yellow bottles of Roma mayonnaise and Maggi ketchup bottles filled with red-coloured water. The waakye itself sits like a dark brown majestic mountain in a large aluminum pan. By the side is the famous waakye stew, with all kinds of protein in it. Then there, in another see-through bowl, is the shitɔ which is sometimes so spicy that it transcends comprehension. As she lights her mosquito coil to ward off the houseflies from the gutter, a man approaches her.
“Good morning, amelia, the peace of the Lord be with you”.
Her head snaps up and she looks him over. He is wearing a navy blue second-hand shirt buttoned up all the way to the top. Stuck to his neck is what should look like a white clergy collar. His hair is permed and slicked back, and his skin screams of bleaching cream. In his sweat-marked armpit is a weathered bible. She knows his kind very well, he and his overweening brethren. They call themselves men of God. She blows out her match stick as a curl of smoke starts rising from the coil.
“Yes, morning” she finally responds.
He plasters on a smile. “Amelia, give me waakye 2 cedis, gari, talia, and salad 1 cedi. Please how much is the pear? You it’s ok. I want one fish, one egg and two wele.”
“And what else?” she asks.
“Please add one sachet of water, my good woman.” “Will you eat it here?”
“Yes, my gracious woman.”
He moves behind her to the eating area. It is four benches, arranged to look like two tables with two benches. Four stakes of wood about 6 feet high form a border around it – drawing a square, and draped over them is about 5 yards of flavescent lace which had once upon a time, boasted of purity . He sets the bible down on one and sits on the edge of the bench facing it. The other end goes up like a see-saw.
“Kai! The devil is a liar!!” he shouts, throwing his hands up in the air as he jumps up from the bench. He goes to sit on it again, this time, moving to the centre. It tells tales of loose nails and creaks under his weight.
The waakye seller pushes away the lace curtain and enters with his meal. She sets it in front of him and goes back to bring him the water. She leaves immediately to her shed, the market is swelling and people are hungry.
As she attends to the other buyers who have made a small crowd around her, the man- of-God-looking man swishes some water in his mouth, parts the lace and spews the water against the side of the gutter. Some of it splatter on the buyers and they start to murmur. He doesn’t seem to mind.
He spreads out his hand over his food and starts to pray loudly.
“Jehovah Lord, Adonai, Elohim, the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, I bless your matchless, holy, magnificent, name. Oh father in heaven, I thank you for my life and my stomach that is coming to eat this food. Jehovah Jireh, I send angel Gabriel to deliver to you an invitation card to this my humble feast. God Almighty, dress up in all your blinding splendour and come down. Come down in glory and multiply this food, because, kai, you know grown man like me, 2 cedis of waakye is small. If you don’t, it will not be good. In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost!” he ends with the sign of the cross done in the wrong order.
A little while later, he emerges and walks towards the amelia. “Madam, how much will you collect?”
“The food, 7 cedis, water 20 pesewas” she answers, stretching out her hand to take the money from him.
He laughs ebulliently and shouts “You want to cheat a man of God?! Kai!! You don’t fear God. Here, take 5 cedis.” He reaches into his breast pocket and brings out his hand empty. He puts on a frantic aura and goes through all his pockets.
“Hmm” he exclaims in an exaggerated manner. “They have done it again oo, they have done it again. The sons of rats have picked my pockets again oo.”
The amelia begins to realize that she is being duped. The buyers around her start to complain that she is keeping long in serving them and she turns her attention back to them.
He places his hand on her shoulder and she shrugs him off.
“Take your hands off me, are you my brother?” She is clearly peeved and demands her money again. She tightens her head scarf.
“Oh sorry, sorry, madam. You see, right now, I don’t have any money on me. You can see I have been robbed, heh. So you I’ll pass by again and give you the money. All the 7 cedis.”
“It is 7 cedis, 20 pesewas. And I’m collecting my thing now now.” She barks at him.
“Oh my good woman, take your time. You should not disgrace the man of God in front of all these people. I will come back. I swear by this Bible”, he begs, raising the Bible. A leaf of it falls out. He tries to catch it but it floats down into the gutter. He sighs.
“Amelia, don’t worry, I will come back. You, if I don’t come, just ask anybody in the market for Pastor Two-Touch. Everybody knows me. I will come and pay. I won’t disgrace my God like that.”
