Auntie Grace called for her driver to come around pick the ladies up.
“We are going to the site,” she informed him.
“Yes, madam,” he responded mechanically. Samuel had been Auntie Grace’s driver for over 15 years, and Afosua had never heard him say more than those two words in that time. She thought it was an odd relationship to have with someone who was responsible for doing something as personal as driving one to their destinations. She concluded that Samuel had been privy to Auntie Grace’s more clandestine destinations in those times, and wanting to keep his job and good standing, resorted to speak as little as possible.
With each mile, Dumbai became more and more remote until they reached an inlet on the river. Close to the banks was a small village of about 6 – 8 mud and thatched huts, not uncommon in Ghana. What was special about those huts was the women who lived there. Afosua, Naa Akweley and Auntie Grace got out of the car and walked into the center of the remote dwelling.
“Mama, woezo!” said a robustly built woman to Auntie Grace. She shooed a few chickens away and instructed one of the young children milling around to bring some benches for ladies.
“Please, sit down,” she instructed once the benches had been brought.
When everyone was seated, another group of ladies came out to greet the three, shaking hands from right to left. After the customary pleasantries and obligations had been fulfilled and everyone was assured that each other’s family and homes were well, they got into the reason for the visit.
“I’ve brought Afosua so that you can tell her what decision has been made with the land,” began Auntie Grace. “I understand we have very good news.”
“Yes,” said Auntie Aku, the one who greeted them initially. “We’ve consulted each other and decided that this will be a good project to undertake. We will lease you the land.”
Afosua didn’t bother to hide her pleasure.
“This is wonderful news!” she gushed.
Unable to contain her curiosity, Naa Akweley finally asked what was going on.
“What project? What site,” she queried. “What are we doing here?”
One of the younger women brought a gourd and kalabash and offered a drink of water to Naa Akweley. She stiffened at the prospect of drinking village water, but Auntie Grace encouraged her to try it. She trusted the older woman, so she took a sip. Her eyes widened in surprise.
“That’s right,” said Afosua emphatically. “There is a small tributary, not too far from here where the women fetch their water. They’ve done so for ages. This land is virgin and mostly untouched. I don’t know what it is about the environment here, but the water has amazing properties.”
Naa Akweley took another gulp of the cool clear water. Her baby kicked in appreciation. She nodded her head. It was really good.
“What else do you notice about the women here?” asked Auntie Grace. “Look at them. Really look at them.”
Naa Akweley looked around the small group, noticing them in earnest for the first time.
“Well, they all have very clear skin, for one thing,” she pointed out. “And they just seem…healthy, I guess.”
“Exactly!” shouted Auntie Grace, clapping in approval. “These women are healthy. And we want to invite other women in Ghana to come here and get healthy too.”
“The women have allowed up to lease the land and build a spa retreat,” continued Afosua. “Don’t you feel rejuvenated already?”
Naa Akweley had to admit that she did. There were no horns, no sirens, no street sellers squawking as they hawked their wares…there was only the soft rustling of leaves and this amazing water. There was peace.
“Can I see this tributary?” asked Naa.
“I was hoping you would ask! Auntie, will you lead us there?”
Annette stood in the corner of the crowded cell space that she shared with fifteen other women. She did not know where she was, but she gathered by the smell of sea water and rotting fish that she was somewhere near Osu. Possibly James Town.
She fought the urge to break down and cry. She had been crying since she captured earlier that morning. For the most part, her cell mates left her alone. When a stocky brown skinned woman tried to bully her earlier, Annette reached out and clawed her in the face. There would have been a fight if one of the prison guards had not intervened. Each of the other woman seemed to be too wrapped up in their own misery to try to engage anyone else.
Annette’s thoughts on her miserable situation were interrupted when a guard yelled at her.
“Heh! You there! Ehhh, you the thief! You have a visitor,” he barked.
Annette did not turn around until she heard a familiar voice.
“Hello darling,” it croaked.
Mr. Prah’s smug face was staring at her through the rusty black bars. She stared back at him stonily.
“So you thought you were going to leave me just like that eh?” He chuckled to himself. “If it were that easy, I’m surprised you didn’t try to get away earlier.”
“I didn’t steal that money, Mr. Prah. It’s mine.”
“Ah. If I say you stole it, then you stole it, my dear,” he countered. “You have no job. You have no income. How did you come by the money? It doesn’t matter if it was in your room. The money was in MY house. Of course you stole it from me!”
He lowered his voice and moved in closer.
“Who would believe otherwise?”
Annette knew he was right. And even if there was doubt, Mr. Prah had enough money to pay to make it go away.
“Why are you doing this?” she whimpered. “Why can’t you just let me have peace?”
“Because you owe me,” Mr. Prah said, as though the question surprised him.
“I don’t owe you anything!” Annette raged. “My marrying you was to resolve my father’s debt. Don’t you think 20 years of my life and my youth are payment enough?”
