News of the President’s death started filtering
through to the public at about 2.30pm on Tuesday. They began as rumours, which
were quickly discounted by many people. I discounted those rumours too. And why
not? Yesterday was not the first time we were hearing rumours of the
President’s death. Such rumours have been around for a while and even become matters of intense if not fierce political debate and rivalry. Soon the
rumours turned to tweets and status messages on social media. They were getting
serious. And then tweets from twitter accounts belonging to media houses and
the like started trickling in; it was then that it became evident that the
rumours were actually true. Our beloved President was dead.
Rumours of the President’s
ill health first came to my attention during activities leading to the last
elections. It became a subject of disagreement even between party functionaries.
And from that time until now, series of debates have unfolded in varying forms
in the media and from government officials. It seemed to me that there was a
vehement attempt from people in and around government to prevent an impression
that was fast becoming obvious to all Ghanaians, from taking root.
The impression that:
The President was not too
That the President needed
That the President needed
time off to rest and be well cared for
That the President didn’t
need all those arguments, debates and unnecessary talk about his health
That the President didn’t
need to constantly defend a fact that concerned his health
That the President didn’t
need to force himself to appear healthy and strong when he really needed some time
And what is wrong if our
President is sick or unwell? Is he not human? I don’t think there’s anything
strange and unusual in the President needing medical treatment because he’s
unwell. Such information, I believe should not be too difficult to
divulge if it becomes necessary and this will in no way shrink political votes
or paint a picture of weakness and insecurity for this country.
So why did we allow this
Why did we shield the
Why did we create the
impression that all was well when all was not?
Why did we compel our
President to jog on the tarmac at our International Airport to show the
Ghanaian people that he was fit?
Why did we insist that it
was only a minor sinus problem when indeed, it was throat cancer?
So you can imagine my
disbelief when on the BBC, it was reported ‘openly’ and effortlessly that the
late Ghanaian President was suffering from Throat Cancer and had been unwell
for a while! So the President had not been well for a while? He had Throat
Cancer and nobody in the government knew? It had to take the British
Broadcasting Corporation to divulge the information to Ghanaians? How could we have
allowed a situation, which gave way for unnecessary speculation and constant
bickering about a matter as important as the President’s health to prevail?
So here we are now,
silenced and saddened by the sad departure of our President. A man of peace,
who in the later stages of life was denied the peace that he stood for, all his
life. He may not be the best President we’ve ever had but certainly one of the
best. He had his own flaws but he was human and liable to flaws. Many will miss
him for his surprising sense of humour. Many will remember his numerous
quotable and sometimes ‘unquotable’ quotes. I still remember the famous
‘ecomini’ speech at the floor of Parliament (yes, I’m not pretending); I recall
the famous ‘Omama’ saga and his action hero exploits at the Tema Harbour and
other places. His Mao style suits, his gargantuan heckling in Parliament and
his response on the gay issue to James Cameron.
pushed hard, maybe too hard but now he can rest peacefully, never to be disturbed again.
Rest in peace Mr. President. You’ll be greatly missed.
When they finally released me, it was around midnight. I was tired, hungry and weak. And I was scared too. Scared because the bell had long gone for ‘lights-out’ and I feared some senior-on-duty might find me and punish me. It was dark outside and as I made my way back to my house, I could hear the continuous chirping of crickets and see the patterns the fireflies made in the air as they flew around me. As beautifully as they looked, I couldn’t find enough strength to appreciate them. My whole body ached from the massive beatings I’d received and I longed for my bed.
There were four houses in the school. They stood side by side each other and were separated by large lawns and walkways. On these lawns, we often dried washed clothing, bed sheets, footwear, backpacks, foam covers, borrowed t-shirts and sometimes, ‘coloured clothing’. They were called ‘coloured’ because they were forbidden. That is to say, they were not listed on the school’s prospectus. The school had prescribed attire for students to wear at every time of the day. In the mornings, during classes, everyone was required to wear their school uniforms Form One or to Form Five students wore cream shirts and Khaki shorts to match while the Lower Six and Upper Six students were entitled to deep blue shirts and Khaki trousers.
After classes, each student was required to wear their house uniforms. These house uniforms were colour-coded according to the four houses. We wore our house uniforms with disdain because they were made from a silky-like material, which was very uncomfortable to wear in the heat. What made the situation worse was the fact that each student was entitled to one, just one set of house uniforms! So we resorted to smuggling. By this, we would comply with all the rules regarding ‘coloured clothing’ on the first day of each school term. Usually, the various housemasters would inspect every bag and box that accompanied students to school. They did this to identify students who hid unauthorized clothing in their belongings.
