The waves crashed against the coastline with a gentle nudge, the same gentleness that rustled the palm trees, which swayed across the bronze sky. Dusk had befallen Amani Coast, near the village of Zima. The coast remained calm, contrary to the noise that arose in the village. People flocked to this commotion, both old and young. Married women stopped tending to their cooking fires and swiftly swept up their young to their backs so they could witness this.
As you got nearer, the air grew thick with angry voices shouting “abomination,” followed by the sounds of lashes from sticks that started to bend or break from their linear shape because of flogging. A man lay on the ground, his upper body red from the scars that stretched to the other side of his body, oozing small streams of blood. He was powerless and with every lashing, he gathered the last strength he had to cover his face. His lower body was obscured by a skirt. The irony was that the men who were kicking him, sending raging blows to his stomach and his covered face, also wore skirts, theirs made of animal skin and his of silk chiffon, embellished with gold sequins that covered the whole skirt. The beauty of the material had long lost its shine because of the dust that covered it.
In the midst of it all, the crowd’s clamor started to lower as they started using their fingers to communicate, either by poking each other on the back or by pointing at the arrival of the village chief. Chief Kweku approached the scene, accompanied by two men, whose bodies were bulkier than his but not exuding the same importance as him. After surveying the pool of faces that now stood assembled and silent before him, the only sound came from the man wincing in pain on the ground.
“People of Zima, I greet you all. This right here is one thing we won’t tolerate. This man, Kumah, was found in his house, wearing his wife’s clothes. The same wife who is away to visit her family, who is not here to see this man not only mock his family but also the manhood this village has bestowed upon him. I say to you, we shall not tolerate this in this village. Let this be an example to all.”
“Aane!” The crowd agreed in unison after he spoke.
He paused and looked at the bloody figure, panting and slowly writhing in pure agony. “Now, let his soul part from his body because of this atrocious act.”
One of the men in skirts locked his arm under his chin and with one jerk, snapped his neck and gasps sprang from the flock. The crowd scattered, murmuring amongst themselves, with people going back to their daily confabulations like this was another trivial occurrence. Few people lingered by the scene, among them were two men, one standing near a tree, and the other away from them, watching with an eye of uneasiness as Kumah’s body got wrapped in black plastic, and the soldiers helped each other hold it to its final resting place, wherever that was. 5. Slowly they turned away, preparing to leave as one got on his bicycle and the other one picked up his basket.
The village, situated along the coastline was big and wide where sailors could fish and in turn sell or bring it back home to their families. But Sam had no one to bring fish home to, so he would sell it and as far as bringing it home, on a good day when he got more fish than expected, he would offer some to his neighbours and to Naa, who would flush and smile upon seeing Sam.
The idea of marriage hadn’t appealed to him yet, following the recent death of his parents, who gave in to the steady snatch of old age. After they passed, he was gripped by this pang of consuming guilt that he let them pass on without giving them the chance to hold their grandchild or grandchildren. They both left him heirlooms both tangible and intangible. He received the gift of being a good fisherman from his father who taught him how at an early age. And from his mother, a charming and warm aura that made one feel like they knew him for a lifetime. Sam was not the most handsome of men you would find in Zima, but he was a man of decent posture, and his skin shone by the goodness of fish and other protein he consumed. One would assume he was timid towards the opposite sex but that wasn’t the case. He was merely reserved in all situations and didn’t like speaking much. He only dated two women in his life, one parted with his virginity and the second one parted out of want of “a better life for her future children.”
Every morning, he makes his way to the coastline to catch some fish so he can be able to sustain himself. And that’s where he gets taunted by his fellow fishermen folks, Yao, Jojo, and Ekow.
“Living alone is not good,” Yao would say.
“Marry soon so you’ll stop cooking for yourself,” Ekow would follow. “Any man here sees how Naa twists and turns when she sees you but you are blind to see that. If you don’t marry her, she will fall into the arms of another man who will catch her. And who knows? Who knows which hands she’ll fall on? Maybe mine.” And their combined laughter would break the morning silence as they would separate and cast their nets into the water, ready to catch fish for that day. He would find himself nervously chuckling back, making mumbled promises to them that he would marry soon.
