In this backwater village, the skies were dry and the ground, barren. Everyone said that the gods were hungry.
Nengi, however, was tired. She wanted to vanish from this place forever. But he didn’t agree.
Nengi, who had always pasted the title of school bully on her forehead, was nowhere to be found. “What did you just say?”
It was the second time that he had asked her that question. Excluding the one over the phone earlier in the morning, where she could hear the sound of something breaking from his side.
Nengi mustered courage and lifted up her head to look straight into his deep-gray, heavyset eyes. Those eyes had once been full of life - but now there was nothing in them.
It was like everything had vanished right before his eyes. Or...was slowly vanishing. Nengi shuddered. She refused to carry this pot. Why would this be her fault too?
Her voice was much firmer than before. “Brother Harrison.”
When he answered her, there were tears in his eyes. It was like Nengi had never seen such a Brother Harrison before.
And she didn't like the one standing in front of her right now. Pale,sickly….ugly. Her expression changed many times before answering.
“You cannot change my mind, Brother Harrison. My parents are dead and I cannot let this small village affect me any longer.” her voice turned softer, “As for you..”
At that moment, he coughed up blood but quickly pressed his hands to his lips, self-conscious of Nengi’s presence.
But that didn't stop the blood from trickling out.
Nengi’s gaze turned dim. What did Brother Harrison mean just now?
“Brother Harrison! I know you don't want me to go but why do you want to ruin my dress? Do you know how expensive this dress is? 150 cedis! 150!”
It was obviously less than 20 cedis but he didn't expose her lie. Then again, had he ever?
Brother Harrison felt pain in his heart and his forehead broke out into a full sweat. But what was the use of chastising himself now? Even if he was given the chance all over, would he have done so?
The answer was no. Nengi was the only woman that he wanted to pamper all his life. Even now, when it was about to end.
Still, he managed to talk, albeit painfully.
“Nengi, are you really going to leave me alone here?”
When he reached out, she shifted. A bitter smile appeared on his face. She is really leaving me here.
Right now, Nengi’s mood was complicated. She couldn't describe how she felt seeing him crouched on the mud floor.
A bit of disgust and a bit of pain.
They had grown up together and he had taken her in after her parents died. The whole village always teased that Brother Harrison was in love with her and that they were going to get married.
As a young girl back then, she always felt happy at that thought. But now, just remembering it made her annoyed.
Get married where? In this mud house that couldn't hold water?
And to who? To a hunter- and a dropout at that?
Half a year ago, she had dropped Sakoma off at the bus station. She was going to the big city, Accra. It was her first time at the station and she was amazed at what she saw. What would happen then when she gets to Accra itself?
Brother Harrison had always whispered while stroking her hair, “Greed is terrible.”
After all, that was what consumed her uncles to sell all her mother’s property, leaving her a measly lump sum.
Then, she cursed. But now, she understood their greed. Not everyone could be a saint like Brother Harrison. “Brother Harrison, let me call someone to help you.” His voice carried more urgency.
She turned away, her eyes tearing up. What a foolish man.
“Brother Harrison,” she whispered, “I am sorry.” “Nengi…”
She was scared, so she ran.
5 years later Accra, Ghana.
“1! 2! 3! Perfect shot, Nengi! Well done!”
The whole crew clapped. Leonard, the director, was satisfied in particular. Hiring Nengi wasn’t an easy feat and fortunately, his money had been counted properly.
Kweku ran over to her boss, towel in hand.
“Well done, boss! We can close early for the year!” “Oh.”
Kweku didn't mind her perfunctory reply. As expected.
Nengi wiped her face with the towel, taking large strides to the nanny car.
She didn't forget to wave to the fans lined up at the door. As soon as the door was firmly shut behind her, the smile vanished from her face and she slumped into the car seat.
“How is the new music video coming along?” she asked no one in particular. Ajuba, another of her secretaries, was the one that replied.
“It is going great. The fans love it. Your,” he pointed to the screen of the iPad which displayed a glaring number, “followers on Instagram have increased by 5 million.”
Nengi lazily reached for a box of cigarettes beside her and Kweku promptly handed her the lighter. Even though some of them were irritated by the smoke coming out of the cigarette, no one had the guts to complain.
