Timothy Keyeke Mbombo
“Oh God I’m gone! Finished!” That was the cry of horror that pierced through Bofua’s poorly-lit and dingy bedroom into his wife’s ears that chilly early Friday morning.
At first, his wife thought that her husband’s yelling was due to the violent harmattan wind that was lifting the roof and hurling it back repeatedly with a deafening crescendo.
“Holy Maria!” Theresa made the sign of the cross and squawked.
Instinctively, she cast the old broom aside that she was sweeping the littered earthen floor of the living room with. The bundle of broom, held together with a twine of rag, scattered into little sticks raising more dust particles into the already stuffy cubicle. Though she was heavy with child, she mustered strength and scampered towards her husband. He was sitting on their bamboo bed with his hands supporting his head; his scraggly beard drooling.
“What’s the matter? Is My mother in-law all right?” she clapped her hands, raised them up and whispered “God spare that poor old woman till we cross over to America where the sun never sets.”
Bofua sighed, shocked his head, but said nothing.
He inhaled deeply and exhaled in the same manner, and without lifting his head up, hollered, “We’re drowned.”
“How? Is her condition worsening?” she snapped.
Bofua pumped air into his jaws and pointed under the bed. Theresa was confused. He lifted the rickety bamboo bed with one hand and dragged an old trunk out from underneath. Without uttering a word, he flung its lid open pointing to the shreds.
When her eyes caught the charred pieces of papers scattered in the old box that also contained some locally woven clothes and beads fabricated from an elephant’s tusk, she stood aghast and with a cry of lamentation heaped her huge hips on the dusty floor.
“How did the rats get in?” Theresa exploded.
“Ask me woman,” Bofua snorted.
“And with this baby I’m carrying...and Mama’s condition…oh.”
“All my certificates...My travelling documents…”
“Hmmm… and you’re supposed to appear before the Whiteman next week,” Theresa piped.
The impending appointment at the embassy in the capital city tickled Theresa and she shot from the floor. She untied her loin and fastened it tighter. She then bolted straight to the little wooden window at the opposite end of the bed and forced it open. She spilled the content of the trunk on the floor. Cockroaches came out in their numbers and disappeared into crevices in the mud-walled house. When she tried to lift one of her husband’s caps from the box, a rabid rat--the size of a porcupine squeaked and dashed out. She chased it. It ran into the living room and hid behind a carved stool where a bucket of groundnuts stood. She pushed the seat spilling the peanuts. The rat attempted entering a hole on the wall, but its tale was stuck out. She held it and bashed the rat on the floor. When she came back, she met her husband with about eight little rats in his white shirt making weird noises.
“Dump those things in a pit toilet,” Theresa cried fraying her nose.
Bofua’s entire life and even that of his posterity were buried in that destroyed file. His first school leaving certificate right up to his advanced level certificate were in the folder. Strange enough, the couple decided to comb the entire house to see if a miracle could happen. But this was bizarre because they could clearly see the clammy and moldy remnants of Bofua’s documents in smithereens. After a futile search in the bedroom, which could not even fit two king size beds, they crawled to the sooty living room which equally served as their kitchen, but gave up the attempt.
This was mid-January: the heart of the dry season. The sun had fully risen and the intensity of its heat conducted by the rusted corrugated iron sheets with holes made matters unbearable. Rivulets of sweat kept screaming down the skin of both husband and wife.
Their luck now lay on the photocopies. But Bofua had forgotten where they were since he had never used them. He was less enthusiastic looking for them because even if he found them, he would only get more infuriated. He had not dressed up ever since he woke up. His wife’s faded cicam made from cheap fabric was still wrapped around his waspy waist over his white t-shirt-turned-brown.
When he graduated from high school, he taught in the Community Primary School for a year as a contract teacher before joining the rural council as a clerk after the expiration of his teaching agreement. Through encouragement from friends, he played the American DV Lottery that brings immigrants legally from third world countries to the U.S. It had seemed like a dream but there was every indication that this trip would transform him from his hellish state. Everything had been going as planned. He had informed close family members and they were gathering resources to see that his preparations and eventual journey went smoothly. He was set to leave for the land where honey and milk gushed out continuously and the streets were paved with gold and silver in less than a year. This was the Canaan Bofua and his wife dreamed of daily.
Though Bofua was a young man, village life and much labor on his farm made the thirty-year-old villager looked like a gnarled octogenarian. As the successor of his late father, he never removed the cap from his bald head ever since he was enthroned, except when bathing. So much kola nuts and palm-wine coated his teeth and made his voice hoarse. He had a gourd of palm-wine which he refilled after every other day. There was some left-over in it. He asked his wife to bring it and his drinking horn. As he guzzled the frothy stuff he kept tapping his right foot on the bare floor and muttering: “I’ve been buried alive.” After quaffing the dregs, he instructed his wife to add more pepper to the soup she had prepared the previous day. Ndieh and smoked tilapia mixed with egusi were her husband’s favorite. As he relished the meal, Theresa rushed to the village stream to wash some clothes.
The footpath to the stream was not so bushy since it was the dry season. The grass on both sides of the road had withered under the scorching heat of the sun. The earth looked baked and dusty. Dust bathed her cracked feet. As she trod, she kept muttering the rosary in Creole: “Holy Maria beg God for us: bad people.” The trees in the vicinity had shed their leaves, and some of the trees looked as if they could never be revived. After the laundry, she came home, but her husband was not in. The nature of the house showed that he was not far away. His food was unfinished and still left uncovered.
For curiosity’s sake, she decided to check her box left behind by one White missionary, before exposing the washed clothes on the rope outside. Behold a stained blue file was staring at her in the derelict box. “Nyui mbih. Who says God is not alive!” With trembling hands, she opened the file and there lay all the original copies of her husband’s documents. She vibrated with mixed emotions. She clutched the file to her chest and tried calling her husband. The tempest, the chirping of birds, the bleating of goats, and the grunting of pigs outside drowned her scream. She dashed out without shoes and jiggled behind the house yelling in excitement.
She heard a weird sound coming from some dry banana and plantain leaves. She called once more and waved the file. Bofua appeared from the pit toilet behind the plantain, banana, and coffee trees buttoning his trousers. He looked confused as he dashed the bundle of ropes in his hands to the ground, staring at his toes in his sandals made of worn-out tires like a child.
When he saw the file being brandished, he rushed to his wife and lifted her to the bedroom as she explained where she got it. The rats had chopped but the photocopies. “This drab and gray life will soon be cast behind our backs,” Theresa cooed as she lay nestled in her husband’s warm embrace.
As the bed creaked joining them in the euphoria, a cry of lamentation from outside made him halt. He knew that was his sister’s voice. He thought of the nightmares that had afflicted him for three consecutive nights—he was tilling snakes-infested-soil near the village burying. Bofua and Theresa listened to the wailing again.
It was a dirge.
Bofua’s mother, who had been strapped in her bed for decades by a rare form of elephantiasis which quadrupled her limbs and thighs, had finally crossed the Styx!