This image was created by Leila Bibizadeh and I found it here http://iwantthatpainting.com/Commissioned-Projects.html

Disappearing Act

This particular magic trick snuck up on you subtly; gradually.

First, the taps stopped running in your area. They would run one week and dry up the next, till they dried up all together. You took it for granted that the problem would be fixed; but it is still here, rubbing its long fingers on just about everything.

Then your electricity supply became erratic. They said the water level of the Akosombo Dam had reduced. Then they blamed the turbines. And then they said the Electricity Company was in debt. You discovered that the country’s disco light crisis had been christened “dumsor”. Like everyone else, you lacquered your disappointment with dumsor jokes. You believed beyond doubt that the problem would be fixed. But now, during your power-less days prayer finds your tongue more easily than laughter. On light-less nights, you shake the problem’s grip off your boundless optimism, becoming faintly aware that a certain something is curbing its boundlessness.

Then you heard about the blatant pilfering. The Bank of Ghana can’t account for 100 million dollars. The oil industry simply misplaced 200 million dollars. 44 million cedis more than was budgeted for our president’s expenses have somehow been spent.

By this time, you are conscious of the certain something. It is a disappearing act. You shrug it off as merely an optical illusion. But it persists. It is stealing your hope. It is playing with your eyesight so that all you can see is the problem. It is telling you that the problem is the only thing left to be seen.

Now it’s 6pm on a Saturday night in your pitch-black city. The lights are off, there’s no water running through your taps, and like everyone else, you’re on strike. The doctors are on strike. The primary school teachers are on strike. The university lecturers are on strike. Heck, the Association of Unemployed Graduates is on strike! They too need salaries!

You sit in the darkness and think to yourself because there is nothing else left to do. You used to join protests against the government on Red Fridays but you don’t anymore. It is a waste of your time. The only one of the government’s senses tickled by your Red Fridays is its sense of humour. You shake your head.

You think yourself back to the time in your imagination where water run every day and electricity was a thing you took for granted. You realise with a sigh that that time is called hope, and you can hardly reach it now. The magic trick is now a very dark magic, with which you must wrestle, just to get to your hope.

At least you have a house. At least you have a place to sleep. Clothes on your back. A snug bed at night. But you do not have an answer for the many who do not. And you cannot, for the life of you say, “Ɛbɛyɛ yie”, because your heart has no honest belief that it will ever get better.

You used to want to leave this country with more than your humanity and more than your remains in the city’s soil. You used to want to plant seeds of progress. But where is the water? There is no hope; your seedlings would stand no chance. You used to want to squirt your own bit of icing on the national cake. But now your tummy only churns because the stale national loaf has left a bitter taste in your mouth.

All you want to do is leave.

You have never been a believer in magic. But you now cannot deny the power of this particular magic trick. It snuck up on you slowly and will not leave. Because of it, you can no longer reach your hope. You can’t find it. You can’t see it.

You are searching. You really are. You are looking out for it. You are peeling your eyes, rubbing them sore. You want to see it, like you used to. The blackness persists. The emptiness hugs closer.

There is a disappearing act where your hope should have been.

“Red Means Stop” by Adelaide Asiedu.

Flash Fiction From GHANA

The dress is red. Tight. Actually, it’s more than tight, its seams cling to my body. Its red and my brown could easily be the same fabric, but my brown is skin and the red is my dress. Somewhere in between my thigh and my knee, the red gives way once more to my brown. In truth, the mirror reflects more brown than red; perfect. My clock says it’s time to go, and so I do. Through the window, down one ledge, each leg navigates its way  to the grass below. The wall is a walk over, literally. Nobody sees me, except the night. I have no fears. The night may be your foe, but it is my ally, my element. Ma is sleeping, for sure. Da is at work. They do not see me. They never do. Accra is calling. I do not look back.

….

The light is…

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Mr. Politricksian

Mr. Politricksian,

 

When you dip sticky fingers

Into the nation’s treasury,

Do you not envision the figures

Made bonier by your treachery?

