That Sunday afternoon seemed to be the hottest afternoon I have experienced in my life. The heat from the blazing sun above and my own emotions conspired to rob me of any vestige of comfort as I stood under the leafless mango tree. I was waiting for the small boy who had carried my note to Serwaa. I sweated profusely even though the balmy harmattan breeze that occasionally blew through the blistering afternoon was very soothing to the skin. I was nervous. All was quiet and I could hear my heart pounding violently against my tender chest. I was lost in confused thoughts.
Then suddenly I saw the boy running towards me the same way he had left. My heartbeat increased, and for a moment I thought it was about to pop out. When he finally arrived, he was breathing like a puppy that had been trotting all day. With trembling hands, I took a note he held in his tiny clenched fingers. His fist was about the size of a fufu morsel. I handed him a five thousand cedi-note and he jogged away, very grateful for the reward for his errand. When I unfolded the note it was the best news I had ever had in my life. It read: “IT HAS BEEN MORE SUCCESSFUL THAN I HAD EXPECTED. MY PARENTS ARE AWAY SO COME AND LET’S HAVE FUN AND HAVE IT MORE ABUNDANTLY.”
“Thank you, God!” I screamed and made for the house confidently. When I entered the compound, however, I thought I had lost my way. But it was the house I had directed the boy to send the note. Besides, I knew the area like my bedroom, and I could not have made a mistake in trying to locate it. The compound was full of people in mourning attires. Not even the men could control the tears that flowed freely as if they had bucketful of it behind their eyeballs. It was at that moment I began to sniff peril. The earth under my trembling feet began to dance. I decided to go out quickly before anyone interrogated me, but that seemed to be too late. The gate was locked and a man I identified as Serwaa’s father was advancing menacingly toward me. I froze.
“Who are you?” he howled, his thunderous voice rumbling like thunder. I opened my mouth but I can still not say the sound that came out. A deadly slap sent me crushing on to the hard floor. Then he ran madly to the far end of the compound and picked a pestle near an old mortar. His eyes were blood-red with rage. For a moment, the women stopped wailing and let out piecing screams that cut through the placid afternoon like sharp knives.
I was paralysed with fear and too weak to escape the inevitable – death. The screaming went on, but none of them made any attempt to restrain him. Then I shut my eyes, waiting to be mangled to death. When the blow was not forthcoming, I opened my eyes. Three stocky men had managed to take the weapon from him and were struggling to stop him from adding more savage blows that would have sent me to the other side of the world.
The following day, I was arraigned before the law court. A word had been sent to my parents and they arrived not quite long before prosecution started. I had, out of shock, given a truthful account of the case at the police station, so there was no need for the services of a lawyer. My father had come along with one of the best lawyers in the country. He had never lost a case and it was even said, long before I got into that mess, that his presence in court alone made judges shudder.
He knew the law like Shakespeare knew drama. When my father came to learn of my folly at the police station, he was dejected beyond consolation. In the court, he sat quietly, his chin cupped in his palms. My mother was violently shaking with sobs as her head rested on my father’s shoulders. There were many other people in the court, and when I raised my head for the first time, everybody stared at me, each face talking to me without speaking. Then all of a sudden the guilt seemed to have left me and I began to feel pity for my mother.
Being the only child of my parents, I was her idol. My mind revisited the advice she had given me a day before I left for the senior secondary school, as it was then known. That was the day I, for the first time, realised how much my mother loved me.
“You know how much I care for you,” she said. “It is in you I seek solace any time I’m sad. After marrying your father for four years without a child, I nearly left the marriage because I could no longer stand the harassment from my mother-in-law. But your father stood by me throughout that turbulent period till God answered our prayer. So as you are going to the boarding house, be careful not mess up with bad friends. Remember that God gives us our neighbours, but we choose our friends. And it is we, not God, who would have to live the consequences of any bad choice we make”.
My father was already waiting for me in the car so she could not go on for long. She looked straight into my face and I saw a teardrop fall from her left eye. She didn’t wipe it and it traveled across her dimpled cheek, leaving a long line in its wake, like a Frafra tribal mark.
Her words guided me and always rang like a bell whenever I was tempted to go wayward. To be able to live happily in the boarding school without going the way of boarding life is not an easy task to grapple with. But no matter how tempting a situation was, my mother’s advice kept me from being part of the norm. I was a member of the Scripture Union, which in a way also helped to mould my character a great deal.
I became popular in the school after the speech and prize-giving day in which I took three awards including the overall best student in the second year. My father was so happy that he promised to buy me a saloon car if I was able to pass the SSSCE with distinction. I tried my level best to live up to his expectation, but as the Holy Book would put it, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Disturbingly and tragically weak.
It all started when I got to the final year. That was when the first years were admitted. They were so naïve, innocent, and very susceptible to wily wiles that it was not difficult to lure them to abandon the myriad of advice they had received before coming to the school. “Catch them young and they shall be yours forever” became so popular a slogan among the third year boys that the head master had to warn us that we were not in the school to marry. This, however, could not deter those who were bent on catching the freshers young from pursuing their agenda.
