09 January 2011

Definition of a Miracle by Farida N. Bedwei (book excerpt)

At breakfast Mummy announced that she was taking Emefa to Labadi Polyclinic given that she was still under the weather. Whilst preparing breakfast Emefa had been overcome with the need to throw up and run out to the bathroom, leaving the pot Quaker Oats on the stove unattended. Daddy was home, it being a Saturday and he offered to take us to the beach. We cheered loudly at this for we hadn’t been to the beach since we moved down, though we’d driven past it a number of times on the way to Tema.

Daddy said, “Why don’t we all go together, that way we can drop you and Emefa off at the polyclinic on our way and pick you up later?”

Mummy paused in the act of buttering her bread, pondering over the logistics. “Naah, you can drop us off but we’ll just take a taxi back since I don’t know what time we’ll finish.”

“But isn’t it just an ordinary check-up? It shouldn’t take more than an hour.” He took a sip of his coffee.

“There may be a long queue when we get there,” she replied. “Its alright, we’ll just take a taxi back, you and the children go on and have a nice time at the beach.”

Standing up, she picked up hers and my plates. “It’d be nice to have a bit of quiet in the house so I can catch up on my studying, so please don’t rush back on my account.”

Carrying the plates to the kitchen, she called over her shoulder, “Bash, when you finish eating, help Jalal clear the table and wash up the plates since Emefa is lying down in her room. I’m going to have my bath and get ready.”

“Hey Ayorkor, I forgot to ask, how was the convention last night?” Daddy asked, getting up from the table, carrying his plate to the kitchen.

Mummy appeared in the kitchen doorway with a guarded expression. “It was very nice, very inspiring and powerful. By the way it was a crusade not a convention.”

Coming back from the kitchen, Daddy said, “I stand corrected. I’m going to warm up the engine. I’ll be outside.”

A look of relief came over Mummy’s face. “Ok.”

Turning to us she asked, “Do you know where your swimming costumes are?”

“Mine are in my panties drawer,” I replied. “Mummy, may I wear the pink bikini?”

“Does it still fit? If it does, you can wear it. I’ll help you change when I finish taking my bath. Basheera, Jalal you didn’t answer me. Do you know where your costumes are?” she asked.

“I think mine is still in the suitcase with some of my clothes—those which will not fit into my wardrobe. By the way, when is the carpenter bringing my chest of drawers so I can unpack all my stuff and put the suitcase away? It’s getting tiresome, having to pull the suitcase out from under the bed to take out my underwear whenever I am dressing after having a bath,” Bash complained.

“The last time he was here, he said he had finished making your chest of drawers but wanted to finish the bookshelves for your room as well as the ones for the study so as to bring them all at once,” she replied.

“But that was like two weeks ago; shouldn’t he have finished everything by now?” Bash asked, tying the bread plastic.

“I’ll ask your father about it, maybe you can pass by his workshop on the way back from the beach since it is opposite the beach, around the Trade Fair Site,” Mummy said.

She departed for the bathroom then and leaving us (well them) to finish clearing the table. I crawled back to my room to dig out my pink bikini, lay it on the bed and waited for Mummy to come and help me change into it. Bash came in a short while after, pulling off her Minnie Mouse nightshirt as she entered. Looking at her kneeling and pulling the suitcase out from under the bed to remove the swimsuit, I could appreciate her complaints—it sure as heck was inconvenient. Mummy came in a few minutes later, changed me into the bikini and pulled my oversized Donald Duck T-shirt over it. It reached down to my mid-thigh, thus I didn’t have to wear shorts underneath.

Mummy said there was no point putting on the braces for me since they’d be taken off at the beach, so I left the crutches behind as well.

We all piled into the car and drove to the polyclinic to drop Mummy and Emefa off first before continuing to the beach. Emefa was looking really tired and sickly; I hoped it wasn’t anything serious. Mummy reminded Daddy about the carpentry works currently outstanding and asked him to pass by the carpenter’s workshop on our way back home to find out the status of our stuff.