 

When you force only square blocks,

Into round pegs,                                                                                                         

To dodge political knocks

And to hatch party eggs,

Do you think of the masters holder, holding his head?

Do you think of his famished family, financially dead?

 

When you ship illegal sums,

Into your island accounts,

Don’t you hear the warning guns?

Don’t you think judgement will come?

 

When you shun integrity,

And bow down to bribery,

Do you feel no remorse

For neglecting right’s cause?

 

When you deliver to the masses,

Vows which are carcasses,

Does not guilt shoot her darts?

Do you not have a heart?

 

As you pierce the Nation’s Soul

And shred her to pieces,

Filling up corruption’s brimming bowl,

Though its stench matches faeces,

 

Can’t you see your people’s plight?

Is it not a piteous sight?

They are eating poverty food,

And slow death, their neighbourhood.

 

Why does it surprise you then,

when all of sudden

their troubles rise up and collapse on your head

and you find yourself dead?

 

Mr. Politricksian,

Every day is for the thief,

But one day is for the master.

 

Mr. Politricksian,

Every day may be for you,

But one day is for your people

and on that day,

your sins will find you out

and your tricks will catch up with you!

 

Mirror Effect

Did you slap him back

When he slapped you?

She launched an insult attack,

Did you fire too?

Did you seek his degradation

Since he smeared your reputation?

Did you slander her whole nation,

Since she mocked your colouration?

That he stole your cash is true,

But it’s sad you pinched his too

And though he’s your sister’s murderer,

Should you be his life blood’s burglar?

 

You consider him

violent

insolent

deceitful

racist

thieving

evil

but you do not realize

that in the mirror of retaliation

you have become

his image

 

 

Till we come to the realization

That retaliation

Gives no answers

We shall remain dancers

To our offenders’ tunes

Wearing the very same shoes

Foot-printing the same lies

We say we despise

 

Wearing shoes whose soles

Have trampled

Our souls

Our defenses crumpled

And riddled with holes

 

In that mirror

We mould our reactions

After the same actions

Of the ones we accuse

Of abuse

In that mirror

We make ourselves reflections

Of hated imperfections

In the mirror of revenge

When we seek to avenge,

The mirror effect

Takes effect

So I refuse to be the image

And won’t do the culprit damage

Would rather live life in a manner

That I can be the hammer

That will shatter

That mirror

Into kaleidoscope shards

 

So live life in rejection

Of revenge’s reflection

To reverse

The bitter curse

The old mirror effect.

Exchanged Places; Misplaced Souls

Mirror, Mirror on the wall

Who’s the fairest of them all?

Mirror, Mirror on the wall,

Like the Mirror sees it all.

It just perceives the physique;

Its sight never goes down deep.

Mirror, Mirror on the wall,

Can you tell what’s fair at all?

 

Bible, Bible on the floor,

Do we need you anymore?

Bible, Bible on the floor,

Yet the most needed of all.

The Word’s eyes see through the Soul,

Between marrow and the bone.

Mirror, Bible: Bible, Mirror:

Exchanged places,

Misplaced Souls.

 

 

We see clearly,

Pimples, zits.

Only rarely,

Prideful sins.

 

 

Focus in on what’s without

Focus out on what’s within.

 

And our judgement is impaired,

And our conscience gone to bed,

For we measure with wrong scales,

Want for more, what’s right, curtails.

 

We are gazing in our mirrors

And are glancing at GOD’s WORD!

Bible, Mirror: Mirror, Bible;

Exchanging their places,

Misplacing our Souls.

 

Put your mirror on the floor,

Hang your Bible on the wall.

When you hear the trumpet’s call,

Which would matter most of all?

Lay your mirror on the floor,

Fix your Bible to the wall.

 

Change their places;

Save your Soul.

