The WriterI kept pressing Ansah about the day he would go to Koforidua, so that I could go with him to see Amanoah. But he didn't seem in too much of a hurry to go. I was often tempted to use the money I had been saving up for the trip on other things. But I held firm.
Until the UTC shop near the Asiakwa market brought in some shirts called Doctor the like of which I had never seen before. Even on the shelves, the shirts were the whitest I had ever seen. In one's hands, they shone through the cellophane wrapping like the rays of the sun. Even today, after all the money I've spent buying what seems like billions of shirts, I can't say I have ever seen anything whiter than a Doctor shirt.
Its whiteness was strange — it had a faint suggestion of bluishness to as if a very tiny amount of that mysterious stuff we used to brighten our whites, Delstree Blue , had been applied to the whitening process. Fascinated by the way they shone, I used to just go and stand at UTC and look and look and look at them.
The shopkeeper, a guy called Kwaku Antwi, must have thought I was mad too be staring and staring at a mere shirt like that.
But not only were the Doctor shirts celestially white, they also had stiff necks, or collars!
I can hear you ask: Were you a reverend minister?
Were you a ballroom dancer?
In that case, what was the use of a stiff neck to you? I can hear you continue to ask.
By asking that question, you have exposed yourself to be someone who does not understand style; fashion doesn't interest you; you don't grasp the idea of being a guy.
A guy wanted to be distinctive. He wanted to wear something that no-one else in his immediate group also wore. So, to wear an impossibly white Doctor shirt would please a guy immensely. But if it also sported a stiff neck, which held the collar impossibly high and almost tightly around the neck, it would give the guy such status as no amount of money could buy.
I mean, if you had money, someone needed to tell others about it before your rich status could be revealed. But if you wore something like a Doctor shirt, you immediately made a statement about your taste. In effect you were saying to your group — and the world at large — See me Lakayana with my spear! (Apologies to the Oxford English Reader.)
Yeah. You were saying, without uttering a single word, Hey guys, you think you are something, don't you? Well, this is my shirt. It is white. Bloody white. I challenge you to wear anything as white as that. You can't? of course you can't! Hey, let me tell you something else. It's also got a stiff neck! Where's yours? I bet even if you had the money, you wouldn't have it in you to recognise and acquire a nice thing like it, right? Can you me? [match me?] You call yourselves guys. Ha!
A Doctor shirt cost one pound and five shillings. Now, in those days, one of the jobs open to most school leavers in our group was that of a pupil teacher — someone who had a standard seven certificate but had received no teacher training. It paid seven pounds per month. Even an F.A (Field Assistant with the same standard seven certificate employed by the Cocoa Rehabilitation or CR department) earned under ten pounds. So, for anyone in our group to spend one pound five on a single shirt, was unimaginable. I mean, it could pay an FA's rent for a whole month. No, one wouldn't spend all that money on a singe shirt. Unless, of course, one was a guy.
Well, I unloaded all my savings and acquired a Doctor shirt as soon as it became practicable for me to do so. The first person I showed it to was Yaw Ansah. But instead of expressing appreciation for my coup , his manner towards me changed imperceptibly. He hardly spoke to me unless I asked him a direct question. If he was playing cards with members of our group and I joined in the game, he would find an excuse and leave soon afterwards — not so quickly that anyone would notice. But I got a feeling all right that he was avoiding me If I cracked a joke which made everyone laugh, he alone would show a frozen face, or if the joke was particularly good, laugh with the tips of his top teeth..
Thus it was that I even learnt about his impending trip to Koforidua in a round-about way. Someone said something about doing it on Monday and then said, Oh, but Ansah you won't be back by then, will you? Upon which Ansah said, Oh yes, I will. If I get up very early on Monday morning, I can catch a Kumasi lorry to Tafo and join the Post Office van from there. The Post Office van always arrives here at 8.30 a.m.
Ah? So Ansah was going to Koforidua at the weekend? Why hadn't he told me? What about all the plans I thought he and I had made about me going with him to see the beautiful Amanoah?
Is it true you are going to Koforidua at the weekend? I asked in shock.
Yes. he answered.
But — but….? Can I come with you? I blurted out, with my heart in my mouth.
If you like, he said.
This wasn't encouraging. I'd bought my Doctor shirt with Amanoah precisely in mind. The day I would wear it to see her would be the day she would open her arms to me, I had fantasised. And now, the guy upon whom the whole entire enterprise depended said I could go with him if I liked?
I've heard it said that men in love think with their waists, not their heads. It may or may not be true. All I can say is that I thought that armed as I was with my stupendous Doctor shirt, I was invincible.
I would go with Ansah, whether he was being friendly towards me or not. After all, what was his use, really? Merely to get me into the presence of Amanoah, wasn't it?
As soon as she saw me, she would be swept off her feet, and it would be she who would arrange things — a secret meeting-place, refreshments and things like that. Ho — she might even take me to a dance by the Koforidua Casino Dance Band on the Saturday night — everyone spoke of 'Saturday Night at Koforidua.'
At the very least, we could go to the cinema together. Koforidua got all the best films only a week or so after they had been shown in Accra, Kumase and Takoradi. Ho, ho!. I would have a good time, with or without Ansah's help. Just let me get there.