We had a pleasant morning at the beach, spending about three hours frolicking in the water and building sandcastles. The beach was a bit crowded, littered with people of different stations and races. There were a few white people, who looked more red than white from sitting in the hot sun. There were also persons of Lebanese descent whose olive complexion wasn’t as vulnerable to sunburn as the Caucasians. Then there were my fellow countrymen and women, most of them the natives of the Labadi Township. Quite an interesting mix, I found. Jalal made friends with the Labadi boys, joining them in a football game a few metres away from where we were seated. There were two red flags mounted on the shore about 20 meters apart, marking the ‘safe zone’. The safe zone was the safest area and swimmers were advised to swim between the two flags. The waves were quite rough, paying homage to the ferocity the Atlantic Ocean is reputed for. Sometimes you could see tiny tidal waves forming along the shores which a small child could be sucked into.

Daddy took me into the water a few times, supporting my upper body whilst I kicked and paddled my legs as a form of exercise. Back in London, going to the pool once a week had been part of my physiotherapy routine.

Around noon, Bash started complaining she was hungry. Daddy bought some kebabs which we ate on the way to the carpenter’s workshop.

The carpenter wasn’t there but his apprentice showed us our shelves and chest of drawers which he said was still wet from the glossing sheen which had been sprayed on it to make it look polished. He assured us that by Monday it’d have dried and they’d be delivered in the afternoon.

Satisfied, we headed home, tired and still a bit hungry, looking forward to eating lunch and settling down to finish my Famous Five novel. Timmy was currently missing and I couldn’t wait to find out where he had ended up.

As we entered the house I could hear Mummy and Emefa talking in the kitchen, well Mummy was doing the talking, Emefa was just crying.

Standing in the doorway we could see Mummy looking crossly down at Emefa who was kneeling in front of her, clutching her slit, begging her not to send her away.

After handing me over to my brother with a, “Jalal here, hold Zaara”, Daddy entered the kitchen and asked what was going on.

“Why don’t you ask her, ask her what the doctor said was wrong with her.” Mummy went to lean against the kitchen counter, folding her hands across her chest looking down at where Emefa was still kneeling in the middle of the kitchen.

Noticing us hovering in the doorway, she shouted at us to go to our rooms. Not in this lifetime, we hid behind the kitchen wall to listen in.

“Emefa, what is wrong? What did the doctor say?” Daddy was clearly bewildered by the whole scene.

“Massa, I beg you don’t send me back. I have nowhere to go. I—” she broke off sobbing.

“Nobody is going to send you anywhere, now tell me what is going on,” Daddy said.

“Perhaps you should find out what is wrong with her before you make such promises,” Mummy chided caustically.

“Isn’t that what I’ve been trying to get out of either of you for the past five minutes?” Daddy said in exasperation.

Mummy tapped her foot a few times before saying, “She’s pregnant, about three months by the nurse’s estimation.”

Bash and I let out a shocked gasp; we knew only bad girls got pregnant before marriage. We’d never have guessed Emefa was a bad girl especially since she was usually seen reading a tattered Gideon’s Bible whenever she was idle. Jalal shushed us and we turned back to listen to what was going on in the kitchen.

“What?” Daddy exclaimed with a look of disbelief.

“Who? How? Where?” he stammered, clearly shaken by the announcement.

“What is annoying me most about this whole thing is she knew all along that she was pregnant. Yet, she made me go through the trouble of taking her to the hospital and waiting in the queue for two hours to see the doctor. Only for the doctor to tell us something she’s known for the past two months,” Mummy went on.

“Massa, please I didn’t know,” Emefa looked beseechingly at Daddy, wiping her tears with the corner of her dress.

“Oh please, I am woman, ok? I have had three children so you can’t tell me you don’t know after you missed your period the first month. You knew—”

“Madame please I didn’t—”

“Shut up!” Mummy shouted, pointing down at her for emphasis. “You knew and yet you didn’t tell me, not even when I asked you what was wrong with you. Now you are refusing to tell us who the father is, huh? Yoo, you will look after your baby all by yourself then, if you are still refusing to tell me who impregnated you.”

