Who else did not know that I was not the only one? I knew it. But I dreaded the thought of having to end up as Mamaa, alone, without a man. That was the real reason why I held on to him even though he did nothing for me or the children. Wasn’t I the one who paid for everything from my table top? The small table top as he called it. He was the man and head of the house who brought in no bread. Two weeks after the birth of Mamley, our second child, he came home one evening with stories brewed from his belly. In short, he quit working, or he had been sacked by Amuzu, his master. What could I do? I did not want the children to grow up without their father and for their sake he stayed. Isn’t it late now? Does it matter now? Who would care for them now anyway? I pray Mamley becomes a better woman, with a strength greater than mine, and Nii a man unlike his father.
On the floor I lay, it felt so cold, its coldness agreed to the way I felt of the world. I could hardly move or breathe. As the moments passed by, breathing seemed like something I had never done before. My eyes are closed but my ears not. I can still hear the screams from Mamley and Junior, begging him to stop. The creaking blades of the fan and his voice above it all.
What had I done wrong? All I wanted was to turn on the fan to ease myself of the room’s warmth. Though my eyes are closed I can still see him. The crippling hate burning in his eyes, the root of which I cannot seem to fathom. I did everything I could for him didn’t I? Maybe it was not enough. Certainly it had not been enough. I did everything right or perhaps tried to do everything right but nothing good had found me.
I was born in Kotobabi, in Accra. Mamaa, my mother, sold Jollof and Plain rice by the street near the big gutter in Kotobabi. However, before she owned the table top, she had to carry her food on her head through the area beckoning to those who could and could not afford to buy her food. Mamaa was one of the uncountable women of my father, Krong. Till today, I have met Krong three times. The last of which was an actual conversation between two people unlike the previous two. A conversation about how he could get money from me, to support his drinking I presumed.
I was thirteen the first time I met Krong. Mamaa had then already helped me establish my own food selling business. I started helping Mamaa when I was six, carrying the stew and salad on my head while Mamaa carried the Jollof, Plain rice, plates and cutlery for our customers. Later, when I was eight Mamaa made me carry an ice chest where I sold water, Fanta and coke. Mamaa told me school was not for me. Maybe that is why I never took it seriously. I never gave my best. But how could I have possibly given it my best when I was always tired or sleepy in class. I had to carry the ice chest right after school and make sure I sold everything for the day before returning home. Sometimes I could stay out as long as 10pm or till most of the Trotros (mini buses) at the Kotobabi station were gone. When I got home, I would sometimes help Mamaa to cook and wash the dishes after dinner before going to bed. Midnight was often the time I could hug my mat on the floor and dream my tiredness away. Well that was on a good day when Uncle Oko did not visit.
When Uncle Oko came, he and Mamaa made so much noise that sleeping was impossible. Three taps on the door, Mamaa would check if I was asleep before letting him in. I was awake each time Uncle Oko came in. I only closed my eyes breathing like I was asleep. His visits had become part of my night though unwanted.
Uncle Oko lived at the far end of the compound house we lived in with his wife Auntie Aggie. I often wondered how he could always come into our room without his wife knowing. Maybe if she did she never said it or asked Mamaa about it. She was very nice to me and always called me “hardworking girl” when she saw me. And when she sent me she often made me keep the change. Maybe Mamaa did it for money, how could I tell? We never talked about such things. She was my mother who only told me what I was to do and what I must not do as a child. How could I then have told her that the day she left to Kumasi, leaving me alone, a man came into our room that night. How could I have told her that this man held on tightly to my mouth, preventing me from screaming, tore my pant and raped me. I could not tell her the first time it happened nor the second time nor could I tell her it was Uncle Oko who had done that to me. He told me he would kill me if he even heard a rumour about it from anyone.
And when it happened again for the third time I knew I had to either leave the house, tell Mamaa or find a way to protect myself the next time he came. That night when Mamaa left me alone, I knew what nightfall would mean. Coming back home was no option for me, neither could I sleep at the station.
At the station, there were other girls and boys who also sold pure water, ice cream and fried yam. Amina was about three years older than me. She came to Accra three years ago from Kukuom, a village in the Northern region to learn a trade and make money. Well that is what the woman who brought her said. After a couple of days, she found out the trade she was to learn was carrying goods for other people and earning a 10 percent share of profits made. She tried her best to serve her “employer” until she had had enough of the unfairness. She ran away from Makola market to Malata market to start selling pure water by herself from the little money she had saved. She slept at the Malata market in front of Qiks supermarket. The owner of the supermarket allowed her to sleep there for a meagre fee of 2 Ghana Cedis per week. I confided in Amina. Amina assured me I could sleep with her. Though I had never slept outside before, the experience did not seem new to me. I fell asleep as soon as she laid out the cardboard for me. The next thing I felt was a tap on my back at 4am urging me to wake up. The day had already started.
Later in the evening when Mamaa was home, I received the beating of my life. She had been informed I did not sleep at home; by who I could not tell. My explanations were irrelevant. That evening I wondered if Mamaa probably knew about what Uncle Oko did to me. And if she did why would she beat me instead? I could not understand the depth of anger she waged against me. Interestingly, since that day the visits stopped. Uncle Oko never came by again, neither when Mamaa was around or not around. I did not bother trying to find the explanations to this new freedom. Life proceeded as usual.