So we devised a strategy. We would not bring coloured clothing to school at all on the first day of the term. By doing so, anyone would think that was the end of the story. How wrong they were. You see, at the beginning of the term, we would go through the motions – we will report to the school administration block, pay our fees at the finance office, our bags would be inspected and nothing would be found. The housemaster, thinking all was well and good, would check us into our rooms and all would be set for an event-free term. What the housemasters did not know was that most students never brought coloured clothing to school. We knew better than that. Instead, we would go on to receive countless consignments of coloured clothing smuggled into the school by friends, cousins, so-called aunties and uncles and a host of others who came to the school on visiting days.
The lawns had become a place for drying our clothing because the increasing number of students year-on-year meant that the few drying lines in the school could not service everybody. We loved to do that because we didn’t need holding pegs to hang our clothing on the lawns. But they came at a cost. The lawns were large and bare; there were no demarcations and definitely, no space allocations, everyone could dry their stuff anywhere they wanted. And unfortunately, that meant, anybody could deliberately or accidentally collect any dried item at anytime from anywhere without any confrontation or suspicion from anyone. This happened every weekend without fail. On one occasion, one student was robbed of all his belongings in a single day. He had gone to collect his washed and dried clothes from the lawn and found to his dismay that none of the items there belonged to him! He swore that he had dried his clothes right there, much to the surprise of everyone gathered around him. They knew he was right, they just couldn’t tell how it all happened. Yet the practice continued; we dried our stuff there everyday with renewed energy and surprising vigor.
I walked on towards Quarcoo House, my hall of residence; tired and weary; I couldn’t wait to get into my bed. But when I got to a few metres away from my House, I stopped. I was contemplating the thought of climbing up to my room or slipping into the Sick Bay. Somehow, I felt that if got into the room at that time of the day, the senior students would punish me. It was acceptable for seniors to stay late in the night and study. The rule only applied to seniors because it was generally agreed that since they were closest to sitting for the ‘O’ and ‘A’ Level exams, it made sense to give them liberty so long as that liberty was directed at their studies.
So, the ‘Lights Out’ period did not apply to all seniors; Fivers and Sixers alike. And how some abused this privilege! In fact, it became common knowledge among junior students that if by some very unfortunate circumstance, a junior happens to be awake at any time after ‘lights out’, he’d be meat for the hungry seniors! They would ‘fry’ him; employing all sorts of ridiculous drills till he begs for mercy. So as I stood there that night, my whole body weary as a result of the day’s encounter, I dreaded the thought of them using me as a stress-relieving sport. I decided against the obvious and chose instead, to walk to the Sick Bay and pass the night. It had been an overly eventful day.
I stood there for a while and then a surprising thing happened. I heard a knock on the door; someone was knocking on the door from the inside of the room! I hesitated, not knowing what to do. I heard the knock again. Then, slowly, the door opened to reveal a short but stout looking person standing in the doorway. He wore only his school shorts and had a short but neatly sharpened pencil tucked in between his fingers. His shorts were a little low partially revealing his briefs and his face showed he’d been disturbed. Instantly, I started trembling – he was Kawawa!
‘Didn’t you hear the knock? He said calmly but firmly.
‘The knock…what knock? I stammered, much to his delight.
‘When you hear a knock on your door, what do you do? He asked, using his hands for emphasis.
‘You, you…err…you respond Snr. I managed to say, my hands at my back.
‘So, why didn’t you respond? I couldn’t say a word; there was nothing to say. He dragged me inside the room and asked me to kneel on the floor. There were two of them in the room; the other was lying on one of the beds.
Kawawa turned to him just when we got in and began:
‘Pozoo, see this boy…someone knocks on his door and he hasn’t the audacity to even respond!
‘Oh, but you paa’ Pozoo said, looking straight into my eyes, ‘Why, you no respond? He added.
At this stage, intimidation was getting the better part of me so I just knelt there, unable to find my voice. Pozoo sat up on the bed and began shaking his head. Then he got down and I quickly recognized that he had a limp in his left leg. As he headed out of the room, he kept muttering to himself:
‘there’s no mercy for the cripple, no mercy for the cripple’.
After Pozoo’s exit, I was left alone with Kawawa. He sat behind a desk and buried his head in a textbook. In the distance I could hear music coming from a small transistor radio that was hanging from the fluorescent tube above his head. They had managed to illegally connect the radio to the wiring on the roof and tried as much I could, I could not figure out how they did it. The tune on the radio was, Telefon Nkomo, a popular high-life tune in those days. He occasionally nodded to the song in momentary forgetfulness and then quickly went back to reading his book the moment he remembered he was supposed to be learning. I knelt there and tried as much as possible not to catch his eye; in my struggle to avoid his eyes, i thought of Snr. Abele and his re-assuring words. I could still hear him say: 'nothing will happen to you...' how right I was not to have believed him.
