The Burning Lotus Hotel had been burnt to the ground. A small crowd of villagers had gathered to see what remained of the luxury hotel and spa that had been responsible for bringing much-needed tourism cedis to their area. Ama and Felix pulled up just as a bloated security guard – further puffed up by his own sense of self-importance – began growling at the onlookers, provoking their departure with a string of curses. A woman in a cleaner’s uniform began to wail. Lamenting to anyone who would listen about how had lost all of her savings in the fire.
Someone scoffed. “Why did you keep your money at your work, you foolish woman?”
She wanted to keep the money safe from her drunkard husband’s sticky paws, she replied. For that, she was roundly chastised by every male member of the assembly for her deceit.
“God has punished you!” a grizzly man shouted.
A slight drizzle had begun to fall. The cleaning woman wrapped her hair now frizzy from both new-growth and rain in a scarf and sulked home. The unexpected coming of precipitation hastened the departure of the rest of the milling crowd. Felix seized the opportunity to find out more from the zealous security guard.
“Boss, good morning.”
Immediately recognizing from the edged line of Felix’s haircut and the freshness of his breath that he was dealing with a Big Man, the guard returned the congenial greeting with a measure of obsequiousness of his own. “Morring, morring, Bossu!”
“What happened here?”
Maybe this Big Man wasn’t as bright as the guard – who introduced himself as Razak and hoped for a pecuniary reward for his eagerness to offer information – had imagined. Could he not see the building had been burnt with fire?
“There was a fire, sah!” he replied, his tone saturated with contempt. It was as though he was being forced to explain how wind worked to a unindustrious secondary school student.
“Yes, Razak. I can see that,” Felix replied patiently. “I’m asking if you know the cause of the fire.”
“Aaaahhh! Oh. As for that one, I can’t tell…unless the senior manager boss informs us,” Razak admitted.
“Can you tell us where he is?”
“He’s surveying at the back.”
“Great. Thank you, Razak.”
Felix nodded for Ama to join him in the search for the hotel’s proprietor, the man whom Razak had fearfully referred to as the ‘senior manager boss’. The couple brushed passed him, muttering their pardons. Sensing that he was about to be placed in a position that would cost him both his job and his respect in the village, Razak scuttled to block the way of the newlyweds.
“Bossu, you cannot go back there!”
Now that their honeymoon plans had turned to literal cinders, Ama made quite a show of her displeasure. “But we have to see the manager! We were supposed to stay here for the weekend!”
This woman did not realize all that was at stake! It pained him to do so, but Razak turned to pleading. “Madam. Dis one, I dey beg you with God. They will say I allowed it. I go lose wanna job ooo!”
“No you won’t, Razak,” Felix said calmly. “I will tell the senior manager how you gallantly tried to prevent us from entering the premises and that we insisted. Here, take this.”
A ?100 note materialized from Felix’s pocket and found its way into the palm of Razak’s hand. The fretful security guard may not have understood all of the big words that the Big Man had used, but the the stern faces of Ghana’s founding fathers silently admonishing him to comply with this man’s wishes was all the translation he needed. Razak stepped aside and watched the duo scamper through the wreckage. Even if he lost his job that day, ?100 would cover what the hotel paid him for the month. Razak vacated his post and went in search of refreshment at a local chop bar.
Meanwhile, Ama’s ire was heighted by the sucking noises her shoes made as she surveyed her surroundings and slogged through the charred remains of what was once a palatial hotel. The images online were absolutely breathtaking. In the rubble, she noted what was left of the Grecian inspired water fountain that was home to magnificent koi. She breathed a sigh of relief when the fish were discovered swimmingly lazily in a gentle current, seemingly unaware of the devastation that had taken place around them. By now, Felix was much further ahead of her. He only slackened his pace and eventually halted with he heard Ama gasp.
“The heel of my shoe just broke.”
“It probably wasn’t a very good idea to leave the car in heels, huh?”
Ama smiled ruefully. “I would have had to throw them out after this trek anyway. I can replace my shoes…but I feel so bad for this hotel’s owner. How is he going to replace all of this?”
This was just one of the many things Felix loved about his new bride. He held out his hand to aid her up the higher ground he was standing on. Ama took it with gratitude, its warmth a welcome change from the grey chill that blanketed the area.
“This must have been part of the kitchen,” Felix said, nodding towards the remains of copper crockery. “I’m guessing this is where the fire started from.”
“It certainly looks the most damaged,” Ama agreed.
“That’s what we think as well.”
The pair spun around and was confronted with the presence of a petite, bedraggled woman, her thin cotton dress completely sodden. Though slight in stature, she spoke with authority. This must have been the ‘senior boss manager’ Razak spoke of. Ama was captivated, astounded by the idea that such a delicate woman had been responsible for building and overseeing such a successful luxury establishment. Her amazement then turned to concern. How would she manage to rebuild? Clearly, she must have been out of her senses with grief. The woman hadn’t even had the presence of mind to dress herself properly before coming out to assess the property. No raincoat, no galoshes. All she had on her person was a small knapsack slung over her shoulder.
The tiny white woman reached to shake hands. Felix scrambled to take the frail flesh into his hand and pumped it warmly. He introduced himself and Ama to the presumed proprietor.
“Abigail Teye,” the woman replied with a sigh. “This is the second time we’ve had a fire, but never seen damage done to this extent. We’re very eager to investigate…and rebuild.”
