Short Story: The River Daughter (II) – By Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng
Kesewa, a Christian woman and the only daughter of her parents, has just had a baby girl, after years of trying desperately since she got married. Naturally, she is overjoyed, but the birth of her baby has a little dark history behind it, known only to her and her childhood friend Benewaa. She conceived after consulting a fetish oracle, which had onerous conditions attached. Will Kesewa be able to honour her side of the bargain? Now read on…
On the eighth day after the birth of Kesewa’s daughter, the family gathered and performed the naming ceremony at dawn. The name Kwaku Nimo chose for the child was Akua Nyamekye. Akua because she was a female born on Wednesday. Nyamekye simply means God’s gift. During the feasting that followed, Kesewa’s pastor, Prophet Kwame Asafo, barefoot and in his flowing white gown, invited those assembled to witness the power of the Holy Spirit as had been manifest in the birth of little Nyamekye. He shook with joy and pride, and his bushy moustache twitched endlessly like an excited rabbit’s ears. Needless to say, the church’s membership had grown phenomenally in the weeks since Kesewa became pregnant, as the news spread far and wide about how the Holy Spirit was using the prophet to perform miracles.
Within two years of Nyamekye’s birth, Kesewa had a set of twin boys, and a year later, a girl followed. She was over the moon. At last, her life was complete, she thought to herself. She was a woman, a wife and a proud mother of four healthy children.
Meanwhile, little Nyamekye was growing to become a very pretty young woman. She was a mirror image of her mother, and people never ceased to comment on this. There were times, however, when Kesewa would be filled with worry as an internal battle raged within her. What if Nyamekye in fact belonged to the gods, as the fetish priest had declared? What if her birth had nothing to do with Prophet Asafo’s prayers but everything to do with the charms and amulets of the high priest of the Bosomefi shrine deep in the forest and beyond the River Dum? God, there were so many ifs. Kesewa resolved many times to seek her pastor’s spiritual guidance on this matter so that they could pray about it, but quite could not summon the courage to confess to him what she had done.
One Saturday, Kesewa and her husband Kwaku Nimo went to the district capital to attend the funeral of a church member’s mother. It rained heavily that day, and on their way back, the driver of the mini van that was they were travelling in lost control of his vehicle as he sped around a bend in the pot-holed road. The driver had taken more than just a few tots of akpeteshie (local gin), and seemed to think he was tearing down an express motorway. The van skidded off the road, spun around, somersaulted two times and crashed against a tree on a steep slope before coming to rest. None of the twenty-two people on board, including the driver survived the accident.
The towns of Dabo and Asempa were thrown into great mourning. It was particularly tragic in the case of Kesewa’s children, for these four miserable little souls had suddenly become orphans. Akua Nyamekye had just passed her tenth year on earth.
After the funeral, it was decided that Nyamekye would go to the big city to live with her father’s sister, Auntie Mary, who was a dressmaker and employed several girls at her shop. At least, Nyamekye could learn a trade. Auntie Mary, a very busy woman, was definitely unable to take in Nyamekye’s younger siblings, and they went to live with their maternal grandparents at Asempa.
Nyamekye’s initial apprehension about living in the big city soon gave way to fascination and excitement. There were too many people, she reckoned, and everyone seemed to be in a hurry to go somewhere. They did not even stop to chat as they did back in the village on the way to the river. And the streets! God, they were so wide that it took forever to cross them, and she was always frightened of being knocked down by one of those cars that travelled so fast. However, she was glad that she did not have to go to the stream everyday to fetch water, but only had to twist a strange device for water to come gushing out as if by magic.
She was intrigued by the fact that at night, a mere flick of a switch on a wall could transform a dark room into broad daylight. As for the television, she would spend hours glued to this magical box she had heard a lot about, hardly comprehending anything that was being said, but completely riveted by the contraption and the miracle of the fact that human beings could move about behind a glass screen in a box that small. Aunty Mary’s girls were amused by the sense of wonderment that lit up the village girl’s eyes.
However, Nyamekye’s excitement was frequently tinged with the immense sorrow she felt at the loss of her parents. There were times when she would cry herself to sleep-she felt so alone, and Auntie Mary, kind as she was, was a very busy woman indeed and had little time for her. Nyamekye eventually made friends with some of the other girls at Auntie Mary’s shop. They were all older than her, and treated her as they would their younger sister. Gradually, she learned to put the past behind her and come to grips with her new life and the challenges that lay ahead of her. She always planned to visit her village one day, however, for she missed her siblings so much.
