The soft sound of fledgling swallows chirping filled the early morning air. As if on cue, their mother returned with the spoils of her pre-dawn hunt, bringing food to satisfy their tiny hungry bellies. Sophia had watched the swallow family meticulously build their mud nest underneath her awning months before, and had never had the heart to take it down and destroy it despite Idrisu’s insistence. Sophia preferred the soft warbling of the swallows to an alarm clock. Annette also liked to watch the feathered family dutifully carry out the tasks that nature had prescribed for them. Watching them kept her mind off heavier issues, like Mr. Prah. That was further incentive for Sophia to keep the nest intact.
Sophia reached around Annette’s waist and snuggled closer to her in bed. She buried her face in her curly hair, anticipating what the day held for the two of them. It was just past dawn, and they would have to get up to leave for court soon. Lydia was finally calling Sophia to testify. Annette rolled over and caught Sophia’s pensive gaze.
“Are you worried about today?” she murmured.
Sophia nodded and looked away.
“I know you’re taking a big risk,” said Annette quietly. “It’s risky for both of us if the truth comes out. I’m sure Lydia will do her best to ensure our safety.”
“I hope so,” sighed Sophia.
She suddenly brightened and pulled Annette on top of her, coaxing her into a straddling position. She sat up and wrapped her arms around Annette’s waist, eliminating the barrier between them with union of their breasts. Sophia felt a surge of positivity flow through her at the moment. As the two woman sat cradling each other in the light of the rising sun, Sophia broke the intimacy of the moment with some news that she had been struggling with.
“I have to leave right after I testify, Annette,” she said gravely.
“I’ll be back! Don’t worry,” Sophia said assuredly. “I have to go and end things with my husband?”
Annette pulled away from her and stared into her lover’s eyes.
“How are you going to do that?” she asked suspiciously.
Sophia refused to give Annette any particulars.
“The less you know, probably the better. Let’s just say I’m going to prepare him a bowl of soup.”
The courtroom was packed, almost beyond capacity. In the few weeks that had passed, Annette felt like she was living in a bad dream and that the entire city was there to witness each intimate scene. She tried her best to ignore the growing rumble in the spectator seats behind her. People were begging each other to “push small” in order to make room for one more. She didn’t understand why so many strangers had such an interest in her personal life.
Annette channeled her attention to her nerves, which were beginning to fray. Lydia had informed her that her brother and sister would be appearing in court today, but for some reason she didn’t want her to see them before they testified. She didn’t understand why, and she ached to see the family she had been separated from for the last twenty years.
The noisy courtroom fell suddenly silent as the judge entered and was seated. Mr. Prah was smiling smugly from his seat, waving jovially at someone he recognized in the crowd. It was a reporter for the local gossip newspaper, who had written every smutty detail in the trial with inordinate specificity. Somehow, Mr. Prah managed to come out as the victim in each column.
“Does the prosecution have any new evidence?” asked judge Gyepoh.
Sylvester Acquah rose from the bar.
“No your honor. We believe that the evidence we entered proves Mrs. Prah’s guilt. The family’s accounts have not been reconciled, and this is because of the theft of funds. We shall be prepared to rest.”
“Very well. Barrister Oppong, do you have any new evidence or witnesses?”
“Yes my lord,” said Lydia. “We have three witnesses to enter testimony today. The defense calls Sophia Ike to testify first.”
Sophia walked into the witness box and leaned against the rail. Lydia nodded her head and began her questioning.
“Ms. Ike, what is your profession?”
“I’m a designer. I own my own label.”
“And it is common knowledge that this is high end label. Have you been very successful?”
“Yes,” nodded Sophia. “I would say so.”
“Ms. Ike, what is your relationship with Annette Prah?”
“She started off as my client,” Sophia said carefully. “Since then we have become very close.”
“And in this close relationship, have you offered her certain perks?”
“What do you mean by ‘perks’?”
“Have you given her special pricing, as one friend might do for another? Discounts on your bespoke designs, if you will.”
Sophia sighed. Lydia was not trying to out them just yet.
“Ah. Yes, I have. In fact, I have sometimes given her items for free.”
“Did Annette Prah always come prepared to pay for the items, or did she have an expectation that they would always be free?”
“No, no,” said Sophia quickly. “My garments range anywhere from GhC200 to GhC2,000. Annette always had her money in hand. I assume that the money was from her allowance.”
Lydia turned her attention to the judge before she spoke.
“I will remind the court that on his own admission, Mr. Prah confirmed that he gave Annette Prah a monthly allowance of GhC 1,500.”
She turned back to Sophia.
“Since you have such a close relationship with Mrs. Prah and can speak to her character, would it be fair to say that she probably just saved this money in the face of your generosity?”
“I think that is a fair assumption, yes,” nodded Sophia. “Annette is very cautious and caring. I cannot see her doing what she is being accused of.”
“Is there anything else you would like to share with the court about your relationship with Annette Prah,” asked Lydia.
“No,” whispered Sophia.
“Thank you, Ms. Ike.”
“Barrister Acquah, would you care to cross?” asked Judge Gyempoh.
“Yes m’lord,” said Sylvester. He strode over to the witness box and glowered at Sophia. “Ms. Ike, do you presume to know this woman better than her husband? How can you know her when you are just her seamstress?”
Sophia did not like his tone. Something about men shouting made her lose her composure.
