Fiction by Elizabeth Johnson
The gate was no longer brown as he had described it, instead, it was a deep shade of green. The walls and grass remained the exact same way, uneven and unhealthy. This was the house. The house Nathan had driven her close enough to a few times and spoken about a few times more. Although she had finally made it here, she had no idea what she was doing.
Checking her watch, she wanted to give up, get back into her car, drive back home crawl into bed and pretend she never took the drive up to his house. With cold fingers, she rang the bell again.
When the bell rang, it immediately struck Adjoa that even after ignoring Marian’s advice, she should have at least listened to her own instincts. It would have saved her more than half the pending trouble.
After accepting that she had failed to get any of her younger family members to help her move to the guest room downstairs, she had come up with a way to deal with the arthritis. The first was to get everything she needed for the day downstairs and limit her movement. The second was to take a rest whenever her joints hurt too badly.
On more careful days, it took about 40 minutes to get upstairs, but today, she had done it in almost 28 minutes, denying herself the rest as if to test for some miracle the many preacher men had promised on TV. The arthritis made her slower than she would have loved to be but that was the price for old age and outliving her own son.
If the doorbell hadn’t rung, the fast climb up the stairs would have earned her extra sleep time. She had done it in honour of Nathan who, if still alive would have gone on a scientific rant about how it was better for her to try and make the stairs a one- time trip rather than take it in bits. She could almost hear him explain that it was better for her joints so they don’t get lazy. ‘It is good to have them last as long as you live’. That had been his way of expressing concern
The doorbell rang again, wiping the small smile that had curved itself on her lips at the thought of Nathan and his use of knowledge as a cover up affection. As if to assure Adjoa that she was truly making the trip down the stairs, the doorbell , for the third time rang longer than it had the first two times. ‘Whoever it is was determined to meet someone’ she thought to herself. Taking a deep breath, she started the journey back down.
10 minutes later, Adjoa was half way down the stairs when the doorbell rang again. ‘I’m Coming oo eii’, she shouted hoping the wind would carry her answer and the irritation in it to whoever was at the gate. The door was closed but the windows were open and she knew the message will be sent, although faintly.
It couldn’t be Marian; she thought and silently hoped. Losing Nathan had taken a heavy toll on her. She came by the house as often as possible to share in the grief. When leaving, Marian had made sure to take everything she brought in order not to disturb Adjoa.
Keziah, the young lady who stayed with her was out of Accra on a trip with Kojo, the one she swore was her serious boyfriend, but Adjoa had seen too many cars parked outside to believe Keziah at this point. In any case, Keziah had her own set of keys and didn’t need to ring the bell to get to inside. ‘Perhaps she lost her keys’, Adjoa thought, but she knew Keziah would have called her rather than ring the bell and put her through all this walking.
Adjoa made a mental list of people and crossed them out one after the other. When she was finally down, she grabbed her walking stick and made her way to the door although totally convinced that that there was no one at the gate anymore. She wondered why she did not ignore the bell and just get into bed.
……. just then the bell rang again.
Skippy made his way to the front porch immediately he heard the front door open. ‘Who is it?’ Adjoa yelled causing Skippy to bark immediately as if offering some sort of translation.
There was no answer; instead, the bell rang again. Puzzled, Adjoa yelled again, this time in Twi, making Skippy bark louder. A little over a minute later, she made her way the gate, Skippy a few steps ahead of her.
A very confused Boatemaa contemplated ringing the bell again. ‘It was the best way’ she concluded although feeling very stupid. She calmed herself down and listened to the footsteps get closer. Feeling her blood rush to her head, she played with her keys
and held her breath to prevent her heart from jumping out of her mouth. There was a sudden desire to jump into her car and drive off but the sound of the latch planted her to the ground.
When Adjoa opened the gate, she was greeted by one of the most eye pleasing women her 86 year old pair of eyes had ever seen. She took the stranger in as if trying to get a full view and savor it. The lady was in her mid-30s; she observed but could pass for 28, 29 or much younger if she wanted to. She thought of Keziah, who at 26 did not stand a chance against this lady who wore no makeup and had her hair packed in a hurried bun .Even in her natural look, Keziah seemed older. She had to admit that none of her daughters stood a chance either and they were by all means beautiful women. There was something charming and magnetic about this lady Adjoa couldn’t deny.
The two women locked eyes for a while taking each other in, Boatemaa noticed the resemblance Nathan shared with his mother, their nose and sharp eyes and the color of their skin. Adjoa was exactly as she had pictured her, old but still plumb with the suspicious gaze of a mother and short hair that had grayed in many parts.
‘Are you lost my dear?’ Adjoa asked after a while, Skippy was sniffing Boatemaa rather than bark at strangers like he always did. Adjoa noticed a smile on Boatemaa’s face as she looked down at Skippy and said ‘Hey buddy, how you doing?’ In response, Skippy waged his tail playfully.