The months came and went fast, and by the time she realised, Nyamekye had been in the city for over three years. She took after her mother’s beauty, and when the young men in her area started making advances towards her, she fended them off easily, for she had absolutely no interest in those matters. She had started attending church together with one of the girls, Dora, and she took the church’s pronouncements on premarital sex quite seriously.
Daniel was Nyamekye’s bible study group leader, and he was impressed by her desire to serve the Lord. However, he was also very mortal and very fallible, fully conscious of Nyamekye’s ravishing beauty and physical desirability. At times during church or bible studies, his mind would veer dangerously toward things carnal, and then he would feel very guilty. He was single, and had decided quite a while ago that it would be quite nice to marry Nyamekye one day. He decided to pray about it, that the Lord guide him in this matter and grant him his heart’s desire. What would be more blessed than two of God’s children coming together in holy matrimony to the glory of God?
Nyamekye, on the other hand, admired Daniel for his amazing knowledge of the bible and his kindness of heart. She had caught Daniel staring at her intently on more than one occasion, but thought nothing of that. And she was always grateful for his kind offer to accompany her home after bible class. It could be quite dangerous for a young female on her own at that time of the evening, especially since her route took her past a number of uncompleted buildings and near an old cemetery.
One night, as Daniel walked her home after bible studies, Daniel casually, but certainly deliberately, allowed his hand to drift into Nyamekye’s hand. He held it firmly once it was lodged there. She was startled, and her heart skipped a beat, but she tried to hide it, rather unsuccessfully. She did not pull her hand away. The full moon, hanging in the pitch black sky like a delicate, giant ball of shea butter, cast a soft glow on the young couple.
Then suddenly, Daniel stopped, turned to look at her, hugged her tightly, then very awkwardly whispered in her ear, ‘Sister Nyamekye, I love you’. His heart pounded violently against his ribcage as he uttered those words. It had been ages since he became born again and gave up his sexual escapades, and he had clearly lost his edge on the art of seeking carnal pleasures. She was too stunned to speak and simply did not have the will nor desire to push him away. She felt him stiffen between the legs as he remained pressed against her. The hug seemed like eternity, and in a strange way, she wished it would last forever. The rest of their journey was in total silence. As Daniel bid her goodnight, he clumsily apologised for his behaviour earlier on. Nyamekye shrugged. ‘It’s OK, brother Daniel,’ she said.
The more the pair saw of each other, the stronger the mutual attraction was, and it simply came to the point when they could no longer hold back from the precipice. As they walked towards Nyamekye’s house one Tuesday evening after bible studies, Daniel suddenly blurted: ‘Nyamekye, I know your house and could walk there blindfolded, but you don’t know where I live. Why don’t you come and see my place for a few minutes? I will take you home.’
Almost as if she had been waiting for this invitation all her life, Nyamekye readily agreed. Instantly they both knew how the evening would end. Yet, drawn to each other by a powerful bond of sexual desire, the biblical admonition against fornication that they both knew only too well seemed to belong to a faint, hazy distant edict.
They spent most of the evening making passionate love. Nyamekye found herself reaching heights of ecstasy she never knew existed, and she found the experience exhilarating. Entwined in a sweaty embrace, their glistening, naked bodies pulsated in rhythm together as they devoured each other with relish, unleashing deep-seated pent-up emotions and desires. Daniel could certainly touch certain buttons in her and drive her right up into to the realms of sheer thrill, if not beyond. It was clear that Daniel was no virgin. All his ‘pre-born again’ bedroom acrobatic skills came flooding back with amazing alacrity.
For the next few days, Nyamekye felt guilty and dirty that she had broken the L ord’s word. In spite of this however, she could not kill the feelings Daniel had stirred both in her soul and in her physical being, and soon began visiting him in his home most evenings. The struggle between her fleshly desires and her desire to remain true to the Lord did not abate, and yet the flesh always won in the end. Auntie Mary was hardly home before midnight most evenings anyway.
Two weeks after their first sexual journey, Daniel woke up one morning feeling rather dizzy. Within an hour, his skin had broken into a sea of enormous boils; he was vomiting blood in copious quantities and shaking as if he was possessed of the devil. His wailing mother hastily summoned a taxi and took her son to hospital, where he was admitted immediately. The doctors could not find what was wrong with Daniel, as his symptoms seemed to change every hour. They ran test upon test on him, and yet the laboratories yielded nothing. The doctors literally gave up on him, for they knew he was unlikely to survive whatever was ravaging this young man’s body. Within the week or so since he became ill, he had shrunk in size and his hair had fallen out. He looked a pitiful sight.
