She sat alone by the sea and watched as the waves raged and dashed with their furious rumbling sound, and as they suddenly turned and broke into foam, scattering along the shore. The sea was blue and white, and when you looked far ahead, held a mountain which reached the sky. There was debris strewn along the shore like toys thrown out of the pram by a petulant child. And she sat motionless in bewilderment, overcome with grief with the throbbing pain in her heart. The sun was a ball of red hidden behind the mountains to the west. Two seagulls squawked above her, but she seemed oblivious to it all.
Only yesterday, they had come to this same spot where she sat. The beach was full then with crowds who had come for the Independence Day carnival. It was an endless crowd like the granules along the shore. He was eager, her husband. He, from the hinterlands where the only thing he could lay claim to as water was his village stream which was a trickle and dried when the harmattan became harsh. She remembered the first time she took him to the beach. On that day, he held her hands tightly when the waves thundered and broke, and he thought the end was nigh. The wind was sharp with the sting of the harmattan and it whipped palm trees into a frenzy. How she had laughed then at him with tears trickling down her cheeks. Then he held her by the cheeks and kissed her. They had walked back to their car hand in hand, along streets filled with kiosks made of planks. All around them, the women had kenkey and ground peppery stew on table tops and the men sat in their lotto kiosks looking into newspapers to forecast the numbers for the evening draw. A thin half-naked child had run across the street with careless abandon. In a wooden structure to her left, she heard a blast from a Ghetto Blaster. It was Simi singing.
I want to be your lover
I want to be your lover
The sun was setting, and it cast a long shadow on people. She felt seventeen all over again, in the spring of youth and stepping into the intoxicating potion of love. In reality, she was on the wrong side of thirty with wrinkles appearing underneath the eyes, but those eyes were big and bright. They made her beautiful. She looked up at him. He seemed taller than usual with his beard. Only fools fall in love they say, but she was none the wiser and already in love with him, and with him by her side, she thought happiness would never end. How wrong she was.
How appropriate then to celebrate their 5 years of marriage at the spot where it all started? He was excited especially with the baby girl. And what a time to introduce her to the water. Like her papa had done all those years ago, he took her by the hands while she made those uncertain, wobbly steps along the shore. The grating sound made by her papa’s big feet and the thundering of the waves and the squawking of the birds in the sky and the blinding of the midday sun all conspired to cast a watery spell over her. In her callowness, she’d known that she was a child of the sea and that she was made for it. The sea is a mother. Papa used to say, that all that mothers do is take care of their children. Look at all that she gives us. Far off to their left, she could see the lighthouse with its red and white hue. Ever since, she’d become enchanted by the sea. She would sit for long hours in the sand and admire the fisherfolks with their glistening black skins against the sun and their bulging biceps in upheaval as they worked their boats to the shore. Until she got to high school and learnt about floatation and displacement, she thought there was a concrete road beneath the water for the ships to travel on.
A seagull landed beside her and interrupted her thoughts. They looked at each other for a brief moment. The bird seemed undecided about whether to move closer or fly away. She looked at it and thought, you are a loner just like me. We have nothing to live for. Come and sit by me, my friend. She made a welcoming gesture towards it, but it flapped its wings and flew away.
“We will need ice blocks and fruits, lots of them,” he said. He seemed more excited than usual. “Have you put her food in the box?” he asked again.
“Yes, I have,” she said as she widened her big white eyes to show her incredulity.
“I just want to make sure that everything is fine…”
“You seem so excited like you’re the child.”
He laughed that deep laughter which emanated from within him. “You don’t know how happy I am to get away from all these troubles at the firm.”
“It’s for only a day, mind.”
“Yeah, but a day is all I need.” The baby slept peacefully in her crib. She looked at her, and a motherly love surged within her. You are the love of my life… Of my life. Gently, she picked her up and followed her husband as they made their way to the car. Outside, the sun was just appearing in the sky. She looked at her watch. It was a quarter to 7. That was when they drove off. That was when everything changed in her life. The people had started gathering when they arrived at the beach. Some youths were setting up the sound system for the afternoon carnival. She felt seventeen all over again. This water will either make me or unmake me, she thought.
“It seems we are early,” he said while unpacking.