Mr. Prah snickered.
“It’s enough when I say it’s enough,” he scoffed. “But I’ll make you a deal. You promise never to try to leave again, and you can come out of here now. All you have to do is live up to your vows from our wedding day. You owe me your undying devotion and fealty.”
Annette laughed. It was a hollow, dark sound.
“It’s funny you should use that word – fealty. Because that’s exactly what I’ve been for two decades: a servant in your fiefdom.”
She shook her head.
“No more, Mr. Prah. No more! I’d rather die than come back to you.”
Kwame Prah clicked his tongue disapprovingly.
“Oh, Annette. You poor stupid slut. Look around you and think about it! You have no one on your side….and you are nobody unless I say so.”
He turned to leave the cell room, pausing to speak once more.
“They won’t hang you or shoot you, of course. Ghana has come a long way since those days, lucky for you. 50,000 cedis is a huge sum of money, no matter how you slice it. At best they’ll keep you here until the judge says the debt has been paid off. But the better offer is to confess and come home with me.”
He held out his gnarly hand as if beckoning her. Annette took three steps back in revulsion.
Mr. Prah called for the guard and sauntered out of the cell. When his footsteps were no longer in earshot, Annette crumpled to the floor and gasped for air. It was the first time she had ever stood up to Mr. Prah. It left her breathless.
Afosua pulled out a notebook and scribbled her ideas for the wellness spa for Naa Akweley to see.
“This room will be for meditation,” she said.
“Or prayer,” countered Naa Akweley. “You don’t want to put people off by saying ‘meditation’.”
“Fine,” conceded Afosua, “meditation and SILENT prayer. And we’re going to send young women from the area into Accra to get training on massage therapy and wellness. I think it will be good all around.”
Naa Akweley looked at Afosua, who was glowing for the first time since she’d met her. Knowing the tragedy that she had suffered through not so long ago, she admired her for putting her energies into something so positive. Perhaps she could learn from her. Perhaps she could be this happy too.
“Afosua, I’d like to partner with you, if you’d let me,” Naa Akweley said timidly. “I know this is your project and all…”
“I was hoping you’d want to,” Afosua smiled. “I know it would be good for you…for us. I could use your influence to get this off the ground. People respect you.”
Naa Akweley laughed inwardly. Too bad her husband didn’t respect her, she thought wryfully.
Auntie Grace interrupted their conversation.
“Who are those people over there?” she said pointing across the river bank.
Afosua squinted to look.
“Those must be the white people Abdul was talking about.”
“Eh. I see,” mulled Auntie Grace. “Let’s go pay them a visit, shall we?”
“Oh Auntie, we just go over there and –“
“Don’t be silly. Of course we can. See? The boy has already brought a canoe over. Get in.”
Naa Akweley opted to stay on the other side. Afosua promised that they would be back soon. She was only going to indulge Auntie Grace’s curiosity. When the canoe approached, Afosua recognized a male figure among the group.
The announcing of his name turned Harold Boakye around and put him face to face with Afosua.
“Ms. Gyemfi,” he said coldly. “What are you doing here?
“I might ask you the same question…sir,” she replied stiffly.
“I would assume that you would be preparing for your trip to Germany. Instead I find you here gallivanting on waters’ edges with villagers.”
Afosua touched Auntie Grace’s arm to keep her from retorting. This was still her boss, no matter how rude he was. A tall blond haired man inserted himself into their conversation.
“Do you know this young lady?” he asked Harold Boakye.
“Yes. I’m Afosua Gyemfi,” she said, holding out her hand to shake his. “I’m a senior actuary for Phillps & Boakye.”
The blond smiled.
“Oh wonderful! Jurgen Gunnarson,” pumping her hand enthusiastically.
The name sounded so familiar. Then it hit her: Gunnarson; from the Swedish account. But the site for Swedish account wasn’t anywhere near Dumbai.
Afosua heart skipped a beat. What was Mr.. Boakye up to?
Mr. Boakye’s eyes bore into Afosua’s. Whatever her thoughts were, she kept them guarded. He was unable to read them.
“Well Mr. Gunnarson, it has been very nice meeting you under such pleasant conditions. But as Mr. Boakye said, I should be getting back to Accra and preparing for my business trip,” Afosua said, excusing herself.
Jurgen’s brown eyes traveled the expanse of her body. Afosua became uncomfortably aware that the cool wind was coaxing her nipples, which were now peeking through the thin cotton shirt she was wearing. The Swede didn’t even bother trying to hide that he was ogling her.
“Then I’ll see you again soon! I’ll be in Accra with Mr. Boakye in a few days myself,” he said pleasantly.
Harold Boakye nodded silent in agreement.
“Right. Auntie, shall we?” Afosua grabbed the older woman’s hand and ordered the boy to row back to the other end of the shore.
“What was that all about?” asked Auntie Grace.
“I don’t know,” said Afosua determinately. “But I’m going to find out.”