When Kofi Lost his Tooth

Doran H. Ross Legu. Ghana 1976

You would be surprised the things my brother used to get red hot about when we were younger, and even more surprised  how quickly he would calm down after a tantrum – sometimes right in the middle of it, as if having forgot what he was mad about in the first place. There was that one time he “misplaced” his tooth. All day he had been showing the grey tooth to whoever would care to watch and making wild declarations about becoming a man and the size of the tooth being directly reflective of how rich he was going to be; all sorts of nonsense. It had fallen out of his mouth while in the shower that morning, and the announcement – a foreboding of things much worse to come – had been an excited squeal that echoed through the bathroom door, past the corridor and on to us, his siblings, seated in the hall, our bowls of cornflakes in front of us. I turned to Adwoa and she glared knowingly back at me, her spoonful halfway to her mouth. It was going to be a long day.

“Where did you put it?”

I DON’T REMEMBER LA! Ah, would I be looking for it if I did?

He flung the pillows off the bed as he spoke and began tugging at the edges of our bed sheet. My complaint was at the tip of my tongue. How could he desecrate our bed like this? Desecrate. I had heard that word on the news earlier that morning, before Daddy had scratched at the top of my head with his rough palms, and carried his coffee into the study. Where was I? Yes, my complaint was at the tip of my tongue but I knew he would not listen to me. Kofi never listened to me. Every day he would make it a point to remind me I was older than him by a mere 3 minutes and 30 seconds, and only because I was female and he had decided, even then, to be gentleman enough to “ladies first” me.

The entire bedsheet came hurling at my face.

“Herh! Watch it!”


I had had enough.


Kofi ignored me. He had moved to the wardrobe now and was tossing clothes out onto the floor. He did not notice Adwoa casually walk in, her annoying air of authority following closely behind her. She squeezed past me and put both hands on her waist, gaping at the mess of pillows, bedsheet and clothes littered all over the floor.


He ignored her.


He ignored her again, his head darting from side to side in search of where to desecrate (that word again) next. His eyes settled on Adwoa’s bed and after an almost indistinctive pause, he paced towards it. Adwoa pushed past me and run between him and her very properly laid bed.

“And just where do you think you’re going?”

“Where do YOU think I’m going? Where’s my tooth!? I know one of you has taken it. I don’t like those things! I DON’T LIKE THOSE GAMES”

He tried moving past her and she blocked him again, this time stretching out both hands so he had even less space to manoeuvre past.

“You’re mad if you think you’re touching my bed. Mummy is not here to save you ooo, so don’t fool yourself kraa.”

Kofi stared up at her angrily, glaring teeth, clenched fist and all. Adwoa looked down at him and shook her head. She started to laugh, knowing fully well it would further infuriate the hot head. He sprung towards her in an attempt to push past. Just as quickly, Adwoa caught his frail body and tossed him to the ground. He sat up on his butt and the emotions came as quickly as I anticipated they would; first, he was surprised, and then he was embarrassed, and then he was angry. Hot tears fell across his cheeks as he hopped up to his feet and began throwing fists at Adwoa. She took all of them well, landing a few of her own on the sides of his face and neck. She pressured through his barrage and somehow managed to lift him up.

Quickly I jumped to action. I moved out of the doorway and pushed the door open for her. Kofi thrashed violently inside her arms, struggling to fight free off her vice grip. I run ahead of her into the laundry room – I knew the procedure all too well; I knew what she was going to do even before she did it. Quickly I opened up the laundry basket for her and she dumped him inside, slamming the lid shut.

From inside we could hear him wailing now. When he tired of crying he would climb out the basket on his own accord and come join us in the hall like nothing had happened.

Adwoa walked back into the kitchen where she had been doing the dishes and left me alone in the laundry room. Kofi’s tears had reduced to silent whimpers. Soon he would start cussing and making threats he would never be able to carry out. I watched the tiny holes in the handwoven basket quietly and dug out the pockets of my jeans shorts. The tooth still had his saliva on it. The moist stickiness clung to the edges of my fingertips. Curiously inspecting it, I made my way back towards our room to clean up his mess.

Art Credit: Doran H. Ross Legu. Ghana 1976

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