This particular morning, the fish didn’t swim close to the shore, and he only caught a total of six fish: 3 chub mackerels, 2 sardines, and 1 cassava. He gathered them and headed to the market. He blocked the bustle of the market as his eyes darted past the different patterns of wrappers that passed before him. He moved past the narrow pathways of stalls that greeted him with a great selection of fruit and vegetables, bowls of spices, nuts, and beans. He was looking for something to trade so he could cook a good meal for tonight. His feet stopped at a particular stall, clean fruit enticing his eyes, drawing him in. The hawker was a man who didn’t see him at first, occupied by fixing the antenna of his tiny radio. He eventually looked up when he realized he had a customer and their eyes met again. It was the bicycle man, looking at him with eyes that were also finding and placing his face to a particular memory.
“Akwaaba, how can I be of help to you?” his husky voice came alive.
“Can I have a pack of beans and spice, I have 4 fish to trade,” Sam replied.
“Mh,” he said, peeking at his basket, “those are big, my friend, give me 3.” Sam smiled and immediately felt warm from the kindness this fellow offered him. On a normal day, his haggling skills would send him home with no fish and little to nothing to show, and it’s on nights like that that he was glad he had no extra mouths to feed. After taking his spices, the man’s hands lingered for a minute longer and he said, “I am Kojo, what is your name?”
“I am Sam, nice to meet you, Kojo,” he said as their hands slowly trailed off.
In the following days, he would frequent the market. Keeping the biggest fish for Kojo and trading small ones with other hawkers. And after every visit, he would go home with a smile or a new anecdote they both shared that day. Kojo became his friend and together they would attend ceremonies hosted by the Chief together and they would jubilate, much to the contest of women hurling themselves at them and they would relish in that, never to take one home. Kojo, who originates from Nyansa village, rich in harvests of maize and tobacco, left his village looking to start his own family and find his dependence, and upon settling in Zima he decided his way to sustenance would be to sell vegetables. Chief Kweku’s wife, the second of three, grew a liking for his wares and had him appointed as the one who will supply fresh supplies of vegetables to the chieftaincy in trade for shelter.
They spent more time together, often at night, sometimes around the fire and sometimes outside of his hut, covering their lower bodies with wrappers, their chests surrendering to the heat of the dry season. On summer nights, the rain would pour with so much vigor and Kojo’s efforts to leave Sam’s house would be futile, so they would have dinner together, allowing their conversations to stretch through the night. One night as the rain strengthened, small leaks of rain seeped into the thatch-roofed hut, where Sam sat beside Kojo, on a wooden bunk stool drinking the second bottle of palm wine, bought from the day’s earnings. The plate of meat placed on top of a bucket was empty and only bones remained. The loud laughter from their conversation was concealed by the angry rain. Kojo was still laughing when he felt Sam’s hand reach his mouth, removing the sauce that stuck on his beard from the spicy chicken they were having, slowly taking in his facial features.
“Medaase,” Kojo said after Sam finished his act of chivalry. He continued to ask “Kojo, you’ll forgive me for asking this but aren’t your parents asking why a young man like you isn’t married yet?”
“Which African parent wouldn’t ask? But I think they are tired of asking because you see, every time I enter that yard, I find my mom standing at the door of our house and her smile hides the disappointment of me at the gate alone,” Kojo said. “My friend, with the economy at an all-time low, I’m still trying to find means to an end. Whose daughter would want an incomplete dowry? Now, let’s assume I have the money, who said I found whom I want to marry yet?”
“Eh, what are you looking for, Kojo, a damsel with big hips and a beautiful face? There are many in this village,” Sam cringed at how he sounded like Yao, Jojo, and Ekow combined.
“The reason I haven’t married yet is unknown to many but for me, when I do, I know it will make sense why it didn’t work with anyone else before.” Sam pondered a bit on the last line before standing up to fetch the bottle of palm wine that was on the verge of depletion. He sat a little closer to Kojo this time, pouring the last of it into his glass.
“Thank you, brother, this palm wine is sweet,” Kojo said, with a genial stare. Sam swallowed the words “like you” when he looked into his eyes, the pungent smell of palm wine on Kojo’s breath drawing him in as he moved closer and their lips crashed into each other almost with the same urge that their hands found their faces with, moving closer to each other, each kiss sealed with desirous strength.
The sound of the rain grew louder as their moans also fought for space in the air, begging to be acknowledged.
“Sam no. No, we can’t do this,” Kojo pulled back and stood up, tying up his wrapper which was untied because of his hardness.
