All the curry from her fingers rush into my nose. She was the peppers under her skin, and light as basil. All of her flowed into me as my nose swallowed the scents from her scarf. Her voice summons me to the places in between what is true, and what is possible. The living room became an auditorium, an arena, an altar. I watch, play, and worship at her feet. She wields Twi like a mason. Each sentence creates a moat between me and my body. When she speaks, it is more prophecy than sentence. Like she has seen the past and the future and now speaks it to me so I may make manifest. She speaks with the intention of a spear hunting its target. Plenty of words to say simple things – I am in rapture.
My ears trace her lips into my mind. Her hands catch the words from her mouth as she slides through sentences. Her sentences are sentences. Each word a lifeline. She weaves words like silk. Her hands rise to my chest. Her fingers caress my necklace like old friends being reacquainted. I trace the veins in her arms until they disappear under her dress. I trace her arms to her collar, and her collar to her chest. And there lay the missing piece to my question. A maple coloured gem, with a corked trunk, and branches and roots all flowing into and out of each other. What could only be the missing piece of the necklace sleeping firmly between her breasts, even as she lunges towards me.
I feel my necklace grow hot on my body, and my body grows hot on my necklace. Mum searches under the sofas, Dad looks through the kitchen room cabinets, Uncle Lucios and Aunty Julia ravage through the pots and the pans, Grandpa forages through the glove compartment, Abe googles his pockets. None can find the right words to say. Before I reach for my words, Grandma pulls out hers.
“Dinner is over, leave.”
Aso presses the necklace to my chest. My eyes travel from her necklace and meet her eyes. She backs up, backs away, turns around, smiles, and walks through the front door. She leaves it open. Wide-open. The night runs in. But I do not flinch. I am now more scared of the things inside than those outside. Should I chase after her? Where will I keep all these questions my body is asking? Who is this woman, where is her family from, how old is she, and why is the missing piece of my family heirloom sleeping on her neck? Should I close the door, or leave it open?
When people tell you who they are, believe them. I sat on my bed that night, recalling the events of dinner finding it all so hard to believe. How we threw away pounds of fish, potatoes, curry and brown rice stew, because a stranger had walked into our home, and left the door wide open on her way out.
◈ ◆ ◈
Sunday dinner in our home is ritual, is sacred, is holy. We have played the same script since I was old enough to make meaning of memory. Everyone has their part in this grand story – even the pot cover has a solo. The kettle bellows and whistles sweet songs of “ready, I’ve been ready, five, ten, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes ago.” Once in a while, something unplanned happens. Occasionally Dad has to mop up Aunty Julia’s bile from the floor. Or Uncle Lucious brings “the one” to meet the family. Once in a while someone interesting walks through the door; Aunty Julia’s hospital friends, a professor mom wants to show off her perfect family to, someone from work, sometimes Sade comes to visit. Moma leaves one seat open, and cooks just a little bit more than we need, just you know in-case.
Papa has a guest. I heard Mum whisper to Aunty J “Dad will be real real mad because Papa hasn’t seen anyone else since grandma died.” All aunty Julia wants to know is “how they do it when they are that old?”
“Do what!” Abe asks.
The lady is dressed in bright orange, yellows, blue, and greens. I learned in school to be careful of colourful people and things. The most dangerous insects are brightly coloured. That’s nature’s way of warning you are about to get an ass-whooping. Her skin is Chocolate dark with no sugars. Younger than grandmas, but older than mother. Her hair is dried and frayed. She smells of harmattan—cool and dry. The green of aloe vera and brown of shea butter linger as she walks past me. Her back is unbowed, body full, thighs unafraid to be wide, her hips sway, her shoulders relax on her neck. Her neck is full and tall. Under her sway, there is a creek, a crack, a longing. Hidden beneath the grace, and fullness is a lack. I spot the rust between the valleys of her fingers, ash on her elbows, and a swallow in the dark of her eyes. Papa sits her down beside me. She looks at me, and then through me. I look at her, and then on her. She hasn’t said much to me. She hasn’t really noticed me. I hardly notice myself around her. I try to say hello, but my lips are empty. What do I say to such a person?
She sits at the corner of the table, between Papa and I. The Twi they speak makes them feel like an ocean away. I peer in, try to listen, to make words out of the maze they weave. It is now I realize, there must be parts of Papa I will never know, because he did not live those lives in English. My hunger is Creole, my laughter is Creole, my comedy is Creole. And his is Twi, this must be why only one set of veins on his left ear bulge when he laughs at my jokes. There must be a part of him she has access to that I can not. I see veins running all the way from the back of his ears into the side of his shirt. I am equally devastated, and released from the burden of not being the only one that makes him laugh fully.