“What do you mean?”
“Well you say you ‘know’ her, but you are just friends. How can you be a better judge of character?”
“Is a friend not a better judge of character than a husband, especially one who tries to lock his wife in the house? Of course she tells me things she would never tell him!”
Sylvester Acquah stiffened at the allegation that Kwame Prah locked his wife in the house.
“You will just answer my questions, madam.”
“Oh?” sneered Sophia. “Well there is one question you would never think to ask me, so let me help you: I know Annette because she is my lover and we have been together for the last three years. So yes joh, after three years I know her VERY well, and yes, better than her old wretched husband!”
Someone sucked the air out of the courtroom.
Judge Gyempoh finally broke the shocked silence.
“Barrister Acquah if you have no further questions…?”
“No – no m’lord.”
“Ms. Ike, you are free to go.”
Sophia straightened her sleeves and stepped out of the witness box with her head held aloof. Annette looked over at Kwame Prah, who was still staring at the empty witness box with his mouth agape. Annette chuckled quietly, delighting in his astonishment. If Lydia had enjoyed Sophia’s exhibition, she didn’t show it. She called her next witness to the stand: Amy Fawaz.
Annette’s smile gave way to tears as she saw her twin walk by her to the witness stand. She wanted to end everything and run to her, but she stayed planted in her seat. Mr. Prah whispered something to his lawyer, who nodded and waited. Lydia asked Amy to introduce herself to the court and explain her relationship to Annette.
“Ms. Fawaz, I have a written statement from you in which you give the details of how Annette came to be married to Mr. Prah.”
“And in that statement, you say it was to settle a debt. How so?”
“In 1983 there was a famine in the country, and my father – our father’s – business was hard hit, like many in the country. Mr. Prah knew my father and offered him a loan. He said that my father could give him a daughter to marry if he could not pay it back.”
“And how old were the two of you at the time?”
“4 maybe 5 years old,” said Amy.
“I see, and was your father able to repay the loan?”
“No,” whispered Amy.
“So what happened next,” Lydia prodded.
“Father came to our room that evening and said he needed our help. He said that one of us needed to go with Mr. Prah, so that he could stay out of jail and take care of the family.” Amy paused, choking back a lump in her throat. “Annette said she would go. She’s only 10 minutes older than me, but she’s always acted like she was 10 years older.”
She smiled wryly. “She left the following morning and we never saw her again.”
“And why is that, Ms. Fawaz? Why did your family lose all contact with their daughter and sister?”
“Because of the shame,” Amy sobbed.
“Did your father ever say how much the loan was for?”
“Oh yes,” said Amy wiping her eyes. “It’s a number we all knew well: 3,600,000 cedis…or $40,000. Daddy would stand outside in the courtyard and scream the number to God every night.”
“And this shame you spoke of…is it because your father knew that what he had done was wrong?”
“Yes,” nodded Amy.
She shot a disgusted look at the wrinkled old man.
Sylvester Acquah nearly leapt from his seat.
“Ms. Fawaz, how good of you to come.”
Amy stared at him quizzically, but did not respond.
“My client said you might come here with this made up tale,” he scoffed.
“I don’t understand.”
“Well, it’s very obvious that you and your sister are very close, you being twins and all.”
“We were close when we were little, yes,” Amy confirmed.
“And being twins, you would do anything for your sister,” Sylvester continued.
“Is Mr. Acquah planning on asking the witness a question, my lord?” interrupted Lydia.
“Get to the point, barrister,” warned the judge. “It’s nearly lunch.”
“Happily, your honor.”
Mr. Acquah swaggered over to Amy in the witness stand.
“Show me a receipt.”
“A receipt! A bill of sale! Some proof that your father sold a child, and more importantly that my client bought one.”
“I…I don’t have a receipt,” said Amy.
“Oh? And where is your father to show this proof? Did he send his child out to do his dirty work for him again?”
“He’s dead!” wailed Amy.
The news jolted Annette. She had not learned of her father’s passing until that moment. The look of intense grief on her face was not missed by the judge.
“Counselor, be very careful,” warned Judge Gyempoh.
“Apologies m’lord,” said Sylvester hastily. He turned his attention back to Amy. “I’m afraid you’ve wasted your time coming here, Ms. Fawaz. I have no further questions.”
Amy fled the witness stand and buried her face in her brother’s shoulder. Annette felt the old pangs of sisterly protection strike her in the gut. She didn’t chance to react further. The judge announced that they would adjourn for lunch.
“We will reconvene at two o’clock,” he ordered.
Lydia gathered up her files and beamed at Annette, who was bewildered by her smile.
“Why do you look so pleased? We’re sunk!”
“Oh don’t be so defeatist,” scolded Lydia. “Everything is going exceptionally well!”
“But we have no evidence,” said Annette mournfully. “Mr. Acquah was right. My father is dead and we have no one to prove this ever happened.”
“On the contrary, we do,” Lydia winked. “We have Mr. Prah.”
She gently nudged Annette in the direction of her siblings who were seated by the exit door. The looked uncomfortable, and the silence between the three was awkward. Lydia pulled the two to their feet and smiled warmly.
“I know us three got off to a shaky start in Elmina, but I’d like us to begin again,” said Lydia. “There is an excellent chop bar close to hear, with the sweetest plantain you ever had. Let me treat you all to lunch. I think you three have a lot of catching up to do.”