The Alien Who Saved Me: Part II

The third time I saw her was at the stream. She was wearing shorts that stopped two inches from her knees, and a sleeveless top that looked more comfortable in the heat than the long skirt and top I had on. She stayed there for hours as we washed our laundry, watching us from time to time, reading, and writing in the book she carried around town.

She didn’t attempt to speak to us, and neither did we. After that first day at church, we had all been warned by Pastor John through our mothers not to engage with her more than necessary else we risked being corrupted into eternal damnation. I later learned that she had also been told not to speak to the unmarried women in town.

I made several excuses to go closer to the large rock she was sitting on to catch glimpses of the books she had. I also made sure to look away when she glanced at me, ignoring the silly comments the other girls kept making about her. 

The other girls were happy to shun her, but I wasn’t. Apart from the fact that I thought our treatment of someone who was there to help the town was unchristian, she was proof of what I had only previously read in books. She was proof that there was a whole world out there where women could be different from what I had been taught – where women could read, travel around on their own, and work. That intrigued my soul – a soul that hungered for more than what I had been told was my lot as a woman.

The fourth time I saw her I sought her out, finally finding the courage to talk to her. Her one-week would be up the next day, and she would leave. I needed to speak to her at least once before she left to satisfy my curiosity about her and the possibilities out there.

My heart raced with each step that swallowed the distance between me and her house, glancing behind me several times to ensure that nobody would see me going to the small house at the end of town where she was lodging. I was afraid of the repercussions of being discovered in her presence by myself – being the subject of Pastor John’s preaching on Sunday – and the resulting alienation that would occur from my peers.

But more importantly, I didn’t want to risk being caught before I had the chance to talk to her at length to hear about the world out there for women, from one who experienced it herself.

After I got to her front door, my courage faltered, and my hand hovered on the door, waiting for instructions from my will to knock.

She swung the door open before that courage found me, gazing at me with a soft smile. “I wondered when you would come.”

I stared after her in surprise while she entered the house, leaving the door ajar for me to follow. How did she know I would look for her?

“Are you going to come in or do you plan to stand there until someone passes by and sees you in front of my door?” she asked when I just stood there at her entrance, suddenly unsure of why I was there. The reminder of being discovered rushed my feet into the house, and I flushed when she laughed at my sudden speed. 

She gestured to the old brown sofa taking up a quarter of her room for me to sit. The rest of the room held a bed and a rickety chair that whined when you sat on it. Lined up against one wall were multicoloured suitcases in varying sizes, and on the table between us were a stack of books. I valiantly tried not to stare at the books.

Looking up at her, I realised she had been watching me while I scanned her room. We stared at each other for a moment without speaking, silently measuring ourselves.

Just when I finally gathered the courage to say hello, she broke the ice. “Welcome to my humble abode, Asantewaa. What brings you here?”

I was shocked that she knew my name, and when I asked her how, she told me she had seen me around town and heard others address me by my name.

When I asked her how she knew I would seek her out, she told me, “I’ve seen you watching me. And not like a bug or the devil as most of them see me. I’ve also seen the way you look at books. Do you read?”

“It’s not seemly for a woman to waste time reading books that will have no impact on her life as a wife or mother,” I whispered, the parroted words feeling like lead on my tongue. Unbidden, my eyes snapped to the stack of books on the table with longing.

She waited until I met her eyes again and told me, “Where I come from, women are allowed to read.” 

Those words were like manna from heaven, and they removed all the nerves and unsureness that I was feeling. I asked her to tell me more, and she did. For hours she talked to me and answered my questions. Her world sounded surreal. I heard about women teachers and writers, and independent women who were not obligated to marry young and start a family before they felt ready.

When it was getting dark and I had to leave, she asked me what I wanted to do with my life. What she didn’t understand was that it wasn’t about what I wanted. Mr. Yaw Kumi, the second wealthiest man in town, had already approached my father about his interest in making me his fourth wife. Everyone thought I was lucky, but I didn’t feel lucky. I was not interested in getting married and starting a family just yet, especially not to a man who had been a guest at my naming ceremony. 

She sighed when I told her about my situation. “I see. How old are you, Asantewaa?”

“I will be nineteen in October,” I answered, the reminder of my fate bursting the bubble of the fantasy world I had immersed myself in, bringing me back to earth in dejection.

“You’re old enough to leave this town and pursue your dreams if that is what you desire,” she apprised me, shocking me.

My eyes widened at the implication, hope and excitement blooming in my chest. “How would I be able to do that? I don’t know anywhere but here. And I don’t know anyone else outside of here.”

“You know me. I can help you. You’re a bright young lady, Asantewaa. And with a little push, you can achieve everything you dream of. I’m willing to give you that push if you’re willing to take the chance.”

Having finished reading the first ten pages of my book, I close it and address my rapt audience with a smile, the memories making my eyes shine with emotion.

“I did take the chance, and ten years later, I’m eternally grateful I did. Not only did she encourage me to dream of a better life for myself, but she returned two weeks after she left with letters to my parents and our Chief from the government, which convinced them to allow me to leave the town with her. She financed my education, mentored me, and gave me everything I needed to pursue my desires. Words cannot describe the amazing person that this woman is, and the impact she has had on my life. Ladies and gentlemen, with a standing ovation, let’s welcome Akua Coleman; Philanthropist, Feminist, and the inspiration for my book ‘The Alien Who Saved Me.’ “

She walks toward me on the stage, looking much like she had the first time I saw her; wearing trousers and a short flowered shirt, hair still in pink and gold dreadlocks, multiple earrings, and a nose ring in place. She had stopped being an alien to me many years ago, but to the 19-year-old me who had never seen anyone like her, she had been an anomaly, albeit one I secretly wanted to be like. She had represented a different life out there where women had choices and were allowed to be

As an international best-selling author launching my third book – this time a true story about my journey to success – I can’t help but think about how different my life would have turned out if she hadn’t visited my town that year, and if I hadn’t dared to take the chance. Assaulted with memories and choked with gratitude, I move to hug the ‘alien’ who saved me when she joins me on stage to make her speech.

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