This letter comes with a reminder of the best gift I can ever give to anyone – my heart, my love, my life. It is very late here but I am very much awake, ‘cos my dear, you are on my mind. Always on my mind. Cupid sent his arrow my way and I lurched forward with my bosom once I espied your name of the tail of the arrow; come and see the hole it has created in my heart. What sweet pain! I have heard one say that love, like a flower, quickly blooms and attracts but with the same celerity evaporates like a mirage in the Kalahari. If that is a popular opinion I walk a lonely path then, because my love for you is like the seed that forms in a woman’s womb – once fertilised, it only knows growth. Like a mixture of concrete, this love hardens and intensifies in strength as it walks hand in hand with time.
Ah! my heart bleeds with this wound of love. I want you to walk this path of ecstasy, this journey of bliss, this adventure of forever-ness with me – always. I miss you terribly, so much my dear. Come quickly, my Prince, and heal my wound, my heart aches for you, my soul yearns for you and my eyes long to set their gaze on you, again.
I want to sing it out, shout it, tell it on the mountain tops to anyone who cares to listen, to the birds so they carry it to the ends of the world – you are mine, and oh, I love you. Lemme hear from you, darling, because you are all I live for.
She who is yours,
She sat back and looked at the letter again. The words seemed to connect with her very soul, and as she focused on each line of the letter, she seemed to be imbuing the words with her spirit, to carry exactly the emotions she felt to the intended recipient. The words seemed to her more like poetry than prose, poetry both sad and meaningful, emotional, full of life, and she was trusting that these words will be her angels of plea, to bring her relief from this pain of love. It was about 1 a.m. and the entire ambience was as quiet as a stillborn baby. She did not attempt to hold back the tears that overflowed the swollen banks of her eyes, finding their way into her mouth like River Ankobra’s journey to the Atlantic ocean. The salty taste did nothing to soothe her aching heart. Her portable stereo oozed Kojo Antwi’s song Dade anoma [Metal bird, a reference to an aeroplane], connecting with the thoughts she had transmitted onto paper. She wished, in tandem with the Musicman, that a bird would suddenly appear to take her letter to her loved one. She clutched the paper to her breast, rose and walked to the window, slowly, and watched through the netting. Serene was the view outside, contrasting her feelings, the cool breeze caressing her plump cheeks.
Kwesi was two years ahead of her in the secondary school, Amenfiman High. Araba knew him as a very serious science student, who was so much in love with his books. Rarely did you see him on campus without a book – a textbook, a novel, a book nevertheless. Grave was his countenance most times, pensive his aura almost always. Even in the dining hall, where it was usual for students to chit-chat and tease each other especially before meals, Kwesi would sit quietly at table, reading while meals were being served, and eat without as much as a look around him.
In Amenfiman, there were five houses each for the boys and girls, and the houses were named such that there were five pairs. It was the custom that the girls in the female houses shared tables with the occupants of the counterpart male houses. Kwesi was in Bassanyin House, whose counterpart female house was Akoaa house; providence collaborated with fate to ensure Araba and Kwesi shared the same table. She admired him but only at a distance. He was so sober, how could anyone get across to such? He seemed quite content being by himself at all times, self-contained, not caring for a chat. The impression was that he would not even have time for anyone, let alone maintaining a friendship with the opposite sex.
She overhead the conversation at the corner of Akoaa dormitory called nnipa nse hwee, translated loosely as ‘man is worthless’, as she passed on her way to the bathroom for her afternoon bath. Nnipa nse hwee (NNH) was the gossip headquarters of the school, and being the subject of discussion at NNH was of two-fold significance: the subject was important, and the worth of the subject after an NNH treatment was less than that of a orphanage dog.
“That Kwesi boy, who does he think he is?” That was Akosua, the title holder of the Kokonsa hemaa (queen of gossip).
“Which Kwesi are you girls talking about? I hope it is not my Kwesi o!” Lady Tinash was just returning to the dormitory from class; she didn’t normally patronize lunch in the dining hall, as she considered it beneath her status as a leading lady in the school. She delved straight into the gossip.
“Tinash, ah, you know your Kwesi cannot be discussed here; you know when we talk about him, and only in flowery terms!” Sexy Gogormi was the moderator for this particular topic; indeed, she was like the communications and information director of Nnipa Nse Hwee, bringing in topical issues for deliberation.
Akosua continued, “It is the Mills-Brown guy, because he thinks he is handsome and intelligent, he goes around strutting like a Manhyia peacock, thinking of himself better than everyone else.”