They were all waiting for her next words. “6.5 million followers, is it?”
Cudjoe, the youngest of her staff, almost choked on her coffee, shocked beyond words.
6.5 million? This ancestor!
Ajuba shot her a glare before she quickly maintained her composure. “65 million, boss.”
Soon enough, the nanny car passed by the market, and sounds of drums and loud singing filtered into the vehicle.
Nengi frowned, visibly uncomfortable, and she shifted her position as if it was the seat that was troubling her. It was not.
“ What is going on outside?” “It is the Bakatue festival.” Bakatue festival?
“Bakatue festival?” “Yes, boss.”
She leaned back on the seat in deep thought, eyes shut. Ha.
Nengi wanted to hide her inner pain. Was it a coincidence?
Bakatue festival. She used to spend the whole day with Brother Harrison… “...Boss?”
“We have gotten home.”
Nengi opened her eyes to see the familiar bus stop.
The secretaries and driver promptly packed their belongings and got out of the car. Nengi got into the driver’s seat.
“..Boss?” Kweku managed to say after sharing looks with the others. Her slight tapping of the wheel stopped.
“Well...tomorrow is Christmas..s-so we won't be around until the new year.”
She slightly nodded, having no plans to turn her employees into corporate slaves. They must be trying to remind me of the year-end bonuses.
“You will receive them in your bank accounts tomorrow.”
“..That..” Ajuba hesitated, “we don't want that this year. Just...take care of yourself well.”
The last time they accepted it, the young master bitterly lashed at them for trying to covet his father’s money. They really didn’t dare this time around.
A complicated emotion flashed through Nengi’s eyes for a moment before vanishing as if it had never appeared.
“Thank you….Merry Christmas.” “Merry Christmas, boss.”
She turned on the car and drove until she couldn't see their retreating backs any longer. Another right turn and Nengi got home.
Her house was located in the wealthy suburbs of Accra. It was a gift that Kobi had given her to make up for showing up at her door dead-drunk in the middle of the night, a few hours after his divorce.
Nengi gritted her teeth as she dared not to make noise. Kobi was still asleep.
Quabena had driven his blue, fifth-hand Volkswagen from the capital, Accra to other places for seven years till the panel was beat-up and the seats worn off. He had driven it to boot.
And that is why he didn't understand his passenger right now.
She had been quiet all the way and looked well off. The car that had dropped her at the station was a 2019 Toyota Camry.
So why? And what was she looking for going to such a backwater town like Afari? Anyways, Quabena had been in the business long enough to know when and when not to ask questions.
Nengi, meanwhile, was finding it hard to sleep in the backseat. She had hurriedly sneaked out of the house before that woman came over looking for a fight. After all, she was a jinx and seductress. A broom star stepmother that no one wanted. But what did that matter to Nengi? With money, there was hope. The smell of mothballs on the dingy car seat and crack as long as the River Niger on the windshield made her feel wistful.
How long had it been? A year? Not more than a year?
She didn't want to think too much. Nengi’d rather save up her energy for Brother Harrison.
The journey had been quiet for a while and Quabena was grateful that this passenger was not like those noisy Madams he had carried in the past.
At least, until the next time she spoke. “Give me chop.”
The steering almost left his hands.
Nengi’s eyes were still closed in the backseat. “I want chop.”
Quabena quietly parked the car, his palms sweaty. However, he couldn't deny his inner excitement. Would doing that with a rich Madam feel different?
Passengers pretended not to hear the moans coming from the jittery Volkswagen.
Thirty minutes down, Quabena looked like a mess. His buttons were ripped off and his body scratched, but his eyes were burning.
She swatted away the arm reaching for her chest. It was enough for her. “Drive.”
He didn’t dare do anything further, rather regrettably. Madam's body was very sweet.
Nengi adjusted her underwear and buttoned up her shirt, going through the sex she’d just had. Boring. So boring she’d almost forgotten why in the first place.
Ah. That was it.
Years ago, on a cool evening like this, Nengi had deliberately waited for Brother Harrison wearing a thin cotton shirt and black lace panties.
They weren't new like the ones she had on now, though.
However, Mama Kobe had told her with a wicked glint in her eyes that these second-hand panties were as good as new ones.
