The bullfrogs were croaking a baleful chorus from the lush grass lining the road leading into Elmina. A sudden downpour had drenched the area. The frogs may have been singing praises of thanks for the rain, but 9Lydia cursed it. Although the view of the sea on the way to the Western Region was lovely, she hated the drive, especially in the rain. Ever since the road had been repaved taxi and tro-tro drivers become prone to overtaking in the lanes in breakneck and dangerous speeds, vexing her with each passing mile. If the directions she had been given were correct, her ordeal would soon be over. She pulled her Mercedes in front of a brown and white gate adorned with a large adinkra symbol in the center.
“Mate masie*,” Lydia muttered to herself. “I wonder what I’ll find out inside.”
She knocked on the gate and waited for someone to answer. Just beyond the walls someone was listening to a radio program talking about youth development. She wondered if the council man or woman for the area was taking notes on how to enforce these ideas. This area of Ghana looked much like the rest. She knocked on the gate again, more insistently this time. A teenage girl open it up just a crack. When she saw Lydia’s car and the cloth she was wearing, she knew that she was a woman of stature. She opened the gate wider.
“Madam, good evening,” the girl greeted in Twi, before standing aside to let Lydia into the compound.
Lydia stepped in and looked around the neat facilities. The courtyard was laid over with concrete and the wall of the home were freshly painted white. A small sweet garden was to the left of the main door, adorned with purple and white ‘ladies in a boat’ and a rose bush. Another girl sat under the leafy mango tree that dominated the small lawn within the walls of the home. This was a well-cared for home, not left to disrepair. There was love here…but Lydia couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something forced pretentious about it.
“Good evening,” said Lydia, smiling at the girl kindly. “Is Mr. Fawaz in?”
“Yes Madam, he is in,” she confirmed. “Please, would you like to come to the hall?”
“Yes, thank you,” said Lydia. “Please go and call him for me. Tell him Barrister Oppong is here.”
That was one thing she loved about traveling outside of Accra. The hospitality in Ghana’s towns and villages was unmatched, and visitors were always welcomed – expected or not. Lydia settled into a forest green armchair close to the door and set her briefcase by her feet. The tension in her back eased greatly. She was happy to no longer be on the road. The girl returned with a glass and a bottle of water on a silver tray and set it on the table beside Lydia.
“Please, he said he is coming,” she said softly.
Lydia poured her water and took a sip. A grandfather clock ticked in the corner, reminding the occupants of its presence with every sweep of the second hand. It was imposing and too large for the room. Lydia tried to ignore and rehearsed her speech in her head. She had gone over it again and again during the whole ride to Elmina. How was Annette’s father going to receive her request? It was all in the presentation. She would have to be winning and convincing.
There was no more time to further consider how she would say her next words. Her host entered the hall and took a seat across from her.
“I wondered when you might come, Barrister Oppong. I’ve been expecting you.”
The half-smile on Lydia’s face vanished completely once recognition for the man set in. It was the same man who had just tried to bribe her a few days ago.
“You!” Lydia gasped.
Her glass dropped from her hand and fell into her lap, spilling water all over her pale yellow and blue skirt. She struggled to compose herself.
“Who are you?” she demanded.
“I’m Jonathan Fawaz. I’m Annette’s brother.”
The quick evening shower that pattered against the hospital’s clay roof woke Afosua from her sleep. She had not realized she had drifted off and she say up with a start. Tony was snoring loudly in the chair beside her. No doubt he was just as exhausted as she was, but he had refused to leave her alone.
The hospital was such a strange place – a realm of comfort and joy, or pure pain and loss. Afosua wondered which she might experience that evening. Every so often a nurse would come by and give her updates on Naa Akweley’s condition. She couldn’t leave and against their advice she stayed on and waited. There was nothing she could do by sitting here, they said…but at least she could do that. She could wait.
Finally, a doctor stepped into the waiting room to talk to her.
“Yes?” she said eagerly. She held her breath waiting for his news.
“Mrs. Blankson is stable now. She’s very weak, but she’s stable.”
Afosua felt a single tear run down her cheek. She tightened her lips to keep her cry of relief from escaping.