After a while, I wanted to ask Kawawa if I could take my leave. I declined upon second thoughts. Soon, he decided it was time to take his nap. He ordered me to get under one of the beds while he got on to another and slept. Everything became quiet afterwards. As I lay under that bed, the stench from the smelly sheets that covered the bed filled the air around me. Dust and cobwebs covered my whole body and I silently prayed for the ordeal to end. It didn’t; it got worse. Soon, I felt what seemed like multiple hands pulling at me from every side. Some were pulling my legs, my hands, hair and so on. I felt I was being torn apart; I began to scream. Then I went out of breath and began to wheeze; it was getting increasingly difficult for me to hang on to life it seemed, I was being whizzed out of my reality into another. Then suddenly, I woke up! I had been dreaming.
Then i felt someone pulling me from under the bed with both hands; I felt like resisting but before I knew it, I was out of there. Drowsily, I struggled to get up. Kawawa was standing over me;
‘my friend, do you think this is your bedroom? He shouted.
I sat up rubbing my eyes and looking around me. It didn’t take time for me to come to terms with where I was. Quickly, he pointed to a bucket of water right by him and ordered me to carry and follow him. As I struggled to get up, I heard him at the door:
“You dey come or not?
I didn’t respond. He walked back to where I was, dipped his sponge into the bucket of water I was carrying and smacked my face with it! That really woke me up and instinctively; I spat out drops of water that had entered into my mouth. I didn’t know the direction to which I spat because my eyes were closed when I did but it appeared I had spat right into Kawawa’s face! In his anger, he kicked me at the side of my body containing my ribs, and I dropped the bucket of water. Loudly, it met the floor face down and splashed water everywhere. I held my side and sank to the floor with a scream. He didn’t stop; he got closer and began kicking me. He was angry and I had just begun warming up my anger. I resolved there and then to stand up to him if he struck again. But Kawawa was not ready to let me be so he struck again. By now, Pozoo, together with some other seniors had entered the room. They just stood there and looked on. One of them tried to stop him but he wouldn’t budge. Then at last, something made him stop.
I don’t know how or when it happened but suddenly, i found myself up on my feet and with my left hand, I hit Kawawa very hard on the chin! He stumbled backwards, almost falling. Then, he began to charge straight at me! I didn’t want to fight him; I knew the school rules did not permit that. I was a junior; I would create enmity between my seniors and me if I fought him but he had bitten more than he could chew. Everyone feared him and it was obvious that he had taken that for granted. I did fear him but not anymore. I was angry and my anger was driving me to do the unthinkable.
As he inched closer, I could see venom in his eyes; the veins on his neck had become so visible they looked like a master craftsman had carved them. He held my neck with both hands and began to dig his nails into my flesh. I screamed in anger and kicked him in the stomach. He let go off me and sank to the floor. Then they came flooding into the room - the Sixth Formers on the floor came rushing into Kawawa’s room. They came with belts, canes and other like weapons, ready to crush Kawawa’s attacker. They forced me to the ground and began to test the strength of their weapons all over my body…
eluctantly I descended the staircase; I wouldn’t have but I had to. I had begged to be let off but he didn’t budge. There was a bland unrelenting look on his face and he kept stroking the countable strands of hair that hung from his flat chest. He was tall, dark and lanky. A prominent Afro adorned his big head and he chewed on a suspicious looking twig as he kept looking down at me. Much as I begged to be let off, he insisted, i had to go.
‘Snr. Abele; please not to Okwabi House please. Not Senior Kawawa’ I begged.
But my resistance seemed to strengthen his resolve. He would hear none of that and he was definitely making me go no matter what I said. He was very clear about that.
‘Nothing will happen to you…’ he said over and over again.
I did not believe him and he knew it. Behind him, there was an inscription on the wall; it was made with smoke from a candle. I could recognize it because I had assisted a senior in making one the very first week I entered the school. I considered it an achievement because first year students were not allowed to make inscriptions on the walls until they got to the fifth form. It was a kind of unofficial law that operated among the general student body. This activity was reserved for the seniors and the reason was because every candle-smoke inscription was supposed to be a ‘sign-off’. It was a sort of reminder that someone ever passed through the school. The Upper Sixers or the Sixth Formers took it for granted. They would mark the walls with all kinds of inscriptions at will. And sometimes, they took this infamous activity to the extreme – they would write on the walls of the Science Lab, School Library, teachers’ flats and then one day, they wrote on the revered headmaster’s bungalow!