“Who says he is handsome?”
“Ebei, SG (her friends called Gogormi by the abbreviated form of her nickname), don’t act like the hunter who said the bird wasn’t nice afterall, when he failed to shoot it after stalking it for days. Aren’t you the same gal who used to fancy Mills-Brown?”
All the girls burst out laughing. Tinash was like that. With her choice Asanti proverbs, she could bring humor into the discussions and also cut right to the bone. And when she wanted to be caustic in her remarks, those same proverbs came in handy.
“But seriously, girls, does that boy fear girls or what? I was on the same table with him last year, he was so shy of us!”
“I don’t think it is shyness, it is pride!” SG insisted.
“But he is an SU (Scripture union) member, how can he be proud?”
“Kai, their pride is even worse, when it is covered by a false spiritual cloak.”
Hmm, it was a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the NNH council.
Interestingly, though, the more the girls discussed Kwesi, the more Araba thought of him; she just could not get him off her mind. She was beginning to understand that Kwesi’s apparent aloofness was a challenge to many and this situation to her was like wind to fire – it extinguished the small and rekindled the mighty.
The Scripture union (SU) brought most young christians on campus together; both Araba and Kwesi were members. One evening at SU, the program was Interaction time, during which members were supposed to interact with and get to know one another better. After a short time of prayer and singing, the MC for the evening asked members to chat amongst themselves. Araba turned to find the first person to talk to, and who did she face but Kwesi! Kwesi, of all the people at the meeting! Her heart missed a beat, no, two beats!
“Hello, I am Kwesi Mills-Brown, Form 5 Science,” he opened up.
“Hi, my name is Araba…Araba Frimpomaa Larbi. Three C.”
The ice was broken. They talked the entire period, a duration which many used to chat with about three persons altogether. It was a hilarious chat they had. It was as if they had known each other for years. She was pleasantly surprised by his sense of humour. Indeed, appearances are deceptive, but smell is not, and had not the elders said that it is only when you shook the nim tree (Azadirachta indica) that you smell it well? Definitely one needed to get closer to be able to shake – you can’t shake by remote control. She was struck by his quiet nature, his simple choice of words and his depth of knowledge. After exchanging basic information about each other – age, subjects offered, favourite food etc – interspersed with jokes and anecdotes, Kwesi challenged her to live for the Lord and never give up her faith, in whatever difficulty she went through; and to value her salvation, since it was the best thing that had and will ever happen to her.
Before long, it was time for the meeting to wind up, and Araba and Kwesi had to go back to their seats. He again expressed his pleasure at meeting her and promised to keep in touch.
Araba took a long time sleeping that night. She was excited. She relived the conversation they had in her mind the umpteenth time. Oh, Kwesi was so pleasant to talk to. Truly, you could not judge an object from afar, she philosophised. She resolved to know him better, for here surely was a friend worth keeping. She reasoned that it was not that Kwesi felt superior to others but that he was just not an extrovert. Only when you got close to such people did you find the gold in them. Eh, Araba, are you now a psychologist, she teased her thoughts, with a laugh. With a beatific smile on her face, she drifted into a peaceful sleep, embracing her thoughts and taking a stroll into dreamland.
True to his word, Kwesi sent a note to her the next morning.
Hi Rabbs, [Oh she remembered! Araba smiled at his reference to her nickname]
It was great chatting with you yesterday. Once again, it’s been a pleasure meeting you. I hope to be a friend, and a good one too. There are a lot of things we can share together – our challenges, our anxieties, and of course God’s word. Keep on keeping on in the Lord.
That note opened the gates to a fulfilling friendship between them. Kwesi and Araba kept nothing hidden from each other, encouraging and spurring one another on. They became an epitome of friendship on campus and grew fond of one another each passing day.
Kwesi passed his ‘O’ Levels and continued at the same school. After his statutory National service, he continued to the University. He was in his fourth year in Medical school when Araba wrote the letter, that memorable letter, to him.
Araba was teaching for her National service at Assin Kabrofo after completing teachers’ training college. Her friendship with Kwesi had developed into something stronger, that ‘something’ Araba found out during this period of her service.
