I love Fridays, not only because it is my day of birth but also because it is the only day out five when I could look casual yet elegant to the office. And for many in the corporate world, Fridays are to them what Sunday is to a faithful Christian. They look forward to it with such great anticipation.
For those in relationships, Fridays mark the beginning of spending time together and enjoying each other’s company. And if that Friday falls on payday, then it’s a done deal.
And this Friday – the one I’m writing about – I’d gone to fill my belly with some hot kenkey and pepper, with sardines, fried fish and eggs on the side, garnished with some sliced onions and green bell peppers. And yes, on Fridays no one thinks healthy. With a bottle of coca cola – my favourite drink – in hand, my partner and I walked back to the office feeling like warriors who had just brought down the Great Wall of China.
When we got to the entrance of the building, I heard a voice shouting “Naa, Naa, Naa,” I paid no attention because one thing I’ve come to realize is that in Accra, almost every girl is called Naa and almost every boy is Nii. It took me a while to get used to it, but once I became accustomed to it, I assume not everyone calling Naa is referring to me.
With this mindset, I walked into the reception area, it was there that my partner prompted me that someone was calling. So I walked back outside and there stood a gentleman, very good looking I must say. I wonder the number of girls who have fallen for him and the many he’s probably…you know what I mean. Forgive my sinister mind.
When I got to him, we shook hands, he introduced himself and said he wanted to have a conversation with me. I thought to myself, this better be a good one. Today is Friday for goodness sake and with all the kenkey in my tummy, I was in no mood for any bad news.
But well, it comes with the job so even when you’re not in the mood, you smile and put on your best behaviour.
“Hello James”, how are you? This way, please” I said and led him to an area where we could talk without any interference. I excused myself, dashed to my office to grab my laptop and a recorder and two bottles of water before joining James again.
When I settled in, he said “I know today is Friday, so I will not take much of your time. And I’ve got to say that I like your work, it is the only reason I came to talk to you.”
I smiled, “thank you, it feels good to know that I’m making some impact out there. But what brings you all the way to Kokomlemle.” I asked.
“Well, I’m in love with a woman I cannot have. Maybe I could, but her mother has vowed to do everything within her power to ensure that nothing happens between the both of us.”
“Start from the beginning,” I said, pressing the record button almost simultaneously.
“It all started in junior high school, that’s about 20 years ago. I had an altercation with a junior and that literally changed my life and that of my family,” James started.
He said his younger sister who had been born with an usually bigger head on a slender body had become a fawn, vulnerable to the silly beastly comments from her bullies. She was an object of ridicule, the worst form any pupil would want to experience from the people she called her mates. Being two years ahead, there were many times he has had to protect her sister from the stinging attacks, but there were many more times he came back heartbroken, with his sister drowned in tears. All he could do was hold her while she cried and assured that she was the most beautiful girl on earth.
“I would always say, there is no one as beautiful as you, please stop crying. Those boys behave that way because their sisters are not as pretty as you and they are threatened by your beauty,” James said.
But all the assurance and words of comfort and affirmation from her brother and parents did little. Charlotte, she is called, just lived every day hating herself, her parents and sometimes God for creating her with an ugly head and making her a laughing stock. School was for her, a beehive, with killer bees all around her.
Her perpetual tears and reluctance to go to school, got James worried and he thought constantly about what he could do to protect his dear sister. James said if he had his own way, he would re-make Charlotte into what she wished to be, just to see her smile.
“I never left her side. During lunch breaks, I’ll go to her class and walk with her and her friend to the cafeteria, get food together, eat and hang around until break was over. I sacrificed my time, my friends, my football and became literally her bodyguard,” he said.
“But as you are aware, because we were not in the same class, sometimes I could not go over and she’d have to go for lunch with her friend and that is when the trolls have their time with her.”
“On one particular day, I was in class when Joojo, a boy from Charlotte’s class, with a tinge of anxiety interrupted my teacher and asked to see me. Our teacher had refused to let us go on lunch break because we could not solve a question on algebra. She almost told Joojo off, but when she looked quietly at the boy, she noticed he was too anxious so she asked me to see him for only a minute and come back.”