‘Here to see the dog, are you?’ Adjoa asked regaining Boatemaa’s attention ‘Oh no, I am sorry um…I am here to see you’. Boatemaa announced, playing with her car keys to hide the nervousness.
‘I am a friend of Nathan’s……an old friend actually’, Boatemaa responded looking at her car keys.
There was something in the response that made Adjoa take Boatemaa in all over again. ‘Come in’ she welcomed.
As Boatemaa followed closely behind, she took the house in. Nothing had changed here she observed smiling at herself. Everything remained the same, even the broken dog house with the bad wood still remained in place.
When they got into the house, Adjoa offered her a seat; she noticed that the hall too was just as Nathan had described it. ‘Many things have remained the same’, Boatemaa said smiling more at herself than at Adjoa who looked at the lady puzzled. Have you been here before? She asked.
‘No, I haven’t. Nathan used to talk about it all the time’. Boatemaa answered. ‘He would go on and on about the games he played with his siblings , his favorite places to hide during parties and how he loved to just lay in the grass after a good mowing.’
‘What is your name young lady?’ Adjoa asked.
And how do you know my son?
We are old friends
‘The last time I spoke to him was 6 years ago’. Boatemaa responded.
There was a long pause between them, Adjoa kept her eyes on Boatemaa who had her head bowed down to avoid eye contact.
‘Would you want something to drink, Boatemaa?’
‘Well you have to get it yourself my dear, my feet are killing me.’
‘No problem’, Boatemaa made her way to the kitchen without being given any directions.
Realizing what she was doing, she stopped halfway and turned to get a reaction form Adjoa but the old lady urged her on.
When Boatemaa was out of sight, Adjoa contemplated on calling Marian to ask if she knew any Boatemaa, an old friend of Nathans, but she decided against it considering instead to call one of her sons. Maybe George or Mathew would know she pondered.
Boatemaa reappeared with two bottles of water and a napkin, offering Adjoa the warm bottle, she started to open her cold bottle and made for her seat again.
Adjoa noticed Boatemaa had brought her a warm bottle, something all her daughters and daughter-in-law always forgot.
It was 5:45pm now, Adjoa noticed and mourned the sleep she would not get.
‘I am sorry to disturb you mum, I just needed to meet you’ Boatemaa confessed breaking the silence.
‘That’s fine, but could you tell me how you know my son? I’m amazed at how much detail you know and I have never heard the name before’
‘Perhaps the name Cynthia would ring a bell’ came her reply. It’s my English name but I stopped using it a while back’.
Adjoa nodded knowingly. A few years ago, Marian had visited to complain about a Cynthia she believed Nathan was seeing. In their ten years of marriage, Adjoa had never seen Marian so worried yet certain about her thoughts. ‘You should see her’ she remembered Marian cry , ‘she is gorgeous and soft…the way she looks at Nathan and the way he steals glances at her I just know’.
‘Yes, the name does ring a bell, actually, it’s my daughter’s name and the name of a few ladies both Nathan I knew, which one are you?
Boatemaa was beginning to feel hot in her cheeks as a new wave of guilt and foolishness hit her. What was she expecting? A grand welcome into the family she had always wanted to be a part of now that Nathan was dead? Shared laughs with an older woman?
‘I should leave’ Boatemaa said shocking Adjoa while standing up.
‘I …..I shouldn’t have come here. I am so sorry mum I really should have…’
‘What brings you here my dear?’ Adjoa asked
‘You waited long enough for me to climb down that stairs and get to the gate, you might as well stay and make my pain worth it.’
Without intending to, Boatemaa let out a small nervous laugh, it was so amazing how Nathan sounded like his mother.
‘Have a seat and calm down, we are all a bit shaken by the sudden loss’.
Boatemaa sat again, taking a gulp from her bottle and staring at Adjoa. ‘I dated Nathan a few years ago’ she blurted out
‘I see. So you are the Cynthia’
‘Yes …I guess I am.’
‘You missed his wife by 30 minutes.’
‘I know, I was sitting in my car waiting for her to leave.’ Boatemaa explained ‘I got here and recognized her car so decided to wait, it’s how I knew there was someone else at home.’
Adjoa took her eyes off Boatemaa for a while, looking around the house and then at the time again. She wondered why she was not upset, yelling and slapping the lady with the nerve to show up here. When she looked at Boatemaa again, the young woman’s eyes were glittering with tears. Boatemaa looked away to avoid eye contact but her eyes fell on the wall that had a picture of Nathan smiling at her causing her to give into the tears she was fighting back
Without intending to, Adjoa beckoned Boatemaa to her side and the young lady rushed over finding comfort in her arms. Watching her cry, she noticed how attractive, vulnerable and needy Boatemaa looked while crying and in that moment, she couldn’t blame Nathan for falling for such an honest looking woman. Since his death, she hadn’t seen anyone cry with so much pain for him and it shocked her. Even Marian’s constant sobbing felt more like self-pity than pain of loss.
