Lessons from Essay Lessons.

When the bell ends school’s
petty prisons – rules, reasons –
Love and Life runs out to play…

– Aisha Nelson

The sun finds it fun to generously pour its radiance, through the window, onto a page of my exercise book. Perching at the top corners of the page are the constant Date and Exercise Number. Apart from these, this new page is blank. And I know better than to expect that only these constant-s, without writing the exercise proper, will fetch me a decent grade, any grade. I take much time and care to write the topic of the new exercise. Topic too, I know, still counts for nothing, no grade.

Riza, my friend, has long finished and submitted her work, one of those essays.

I’m forever far from finishing mine. I can’t even bring myself to begin writing. The thought of it:

How I spent my Christmas Holidays”!

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Picture mine: Eclipse, a painting by Kobina Bucknor, at the Ghana Museum of Science and Technology; December 9, 2019

How I wish the sun fills my near-blank page rather – the whole of my exercise book, actually – with Words. With beautiful Words. Beautiful but truthful Words. Words more truthful than they are beautiful. Many such words. Only such words. For I always tell myself not to lie. All my essays, including this one, which I am yet to even write, really need to be short.

This is because all there is to think and write about my recent Christmas holidays can be done in as much as a single lean paragraph. Any addition will be unnecessary, superfluous – a smudge, even, on my integrity. Anything short of or more than the plain truth will be a grave lie. To lie is something I am not to do, to not lie especially because of something as trivial as a grade, a better grade. So I believe.

Meanwhile, the street outside the classroom is bursting with so many stories outshouting each other for attention, shouting to be told, to be written, by anyone who cares to.

Ms *Enam Doe will not be able to mark all the stories if I and every other pupil are to care enough to write a lot less than half of those stories. Yet, she complains my essays are too short. On the previous page of my exercise book is one such exercise. Her red ink’s frozen scream under that last essay eternally reads,

 “This essay is too short, Enam. This must be the last of this kind!”

The last is long past. My turning over a new leaf is not only to write a new essay, but more importantly, to write one of appreciable length – at least, as deemed by my Grade Six Teacher.

“No offending Ms Enam Doe this time”, I mutter to myself.

So I set my **Bic on the first line of the page.

Slowly, I start. I finished my first sentence. But not without the expected drag. Little by teeny little, I write. And write on. One thoughtful word after the other, I filled the page with crisp, warm and fond pictures, moments and memories of my recent Christmas holidays. I was thankful to finally finish.

I shut my eyes for a few seconds. I let myself dream of seeing my new page – my whole book, and even my desk – spilling with the many words I very recently poured…

My essay is set. It sits still, clean and lean on the page. It sits still and still several lines shy and short of half the new page.

And even before Ms Enam Doe’s red ink will add its voice, the blank larger half of the page screams the wretchedness of my mere scratch and funny toil of an essay. The scream rumbles and doubles. The scream fires and crackles sparks and thunders on my poor page. Methinks I even feel my desk quake with all the turmoil.

I watch on, helplessly, as the rumblings scatter my poor essay. The tongues of fires, they hungrily lick my already-lean and now-scattered essay away. Then the rumblings, now full and fat from eating my essay, sport a sly smile, give a guttural belch, wail one long yawn. Stretching its tiny limbs and making to take a nap on my page, the bloated ball of rumblings burst…

The mess from the burst splashes on my sad long face, spills over and into the rest of my book, hangs thick above my desk.  My face falls. My head remains bowed in shame, a shame I can’t readily account for.

Save my face I must. I sit. Upright. Still.

But I don’t write. I can’t bring myself to write. Not anymore. Not yet. Not again. Not for this essay.

I look outside from my desk by the classroom window. That side of the world is bubbling with vast numbers and weights of life-s and promises. The stories on the street are now leaping off everyone and everything. The stories are wandering frantic, peeping here and there, wearing fragile half smiles, prancing down and up everywhere. The stories are tugging along and bumping into everyone and everything and themselves, begging and hoping, insisting and waiting. To be written. Or to be told.

To just put on the temporal…

*

Eager traffic lights and drowsy street lights
blink dawn off their metal-gilded brows.

Towering bill boards and
patches of dew-studded grass glance
beneath and beyond them. With glee.

Low drones of engines from all ends
embrace distant hums of some church organ.

keen conductors
tucked in windows of moving vehicles. 
keener hawkers. 
Outshout, outrun each other.

Breeze heaves past, weaving
through throbbing background and noise.

Wind whistles through
kites tattered and tangled and caught up
tall on soulless poles.

Colour-filled smells of breakfasts linger and vanish
in between the thick and trickle of people and other…

Warm human
bodies and bottles of
chilled water and drinks and such
sweat with heat and cold and both.

LoveCokctail 6

Picture mine: Angles and Gazes and Heights. – A picture of me, somewhere in Accra, Ghana; September 30, 2018.

Time ticks. Time fidgets under blankets of
humid air. Humid air hangs at every end of the street.

A quick push there. A shove.
A crisp pull here.
A crash. And then, a thud.

Skyscrapers stand scattered,
grinning their morning greetings to high clear skies.

Spells of rain showers
soothe and refresh and smooth
aches and wilts and frays.

Groceries
sprout on tables under sheds.

A
shuffle hardens into a walk. A
jog eases into a walk. A
jog grinds into a saunter. A
stop springs into a saunter. A
stop revs into a run. A
shuffle breaks into a run…

Souvenirs
shine anew on shelves in shops.

Honks and horns
screech each
other to hoarse stops.

Sun peeps from behind
billowy clouds sporting white toothless smile.

The street is a pool of people, street is dotted
with soft whirls. The street is awash with
happy hues, street sways to its own music.

Last glimmers of neon lights
fade past early shimmers of glass doors.

