In my dreams, there is a little girl standing in front of a door. Waiting. And I am waiting too. For her, or for this dream to be over, and to be free from these tremors that haunt me at night. Whichever one comes first. I try to see what is on the other side, of her face, of My Body, but my eyes will not let me. When I return to My Body, I am in the arms of my father. My Body covered in hot sweats, my sheets soaked, my mother waiting in the crack of the door, Abe perched out beside her. My father wipes the sweats off my brow, and sings me a lullaby.
“Baby dieɛ ɔm pɛ su,
Sɛ ɔresua na ɛkɔm ne ɛdi no.
Mo ma ne koko, mo ma ne nufoɔ
Mo ns3 k3t3 ma nenda wa daa .”
His voice brings me back to myself. My racing heart calms to a steady gallop. My aunty home from her night shift tells him I am old enough to bear a child. Why sing me a lullaby?” “She just needs to stop listening to Lucious’ scary stories and Juju.” She says. I hiss because I know no child is wise enough to want to live in My Body for 9 months. And Uncle Lucious’ stories never scared me. Not like this. As I melt in my father’s arms, I think about the girl in my dream and wonder how long she has been living here, waiting for that door, and whatever is on the other side.
In the morning, mothers lips are unkissed. There is a full plate where dad sits. His chair untucked. As I descend the stairs, I see his shoes pacing beside the door, and then his brown trousers, and then his body decides to join. Today he is waiting.
“Dad! ” I wonder out loud. “Won’t you be late for work?”
“Good morning Sunshine, how are you feeling?” He responds.
“Good morning Keelah!” Mum shouts over the carrots, and cucumbers in the blender.
This comes from my grandmother. She hovers in the kitchen doorway like a ghost. “I heard about last night, how you feeling chile? I want you to have this.” Grandma’s hands can spend a day in a hot pot of oil and not flinch. But right now, her clasped hands are shaking like they just learned oil is not water.
“I don’t get what all the fuss is about,” Aunty Julia says, “it’s not like it’s her birthday or nuth’n” as she strolls in her robe through the living room and into the bathroom.
“It was just a bad dream! She shuts the door and turns on the showers.
“What is this?” I ask.
“It’s a key to a magic door!” Aunty Julia screams through the showers.
Abe leads the echoed laughter. My father’s baritone joins, my mother harmonizes, aunty Julia crescendos, the wind gushes, the kitchen door flutters, the pots clank, the water swooshes, I shrink. I can trust my family to find laughter in a dungeon. But when My Body is a prisoner, their laughter is the cage.
Grandmother unclasps her hands, and out of it blooms a tree carved into a pendant. Its roots are bare to the eye, its branches have no leaves. Its trunk swayed, branches and roots dancing and breaking and weaving together to form a pendant. It is hanging on a brown string. It looks like it was carved out of love and intention. But it was empty, like only half of it was here. Something was missing on the inside. It reminds me, of me.
“I know things have been hard chile. And there is something troubling you in your sleep. But you must remember, when you walk through that door, your family love you bad, and a village of ancestors walks with you. I want this necklace to remind you of this. Of your family, and your power”
“Thank you, grandma, it’s… pretty, and yes I’ll try to remember that. Thank you.”
“Yes, you will remember it, but will you believe it ?” She says.
Dad grips the necklace from Grandmother’s shaking hands. He takes two steps back and places it around my neck. His hands smell like dark coffee and green grass. The necklace is quiet. Like a child fast asleep. I did not feel any new power. I did not feel the blood of an army of ancestors suddenly rush through me. I was still in My Body, and it was still Tuesday. But the necklace is pretty, and a gift, and that should count for something right?
“Where did you buy it from Grandma ?” I ask.
“Buy it? I didn’t buy it. My grandmother gifted it to me. And her grandmother to her.”
“Juju I tell yah!” Aunty Julia echoes from under the shower, and through the bathroom doors.
“Story is the necklace has a mind of its own. Every time a slave master tried to sell it, or burn it, or dash it away, it ended up back on the neck of the woman who wore it. Somewhere along the blood line, the memory was gone jus’ so, but somewhere down the bloodline, the memory will come back. All I know now is it was carved from the Wawa Tree, and every mother supposed to pass it along to their daughter with the dreams.”
“Why doesn’t mum wear it, and… where is the missing half? Is something meant to go inside?” I think out loud.
“Because I don’t believe in Jumbie, Keelah–and just think of it as half full.” Mum adds. “Now no more stories of dreams. The only thing that is real, is in front of you. Bad dreams don’t mean you not show up to the world. Everybody has bad dreams. Not everyone wakes up in a soft bed. Straighten out your blouse, tuck in your shirt properly, I don’t want you stepping out this house looking like a vagrant. Dash on your jacket and lets go. You will be late for school.”
Mom turns on the blender. It is now 7: 59am, and I have one more minute until she officially becomes Principal or Mrs. The rules applied, even at home. Except for weekends, holidays, and vacations. When your mum is the school Principal, you better not be late for school . . . even if she be the one who make you late at home.