The National service in faraway Assin, about four hundred kilometers from the capital city, was taking its toll on Araba. Her job as a teacher in the local junior secondary school was exhausting. She was miles away from home, in the midst of unfamiliar people; she felt so lonely. Her companions were the many letters that came from Kwesi, she looked forward to them each week with the expectation of a pregnant woman in her ninth month. Kwesi had become unto her a pillar, a great companion, a balm that soothed her in times of depression and frustration. It was there, in the dense forest area of Assin, where loneliness lead her to do long reflections, excursions in her mind she called them, that she came to the realisation that she was indeed in love. In love and with Kwesi. She saw him, now, not only as a friend and a brother, but a life companion. In retrospect and with the benefit of maturity, she understood her initial feelings towards Kwesi now – it was a seed of affectionate love, right from the start.
But for two months now, she hadn’t heard from Kwesi. Had Kwesi deserted her, discarded her, left her when she needed him most, when her mind had finally accepted what her heart has been belting out for a long time, that she was in love with him? Had her love been in vain? She had heard many stories about those University guys, how they could easily forget about their steadies as soon as they feasted their eyes on those kyingilingi (slim) Varsity girls. You can’t do this to me, Kwesi, surely you can’t…but did he love her too, she asked herself yet again. “Never assume a man’s love”, she reminded herself. What if Kwesi just saw her as a sister in Christ, a friend?
Ebo Nkwantabisa was known far and wide in the Assin area. A famed hunter, it was believed that if one held a finger up, Ebo could shot it off at a hundred yards. The antelope and the deer he had killed, the gorilla and the wild boar he had subdued. He also loved to hunt another species in the land of the living: girls. And he had a similar reputation in that enterprise as well.
When he set his eyes on the new teacher of A1, one of the two local L.A. Middle School (even though the educational system had moved to the Junior Secondary School naming, the old name still stuck in the local lingua), his adrenalin level shot up a thousand notches. In the game of winning ladies, he operated with the same strategy he employed in the thick of the forest: study the intended target (likes, dislikes, sounds), observe its daily routine, draw a line of approach (including baits, traps), lie in wait patiently and strike opportunistically. Needless to say, his success rate was high. And it helped that he was the chief’s son.
Araba usually woke up at 5.30 each morning, to say her daily prayers and read the Bible, before opening her door. As a teacher, she didn’t have to go to the Ankobra river to fetch water. The headmaster had a rooster for the pupils to supply each teacher with water, firewood and charcoal. Water, the pupils procured from the river. Firewood and charcoal, they supply as a non-syllabus item he called Art & Craft. With this blanket subject, sundry items were provided by the pupils at no extra cost to the school.
Araba’s foot hit an item, in a sack, on the ground as she stepped out of her room. It was a bit foggy, as the monsoon and harmattan winds had started spreading a haze across the countryside. However, the cool wind that the harmattan conveyed brought relief from the oppressive heat. She jumped back immediately, a bit frightened. She went back into her room and waited for the day to fully break.
It was a roasted grass-cutter, its limbs linked by arrow-like sticks, spread-eagled.
“Yes, Miss, maa kye (good morning).”
The village folk called every female teacher Miss, whether married or single. Araba lived in a compound house, of five families, each occupying a unit of two rooms. The entire compound house shared one bathroom, and for nature’s call, the newly commissioned communal KVIP was the place to go. It was Baffour Maame’s turn to sweep the courtyard. As a privilege, again, Araba was exempt from sweeping the courtyard or scrubbing the bathroom. Bush allowance for teachers, it was called.
“Auntie, please, did you see the person who brought this?”
Baffour’s mum smiled to herself. She knew only one person who used that strategy in Kabrofo.
“No, I didn’t see anyone drop it there. I was up when the first cock crowed but no one has come near your door.”
“Hmm. OK, can you please keep this on the top of your barn for me, so it still gets smoked? I need to find out who brought it before I do anything with it.”
After school that day, Araba crossed the school field from A1 towards the street that separated Old Town from Sikafuo Amantem. She took the path behind Opanyin Apusika’s shop, and turned left into the market. She needed to buy some dried fish for the kontomire stew she was planning to cook. Baffour Maame had given her gift of ten well-built fingers of plantain and she intended to do justice to it.
With her fish and kontomire duly bought, Araba went by Nana Potisaa’s store, to say hi to the old lady. Madam Potisaa was one of the oldest in the village and particularly liked Araba, saying she resembled her long deceased grand-daughter. Araba gave the old lady the two tins of sardine she always took to her and sat by her bed to chat for a while.
Kwame Atta, one of Nana Potisaa’s grandchildren, came in.
“Miss, Bra Ebo is looking for you.” She didn’t know anyone by that name, but Kwame sounded excited. Araba stepped out to see a tall, well-built man sitting on the veranda.
He got up and extended his hand; she shook it.