*

Good old Life glides past. Everywhere I look, stories abound.

And here I still am, sitting and thinking, labouring and wasting myself away, behind an essay which refuses to be written. I think harder by the seconds.  I search and turn my memory times and over, trying to find if there still is one tiny detail about my Christmas holidays which I may have forgotten.

Then, I can blow up this my new detail with words from that Word Class we learnt in the last Grammar Class: Adjectives, they call it.

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Featured Image: Picture mine: Fishermen at work; a canoe called ‘Good Name‘. somewhere at the seaside between James Town and Ussher For, both Ga Mashi, Accra, Ghana; July 26, 2019.

But then, there is my face to save and my teacher to make happy – and my-self too to make happy, since my teacher and I share a Name. Enam.

And this is how I also will outdo one of my Grande-Mother’s many sayings: I will ‘‘kill three – not just two birds with one stone.’’

Two years later, I’m in a new class in a new school, with a new teacher, having the same lesson – Essay Writing. It is a debate, this time.

I begin with an introduction, as Ms Boakye has taught me, and as I best know how. I begin with an introduction which excellently expressed my side of the motion and fully justified it. I combine truth and length well enough – or so I insisted on believing. That introduction should please any teacher, who should in turn, reward this my rare – if not unique – feat, ever since I began writing essays in school.

But I was to be surprised: I’ve outdone myself and the normal.

My introductory paragraph alone is two lines short of one page. I scan it. I read it. I skim it. I re-read it. I revise it. I proofread it. I review it. And I end up with the same essay and introduction, with same words and word count. For I find every word in there worth choosing, very much worth the inclusion.

And by so doing, I displease another teacher for the opposite of a previous offence: too short essays.

*         

It’s been many years since. If only I had understood those Essays as Compositions, I would not have thought of too many words as Lie-s.

And Oh! How I wish I had realized much earlier that too many words could as well be truth, beautiful truth.

Whether about the use of Adjectives or some other writer-ly style, one thing emerged from this whole experience: Modesty – not of the raw and rigid kind. I prefer to call it, Giftedness, or simply, Gift.

This Giftedness, It has never needed to save its owner’s face. Rather, It feeds her imagination and fills the pouring of her creations, It sharpens her outlook and adds life-colour to the fountain of her imagination.

This Giftedness effortlessly is. It intimately knows.

Through words, this Giftedness unfurls and flares out worlds beyond the mere now, worlds populated with personality, worlds loosened from locale, worlds forever far from the mundane. It is at once an exclusive sanctuary for all things too wondrous for the eloquence of words. It is a universe of possibilities upon infinities.

This Giftedness has a unique gift for everyone who encounters It.

This Giftedness does not kill one, two, three or more birds with one stone. Rather, like birds, It is free to soar the endless realms of the worlds of Words, soar and explore without the fear of room or restraint, without any fear of any kind.

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Flying despite the fear, into the face of the fear, past the fear: A picture of me taken by my nephew, Kofi – at the Ghana Museum of Science and Technology; December 20, 2019.

So I now soar and explore, I write my life-world away.

And while at it, I am all too glad to watch the sun generously pour itself into my bliss…

 

*   *   *

Love,

AishaWrites.

– Wednesday, January 29, 2020: Dansoman, Accra, Ghana.

***

Glossary:

*Enam is an Ewe name that means ‘Gift’ or specifically, ‘God/He gave It to me’.

** Bic is the trademark of a very popular brand of pen in Ghana.

An earlier version of this story was the second  of my and Phillis Wheatley‘s annual Chicken Soup publication.  

 

A Poem and Some: To Onukpa Atukwei Okai, In Memoriam. (Part 2)

 

This is the second and concluding Part of this writing. Read the first part.

Prof-Atukwei-Okai 3

Picture of Prof. Atukwei Okai – Image may be protected by copyright.

The next and last time I encountered Onukpa Atukwei Okai, it was not at PAWA House.

That next and last time, it was a phone conversation, a conversation which occurred days before my getting into what has always been the very closed undergrad (third year) Introduction to Creative Writing class at the Department of English, University of Ghana, Legon.

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Foregrounds of the The Balme Library, of the University of Ghana, Legon – Image may be protected by copyright.

Prof. Kofi Anyidoho was to be the lecturer, and he would later be a teacher, and a father, to us his students – and when I am not too shy, he would be a friend too, to me, like any of the rest.

And this was throughout the two years that the full Creative Writing courses ran – that is, throughout the two years the course progressed from Introduction to Creative Writing (year three, first semester) and congealed into simply Creative Writing (year three, second semester) before caking with a frightening but freeing intent into Advanced Creative Writing (final year, year-long).

And this was throughout same two years during which the class size was whittled down from 21 to 15 and then straight to 5 students.

From Twenty-One

With the One sitting odd and decidedly detached from the neatly even Twenty, the One sitting aloof yet playing like It belonged to the defined, recognisable form of the Twenty…

I was that One

And for reasons and circumstances I am – again, even up to this day – not able to fully understand and believe, I was one of that final Five.

I was One. Anyway. Despite. In the end.

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Picture Mine: Personal copies of portfolio submitted for grading at the end of each semester of the entire Creative Writing courses: ENGL 363 – Third Year, First Semester; ENGL 364 – Third Year, Second Semester; ENGL 450 – Year long, Final Year. ENGL 450 portfolio is submitted at the end of both semesters, the final one being the ‘fuller’, final student work.

Somewhere during those two years, Dr. Mawuli Adjei would take the classes for some four or two weeks, while Prof. Anyidoho needed to be away. And this was not necessarily the beginning, but definitely was a reference point for his becoming my former lecturer and an ongoing teacher, a kind father and great friend. (And oh, for a reason I’m yet to know, and perhaps, too shy, as usual, to ask, he calls me Sheilla, not Aisha! But not like I mind. So…) Dr. Mawuli Adjei.

