By Kwame Dadson
Papa spits his words out like shards of sugarcane chaff.
“He will have to do it properly.”
Abena hears them reverberate round her decorated head and wonders if her Kwasi can do her proud. Ghanaian teachers do not get paid much.
Her mother makes that sucking noise that signifies West African maternal disgust.
“What kind of graduate these days decides to teach?”
Kwasi has the list.
Abena knows the bridal list has been fleshed out by the extended family to punish her for not marrying the bank manager that courted her for four years. No, Kwasi isn’t being given a standard middle-class list. This is the full works.
- 24 twelve-yard cuts of Dutch wax print cloth
- 24 white fowls
- A suitcase. (Years back it used to be a trunk, this is a more modern touch.)
- A Singer sewing machine. Who do they think she is? A tailor?
- Ten bottles of imported Schnapps
- Nineteen crates of beer
- 2 gold rings
- Waist beads
- Money for her brothers. Yes the ‘akonta’ dues have to be paid. (And how is it fair that her sisters do not get any?)
And so on…
They are even making him pay for the wedding dress for the church ceremony the day after traditional niceties are concluded. It isn’t fair. Her older sister’s husband wasn’t levied half as much.
When she asks her Papa why he just says:
“Things are very expensive these days,” and continues shelling the roasted peanuts he has on his tray.
It’s 11.45 on the big day. They were supposed to arrive at nine.
Her small hands tremble as she looks out at the gathered posse of friends and relatives, brightly adorned with traditional costume – women strutting round like peacocks. The men bare-chested in kente and Adinkra native cloth, huddled together in her father’s living room, discussing politics and sport, pretending not to be interested in the main event. Uncle Johnny sticks out like an overripe mango in his Ozwald Boateng suit, but then again, he has lost his African soul after doing that degree course in England.
“They’ll take notice when they are asked to inspect the rings,” Abena thinks.
But the truth is it’s mainly a women’s day.
Kwasi’s delegation finally bursts through on the stroke of midday, gifts wrapped in fine colours balancing precariously on six of her bridesmaids’ heads. Abena is delighted to see his lead spokeswoman aunty is one who gets on well with both families. This is a good start.
“Agooo!” Aunty Ajoa yells the traditional greeting call. “Agooo!”
“We have come to pluck a flower, a beautiful flower, the likes of which has not been seen for years in this area.”
“But what have you got for us?” Abena’s oldest aunt stands barring the entrance.
“You will see.”
They burst into a song. No Ghanaian lady needs any invitation to break into song at these traditional weddings. The day goes exceedingly well. As every gift is unravelled it is clear the young man has spared no expense. The sewing machine is from Germany. He flourishes out an extra four pieces of cloth. The rings are from the finest local jeweller, made from pure Ghana gold. The mock bargaining continues throughout the day, interspersed with more singing and feasting (and drinking for the men).
An hour before dusk, Abena’s aunty raises her walking stick and croaks in a high-pitched voice. Her yellow teeth grimace.
“I cannot allow this to continue. The waist beads – you didn’t bring the waist beads.”
Everyone freezes. She is serious.
Kwasi sprints out to the gate, kente cloth sprawled behind him, revealing his chiselled torso. He flags down a ramshackle taxi outside and steps right in. Abena wonders if she will ever see him again.
Mercifully, he returns half an hour later, running, holding the brightly-coloured beads. Thrusting them to Aunty Ajoa, he retakes his seat amongst the waiting group, dripping with perspiration. Abena notices a pale band on his left wrist where his watch was once proudly worn.
The two aunties embrace.
“We are one family now,” says Aunty Ajoa. “If she ever changes her mind and comes back you will have to return a bead to every one of this noble group.”
As a final touch Kwasi passes a crisp wad of cedi notes to each brother, smiles and bows gracefully.
And Abena knows with rock-salt certainty that they will be paying it all off for many years to come, but “Shame the disgraceful extortionists, Kwasi did it properly.”