On Saturdays, Kyerekuwa left home with only two things: the clothes on her body and the empty dora the explorer school bag on her back; always certain to return home with much more. Her small feet meandered through the clustered houses surrounding the slum. Past gutters, stray cats and Mensima’s old cock with the crooked comb, she pulled her empty bag tightly around herself, and made her way to the main road.
Mainstreet was always buzzing with activity. Shop owners lazily turned the locks to their wayside containers, a woman placed a mat by the side of the road, a basket of tomatoes and a stool beside her, a group of nurses in uniform walked briskly towards the bus stop, shirtless conductors chewed on their sticks and called for patronage. All around Kyerekuwa, there was life. Mainstreet often reminded her of the bald school field in Mount 9 Primary School, especially during recess; back when she went to school. A litter of human bodies all within reach of each other, yet pursuing independent dreams, different games, different goals. And while some won and lost, others stayed put, simply there for the being-sake.
She walked up to one of the driver’s mates and asked for the bus going to Madina. The conductor, a short, light-skinned man with deteriorating teeth, pointed to a bus behind him and dismissively continued with his shouting.
“Yessssss Accra, Kaneshie, Accra…”
Inside the bus, Kyerekuwa found to her annoyance that although far from being full, all the good seats had been taken. Rather than allow the bus fill up normally, those who had come earlier had decided to sit at the extreme ends of the bus – the sides with windows. Anyone who came in after was forced to push and squirm into the available gaps. Grudgingly, she found a seat next to a sleeping old man and was shortly after joined by a suckling mother.
“Good morning my dear” The woman said, arranging the folds of her babies cloth. Kyerekuwa was in no mood for conversation. She smiled wryly and whispered a barely audible good morning back at her.
Soon the seats were full. The conductor tapped the sides of the bus and its engine stuttered to life.
Kyerekuwa’s mind veered to the fine details of her plot. She placed her fingers inside her mouth and began chewing at her nails, nibbling until she felt a seething pain sharply cut across her index finger. She drew her hand away and noticed a trail of blood running down her palms.
Once, her father had told her that she was at her most devious when her fingers were inside her mouth. That was saying a lot, coming from a criminal.
“Oh dear. Look at what you did to yourself” The woman beside her exclaimed, adjusting her baby so she could free herself of its weight. Kyerekuwa kept her gaze on her nails, ignoring the woman.
“Bad habit. Very bad habit.” The lady grabbed Kyerekuwas’ palms and inspected the wound.
“What’s your name?”
She turned to look into the woman’s face, a single teardrop coursing down her cheek.
“Don’t cry, don’t cry my dear. What’s your name?”
“How old are you? Where are your parents?”
Ignoring her, Kyerekuwa closed her eyes and mounted her seat. Everyone in the bus turned to look at the little girl. The tears run down her cheeks in torrents now. Her back heaved as she drew in pained breaths. A croaky wail faltered through her lips. The bus fell silent. At the back, a lady touched at her chest, crying her own silent tears at the sickly sight of the poor girl. Kyerekuwa looked round at the passengers, as if making sure everyone’s attention was firmly fixed on her, and dejectedly spread her arms out. She broke into a song, her light voice echoing through the quiet space.
“Me hw3 manim, me hw3 makyi )boafo) bi ara 3nni h),
Me hw3 b3nkum nso aaa, me nni )boafo) bi ara,
anisuo nkoaa, na ahy3 me bra yi mu ma.
3henfa na me mmoa firi b3ba?”
Her voice was beautiful. She knew it was. She ate bananas and never drank cold water.
Once, her father had told her the story of the devil’s fall from grace. Once upon a time, Lucifer was an angel. He had the most beautiful voice in heaven, and God loved him dearly. Every day, God would sit on his mighty throne and listen to Lucifer sing and sing. But then Lucifer became pompous and proud. He thought he could replace God. He convinced a section of the heavenly host to join him in a rebellion. They fought through the archangels; with each stroke of their swords inching closer and closer to God … Imagine, all the devil ever had was his voice, yet he almost became God. Yet, he almost conquered heaven.
Kyerekuwa stayed inside the bus until its final stop at Madina station. She zipped up her bag and climbed down, waving at the drivers mate.
“Nimo! Hei Nimo!”
The mate made his way through the seats till he was behind his master.
“Did you take her fare?”
“Oh master …”
“Fe fe feee fe. Haven’t you seen this one before? Remember Paa Kows funeral? When we were coming from Kasoa.”
“Ah… Ei Master! It’s the same girl ooo”
“If you know what’s good for you, get that fare back now now now”
The mate jumped out the car, but the little girl was nowhere to be found.
Kyerekuwa looked around the empty Tema bus and smiled to herself. She picked the most comfortable seat she could find and fell inside it, excitedly peering into her bag for the umpteenth time. The woman’s presence had done her more good than harm after all. Her exclamation caught the passengers attention even before Kyerekuwa had stood up.
Inspecting the sores on her fingertips, the sudden rush of emotion that filled her heart could hardly be fought. Wherever he was, she knew he was watching. And if ever there was a sadness and suffering, she knew that on Saturdays, he got to look up from his labour, or down at her from the clouds, and smile. Because on Saturdays, even if she never had while he was alive, on Saturdays, she made her Daddy proud.
Gyem Taataa by Stella Dugan: the song Kyerekuwa sings in the bus.