Again, forgive me if I (seem to) have digressed again: I only want to tell this story and tell all of it (in one piece, at one place) and never have to tell (another bit of) it elsewhere, again.

So that phone conversation with Onukpa Atukwei Okai. The point of it all was as urgent and grave as the great good which his bringing of Madam Star Nyaniba Hammond and I together brought to my writer-life.

So somewhere in that very brief phone conversation, there was something Onukpa Atukwei Okai said, something after which our conversation had to die a natural, sudden end.

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Credit: BBC Pidgin// ‘Proverb’ Translation: No matter full a bus gets, nobody sits on the driver’s seat.

Something which sank with indelible impact in me because Onukpa Atukwei had taken the time and care to say it in Ga, the mother-tongue he and I shared.

Something which I would later ponder and wonder long about for days and hours, weeks and close to months and a year.

Something which, in the end, would seep and pour and pool into a poem I would write and include in the portfolio I would submit for grading at the end of the first semester of the entire Creative Writing course.

A poem which, in its own weight and ways, would add to the grades which would keep me in the class throughout those two years, the two years at the end of which only 5 out of the initial jagged-edged number of a 21 – rather than the crisply neat 20 – students remained. Solely by merit, I must mention.

Prof-Atukwei-Okai

Picture of Prof. Atukwei Okai – Image may be protected by copyright.

And even though I am certain Onukpa Atukwei Okai did not know, and might/would never know about this poem, I do not want to forget to let it be known that long before he passed on, he had lived and will continue to live in a poem he inspired.

A poem he could have as well written and written far better.

A poem he would have all but written if not that it would have been – or at least, have seemed – too novice of him.

A poem he inspired, singularly, all the same.

A poem, I say.

*

The Car 

I have a destination
I have a ticket
the car is full
some said

I have to get there
I have what it takes
the car is full
all chanted

I shall be there
I ought to
the car is full
conductor comes

here I am
out-standing them all
the car came full
and I was the driver

*

Love,

AishaWrites,
AishaRemembersToo.

Monday 20th August, 2018;
Kalpohine Estates, Tamale, Ghana.

*

PS.:

 The Car was one of the poems I read on the weekly radio programme, Writers Project on Citi, on Citi 97.3 FM, on Sunday, 6th May 2012. Before then, I had performed this poem at an open-air theatre event by the Academy of Young Writers – Ghana, at Mensah Sarbah Hall, University of Ghana, Legon

Ghost Town – Student Writing (Part 5)

This is the fourth and final composition piece in the Student Writing Series.

See the Introduction to the series, and the first, second and third composition pieces.

*

It was nearing midnight in the town of Afien.

Mr Firsch, my guardian had just finished shaving his bristle moustache and was happily under his bed covers, drifting into Lalaland. Everyone else was asleep.

Except Me.

I was not going to sleep tonight.

I was high up on the local hill, taking more than just a peep at the legendary Ghost Town.

Ghost Town was, till now, a myth told us by our grandparents and those before them. The story went that every night, hours after we were all coiled and asleep in our beds, our ancestors rose from death and grave and relived moments full of life and zest underneath the hill, in the bottomless abyss of nothingness. I thought of all this as fickle – that our grandparents took too many swigs of beer before they came to fib to us. I thought…

Until Now.

From the top of the hill I could see Ghost Town. It had this light blue colour and everything there was an eerie shade of this light blue.

The buildings were different, each from the other – from mighty skyscrapers to meek thatched serf huts made of light blue mud and straw. Then there were a gigantic marble church, a magnificent gothic museum, a soccer pitch which almost looked perfect for me to flaunt my supreme sports skills, and no, not a school in sight.

Ghost Town looked everything like the dream place everyone wanted to be but did not know. Yet.

I could see all those who had gone before me: the millionaire who died in an aircraft crash, perched at the top of his mansion; my grandparents walking on the pavement, bobbing their heads to the jazz band playing in a massive amphitheatre close by; my lively dead dog, Fifi, running furiously from street to street and back; Mrs Firsch, the lovely lady who used to treat us kids to baked goodies; and Clifton, the madman who used to ramble on and forever about the existence of this place when he was alive and was part of the day and earthly side of Afien.

He looked quite sane now. Clifton.

Ghost Town really had it all.

CloudYOU! Dusk.

Photo mine. Circa 2014. Dusk. Somewhere not far from Lapaz, in Accra, Ghana.

I was so enthralled by the city’s awesomeness that I nearly did not hear the bell chime for 5 o’clock.

Soon, the sun began its steady climb up the sky and Ghost Town began to disappear, in bits and splits. All the ghosts rose into the air and flew towards the nearby cemetery. The blue buildings – virtually everything – sublimed into the clay chasm.

Everyone, everything was soon gone.

Except Me.

Pondering.

“Was it necessary to go back to Afien, really necessary to go through constant troubles, to be confused and consumed by all the evils of the world, to be soured and pained by men – humankind, in general?

Were all these pains and troubles necessary when paradise was just a mere death away?”

Anyway.

…so the next time you see me – probably with a crooked neck, or a broken back, or wobbly legs or whatever I sacrificed to get here – I will probably be sprinting laps with Fifi, or swimming in the town pool or lying on the ghost blue grass wearing a big smile and looking at you, telling you I am in a better place…

*

Bio:

Keli

Photo mine. A picture of Keli.

Keli Dey loves what many of his peers loathe: Jazz, Football, Comic Strips. The list never ends.

He loves to read too, and to seek and come to love new book genres.

He is an undying, unapologetic fan of 8’o clock business shows and premier league interviews – he thoroughly enjoys crushing his amateurish classmates on any FIFA game.