“Thank you Grandma,” I say again. “This is lovely.”
◈ ◆ ◈
Grandpa is in his red corvette waiting for me and Abe to hop in. On school days Papa takes his breakfast early, does his best to wash the car, takes our bags off our backs, opens our doors, and finds the station that makes Abe bob his head most vigorously. He is always early for the pick up, yet we are always late for school. He is an army man. Served in the Ghanaian military as a peacekeeper in Liberia and Ivory Coast at the height of their civil wars. His military training never left him. He knows what it is to wait at a door not knowing what is on the other side. When his wife died, he came to live with us. If not for his full dark skin, you would have never guessed he wasn’t Bajan. Most of us are mixed with a little something else. Even in the darkest skin, your may find some Indian in our hair, or Spanish in our eye or England in our niceties. You can even still see the Arawaks and Caribs in us perk up when we smile. As if to say “we are still here.”
He was an instant hit in Bim. The “African Man” is what the neighbors called him. If there was ever news from Somalia, or Libya or South Africa, they would pull him over on the street and say “did you know about so and so.” And he would. He must have been the Angel of Accra, now he is the Angel of Bridgetown.
He stops at every traffic light that works and says hello to all the passers by on the street. It is nice to know there is goodness in the world and he drives me to school every morning. But sucks because his good manners are why we are always late for school. He said every stranger is about to be a friend. He says ”every stranger bout to be a friend.” And there are only three things that are important when you meet a person.
Know their name, and where their family is from. Know if they are hungry, so you may feed them. Ask where they will spend the night, and if you can offer your home to them.
He says, “You can pick a woman up from Accra and drop her off in Bridgetown, and she would not even know she has left home!” From the back seat, Abe chirps, “It didn’t go so well that last time they tried it!” and puts his headphones back on.
On our rides to school, Papa always offers me a new word, or a new sentence, in Twi. He says his people, the Agyemang, are special people. They do not learn their language, they remember it. I wonder if i can truly call the place I have only spent two weeks on holiday, “my people” or call Ghana, “my country” when the beaches of Bridgetown, the sand underneath my feet, the irony of the shanty houses and the Victorian cobble stones are all I have truly known.
On our drive to school, my eyes are on the city. I trace the shoreline as far as I can see. I let the wind and sand brush on my face. The wind carries my locks in the air. I look out to the Atlantic praying my eyes can take me away from My Body and pray it loosens the shrinking in my skin.
“Odo, you have not said a word and we are almost at school. I know if you told me, I may not understand. Can you help me understand?”
I glance through the windows, I see Abe’s body in the car, but I do not see his mind. Papa doesn’t always understand, but he always listens, and he never laughs. And if he wants to help, maybe I can let him try ? So I tell him about the girl in my dreams, and how she haunts me. I ask him.
“Papa, I wake up in the morning, before I get out of my bed, I am already tired. The house, my dreams, everyone everything makes me feel so small, so tired. Papa, do I even exist, who is My Body even for, if it is not for me?”
When he does not respond, I stick my head out of the window and let my eyes take my soul out of My Body.
“Odo, your body is for you, but it was given to you. It is yours, and not yours at the same time. And this girl, do you know her name, is she hungry?”
“Papa, I am not joking!”
“Odo Yewu, I don’t mean to offend you. But how can you know who a person is if you do not ask them? Sometimes, I remember the war in Liberia as a dream. The people who I saw die, still visit me. At first I wanted to run away from them, and I tried to for many years, but now when they come, I offer them fufu and sit to talk with them. It is hard to tell the difference, because there is no difference. And mind you, stories of dreams tend to upset people who don’t have any! Just don’t tell your parents about that part!” He says with a smirk on his face.
“Papa, just tell me everything will be okay?”
“Hmm, how things will be is not up to me, that is up to you, but I trust you will make everything alright. Tell me everything when you find out okay Odo, enjoy school! ”
◈ ◆ ◈
In my dreams, there is a little girl standing in front of a door. I am waiting for her. Her robes are bright red and freshly washed. She is seven, maybe eight years old. Her hair smells of the Kumasi beach, or the Bridgetown beach, or both. Her palms are tired. Like they have been cut and healed many times over.
“Hello, I say, I am Akeelah, what is your name?”
Her silence stares at me, and then through me.
I can not make out if she is not interested, or just arrogant. I will not leave this dream until I get a response. I run towards her, and the distance between us doubles. I scream, and shout, and whisper, but she is unflinching. I recall Papa’s words on our drive home, and in my dream, I shrink. I pray when I return to My Body, I am in my father’s arms. I turn to leave, and that is when I hear a snicker, a sob, and weeping. But it does not come from me. It comes from this girl, how lonely she must be here, waiting in My Body. How many times have I given up on her?
