An Extract From The Upcoming Book ‘My 21 Changing Seasons’ – By Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
Gideon has just completed secondary school and looks back on his seven years in boarding house. In this extract, he is home for the Christmas holiday after his first term in school. Now read on…
31st December 1981 was a Thursday. It was a beautiful morning. I woke up around eight with a yawn, turned around, scratched my forearm, and then my mind lazily ambled to the boundaries of sleep again. It had been a great Christmas, and I could not believe that in a week or so I would be back in school. Of course I missed my friends already, and campus life, its stresses notwithstanding, had some attraction to it. Anyway, mum and dad had promised to go with me to the staff club for the ushering in of the new year. I hoped Maame Abena would be there. The fireworks at midnight would be exciting as we welcomed another year in. All the big men at the mine would be there with their families. Our family dog, Whiskey, yelped in the yard. Perhaps he was looking forward to the new year too.
The delightful aroma of fried eggs wafted into my room and played havoc with my nostrils. Dad was playing some music. He had worked throughout Christmas and was not due back to work until the fourth or thereabouts. I simply loved M’s ‘Daddy Cool’ and found myself idly singing along as the music floated into my room. In the faint distance I heard the telephone ring. I was expecting Maame Abena’s call, but that was to be in the afternoon. I rolled yet again.
I was still contemplating whether to allow myself some extra sleep when I heard the loudest shriek I had ever heard in my entire life. I jumped out of bed and in my pyjamas, I dashed towards the kitchen, thinking Mum had been injured whilst cooking breakfast. Dad and I bumped into each other as he came out of their bedroom across the hallway, no doubt jolted as I had by mum’s alarming shriek.
We found her sitting on the floor in the living room by the telephone, sobbing uncontrollably, the phone receiver hanging lifelessly in her left hand. Clearly there was some bad news. Dad easily prised the receiver from her hand but did not replace it in its cradle immediately. He checked to find out who was at the other end. The line was dead. Gently, he replaced it, almost as if the telephone would jump up again and ring with even more bad news.
‘Joyce, what is? What is happening?’ he demanded of her as he knelt down cupped mum’s face with both her hands, shook it slightly and simultaneously flicked away her tears. The alarm and panic on his face was startling. It was pointless, for the tears seemed to flow copiously and endlessly, as if Dad had a fountain at the end of his fingers and from which the tears sprouted. I stared helplessly, unsure what do. I had never seen Mum cry in my life, nor had I seen such open tenderness between them, and it did rather unsettle me slightly. Dad came to my rescue, as if he could sense my discomfort. ‘Go to the kitchen to make sure the cooker is switched off’, he barked. I was off like a rabbit.
Eventually, she let it out, through bouts of sniffles. At dawn that day, there had been a military takeover, or a revolution, as they called it. Mum’s only brother, a major in the army, had been killed in the fighting at Burma Camp in Accra, and the news had just filtered in. His widow, Auntie Maggie had called, having fled the camp with their two children. They were sheltering in a friend’s house at Airport Residential Area. Suddenly I felt very hot, then very cold, and then my throat tightened. I wanted to cry, but my eyes stubbornly remained dry. Uncle Willie? Uncle Willie, who always insisted that I join the army after school, to Dad’s chagrin?
Dad asked turned on the radio that stood on a small coffee table by the dining table whilst he helped mum into the sofa. All he kept saying was ‘Oh my God, these soldiers again’. Mum had by now stopped crying, but a glazed, distant look took over. Every few minutes, her bosom would heave with a great sigh. Dad did not take his eyes off her nor leave her side.
Ghana Radio was simply playing martial music. Dad, clearly irritated at the lack of information, asked me to bring the radio to him. ‘Useless people!’, he barked as he turned the dial furiously. I was not sure whether he was referring to the soldiers or Radio Ghana.
Eventually the crisp, measured voice from the BBC’s Africa Service floated into the room. Mum stopped sniffling and stared at the radio. Dad sat rock still and I preened my ears.
‘… from Ghana indicate that there has been a military takeover in the West African country, toppling the civilian administration of Dr. Hilla Limann, who was elected twenty-seven years ago. It has been confirmed that the leader of the coup, or the revolution, he insists on referring the takeover, is none other than Flt.-Lt. Jerry John Rawlings, who came to power in a violent takeover in 1979 ruled for three months, presided over an election and handed over power to Dr. Limann. In what many observers…’
‘What!’ Dad erupted in rage as he switched off the radio brusquely and tossed it away as a child would a broken, unwanted toy. ‘What does he want again?’ Almost immediately, as if in answer to his question, the phone rang. Collectively our eyes veered towards it and stared at it as if surprised to note it was there, a rude intrusion to our already shattered morning and a purveyor of nothing but further bad news. The phone kept ringing, stubborn as a mule and insistent on being picked up. Mum had not said a word since dad helped her from the floor. .
Eventually Dad went over and picked the phone. It was the duty mine captain. About eighty mine workers, mostly from the Abontiakoon and Green Compound miners’ quarters had gathered at the mine shaft area and were singing and chanting war songs in support of the revolution, with red strips of cloths tied to their heads and wrists. He was calling Dad to warn him that they were making their way to the A.B.A on a demonstration and that he was in the process of calling all senior staff to warn them, just in case. Dad thanked him politely and put the phone down. He immediately asked me to secure the front and kitchen doors and to draw all the curtains.