How they got into the headmaster’s compound was a wonder. There were all kinds of stories that circulated among the junior students about how they did this. Some said a local jujuman was responsible for making them disappear and reappear at will. Others told of a concoction that supposedly put the night watchman who was a known drunk to sleep. This concoction it was rumoured, was mixed with local strong liquor known as apio and given to the night watchman before every operation.
The headmaster’s bungalow was nicknamed, Acropolis because it boasted of an uncommon colonial architecture that was just as strange as it was imposing. On the front door was a bold inscription that read: 1939. The Acropolis was hedged all round with thorn bush and a small avenue of hedges ushered many a visitor into the main compound. Students seldom entered the compound. They dared not. A large unfriendly dog always lurked in the bushes; it had a characteristic loud bark and fierce growl that promptly reminded everyone about straying and its devastating consequences. From the outside, the building looked impregnable but not anymore as we soon learnt. Somehow, some students managed to defy all odds and triumphantly made their mark on the famous Acropolis! Like determined soldiers, they had laid siege for a long time and had suddenly broken through to return victoriously in unforgettable fashion. Their mark read: FOX TRIBE REPRESENTING!
The following day, morning assembly took a different turn. The headmaster or Headee as he was popularly called, stormed the assembly hall with rage. When it was time for him to speak, he ignored all protocol. He did not greet; he did not smile. He simply stood on the podium and stared into our faces. He was motionless for a while and within that time, you could almost hear a pin drop. It was as if a mortifying mist had suddenly descended on everyone. We knew there was something wrong but we could not tell what it was.
Then he gently removed his spectacles and placed them on the wooden upright. He lessened the tension a bit with his movements and a mild murmur almost arose. Then he brought it to an immediate halt with his loud words!
“Foxes, foxes! That’s what you all are! He shouted animatedly.
We were taken aback. His words were sudden and harsh. And as the feeling of astonishment spread across the hall, someone at the back started laughing hysterically! From where I stood, I could not see him but I learnt later that the laughter had come from one of the Sixth Formers. It didn’t take long; suddenly the whole hall was reeling with laughter! Such was the effect on everyone in the hall that soon the teachers sitting on the podium joined in the laughter albeit cautiously. He turned momentarily towards his colleagues behind him; they all froze. He continued, this time, looking very menacing.
“Who or what is fox? Which among you foxes had the guts to write on my wall? He growled. Everybody was silent.
“Produce that fox now, produce him now or…”
“Or what? Somebody shouted from among us.
If the hall was quiet before this came, it became even quieter. I felt fidgety; I hoped that something would quickly interrupt the deafening silence so I could calm down. I shook a little; ‘when would this end’, I thought. That day, there were no classes for all of us. We descended straight from the Assembly Hall to the Hockey pitch and there, threw our hands in several directions with the aid of machetes at the tall grass that surrounded us. We ate lunch at suppertime.
The inscription on the wall right behind Abele read: ‘Risky waz hier som’.
‘Who was Risky? I asked him, hoping to change the subject even if for a short while. The question seemed to have taken him unawares; he stopped momentarily and stared at me.
‘Risky? You know Risky?
I pointed to the inscription right behind him. As he turned to look at the mouldy wall behind him, it then came to him that i could see the inscription very clearly from where I knelt. He suddenly went into frenzy.
‘Risky oo Risky! Risky Melo oo Melo! He shouted.
He was suddenly overcome with emotion that stemmed from a very unusual feeling of nostalgia and he continued like that for a few minutes. Then he kissed the palm of his right hand and placed it on the inscription on the wall. I felt relieved. Maybe this would make him forget what he’d asked me to do and finally release me. I was wrong. With a snap of his fingers, he swiftly dismissed me from his presence and told me not to return till I’ve delivered his message to Snr. Kawawa. As i left the room that afternoon, I wondered what a strange and unusual person he was.
The walk to Ghartey House was a very long one. The thought of meeting the notorious Snr. Kawawa terrified me. He was known for making life unbearable for junior students. On one occasion during general assembly, I remember the Snr. Housemaster mentioning his name seven times for seven different offences. There was always one tale or the other about him from the Ghartey House juniors. They feared him more than anyone else. As I approached Ghartey House, I wished I were dreaming. Should I turn back and run for dear life? That would be the beginning of great sorrow for me; Abele would never forgive me for going against him. So with great effort, I knocked on Kawawa’s door. There was no answer. I knocked again. Still no one answered... (To be continued)