‘You loved him.’
Boatemaa’s response was a chocked yes, followed by a tightening of her body as more tears run down her cheek. Unable to hold herself, Adjoa too began to cry, allowing the tears to escape. She hadn’t shed a single tear all this while. Not when Mathew called with the news or when Marian and the kids came looking helpless. Not during the funeral or when she was going through the pictures she had of him. But now, sitting close to Boatemaa she felt every pain and anger release itself from her body with sudden ease.
For the next ten minutes, the two women cried for Nathan, each in different ways but both for the loss of a man they loved.
Adjoa took Boatemaa’s face in her arms and wiped a single tear.
‘We should talk, it will help.’
Boatemaa nodded in agreement and immediately began to wipe her tears like a child obeying everything she was told to do.
Boatemaa went back to her previous seat so that she was right opposite Adjoa allowing room for more comfort. Adjoa wondered what Marian would say if she found out about this but her mind drifted off to Nathan and her eyes welled up again.
‘How long did you date Nathan?’ Adjoa asked smiling at Boatemaa so that she felt comfortable enough to talk.
‘8 years’, Boatemaa responded, ‘the best 8 years of my life.’
‘I shouldn’t have walked away that night’ she continued, ‘I should have stayed to hear him out but you know, it kind of hurt when he told me. It made reality look me closer in the eye, but I should have picked his calls that night and the many calls that followed the years after.’ ‘Regardless, he was never going to marry me or make me an official woman in his life, it was always going to be a cat and mouse relationship and I was tired of it. The way I loved him, I deserved better you know?’
Adjoa watched the imploring pain in Boatemaa’s eyes, the silence urged her to continue.
‘When I was younger I felt it might happen but as I grew older I realized when you love the way I loved Nathan, you don’t want that. You want people to know you are taken, not just by anybody but someone you really want and feel complete by. You want to stop the other men in their tracks and tell them; hey I have a man you stand no chance against. That’s how it felt for me but then I realized I was living a fallacy especially after what he told me.”
‘What did he tell you that night?’ Adjoa asked.
‘That he was expecting another child. I was 28 then and two months earlier, we had terminated a pregnancy.’
Adjoa remembered the night Nathan came home drunk 6 years ago. It had rained heavily and there was no power. Nathan had called her 20 minutes earlier to announce he was sleeping over and when he arrived, his slurring told her he was drunk. An earlier conversation with Marian that night had indicated some sort of misunderstanding. ‘When I told him I was pregnant he just picked his car keys and left’ Marian had explained. That night, she remembered watching her son as he tried to place a call that never went through and listened as he mumbled over and over ‘you lose some you win some’. Assuming he was trying to reach Marian, later that night, she had taken the phone from his sleeping hands to make the call but noticed it was an unsaved number he had been dialing. Out of curiosity, she had dialed the number again but there had been no answer. She understood it now.
She wasn’t going to tell Boatemaa this, that her married son had gone on a drinking spree because of that incident and had refused to sleep in his marital home the night she left him. She wasn’t going to tell her that after that night Nathan had lost a certain spark that he had. She had to protect Marian and not stroke Boatemaa’s ego. A little part of her felt it might make Boatemaa feel worse rather than better.
‘I am sorry about the abortion’, Adjoa sympathized because truly she was remembering what it felt like when she had to abort a child at 21. ‘I have had an abortion before and have never spoken about it. I understand your pain.’
Boatemaa nodded and sighed. ‘I began to hate him you know, as intensely as I loved him, I began to wonder why if he really did love me like he swore he did, why he let me terminate our child and then two months later, rub it in my face that his wife was carrying his child. I was already hating myself enough for having done things I swore I would never do.’
‘Have an abortion, date a married man, you know all that complicated stuff.’
‘Yes’ Adjoa responded
‘I am sorry’ Adjoa said after a few minutes of silence
‘It’s not your fault’.
‘Actually it is, I gave birth to Nathan.’
‘Yes but he was an adult and it’s not like I am blaming him for anything, it’s life’. Adjoa paused again and then asked ‘How did you meet my son?’
‘We met at the bank and then at an ATM machine later in the evening that same day’
A wide smile grew on Boatemaa’s face as she told the story.
‘My card got swallowed by the machine and I needed the money for an emergency the next morning. Nathan offered to loan me that exact amount needed provided I have a drink with him before we both head home. That was it really, I didn’t ever imagine he would see me naked or become the most important person in my life at the time. The drink offer was just to make me feel better, that’s what he said at least. But it kind of led to us wanting to see each other again until we found ourselves at my place one night in bed a year after we had met.’