CONDEMNATION

You stare at me and point and poke fingers. You don’t know what happened. You don’t know the situation I was in and what pushed me to do what I did. You just don’t know! Yet you stand there and mangle me with your tongues. It’s ok! Turn away! What at all are you looking at? I promise, if you stretch your eyelids any further, those bulging, marble-like eye balls will fall out of their sockets!

You were not there, and if you had been, you would not even have cared. What would you have done? Would you have helped me? Can you look me in the eye and tell so blatant a lie? Really?

I know. I know you would have simply spread your mouth into the shape of an O and hidden your shock behind your eyes but worn your contempt openly. Your derision would have cloaked you and you would have laid a shroud of the same material on my shoulders and told me to bow my head in shame and to lock up my mouth and throw the key away. You would not have believed me and simply despised me. But I know that my fear would have gripped you too. Yes and it would have given you a loving hug while all it ever gave me were slaps. It would caress you and assure you that you and it were in the right. Yet daily it reminded me with each smack, that it was my ally and the day I would fight it would be the beginning of my demise. What would you have had me do? Swallow my fear and its companion pain? Though each day delivered a new dose more potent than the last, you would not have cared. So shut your mouth and close those eyes! You have no right to accuse me!

When poverty slowly and mercilessly squeezed the life out of my parents you were not there to watch. You were no witness to the times when they would come and stand in front of our creaking mud hut and promise that all would be well and God would provide. They would donate a pittance to us, their famished village cousins, and my father, that metal rod of a man would puddle to the floor in grovelling thanks. They had so much, yet in giving, took much more than they could ever give. I was there. You were not. I was the one who watched, who struggled to detach myself from the scene as my Father, then my Mother and then I, exchanged our dignity for a few paper notes. An old fisherman who had all but lost his strength and eye sight and a fruit and vegetable seller whose crops were doing poorly could focus on only one thing; survival. To hell with pride!

And so when poverty had had enough fun teasing them and finally knocked them into the other world, it was these same city cousins who came to get the poor village orphan, their cousin, to take to the city.

Your eyes did not grow round in wonder when I sat in the back of the hulk of red that the city cousins called a 4×4. Your skin did not sprout goosebumps with me when they asked their city parents to “turn on the AC” and your teeth did not chatter. I was the one quickly woke up during the journey to the city and tried to rearrange my body when I was told to “sit properly” so I would not snore. I was the one who walked with face pointed up to peer at the edges of the seemingly endless walls of the house my city cousins lived in and gape at the sheer size of the place. I was content with my room next to the kitchen; it was bigger than the old mud hut which had one day crumbled and squashed my parents out of my life and into the next. But the city cousins would laugh wide, loud laughs and say how they could not believe that they had had to clear out the store room for me. And I would remark to myself how their teeth looked like fangs when they grinned and the smiles on their faces felt like bullets instead of flowers; how different they were from the smiles I was used to.

Your face never felt like a river bed which each day churned out new drops to nourish the river of tears. It was my face, mine. It was my mind which, in my sleep, painted pictures of a fisherman and a vegetable seller holding oustretched arms and calling out words which could not be heard because the wind carried them away so that only those in the land were they were could hear what was said. Would you have heard their voices? If you had, would you have told me what they said? No, you would have laughed off my stories about these paintings that my mind conjured in the night and you would have checked my temperature.

I scrubbed the floors with my own hands. I cooked with them. I washed with them. And when one panty stunk from my city cousin’s menstrual blood, it was my fingers that removed the stink. I did go to the remedial school every Saturday so that I could resit my WASSCE exams next year but it was funny how the city remedial girls and boys would look at me strangely and tell me that my English was “not good” and was I really so and so’ s cousin? And they would say how lucky I was, how very lucky I was that my city cousins had come to get me quickly because otherwise it would have been even worse. And I would ponder in my head what the meaning of “lucky” was. Did it have the same meaning it had when my parents had said it, or was it something else, this “lucky” word? And I came to the conclusion that maybe this was a different kind of lucky; the type that smiled at you before it threw you into a pit.