“Um, ‘scuse me, what is your name, and are you my new grandma?” Abe slices the tension like a piece of fufu. Grandfather carries the language into one she knows, “he wants to know what your name is?” he says.
In my best impression of Ghana, I add: “Where is your family from? And as if to send a threat, I add, “do you know where you will be spending the night?”
“Akeela yoh”, Dad adds, “too many questions.” Let me add mine “why is she wearing my mother’s dress?”
“Ya’ll come bring your plate and grab some fish before it get cold. And leave the woman alone nuh,” Mum adds.
Dad is hotter than the stove. We should have cooked the meal on his head.
“David don’t point at our guest. That’s rude,” says Auntie Julia.
“That’s enough David!” Papa snaps
“I didn’t know Papa got angry,” whispers Abe.
Everyone is quiet. Papa stands up abruptly, takes the hand of his guest and makes for the front door.
“Watch how they get up and gone suh.”
“David, fix this!”
“Your papa needs you to be his son right now.” says grandma. “In fact we all need to go in there and give that woman a proper welcome”, says Mum.
Everyone gets up from the dinner table and walks over to the living room.
Dad leads the reconnaissance mission. “I am sorry for the way I acted. That was uncalled for’
“Let us properly introduce ourselves” says David.
I am David, this is Akeelah, Abe, Lucious, Julia, Elizabeth.
“And you just call me Grandma.” Grandma adds.
“Pardon our manners. We are usually not like this’ says Mum. Long time since Papa brought a friend over. But any friend of Papas is a friend of ours. So please, let’s try this again. May we ask what your name is? “
“She doesn’t speak English? She speak Creole?”
“No, just Twi, from what I can gather, Akuapem Twi.”
The poor lady is standing in front of the door as my family has a collective meltdown. Lucky for us, she does not understand a word we are saying. But that’s when I noticed the maple pendant on her neck. Papa says something to her, and she responds.
“Aso Asa Anansi.”
“Anansi, like the spider ?”Uncle Lucious can smell a good story from another island.
Mum ushers us back to the living room,
“David, talk to your father, you two don’t bring whatever that is back to my table.
I am only now aware of how hungry, but I linger to hear what Papa has to say to Dad.
“Who is she, and what is she doing in my house?” Dad asks.
“If I knew I would have told you!” Grandpa says. “Kareem called me, said the police has a woman speaking African. Can I help?”
I have never seen dad boil in so much rage.
“You brought a criminal to my house. And she is in my mother’s clothes?”
“Well son, it was this or a blanket, and I said she was in a station, not that she is a criminal.”
“Where is she from, what is she doing here?” Dad asks
“They said she had no ID, no passport, all I know is what she has told me.“
“And what has she told you?”
“Not much, she has been sleeping for four straight days.”
“You let a stranger spend four nights in your place?
“Dad is everything okay?” I ask. “Strangers are just on their way to become friends.”
“Listen to your daughter David, there is only one way to find out who she is, ask.”
I dash to the table before I get any more of Dad’s anger.
“So, Anansi? Like the spider” a the table, “You know any stories, any stories I can use for my show?”
“Didn’t you hear Lucious, she doesn’t speak English. Respect the lady?” Aunty J responds.
“Abe can translate, can’t you buddy?”
“They don’t teach me in Twi in school!” Abe chimes.
“I barely speak enough to say hello to grandpa.” I add.
Grandpa emerges from the living room with dad.
“We can try together, we should know a bit about our guest.”
The vein on Dad’s forehead looks like it’s about to pop. He continues staring at Aso in his mother’s dress. Grandma’s eyes meet mom, and they proceed to exchange an email to all of us with their stares.
“Anansi. Yes. ”
Words explode off her mouth like plantains dipped in hot oil. Grandfather catches them, cools them down and like a man possessed, he becomes her voice.
“I lived with my wives, and seven sons at the edge of the world. We were a happy family, a simple family. We had each other, and that was enough. On the darkest night, we would gather under the stars and light a fire. And I would teach my sons the names and histories and tell them the stories of all the stars in the sky. One day, we had a guest. She had seen the fire in the sky and smelt the good roast, travelled all the way from the south to join us. She had a goat’s horns on her head, the wings of a bat, and the tail of a lizard. She had a sharp eye, just one eye, but it saw everything. She called herself Pobowa, and she told us stories that scared even my bravest wife.
