*This story continues Afua’s saga. Some events have been changed to protect the identity of the characters.
Someone was banging on Afua’s gate. Three short raps, two long ones and another three swift bangs. That could only mean one person was beckoning her… Jerome. Afua rubbed the temples of her head and slipped her feet into her chale wote. The maid had left on an errand, forcing her to answer her visitor’s call. Jerome always knew when she was home because he could see into her compound from his veranda. Afua swung open the gate and as she expected, he had brought someone with him.
“Sister Afua! I’m so glad we caught you,” Jerome said in his mixed New Jersey/Ghanaian accent. “I’ve brought a sister for you to meet!”
Jerome was always bringing strays by her house – usually women he was looking to “save” in some way. There seemed to be no shortage of damsels in distress where he was concerned…and somehow, he managed to suck Afua into his many harebrained crusades. She offered his companion a watery smile and asked them if they’d both like to come in.
“I made some extra banku and fish,” she said cordially. “It’s too much. You are both invited.”
Jerome was already heading towards her bathroom before Afua had finished giving the invitation to dine. He was a bachelor – and not one accustomed to cooking his own meals. She could not remember a time when he had turned down an offer for free food. Afua studied his companion. She was a tall woman with wide hips and a narrow waist. Her hair was braided up into a chic cornrowed coiffure. The silver bangles on her wrist tinkled every time she moved.
Afua reintroduced herself and asked her guest if she’d like to have a seat. The woman nodded silently.
“I’m Valerie,” she said stonily. “Jerome seems to think we have a lot in common.”
“I can only imagine what that could be!” Afua said, trying to lighten the mood. “Are you from around here?”
“I’m from Togo.”
“Ah. Then that must me it. I went to school in Togo for about 5 years. My father was a diplomat, so we traveled a lot.”
Valerie grunted and continued to look around Afua’s house with cold, hard eyes. Jerome rounded the corner, drying his hands on a dish towel before dropping himself onto a dining room chair.
“I hope you two ladies have been finding more out about each other! You might be seeing quite a bit of each other,” he said with relish. “Valerie is going to be helping us with our French literature curriculum at the American school here in Accra.”
“Ahhh…I see,” Afua hummed. She worked at the American school part time, tutoring the middle school kids in English literature. Perhaps this is why Jerome had brought Valerie by the house. Still, this was a very awkward way to introduce a new work colleague. These Americans…
“Excuse me. What is that?”
Valerie was pointing to the pot of okro soup in the center of the table.
Valerie wrinkled her nose. Afua snapped. The nerve of this woman! She composed herself as best she could.
“Let me ask you something: When you walked in this house, what did you smell?”
“Bleach,” Valerie replied flatly.
“That’s right. Bleach. Believe me, you are not going to get sick eating anything in this house. I have bread and butter if that is more to your fancy.”
Valerie looked at Afua with new eyes and offered her a sheepish, apologetic smile before asking if she would kindly serve her.
“I’ve never had okro soup prepared this way before. I’d like to try it.”
The heckles on Afua neck lowered and she silently dished Valerie a healthy portion. The tenseness of the brief exchange went completely unnoticed by Jerome, who was slurping his banku and chatting between bites about how he couldn’t wait to introduce Valerie to the rest of the teachers and staff.
Two weeks later, Afua was driving around Osu when she got a series of texts on her phone. It was Valerie.
I’m at Café Des Amis. Please come quickly. Please!
Des Amis wasn’t terribly far from where she was. 20 minutes later, she parked and found Valerie, Jerome, Matt and one other man she was not acquainted with. Like Jerome, Matt was also African-American, had emigrated to Ghana but had met and married an Ewe girl whom he referred to as his ‘African Queen’. Afua greeted them with a broad smile. Jerome pulled up a free chair and asked her to sit.
“No, thank you. Just water,” Afua replied.
She glanced at Valerie, who was fidgeting in her seat as Matt rubbed her back and whispered lecherously in her ear. Afua interpreted the look Valerie gave her instantly. She stood to her feet.
“You guys are so wicked!” she said with a light laugh. “There are three of you and only poor Valerie! I’m sure she has suffered! Come on Val. You and I are going to do some girl stuff.”