‘You knew he was married all along right?’
‘Oh yes, I did, he spoke about his family a lot you know, about his wife and his kids, it was in my face even if i didn’t want it to be. But somehow one day spanned into one month and then two and then a year and then 8 years…’
‘And you imagined he would marry you?’
‘Hoped, begged actually, begged asked, prayed…I was younger and more foolish. But if he had asked me to marry him I wouldn’t have thought twice about it’
‘Are you married now?’
‘Engaged and now pregnant, I keep calling the wedding off’
‘You don’t like him?’
‘I don’t know…..I still love Nathan and I still hate him as equally.’
‘I’m sorry’ Adjoa sympathized. ‘Must be hard for you.’
‘You weren’t at the funeral’, Adjoa pointed out.
‘I don’t think Nathan would’ve been bothered.’ Boatemaa answered and Adjoa found herself nodding in agreement
‘I heard about it but I didn’t think coming would help. Marian didn’t like me.’
‘She had every reason not to you know.’ Adjoa stated.
‘Yes..I …I know’ Boatemaa sighed ‘I never meant to hurt anyone, but well. Life happened. I was just a passing thing in his life, never mentioned and better off not spoken about and that hurt.’
‘Sometimes the things we don’t talk about are the things we hold most dear.
‘True, but sometimes I wasn’t sure if he even liked me…. I felt like an available convenience.’
‘All the time?’
‘No ,but at a point yes.’
‘Would you go back in time and change anything?’
‘When I get angry I wish I could unmeet him and not have the burden of all this love left that I can’t make use of. But when I am not, I wouldn’t change anything, I would do it all over again.’
‘That’s bold you know, telling me all this and expecting to be understood.’
‘I’ve seen a lot more complicated situations.’
‘I am happy I came.’ she confessed.
Adjoa smiled. ‘You made me cry, I was beginning to wonder if my emotions were dead.’
Boatemaa let out a loud laugh
‘How did Nathan die?’ Boatemaa asked suddenly
‘A heart attack, he was found dead in his car’
A tear escaped Boatemaa’s eye but she quickly wiped it off.
‘Why did you change your name?”
‘The name reminded me of my life with Nathan and after I left I decided to start life all over.’
Adjoa nodded and checked the time. ‘9pm!’ She exclaimed.
‘It’s late, I should go’. Boatemaa announced, rising from her seat.
‘After you apologize’. Adjoa demanded
Boatemaa looked confused
‘Yes. Apologize to Nathan for leaving and being childish and then to me for rubbing the affair he had with you while married in my face.’
Boatemaa nodded and did as she was told. When she was done Adjoa got up to give her a hug.
‘Nathan would be glad you came.’
‘I hope so.’
‘I know so.’
‘Now, help me up the stairs will you.’ Adjoa commanded.
As the two women walked up the stairs they laughed at the pictures of Nathan everywhere. ‘I am seeing more of him than I have in the past few years’ Adjoa mocked.
When they reached her room, they looked at each other the same way they had when the gate first flew open.
‘Goodbye then’ Boatemaa smiled and made her way downstairs.
‘Do release the latch on your way out. Bang the doors and gate so they lock’ Adjoa instructed.
She watched as the young woman made her way to the door
‘Cynthia!’ She called out a bit too loudly making the young lady freeze.
‘Can you do me a little favour?’
‘Could you come around same time next week to help me move into the room downstairs? I also could use the refreshing company’ she added
Adjoa watched as the confused look on Boatemaa’s face changed into a smile of genuine joy.
‘I would love to’. Boatemaa replied
‘See you then’
She watched as Boatemaa banged the door, listened to Skippy bark, the gate bang and the engine of Boatemaa’s Corolla die into the distance.
Adjoa smiled at herself and made her way to her bed.
Undressing, she thought of her son, memories flooding from his childhood to the last time she saw him.
She remembered it all, from the labour room to the last bit of sand on his grave and how at a certain time in his life, his laughter was louder, his smile more genuine and jokes funnier.
And now, she knew why.
Elizabeth Johnson is a Ghanaian-Nigerian writer, avid reader and creative
arts enthusiast with a keen interest in history, its preservation and innovative telling. She currently works for the Writers Project of Ghana as a social media manager, their festival administrator for PA Gya! A Literary Festival in Accra and producer of their weekly literary radio show, WPG on Citi fm. Her work has been published in the 2017 independence anthology by Afridiaspora and her play was staged by African Theatre Workshop.
In 2018, she won the Random Thoughts Writing Prize and was the 2nd runner up for the 2018
Kofi Awoonor Literary Prize. Currently, she works with Dr Monk as a researcher and project manager.
Originally published December 5, 2019