When his head pastor and some church elders came to visit him and pray with him, Daniel simply felt he had to unburden his chest and tell the truth about what happened between him and Nyamekye. He wanted to make peace with the Lord before departing this mortal world anytime soon, as he now knew he would. He died the next day, in great pain and agony, and his moans and groans echoed across the ward.
Nyamekye was beside herself with grief, and this was made worse by the fact that almost everybody in the church now knew what had happened between her and Daniel. She got strange looks in church and people avoided her, as if she had actually given Daniel a dangerous potion and caused his death. It was painful for her to deal with the hostility on top of her grief. She decided she was no longer going to attend the church.
Exactly one week after Daniel’s death, Nyamekye woke up with a terrible headache and dizziness, and started developing Daniel’s symptoms. Auntie Mary took her to hospital, but just as in Daniel’s case, the doctors could find nothing wrong with her and had to discharge her. There was nothing they could do for her. She lost weight and her skin became mini-hills of boils. Her listless eyes protruded out of empty sockets, and nothing she ate stayed in her belly. She was getting weaker and weaker, and she knew it was only a matter of time before she died a miserable, lingering death like Daniel. She wondered what was happening to her and cried out to the Lord all day long, begging for forgiveness.
Now, back in Asempa, the news of Nyamekye’s illness and Daniel’s death that preceded it spread like wildfire, and it was inflated to inferno proportions by the rumours that swirled around the news. People had simply decided to attach the couple’s illnesses to their sexual liaisons. Some said Nyamekye was in fact a witch who had used Daniel for a feast and whose dark practices had rebounded on her spectacularly. Yet others said her parents were beckoning her into the spirit world, and that she had sent Daniel there ahead of her so that she would have company when she eventually went there.
It was simply a never-ending trail of gossip, half-truths, speculation and simple lies peddled as fact. The news trailed to the house of Benewaa, the good friend of Nyamekye’s late mother Kesewa, and with whom she had undertaken that fateful trip to Bosomefi shrine many many years ago. She had forgotten all about the circumstances of Nyamekye’s birth and the covenant Kesewa made with the shrine deep in the forest beyond the river Dum. After all, it had been so many years ago.
As soon as she heard the news, Benewaa immediately knew the cause of Nyamekye’s illness, for it all came back to her with the clarity of daylight. She sent someone to Auntie Mary immediately, requesting her presence in Asempa as a matter of extreme urgency and with Nyamekye in tow. Then she went to the head of Kesewa’s family, Opanin Manso, and told him about the covenant between Kesewa and the oracle that she witnessed so many years ago. Opanin Manso was stunned, and after conferring with two other family elders, it was decided that when Nyamekye came to Asempa with Auntie Mary, she would be taken to see the Bosomefi shrine, for it was obvious why the poor girl was so ill.
It was a long, painful journey back to the Bosomefi shrine. Because she was so weak, two men from Asempa had volunteered to carry Nyamekye in turns on the journey. Benewaa, Auntie Mary and Opanin Manso also accompanied her. They travelled mostly in silence, each deeply lost in his or her thoughts. They stopped often for Nyamekye to rest, for it was an arduous journey for her.
Eventually they came to the little village by the Dum River. The river, its waters crystal clear and sparkling, flowed calmly, at ease with itself and its surroundings. After making enquiries, they were told that the man who would row them across to the other side had gone to a nearby village and would be back soon. The travellers decided to sit by the riverbank and wait.
Nyamekye was tired and thirsty. The cool, refreshing waters of the river could do her some good. With great effort, and helped by the two men who carried her, she rose from the rocky outcrop she was resting on and hobbled towards the river. Gingerly, she scooped some water in her hands and swallowed it, then slowly splashed some on her face.
A most amazing thing happened the moment the water hit her face. In a flash, Nyamekye became transformed back again to the healthy, beautiful young woman she had previously been. Her skin glowed with freshness, and that magical enchanting smile of hers appeared again.
Then, as the others stared rooted to the spot in wonder and shock, Nyamekye rose and stepped into the water. Smoothly she began to glide across the river as if propelled by an unseen hand that kept her afloat. When she got to the middle of the river, she stopped and stood still, smiling, looking very serene. Staring intently at them, she raised both arms and brought them together above her head, clasping her hands tightly.
At that moment, a cloud appeared from nowhere and engulfed Nyamekye. Then there was a great swirling, whooshing sound as the river waters churned furiously around her, throwing up great froth, like a pot of excellent palm wine. When the cloud lifted, Nyamekye was nowhere to be seen. Then the waters became still yet again, and all became quiet.
Then Auntie Mary fainted.
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