And then another creature whose face could eat the moon when it walked saw the smoke, and smelled the roast and journeyed to our fireplace. We felt him coming towards us for days because the ground shook when he walked. He told us stories about patience and long-suffering. And my favourite, a swarm of Aziza who would make a rainbow jealous, they moved into our yard, where they planted the tallest tree that was known to all the earth, and there was a pregnant bird, who travelled on the lightning and built a nest on the tree.
And it was known that all the creatures from across the land will come when they see the fire from our home. The tall ones, the ones with feathers, and with scales, the ones from under the ground, and the ones from the sky, and one by one, they would tell me their names, and their stories and I would tell them mine, and with my sons and my wives, we would laugh and cry, and I would wrap these stories in silk.
I would not say the land was one of perfect peace, we tried our best, but perfect peace means death. The ground was kind to us, it was thick and black, and the trees grew to touch the sky, and gave us much to eat. Sometimes the earth would tremble if we did not feed him, or the sky would weep a flood, and sometimes great winds would come rushing through our homes. But everything happened in its season.
But that year, the rain did not stop. The rain was fierce, a kind we have never seen before. There was something wrong in heaven so we had to find out. I sent my two sons to speak to Nyaame to ask what the trouble was, and why she extended the rains. But it was not Nyaame who they saw but a tall figure with ten fingers, ten toes, dark skin and an appendage hanging from their middle.
My sons said, “We have come to speak to Nyamme, where is she?”
“She is busy, but we will take the message,” the strange creature said.
“We have simply come to bring her a story, to cheer her up and inquire why the rains still fall?”
“What is a story?” they asked.
“A story is the seed of God,” my sons said.
And so with that, they opened the silk bag and shared the stories they had brought for Nyame with these creatures.
“More! More!” We want more the creatures, said.
“But we only have two hands, we are not able to carry more, I can go home, and bring you more?” Said my sons.
“But how do we know you will come back? ” the creatures said. One of you must stay, while the other leaves, and when you come back with more stories, I would let you go!”
“But who would I say sent us when my mother asks, who would i tell her has her son?”
“Tell her the people sent you, and the people have her son!”
And so my son came back.
And when I inquired of his journey, he told me “the people sent him, and the people want more stories, and the people will not let us go until they have more.”
And I asked, “What will they do with the stories they already have?”
And my son said
“They will plant the seed, and look to be like God!”
I did not know these people, or care for their delusions. So he put a bag of stories on his back, and my two other sons but a bag of stories on their backs and joined him, and together they travelled to rescue their brother who was now held by the people. And instead of seeing all my sons return, more were held, and the people demanded more and more stories, and my sons gave them more until all my stories were gone, and none of my sons were home.
And so I went to heaven and begged the people to let my sons free, and finally, they agreed. They told me,
“Go home, and spin a yarn of silk, and yell to us the silk is ready, and we will drop your sons from the sky.”
So I spun a yarn of silk that covered half of the world and stretched it across my home. I made it thick and strong so as not to hurt my children when they were dropped. And that night, I called out to the people and went inside to prepare a bowl of fufu for my sons.
I was thrilled with joy when I heard my silk shake, but when I came out to the skies, it was not my sons I saw, but the people who lived in the sky. They had tricked me, they had lied to me, and now, they had taken my fufu, taken my home, taken my wives and chased me out with a broom. From a far distance, I watched my home turn into a village, and a village turn into a town, and I waited every day under the stars for my sons to come back but they never did. The people set out a fire from my home and all the creatures in the world thought they were mine, and the humans said “Aso has asked us to stay in these lands to take care of it and to take care of you.” And when my wives protested they cut their legs and spread them across the village. The creatures were vexed, but their rage eventually cooled. Soon enough, enough time passed that no one could remember a time before these invaders were here.
But I did not forget. I did not forget my sons. “Kojo, Kwabena, Kweku, Yaw, Kofi, Kwame and Kwasi.” I tried to search all of heaven but my hands failed me, I tried to search all the lands, but my feet failed me. And I remembered it was these people’s many fingers that caused them to travel so far, so I went searching for what I could find of my wives fingers and I put them to my hand. And still, they were not enough to search all of the heaven and the earth, and all of space for my sons. With my 8 fingers I spun silk all over the land hoping that if ever my sons fell from Heaven, one of my silk webs will catch them.