Daddy asked quietly, “Emefa, who did this to you? Who is the father?”

She mumbled a name under her breath, her head bent down.

“I didn’t get that, who did you say it was?” Daddy asked.

“Kodjo,” she repeated meekly.

“Pray do tell, who the hell is Kodjo?” Mummy demanded angrily, pushing against the counter and walking towards Emefa.

“Ayorkor, calm down. Let me handle this,” he gestured for her to move away from Emefa, since she had started crying again.

Mummy threw her hands up in exasperation and went back to lean against the counter.

“Who is Kodjo?” Daddy asked.

“Kodjo is the boy who works with the carpenter. The one who came to take the measurements for the bed and the shelves,” she said, sniffling.

I don’t know who was more shocked by this revelation—the parents or us, the eavesdropping children.

Recovering from the shock, Mummy let out a peal of laughter. “Aah, now I understand why the shelves aren’t ready yet. Why would they be? The one who is supposed to be making them is spending time, too much time, fooling around with the maid to actually settle down to get some work done, when and where did this encounter take place?”

“The first time it happened was before you came, Madame. It was when he first brought you and master’s bed from the workshop.” she replied timidly.

Daddy looked really flabbergasted now. “You mean, since then? But that was a couple of weeks or so after you started work?”

“Yes master,” she confirmed.

A sudden appalling thought occurred to Mummy. “Emefa, tell me something? Did you two have sex on my bed?”

There was silence, as the parents exchanged horrifying glances.

“Did you?” Mummy shouted, causing Emefa to jump and me to jump from where I was listening in.

She burst into tears, confirming Mummy’s suspicion.

“Sulley, get this girl out of my sight before I do something I’ll regret.” Mummy ground out between clenched teeth.

Realising how close his wife was to striking Emefa, he quickly dragged her out into the yard, where he continued to speak to her in hushed tones.

We fled to our rooms not wanting to be caught and be on the receiving end of our mother’s wrath. We heard the clog-clog of her heels in the corridor as she stomped towards her bedroom. Bash opened the door slightly, peeping down the corridor trying to see what Mummy was doing, when we suddenly heard her shouting for Jalal.

Opening his door, Jalal responded, “Yes Mummy?”

“Come and help me with something,” she called.

Passing our door we asked him what he was going to do. He shrugged and headed towards the master bedroom with the reluctance of one going to meet his executioner. We knew from past experience that Mummy had the tendency to take up her anger at somebody else on you, so we tried to steer clear of her when we heard her arguing with Daddy or scolding one of us.

Hearing the sound of furniture moving, Bash and I got curious and decided to brave the lion’s den.

“Oh good there you are, Bash come and help me remove the bed sheets.” Mummy and Jalal had moved the bed to the middle of the room and were in the process of stripping it down.

“Are you moving the bed?” Bash asked, pulling at the sheets.

“No, I am going to get a new bed,” she replied.

My siblings and I exchanged bewildered looks but we dared not utter a word.

“Do you want to come for the ride?” she asked, picking up her bag to leave once the bed sheets had been folded and put on the chair.

“Yes,” we said.

“Ok, let’s go.” Mummy picked me up, carrying me on her side as she walked outside to where Daddy and Emefa were still talking.

Emefa jumped back when she saw Mummy coming through the kitchen door, the mosquito netting door swinging back with such force the hinges protested loudly.

Not sparing her a glance, she said, “Sulley, where are the car keys? The children and I are going to get a new bed.”

Daddy looked at her in astonishment. “Is there something wrong with the bed? Has it broken down or something?”

Mummy shot Emefa a dirty look. “Well I find I cannot sleep in the bed now that I know it was first christened by our maid and her lover.”