Like your typical gawky 14 year old, Keli doesn’t often express his thoughts in the open, unless he is coerced, many times, for far too long…

But give him a piece of paper. And a decent pen.

*

Love,

AishaTeaches.

AishaWrites. Too.

— Dansoman, Accra, Ghana; Friday, 29th March, 2019.

Waiting – Student Writing (Part 4)

This is the third composition piece in the Student Writing Series. See the Introduction to the series, and the first and second composition pieces.

*

Have you ever felt your heart beat so loud that you thought there was a little green elf – shaped like an alphabet and with tiny green shoes – clanging onto a huge Taipei gong in your heart? Well, that was me yesterday.

It was 5 hours to Christmas.

And there I was. A cute seven year old boy from Greenland, a boy so tiny a sesame seed could be a thousand and three times bigger. There I was. With straight-blonde hair snipped to the level of my bent over shoulders, with eyes as bright and glamorous as an Asian model’s make up set. Altogether so glittery!

Again, there I was. With short, pointed nose and flaccid eyebrows and a little pink mouth. A tiny boy I was indeed, but I could swear my heart was way bigger than Jupiter. So naive and innocent I was – and perhaps, still is – and filled with so much anguish and too much curiosity.

I was waiting for Santa to come down my old, brick-red, dusty chimney. To the fireplace.

I was anxious and some.

An hour went by. Then 2. Three. And then 4.

I struggled all night to fight the sleep that came to tame my eyes and undo all the wake I had been keeping. Thankfully, victory was mine and it was just 30 minutes before midnight.

I could feel my heart pumping and pounding at least six times per second. I kept glaring at the Old Bulgarian plastic clock that sat comfortably on top of the seven-foot polished, Brazilian wooden shelf, the shelf that I have always believed has been in this house long before my dad was in diapers.

15 minutes to midnight, and it almost felt as if a group of 100 meter track runners were sprinting up and down my belly. I had butterflies and even more butterflies and maybe birds too…

I could not believe I was actually going to see him. The mysterious man sporting that long, white, fluffy, cotton-candy-like beard. And I was prepared for all of it!

I was in my newest pyjamas, the one mum had bought for me a few days ago. My pyjamas boasted of a neon green colour, had Christmas trees on them, and its soft cotton-material made my skin feel warm, made me feel calm. Well, at least, it was meant to, but the curiosity and anxiety of my wait will not let me be truly still. Goosebumps dotted and marched all over my body, leaving my arms looking like the skin of an uncooked chicken wing.

The minutes slithered past with painful leisure. But soon, it was left with very few more minutes before…

LoveCokctail 8

Picture mine: At a beach to reflect, write and such – around Labadi, Accra.Ghana; Sunday, December 2, 2018.

It was time! One minute to midnight. And I could not really really keep calm.

I began to dream and imagine what Santa would look like – how he would react when he saw me, how I would react when I too saw him. All these ideas and expectations made my head a tad hot, and my stomach, sick from all the butterflies and birds flapping…

But I was not going to be stopped. Nor was I going to be robbed of this so-soon-to-come crown of my victory. Not today!

30 seconds to midnight and that was when my little, prickly and sticky fingers began to jiggle and tingle like a naughty fish now out of water. My toes went numb and my feet, cold.

15 seconds to midnight and my petite thighs began to tremble like no known volcano, and my blood felt like a quadrillion volts of electricity was being pumped into it.

11 seconds.

Ten, 9, eight, 7, six, 5, four…

3 seconds left to see the man of my many many dreams, and I went “Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz!”

I slept.

How?!

Just How?!!

*

Bio:

Papa - pcture

A picture of Papa Ekow.

Papa Ekow Archine is a bubbly and lovable 15 year old boy with an awesome, magnetic personality.

He is currently a student at Alpha Beta Christian College, Accra.

Ekow loves British accents but definitely not as much as he loves and lives for basketball – he devotes much of his time to playing and learning about the sport.

Once in a long while, when he allows melancholia to swallow him, he waxes all creative and beautifully so.

Ekow is all these and more but also, always, simply Ekow!

*

Love,

AishaTeaches.

AishaWrites. Too.

— Dansoman, Accra, Ghana; Thursday, 28th March, 2019.

Makola and Her Market – Student Writing (Part 3)

This is the second composition piece in the Student Writing Series. See the Introduction to the series and the first piece.

*

Today, I was at Makola Market.

There were people shouting whispers.

A small, sharp-eyed kayayo girl held my things. She wore an all-black ensemble. No, ‘ensemble’ suggests it was a choice. She was dressed toe to head and back in black – maybe to mourn her life. She seemed new to it all. The work and jerk of city life. The rowdiness and shabbiness of the people. The pain and disdain it all assured.

I stepped in dog dung.

A man yelled an insult at a woman. It was deadly. But it was lovingly so. The insult.

The people were an orchestra of madness, sanity shining through their eyes. Almost escaping.

I saw a young boy. He was sweating a desperation. Flicking his fingers in some despair. Yelling a cry.

I moved a step. I walked over to the little boy.

I asked him “Little boy, what’s wrong?”

Nothing. The boy said. Nothing.

**

Yesterday, I was at Makola Market. I was agitated.

The place was noisy like my life. Everyone bargained. It all sounded like a song that adored its own cacophony, enthralled by it. I smelled a bulimia-inducing aroma of rotten fish.

A little dark-eyed kayayo girl was carrying my basket. She clutched it like it was her very life. She looked depressed. But it should be no crime to be depressed. Or?

My heart was beating really fast because I knew something significant was going to happen. I thought, maybe, I was going to have a heart attack.

So when a man tried to bully me into purchasing a tomato, I said something crude about his mother. It was funny. The insult.