“Please, did you get the akrantie I asked Atta to bring to you yesterday?”
“Yes, I did. I didn’t know who it was from though.”
“Ah, oh, it was from me. I trapped it myself and dried it in a special way, just for you, Miss.
“Thank you, but I don’t eat bush meat.”
It has been a particularly tiring day. It was about 4.30 p.m. and she had just returned from school after preparing her students for the impending examinations. Getting home was becoming a chore too – she had to watch out for Ebo, changing routes so she didn’t have to cross paths with him. He had become more than a pest; perhaps unable to realize that not all girls were his for the taking in the village. His gifts had progressed from bush meat through mutton to kente, all in a bid to win her. Baffour Maame’s soup had undergone a revolutionary upgrade since Ebo set his heart on Araba. Not hearing from Kwesi exacerbated her frustration at the situation.
It had been a week since she mailed that letter to Kwesi. As she changed into her housedress, to try and relax in bed, her thoughts turned to him almost automatically, immediately, effortlessly.
A knock on the door. Who should be disturbing my limited peace of mind at this time of day, she wasn’t pleased to wonder. She hesitated for a moment, but the knocking persisted. Sometimes her neighbours, especially Baffour Maame, could be tenacious when they wanted to ask her opinion. Again, what if it was Ebo Nkwantabisa. Her heart missed a beat.
“Not him, Lord!” she prayed. She rose and opened the door, reluctantly.
She jumped into his arms. He nearly lost his footing; she was besides herself with joy. Kwesi smiled at her, that slow delicious smile of his that melted her intestines. She didn’t relax her embrace, and he practically had to carry her to the sofa. Araba looked up at him in sheer wonderment, it was so good to be true, Kwesi with her and such a swift answer to her prayers! Such a speedy response to her letter, far beyond her expectations, really!
He suggested they go out for a walk. She obliged and soon with her arms intertwined into his, they took the path that went towards Moseaso, by the peaceful flowing waters of the Ankobra, the waters lovingly washing the rocks in an intricate, ancient ritual, undisturbed by the passage of time. For some time, they walked in silence. Interesting, reflected Araba, that silence could be so enjoyable when it was shared with someone significant, that silence could speak when one was well tuned to its frequency, when the ambience was right. Araba revelled in the moment and wished it would not end.
Kwesi broke the silence eventually, with a squeeze of Araba’s hand. He explained why he had not written for such a long time. He had been on a team of medical students’ outreach to the Brong Ahafo region to educate the folks on malaria prevention, as part of a UN-sponsored project. They had been away for about two months and on their return, he found Araba’s letter in his pigeonhole – he came to Assin immediately.
“Oh Kwesi” was all Araba could say. She felt cherished, and all the anxiety and tension in the past couple of months seemed to ebb and dissipate.
They were now on the outskirts of the village, on the southern part. The sun was beginning his journey to his sleeping abode, and most of the villagers were returning to their homes from the day’s work at their farms, with loads of foodstuff and firewood on their heads. Araba waved back at Auntie Mansa, who had her sixth child tired to her back, with two of her children following their father, who held in his hands a freshly trapped grasscutter. A visitor of Miss was always welcome and many of the other folks smiled, waved or stopped to shake hands. It was better to shake hands, since a wave from afar was sometimes deemed uncouth, and referred to as cutting a branch of a tree! However, few stopped to shake the hands of the visitor, as they sensed that Miss wanted some privacy.
Kwesi turned Araba to face him, and he looked down into her eyes.
“My dear, know this. We may still have a long way to go but take this from me. Allow me to borrow from Scripture. Human as I am, I promise never to leave you nor forsake you. You seem to think you alone have the capacity to love, more than all men; all ladies have that false impression. Hear this: I love you back! So long have I loved you, and I have had to admit it to myself, eventually. I know I haven’t shown it much, I needed to be careful, to be sure of myself, of my commitment, to move appreciation to affection. But now I know that my love is for you, and I want to shout it out too, now!”
He embraced Araba warmly. Contentment showed on both faces as they remained in their embrace. Far above them, the sun smiled gently on those two lovebirds and gave them his blessings, as he opened the door to his house. The songs of the birds ceased, the wind became quiet, the tree branches craned their long necks, all nature seeming to come to a standstill as Kwesi and Araba walked back to the village slowly, arms linked, down the aisle of life, a solemn procession with the trees and creatures of nature as their companions and audience, back to the village, back to love, back to peace. Heartaches may still come their way, but at least they knew they had a cure – their love.
© Nana Awere Damoah
Updated October, 2010