[Something I’ve been working on. I intended to use it for something else, but I feel like I’d rather share it with you guys! Everything in it’s own time. Dedicated to YOWLI 08ers! Thoughts appreciated. Enjoy!!]
Amsatou detested it. Not the weight of the aluminum bucket on her head after it was filled, or the fact that they’d been walking for hours in search of water. No. Those she could handle. Those were part of life.
What she could not tolerate was the feeling of guilt that nibbled at her conscience every time they reached a station, only to be told there was no water available for sale that day. And here it was playing itself out again.
Amsatou loosened her orange and blue tie-dye cloth from her waist, grabbed a corner of it, and raised it to her sweaty, round face.
“Oh, uncle. Even this small bucket? Won’t you give us water for this small one? Me pa wo kyew.”
Amsatou looked up towards the partly blue, party grey metal gate with peeling oil paint where her aunt was begging a stout, dark man. Like most of the middle-aged men in Accra, the beginnings of a pot belly was protruding beneath his oversized t-shirt.
“Madam, I said we have no water to sell! Are you deaf?” The man shouted over the low gate. “The small water we have too, you people want to take away. Instead of going to work to connect your house to the water system, you lazy, good for nothing…”
He didn’t get a chance to finish.
“Hey! Hey!” Auntie Adiza snapped.
Dropping her wide rimmed basin onto the ground, she advanced towards the gate and began to clap her hands loudly.
“I didn’t come here for you to insult me oo! I’m not your size, do you hear me? If you won’t give us the water, just say so! But don’t you dare call me lazy, have you heard! Mchew!”
With that, she adjusted her faded Dutch print cloth across her chest, picked up the basin that was twice her size, and said, “Let’s go! Nkwasiasem kwa kwa!”
Amsatou and her cousins trudged behind Auntie Adiza’s retreating back. Auntie Adiza was right about one thing. She was not his size. For someone with such a small structure, Auntie Adiza’s voice and demeanor were quite overbearing. And those eyes; large, round, and expressive. Those eyes could throw daggers at a person when she was especially mad. Like right now.
“Can you imagine him calling me lazy? Ah! The impudence!” Auntie Adiza muttered as they walked past houses with high cement walls topped with multi-colored pieces of glass from broken coke, sprite and fanta bottles.
Amsatou found it amusing how easily Auntie Adiza had taken personal offense to the man’s words even though he’d referred to all four of them. But then again, that was Auntie Adiza for you. She took personal offense to anything that implicated any member of her family. It was her fierce protectiveness that had blinded Amsatou to the fact that this Napoleon character of a woman wasn’t actually her real mother.
Like many other children across Ghana, Amsatou had been brought to Accra for grooming by her aunt; a successful trader at the Medina market. Never mind the fact that Auntie Adiza had her own children to look after, or that the meager wages she made from selling waakye was barely enough. So long as she was living in the capital city and not the village, she was successful.
As for Amsatou’s own mother, she’d had no say in the matter. What could a mother say when family members, both far and near, insisted that it was time for her only child to earn her keep and contribute to the family’s income?
When the land hardened itself against the hoes and machetes it was all-too familiar with; a silent rebellion against all the years it had been denied the opportunity to fallow and regain its nutrients?
When the old-school black and white TV set that Amsatou’s father owned showed the apparent wealth and opulence of people living in Accra through Ghanaian films like Beyonce: The President’s Daughter and Perfect Picture.
When, by all indications, it was certain that the grass had to be greener on the other side.
She’d resisted sending her daughter for two years. She’d used Amsatou’s lithe and frail body as an excuse for why the child was unwell and too sick to be subjected to the hard labor her peers had already been introduced to. And for two years that excuse had worked.
Until last season’s harvest.
The village women had gathered around the large cotton tree in the wee hours of the morning as they normally did on harvest day. They’d chattered amongst themselves about who’s husband was about to take on their second, third, or fourth wife, and how the junior wives of the time had no respect, absolutely none, for the first wives.
Laughing and chattering, arguing and shouting, a thick silence had befallen them when they arrived at the village farm. It was as if doomsday had finally descended upon humanity.
The leaves of the tomato plants, the corn ears, everything, had a deathly look to it. It was as if someone had decided to take the chilo or khol that the women used to adorn their eyes and spray it all over the farm.
Black, rotten produce. That’s what that harvest day had brought. And even as she joined the other women in salvaging what they could of the deathly farm, Amsatou’s mother had known that she would lose her only child.
The morning of Amsatou’s departure was a beautiful one with the sun peering playfully over the horizon. For Amsatou’s mother, the weather had rubbed in the cruel reality of her situation.
She’d put on a stoic face and fought the urge to cry as her husband carted their daughter away from the collection of grass-thatched huts they called home. Every step seven-year old Amsatou took in her brand new blue bird chale wotes was like a death grip on her mother’s soul; a tightening of iron chains that threatened to squeeze the very life out of her.
As for Amsatou, she couldn’t have been happier. Not because she was going to the big city where everyone had a job and wore western clothes shipped straight from America, but because the blue flip-flops she was wearing had been bought especially for this occasion.
Because they were her very first.
[Continue to part 2]
This piece was written by Jemila Abdulai