Akoto had an unexplainable fear of heights; specifically mountainous heights. No, he couldn’t tell Pomaa what the genesis of this fear was. He just knew he lived in constant fear that he would be hurled off the side of a mountain or that one day his demise would be the result of some ill-timed step he’d taken over a cliff. It made perfect sense, therefore, that he and Pomaa were making their way up to the mountain town of Koforidua for a weekend getaway.
The three hour drive was a blur, filled with laughter and teasing and at times more serious and reflective. Pomaa was surprised at how quickly it had gone by. As they approached the base of the verdant Akuapem mountain range, she began to accelerate with enthusiasm, forgetting all about Akoto’s phobia and her promise to take it slow.
“I know exactly when my fear of dancing began,” Pomaa exhaled, shifting the car into a lower gear. “It was when I was twelve, at my mother’s 55th birthday party. The DJ kept telling me to “open the floor” for the guests and I stood there in the middle of the dance floor in terror. It felt like everyone was laughing at me.”
“I’m sure you were too adorable to be mocked,” Akoto said, his tone reassuring. He sounded like a pillar of strength, but he looked awful. He had gone pale. His forehead had begun to dampen with sweat and he was grasping the handle of the passenger door with such ferocity that Pomaa feared he might break it.
“If you keep gritting your teeth like that, they’re going to break,” she cautioned.
Akoto forced his jaw to slacken – just a little – and then closed his eyes in order to avoid having to look over the edge of low concrete barricade that was the only buffer between him and utter doom.
“The road is actually so much better since the government fixed it,” she continued cheerily. “You would have really been frightened out of your skull if we had to drive up here on those narrow roads and aluminum guard rails they had before.”
She pointed to a massive baobab tree in the middle of the forest below. Did he see it?
“For years, the carcass of a burnt out trotro sat at the top of that tree like a warning and a judgment against all the reckless drivers who used to ply this road. I always wondered if any people died in that accident…”
“Pomaa,” Akoto said weakly.
“You’re not helping me.”
If he were not so sincerely terrified she would have cackled maliciously in his face, but he was truly, genuinely scared. That was the whole point of this trip though, wasn’t it: To face their respective fears together. The idea had been completely Akoto’s. When she’d asked if he wanted to do “something crazy”, Pomaa had something more mundane in mind. Perhaps they would visit a new beach or try some different international food – but the suggestion to list their worst fear and attempt to conquer them together was not one she could have dreamt of.
Dennis’ kiss and her reaction to it revealed something about her nature that she had long ignored and had found an abrupt un-appreciation for. She ran away when things got uncomfortable, and hid when there was nowhere to run. Akoto understood that, which is why he was sitting in her car, frightened out of his wits. His reaction to the news that another man – with whom he had such a congenial acquaintance – had kissed her so wantonly elicited a most visceral reaction. He spat in disgust and curled his lip in the same, and vowed to slap Dennis like the thief that he was if he ever encountered him again! With the memory playing around in her mind, Pomaa gently took Akoto’s clenched fist in her hand and held it until they reached apex of the mountain. The action seemed to soothe him, although he refused to open his eyes until he felt the car stop.
“We’re here!” she announced.
Akoto practically spilled out of the car onto the steady, unmoving earth beneath him. “Thank God!” he gasped.
The baby blue walls of the Capital View Hotel seemed to blend in with the mountain sky. The exterior was far more ornate than Pomaa had expected, with arches and columns dominating its edifice. Extravagant carvings of abstract adinkra symbols in wood molding and stonework dotted every visible space. It surpassed her expectations, which she admitted only to herself to be very low. A gust of cool mountain air whipped around the pair of them, cold enough to signify the rains that so frequently and unexpectedly fell upon the villages in the mountain.
“Let’s get inside,” Akoto urged, grabbing his small suitcase and walking ahead.
He had left her to carry her own. Femi never would have done that, she thought. Femi would have carried my bag in so that I could walk leisurely.
Actually, that was untrue. He would have called for a porter to carry all their bags so that he could walk leisurely as well. Why was Femi interrupting her holiday anyway? She hadn’t thought about him in months…
A young receptionist in a crisp white shirt met waited for them to approach the desk. It was easy to tell that she took her post very seriously, never leaving the confines of her domain lest someone mistake her for the regular staff.
“Sir, madam, akwaaba. Please, you are welcome,” she said softly. Why was she moaning her words? “There will be someone to carry your bags to your room soon.”
Akoto and Pomaa tripped over each other in response. They could manage on their own, he contended; some help with the bags would be great, she replied. A young porter rounded the corner at that moment, settling the dispute. He placed their bags on the cart and led the way to their room and unlocked the door with the finesse of a man who had opened a thousand doors before. He took his duties very seriously, showing them the location of the coffee maker, where the shower was and how to work the TV. When he was done with his rehearsed speech, he stood by the door expectedly, eyebrows raised.
“Oh! Yes…of course,” Pomaa gasped, reaching for her purse for a tip.
The porter thanked her, gave Akoto a blank look and then left.
“Look at this room!” she gushed, running her hand along the silky, cream and lilac colored duvet on the bed. “Isn’t it gorgeous?”
“Yes, I suppose it is,” he replied noncommittally.
“I’m sorry you have to sleep on the sofa,” she muttered. “They didn’t have any double rooms and we were lucky to get this one. There is a festival this week. All the hotels are fully booked.”
“That’s okay. I’m used to sleeping on a sofa…as you well know.”
Akoto pulled his phone out of his pocket and began to type intently on it. Ah. Why was he being like this? They were there to have a great time and he was suddenly engaged in his phone? Pomaa announced she was going to have a shower before dinner. Akoto barely looked up when he nodded in acknowledgement.