“She’s not out of the woods yet,” he continued. “She’s going to need a massive blood transfusion. She lost quite a bit after we performed the emergency c-section.”
“How is the baby?”
The doctor bowed his head.
“The baby will need to be transferred to Korle Bu hospital and sent to the NICU,” he said gravely. Although he was full term, the impact from the car accident caused some damage as well.”
“But he’s alive…right?”
“Yes. He’s alive, but he’s in critical condition,” he reiterated.
Afosua allowed her emotions to free reign at last and let out a deep sob. The phantom pain of losing her own baby was soothed knowing that Naa’s son had lived.
“We have to work on getting some blood donated,” the doctor said gravely. We have a shortage…not nearly enough for all the patients who come through our doors.”
“Please do everything you can for her,” Afosua begged.
“Yes, we will,” he smiled. “You can go in and see her now, I think. Her room is just this way.”
Afosua made a beeline for the double doors beyond the charge nurse’s desk. The doctor called out to her, and asked her to stop a moment.
“Do you know where we might find Mr. Blankson,” he asked. “We can’t tell which number is his in her cell phone and there are dozens of numbers. No one is picking up at the church either.”
Afosua paused and then looked out of a window.
“No…no I can’t say that I know where to find him,” she lied. She walked quickly into the ward before she had to tell another.
There were four women in the mint green hospital room. Afosua stepped sideways to avoid bumping into a large table that held dressings and other medical materials. There was a plastic pail on the floor, either to catch urine or vomit in. Afosua didn’t care to know which. She found her friend bandaged up in the corner of the room. She looked so small without her enormous belly now. Afosua was shocked by the sight of her. Naa Akweley’s face was barely visible through the wraps. Sheplastered on a smile to drive away to doom she was feeling in her heart. Naa Akweley’s breaths were deliberate and deep, as if each one would be her last. Afosua held her hand and rubbed it. Naa squeezed it back.
“You…came,” she sighed.
“Yes of course I came,” Afosua sniffed. “I have never stopped thinking of you, my sister.”
“You were right,” Naa croaked. “Ian didn’t change. Caught him…caught him in the sanctuary with the receptionist…”
“Shhh, Naa. It’s alright. It’s all over now.”
“I tried calling you. You didn’t pick up. I wanted…I wanted to come home…I came to look for you.”
It was getting harder for Naa to speak now. She seemed weaker with every breath. Afosua called for the nurse, trying to keep the alarm in her voice in check.
“I’m so sorry my friend. I’m so sorry I wasn’t there when you needed me.”
“Your baby is fine,” Afosua smiled through her silent tears. “He’s going to be well looked after.”
Naa Akweley squeezed her hand tighter now.
“Tell everyone…everything. Ian, me, everything. Promise!” she gurgled.
“I will. I promise, Naa,” Afosua whispered. “He will NOT get away with this.”
The nurse slipped her stethoscope on and listened to Naa Akweley’s chest.
“There’s fluid filling up in her lungs,” she mumbled anxiously. She turned to Afosua. “Please, I have to ask you to leave.”
“Please, if you want to help your friend, go and call for a doctor right now!”
“What the hell is going on here?” asked Lydia, her expression sanguine. “Where is Mr. Fawaz?”
“I am Mr. Fawaz.”
“Oh don’t be obtuse,” Lydia snapped. “You know exactly what I mean. Where is your father?”
“He’s dead,” said a female voice from the darkened corridor behind Lydia. “He’s been dead for four years.”
The shadowy figure walked into the lit living room. Lydia was staring at Annette – or a woman who looked just like her. She had the same light colored eyes that carried the Annette’s mournful expression. She was a little heavier, but they were identical otherwise.
“My name is Amy. I’m Annette’s twin.”
“Her identical twin…clearly,” said Lydia.
Amy nodded. She asked Lydia to sit down so that they could talk. As Amy sat, she arranged the sleeves of her pink and white butterfly-style boubou so that they framed her arms perfectly. She took a deep breath before she spoke.
“Grief killed my father, you know,” she said softly. “When Mr. Prah came for Annette, it was hard for him to carry on normally, although God knows he tried.”
