Non-Fiction by Charlotte Derby
There is a longing in the heart that burns bright and cannot wait to be satisfied. It takes only a foretaste of reality to disclose how fragile, that longing can be. A typical example is the zeal to seek greener pastures. The white man’s land is far from your reach so you chose the country’s capital, Accra.
High rise buildings springing up from the bellies of the earth, unending buzzing life from sun set to dusk. The future is absolutely exciting and you are ready for it. City life has brighter prospects and you are poised more than ever to make the utmost best out of it. Before completing school you have found your niche. That city life is the best for you and you want to remain fixated on that dream after school, no turning back to the countryside.
In your father’s house you are the unsung hero. You are adequately catered for with fresh healthy meals every day. Your routine is cocoyam porridge in the morning, some roasted plantain and groundnuts for brunch, ampesi and abomu in the afternoons and fufu with bush meat for supper. You would wash it down with some coconut water fresh from the tree. However living on your own in the city revealed the complete opposite. Who has time to prepare fresh meals every day when the fridge and the microwave are beloved allies?
You prefer buying food from the fast-food joints and stalls by the roadside. It you time, energy and money too as compared to the plush restaurants in the neighbourhood. You console yourself with the fact that a time will come when you will have a foretaste of fine dining. The pact you have with the waakye seller’s daughter has proven beneficial as she would always give you an extra chunk of meat and a chilled bottle of drink. Who does not like free things?
You embark on your first house hunting adventure. From an old room in a compound house with a rusty window overlooking an open drain, to a mini- kiosk with a bathroom about 30 metres away, you must make a choice. You consider both places for a hot second, but you remember that you are a hero in your father’s house. Both housing units are mediocre and not befitting for a graduate of your calibre. Even the peasant farmers in your village have a better place to put their heads, how much more you.
The houses in Kingsway estate in the middle-class suburb of La are ideal for you. But the advanced fee the landlord is charging as rent is a kicking pain in the ass. You call home and request for additional funds. It is a tough time for your parents back home but they are able to send you something. You manage to get a decent one bedroom apartment at Haatso, a suburb far away from Accra Central, your place of work.
You tell yourself that you’ll wake up early and beat traffic. But the cozy weather at dawn engulfs you compelling you to pull your blanket over to ward off the chilling cold. Even your diligent alarm at 5:00 am cannot save you from the grips of slumber.
It is another Monday morning and you are running late for work. You get to the bus stop in a trot. The tro-tros that ply the route to Accra Central are fully loaded with passengers at that time of the morning.
You have a pitch at work and want to appear smart and crisp, like freshly baked bread from the oven. You decide to request a bolt ride. 30 cedis is the initial price. You make the request and within five minutes a Toyota Vitz is in sight.
You hop in and the driver begins the ride. The morning show on Zapper FM is blaring through the car, with listeners expressing their anger at the sky-rocketing cost of living. Almost everyone is bearing the brunt. There is heavy traffic on the main road. Luckily, the driver knows the short cuts and uses them. You get to the office right on time to begin your presentation. The downside of all the traffic and trying to dodge it, your final charge at the end of trip is almost twice the initial charge. That amount alone will be enough for a trip to your hometown. Such a pity, but you are already devising means to plough it back.
You have navigated city life and you’re loving it already. You have learnt a few tricks and hacks to surviving Accra but the city is a complex maze with new lessons every day.
There is a second-hand clothes dealer hawking in front of you with a pair of trousers in his hands. Its blue-black colour and the fine polyester material You try bargaining from 40 cedis to 30 but he insists that is not a good offer. The trousers look good and decent, a brand from Marks and Spencer. You try haggling over the price for a reduction.
“Won’t you take 35 cedis at least,” you ask wryly.
“Boss, your price no good, my only profit is 5 cedis” he tells you struggling to put his English together.
He appears adamant and unwilling to reduce. Realizing that further efforts will be futile, you grudgingly give in and accept his offer.
About 20 metres down the market square, you find a middle aged man with neatly arranged pairs of trousers on a table. “20 cedis, 20 cedis,” he calls out.
You stop in your tracks. “20 what!” You just bought a similar pair of trousers for 40 cedis. You don’t know whether you’ve been cheated or duped. You learn your lesson. Next time you will bargain well. You either bargain for a cheaper price or you walk away and find another vendor.
Trying out odd jobs was not the initial idea for you after school. The dream was to pass with good grades, secure a bigtime job with a fat salary and allowances, drive in a new car and have a good woman by your side. But the stark realization that those desires cannot be achieved in a day hits you. You have grown tired of the monthly remittances from your father and have decided to face life as a man.
You take up a role as an extra classes teacher for the children in your neighbourhood. Your degree in Economics and Mathematics cannot go to waste after all. The children love your weekend classes and you have gained the trust of their parents too. An extra source of income to cater for extra expenses.