I had grown up with Mamaa alone. We never had relatives coming to visit. Neither did Mamaa ever talk to me about Krong, all she told me was how stupid she had been to have had such a man in her life. As I said, the first time I met him, I was thirteen. I was sitting by my table top when a man struggling to stand still came to me. Fumbling, he tried to explain to me the tale of how he became my father. Not that he was interested in having a relationship with me, he only wanted me to know this and remember to tell my mother that I had finally met him.
Two years later I saw him again for the third time. This time he claimed he had come to me as a father to a daughter. With a request. He wanted me to give him money since he had suddenly lost his job. He told me no matter what my mother had said or what the world said, he was my father. He was right. But what was the use of a father I had met thrice in my life? I gave him the excuse I always gave to such requests. I live in debt. That was the last I saw of him.
I tried as hard as I could to make sure I concentrated on making a living from selling my food. Sometimes it was difficult, most men would buy food on credit leaving me without money. When I decided to be strict they avoided buying food from me. I had to sometimes also purchase the ingredients on credit which came with extra costs. There were some good days when I could go home without debts. Later Amina taught me how to cook Waakye which helped me gain more money than the usual Jollof and Plain rice. I was then able to save some money and move away from Mamaa to my own place at Abavana Down. During the day, I would sell my regular Jollof, Plain rice and Waakye and then sell tea and fried eggs in front of my new home in the evenings.
I had seen him a couple of times before the first time we spoke. He was one of the several men who came to sit at Baba Musa’s Tyre repair shop to play draft. The first time we talked he asked me if I had a husband and if not he would like to marry me. Of course I laughed. He had not been the first. I had become used to these utterances and took none serious. The first time I had taken such an utterance serious, I ended up being chased and hooted by the wife of the man in the middle of Malata market.
I started to take him serious when he would come to me each day to greet his “new wife”. He asked me to visit him of which I did. During the visit, he assured me he was ready to really marry me and be my husband. I was happy. At least I would have my own man. During the following days he would come visit me and spend some time chatting with me while I served customers. I would also make sure as a good wife to be, he never left my table hungry. He never offered to pay for the food I served him and I also never asked. After all it was my duty as a woman to make sure my husband to be was always satisfied. I also often visited him well only when he called for me to. Maybe if I had paid him surprise visits I would have found out I was on a list, the list of his numerous lovers. He told me he was an apprentice in the popular fitting shop in Abavana Down, Amuzu and Sons. I never doubted him, so I never visited him at work either. After a couple of visits, I got pregnant with our first son Nii Junior. I became a mother at eighteen.
That was when everything changed.
We decided or perhaps I decided that it was time we moved in together as a couple. He said it was better to move into my place as it was more spacious and better for a child. After he moved in I hardly saw him until late at night when he would come home sometimes reeking of alcohol and wanting to be served as a king with food and sex. There was nothing I could say no to. He hardly held or played with Nii. But he wasn’t the only man who had no relationship with his children, it was normal of most men, I thought. And after all he was my husband, though he had not performed the rites as he said he would but I was better off than Mamaa who had no man to live with her.
A year later came Mamley. Unlike my first birth this was a total challenge, I had to be operated upon and this really affected my business and life in general. I was the ultimate source of provision at home and I found it hard to get back to my table top as fast as I had done with Nii. The money I had tucked away when I left to the hospital had been used for things he would not explain. On top of that were the rumours the gossips in my house kept circulating about him bringing other women into the house when I was away. But I do not take gossip seriously, I never did.
In the course of recovering from my caesarean section while at home, he came home one afternoon to tell me he had quit his job. Though he never brought in any money home for the children nor for the rent or housekeep I felt heartbroken. I could not return to work anytime soon. Things became hard. I had to depend on my neighbours to help me in feeding the children and my husband. Money borrowed was used to buy food for us and alcohol for my husband.
After a month of staying at home, I had to return to selling my food. It was during this time that another change in his behavior started. Anytime I came home he would accuse me of having spent time flirting with the men who came to buy food. And for each time I tried to explain an incident he would end up so angry beating me for even having to explain to him. He called me all sorts of names in front of the children and did not care what he did to me in their presence. Sometimes he would beat me then rape me in front of the children. I felt ashamed. The neighbours sometimes came to intercede but that did not stop his behaviour. I wondered what I ever did wrong? I tried each time to be better, spending less time at the table top and coming home earlier but this brought home no peace. I assumed perhaps he felt threatened as the head because he had no job. I tried my best to be a good wife. Even on days when he would be nice to the children or me, it turned out it was only because he wanted a favour from me.
On that fateful night, as I had always done. I slept on the raffia mat with Mamley and Nii. The warmth of the day had carried on into the evening heating up the room such that we were all profusely sweating. It was impossible for me in my condition to cope with such heat and I was sure the children would wake up with heat rashes the following morning. He was lying on the bed. I got up to turn the fan on when he shouted, instructing me not to. I explained to him the room was warm and we were all sweating. He asked me what I meant by all since he was not sweating and I was only telling lies to defy him. He got up and plugged the cord for the fan out. I decided to defy him. The children were already up then. I plugged the cord back in and turned the fan on. He suddenly rushed up from the bed and strongly shoved me aside. I hit the bed and fell. All I could hear then was him telling me how disrespectful I had been to him as he kicked and slapped me in turns. I closed my eyes.
As my last breath fades, I hope the little one in me makes it and I hope that someday Mamley is stronger, stronger to choose when to stay or leave and brave to speak out when she must. I pray Nii is more of a man than his father ever was. I pray that they end up in a home that loves, hopes and prays and above all they do everything right unlike their mother.
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