Cecelia waited nervously for her daughter to arrive in a taxi. She had been cooking since morning, and most of the food was settling at room temperature now. Most of the money that she earned had gone towards educating and clothing her daughter, and it had never occurred to her that she might buy a microwave. It seemed like an unnecessary expense – until now. Her daughter was returning from abrochi and she was going to be greeted with cold food! There was nothing for it now. She went to the window and waited.
When a red and yellow taxi pulled up to their small home, Cecelia’s heart leapt. She dashed to the road’s edge and hugged Gertrude tightly.
“Akwaaba!” she gushed, grabbing both of Gertrude’s bags. She bolted towards the house. This was the longest she’d been separated from her child and she finally felt at ease now that she was home.
The younger woman paid the taxi driver and caught up with her mother.
“No, no, Ma. I’ll carry the bags.”
“Nonsense. Do you think I got old in the one week you were gone?” chided Cecelia. “How can I let you come from abroad and carry your own bags?”
Gertrude knew there was no point in arguing and let her mother do as she pleased. She didn’t have the strength to fight her anyway.
She slipped off her shoes at the door and sat on a wooden bench in the narrow corridor leading into their home. Cecelia looked behind her, surprised that her daughter was not following her to the dining room. Gertrude’s head was buried in her lap, her shoulders rising and falling silently.
“Oh dear. You’re so tired, eh?” said Cecelia compassionately. “Come with me. I’ve cooked you so much food, it will make you feel better.”
Gertrude looked at her mother with red rimmed eyes. It was a look Cecelia had never seen before. It frightened her.
“Gertrude, what’s the matter?”
“I met a man while I was in Germany, Ma,” she replied through a tight throat.
Cecelia steadied herself for bad news.
“Did he hurt you?”
“No. He didn’t hurt me.”
“Then why are you crying?”
“Because I almost fell in love with him!” Gertrude sobbed uncontrollably.
“Ah. But what’s wrong with that? You can call him and email him, and even invite him to Ghana if you like!”
Cecelia was beginning to get annoyed with her daughter. She was acting like a spoiled baby and ruining the elaborate welcome she had planned. Gertrude stopped crying and rested her head against the wall. She was deliberate when she spoke.
“Yes, Ma. You’re right. I should invite him to Ghana. After all, my brother should know where I live, shouldn’t he?”
“What do you mean ‘your brother’? Who did you meet in Germany, Gertie?”
“Carsten, Ma. Carsten Amsel. Is he my brother? Am I right?”
Cecelia dropped to her knees and stared at her daughter. She didn’t know what to say.
“It’s time for us to talk, Ma,” said Gertrude softly. “It’s time for you to tell me everything.”
Cecelia nodded and rose slowly to her feet. She held out her hand, silently urging Gertrude to take it. She pulled her precious daughter to her feet and led her past the dining room. The food could wait. It was no remedy for her daughter’s empty stomach or broken heart anyway.
Naa Akweley sat with her feet tucked under bottom on the sofa. She welcomed the glare of the afternoon sun, drawing strength from its warmth. Working on the planning for health spa had made her feel more invigorated than she had in a long time. Stacks of paper were strewn around the room, filled with her ideas that seemed to be coming to her in furious spurts. When Afosua returned, she would get her to let her use her laptop. She had seemed so shaken when she left the week before over something she’d read, and Naa didn’t want to betray her trust by snooping.
A key in the door snapped her from her thoughts.
“Yes,” said Afosua wearily. She instructed the watchman to leave her bags by the door and thanked him. When he was gone, she flopped onto the sofa next to Naa Akweley.
“Was it a bad trip?”
Afosua shook her head.
“Actually, no. We got the contract. There was just something strange about the whole trip,” she said pensively. “Doesn’t matter though. We got the business, and I have a chance to show some leadership in the company.”
Naa Akweley nodded silently, stacking her papers into a neat pile.
“What’s all this?” Afosua asked.
Naa broke into a wide grin.
“These are all my ideas for Dumbai,” she said proudly. “When you’re rested, we can go over them.”
“Sure!” Afosua said keenly. “And how are you? How’s the baby?”
Naa rubbed her belly absently.
“The baby is fine. Moving a lot now more lately. I suspect I’ll be giving birth any day now.”
The thought of having a baby alone frightened her. She knew that she couldn’t count on Afosua’s generosity forever, no matter what her friend said. She would have to sort out her life somehow, but she just couldn’t bring herself to think about it. The thought of bringing up a child without his father weighed heavily on her spirit. What if he resented her? What would other little kids say about him when he went to school? She swept these less pleasant thoughts from her mind and set her papers on the coffee table. Someone knocked on the door seconds later.
“I asked Joyce to bring me some tea a while ago,” Naa Akweley said. “I bet that’s her.”