The man yelled a different insult at me. Something lethal. Yet affectionately so. (I took it like a man but, wait… I am a woman.)

Accra London Market

Photo mine. A scene at the London Market, around the Korle Lagoon, Bukom and James Town, all of Ga Mashi or British Accra.                            Circa May 2017.

Everyone, everything at the market at Makola was the masterpiece of a morbidly deranged soul. I could see calm in everyone’s eyes. The calm shone in the derange-, was trapped in something sinister. Not by it.

Then I saw a little boy. In a fit of urgency. Wagging his hands, like he had touched something hot, like something was going to hurt him. Screaming with a pitch, some bright pitch.

So I moved, my left foot going in front of the right, then the right in front of the left, and again. And again.

I ran into a little boy.

I asked him, “Little boy, what’s the matter?”

The boy said, “Woman, you’ve already asked me this”.

I returned, “Me? When?”

“You asked me this tomorrow,” said the little boy.

Soon, it was dark.

**

Tomorrow, I will be at Makola Market.

I will be frustrated because I will not be able to find some proper woman to sell me the right fabric for that wedding I will be going.

All the homo-sapiens will have become monkeys. Back to origins. All of them will be behaving in a manner that terrifies.

I will beg my headache to run. Threaten it with my words and words alone, even. But there will be nothing to show for my feisty begging.

The eclectic slow-fast of the market will haunt me, will continue to.

There will be a petite, intense-eyed kayayo girl struggling with my endless baggage. A baggage filled with useless things that have hauntingly beckoned me. The girl will not be happy whatsoever.

My heart will leave my chest.

A man will use very much force to get me to buy his temptingly juicy tomato but, I will say something vulgar to him. Something about me will excuse my arrogance. Barely.

This man will yell something else offensive at me. Something fatal. But romantically so.

The whole of Makola’s market will be soaked in the ripened instability that a devilish kind of disorder will adore.

At this point, I will look across where I stand and I will see a child-boy.

This boy will be crossing that intricate line that mediates madness and sanity. This same boy will be doing something sorrowful with his fingers.

So I will walk, get close to him, ask him, “Little boy, are you okay?”

With what seems a sour lump in his throat, the boy will reply:

“No, I am not!”

The boy will not wait for me to ask him why with my eyes, my whole face, before he will declare:

“There’s this woman who keeps asking me questions. Everyday.”

“For how long?” I will get the chance to ask.

“I-”

“How long?!”

“You already know. You are that woman.”

Calm will come.

Everything blue will turn red – from the sky to the tulips that may never afford the space and peace to live and be. Here.

The clouds will be like scars and I will weep softly on that loud street – the one in the middle of Makola, a street in the middle of a market at Makola.

 

*

Bio:

IMG_5707

A picture of Kojo.

Kojo Obeng-Andoh lives in Accra, Ghana. Currently.

He likes to think he is more of a creative than your typical teenager. He lives on Art, Literature and Lorde’s music. In no particular order, and not to say this list is exhaustive.He likes to also live in the worlds of his writing, drawing, painting and music.

He likes to think about the most absurd of ideas and let them put on reality. He likes to take his time – something most people will rather call laziness.

He likes his work to be described as “dark and sweetly dizzying”.

And this is only one of several ICONIC reasons he likes to thinkinsists on believing, actually – that he is Miss Nelson’s favourite student.

And he likes to think you will see more from him soon…

*

Glossary:

Kayayoo – a head porter, usually females, at open markets.

Makola (Market) – the vast open market and central business district Accra, Ghana’s capital city.

 

*

Love,

AishaTeaches.

AishaWrites. Too.

— Dansoman, Accra, Ghana; Wednesday, 27th March 2019.

Coolest Kid in Africa – Student Writing (Part 2)

This is the first composition piece in the Student Writing Series. See the Introduction to the series. 

* * *

My worst nightmare as a journalist was waiting for Nasty C at the airport, waiting to interview him. Celebrities are difficult to get interviews with and getting to interview one of the biggest singers in Africa was my best and scariest experience yet.

His scheduled arrival time was nine thirty-seven pm and I got there at nine. I had to wait for thirty-seven long minutes. In those thirty and seven long minutes, I experienced more things than my introverted self could contain in years.

I carried all sorts of snacks – Doritos, Lays, Sour Patches, Haribos, Tree Top, Hot Cheetos, Onion Rings and Sprite – in my bag. Because I know myself. When I have to meet someone for the first time, I eat a lot, I need to eat a lot – a whole lot.

I opened a bag of Cheetos and Sour Patches and munched loudly, so loud that about five people too waiting for whoever they came to fetch glared at me with the deadliest of looks. I couldn’t blame them. I chew loudly – and not at all pretty loudly at at that.

I put the Cheetos and Sour Patches away and started a conversation with a girl of about seven standing next to me. I asked her the normal questions, in the beginning – like her name and why she was alone at a crowded place like this.

Conversation was going well and smooth.

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Image may be protected by copyright. A painting-picture of Nasty C, a popular South African rapper, song writer and music producer.

Then I switched to asking questions I didn’t mean to ask – like does she know how her parents made her and if her parents have sexual intercourse in her presence. The little girl just walked away from me and I got eyed by the incredibly tall woman behind me. She seemed to have heard my questions. She did not look happy.

After my encounter with the little girl, I decided not to talk anymore to anyone, and to just look around. And that was how I saw couples kissing, as they had been away from each other for so long. Then there were the people on their phones, busily texting away, not paying attention to their young ones.

The second best thing I saw that night was a boy who looked between seventeen and twenty running towards a girl of about the same age range. This boy. He carried the girl and lip locked the girl. My eyes got watery. And oh no, I was not, I am not a bad person – only misunderstood. Very misunderstood.