“Charlotte is being teased again,” Joojo said breathlessly even before I could draw closer.
James said before Joojo could say the last alphabet of the word ‘again’, he was already on his way to the block that housed classes three, four, five and six. It was a four storey building and class five was on the third floor.
When James got to the floor, he noticed a large number of students had gathered at the far end. While some laughed loudly others were chanting, “eti kelen kelen” a crude way of saying big head, big head in the local parlance. My vulnerable sister was on the ground crying. Yet these boys kept singing, trolling and chanting.
“I lost myself,” James said, adding that the anger that had boiled up inside him was as hot as lava. Like an enraged panther, he churned within and was hungry for destruction.
“The fury swept me off like ferocious waves and the pressure from the raging lava was so hot. I bolted through the crowd and before I could say Jack, I landed a hefty blow on the boy who was leading the chant attack against Charlotte.”
Paddy, James said he was called, was sitting on the concrete balustrade and before anyone could hold or pull him, the force of the blow caused him to fall over.
“He fell from the third floor,” James recounted with is eyes closed.
And as I looked at him in shock, I noticed that his eyes were teary. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes, sipped some of the water and looked up at the ceiling as if to find comfort there.
As we sat in silence and brooded over the incident, I pictured how the entire incident occurred and imagined a scene of children in a state of shock and disbelief at what will be a day most of them will never forget.
“What happened next,” I quizzed.
James replied, “well, for a split second everywhere was quiet, then a scream from the ground floor reverberated, bringing everybody back to life.”
Teachers rushed out from their various classrooms, an ambulance was called and Paddy was rushed to the hospital. He was in coma for three days, but gave up on the fourth.
The case was reported to the police and I was arrested but released on bail the same day, partly because I was a juvenile. Paddy’s mother vowed to either kill me or see to it that for the rest of my days were miserable. She was ready for revenge in every shape or form.
James said that day and the subsequent months were like hell for him and his family. The case went to court and for several weeks, he was thrown into the dock, asked lots of questions but he had few responses. The sight of Charlotte in the court room sobbing and feeling guilty for all that had happened killed his spirit. But the thought of taking the life of young boy tore his heart apart.
“We were not spared the verbal attacks from neighbours, some of whom chanted killer! Murderer!! Whilst others still chanted the eti kelen kelen slogan outside the courtroom. My mother cried endlessly day and night and so did Charlotte.
After several pleas from very highly placed people in society, Paddy’s mother decided to discontinue the case but it was not that simple. Because murder is a criminal case, the state decided to continue the case without her participation. But by some divine intervention, the court acquitted and discharged James.
He said his family bore the entire cost of Paddy’s funeral, gave his family some money and although all that could not bring back the boy, it was perhaps enough to show their remorse. “If I had my way, I’d have brought Paddy back to life,”James said.
His family had to relocate to Kumasi before they had some peace, but James says the incident is one that cannot be wiped from his memory. He hoped time would be his biggest healer. And time was doing a good job until everything changed again.
After a successful senior high school education at the Accra Academy, James secured a scholarship to study medicine in the United States of America. One fine afternoon he met a beautiful lady at the university’s science laboratory, who was looking for Karen, one of James’ best friends.
“Hello, I am Gina” she said when she approached James. “Do you by any chance know Karen, can you please tell her Gina is waiting in the lobby?”
“Yes, she is in the changing room, I’m sure she’ll be out soon, but let me alert her,” James offered and walked back into the building to deliver the message.
He walked back out with Karen, who introduced them and said to James “this girl, is the best in the world,”
“I’m sure she is,” James said before taking her hand for a handshake.
“That night, I could not sleep. Her face kept popping up in my head, her soft hands the light that shown when she smiled, kept playing back in my head and I could not wait to meet her again.”
“The next day, I was the first to arrive at the lab and I made sure I partnered with Karen when a joint exercise was given so we could talk about Gina. When we closed, I walked Karen to the snack bar; she called Gina to join us and when she came over Karen excused herself and left Gina alone with me at the snack bar.
“My throat suddenly became dry and my feet suddenly became numb. My mind was full yet empty at the same time and didn’t quite know where to start from or what to say.”
