THE NIGHT IN A DAY SENT ME AWAY
In three years and some months, I took my final examination that marked the end of the beginning of my formal education. The journey to the examination was one on a muddy path. Of course, who would expect that the journey of education in such a village could be embarked on smoothly like an asphalted road?
Perhaps, a visit to my village would reveal the why’s and why not’s. Look at the road: it stretched itself into the bush, meandering through the variety of tall green grasses, guarding the road like soldiers on parade. It lay naked with its brown skin facing the sky and grinned to show its teeth of stones. The road had stretch marks of gutters that served as the railways for the trains of water. On any day that the heavens felt pain and cried, the water journeyed freely and angrily on the road, abandoning the non-existent side gutters. The roads were also blessed with scars of potholes which were as good as pools. They stored water for no use, except to splash on the grasses and bodies, if any were close by.
We had only one 207 lorry that embarked on its daily business trips quite early. As early as 5.30 a.m., the lorry would leave. Meanwhile, passengers wished they could even leave around 7.00 to 8.00 since stores would still be closed by the time they arrived there and businesses would still be asleep, thereby keeping them idle until around 9.00 a.m. when the market and its activities would fully come alive.
Once the vehicle left, because it was a one-way town as we called it, one could not go anywhere again unless the person was willing to use the vehicle of his legs to cover about half of the journey. No road passed through our town to another. Our village was like a full stop; the end of a sentence.
These are the ordeals of my village, but they were better than those of my home. My parents were subsistent farmers. Foodstuff abounded but the problem was that fish and its elder brother meat swore to be our enemies. Our soups were like streams. Sometimes, streams were thicker than our soups. They always looked pale like an anaemic boy suffering from malaria. The only fair-coloured soups we tasted were palm nut soups or our Christmas soups. As for Christmas, we got to know how soups ought to look and taste because our uncles and aunt in Accra brought us tin tomatoes, onions, eggs, and the others. We were very happy when it was Christmas.
On any other ordinary day, all we needed was something to keep our stomachs company. How it looked or tasted was of great irrelevance. The most important thing was for my mother to make sure the soup was pregnant with much ginger and pepper to be able to sustain us for days. The more of these ingredients in the soup, the less of the soup we would dress our morsels with, and that would lead to less quantity of its use, thereby elongating its lifespan.
A pot of soup that inhabited about three lean, malnourished kpala was a middle to a long-term investment; the soup would feed six mouths for at least three days. The heads of the fish were for us, the three children. On each major meal, a fish head greets our bowl of soup. That was what we would share into three equal parts for everyone to get. As to how my mother shared the remaining fish for my father, his mother and my mother herself to be able to take us through the calculated number of days, I did not know. My father could not afford salmon; it was too expensive for our house. As for meat, it came during Christmas and New Year celebrations and any other day that our stars smiled at us and my father’s traps gave us daily bread of a game. For most of our akple dishes, my mother employed her special style of marrying adzoatᴐe with momone in the home of fetritoto.
Most of the days, when I thought my mother was not aware that we were not served fish or meat on our food and thereby drew her attention to it, she would shout at me with a statement that dressed in the clothes of a taboo: ‘Children don’t eat meat and fish.’ That was a saying coined by poverty and poor parents used it to defend their inability to feed their children well. Well, it was only the children that acknowledged the truth in that statement.
At nights, after we had had something to visit our stomachs, the three of us would clutch ourselves on the grass-woven mat on the floor while our grandmother lay on what to us was a high-density bed. It was white because of its outer cover which were sacks. In the belly of these woven sacks were dry grasses of rice from rice farm. My parents used the other room left.
With all these, my academic story doesn’t have to be a mystery again. I knew no textbook. I voraciously consumed all that my teachers gave us. Vacation classes? And pay how? And who would go and help my parents to sow maize, plant the cassava and plantain and the others? And despite the tragedy of having our Fridays as holidays because we would go for projects and there won’t be any serious academic work, my BECE aggregate was not a scarecrow to make hearts stop breathing. My certificate smiled at me with an aggregate that was four less than twice my 13 years of existence. I was three steps away from the BECE cut-off point.