Ama surveyed the damage with new eyes. Sure, her honeymoon had been ruined, but it was not the end of her business. Poor Abigail Teye. Ama offered her deepest sympathies.
“You mentioned ‘we’. Are you in business with your husband…?”
“Oh no,” Abigail cackled. “I’m not married. My brother Theo and I own this business. But we have very different ways of doing things. He didn’t want to come out and survey when news of the fire hit, but it’s my day to decide where we go so he had no choice. It’s not a perfect democracy, but we make it work.”
Felix resisted the urge to spit his disdain. “You mean your brother let you come out here among this wreckage? Alone?”
A feral look took over Abigail’s eyes. She threw her head back and laughed, slightly shifting the knapsack she carrying. A voice cried out in anguish behind her.
“Ajeish! I’ve told you to watch it when you laugh like that, Abi!”
Ama and Felix looked around in bewilderment for the source of the voice. Abigail Teye spun around as well, making bestial noises and mocking their search. Finally, she snatched a black cloth off her back and revealed the face of her Siamese twin… a lump of flesh whom both Ama and Felix had erroneously assumed was her personal luggage. The personhood of Theodore Teye was naught more than a male head perched precariously on a thick, brown neck. Ama squealed and leapt into Felix’s arms.
“That was not very nice of you, Abi,” Theo chastised. “Mother always cautioned you about doing things like this.”
“Ohhh, you never want to have any fun,” his twin retorted. “If it were down to you alone, we’d be locked up in the house in utter darkness. I’m the reason we have all of this!”
Theo assumed control of their motor skills and waved Abigail’s right arm, saying, “Correction. Had all this. And it’s your white privilege that allowed you to do this.”
“Black men. Always the victim,” Abigail spat. “I wish Mama had killed you at birth!”
“Then you’d be dead along with me, dumb ass!”
Abigail sucked her teeth and prepared to storm off. Theo shouted for her to stop. The command halted their shared body in its tracks. Ama and Felix watched the bizarre interaction between the bi-racial Siamese twins, frozen in their mutual uncertainty about what to do next. It was Felix who freed them from their stasis. He set Ama down and she reached over to close his slackened mouth.
“Turn around so I can talk to our guests!” Theo shouted. Abigail reminded him that it was not necessary to yell.
“I can hear you just fine. Your head is right next to mine, remember?”
Now that Theodore Teye had a proper view of his audience, he offered his sincerest apologies. “You’ll have to forgive our little display. In 30 years, we still haven’t quite learned to overcome our penchant for sibling spats.”
“No, no…no need to apologize,” Felix mumbled, grabbing Ama’s hand and nearly yanking it out of joint. “It is we who are in the wrong here. We never should have trespassed…”
Ama interjected, “No. We never, ever should have trespassed…”
“It’s just that tonight is our honeymoon and we had a reservation to spend the weekend here…”
“…and we were wondering if you had any suggestions about where we could stay in the area.”
Knowing that her husband would be looking for a full refund, her eyes silently pleaded with him to get them out of there. They could work out the money later. She did not want to prolong their presence of the odd sibling duo any longer than needed. No wonder Razak was terrified of the senior boss manager. There were completely unhinged!
It was Abigail’s turn to address the couple. The body turned around and put its fist to her chin as she hummed pensively. Frown lines creased her face as a recollection struck her.
“There are three funerals in town this weekend. There probably won’t be any hotels with vacancies in the area.”
Theo piped up from behind her with his own observation noting, “It’s rather ironic, don’t ya think? So many people are being buried on the weekend you’re supposed to be beginning your new lives together?”
“And burying our hotel’s profits in the same space of time!”
The twins laughed ghoulishly as Felix and Ama listened, horrified. Ama tugged her husband’s sleeve, whispering her pleas to leave immediately. He grunted and thanked the Teye twins.
“We appreciate your assistance, but we really must be going…”
Theo was making a frantic attempt to get his sister to reposition him. He managed to gain control of their hands to wave the couple down.
“There is one place you could lodge for the night. It’s just down the hill…”
Abigail gasped, her eyes swelling to twice their size.
“We can’t send them there, Theodore.”
“Oh come on,” he snapped. “Now who’s the one who doesn’t want to have any fun?”
“You know the stories about that house!”
“What stories? What house?” Ama was breathless with hope. “Is it close by?”
Any place in town had to be better than standing here in the burnt out rubble with this pair. Besides, the truly provincial can always be counted on for their hospitality and agreeability. If there was a house nearby with a room for rent, Ama and Felix would take it. Her grandmother was from a village and Ama had spent many a long vacation fetching her own water and reading by kerosene lamp. As long as the toilet wasn’t a pit latrine, there was nothing she and Felix couldn’t handle together…she was sure of it.
Theo was only too happy to provide directions to the mysterious house in question.
“You can’t miss it. There’ll be a sign to direct you from the roadside.”
The twins grunted and scuttled across the expanse of their ruined property. This time Ama’s stride had outpaced Felix’s, and it was he that struggled to keep up. She resisted the urge to look back at the squabbling pair, lest she turn into a pillar of salt.
“Let’s get out of here.”
“With pleasure!” Felix’s fingers were shaking as he put the car in gear. The sound of the convertible’s roaring engine settled him. He blew out a loud breath as the sight of the Burning Lotus Hotel faded from view…and hopefully soon enough, from memory.