New ones were a waste of money. That difference could buy some skin care soap.
These panties were the ones that made Akosua, the village wench, successfully snatch Teacher Osei’s husband.
Ah. Mama Kobe, the woman who had gone to the market in the big city, Accra, was always right. The thin cotton shirt accentuated her 16-year-old firm breasts on the edge of puberty and the panties exposed her wide hips and firm buttocks Seniors Kofi and Abena always liked to touch after school. Brother Harrison had quickly wrapped her in a blanket, chiding her actions.
Even though his eyes had just been like Quabena’s. Stupid Brother Harrison. 16-year-old Nengi didn't want to waste the money spent on the panties.
“...But Seniors Kofi and Abena like seeing me like this.” she pretended to whisper.
As expected, his voice turned heavy. Brother Harrison didn’t like any boy being around her. “Did they touch you anywhere?”
He opened his mouth to reprimand. “Nengi….”
“Here.” she took his large, rough hand and placed it on her breast, “They touched me here. And here, too.”
The other hand was placed on her buttocks. Brother Harrison’s voice was weaker than before. “Nengi..”
She used that chance to push him to the chair and sit on his lap, rocking her hips back and forth as Efua had once taught her to do.
“N-nengi..y-you must not let other boys touch you like this,” he whispered, his hands tremblingly kneading her body.
“Yes, Brother Harrison. Only Brother Harrison can touch me like this.” “Y-yes.”
“Nengi will be a good girl,” she whispered, reaching for his buttons. “Y-yes.”
They woke up, naked in bed, the next morning.
Brother Harrison refused to look her in the eye or talk to her.
Nengi caught sight of a pill bottle on the nightstand. It was a plastic container with little white pills in them that she had grown up seeing. Once, she ground them into his food per his request. Nengi was curious but she dare not ask. She was afraid.
Mama Kobe told her that evening that the debt collectors had come earlier than usual. Apparently, someone had found Seniors Kofi and Abena naked in a pit, bound and beaten to a pulp, black adinkra clothes around their eyes.
………………………………… Stupid Brother Harrison.
Bastard, she muttered under her breath. “Madam, we have reached.”
Nengi looked outside to see the old, familiar bus station. But she wasn’t ready to get down. Her hands gripped the almost-finished gin bottle, her knuckles turning white from the force used.
There was a place she had to go to first.
“Take me to the farmland road. I will pay you more.”
Quabena sucked in a breath and drove as she wished. He didn’t want her to pay in cash. In ten minutes, they had gotten there and she alighted the car, signing him to wait for her.
Nengi walked a little way into the first farm, trying not to sway, and stopped under the palm tree where a mound lay.
This was Brother Harrison’s grave.
Two years ago, Kwamina Awei came to her office and informed her of his death.
Nengi pretended not to see his wandering eyes and recognize that he was informing her only three years after. Because apparently, he did on the day she left.
The elderly man told her where his grave was and greedily took the brown envelope before hurrying away, presumably to gamble. Nengi dared to assume that his four wives and seventeen children weren’t still eating properly these days. But all she did for that moment was dare to assume. The rest of the month was spent with Nengi hiding away, crying until her eyes were swollen to the size of avocados and lying to Kobi whenever his hands groped her that she was on her menstrual period.
As she stood there looking at the irregular lump of clay, a thought flickered past her mind. Brother Harrison deserved better.
She crouched and reached for a bottle of Akpeteshie in her knockoff Hermès bag and poured in on top the mound before chugging some down.
“Brother Harison, I hope you are eating well over there. Have you finally seen God that you wanted to see? What is he like?”
Nengi chugged again.
“Brother Harrison, I don't think I will ever see him. H-he’s..too far.” Her speech was now blurred. She burst into tears.
“Br-brother, i-it’s n-not my fault..”
She remembered him begging her to stay, she recalled the blood, still fresh in mind. Had she killed him? Was Nengi now a murderer?
Nengi poured the remaining contents on the mound. “I-i’m sorry.”
She covered her face in her palms, sobbing and talking incoherently, her figure golden against the backdrop of the evening sun.
“B-brother Harrison...f-for-forgive me. Ko ose. R-rest easy.” Rest easy, Brother Harrison.
Ko ose. Koda. Sleep well.
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