I got tired of looking around and opened a bag of Lays Original. I munched less aggressively – or loudly, perhaps – this time, and no one gave me any death stares.

From the corner of my left eye, I saw someone come stand next to me and I glanced at the person. This person looked friendly, so I started a conversation with him. I started off nice with him, nice things like the news. I was determined not to let my recent experience with the little girl get repeated.

But.

Soon, the spirit of wild talk stirred within me, again, and I asked him if he had ever eaten a huge fly garnished with crushed worms and termites. He gave me the Sorry-but-are-you-okay-in-the-head-? look and did something I never expected: he yelled –

“Sorry, I have a girlfriend so I can’t date you!”

E.v.e.r.y.o.n.e. looked at me, some with disgust, others with sympathy and the rest with the oh-she’s-a-whore look. I was so embarrassed I looked down at my shoes, my cheeks, my whole face flushed of life.

Even my shoes. They looked like they were judging me.

 

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Picture mineA heart-tied stick I chanced on, while on a trip to selected locations in the Eastern Region of Ghana. The specific location here is a footpath to one newly discovered waterfall – Akaa Falls – which is still being developed as a tourist site. –– Thursday, 14th June, 2018.

When the megaphone announced the arrival of the nine-thirty-seven plane, I couldn’t stand still, I got all fidgety. I played with my hair and my many bracelets. I twitched my lips and let my tongue dance around my teeth. I pretended I didn’t want to make eye contact with anyone, because I was so scared of the looks they would give me. While I was playing and sorts, my head hung down.

Then I heard whispers, muffled noises around me.

I raised my head, only to see Nasty C coming out…

I blurred everyone out as the best feeling ever rushed through me. The presence of Nasty C blessed my nightmare of an evening. I forgot all about what had happened while I was waiting for him. I remembered I should have pulled out the little placard with his name on, so that he could notice me and when I raised the card, he started walking towards me.

I pictured myself running away with a speed greater than light’s because of all the worries I had. What if he is rude? What if he doesn’t like me? Is my hair fine?

Before I could finish thinking through all my worries, I was tapped by someone, and suddenly wrapped in same person’s arms. I looked up. I saw Coolest Kid in Africa written all over the person who had tapped and trapped me, the person who had me all wrapped up. Nasty C.

*

 

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Picture hers. A picture of Akosua. 

Bio:

Akosua Kumbol is also Ri.

She is the role model of your typical crazy girl.

She knows the rules to break them.

She is her own girl and person and boss.

She loves to read, and she hates to write but when she does, magic happens.

 

*

Love,

AishaTeaches.

AishaWrites. Too.

— Dansoman, Accra, Ghana; Saturday, 23rd March 2019. 

Of Cool Kids, Makola Market, Christmas Waits and Culled Worlds – Introduction: Student Writing (Part 1)

I have written briefly once and quite long and  several about Teacher me and the students who make that self of mine a living truth and reality.

I have mentioned and implied more time than many about how Writer me is never left behind in the life of Teacher me.

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Image may be protected by copyright.

But I may never be able to fully write or talk about the vast-s and weights of these two parts of me – the places where they smudge and pour into each other to soon become purely the other, the times they swell and swirl alongside each other and yet remain resolute in their uniqueness-es and their intersections and their molten mixed forms.

These I many never be able to find the words to write or talk about.

Teacher and Writer me, that is.

But I can talk about what happened while I was grading a quiz which I recently conducted for my current Grade 10 IGCSE First Language English students.

I can say how I had to fight and free myself from an abiding personal ethic of not sharing any extract or chunk from, and full written work of any of my students, of not sharing such things with a community other than the class in question and outside of the (college end of  the) school where I teach.

And I can never say enough how sadly glad and glad again and far more so I am right now to come sharing…

At the moment, and because I am not able to imagine myself quitting teaching – or education, altogether, in the near future, in any future, my future – I cannot promise that this will be the first and only time I will be sharing only and fully student work, especially work I en-JOY!-ed being a part of its making and or was happy being a sudden spectator at the time of its making.

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Image may be protected by copyright.

I cannot even pretend to make such a promise.

But I do know that I am proud of my students and I am happy and proud and again and more, to share four of the responses from said quiz with you, Reader Dear.

And in in order for you, Reader Dear, to read and see these work for the raw truth and story and unpretentious beauty and personality they each are, I thought to not:

  • make known the question or prompt which these work were responses to.
  • give any summary and description – no label whatsoever – of any of these work.

I must mention that I have spoken long and wide – including helping them write what will be their first author bios! – with the four students whose work I have selected for this series, and I have their consent and better, their very giddy gladness-es, to publish their work.

Also, very little changes and edits have been made to the first and original versions of each work, work produced under strict exam-like conditions. And these changes or edits. They were largely based on the marking annotations and feedback I gave, and always give (to) these students – and every other – on graded written work.

Yes, I just implied my students are such huge writers! Already.

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Image may be protected by copyright.

I must mention too, that, Composition, the component (of the said examination) that required responses of this nature and length, is meant to test more than English language proficiency.

A careful look at the component’s mark scheme – as at the time I write this – should prove this: a total of 25 marks, consisting of:

  • up to 13 marks for a criterion called Content and Structure.
  • no more than 12 marks for another criterion called Style and Accuracy.

This component of said subject of said examination. Composition.

The mark scheme criteria for same component. Same Composition.

What these three of four things mean to me?

 

Words. Creativity. Writing. Words again.

Creating. With words. Creating worlds. Weaving worlds. With words.

Or simply, Creative Writing!

And it is for the loves and heart-skips, the joys and mind-tickles of these that I, many a time, approach the mountain and chore that grading students’ work can be for many many a Teacher – not excluding me.