“I remember saying I had frogs in my throat and needed to get rid of them and that appeared to be the coolest ice breaker for me.”
Gina laughed, advertising her stainless teeth with her broad cheeked face and a tiny little dimple sitting just above her jaw area. James said he’s never felt pleasantly uncomfortable like that before.
And for the first time in this conversation, James’ face brightened when he spoke about Gina, his lips spread into a lovely smile and showed his pearly white teeth too. “So did you take her number” I asked with great excitement.
I did, strangely, given what was running through my mind at the time. I called her a few times; she called back a few times and we had something special going on.
I asked her out just so I would know her better, know her family, her dreams and aspirations so I could make them mine too.
James said they went to the beach, sat on the highest summer hut overlooking the sea, enjoyed the breeze and the words from the woman who had conquered his heart until she mentioned Paddy as her brother who was no more, punched to death from the third floor of a school building in Accra.
James was alarmed. He felt a sudden movement in his stomach and in his lower abdomen. As if he was ready to pass urine and faecal matter at the same time. It suddenly dawned on him that he was once a murderer and here he was seeking the love of the woman, whose brother he murdered.
“Hi is everything okay?” Gina waved her fingers across the face of James. “You appear lost,” she added.
“Yeah! I am sorry about your brother. I witnessed a similar thing growing up and the mention of your brother’s story kind of triggered a painful flashback. Can we go now?” he asked with a timid look in a shrill voice.
James said it was a premature end to what was a promising date, and quite frankly to him, it was also an end to his pursuit of love for a woman she loves but would not have.
James knew whatever he felt for her was mutual but he never thought he would have the courage to admit to her that he was the murderer, the one who punched her brother and snuffed out life from a boy who was just being a boy and nothing else.
For days he never called Gina and when she called, he never picked. He missed lectures for a week because Gina would come searching for him.
He started hiding from her, running away from a love that was pure and sincere. Gina was in love too and got worried at the sudden treatment being meted out to her by James. She needed answers and got Karen to help.
Karen paid a visit to James at his new hideout and sneaked in a call to Gina to come over and when she did, she, Karen excused herself again leaving both love birds speechless for several minutes.
James knew then that it was time to spill the beans. It was time.
“I could not look at her. I was ashamed. For about 30 minutes, she just cried. She cried so much she could barely breathe. And the funny thing is that as she cried, I also cried. All of a sudden visions of that day came rushing back and the pain almost tore through my heart.”
“Then she said, sobbing, “I don’t begrudge you for what you did. You were a boy then, angry in defence of your sister who was victim to taunts and trolls. I’d probably do worse if anyone made fun of any of my siblings. I was hurt by the loss, but I have moved on and you must move on too and forgive yourself.””
After a long silence, James said Gina drew close and gave him a hug. He said suddenly his heart melted, the tears pouring down his cheeks, seized and for the first time since the incident occurred, he felt forgiven and at rest.
“You know, when you mentioned your name, it sounded familiar, but for the fact that you said you were coming from Kumasi, I’d have made you out a long time ago. But I said to myself, “there are so many people in Ghana with similar names”, so I didn’t think through it much,” Gina said.
“And,” she continued,“I now understand why you were avoiding me. You don’t have to hide anymore. I love you, so I’m not leaving and I know you love me too. We will go through this together.” Gina said before she opened her arms and gave James another hug.
Fast forward… four years later…
Gina had come back to Ghana and started work with one of the country’s most respected and prestigious law firms. While she waited for James to finish his housemanship, so they could start life together, she brooded over how her parents will react when they find out about him.
Since she went home, they’ve asked about her mysterious boyfriend on countless occasions and she always had to find one excuse or lie to keep the discussion off the table. But with two months until James’ arrival, she feared she might lose her soulmate.
On the day James was due to touch down in Ghana, Gina could not tell her parents about it because if she did, the entire household would have gone to the airport to meet him and that would have been an awkward moment. To save everyone the embarrassment, she decided to go to the airport alone.
Gina had already met James’ parents, and they had developed a bond James thought was rare when he found out. The manner in which Gina spoke about his parents, the care she had for them and the way she treated Charlotte – who had strangely grown breathtakingly pretty – baffled James.