The waakye seller flips him off as he pleads and he begins to walk away deeper into the market. She raises her clenched fists towards him and points her thumbs out at him, her voice following him with well-aimed insults.
“Madam, leave this pastor and serve us”, says a man in the crowd in a husky voice, evidently tired of all the show.
“Hoh, what pastor? He sells prayers. He is one of the many prayer mongers in this market”, a woman with a baby strapped to her back retorts and there is a ripple of laughter in the small crowd.
Pastor Two-Touch turns around when he gets to a curb and notes where the waakye seller is. He would not pass there until about a month goes by.
“Hey, Oteng!” a voice calls out. He turns around uneasily. He cannot make out from the building crowd who had called him, by his real name.
“Kai! This cannot be good”, he thinks. He passes his hand over his slick hair and releases his breath slowly. He tries to weave away through the crowd when he feels a tap on his shoulder. He spins around on his heel and comes face to chest with one of the people in his trade. Kwasi is much taller than him and has a more polished look about him. He is as smooth as he looks.
“Oh thank you for your advice the last time”, he begins to say. “I got a new child, this one’s kwashiorkor is very big. He looks sicker when I plaster the tubes on his bulging stomach, like he is about to die. Now, I don’t go home with less than 70 cedis a day, the people give like something”, he says amidst uncontrolled laughter. He doubles over and slaps his left thigh three times.
Oteng snickers, “Didn’t I tell you? You, for your style, appeal for funds for sick children, the ‘stra’ is to get a very malnourished child and plaster his stomach. A cannula koraa plastered on his hand would work miracles.”
“Oh my man, you be the boss! Now I’m going to get a megaphone. You remember, you said that one too adds something eh?”, he ends, his full set of teeth on display.
He pulls Oteng’s hand from his side to himself and shakes it vigorously. He pushes his Ray Bans up his nose and picks his way off.
Oteng raises his right hand to eye level and reads the time from his gilt watch. He picks up pace. After 9:00am there would be almost no office workers passing through the market, and it is they who give the 5 cedi notes, then he blesses them with promotion at their offices and prays for the death of their wicked bosses. He has to hurry to his spot and set up. Market days like this are very profitable. He adjusts his collar.
But first, he makes a stop at a large provision shop in one of the rented stores along the main road. He enters with his hands clasped together and pulls on a solemn face.
“The peace of the Lord be with you!” he says, raising his right hand sanctimoniously. He does not wait for a response from Aunty Philo. He never does. Aunty Philo is a slow woman, short and obese. Once she gets behind the counter on her long chair, there is no going anywhere until she closes the shop at 3:00 pm. Oteng struts into the shop wearing a sure smile and asks her how she is managing her BP.
“Oh I’m managing, Pastor” she responds, shifting from one large buttock to the other. She grabs the counter with her stubby fingers and pulls herself forward.
She leans towards Oteng, who is now standing in front of the wooden counter, and whispers, “Pastor, business is slow nowadays oo, hmm. The things I brought from Makola are still here. Nothing is moving. Next week, I have to go and pay the creditors oo, hmm.” Worry etches itself in her crow’s feet. She grabs a cup of moringa health tea from the counter and leans back in her chair. She takes a sip and continues “Hmm, and Pastor, you see that shop over there, the one by Hajia’s dashiki store, ehee that one,” she points and continues, “that woman just came and now she has started selling my provisions too oo. Hmm, that witch of a woman.”
Oteng raises his right index finger and shuts his eyes, then knits his brows and shakes his head as he says, “No, no, no, this cannot continue. Kai! We must bind her.”
Aunty Philo nods in agreement, and her double chin wobbles like jelly. He walks past the counter, deeper into the store and he turns to face the shelves. He starts to touch the items one by one and stops abruptly.
“Water, I need some water. Kai! We must quench certain things in this shop.”
Aunty Philo calls the shop help. She is measuring out an olonka of sugar for a customer but she stops and goes to Aunty Philo at the counter, leaving the customer to wait.
Aunty Philo gives the help a cedi and asks her to go get a bottle of water for Pastor Two- Touch. She returns shortly with a sweating bottle of Voltic and hands it to her madam who gives it to the pastor.