“The early bird catches the worm.”
“Ha. There are no worms here, only sand.”
“Look closely and you will see worms.”
“Like the way I looked closely and caught you?”
“Ho. You were down on your luck, and I took pity on you.” She knew this was a lie. But she said it so often that it turned into the truth for her.
It was at the coffee shop they’d met. He’d ordered it black with no sugar, no cream. She’d thought it strange. Nevertheless, she asked no questions. He was tall with his aquiline nose and his bony fingers which grasped tightly at the cup. He sipped softly. Behind the counter, she sneaked a peak, and a hope surged through her. What if? Quickly, she killed it in her thoughts. Kojo came and broke her heart. As for Andy, he went a step further and shredded her spirit too. It had taken her more than six months to have any semblance of life. She had vowed never to love again. Never. Yet here she was staring at another stranger. Within the next few weeks, his feet were frequently in the shop. Those bony fingers entwined around a cup of steaming black coffee were a sight to her.
“Why do you always take black coffee?” she’d dared to ask one day.
He looked over his cup and said, “I guess it’s a habit. I used to study into the night, and black coffee was always my companion.”
That was when it all started. The next minute, they were deep in conversation. He told her he was an architect at the firm across the street. She said how she was just through with the national service and looking for an opening somewhere, but until then she served breakfast to lanky architects. He laughed. Only architects? No, but architects were her preference for they make cities look beautiful.
The next month they were lovers. Then the next year, they were a couple with a baby.
It came so suddenly, the storm, that people had no time for it. The weather forecast had predicted scattered thunderstorms with heavy rains along the coastline and nothing else. Therefore, the people took no heed to the rain as it started. There was a carnival to enjoy. Ghana is free forever. Down with imperialism and colonialism. At first, the sky turned gloomy with the big clouds chasing one another furiously. The wind rattled the branches of the coconut trees in a swooshing sound. The trees bent so low as to touch the shore. Yet the sea was so calm that the partygoers didn’t know what to do. Suddenly, there was a deep rumbling from the sea which tossed wave after wave onto the shore. No sooner had the last wave gone by than the next broke into foam. All the canopies were lifted and tossed into the sea by one giant hand. The crowd scampered across the street and stood under the concrete shed to watch the carnage unfold right before them. The rains were like pellets on their skins. No sooner had one hit you, than the next and the next. It was nothing they had seen before. An old, wiry man said something about the earthquake of ‘39. Afterwards, there were piles of debris all around. Then in twos and threes, the drenched revellers started moving away with their heads bowed in defeat. What started so well has ended like this. Happiness never lasts.
He told her he wanted to stay behind and help. She said no. He said yes. What was she thinking? Too many injured to be helped. She should go ahead with the child to the car. He’d help bandage a few wounds, and they’d be on their way. Besides, the storm had run its course. They were no longer in its eye. There would be no harm afterwards. Grudgingly, she made her way to the other side of the road where the car was parked. That was the last time she saw him alive.
There were a few coconut trees which had fallen along the road. The gutters were full of all the vomit and snot of the coast. There was water everywhere. She saw what looked like a body being carried away. The debris travelled far and wide. There were piles of coconut trees and kiosks that had been lifted and thrown around. And she wondered how so much damage could be done in such a short time, and how it would take years to rebuild. Then the second bout of the storm came. There was rain—sheets and sheets pouring from the sky. And there were deep rumblings too which shook the earth. Accra had never witnessed this before. She thought of joining her husband at the beach, but the rains cut the roads adrift. Besides, she couldn’t leave the baby who seemed agitated and was calling for dada alone in the car. A telephone pole came crashing down hard. The baby’s cry consumed the air.
Long after, those who brought her husband’s body to the roadside said he knelt beside a young boy when a coconut tree came crashing down on them both. It was so sudden. There was no pain. Wasn’t he brave and selfless, helping the teenager whose painful cries for help were enough to melt the stoutest of hearts? There were no tears as she seemed dazed. Oh, Jesus. Oh, Lord, was all she could mutter.
And so today, as the sun faded away, the tears which had bottled up in her cascaded down her cheeks. She wept for him who lay so cold in the mortuary. She wept for her baby whose daddy had been cruelly taken from her. She wept for herself.