“Will I see you later, Val?” Matt said hopefully.
“I’m not sure,” she replied hastily. Under her breath she asked Afua to take her to her car as quickly as possible.
Afua started the car to get the A/C going.
“What’s wrong? Why did you want to leave in such a hurry?”
Valerie half –groaned, half-screamed at the top of her lungs. “Uggghhhh!!!! He’s so disgusting! I’m so stupid! Uggghhhh!”
“Valerie. Calm down and tell me what’s wrong.”
“I think Matt has made me sick.”
“What do you mean ‘sick’? You mean like a cold…or what?”
Valerie glanced at her lap before turning her gaze to the window.
“Oh, shit,” Afua gasped. “Come on, girl. There is a clinic not too far from here.”
“Afua, I can’t sit and wait for god-knows how long in a clinic! I need some relief NOW. The itching and burning…and the SMELL. Mon Dieu! What is this? Eh? What is it?!”
Afua was calm… so calm that she surprised herself. She whipped her car around and went in the direction of a pharmacy far away from the direction of Valerie’s rented home. The more discretion, the better for Val’s state of mind. Afua asked the pharmacist for two over-the-counter medications based off of the symptoms Val had described.
“This one is topical and the other you have to take twice a day with food,” she advised. “It will give you some temporary relief, but you still need to go and see a doctor. You may have…something.”
Afua couldn’t even say for sure. How could she, when her own doctor had refused to tell her what her husband had infected her with just a few months before. Her husband… Wait. Wasn’t Mark also a married? And now Afua had helped the other woman! She should have let her rot in whatever vaginal disease she was suffering from. She must have been wearing her feelings of contempt on her face like a mask, because Valerie began to confess everything.
“I didn’t know he was married…at first. He doesn’t wear a ring, and he never talked about his wife. No one ever said anything to me about Emefa – not Jerome, not anyone!”
“And when did you get to find out about Emefa…about his wife?” Afua asked coldly.
Valerie closed her eyes, as if trying to recall the exact moment. “It was the first time we slept together. We were at my place. He casually brought up his wife as we were making love. He said I made him feel things she never could. I was revolted, but it was all a big joke to him. He laughed when he talked about his wife. I’ve never seen anything like it!”
Valerie exhaled. “One day, he actually took me to meet her. Oh, Afua; it’s horrible! He keeps her in a chamber house in Medina. She has one room and has to share a bathroom with his neighbors. He had gone over to collect some things, and while he was in the back, Emefa pulled me aside and cautioned me.
‘This husband of mine…you have to be careful with him. He is always giving me sickness! I am always ill. He cheats in my face and doesn’t even care how I feel about it. I know you are having sex with him. No! It’s ok! In a few days he will come back and have sex with me, and I can’t refuse him. Just be careful.’
I didn’t know just how serious she was until…”
“Until now,” Afua finished. “What does she mean, she can’t refuse him? Is she saying he rapes her?”
Valerie laughed. What a silly question Afua had asked. A husband can’t rape a wife.
“She just can’t refuse him,” she shrugged. “And he won’t wear condoms. Even me, I tried to get him to wear one, but it was a fight. This last time he was behind me and I saw him slip it off. This whole time we have been having unprotected sex, whether I was aware of it or not!”
“And I guess he’s been doing the same thing with his wife,” Afua murmured.
“Even worse!” Valerie laughed sardonically. “If she keeps condoms in the house, he accuses her of cheating and hits her! She literally has no choices. This man is wicked. I think he is trying to kill his wife and as many women as he can!”
Sorrow had engulfed Afua. Sorrow and pity for Emefa. She understood Valerie’s predicament, but she still reserved some measure of contempt for her. What was her excuse for letting Matt have unprotected sex with her in the end?
“I’m ashamed to say it…but because he’s American, I thought he was clean. I mean, he has a good job and wears nice clothes…I just thought a foreign man would be clean.”
Afua drove silently for the rest of the journey before dropping Valerie off at her gate. She was not the first woman to make assumptions about a man’s STD status based on his looks. After all, how many other women who had slept with her own ex-husband had made that mistake and paid the price?