[Haven’t read part 1? Do so here]
“This is all your fault!”someone hissed.
Jostled from her reverie, Amsatou looked up in confusion. She glanced at her young cousin to her left, who stared blankly back at her. Realizing that it was her other cousin who had spoken, Amsatou sighed deeply and looked to her right.
Leila’s face had an accusatory air to it, and she was wearing her usual black top with the words “I Love N.Y.” proudly displayed in red. Leila was a good five years older than Amsatou, but at 23, her smooth face and soft voice made her look as though she had just stopped suckling at her mother’s breast.
“What are you talking about?” Amsatou replied, feigning ignorance.
She hooked her arm securely around her bucket’s handle and quickened her already fast pace. Auntie Adiza was a good distance ahead of the girls, and was still muttering incoherently to herself.
Amsatou glanced down at her aunt’s small feet; ordinarily chocolate brown in complexion, they had taken on a reddish tinge from walking in the orange clay soil that was characteristic of new communities like Adenta.
Feeling a nudge at her side, Amsatou turned and looked down at ten -year old Selma, the youngest of her aunt’s five children and the prettiest.
“She’s talking about Mr. Adjaklu,” Selma offered, before breaking into a fit of giggles. Amsatou opened her mouth to respond.
“What are you girls doing way back there? Have you seen the time?” Auntie Adiza was standing a few houses away from them, arms akimbo, and she didn’t look too amused.
“It’s already six o’clock, we haven’t even found water for tonight’s meal, and you three are busy modeling? Do you think this is a catwalk? Hurry up, will you!” As abruptly as she’d stopped to address them, Auntie Adiza turned on her heel and walked off.
Amsatou transferred her empty bucket to her right arm, and reached down with her left to grab Selma’s free hand. Staring straight ahead, she walked quickly. Selma struggled to keep up.
Amsatou didn’t need to look to her right to know that Leila was glaring angrily at her. She could feel it.
Auntie Adiza might have rescued her from Leila’s confrontation, but she knew it would come up again. A wave of heat spread across Amsatou’s face. There it was again, the guilt that was slowly eating away at her insides.
After the default tuo-zaafi and green soup that night, Amsatou helped Selma with her homework, while Leila cleaned up. It was ten o’clock.
The group had returned from their water expedition just as the call to the final prayer for the day was being made. After filling the kettle-like containers with rain water collected two night earlier, Leila performed ablution and joined the others in saying their prayers. All three of them: Asr, Maghrib and Isha.
Islamic tradition dictated that the five daily prayers be said at their appointed times. But surely, Allah would be understanding and forgive their tardiness.
They had been in search of water since 2pm that afternoon. At 6:45pm, they’d trailed exhaustedly into the open compound of their 3-bedroom bungalow without a single drop of water to show for all their toil.
Fortunately, Auntie Adiza’s husband, Baba, had succeeded in filling two of the jerry cans he had taken to work, and Auntie Adiza had used some of that water to prepare the evening meal.
Amsatou wondered why they couldn’t just fetch water from the school where Baba taught mathematics. Afterall, they were already paying for taps that didn’t flow. Would it hurt to get the water elsewhere?
Ghanaian politicans always promised to ensure that the taps ran, because “water is life, and of course, nobody should be denied the right to such an essential commodity.” Then, they went and used their flamboyant expressions on so-called investors, who had no qualms about charging double the actual price in order to secure high profit margins for their non-Ghanaian companies.
However, the politicians weren’t the worst.
In Amsatou’s book, it was men like Mr. Adjaklu who were the real perpetrators.
“Amsatou, I’m finished. Can I go and sleep now?” Selma rubbed her drowsy eyes with the back of her hand.
Reaching across the mahogany coffee table for her young cousin’s exercise book, Amsatou smiled tiredly.
“Let me look it over , so you make corrections okay?”
Selma’s lower lip quivered, “But I’m tired,” she whined.
Amsatou looked over her shoulder towards her aunt’s bedroom, which was cracked slightly open. Her aunt was probably counting the money she’d made from selling her popular rice and beans at the market.
“Okay, go and sleep. I’ll finish it for you.”
She watched as Selma got up and walked towards the room the three girls shared. She got to the door, and as if remembering something important, stopped, turned around, cocked her head to the side and said, ‘Thank you, okay?” before disappearing into the warm confines of their bedroom.
Amsatou remained seated on the green plastic mat that served as makeshift furniture when the family had guests. Selma never ceased to amaze her. She was one of the most considerate, intelligent and mature ten-year olds Amsatou knew. Her perceptiveness always left people scratching their heads in confusion. Even old folk with bald or graying heads. Some suggested that Auntie Adiza’s deceased mother had come back as Selma.
Grandmother’s spirit or not, Amsatou was glad to have Selma in her life. They interacted more as sisters who were close in age, than as cousins with eight years between them. Ever since Selma was born, Amsatou had taken a special liking to her. Maybe it was because she had no siblings of her own.
No, that couldn’t be it. Her relationship with Leila was nowhere close to what she shared with Selma.
Amsatou had helped take care of her aunt’s youngest daughter after she was born. While everyone slept at night, the then eight-year old Amsatou would keep an ear open for Selma’s soft wail, and once she heard it, she would hurry over to her cousin’s side and offer her little finger, which baby Selma grabbed onto almost immediately.
The two were inseparable, and people often mistook Amsatou for Selma’s big sister.
Initially, Amsatou would explain, “I’m actually not her big sister. Leila is. I’m her cousin.”
Each time, the inquirer would respond, “Cousin? Ah-ah, do we even have cousins in Ghana? That’s Western talk. She’s your sister, have you heard?”
The idea of having her very own sister had grown on her, and each time someone asked, Amsatou would respond with a huge smile on her face, “Yes, I’m her big sister.”
“Doing her homework for her again, are we?”
As if to remind Amsatou of the fact that Selma had a blood sister, Leila appeared from the kitchen. Grabbing a wooden stool from the corner of the room, she sat down. Amsatou ignored her. She’d taken to ignoring her a lot these days.
Leila watched as Amsatou signed her name right below Selma’s neat handwriting, and then said: “You know, if you keep doing her homework for her, she’ll never learn anything. All those fees Mma struggles to pay will go to waste.”
Amsatou pretended not to have heard. She closed the exercise book and reached for Selma’s book bag. She knew exactly where Leila was headed with this. Almost on cue, Leila stretched out her legs, and reached for a tuft of her hair, which she proceeded to braid.
“Come to think of it, if you just did what Mr. Adjaklu wanted, we wouldn’t have to spend ages water-hunting, and Selma would be able to concentrate on her school work.”
Grinding her teeth together silently, she fastened the buttons on the green book-bag.
Leila laughed dryly. “You could save us from this struggle, but because of your selfish pride, you won’t. Or is it that you think you’re so much better than the rest of us?”
Still, Amsatou ignored her. She got up, placed Selma’s book bag against the wall and retreated into the bedroom.
A couple of minutes later, she felt the mattress sink in as her cousin joined her on the queen-sized bed.
“I know you’re intentionally ignoring me, but think about what I said,” Leila muttered before turning to face the wall.
And that’s all Amsatou did that night. Think.
This piece was written by Jemila Abdulai
All Rights Reserved.
Jemila Abdulai is the creative director, editor and founder of the award-winning website Circumspecte.com. A media and international development professional and economist by training, she combines her business, communications and project management expertise with her strong passion for Africa. Besides writing and reading, she enjoys travel, global cuisine, movies, and good design.