I had my second choice school and was offered general science which we nicknamed or better still renamed as ‘pure science’. Many had doubted if I was actually offered general science because we had heard rumours of how a candidate would never be offered that course if their aggregate was not at least 15. We heard some schools pegged their cut-off point for General Science at 12 and others, 10.
Well, I guess God worked for me, considering where I had come from, and despite the glimmering darkness of poverty and suffering that had almost overshadowed my life, I was able to make such an aggregate. It was even more surprising and miraculous that despite the regular irregularity of our integrated science teacher, I was still able to make grade two in the subject. I was a hero in the village that year and that was how many got to know me and never forgot me. My name was carried in the palanquin of nearly every tongue in the village. I was bathed in a pool of praise.
I went to school and started my General Science programme. My parents had to spend almost every blood of their sweats to make sure I was in school. Some subjects nearly became my enemies. I knew my home so I never wanted to disappoint my parents, and indeed, I didn’t. Time flew past like birds searching for food and before we knew, it was time for WASSCE.
Now, I was waiting for my WASSCE results to apply to the university. The medical school in Legon, as everyone called University of Ghana, had been my dream since senior high school. While in school, I took my studies seriously and always won an award or two after each end of term’s examination. This made me popular in the school of about 1,800 students. I became a favourite dish for many girls and many of them presented themselves like plates of fresh food of free lunch for relationship. My appetite to be attached to an opposite sex was awoken and whetted by their closeness to me.
As usual, most of them could not say their feelings to me, so they came with requests of being my study partners. It was quite surprising that girls from the General Arts and Visual Arts departments wanted to be study partners with me so I could help them in their elective subjects. ‘But me, what do I know about GKA?’ I asked myself silently when Florence unfolded her tongue to lay bare her request one Saturday afternoon.
I was almost becoming a king on campus. I was known as ‘The Shark’ on campus. Well, shark was a slang that was used to refer to any academic giant in school, but my friends and colleagues felt I merited more than the general term so they added the definite article to the name, making mine special and conspicuous. By second year, Daniel had drowned in the sea of forgetfulness. Nunya was never born among my friends. The juniors never knew my official name and my seniors and even some of the teachers called me The Shark. The only time one would hear my official name was when I was being called forward for recognition and award, and just after the headmaster called Daniel Nunya, the entire 1,800 or more population would chorus: The Shark! The Shark! The Shark’ and then the fourth time, they would say: ‘The Shhhhhhh!!’
So if anyone came to look for me on campus, asking of me with my official name, the impossibility of meeting me was very possible. The Home Economics, food aspect, girls helped me taste kingship. After their practical, at least six different girls would bring me the food, requesting that we ate together. Some would just give me the food and tell me they would come for the bowls later. My boys were gleeful for such moments. At least, they would also enjoy some of the food.
I realised the girls were baits of distraction so I didn’t give in to any of their antics of proposals. I was careful enough not to lead them on as well. It was a night before my last paper when a beautiful girl took me by surprise and planted a deep kiss in my mouth. I realised she had tried all she could to get my attention in the preceding weeks but I had stood strong like a pillar. Initially, I guessed how long she might have practised and gathered the confidence to do it. But upon a second thought, though I didn’t know anything about kissing except what I had watched in films, I realised the kiss wasn’t an amateur kiss, and that she must have had some really firm foundation birthed by experience. I had mixed feelings and my spirit nearly jumped out of me. It took me some minutes to recover. I waited to meet this girl again but the waiting kept on waiting.
I began to wonder whether she was a spirit. My heart nearly erupted at that thought. The thoughts of not knowing her from first year and getting to know her only a few months before the kiss kept pushing me into the night of fears. ‘Have I kissed Maame Water?’ I asked silently and quickly shook my head violently as if to splash out the thought. But the question kept repeating itself in my mind. ‘But I didn’t kiss her; she kissed me.’ I refuted. ‘So Maame Water kissed you?’ the thought changed its format of the question. And it kept on repeating: ‘So Maame Water kissed you? So Maame Water kissed you? So Maame Water kissed you? So Maame Water…
we will get to know in the next episode…