“Baby dieɛ, ompe su,
Sɛ ɔresua na ɛkɔm ne ɛdi no.
Mo ma ne koko, mo ma ne nufoɔ
Mo ns3 k3t3 ma nenda wa daa .”
Twi, the only other language I know falls out of my mouth like a testimony at the altar. I sing to her the lullaby my father sings to me.
“My baby does not like to cry, but if they cry it means they are hungry. Give them some porridge, give them some breast milk lay out a mat for them to sleep and they will sleep.” Her tears dry up, her back straightens, the sobs seize. This song was magic to my ears, and of course, it was magic to hers. Maybe she does not speak English. But I wonder now, how I speak Twi ? In Twi, I tell her:
“Are you hungry, would you like some food?”
“Yes, I am very hungry!”
“Can I offer you a bowl of fufu, or would you like some flying fish?”
“Why would a fish fly?”
“I don’t know, maybe the same reason a bird swims ?” I respond.
Her giggles blossom into dandelions and waterlilies. She laughs like a child discovering laughter for the very first time. Life forces itself into her belly. She is now glowing with joy. Her skin shrinks and her hair falls back into itself. I never thought myself to be funny, and never heard laughter this freeing. I join her and we are both giggling like little children, rolling around in a nursery full of dandelions and waterlilies. When our laughter is full, we lay in silence, staring at the stars.
I offer her a bowl of fufu, and by the side, a serving of flying fish, and she says thank you. We do not talk as she eats. When she is finished, I gesture to take the bowl, away and she declines. She insists she would wash it herself. I gesture around to look for a sink, but now I think to myself, where did I get the food from?
She turns towards me. Finally. She looks into my eyes and I see how old this eight-year-old girl is. I recognize now that this is my first time ever being this close and seeing her face without it causing me to wake up. The patience of a thousand years sits on her forehead like a crown. She studies my face like she has seen it before and is trying to recall.
“My name is Akeelah, I am 15 years old, what is your name?” I ask.
I ask, “Why are you all alone and do you know where you will spend the night?
She speaks with more sounds than I can remember. The Twi I have remembered is not nearly enough to hold all her words. I ask about the door, where it leads to, and all I can make out is “. . . waiting.” Then I hear something about stepping on spiders and feet. Her words begin to slow when her eyes meet my chest. I feel my necklace leap like a lost puppy reunited with its parent. I see a smirk on her face, which now reminds me so much of my grandmother’s.
She puts her arms around me and welcomes me to her body.
Kwesa whispers in my ear, loud enough for all the darkness to hear,
“Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan.”
◈ ◆ ◈
Like all Wednesdays, I dress for PE. Mum asks me how I slept today?
“Very well,” I say.
Mum and Dad exchange some words with their eyes. Aunty Julia was watching breakfast television but is now more interested in me than the station. I feel two pairs of eyes on my back. I imagine they belong to Aunt J and Granny. Grandma’s eyes follow the jam from the bowl to the bread, and the bread from the plate to my lips. She says,
“Chile, what has gotten into you today ?”
Abe screams from the bathroom, “She dos’ see jumbie in she sleep!” and leads the echo of laughter. My father’s baritone joins, my mother harmonizes, aunty Julia crescendos, and, outside. The door slams, the wind gushes, the pots clanks, the water swooshes. My grandmother does not giggle. Her lips do not crack open. I do not shrink. Not this time. I look in her eyes, and she looks into mine, and the silence we share is loud.
“Thank you so much for the necklace grandma. It is lovely. It will never leave my neck. Can you tell me more about it? It has been in the family for generations….how long is generations?”
“I don’t know child, all I have are stories.”
“What kind of stories?”
“Chile, imagine playing broken telephone with your ancestors over a thousand years—those kind of stories! You don’t know what is true, and what is folklore.”
“A thousand years? Grandma, where are you like from, like from in Africa? I feel like I should know, but I don’t know, and I feel stupid. Dad is from Ghana, but he is Ghanaian, but where are you from?”
“Ghana!” Aunty Julia screams from the kitchen.
“I mean you mum and grandma, Aunty J!”
“We are from Ghana, more than half the people from Barbados come from Ghana or whatever was there before! I took some DNA tests to check, they say we some kind of Akan people. Somewhere in the Ashanti region is where they carry us from. Is what I remember. What has gotten into you child, bad dreams, now you wear a lil African necklace, and you thinking you are Marcus Garvey ?”
“Maybe I am.”
I don’t know where that came from, but I am happy it came. That shut her up.
“Dad”, I say.
“Odo yewu?” he responds.
“What does Odo Nnyew Fie Kwan mean?”
He says, “ This one is easy. Odo, that is love!”
“Right, right . . .”
“You know the rest, remember.”
I press on the necklace which now sits so gently across the collar of my chest. I feel Kwesa’s arms around my neck, I smell the ocean in her hair. “Love . . . love does not lose its way home?” The necklace turns on my neck, like a fetus telling its mother it’s alive.