He swipes the beads of condensed water on the bottle with his thumb and breaks the seal. He takes a long drink. He pours some into his right palm and sprinkles favour and liberation around the shop, as he explains to Aunty Philo later. He spins around dramatically and walks to the entrance of the shop. He bends and traces a line across the front with the last of the water. He rises to full height, satisfied and expectant. Aunty Philo is also satisfied, that the man of God has prayed a powerful theatrical prayer and expectant, that her business will recover from its bad times.
Oteng starts to leave when he sees Aunty Philo whisper into the help’s ear. He lingers and breaks into a popular Twi song which talks about sowing and reaping. The help hurriedly peels away one black polythene bag and harvests from the shelves, a tin of Milo, some sardines, a pack of Good Morning oats and some tins of Ideal milk. She hands the carrier bag over to her madam and goes back to the sugar. But the customer has already crossed over to the other shop. The help shrugs and puckers her lips.
“Err, Pastor Two-Touch, please take this small offering oo. And use this one too for transport”, Aunty Philo says, handing him a 20 cedi note. She beams when he sprays her with blessing and saliva and shakes her hand. He slips the money into his breast pocket and saunters out, swinging the bag of provisions and whistling the Twi song.
He turns left from the main street and plunges into the bubbling activity of the market. He passes by half-empty bookshops, salons in kiosks, boutiques in shipping containers, table-top pharmacies, money changers and thieves. He raises his hand in greeting as he passes by and nods when someone acknowledges him. He stops by a music shop between a kiosk of herbal medicine and a display of woollen and linoleum carpets. He is here to pick up his megaphone and his offertory bucket.
“Amidu, good morning oo, how are you?” He asks, peering into the shop. He does not listen for a response. He darts his eyes about the small kiosk, in search of his work tools.
Lined along the walls are CDs and DVDs of pirated movies and music. On an orange oil- cloth covered table, there is a large yellowed Compaq desktop that has enriched a repairer across the street. A tall loudspeaker is set outside and Daddy Lumba’s Yɛ ne wo sere kwa, blasts away, unsettling the peaceful minds of all who pass by.
“Err, Amidu, I can’t see my things. Where are they? Get them for me ok. I’m a little late today.” He keeps the megaphone that he is buying from Amidu on hire purchase here. For five months, he has put off making the last two instalments of 15 cedis each, oblivious to Amidu’s threats to “show him something”.
“Massa, clear off, buyers see then buy. You’re blocking my display standing there at the entrance”, he responds instead. He acts as if Oteng is a stranger and merely glances at him when he speaks. Amidu is the owner of the illegal music shop. He started off on a 3×4 foot table at Kantamanto and now he has a whole kiosk, he is proud of himself. He does not waste time or money.
“Oh boss, why you dey do me so? I biz you say where ma megaphone dey, wey you dey do like you no sabi me, like I be some pest bi.” Oteng asks.
“Abeg, where ma megaphone dey?” He asks again, growing impatient now. He has never had to ask this long for his megaphone and this begins to irk him. He tries to keep his calm, remembering that you do not knock someone on the head when your hand is in their mouth.
“Ashoot am.” Amidu flippantly responds with a smirk on his tribal marked face. “Some bro come plus in pikin wey he tell me say he dey search megaphone buy. Ashoot give am sake of he say he go double price give me.”
Oteng does not believe what he hears. He passes his hand over his slick hair once again and asks again for his things.
Amidu reaches behind him angrily, takes the blue bucket Oteng uses for collection and throws it at him. He really cannot stand him anymore.
“Kai! This is not good.” Oteng says to himself, feeling his permed hair again.
He is distraught. A man with a child; it has to be Kwasi. He cannot imagine how of all the places Kwasi could go to buy a megaphone, it had to be here. Now he cannot work today when the market is brimming with people. He does not have a voice loud enough to be heard over the market’s laborious singing. He takes the alley between the carpet stand and the blue kiosk and heads home, with an empty offertory bucket.
He consoles himself, “Tomorrow, business will be good.”
Nana Yaa A. Asante-Darko is a freelance academic who loves food. Her work has appeared in the Ake Review, on Afridiaspora, on Siro360 and some forthcoming on Brittle Paper. She is the winner of the CEGENSA Ama Ata Aidoo Short Story Competition.