“After dinner I thought we might get into some of the local nightlife,” she offered, keeping her tone light. “It’s only fair we meet our demons on the same day, right?”
If he added anything else to the conversation, Pomaa couldn’t hear it. A powerful stream of lukewarm water collided with her skin, drenching her locks but doing little to wash away the worry creeping over her. Whoever heard of an African woman being afraid to dance? Pomaa sank to the shower floor and sat there, waiting for the nightmarish reality to diminish. It didn’t…but the potent stream of water suddenly did. The taps had stopped flowing. Great!
Liquid Night Club. That was where the moaning receptionist had suggested they go for a night out.
“You are even lucky, because it’s ladies night. Ladies get in free,” she said wistfully.
“Oh? Is it not often that it’s ladies night?”
“Every Friday is ladies night!” the receptionist proclaimed. “But I am always working, every Friday.”
Pomaa tried to look sympathetic as she moaned her lament. Maybe one day she could ask her boss for a Friday off if it meant that much to her? That wouldn’t be possible. The manager of the hotel was her relative and there were too many yo-yo boys in that club for his liking. Pomaa stared at the receptionist for a long time. A bronze and black nametag bearing the name ‘Gladys’ sat proudly on her left breast. Her permed hair was curled tightly and pinned to one side. A small tribal mark sat on her left cheek. No, a girl like Gladys would never be seen in Club Liquid.
“Try and dance for me,” Gladys whispered. “Have fun!”
Pomaa grunted and fished her keys out of her clutch. Akoto was already waiting for her by the car in much more cheerful spirits. Maybe nothing was wrong after all. Maybe all he needed to do was eat?
“Did I tell you you look fantastic tonight?” he smiled as she approached. He studied her legs as the slender muscles in her thighs strained against the stretch fabric of her tights. His eyes travelled upward to the black cotton top, trimmed with white lace and red and black beading. She was beautiful and stylish – the perfect mix of modern and tradition.
“Only three times before, but it’s nice to hear again,” she giggled.
“Do you want me to drive?”
“Would you? My legs are already shaking…I’m so nervous.”
“Don’t be. I’m with you,” Akoto assured her.
She tossed him the keys and settled in the passenger side of the car, clenching her eyes shut and struggling to control her breathing. A warm, rough hand took hers in his and gave it a squeeze. It was going to be okay.
Gladys hadn’t exaggerated. There were yo-yo boys crawling all over the club, dressed in baggy jeans with loose fitting shirts and baseball caps tipped askew. The DJ was spinning old school tunes, which had only inspired a few couples to shift listlessly from side to side.
“Do you want a drink?” Akoto asked, signaling to a passing waitress.
“Yes, sure,” Pomaa replied, reaching for her purse. She ordered a Smirnoff Ice and thanked the waitress. The action caused Akoto to frown.
“Why do you do that?”
“I asked you if you want a drink, and then you go and reach for your purse before I get a chance to say anything else.”
He was right. She had been very conscious to pay for everything on the trip: the hotel room; the petrol for the ride; even the tip for the porter. Knowing his “circumstances”, as he called them, made it hard for her to assume he should – let alone could – pay for anything. She stuttered a half apology and flashed the waitress a relieved smile when she showed up with her drink.
He hadn’t meant to make her uncomfortable. Akoto fidgeted with a button on his shirt and looked around club which was quickly beginning to fill up with more and more couples and people obviously on the prowl for a hook-up.
“Are you ready to dance?”
“Yes. Let’s get this over with.”
Akoto took her by the hand and led her to the black tiled dance floor. He held her firmly by the waist and guided her through the beat of some ancient New Edition. In a few minutes, she grew more and more confident with Akoto’s support. No one was looking to her. In fact, she was pleased to discover that no one was paying any attention to her at all! When she got thirsty, they stopped and had a drink, yelling conversation above the music. As the night grew later, Pomaa found that she grew bolder and more daring on the dance floor. The DJ finally flooded the club walls with afrobeat, which had all the inhabitants jostling for space.
Pomaa was tipsy and giddy. By the time the DJ announced that every lady in the club “will do kokoma” today, she had lost all her inhibitions, bouncing her ass and separating her thighs to the beat. Every man in the room had asked her for a dance or was in the process of doing so.
That’s when she heard the yelling.
Get the fuck out of my way!
Nigga, who do you think you are?!
I eat boys like you for breakfast!
Akoto was snarling in the face of a man she had been dancing with earlier. How had this suddenly happened? Pomaa excused herself from her newest partner and rushed over to his side. As she tried to pry him away from the brewing fight, he shrugged his shoulder and threw her off. This was madness. And she was certainly too old and sophisticated for brawls in a club! She spun on her heel and stormed off toward her car, only to realize that Akoto still had her keys. There was nothing else to do but wait for him to come out and finish his silly display.
She stared at him through narrow, contemptuous eyes when she finally came stomping out of the club doors.
“Get in the car,” he ordered.
“Give me my keys!” she snarled in retort.
“You’re drunk, I’m driving. Now get in the car!”
She complied, reluctantly, wanting to fight him, but not sure what they were fighting about. When they returned to the hotel room, he unleashed on her. Did she know how embarrassing it was for him to be left sitting while she danced with every dick in the room? Who the hell does that? Her attitude was horrible! No wonder she wasn’t married.
“You know what, Akoto?” she heaved, holding back a drunken sob, “most times, you can be really sweet. But sometimes, like right now, you can be a real asshole. I don’t know whether to make you leave or ask you to stay. I don’t know whether to fight you or fuck you!”
Akoto paused, staring at her with ice and daggers in his eyes. He stormed towards the door and looked back at her, shooting his words like an arrow at her heart.
“I can make that really easy for you.”