And it is with all immense mind-tickles and joys, such surreal heart-skips and loves for writing and creative writing, for words and the wonders of their creations that I bring you, Reader Dear, the four selected writing from a recent quiz that Teacher me conducted for my Grade 10 IGCSE First Language English students:

Coolest Kid in Africa  by Akosua Kumbol.

Makola and her Market by Kojo Obeng Andoh.

Waiting by Papa Ekow Archine.

Ghost Town by Keli Dey.

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(Feature) Picture mine: Some of my current Grade 10 students and me – fourth from right, in white loose blouse, three-quarter jeans and orange-brown wedge shoes – during a retro dress up school day–Wednesday, 17th October, 2018.

Love,

AishaTeaches.

AishaWrites. Too.

— Dansoman, Accra, Ghana; Tuesday, 19th March 2019.

Not Without Okro. (Part 2)

As unusual as it was, Akua stayed in the room that whole day. As long as she was in the room, no one talked much. No one even coughed with comfort. It was only when Benedicta entered the room that the heaviness that seemed to hang in the room shifted, receded, and even so, only slightly. Shortly after Benedicta had left the room, that heaviness returned, and this time with a grimmer edge which was as bone cold and ancient as it was intimidating, yet all too familiar. With humans, especially.

The heaviness left with Akua, when she finally went out a little before dusk.

The following is the second and last part of the story, Not Without Okro. Read the full Part 1 here if you haven’t already.

            *            *            *

It was only after Akua was away when Naa told Mina about how she had used Akua’s sanitary towels the day before. Mina meant to rebuke Naa for not telling Akua earlier in the morning, but Mina’s words and voice dripped with plea and angry fear. It was Dora who, albeit odd of her, had added, ‘Who is she, by the way? Why must anyone enjoy being dreaded like the way she carries herself about? Are we not supposed to be roommates?’

‘I don’t know which one of us here dreads Akua. I don’t know… I just don’t know. All I’m saying is that Naa should have asked Akua for the pads. Or she should have told Akua that she had used her pads the last time. Akua is female too. She will need the pads soon. Soon or now. Who knows? Only for her to find that…,’ Mina worried.

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Photo Credit

‘How often does she stay in this room? If there is no such thing as roommate, then why did she ask me for one?’ Dora flared up again, this time, too forced and quite unnecessarily.

‘Dora, don’t pretend you don’t to know why I’m concerned. I’m not in my menses. Akua is, I suspect. And she was in the room the last time I was asking for a pad. On behalf of Naa. Now, you both know that for reasons best known to her, I am the last person Akua should suspect took her pads,’ Mina strained to hold back the lump of pain clogging her throat.

In a flash, Dora remembered the look on Akua’s face and the glares which Akua had cast at Mina that morning. As the pictures of the faces flipped past her gaping gaze, Dora shivered. She quickly tore herself from the ‘trance’. She shrugged, jerked her head and with a twitched mouth, squealed ‘She can go to hell.’ No one was amused. Not even Dora herself.

A taut silence ensued. It loomed large in the room. Dora, Mina, Naa, looked helplessly lost, felt weighed-down, empty-spirited, too afraid. Of the silence. Of all that had happened those few days. Of Akua. And of everything. Even Mina had to admit, for once, to herself, that she dreaded Akua. And Mina could not explain why she sorely missed Benedicta. All of a sudden…

Suddenly, ‘E-heeh, Mina, tell me about the second movie,’ Dora started, and in so doing, undid that silence, but only some.

Mina began, dryly, ‘It was about three sisters who always quarreled over nothing. One day, one of them decided she had had enough. She could not tolerate the other two anymore. She just did not want to continue staying with them. So…’

The door went knock, knock, knock.

‘Male or female?’ Naa asked, indifferently.

‘Female,’ replied the sheer baritone of a voice.

‘A-a-a-a-h. Eric. Please wait,’ laughed Naa.

Naa quickly wrapped her naked body in a towel. She snatched a panty and for the first time, asked Dora for something – a sanitary pad. Dora pretended she was only surprised at the request in itself. Naa rushed out to the bathhouse. The next two minutes, she was talking to Eric on the verandah. The next minute, she was in the room, to dress up, to go out with Eric.

When she returned in about three hours’ time, Naa came with the oddest collection of items: more-than-generous helpings of banku with really slimy okro stew which contained assorted, animal protein items; six colourful strips of kente; five rare-shaped, different-colour shades of sea shells; four fancy, lacy hair bands; two tired fireflies trapped in one random transparent polythene bag; a leather-bound, customized diary for the just-around-the-corner next year; a terabyte computer hard drive; one cute promissory ring. And three packets of sanitary pads.

Around 10p.m., Benedicta came to meet Mina, Dora and Naa sprawled on the floor, devouring a feast. Benedicta did not wait to be invited.

For the mere love of the food and the crisp cheer of the moment, Mina, wet with sweat,  suddenly lifted her head from the food. Amidst short, quick gasps for breath, Mina vainly fanned herself with her left hand. Finally, she managed to say, still between the gasps, ‘Naa, now I understand you. Provided you will always give me some, you can always eat banku with anything okro. I will nurse you when the cramps come.’

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Photo Credit

Benedicta and Dora had to hold their sides with laughter, at Mina’s words.

Naa nearly choked with eating, laughing and replying Mina: ‘Foolish girl. What I love will kill you. Too. First.’

Everyone knew Mina was not that shallow to have meant what she told Naa, but Mina did not look like she was joking. Maybe the food had some not-exactly-funny effect on Mina, in particular.

Suddenly, it was raining. Thunder ripped the solid black sky into shreds. Dora, Mina and Benedicta could feel the rain drumming on their skulls. Their feet turned wobbly with the tremor of the concrete floor.