You know your neighbour is cheating on his wife. About two other women have been going to and fro his room on days when the wife is on night shift. You don’t need an angel from above to tell you what is going on between your neighbour and his paramours. But you have learnt to mind your business. After all peddling your nose in the affairs of people opened you up for further probing. So you only nod your head when your neighbour tries to eye you. You know that stare is a strong warning not to let out a puff of the wind to his wife.
The early morning rumblings of the stomach, dictated to you that your stomach factory settings needed to be energized. Fasting was not your thing. In fact it was hard for youSo you always manage to have a decent breakfast. Not the English type.
You prefer your breakfast heavy to face the activities of the following day.
Your go-to options are Hausa koko, waakye, kenkey or beans with ripe plantain. But on Mondays, Hausa koko was your first choice.. Just a whiff of good food is enough to keep you in light spirits no matter what you’re going through. You reach Hajia’s koko joint but there is a notice. There are new prices, now ranging from 2 cedis onwards. No more koko for 1 cedi? You are pierced to the core. How are you going to manage?
You receive an invitation from your friend to his brother’s baby’s outdooring. For the love of kaftans you decide to sew a white one. Your tailor assures you you’ll get it in exactly four days. The day before the event you turn up in his little make-shift kiosk. His two apprentices are the only ones present. They both stare suspiciously at each other after you greet and request to see their master. “Massa is not around” they say in unison.
You tell them your mission to collect your kaftan. The excuses started. Their machine had broken down due to the frequent power cuts and so they had not been sewing for two days since. You are disappointed. No new kaftan for tomorrow.
You are furious but you chose to hide it. It’s 4pm on a Saturday. You need a quick fix as the event will be on a Sunday morning and it is very unlikely you’ll find someone who can sew it for you in less than 24 hours. You rush to the market to get a white shirt. How luck was on your side that day. You get a slim-stretch white shirt, a brand from Saville Row. This time, you refuse to be cheated. When the vendor quotes his price, you quote half the price.
He tells you it is not a good offer. You try a back and forth with him. Trying to sympathize how things are hard for you, such an appeal to pity. At this point you are still wearing the shirt. He asks that you add something small. You still maintain your initial price. You remove the shirt and take your bag with a plan to walk away.
“Okay boss, bring it” he tells you. He grudgingly accepts your offer. “Wheew, you won!!” your brain gives you a tease.
The weekends are a good period for you to unwind the stress, refuel your energy and gain momentum for the coming week. Sometimes an outing on Saturday night to have some drinks with friends or go to the cinemas with your girlfriend.
It is on one such weekend outing. You almost freak out upon seeing the bill. Four hundred and fifty Ghana cedis, just for two plates of Chinese stir fry noodles, two banana flavored smoothies and two bottles of water. You feel weak in your knees as they threaten to give way. Thank God for the bamboo cane chair you were sitting on that served as the bulwark. Besides the amount in your wallet was not even up to half the amount. She pulls out her visa card from her wallet.
“No I will foot the bill this time.” she tells you in a whisper. It is your birthday and she wants to give you a treat, so you have to oblige. However on a normal day, it was not in your scheme of things to allow your woman foot the bill
O how you thanked your stars that night. How exactly on God’s green earth were you going to save yourself from such an embarrassment? Upon getting home you slump into bed without even changing clothes. You are still in awe at what happened in the restaurant. You are absolutely grateful for your woman and most importantly for coming through for you that night. You fall asleep without realizing it, sleeping soundly as a baby.
A knock on your day suddenly awakens you. You try to recollect which day it is. Before responding to the knock you check your phone for the day and time. “Aah Sunday!”
There is a tenants meeting at noon and your neighbour has come to remind you about it. . The landlord has already issued a notice. You can sense the agenda of the meeting, an increase in rent probably. Though you were sanguine on making some savings, the rise in the cost of living has depleted your savings reserve.
You have learnt from the ways of the ant and made plans already. You have found another apartment close by. This time you will be moving in with your friend to share the costs. To share is to care in this part of the world.
Follow who know road they say. Despite all the uncertainties and economic hardships, you find out there is always a way out for low to middle income earners. A way to navigate through this maze.
Would you consider relocating to the village? Absolutely not. At the end of it all you’d still chose this city with the fullness of sprightliness and great opportunities. When your daily routine has woven into the fabric of city life and the stress is less of a headache, you just go with the flow.
Charlotte is a young Ghanaian and a recent graduate of the University of Ghana.
Being an avid reader from childhood, her exposure to the works of classical writers the likes of William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens and Louisa May Alcott got her intrigued. African writers like Chinua Achebe and Ama Darko have also shaped her writing style and delivery.
She has always desired to be a writer. Her membership with Ink Up, a club for young writers and poets in 2018 stirred her passion for writing.
She currently has a blog post on a medium where she pens down her thoughts and works.
Taking a cue from novelists such as John Grisham and Sidney Sheldon she aspires to be a novelist specializing in criminal-based non-fiction.
Her dream is to be a best-selling author someday.
Originally published April 4, 2023