“I think you are overreacting, I don’t think that is a justifiable reason to get a new bed,” Daddy protested. “Besides, you have slept in it for the past two months and it’s not as if you are in danger of catching a disease or something.”

She arched an eyebrow caustically and said, “After Adam and Eve ate the apple, they realised it was inappropriate for them to walk around as naked as jaybirds. Upon realisation of a circumstance unacceptable for the well being of humans they usually initiate a change. I am not going to sleep in that bed so you can either sleep in it alone or you can join me in the new bed. Now will you please give me the keys?”

A wise man knows when to concede defeat and Daddy was a wise man; he gave her the keys and asked her where she was going to buy a bed from at 2:00 p.m. on a Saturday, considering most shops closed half-day on Saturday.

“Don’t worry about that,” she replied, turning on her heel walking towards the car.

Putting me in the backseat (for Bash was already waiting in the passenger seat), she called, “Just make sure that girl has packed out of the house by the time I get back.”

With that she slammed the car door and started the engine, before reversing through the gate Jalal was holding open. After closing the gate, he joined me in the backseat and off we sped in search of a Queen sized bed and mattress. I would have thought it’d have made more sense to simply change the mattress instead of the entire bed, but my mother was an extremist, it was all or nothing for her. I guess that is what made her a good lawyer—the extreme she was willing to go, to defend what she believed in.

We drove to Auntie Kai’s place in Adabraka and enlisted her help in finding a carpenter who had a bed available for sale. Auntie Kai and Grace joined us and she directed Mummy towards a carpentry shop near Laterbiokoshie, another suburb not far from where we went for the crusade the previous night.

Fortunately, the shop was open and Mummy was able to find a suitable bed. After haggling over the price for about twenty minutes, they were able to come to an agreement both parties were satisfied with. The carpenter sent one of his boys to get a truck to transport the bed. At least the bed came with a mattress so we didn’t have to go traipsing around looking for a mattress as well.

After loading the bed into the truck, the carpenter and his boy closed up the shop and followed us home in the truck.

When we got home neither Daddy nor Emefa was home. It took about two hours to dismantle the old bed and move it to the guest bedroom before reassembling it as it was too wide to go through the doorway no matter the angle which was tried. The new bed was slightly smaller and didn’t have to be dismantled before setting it up in the bedroom.

Grace, Bash and I were playing in our bedroom whilst Jalal was hanging around the carpenter trying to help. Mummy and Auntie Kai were in the bedroom keeping an eye on things whilst conversing.

Daddy came back in a taxi soon after the carpenter had finished; we were sitting in the car, about to leave to go and drop Auntie Kai and Grace back at home. After greeting Auntie Kai, he told Mummy he had taken Emefa to the transport yard to take the Hohoe bus.

“Good, I don’t want to see the likes of her again,” she declared. “Kai was telling me one of the apprentices at her salon has a younger sister who’s looking for a job. So she’ll ask her to bring her when she sees her on Monday.”

“Ok, I was thinking of asking my mother or Fusena to send us someone from my hometown, but if you have it covered then that’s fine,” he said.

“Oh I definitely have it covered, there’s no need to bring someone all the way from the North when there are a lot of girls in Accra looking for jobs,” Mummy said firmly.

“Yoo, I hear you,” he replied. “Well I’ll see you when you get back. Kai thanks for everything.”

“No problem, I’ll see you next week,” Auntie Kai replied, waving as Mummy reversed onto the street.

“Over my dead body will I allow one of those Hausa girls in my home,” Mummy muttered as we drove off.

The excitement of the day rendered us too exhausted to wake up early enough for the eight o’clock mass at the Anglican Church we’d been attending, the following morning. So we stayed at home. Mummy took the opportunity to clean and rearrange the kitchen as she saw fit. She then enlisted Bash and Jalal to sweep the house whilst she scrubbed the bathrooms. The house was really dirty. After pushing the living room chairs aside, they found Emefa had not been sweeping under them as she had been instructed to do. This got Mummy enraged, with her mumbling how she wished Emefa hadn’t been fired the day before so she could fire her now.