“Deep down I was excited”, but knowing that it may all end soon, if her parents do not agree to our union makes me squirm,” James said.
Gina arrived early at the airport, too early for a flight that was supposed to touch down at 10:00 PM. It was as though her early presence at the airport will speed the plane carrying her future husband.
She grabbed a drink in one of the airport restaurants and read a book while she waited. A vibration from the mobile phone in her handbag brought her back to reality. She answered, “hello mum.”
“Hello Gina, how are you, we just got to the airport, when are you getting here,” that was James’ mum.
“I’m fine mum and I’m already here. Where are you, I’m coming over,” Gina said and ended the call.
After many hellos and hugs, James’ father, mother, sister and younger brother settled on one of the numerous seats provided at the airport.
At 11:00 PM, James walked into the waiting area at the arrival hall and Charlotte was the first to spot him, she sprang from her seat and run joyously towards him, and sunk into the warmth of his embrace. Being as short as she is, James carried her up, and spun her around before finally putting her back on her feet.
Gina followed, then his mother, younger brother and father. Since it was already late, they could only spend a short time at the airport. They walked to the car park, Gina said her goodbyes and promised to come to Kumasi with James over the weekend, since he would be staying in Accra until then.
James walked Gina to her car, gave her a more…you know exclusive hug… before she drove off.
That weekend was not the only weekend Gina travelled to Kumasi without her parent’s knowledge. While there, she had discussions with James’ family about how to eventually break the news to her parents.
While James’ parents thought about getting some elders from her parent’s church to accompany them to break the news, Charlotte thought both families should meet first and involve outsiders only after ‘dialogue’ had failed.
“That was exactly what we did and boy it was the most terrifying moment of my life,” James recounted.
“We arrived in Accra at about 10 AM on the scheduled day, went to our hotel to drop off our luggage and headed to Gina’s house. And oh, it became necessary at a point that I spoke to them because Gina’s mother was getting suspicious. So we spoke, but nothing deep and I assured her, her house will be the first place I’ll be the moment I get to Ghana.”
“They were already aware that I was coming, but they didn’t know my entire family was with me. When we got to the house, Gina came to receive us at the gate, we said our hellos and she led us to the entrance of the one storey home she shared with her parents,” James narrated.
But the joy was cut short, smiles suddenly faded when Gina’s mother recognised James’ parents. By the time anyone could say a word, Gina’s mother had shouted her husband’s name. He came rushing out the room panicking because his wife was shouting at the top of her voice, “murderers murderers, they have come to kill the rest of my family.”
Gina’s father consoled his wife fruitlessly and while she wailed and cried James said his entire family were on their knees, including Gina and even the gateman, who had no idea what was going on.
When she was finally calmed, Gina’s mother with the little strength left in her, asked us to leave her house immediately and never to return. She also made it clear that her daughter will never marry into a family of murderers.
James’ mother and Charlotte cried all the way to the hotel. They cried so much so that they caught the attention of people at the hotel.
“That night I could not sleep. Gina had been crying since the time we left her house. Every time I called, she answered the phone but could not bring herself to say a word. I was devastated and deeply pained at the sorrow I’d brought on her and her family,”James narrated.
He continued, “but more than ever I wanted to make things right. I felt marrying their daughter presented me with an opportunity to right my wrongs and more than ever I was ready to wait and push until I’m allowed in.”
After their failed attempt, James said his family through Gina got in touch with their pastor and other elders of their church. James and his parents joined the pastor and a high profiled selection of elders from the church to Gina’s house. This time, the reception was not as bad as before. But the pastor trick’s did not work as expected. Gina’s mother stood her grounds.
Two more journeys were made to the house, but nothing fruitful came from it. “I felt all hope was lost and I imagined letting Gina go to save both families the trouble. But every time I thought about letting go, I remember Gina’s assurance of love and the fact that through it all, she’s held on to what we have.”
That for James, was reason enough to keep his hopes alive. And that’s what he’s been doing for two years. I can’t wait anymore, she is the only one I love.. I have ever loved and will ever love. What should I do?