He sat beside the window and waved her goodbye. She watched him leave, her head following the boneshaker till the cloud of smoke from its exhaust pipe slowly settled, leaving dust where it once stood.
In silence, she turned around towards whence she had come; through the ticket office, into a porch, then towards the small fence surrounding the bus station. Sun trodden women, wares spread out on tables and mats before them, called out to her as she approached the gate that marked the entrance of the station. A little girl with a silver pan over her head crossed paths with her, an elderly man, unshaven, budged into her shoulders, shoving her back; human bodies in over-sized obroniwawus marched behind, infront, and around her. She stopped and shut her eyes. The motions continued.
A hand tapped him awake. He looked up, wiping the spittle on his cheek with the back of his palms. The hand bent into a finger, pointing beyond him to the window. He turned. An impatient face stared back at him. He pulled the window back with some effort. and took a pack of yoghurt from the face, then a crumpled 1 cedi note from the hands that had tapped him. He made the exchange and fixed his head back into the bend of his arm. The bus rattled on, he fell asleep again.
Ampesi boiled on one coal pot, garden eggs, on another beside it. She sat in front of them both, fanning the flames, wondering about him, wiping the sweat off her brow, wondering about him. She saw Paa Kwesi and Ansomaa coming before they did; Ansomaas tiny palms inside her big brothers’, their uniforms creased and dirty from all the games she had told them not to play. When they did, it was with noise and shouting. Ansomaa joined her under the tree, Paa Kwesi run off to play with his friends. The sun set with them seated together for the evening meal. They sat on stools behind a tiny table, eating from the same bowl. She passed Ansomaa a bit of fish, and smiled at her, a gift for staying to help mama. Paa Kwesi started a wordless protest he knew he would not win.
He wiped his face and the area behind his neck before knocking on the door. The chubby face of his nephew poked out through its wooden frame, then snapped back. He waited patiently, his eyes straying to the large compound he had just entered. A handmade swing – rope connected to a car tyre and tied around the largest branch of a tree, swayed in the evening breeze, from beyond the compound, he heard children laughing, the sound of a football slamming against a proper brick building. He closed his eyes, only opening them when he heard the door creak open. This time, it was his brother’s chubby face that greeted him. He entered the outstretched arms, puilling his luggage behind him.
She woke up with a start, perspiration dripping down her face and neck, breath heavy and coming out faster than it came in. She scooted to the head rest and looked around her, gradually picking out where she was. From among the heinous forms cast by shadows into the room, Paa Kwesi and Ansomaa lay coiled up, asleep on a mat beside her bed. Calmed, her hands instinctively dabbed around the sheets, feeling a cold moistness in the folds from where she had been lying before. It was when she brought her hand to her forehead that she registered her shaking. . Slowly she placed her feet down and stood up, meandering around her children till she escaped into the coolness of the night’s air. The moon stood out ominously, larger than she had ever seen it. For minutes she stood frozen, staring up at the sky. She did not notice her tears till her back found the wall behind her. Whimpering, she collapsed beneath it.
Screams and prayers marred his own assessment of the situation, as waves slammed into the boat they had all been crammed into. The rain fell down on them heavier still, with every thunderous clamor the screams for Jesus growing louder. He held on firmly to the edge of the boat and closed his eyes. He had been trying since the bus had left, not to think about her or the children. It would make him weak, the more afraid to do what needed to be done. Now in the final moments; because he knew this was the end, she was all he could think of, the only reason he begged God to let him live. With every flash of lightning he saw her face, calling out to him. He saw her crying out his name, holding Paa and Ansomaa to her chest. His heart sunk into a depth of hopelessness he had never in his entire life felt before, and he wailed like a baby, snot mixing with rain drops into his mouth and chin. He begged God – Let me live, take me to America, do it for them!
In those last moments, before he plopped into the water, never to breathe again, the cries to God turned cries for her forgiveness. That he was leaving her alone, to do what both of them had not been able to. As salt water clogged his lungs, as he wrestled with the current, his arms numb and yet straining still to keep him afloat, he begged her, gurgling prayers he knew she would never get to hear.
Image Credit: Sue Murray – PATERA