By 2 p.m. the entire house had been swept, scrubbed and mopped. We had our bath, and then took a drive to Tema to visit Mummy’s father’s younger brother—Uncle Mark.

The following day, Mummy skipped class to stay home with us and receive the shelving and drawers being delivered by the carpenter. On their way to the transport yard on Saturday, Daddy and Emefa had passed the carpenter’s workshop to confront Kodjo—the apprentice, on his misconduct. The carpenter had returned and was brought up to date on the new development; he was equally appalled by his apprentice’s behaviour. After apologising profusely to Daddy, he gave Kodjo his walking papers, telling him not to show his face again.

He again apologised profusely to Mummy when he came to fix the shelving. He reassured Mummy that nothing like that would ever happen again. He’d personally supervise any visits rendered to our home. Mummy gracefully accepted the apology. After he had installed the chest of drawers, Bash quickly transferred her packed clothing to her new set of drawers. Jalal and Bash then proceeded to arrange our books and some of the toys on the newly mounted shelves.

In the evening Mummy got a call from Auntie Kai asking her to pass by the following day after her class to interview the potential house help, who would be coming to the salon with her sister in the morning. We were being dumped at Grandma’s in the morning so Mummy could go to school, since for one reason or the other the parents were reluctant to leave the three of us at home alone. Jalal was almost thirteen for crying out loud, what did they think we’d do—burn the house down?


Our new house-help’s name was Akua and she was from Koforidua, in the eastern region. Akua looked to be older than Emefa was, probably in her late twenties. She seemed more experienced and exposed, and had already been introduced to the desires of the flesh, for which the end result was a five year old daughter, who was living with her mother in Koforidua. Maybe this would make her slightly more discriminating and reduce the probability of her jumping into bed with sweet-talking workmen.

She was equally nice and serviceable and we got on very well with her. Another feather in her cap was her culinary expertise; she knew how to make all kinds of dishes, from waakye to pancakes. We started having pancakes and French toast for breakfast instead of chunky slices of bread slathered with tasteless margarine. I couldn’t believe my luck!

Auntie Sandra finally came back from Somanya after more than a month; her mother was much better now and had been left in the care of her cousin. Now that her mother was out of the woods she had the time and inclination to butt into my life again! She wanted to arrange the prayer meeting for me with her Prophet since we were unable to attend the crusade. Mummy, getting ready to write the Bar exam, asked her to postpone it for another week, till after the exam. Auntie Sandra, after consulting the Prophet, came back to say he was travelling to Lagos for a convention of Church leaders and would continue to Warri for a two-week miracle crusade. As such, he would be gone for at least month. She had booked us an appointment for the first week after he got back to Accra. I was grateful for the reprieve.

The ship carrying our stuff finally docked at the Tema Harbour after nearly four months on the high seas. It should not have taken this long but it had made various stops on the way. From here its next and final stop was Lagos, from where it’d return to London. It took Daddy another three weeks to clear our things at the harbour. After paying so much on import tax, he had to spend almost half of that amount greasing the palms of the Customs officers, clearing agents, dockhands, you just name it. Everybody wanted their cut and to get your things out quickly you just gave it to them. It was unethical, but that is the way things are done here and the sooner you adapted, the easier your life became. When the cargo was finally being offloaded, Daddy had to supervise the loading of the rented truck, lest some sticky fingers decided to help themselves to our hard-earned stuff. However, the fingers were stickier than Daddy anticipated, as whilst unpacking we realised they had helped themselves to a few sets of crockery, an iron and the pressure cooker and a few other negligible items.

Mummy cursed them roundly upon these discoveries, she was so not amused by all this and she blamed Daddy for not keeping a closer eye on the dockhands when they were offloading the ship.

Daddy, who was in the middle of unpacking a box of children books, whirled to glare at her, quick anger rising in his eyes. “Really? So I was supposed to, with just two eyes, keep track of the route every single box took between the ship and the truck, eh? Or perhaps you would rather I had carried the boxes myself from the ship to the truck.”

