Koforidua, capital of the Eastern Region, is a place of enticement to me. It’s all in my imagination, because I’ve never found my dreams about the place fulfilled.
One of my earliest emotional tormentors — I was only about ten years od — came from there. She was called Afia Amanoa. She was beautiful; slightly ‘red’ or light in complexion, and so quiet she had an aura of mystery about her. I am afraid I can’t give you a very detailed description of her because I worshipped the very ground upon which she walked and always took her in at a complete gulp, without pausing to analyse what her face looked like, what her legs looked like, or anything. I just wanted her — all of her, not her face or legs or anything.
Yeah. But I couldn’t approach her, for her father and my father didn’t talk to each other. They were direct competitors in the purchase of cocoa. My father bought cocoa for Busi and Stephenson, while Amanoa’s father bought his for Cadbury and Fry. Their cocoa 'sheds' (glorified ‘halls’ or sitting rooms in somebody’s private house, with a long, slightly wide veranda) stood opposite each other, at the corner of the Asiakwa main market.
Each buyer had his own signed-up customers, who sold their cocoa to him exclusively. This was serious business because each customer came for an advance, or down-payment, from his or her patron before the cocoa was plucked from the trees, on the understanding that the dried cocoa beans would be brought to him to redeem the debt. He or she was paid for the cocoa minus the advance, and dishonest operators could sell the cocoa to the rival of the person who had given him or her an advance, while leaving the one who had advanced the money, dry as the Sahara.
So our families openly spied on the operations of each other, with the object of informing our father of any hanky-panky that one of his customers might want to engage in.
My father was a very bold, no-nonsense man, and once or twice, upon receiving information, had marched straight to the Cadbury and Fry shed and confronted someone who was trying to pull a fast one on him.
Fortunately, such confrontations usually ended peacefully, for the guilty party would own up, once he or she was detected in the act of double-dealing. But it left a sour taste in the mouth. My fear was that the undeclared economic war between our two fathers would make Amanoa reject me out of hand if I so much as said 'good morning' to her.
So I used to climb to the very top of the huge bags of cocoa that had been piled high up in my father’s shed, and from that vantage point, admire her secretly by looking directly into her home. I could see her as she swept the yard, but was so respectful of her that I never watched her eat. I could also tell when she was getting ready to go to bed. And I would sadly get off my perch and go home.
It was torture — but a sweet sort of torture — watching her in such secrecy all the time. But to tell the truth, it was a self-inflicted torture. You see, there was no actual evidence that she would snub me if I dared to approach her. For her elder sister, who was called Janet, was my classmate, and we interacted with each other normally in school, despite the fact that in my imagination, we each came from the wrong side of the Capulet versus Montague civil war that had stolen the lives of Romeo and Juliet.
Well, in the course of time, Cadbury and Fry packed up and left Asiakwa, and Amanoa and her family went back to Koforidua. I, meanwhile, continued to pine for her.
Enter a 'friend' of mine, Yaw Ansah. He was the assistant to the postal agent of Asiakwa, and as fortune would have it, he came from Koforidua. He bragged endlessly about how Koforidua was 'civilised', compared to Asiakwa. It had electricity and pipe-borne water and shops and trains and taxis and flushed toilets. He never stopped raining insults on Asiakwa for its lack of these things, and also, for its lack of paved roads. When he got particularly angry, he called us 'Asiakwafour a mote abour so,' meaning 'Asiakwa dwellers who sit on stones' (pebbles).
I was fascinated by Ansah’s tales of how sweet life was at Koforidua. But I was specially impressed by his description of how he and a cousin of his, Kwasi Abam, used to learn tricks about shop-lifting from the cinema and practise it in the big shops of Koforidua, such as UTC and PZ. One film that taught them a lot, he said, was Sabu in The Thief of Baghdad. They coined a code from that film, 'Thousand And One' [Nights] and whenever they were in a shop and the opportunity presented itself for them to pinch an item or two, one would whisper: Thousand And One' and the other would immediately carry out a distracting manoeuvre,
— such as pretending that a brand new shirt had a button torn from it — that would force the shopkeeper to spend time inspecting the item. Meanwhile, the other chap would carry off whatever he had been able to hide in his cloth. Shirts, tins of biscuits, even pairs of shoes, were easily carted away in this manner, Ansah said.
But it was Ansah’s bragging about how he had carried out a love affair with a super-slayer of a girl called Abenaa Gloria at Koforidua, uner the noses of her parents, that caught my imagination the most. He had been able to go and sleep in the girl’s house several times, he claimed, without her parents ever getting to know, although they lived in a two-storey house! Once, he had been able to camp her in his house for two days by persuading her not to go with a choristers’ group on a trip to Kumase.
If I went with him to Koforidua, would he be able to get Amanoa to me? I asked.
'Oh, easy job. They live very close to us — near Jackson’s Park,' Ansah said.
So I began to save money. My biggest expense at the time was to buy food from a nice woman called Afia Kwaakyewaa, who sold banku and very delicious palm-soup, in which beautifully-prepared cow-tail swam amidst very sweet smoked herrings (emmane). I usually bought three pence banku and sixpence cow-tail, and she dashed me one emmane on top of that. I now began to buy only two pence banku and three pence cow tail. As a result, she stopped her practice of dashing me emmane. That hurt a lot.
I also cut down on my purchase of newspapers and began to read Ansah’s copy of the only paper he bought — the Sunday Mirror. Strangely, he called it the Sunday Mirrored! This should have put me on my guard, for anyone who claimed to have a Standard Seven Certificate and yet could not correctly call the name of the Sunday Mirror ought to have had his bragging rights questioned in other respects as well.