You were not there, none of you were there. Why are you still staring? This is partly your fault you know. You people never asked questions about why your Deacon and Deaconess’ niece sat at the back on Sunday while the rest of the family was spread it out in the first five rows. You did not wonder why she always wore the same yellow dress, Sunday after Sunday. You did not see past her plastered smile to the ice that blocked here eyes. And I know why, it is because you did not care. So why do you care now? Why do you care that the shape of my mouth is the shape of defiance? Why are you now realising that my nose is snubbed in pride and my eyes do not merely blink but also roll with nonchalance? Where you blind then? Have your eyes suddenly been opened? Why do you now care, at the moment when I myself no longer care?

Those of you standing over there are even worse! You greeted the Government Minister when he came to the office but whispered behind his back about how thin his village niece was. Was she not eating well? Why not? Children number one and two were close to obesed and the other two were on their way, so what was happening to the single niece? You asked each other, but you did not ask me. I would have told you that pain is a staple more satisfying than yam or fufu and when it fed you, you only ate other things to keep your body from giving up and not because you wanted or enjoyed them. I would have told you, but you never asked. Your eyes when they looked at me wore masks which said, “just tell your Uncle we are good employees, tell him, that’s all we care about”. I would wonder what was behind your masks and my imagination would stir up my fear and it would slap me again and tell me to shut up. Why didn’t you ask me? Why? I would have told you….I would have, but you never asked……

And you neighbours ….you were close but the farthest I have ever known. I remember how you told your children and the city cousins not to touch me too often for fear that they would contract something, if only you knew. I washed the dishes they left piled haphazardly on the kitchen counter, and even the food they chomped so greedily was a product of my hands. Then, I chuckled to myself about your useless warnings. Today I laugh openly and you think I am mad. Well, maybe I am..don’t let your children come too close today ohh, this madness might be catching. I know you all want to get a good look at me but remember, you’ve always been so cautious about catching an infection from me and I could bet my laaast pesewa that you don’t want to catch this one! So don’t come too close and for goodness’ sake, stop pointing!

I was the one whose ears cupped my Aunt’s insults and then chucked them out before they could seep into my brain and upset things. They were like her daily ritual; her only way of recognizing my existence. She substituted abuse for greeting. “Lazy girl” was my morning greeting while “foolish” and “stupid” where interspersed throughout the day, depending on her mood. If I was lucky, she wouldn’t call me a beggar or a useless orphan, but then, this was the same kind of luck that smiled wide at you and then threw you, flung you into a pit.

I am amazed by the hatred with which you gaze at me. I believe that I have an equal right to hate them and to hate you. In spite of what I have done, I have been kind, far too kind and far too slow in doing what I did. You don’t know what pushed me. You don’t know….

You don’t know what happened after the first week. The sun had retired yet there was no moon to take its place that night. It was black….even the heavens acknowledged that it was a black night. I lay on the bed they had given me and the rusted fan toyed with the idea of actually shaking up the little air that slithered through my one window. My mind painted its usual pictures and though my tears flowed, they were the comforting kind. And then the thing you do not know began…You do not know that that night my bedroom door cracked open and then shut quickly behind an intruder. You don’t know that I was made to sit up and then lie down again. And things were done to me that have never been done before. I was told that I had something written all over my face, that it was obvious to this person that I needed this, wanted this. I was told that I was this and that and I was instructed to insert this then remove that and fear moved my hands in tune with the intruder’s groans. And I lay there till morning and no matter how hard I tried, my paintings would not come back.

You do not know that this happened the next night and the next and the one after that. You do not that the next week there was a different intruder. Who did not say anything about me being this or that but simply stated that it was natural for things to be this way between us. This one did other things to me that have never been done before. It was my body that was touched and held, yet breaking inside, was softly caressed, yet battered, battered within…It was me, not you! Do you hear me? It was me and you were not there! So don’t point at me!