Mummy gave him a hostile glare. “There’s no need for sarcasm, I am just saying if you had kept better track of the boxes as they were being loaded into the truck, perhaps you would have noticed a dockhand sneaking off with my pressure cooker; it’s not exactly something which can be stuck in one’s pocket.”

“Well, pardon my negligence!” he said sarcastically. “Here’s an idea, next time, why don’t you do it, and let’s see whether you’ll be able to keep track of every single pin.”

Emptying a box of cutlery into a basin, she replied, “There’s not going to be a next time, because I am not moving anywhere again.”

“Akua! Akua!” she shouted.

“Yes Madame,” Akua said, hurrying through the kitchen door.

“Akua, come and take these spoons and forks and wash and arrange them in the drawer with the others,” she told her, pointing at the basin of cutlery at her feet.

“Yes Madame,” Akua replied picking up the said basin.

Daddy, rummaging through a box of books called, “Jalal, come and take this box to the girls room, they’re Zaara’s.”

Moving to the next box he used a table knife to cut through the cello tape, peering in he said, “Well at least your rice-cooker is intact. Basheera, take this to the kitchen.”

“Ooh goody!” Mummy clapped her hands. “Now I can cook all the rice I want, but alas without stew as my pressure cooker is nowhere to be found.”

Bash rolled her eyes at me on her way to the kitchen; the parents were at it again.

“Look Ayorkor, I’ve had it up to here with your snipping about the pressure cooker,” he snapped. “The pressure cooker is gone! Do you hear me? I said it’s gone! If you can’t cook without it all of a sudden too bad, we’ll just starve.”

Mummy walked over to arrange the framed pictures on the bookshelf. “Sulley, there’s no need to be melodramatic, we won’t starve without the pressure cooker. Besides I hardly ever use it,” she said airily.

“Wha-what?” Daddy sputtered.

“What was the whole tantrum for then, eh? Why have you been going on and on about the pressure cooker for the past twenty minutes?” he demanded, bewildered.

She turned to face him, with her hands on her waist. “I just wanted you to appreciate the gravity of the situation and not brush it aside with your usual nonchalance. Its not about the pressure cooker per se, haven’t we been managing fine without it for the past couple of months? No, it is the principle.”

“What principle?” he raised his voice in exasperation.

Wiping the shelves she said, “The principle of it being acceptable to have my things stolen simply because everybody’s things get stolen at the port. Well, I will not accept that and I have every right to be upset if even a pin is missing.”

Daddy looked very confused now. “So what? You are upset because of the idea of the pressure cooker getting stolen, not the loss of the pressure cooker per se?”

Holding out his hand he said, “You know what? Don’t answer that.”

Picking up the car keys from the centre table, he muttered, “I’ll be back shortly,” before heading out of the front door.

“Sulley! Sulley! Where are you-” Mummy was cut off by the slam of the front door.

She muttered, “Impossible man,” under her breath and continued arranging the books on the shelves.

Daddy came back a couple of hours later and resumed where he left off. Nothing more was said on the subject of the pressure cooker. Thank God.

Definition of a Miracle was written by Farida N. Bedwei and is an excerpt from her d├ębut novel of the same name.

Copyright © Farida N. Bedwei 2010.

Farida Nana Efua Bedwei (1979-) was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and spent most of her childhood in Dominica, Grenada and the U.K. before the family moved to Ghana when she was nine.

She got Cerebral Palsy when she was 10 days old, and was home schooled by her mother until she was 12 years old when she entered mainstream school for the first time. To the surprise of all, she excelled and has risen to become one of the top software engineers in Ghana.

Definition of a Miracle is her first novel.


Nana Fredua-Agyeman said...

Promises to be interesting.

Uche Umez said...

like the author's unpretentious narrative, she has a lucid, free-flowing storytelling skills!

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