“Kofi, are they coming here?” Mum asked Dad when he told her what he had just been told.
“They had better not. Let them keep their stinking revolution to themselves, else they will see what I am made of.” The steel in his voice was unmistakable, yet I wondered fleetingly what exactly Dad would be able to do faced with a raging mob of mine workers, clad in sweaty, clammy t-shirts and damp boots, pumping the air with their chapped fists and camped on our front lawn.
“George, can you imagine the madness of it all? This is 1979 all over again.” I heard Dad bark into the phone without any preamble the moment his friend picked up the phone.
“You remember what those brutes did to my sister Akua in 1979, don’t you?”
Once, during the three months following JJ’s June 4 1979 takeover, my Aunt Akua, a trader at Takoradi had been arrested, stripped and whipped publicly by soldiers at the barracks at Apremdo for allegedly selling soap and matches above ‘control price’. Dad and Mum had visited her in police cells. He wept everyday for the next seven days as he loudly cursed the soldiers. Mum had begged him to tone it down, lest one of our domestic staff heard him and reported him. He wouldn’t budge. “Let them come and catch me and shoot me like a dog, just as they shot those generals!” he raved. His sister’s trauma crystallized his passionate hatred of the military.
“These soldiers want to set this country back years and years. I tell you George, I give up on Africa. Here we were, making some democratic progress, then bam! These clowns barge into town. For what?” he ranted into the receiver.
And so their conversation went on, with the new government the butt of their collective anger. At that point, I was sure Dad would have shot the new head of state point blank if given a pistol and the opportunity to do so. I had joined Mum in the kitchen to help her finish breakfast and could only hear snippets of his conversation with Uncle George. Mum was no longer in tears- as if she had exhausted her God-given ration for the day- but her big, soft brown eyes that usually danced sparkled with warmth completely robbed of all emotion except unmistakable melancholy. Gone to were those round cheeks, plump and juicy like overripe pawpaw. She looked very drawn and haggardly.
At the breakfast table, no one talked. Dad attacked his toast and omelette with the energy and viciousness of a wolf, almost as if the meal had offended him by actually being complicit in the events that morning in faraway Accra and that this was the only way to assuage his anger. Mum, on the other hand, played with her food as her fork danced around on her plate, her sadness turning every piece into a burden that weighed down her tongue and made everything taste like cardboard. I looked down on my plate, trying not to eat too eagerly, perhaps lest I offended Mum in a way, nor too leisurely, lest Dad somehow believed I actually supported the coup.
Dad was the first to rise from the table, muttering his excuses. Instead of tuning the radio to Ghana Radio for updates on the coup, he put on some Louis Armstrong jazz music and lay in the sofa. Perhaps he felt that by ignoring the radio long enough, somehow the events of the day would just melt away and constitutional government would be restored. Or maybe he felt that hearing that gruff voice announcing the dismissal of the president and his cabinet, dissolving parliament and suspending the constitution, among others, would simply drive his blood pressure through the roof. A few minutes into Louis Armstrong, his face began to relax.
Mum and I were cleaning up in the kitchen when we heard the unmistakable sound of chanting in the distance. From the kitchen window, we looked up and saw them, a long, thick mass of humanity just across the golf course and about a thousand metres away, hoisting placards and snaking through the main streets of A.B.A. They were too far away to enable any reading of the placards. They banged drums and clapped and sang their praises of JJ at the top of their voices, shattering the cosy serenity and looking so out of place, like a dog in a manger. Clearly they were delighted at the return of Junior Jesus, as they called Rawlings. I was just about to go call Dad when I noticed that he had effortlessly arrived behind us, no doubt having heard the noise himself.
“Ignoramuses”, he spat viciously, after watching them for about a minute. I had no idea what that word meant, but I knew that it was no compliment. “They will be the ones to suffer most, after they have been used to achieve the ends of the coup makers.” Neither Mum nor I said anything. As if disappointed by our failure to engage him, he turned on his heel and went back to Mr. Armstrong.
The workers continued their march along the main streets. Mum’s sister-in-law Auntie Maggie called again, and the two women sought to comfort each other, occasionally dissolving into a calabashful of fresh tears. Dad took over from Mum, speak to Auntie Maggie to console her whilst maintaining a granite face, and then took Mum to the bedroom for her to lie down. Eventually she drifted off to sleep and Dad came back to the living room to Mr. Armstrong’s soothing trumpet.
Dad felt the situation was too uncertain to attend the club house fireworks, and after making a few phone calls, he told me most families from A.B.A were planning to stay away. The club authorities were likely to cancel anyway. That meant, above all, that I wouldn’t see Maame Abena that evening. I remained in my room for the rest of the morning, digesting my dad’s anger, my mum’s sadness and the events of the day, churning them furiously in my mind like the nika nika, or cornmill, I once saw in our village when we went there for a funeral a couple of years ago.
My life would never be the same again.