You do not know that one night the two intruders bumped into each other on the way to my room and then mumbled excuses about going to the toilet in the middle of the night and then went back to bed with suspicions about the other’s excuse lingering as they lay down. You do not know that that was my only true night of rest.

You did not feel the sweat that would break out each time I lay down and you did not cry out when the paintings fled with the dread of what was to come.

I remember, with my own memory, the look of disgust that crossed the city children’s face when I asked them to google the word “homosexual” for me. And when after that, they saw me looking up “bisexual” in the dictionary, their sidelong glances were enough to let me know their thoughts. But it was not true, I was not! I never would be and I did not like the night visits.

I was sure that whatever was supposed to be written on my face was really not there and could only be seen by my night visitor’s warped mind….I was not and I most certainly did not need those visits.

I could no longer host the night visitors. They were heavy and ungainly and crushing my spirit. I could not. In the end, it was my weakness, not my strength that fought and overcame the fear. I did not unlock my mouth but simply my heart and the bitterness and anger were enough, enough to make me do what I have done and not regret it.

I am sure you are glad that you were not there when I stuck the kitchen knife through my first visitor’s chest, time and time again. The blood spurted as her face contorted in horror and anguish. She could mouth any words but only gurgled as blood seeped not only from her chest but from her mouth and nose. I hacked and hacked till I was numb. I killed her. You are all shocked. But you were not there, so don’t be and don’t judge me…it was the perfect time. Her city husband and city kids had gone for a three day trip and she had had her fill of me, touching and touching…and I could not do it anymore. I had no choice, I had to end it. And so I killed her.

Right now I am standing in this court room, thinking these thoughts instead of saying them, and so you still do not know. The lawyer is asking me why but he does not realise that the time for asking is past. He should have asked the day he came to the house and noticed me as I served drinks to him. He should have remarked that my lowered eyes not from humility but from insolence. He should have asked then, but he asks now and I laugh, I laugh, because it is too late and I have already smeared my hands with red.

I stare transfixed at my second visitor as he stares back in terror. Even he does not know the whole truth. He thinks he is the reason why his wife died but does not know that she is her own reason. The lawyer is still asking me why and this is what I tell him, “I am not stupid. I am not foolish I am not lazy. I am not a lesbian. I am not bisexual. I am not…” And he is puzzled. He thinks I am mad….he too does not know.

I am staring at my Uncle again, and this time he does not stare at me, but at the crumpled note in his hand, written by my hand.

“Pray that they pack me off to prison and not to a psychiatric hospital because they think I am mad. I am not mad. Pray hard, because I promise you, I swear by the life of the fisherman and by the life of the fruit and vegetable seller that I will take you to where your wife is. I will take you so you can tell her that I am not a lesbian and I am not bisexual…I want you to be the one to tell her…tell her I am not…”

The lawyer is asking me again and I am laughing and telling him what I am not. You are all staring and gaping. Stop! You do not know….you were not there…..

The Rustling of the Leaves

She stared up into the sky for the millionth time that day. Well, probably not into the sky, but into the bright gold spots of light that seeped through the canopy of dark green mango leaves. The sun’s rays painted dancing patterns against the background of leaves swaying in the breeze. She felt a bit like them, these leaves that moved not of their own accord, but simply swished wherever the wind blew. Occasionally, one would fall gently to the ground, another addition to the grave yard of varying degrees of rotting leaves lying beneath her feet.

She wondered, if the leaves had voices, would they cry out when they fell? Would they resist the call of the wind or simply mouth their contentment, in humble submission to their fate? Maybe the rustling sounds they made were whispers housing the secret desires of rebel leaves,  who like her, yearned for something greater than kow towing to some unseen, all-powerful wind, but could see no way of escape, other than the piles of decaying foliage beneath. The life of the leaf; dance to the tune of the wind, or shrivel up and die….had become her life…

Looking down at the ground now, she traced another seemingly meaningless image in the sand with her big toe. It was a shapeless, almost hideous creation, nothing like the strokes of her paint brush against canvas. There was life in her brush and it gave her paintings breath so that they would leap out of their frames, giving some silent message to whoever cared to look. Their yellows spoke of happiness and their reds of anger and their blues of a myriad of things that could only be decoded by the discerning eye. Right now, her toe carried the opposite of the blood that coursed through her brush and her sand monster spoke of death; the death of the leaves and the death of her dreams.

