The entrance to the Amakom Children’s Park was a sad sight. The fence surrounding it had long fallen into disrepair, the ground was overrun with weeds and what were certainly once splendid shelters were reduced to ruins. It all seemed very ghostly, as though the souls of children who once played there and those at present who wished that they could might be mingling under the shade of drooping trees or near the mold-clothed fountain at the center of the park.
Pomaa shut the door of her car softly and let out a quiet breath. The task before her was enormous, but it was a task of her own choosing. No one could claim her failure if she did not give in to defeat herself. The plan was very simple: revitalize the park, turn it into multi-use green space, and turn it into the logical place to hold one’s events.
The hard part was the details.
As she stood at the rusty gates contemplating her next steps, a hornet swept past her head. Pomaa shrieked, swatted at it, and came crashing to the ground in a heap. Cursing her clumsiness, she brushed red clay off the back of her skirt. She cursed louder when she discovered a far more serious casualty: the heel of her Ferragamo pump had snapped right off! Pomaa cradled the shoe in her arms and fought the urge to weep. How could she replace something that wasn’t even on shelves anymore? This was a bad omen. It had to be.
Thwack. Thwack. Th-th-th-thwack!
Pomaa looked around for the source of the rhythmic thumping of leather against wood. That sound meant a shoe shine boy was in the vicinity. Perhaps her precious pump could be saved!
“Shine! Shine!!!” she called frantically waving that the stick thin figure in the distance. When Frederic’s lithe frame came into view, she smiled gratefully. She could trust him with her beloved heel. “Are you on your rounds, Freddy?”
“Yes, sister,” the boy replied, obviously pleased to see her. “My obenfo – my master – says I have to go outside and get as much experience before becoming a proper shoe maker.”
“Then he is very wise,” Pomaa agreed. “That’s how you build customers…when people get to know your face and can trust your work.”
Frederic’s countenance suddenly turned concerned.
“Sister, please. Your dress is dirty. Are you hurt?”
“No,” Pomaa muttered, “but my shoe is. Can you fix it?”
She handed him the damaged heel and looked at him hopefully. Frederic turned the heel in his hand and pulled the heel back delicately. Pomaa winced when the entire bottom came off in his hand. He looked at her apologetically.
“Sister Pomaa…please, I can’t fix this one,” he admitted. Pomaa could tell he was genuinely sorrowful about his incompetency. She told him it was alright. No one could fix this.
“Oh, but someone can!” he said brightly. “Obenfo can fix it. Let me take you to his shop. He can fix everything! He can even make you a new and better shoe!”
Pomaa had to laugh at his enthusiasm. It was refreshing to see a child so convinced of their mentor’s superior talent. She had felt the same way about Miriam when she first became an event planner. Miriam was creative, imaginative and ahead of anyone else in the industry. She set trends. She knew Miriam would approve of this park venture. Thinking of her own “master”, Pomaa nodded at Frederic.
“Get in the car, Freddy. Please take me to him.”
Frederic flashed her a toothy grin. No doubt he was happy to take an air-conditioned break from the hot sun.
“It’s not far. His shop is just here.”
The “shop” was little more than a metal container with cinderblock steps affixed to its side. They led to a second story constructed of all kinds of media: bamboo wood, concrete and tin. It looked as if tape and the hand of God were holding it together.
While Frederic sprinted up to the top, Pomaa followed cautiously behind, afraid every step was going to bring her crashing to her untimely doom on the ground below. Frederic had already handed the shoe to his master, and was explaining how it had come to be so ruined.
“But you can fix it, can’t you daddy? You can fix it, right?”
“I don’t know if I can,” the man replied softly, turning it in his hand. “But I will try.”
Pomaa was standing in the doorway witnessing the whole exchange. The shoemaker’s back was slender, but well defined. His shoulders had a slight bend to them, perhaps from slouching over his workbench all day. His hands although broad, were attached to slender wrists…and something else. Something about that voice was so familiar to Pomaa. Her heart began to thump wildly in her chest.
The shoe maker stoop up straighter but didn’t turn around. He threw his head back and stared at the ceiling.
“There is only one person in the whole world who has refused to stop calling me by that name – and that person in Agyapomaa Alice Agyemang.”
He turned around slowly, a smile on his lips, certain that he was right. Pomaa flew into his arms and gave him a tight hug.
“It’s so wonderful to see you again!” she squealed. “I haven’t seen you since…”
“Since you left for Wesley Girls and never bothered to reply any of my letters,” he finished for her.
“I always meant to, ‘Scarp,” she replied glumly. “I just never…got round to it. You know how it is.”
Confused by this affectionate display, Frederic raised his hand and asked if they already knew it each other.
“Yes, we do.” Pomaa was holding the shoe maker’s hand fondly.
“And why do you call him ‘Escarpment’?” Frederic asked, bewildered. “That’s not his name!”
“It’s okay, Freddy,” his boss soothed. “It’s because of a haircut I had in JSS. Everyone thought it was cool, but sister Pomaa here thought it looked like a geography terrain. She called me ‘escarpment’ for two years!”