There was a boy in my class called Bingi. I was not very close to him but for reasons known to him, and perhaps to God, he always wanted to be with me. I am sure there was something, apart from the “gari” and “shito” he was always sure to get from me, that kept him so close to me. Though he was not among the very good ones in the class, he was a clever or rather a mischievous fellow. It was in the first year that he told me get a girlfriend, else I would be “missing in action” as he put it.
There was another boy we nicknamed Monkey No Fine. At first he used to respond “But him mother like um” but he later changed the responds to “But shoddies they fight over um.” This was after a nasty incident in which two girls almost stripped each other naked in a fight over him.
He was a fat dark fellow with an equally fat head to match. He had very thick lips and a nose that looked as if it was hurriedly hammered against his face. He looked more handsome when he frowned than when he smiled or laughed. All his forty-two teeth, so was said of their number, were pointing at different directions. Looking at him, I always wondered if God really created all men in his own image. As if all this was not enough, he smoked Indian hemp. I hated him because of his addiction to drugs so, unlike Bingi, I never entertained him. He, however, kept saying day after day that he was the only one who could get me a girl of my choice.
I always dismissed Bingi’s idea to enter into a relationship, but he remained relentless. In the third year, however, I could not withstand him when we met one first year girl on our way to the dining hall one afternoon. Serwaa’s beauty could only be described by King Solomon’s Songs of Songs. Beauty, they say, lies in the eyes of the beholder but Serwaa’s beauty was conspicuous to all whose visions were not impaired. Her slender body was covered with a skin that was as smooth as a newly polished mahogany table. Her dark bright eyes pieced pleasantly into my heart anytime she looked at me. When she first spoke to me her voice seemed to electrify my spine, dotting the whole of my body with goose pimples. This was accentuated by the smiles she always wore. She was, in fact a girl to behold.
When Bingi told me about it, I made no objection. But I still thought that it was too early to enter into a relationship. I told him that he should allow me to complete school so that if I would enter into a relationship at all, it would lead to marriage. Bingi seemed very relentless in his persuasion. “If you allow a roasted meat to cool before you eat it, it will cool in someone’s mouth,” was the proverb he told me, and I needed no explanation. Though in her mid-teens, Serwaa was a girl every man would like to have as a future wife. I also knew too well that I wasn’t the only boy in the school who admired her. I later learnt that some of the teachers, including those who had wives, had expressed interest in her. She was a temptation too hard to resist.
I could not be that brave to talk to Serwaa about my intentions even if I rehearsed it a hundred times. So with Bingi’s guidance, I wrote a love letter, which he delivered to her after supper. That evening at preps, I couldn’t learn anything. My mind was preoccupied with thoughts about the letter I had sent to the girl who received so much attention on campus. What would happen if she rejected the proposal? I thought. That would not even be as grave as a teacher or a third party getting to know about it. Try as I did to expel those thoughts and study, I found out that I was fighting a losing battle. I would read the same sentence about six times but it did not make any sense to me.
One may argue that it was lust, and not love, but I can bet with my head that I had an indescribable love for Serwaa. Perhaps, that was because she happened to be my first love. Besides her bewitching beauty, she also appeared to be very humble, respectful and intelligent. The period between the letter and the reply was less than twenty-four hours but it was more than eternity to me. Bingi told me that if she said she was going to think about it, then I should start jubilating because that was the usual delay tactics to prove that she was not that cheap.
The following day after lunch, Bingi, came with the reply. I do not remember even a single word in it, even though I read it together with Bingi. She said she was not interested. I began to dodge public gatherings on campus in order to avoid her. Life was not worth living and I wished I had completed and left school. I stopped attending SU meetings because she had come to join it. But Bingi did not rest until one evening he came to break the good news. The girl had now agreed to be my girl. That was the beginning of the end of my ambition to become a medical doctor.
The joy with which I received that news was short lived, even though we had some fun during our inter-house sports festival. Yes, real fun. During such events, not even the eagle-eyed senior house masters and mistresses seemed to notice every movement of students. It is usually a period when students have the freedom to do the unthinkable provided they were not too lucky to be caught. Serwaa and I were not caught.
We were preparing to sit the turbulent Senior Secondary School Certificate Examination when Serwaa told me that she was pregnant. I’m yet to find an adjective that can best describe the hell I went through within that period. I sought Bingi’s advice and he suggested abortion as the only option available. With the help of his elder brother, we got some pills, which according to him, were harmless. But Serwaa wouldn’t take it. Within two weeks, I wrote twenty-nine letters to her, explaining how necessary it was to take it in order to save both of us. She finally agreed when her parents were about to leave for a funeral in the village.
She left for home on Friday to take the pills after her parents had left for a funeral in the village. On Sunday I could no longer tame my restlessness so I decided to follow up to find out about the outcome so that I could feel comfortable and write my paper the following day. That was why I went to the house that fateful Sunday afternoon, that black Sunday. The Sunday that changed the destiny of my family.
As I stood in the court, my mind involuntarily revisited all these scenes chronologically. Then I finally heard the judge clear his throat. The court was dead with silence. Even the fans that made a lot of noise seemed to have respected the silence. My mother sat up. Breathless. My heart palpitated. Violently.
Then he finally spoke.
Continued in Part Two…