She stood up. Enough time had already been wasted under the mango trees- not as if there was anything important to be done at the moment. She was playing a waiting game and her time was almost up. She had merely hours left until she would be packed up and shipped out to be made into an engineer. What manner of engineer she would be, she could not fathom. But her father was the wind and she was the leaf and she would bend or fall. She had been born into a life that had already been planned out. Father had said, “Awura will go to kindergarten early” and of course she had. “Awura will be the best pupil in her primary school”, and she had obligingly complied. “Awura will get into the best High School in the country” and she had all but killed herself to do so and had done so. She had lived to please her father. She had basked in the glow of his attention and flourished under his praise. But over the sunshine of his approval, had always hovered the cloud of her art.

She would never forget her first scribbles with a crayon, in the kindergarten she had started at 1 ½ years old instead of the normal 2 ½. The colours had made her almost giddy with excitement and she had discovered from that moment that she had been imbued with the power to turn colour into spirit and that her markings on any surface, were not just ordinary, but spoke volumes. That was the birth of the cloud.

She had bent, oh how she had bent and been blown and tossed by his stone will and steely resolve to mould her into the lead character of the script he had written even before she was born; an answer to the questions raised by his unfulfilled dreams. She had played the part well but it had been consistently adulterated by the additional lines sparked by her fire.  And her father would have none of that. So for years she had painted in secret so that his conditional sunshine would never give way to a night that gave no guarantees of a moon’s guiding light.

But now the time had come when she was no longer a tender green leaf, desperate to drink in the sun’s radiance. She was dark green like the mango leaves above her head, but unlike them, she had a mouth and a will and a fire that gnawed at the seams of her soul, urging her to do more than just rustle.

So she got up and went into the house. She went to the file cabinet beneath the staircase and gathered them. There were some beneath her bed and she gathered them. The sack in the basement was full of them and she gathered them also. There were piles of them in the store room that her father never entered and she gathered them from there too. Then she picked up the last ones from her late mother’s locked up art gallery, whose key she kept in the locket hung around her neck.

She walked to her father’s study and entered before he could answer her knocks. She told him she was tired and she could not star in the charade anymore and that she was a time bomb about to explode and that she would not be made into an engineer. And he sat there and exploded but she stood firm and would not be blasted to bits by his dynamite. And in response to his tirade, she spoke no words but would pick them up one by one. First the painting of the happy family she had made the year before her mother had parted; the painting where the sun was a bright yellow and the sky a true blue and their smiles were more than bared teeth. Then the one from her thirteenth birthday, that depicted running blood and a broken heart, when her mother’s death snuffed out her father’s joy and grew the cloud between her husband and their daughter. Then she showed him the black hole swallowing the colours which carried her creativity. And then she picked up the shimmering gold work of art that her mother had painted for her just before the cancer had stolen her, in whose centre, she had carved in the words, “Follow your dreams, then you will shine, my star”. Those words were like lyrics to the song of her heart beat. But her father was a tone deaf bomb that refused to be deactivated. She would not remain to be torn into little pieces as he detonated, she would rather evacuate.

So she turned around with the gold painting in her arms and her admission letter to the art school somewhere in Paris, which he had refused to look at, and walked, away from her rustling, up the path of her dreams, so she could shine. Before she stepped out of the compound, packed up to be made into a star, she cast a sidelong glance at the leaves of the mango trees and whispered a parting message to them, “I’m sorry my old friends, but I had to do more than rustle to the wind”. And then she flew…