I am not exactly sure what woke me up – the sound of the rain hitting the aluminium roof or snippets of Emeka and Jackline’s argument wafting through the thin walls. They always pick odd hours for their fights and prayer meetings. I reached for my watch – it was 3:15 am. Who argues about money for garden eggs and plantain at 3:15? Two days ago, Jackline was yelling at the top of her voice at 4 am, accusing her husband of being solely responsible for all her problems. They have been married for four years without any children. Emeka really loves her, but she is so clouded by the insecurity that stems from not being able to give him a child that she is terrified that he will one day leave for work and never come back. When she isn’t yelling at her husband over trivial things, she is praying for God to ‘silence her enemies and give her a child’.
After listening to Jackline spin her ‘you don’t love me anymore’ theory for another fifteen minutes, I got up to place one of our buckets outside so that the rainwater would drip into it. It was chilly outside and I pulled the ends of my cotton nightgown closer, in the hope of feeling a bit warmer. With the exception of Emeka and Jackline, almost everyone was asleep. The wind was blowing aggressively, tossing everything out of its way. Most of the people in our compound house had placed barrels and buckets outside in anticipation of the rain. Just then, the light in Papa Ajako, the landlord’s room came on and I decided to make my way back inside. He was always making lewd comments about my body, while rubbing his potbelly, when he wasn’t reminiscing about his days in Germany as a borga. The thought of being alone with him on a cold morning like this filled me with disgust. My mother was beginning to stir when I entered the room. Ours was a rather small room. We had a small second-hand fridge in one corner of the room, a table with our cooking utensils on it, and three jute bags that contained all our belongings. We slept on mats in the other corner of the room.
My mother and I have always had a complicated relationship. I look exactly like she did when she was 21 years old, but I have a lighter complexion, like my father’s. My father doted on me as a child and I discovered that my mother resented it, believing that it would make me soft. She tried to balance it by being the stern one, but it only resulted in us being estranged. I suspect that she secretly blamed me when Dada left, and I can only imagine the betrayal she must have felt the day she discovered that Dada was still in touch with me. I was too young to understand why he left, so I couldn’t exactly take sides. Mother took it the hard way and refused to accept any help from him and that is how we ended up here. She had vehemently refused to have anything to do with him and turned a blind eye to the tubers of yam that he sent us at the beginning of every month.
She was fully awake now, humming a song under her breath. I got up and grabbed a broom from the corner of the room and mumbled a ‘Good morning’. These days, I could never tell what triggered the shouting. Sometimes, it was the fact that I was still indoors after 6am because ‘every girl who has been brought up well does not lie in bed at 6 am’. Other times, it was because I had forgotten to take the washed clothes off the line. The other day, it was because my ‘Yes Ma’ response sounded rather condescending. I got an earful about how she regretted sweating to take care of me, only for me to think that I was superior to her. This morning, my crime was that I didn’t wait for a response when I said ‘Good Morning’. I sighed inwardly as I waited for the onslaught to end. Somehow she could always tell when my mind was elsewhere and that made her even more upset.
Outside, the day was just beginning. The children were playing in the water puddles that the rain had left behind. Jackline was boiling water on the coal pot for her husband to bath with. Elder Horatius was sitting outside his room, polishing his shoes for work. My mother couldn’t stand him. He was a church elder and also one of the most promiscuous men in our neighbourhood, an epitome of a good paradox. There was a different woman in his room every night – and they were all women from his church! Auntie Christiana, the landlord’s wife, was seated outside her room, sipping tea from a plastic cup, scantily clad in a piece of cloth. She was rather voluptuous and seemed to take pleasure in watching the men squirm uncomfortably in the morning, as they walked past her to the bathroom. The only other thing she enjoyed was taking care of her prized cockerel. It was very beautiful and its feathers looked like they had been combed. She took better care of it than she did of her husband. The other women in the compound house had an inside joke about her being more likely to commit suicide if that cockerel ended up in a pot of boiling soup than if she saw her husband in bed with another woman. There was actually a time when Papa Ajako had come down with a severe case of malaria. She had refused to follow him to the hospital because her cockerel was not yet back from its daily wanderings. She walked throughout the neighbourhood until 9pm, clucking quietly to get its attention, while her husband lay shivering in bed.
I walked towards the bathroom after I had finished sweeping the compound. The pungent smell of urine hit me even before I opened the door. I fetched water from the barrel and poured it over the urine that had been left there overnight. Because of Auntie Christie’s shouts, I never got to scrub the bathroom tiles. She was entangled in a scuffle with Adiza, Jacob’s girlfriend. Jackline quickly filled me in on the details. Jacob lived next door to Emeka and Jackline, a handsome young man who was working in a bank. Apparently, Auntie Christie had passed a comment that implied that she had been inside Jacob’s room a number of times. Adiza assumed that this meant that Jacob had been sleeping around with Auntie Christie as well. She hailed insults on her and that is what resulted in the scuffle.
‘Useless woman! You sit here all day, lusting after other women’s husbands, instead of taking care of your own! If you weren’t such a disgrace to womanhood, you would have taken your eyes off that good-for-nothing cockerel for a few seconds to cook a meal for your husband. Instead, you sit here trying to catch the eye of other women’s husbands. Marry your God-forsaken cockerel!’ Adiza spat out the words in utter derision. People gathered round them. The children had stopped playing. Passersby were peeping through the gate; others actually climbed the wall to watch the spectacle.
In a bid to gain the upper hand, Auntie Christie threw her slipper at Adiza, but it barely missed her and hit Auntie Christie’s cockerel instead. Her bloodcurdling scream made everybody strain to see what had happened. Her beloved cockerel was now limping on one leg. Everybody went silent, waiting to see what would happen next. Papa Ajako started to laugh loudly, his potbelly rumbling away with the rhythm of the laughter. He started singing a song about chicken soup. Auntie Christie? She just sat on the floor and began to sob soulfully, like a woman who had lost her only child.
Borga- a Ghanaian term for a person who returns from an extended stay overseas and constantly refers to his days there.
Photo credit: Google Images
©Maukeni Padiki Kodjo, 2015