Despite knowing, from observing other people, that it might not be a very nice thing to get drunk, I was determined to experience the condition myself. IN PERSON -- I'll let you know! For no matter how hard I tried to imagine it, I couldn't conjure its likeness into existence in my system! Okay, a drunken person talked too much and did not make much sense to anyone else. But so what? A lot of people did the same thing all the time – without going anywhere near a drink! A drunken person could not walk in a straight line? Ha – ever seen a bow-legged person? If you suggested that he or she walked in a zigzag manner out of intoxication, you might receive a sharp blow on the cheek from a very sober practitioner of master of the pugilistic arts, bowed legs and all!
No: there was something peculiar about inebriation that needed to be experienced at an experimental level to be properly understood. I mean, even Yaw Charles, who was never short of words when it came to boasting about what a “tired” guy he was ("experienced " fellow to you!) because of his numerous travels (Accra, Brekum, Winneba, Kajetia, Wampaamu -- to name a few of the places whose description he used to dazzle me with) couldn't put it adequately in words. Well, just towards the Christmas following which there would be a New Year that would enable me to reach the milestone age of thirteen years, my desire to “get drunk and see” took on an intensity that became unbearable. This was fuelled in part by the way Yaw Charles and his peers talked incessantly about what they had done at Christmas time in the past.
“Do you remember that particular 24th Night when we raided Mr Addae's “experimental farm” and ate all his European-type bananas?”
“Hahahahaha! Those “European” bananas were nice, eh? I think their proper name is “dwarf” bananas or something like that. They are so unlike ours; I mean, they don't grow to any height at all before bearing fruit but hover above the ground at only three or four feet tall. So you don't need to cut the fruits down with that forked knife on a stick called asorsowa! You just bend down and pick the fruits with your bare hands. And even when they ripe, they retain their greenish colour!”
“How I wish I had gone to hide in the bush near Mr Addae's farm the next morning to watch his face when he first realised that his farm had been mercilessly raided!”
“Hahahahaha! If he had caught you! The guy was very mean. I mean – he got mad at you if he caught you merely staring at his guava or cinnamon trees! So if he'd actually caught you in his farm, he would have got one of his Zabrama labourets to whip the hell out of you. Do you remember how well-built they were?” "Do I remember? The son of one of them was my good friend. He was called Kwadwo Afoakwa. We used to tease him because his father nearly got drowned in the Birem river one day! He was allowed free rein in the farm and once, when he wanted me to do his homework for him, he pretended that he could command "dwarves" [mmoatia] to fetch me pieces of brand new chalk from the banana trees!" "And you believed him?" “Ho -- I was so astonished that I didn't think about it. If you'd got brand new chalk, like those used by your teacher picked straight out of a box, cost one penny each, would you mind where it was coming from?" "Hahahahaha! The funny thing is that Mr Addae got his revenge on us without our knowing it: those dwarf bananas of his stank awfully on one's hands so their scent remained in one's cloth or school uniform all day long. I don't know how it was that those bananas were so much unlike ours. I mean, ours don't emit any bad scent at all to speak of, unless they really rot.”
“Hahahaha! Rotten bananas!”
“Hmmm! But seriously, that Mr Addae must have been an extraordinary character, for he also grew asowa, (red “sweet berries” that turn everything you taste sweet, after you'd eaten them). How could children resist raiding a farm that had things like that in it?”
“I think he was what is called a “botanist”. He cultivated all manner of plants to see which would grow well and which would die. I think he even tried to plant what Europeans call “apples” and “grapes”, which only grow in temperate conditions, in his farm, although he knew he was doing this under a tropical climate!"
“Hey! That reminds me -- I once ate “grapes” in Accra! They are sold in some of the Syrian stores there. It tasted like an amazing fruit that used to grow wild in our forests called “mewe-wo-nua” (they were as “sweet” as someone else's female siblings hahahaha!!) I wonder where have all those nice wild fruits have gone to? I only tasted me-we-wonua once in my life and I've hankered after it ever since. No chance of ever tasting it again, I think! It was wonderful! Just wonderful!".
"The disppearance of fruits like that is the fault of the timber companies. When they cut down a big log, every small tree nearby gets squashed to death. Even when the trees and their saplings don't get smashed up by the big timber trees, they can be killed off by the gruesome process through which the huge logs are dragged along the ground, on horizontal stilts, to be lifted onto those nasty-looking timber lorries parked a distance away from where the trees are cut.” I must say I liked listening to these conversations of Yaw Charles and his pals. I learnt so much from them because they had undergone so many varied experiences. I was frightened, listening to them, by how fast things were changing in our country. A “fantastic” wild fruit tree called mewe-wo-nua [who knows its English or Latin name, I wonder] had already disappeared,according to them. And they were right, for I for one didn't know what mewe-wo-nua tasted like, although I was prasctically in the same generation as themselves.What next? Nt3 (a tree that only grows in the thick forest and whose fruits are dried and used to play the game of “marbles” by kids); oware (a tree whose fruits are used in a popular board game enjoyed by people who have a very good grasp of mental arithmetic!) or even atorley (a fruit denominated in English books on Botany as “soursop” ?
But these lessons, interesting though they were, constituted only a peripheral part of what I really wanted, namely, to know what it was like to get drunk! I finally concluded, after eavesdropping on many conversations, that on 24thDecember (that is Christmas Eve) celebrations would be so wide-spread and exciting that even if one who was below the drinking age managed to get drunk, everyone else would be so preoccupied with their own enjoyment of things that the brat would stand a very good chance of not being found out! Well, what was the nature of this excitement that occurred only on 24thNIGHT? There was, first and foremost, sheer, uncontrollable NOISE! I mean indescribable, raucous NOISE! All manner of imitations of explosive fireworks, called “rockets”, as well as home-made guns and toy pistols, were procured and exploded incessantly all along the single "main street" of our town! Explosive toys of all descriptions were bought in such a frenzy that if one didn't go to the shops in time, one wouldn't find any to buy at all, even if one had money. (And one would have been saving pennies all along, to buy rockets for 24th Night.) On the day itself, things started sporadically from about 9pm and reached their climax at midnight. By midnight of 24th Night, people's sadistic instincts would have been liberated by drink and risen to the surface of their beings and they would take great delight in throwing firework devices into dancing crowds! They would light a “rocket”, hear it hissing ….”Shhhhhhhhhhh.....” and then hurl it into the crowd. It would explode “BOOOOOOM!” and people would run helter-skelter. There was one particularly nasty device called "the cripple" which didn't rise up when lit, but crept around people's feet, emitting booms all the time as it danced round them, rightening the daylights out of those who were not aware of its presence. People jumped all over the place when such explosions occurred near them. But no-one was upset -- laughter greeted every act that caused discomfiture to others. Everyone accepted it all in a sprit of fun. Thankfully, no-one was ever seriously hurt, even though no-one wanted to wait and see whether what had been thrown near his or her could cause injury or not. They just jumped and RAN! after an explosion. And as they ran, they yelled, in fright, which changed to delight as soon as they realised that the devices had missed them! The more clever revellers knew how to pick a spot where the greatest consternation would be caused if a device was smuggled into the crowd. The louder the yells that greeted one's explosive device, the greater was one's triumph. When it was realised that there were more excitable people at a particular spot, "bomberrs" would troopthere, watch them regroup after an "attack" and then let go again: BOOOOOOM!....BOOOOM! And everyone would scamper again, yelling in fright at first but soon turning it into into good-natured laughter. This went on all night. The "gunners" would chase the "runners" from spot to spot. Thus, by the time everyone went to bed in the early hours of Christmas Day, they would have had their fill of thrills.