Sam swallowed. “Tell me… you… don’t feel the same when we kiss.”
“I do… yes… I do feel something but… I don’t want us to die because of lust.”
“You call this lust? Kojo, listen,” he felt the alcohol courage kick in. “I’ve spent so much time with you to know that I want you in my life… as more than a friend, regardless of circumstance.”
“Sam, which circumstance are you talking about? Is getting your neck snapped like you’re some… Christmas lunch chicken a circumstance for you? You know what happened to Kumah. What’s next? What if they behead us if they find out? Huh? Then what? That’s not a circumstance. That’s final. We won’t be the bystanders now, watching helplessly. It will be us.”
He moved closer to him, hoping by resting his hands on his shoulders somehow, he would be able to calm him down. “But… Kojo, are you going to deny what we feel for each other because of that? We can leave for another village if that’s the case.”
“How? Which village will allow two men to live together in one house and let it go unpunished? Sam, foolish thoughts are invading your mind. Please, this never happened. I don’t want trouble.” He contemplated leaving the last sip of wine but he drank it instead. He let it slide down his throat and he hoped it would have that familiar burn of a strong whisky. But it didn’t. “Thank you for this night, but I’m not going to stay any longer. I will take my leave.” As he was about to march out, Sam held his hand.
“Kojo please don’t leave like this, I’m sorry about the whole thing. I… didn’t mean to impose or rush this upon you. It’s just, just please forgive me and please, please stay the night, it’s not safe out here.” He pleaded and hoped the universe, gods or God, whoever was in charge of Kojo’s mind to listen to his plea, so he could do what he asked of him.
“It won’t be okay for me to stay, besides I need to go to the chief’s house tomorrow to give him his supply for the month. I don’t want to be delayed.”
“How will you navigate your way back through the puddles this night?”
“Sam, don’t worry about me.” After Kojo wore his shirt, he stood at the door and gave Sam a last glance before running to his bicycle under the tree.
And for a few weeks, Kojo was nowhere to be seen. Sam went to the market on numerous occasions and for a week, his stall was empty. A week later, a burly-looking man had occupied it. And his stall was no different from the same uninviting goods everyone had in the market. He went back home, a basket full of fish, ready to drown his sorrows and move on from what could have been.
They say misery loves company. And Sam decided he couldn’t be alone any longer. Finding a companion wasn’t a choice but the need compelled the search. He made the first move towards Naa, who welcomed him with warm open arms. After paying her bride price, he had a lot of qualms about his decision, but he wasn’t complaining either. Naa was everything you would want in a wife. She would cook and clean, was a supportive wife, and he never went to bed dissatisfied. But what followed was a deep plunge into more misery, two years of no conjugal activities between them, and the neglect led them to spend those years in childlessness lost to miscarriage. He drowned himself daily in palm wine, his efforts of going to fish at his age were now futile, resulting in only two fish a day, and he would trade that at a nearby food and drinks joint.
One night, as I drank in my house, there was no sign of Naa and that didn’t mean her presence only but also her belongings. It had been three months since she left me. The rainy season was upon us once again and as the rain poured, tears didn’t stop rolling down my cheeks. I loathe myself for how I’ve turned out, loathe whom I’ve become since that night. I wipe my tears as I stop to locate the source of the faint sound I hear. Someone’s knocking. I quickly compose myself in case it is Naa, so I can finesse her into sleeping over because I need someone right now. I rush towards the door, kicking over an empty bottle in the process. I breathe in and out as I reach for the door handle, ready to use my seductive line, the one that used to get me what I wanted. “Naa baby–” But when I open the door, there he is, his frame is wet, with two bags placed on the veranda so they wouldn’t get soaked. Time seemed to get lost in his eyes because I just froze and a familiar warmth filled my body, and at that moment, all fell into place. I couldn’t bring myself to mutter anything at that moment, because I was drunk, and in love again.
“Sam–”, the husky voice came alive, and my cheeks glowed for the first time in years. “Kojo, come in,” and I took his bags, leaving my mind to worry about tomorrow.
“And that’s the story of how your father came back to me. Now go sleep, my princess.” After we sealed our goodnight wishes on her forehead with a kiss each, we watched as our daughter’s chest slowly went up and down, watching in adoration as the grip on our hands became tighter.