Amy’s attention was drawn to the shifting curtains which were fluttering in the evening breeze.
“His children were his pride and joy,” she continued. “He would boast to all his friends about us. He said he had the most beautiful family in the world. And when his daughter was taken away to pay off a debt – a debt he had created himself – it felt like his heart was ripped from his chest.”
“But why did he not come and try and find Annette?” asked Lydia. “Why haven’t any of you come to see her in all these years?”
“Part of Mr. Prah’s agreement was that we never try and contact Annette,” answered Jonathan. “That was the hardest part for Daddy. He was so ashamed.”
“Our old house in Accra had so many memories of Annette, and my face was a daily reminder of her,” said Amy soberly. “Eventually our parents built a house in Elmina to try and forget the past and start a new future, but they were chasing a dream.”
“Or running from a ghost,” sniffed Jonathan.
“I see,” mused Lydia. A thought suddenly occurred to her. She pointed to Jonathan. “You said you were expecting me. What did you mean by that?”
Amy rose from her seat and asked Lydia to follow her.
“I want to introduce you to our mother.”
The house looked deceptively small from outside. Each hallway seemed to lead to another and yet another. Lydia soon discovered that it was not one big house, but three semi-detached ones connected by a small labyrinth. Amy opened the door of the most eastward home and ushered Lydia in. There was an elderly woman lying on a daybed staring blankly at a small television. Amy introduced Lydia to the frail woman.
“Barrister Oppong, this is our mother, Esther Fawaz.”
Lydia greeted the woman cordially. She did not respond.
“Our mother can’t talk,” explained Jonathan as he arranged her covers. “She lost her powers of speech a few months after our father died. She had a massive stroke.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lydia said sympathetically. She really did feel for the family. They had been through quite a lot. “Did your mother hope for Annette’s story to get out? Is that why you were expecting me?”
Amy shook her head.
“On the contrary, no. She never wanted the truth about Annette to come out.”
“You have to understand,” Amy said quickly. “There was so much shame in what was done, that my mother and father swore that they would take the truth to their graves.”
“It would be a stain on our family’s name if it got out,” Jonathan added. “For all these years, we have done everything possible to keep it from getting out. That’s why I came to see you. That’s why I brought you the money.”
“Let me get this straight,” Lydia said tersely. “You mean to tell me that you came to bribe me so that I wouldn’t tell the court that your father SOLD your sister?”
Amy winced at the words and looked at her mother. Esther lay motionless until the word ‘sold’ was mentioned. Her eyes widened – but only slightly – as she continued to stare into distance. The movement was not missed by Lydia. She sighed before she chose her next words.
“I want you both to hear me,” she said in measured tones. “I am not without sympathy, but your sister is fighting to defend herself against a crime she did commit. My only allegiances are to her; not your family’s ‘honor’. After all she’s been through, you her family have an obligation to help her in any way that you can. The two of you have to come to back to Accra and tell the court what you’ve just told me.”
Amy and Jonathan looked at each other, preparing to make their pitiful objections. Lydia stopped them before they could try.
“Allow me to help you with this. Either you come with me on your own terms, or I will have the court send a bailiff to come and post a summons on your wall.” She paused and stared at the hapless pair coldly. “Now which method do you think will give your neighbors more to gossip about?”
She gripped the handle of her briefcase and turned towards the door, signaling that she was ready to leave. She hoped that the pair would not call her bluff, but was careful not to let her anxiety show. A summons would take weeks to enforce – valuable time that she would rather not waste.
Jonathan looked away from his mother with such a deep sadness that his eyes that it nearly broke Lydia. He knew that the decision was hard for him, and his inward struggle was almost palatable. Choosing between doing what’s right and protecting the family image is a hard choice to make in this part of the world.
“We will meet you in court,” he said softly. “We will tell everything.”
He stepped by her in order to show her the way out. Before she left, Lydia took a last glance in the dark room where the shell of Annette’s mother was laying. Amy was holding her hand, weeping softly. She wondered if Mr. Prah knew how many lives he had damaged…or if he even cared.
*What I hear, I keep