At first, Benedicta thought to start tellingly her roommates to repent. Surely, this must the second coming. To her roommates she must preach Jesus the Christ. Once more. This one last time. Just when Benedicta remembered that Akua had not been in the room all this while, and that she was still not in the room, even that late in the night, something bit Benedicta hard in the stomach. She flew to the washroom.

Two minutes later, Dora followed. To the washroom. Then Mina. By the time Naa was tugging at a toilet roll, everyone knew the reason why nature had decided to call them in turns at such a doubly dark hour.

And Naa was the only one who did not return from the loo in one piece. On her way back to the room, Naa slipped and fell hard on the verandah. One lady who was enjoying a free-night call on the verandah said she heard the crack of something like harmattan-dried coconut and the crumbling of a sun-caked mud house, when the fall occurred. Dora was the one who said no one should pay attention to what the lady had said about Naa’s fall. Amidst the pangs in her bowels, Dora explained, ‘That girl. She is in a Creative Writing class. At the Department of English. Together with that guy I have a crush on. Those students are like that. Big English, big describing for simple small things.’

Naa laid, pale, limp, and still, on her bed. She screamed pain at the slightest touch. She stared unblinkingly at her roommates’  worried, hovering faces around, above her. Dora, Mina and Benedicta took turns keeping wake by Naa and using the washroom.

With everyone not knowing what to do to help each other, especially to help Naa, Benedicta decided to grind two tablets of Paracetamol and some other coloured tablets, on a mock saucer, using the back of a long teaspoon. After, she stirred the near-powdered drug into a plastic tumbler of cold water. With one eye screwed shut, Benedicta watched the cold namelessly coloured concoction twirl and climb up and down the sheer narrow length of the transparent tumbler.

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Photo Credit

Dora teased Benedicta: ‘Shi-e-e-e-e, the Maame Nurse. Or is it Doctor?’

This turned out to be a lame joke in a grave time. As grave and lame as Naa. That, everyone knew too well.

Bit by teeny little, the three squeezed the liquid down Naa’s throat. It was Mina who carefully saved every drop that frayed off Naa’s lips, and gently forced it back into Naa’s mouth, as if Naa’s life depended on that very drop, and that alone.

The next morning, Dora, Benedicta and Mina woke up with itchy blood-shot eyes. None of them knew better than to blame the woes of the previous night only on the food they had eaten. And none could readily think of what else to blame. Worse still, none of the three remembered having slept at all during the night. And even though they would all agree that she needed it (for a reason they might never know), the three let Naa sleep…

That morning, the birds were not heard singing. Their songs were drowned in some distant unhappy droning. One of the cleaners was slumped at one far end of the floor’s verandah. She was crowing a lone long wail. The wail. It woke up most students on the floor, and the block. For those who were too deeply asleep to be roused by the wail, it seeped into the dregs of their nightly dreams. Out of both curiosity and irritation, many students poured out of their various rooms onto the floor. Some ventured towards where the cleaner sat. A few asked her what the matter was. The cleaner answered to no one in particular.

‘She is gone o-o-o-h! She is gone. Dead. Gone. Just like that!’

The cleaner, a woman, paused to swallow on the choking of her mixing talk with weeping. Then she hurriedly felt for, and fetched one end of her faded threadbare cover cloth. She meant to wipe her tears and fill the end of the cloth with a generous goblet of mucus from her nose, but she ended up smudging her right cheek – almost to her right ear – with the last of the streak of mucus. And the cleaner, she was too sad to care that she had spited her face. She heaved. Heavily. She sighed. With fresh grief. Then, the cleaner continued, again, to no one in particular:

‘How can a candle burn a woman and her son to ashes in one night? Within a short, small time. And in the midst of heavy heavy rains? Hmmm!’

Without any warning of any kind, the cleaner sprawled on the cold concrete floor and exclaimed so hard that her vocal cords, on their own accord, screeched into a hiss, then to a clean stop. Some of the students tried not to laugh. Even the Psychology students did not know what to make of all these.

Then suddenly, she sat up, wiped her tears with the back of her right hand, and rather calmly, said, ‘I told her not to take the money. The way that young lady had insulted her, it was not good. Not good at all. But if Prince Maame had not taken the money she had seen in the pad wrapper which the young lady had swept unto the mobbed verandah, maybe, just maybe, this too would not have happened.’

Having heard these last words of the cleaner, Dora covered her opened mouth with both hands. She hardly muffled the scream. Without thinking and willing it, she turned round, running back into the room. Just then, she saw Akua, and more of her, Akua.

Akua looked drunk, ruffled, tossed and was covered in a thin film of dust. As one cool morning breeze heaved past the block, two bird breastbone feathers shifted and waved from the cleavage of Akua’s breasts.

Mina shot past Akua and Dora, into the room, all the while, beating her bust. Then screaming all the life out of her lungs, Dora soon sped after Mina. All attention on the verandah turned on the two. The crowd swooped after Mina and Dora, towards the two’s room.

The crowd saw Benedicta’s head buried in Naa’s bosom, on the bed. The crowd could not tell whether Benedicta had cried, because her eyes, just like Dora and Mina’s looked like they had been reddened and swollen for long – throughout the night before, possibly. Bereft of tears and voices, Dora and Mina hissed, groaned and hissed some more.

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Meanwhile, Akua stood frozen and transfixed in the room’s doorway. All around Akua’s frame, the crowd continued to stretch and lower their necks, all eyes peeking and peeping their way into the room.

 

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The End.

 

Love,

AishaWrites.

 

***

An earlier version of this story, titled Life on the Wrong Side of Okro, was first published in two installments (Friday 20th & 27th July, 2012) in Citi 97.3 FM‘s The Weekend Globe, a lifestyle news magazine.