Seeing that Frederic didn’t like his boss to be teased, Pomaa made a vow. “But now, I will only call you Akoto…at least in public.”
“And what will you call me in private?” he teased.
She avoided his question. Pomaa sucked her teeth and teetered into the workshop, still unsure whether or not she would fall straight through the floor. Pomaa knew that Akoto held a candle for her as kids, but she was sure that he was just being playful now. Crushes and came and went. Was that disappointment she detected when he mentioned his unanswered letters? It couldn’t be.
She found a bench near his table and sat, taking in the surroundings. Repair objects were hanging, stuffed or lying everywhere, each with its own place. She picked one up and twirled it between her fingers.
“That’s a dowel lift,” Akoto answered her unasked question. “And that star-shaped thing is a revolving punch.”
“Oh, Akoto! You’ve always been ‘book long’! I didn’t ask you anything!”
Akoto chuckled and turned to Frederic, telling him to leave finish his neighborhood rounds.
“Don’t worry. I’ll fix her shoe and squeeze all her money from her too!” he told the boy with a wink.
Frederic skipped off, leaving the pair alone in the quiet little shop. Pomaa’s cheeks were hurting. She frowned, realizing that she’d been grinning foolishly the whole time. Her attitude turned somber.
“Ah. Akoto, how did you come to be this way?” she frowned. She was certain his parents could not have been pleased with his situation. His mother was always so strict about his studies.
“You know. Circumstances,” he said evasively. He picked up her heel and gently scraped off the binding glue.
“Oh come on. You used to tell me everything,” Pomaa huffed. “Did you get hooked on drugs? And please be careful with my shoe. It’s Salvatore Ferragamo! ”
“Actually – no – until I fix it your shoe is Sorry Not Useful. And, no…I didn’t get on drugs or anything like that,” he chuckled. “Things just happened in my life that I couldn’t control.”
Unsatisfied, Pomaa pressed him further. By the time he was done, she almost wished she’d hadn’t. While she was away at boarding school, Akoto’s parents had been killed in a car crash on their way back from his grandfather’s funeral. An auntie had come to look after him and his sister, but she soon spent up all the house’s money, turned Akoto and his sister Beatrice into her personal slaves, and stopped their schooling. When it became too much to bear, Akoto took his sister and ran away to Accra to find a better life. They did the best they could on their own, being so young.
“But I came back to Kumasi about a year ago, and as you see me now is as I am,” he ended with a wry smile.
Pomaa was distraught. Why had no one told her? How could this have happened without her knowledge?
“Our families were never well connected, Agyapomaa,” Akoto replied her unasked question. “And certainly that auntie of mine would never confess what she had done.”
She hated how he knew what she was thinking before she asked!
“I wish I had kept in better touch with you all those years ago, Akoto,” she said quietly. “I’m so sorry.”
Akoto shrugged and told her it was okay. Circumstances…he understood.
“And what brings you back to Kumasi? Last I heard, you were a big shot in Naija!”
“Look at you! Gossiper like your type!” she teased. Pomaa become reflective when Akoto mentioned Nigeria. “Yes, well, I’m back now. And that’s all there is to it.”
Pomaa watched intently as Akoto dug a needle-like object into the heel of her shoe. His hands looked so quick and sure…and strong. She shook her head and looked out of a small window. Akoto threw a dirty rag at her face.
“Eh, eh! If I’ve told you my life story, then you are bound to do the same for me!”
Pomaa rolled her eyes and sucked her teeth through the recounting of how she fled Madame Okoye and Femi a few months ago, about her self-imposed solitary confinement, about her fear of flying…When she was done she felt like a weak, selfish idiot. Akoto must have thought so too. He was staring at her blankly.
“You think I’m a fool, don’t you?” she asked simply.
“No,” he whispered. “I think we are just alike. Aren’t we a sorry pair? But you’re alright now. You’re home.”
He smiled and covered her hand with his. The callouses in his palm rubbed roughly against her knuckles. A tingle shot up her spine.
“So! Can you fix it?” she asked a little too loudly, pulling her hand away.
“I fixed it ages ago,” Akoto answered, thumping the heel against his table for affect. “Good as new.”
Pomaa got to her feet and dug in her purse for money. Akoto would take none.
“If I’d asked God to bless me with all the riches in the world, nothing could compare to joy of seeing you again, Agyapomaa.”
Ei. What could she say to that? Desperate, she blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
“If you won’t take money then at least have dinner with me…”
Akoto grinned and folded his arms across his chest.
“If I had known that this is what it would take to get you out to dinner with me, I would have broken all the heels of you shoes years ago!”
After assuring her that the steps would not collapse underneath her feet, Akoto helped Pomaa into her car and closed the door softly after she’d settled into the driver’s seat.
“Next Saturday night then?” he asked eagerly. “It’s a date, right?”
Pomaa nodded and started her car. When Akoto was nothing more than a speck in her review mirror she let out a guttural scream and beat her steering wheel. No, no, no! This was all wrong! She didn’t want to go out to eat with anyone besides Femi! She wasn’t ready…and now there was no going back. She couldn’t back out. Akoto would just hound her until she agreed to keep her promise.