She swung the door open and stepped aside to let Joyce in…but Ian Blankson was standing in the doorway instead.
“Wh-what are you doing here?” Naa Akweley stammered.
“Is that anyway to greet your husband?” Ian droned maliciously. “I’ve been looking for you for weeks, wife.”
Afosua leapt out of her chair and blocked the door with her body.
“How the fuck did you find my house?” she snarled. “How did you know she was here?”
Ian looked taken aback. He clicked his tongue disapprovingly.
“Such language from a lady! And to a man of God too. It’s not becoming at all…but what would one expect from a whore who doesn’t know her place?”
“Ian…please,” begged Naa Akweley helplessly.
Afosua looked at him in utter disgust.
“The good thing is, I DO know my place. And this is my home. Get the hell of my property or I will have you thrown off!”
“I’ll leave, but not without my wife,” Ian said simply. “Your absence has been very inconvenient for me, Naa. The excuse that you’ve gone on a retreat is no longer practical. From where the congregation sits, it’s beginning to look like you’ve abandoned your husband and your church.”
“You and your congregation can go straight to hell!” screeched Afosua. She hated the sound of his voice. “What have you and your flock done for her but beat her down and run her ragged?”
Afosua’s shrieking summoned her mother and Joyce, who was now carrying a tray of tea watching the fierce exchange from a safe distance.
“What’s going on here?” demanded Elizabeth. “Who is this man?”
“This is Ian Blankson, Mama. Naa Akweley’s husband…and we can handle this.”
Elizabeth recognized the man immediately. She gently pushed him aside and yanked her daughter’s arm.
“Afosua, this man is an important man! He’s godly! How dare you treat him in this way. Shame on you!”
“This ‘man’ is a pig, Ma! And you know nothing about this!”
“Afosua, if Pastor Blankson has business with his wife, you have to let him speak to her privately about this. You cannot interfere in someone else’s marriage.”
“Oh you’re one to talk!” Afosua spat at her mother.
Elizabeth recoiled at the thinly veiled insult. She had always known that Afosua held secret resentment towards her because she was her father’s mistress, but this was the first time she had ever made an open reference to it. She almost lost her footing on the step as she retreated in stunned silence.
“Naa Akweley, this wise woman is right,” said Ian, seizing on the moment. “We have to discuss this ourselves. Alone. You are my wife – and I am your husband. I am the head of our household…but you are the body. What use is the head without the body? Can’t you see I need you?”
Ian sounded so sincere, and so convincing. Her baby began kicking wildly at the sound of his father’s voice. Maybe it was time to end this charade. Perhaps it was time to go home.
Naa Akweley stepped out from behind the door and faced her husband.
“Will things be different?” she asked warily. “You know what I’m talking about.”
Ian let out a short, sorrowful breath. He held her wrist and kissed her gently.
“Sweetheart, I know that I have been less than perfect, but I have been working on it. I promise that I will keep doing my best.”
Ian kept his gaze downward as he spoke, before finally looking his wife in the eye when he finished his speech. In those eyes, she saw a shadow of the man she had fallen in love with years ago. She turned the corners of her mouth upward ever so slightly and silently followed him to the car. Afosua was aghast.
“Naa Akweley! Don’t do this. Don’t go!” she cried after her friend.
“I have to, Afos,” she replied quietly. “He’s my husband and he loves me. Why else would he come looking for me?”
“Because you’re a pawn, Naa,” Afosua spat. “We all know how this ends. It’s not a mystery. Use your head woman. Please don’t go!”
Naa Akweley was hurt by Afosua’s assertion that she was not thinking. She would prove her wrong. Ian had come to find her, and this had to God’s will. How else would he have known where she was? Naa Akweley stepped back to hug Afosua before she sat in Ian’s waiting car.
“Thank you for everything my friend.”
Afosua hugged her back, vainly trying to prevent her departure. She clasped the back of Naa Akweley’s neck, dislodging her hairclip…the same ruby red hair clip she had been wearing when she had seen Ian at the bakery over a week before. Her stomach knotted in that instant.
She had led Ian to Naa Akweley. This was all her fault.
Defeated, she watched the bumper of the pastor’s sleek sedan disappear from view. The watchman swung the gate shut, terminating any hope that Naa Akweley might return. She filed past her mother who was watching her with hurt in her eyes. She had to make it right.
“Ma…I’m sorry, Mama. I never should have –“
Elizabeth held up her hand, her lips twisting as she forced her words tightly through them.
“Never speak to me that way again.”
Afosua nodded meekly. None of this was her mother’s fault. There was plenty of blame to go around, but the bulk of it did not belong at Elizabeth Anaan’s feet. Afosua sunk into the sofa where Naa Akweley had been just moments before. It was still warm. She clutched the armrest and said a silent prayer for her friend.