And one day, there was a little jingle in my webs, and I ran to meet it. And there was a little girl who was stuck and a boy beside her who was out of breath. She had strange markings on her face and wore a flower as a dress. She had no family, no friends, no help. She must have lost her village, the same village that killed my family, and stole my children. My blood boiled with vengeance, so I wrapped her up in my silk, and carried her on my back, just how my sons carried the stories to heaven. If I pointed a knife on her neck and demanded my children be returned, surely they would oblige.
So I stood on the top of the mountain and yelled into the village,
“I have your daughter! Give me my sons, or she will die.”
And I looked down into the village, and saw brown innocent eyes staring back at me?
“Who are your children,” they asked?
“We would find them, and bring them back alive! And we will exile the people who took them from you, and in return, you can raise our daughter as your own, but please do not kill her, she has done nothing wrong?”
“Done nothing wrong?
Should a child not pay the price for the wrong of her parents!
Where are my sons!?”
After wiping the tears now full in my eyes, I looked at the village below the mountain top and realized how much time had changed the world. I did not see anyone from the raids, or my house at the edge of the water. I saw a world unlike anything I had ever dreamed of, different from anything I saw in my stories. The moon eating mokele-mbembe travelled with an army of little children cradled on its back, the Aziza helped light a fire in the centre of town, the pobowa was training with a small group of Kishi, teaching them to conquer their fears. The creatures did not congregate under the fire beside the silk tree, they lived out in the open with these people.
I called out the names of the murderers of my children, my knife now peeling the brown off the girl in my hands. A woman with a white dress and a turban on her hair yelled out, “these are names from myth, founders of our great village from five hundred years ago. I look at the girl in my hands, about to become a victim of the world who had forgotten, and a mother who had not. In five hundred years I would not forget my son, and in a thousand years, I will not forget the pain they caused my wives and my family. This was first our home before it was theirs. The priestess begs for mercy and says this child in your arms is now your daughter. If you kill her, know you do not kill one of ours but one of yours.
The child grows in my hands and becomes a girl. I sit with her under the dark night sky. I help her remember the face of her brother, and she helps me remember how to weave a story into silk. She helps me remember what it is to love. And she is my daughter but i still have seven sons, who have not yet been returned to me. Revenge melts into agony, agony to grief, grief to despair. The girl grows up to be a priest. And soon enough she stands on a grassy mountaintop amid water yams thick with the thatch of an unharvested season and calls on Nyame.
She is trying to cast out a wicked future and invoke one where invaders do not capture our Helpers. But I know the invaders have already come, they are already here. She weaves a pendant from the trunk of the Wawa Tree planted beside my home. She plucks a seed from its fruit and places it inside. One pendant with two pieces, one a trunk, the other, a seed. She prays, and a girl called Kwesa is chosen to keep the key until it is time. But I know how people forget, and what time can do to the memory of a village. And with one last spin of the web, I tell her a story of a future where this girl does not remember, and another where the pendant is lost.
“Then I will bind the pendant to the girl” She says, and she does.
“But what happens if she sees the door and passes by it?”
“I will cause her to remember at the destined hour” she says.
“ No juju is strong enough to last a thousand years!” She will need a Helper. Let me Help her!”
I remind her, this place is not my world, it has never been my home, but maybe there is a place there for me in this new world she is about to open. I beseech the priestess, my daughter, I beg in the name of her brother Dei.
“Give her the trunk, give me the seed. I will wait a thousand years for her to open the door. And if she does not come, if she does not remember, I will open the door, and let the helpers free. I will bind the Trunk and The Seed and keep it in the safest place”
And with a throw of chicken bones on the floor, and pouring of libation, she opens up the door, for the first time. The trunk of the Wawa Tree peels and exposes the doorways to a leafy otherworld. She separates the Seed from the Trunk and places The Seed on my neck. I kiss my daughter goodbye for the last time and walk into the doorway. She vanishes behind me.
I have seen what time does to people, I have seen how they forget, how fickle memory is. In a hundred years, they looked at me not knowing the names of the men who founded their village. In a thousand years, this magical pendant will be nothing but a piece of wood to them. They will not know of its power, or what to do with their Trunk, but I will have all my memories with me. I will remember how they invaded my lands, how their gluttony stole my stories, how their arrogance claimed my sons, and how their wickedness claimed my wives and my home. I will remember the power of the pendant. And how such power must never be possessed by such wicked people.
What my daughter does not remember, is even though they live in bliss with the creatures they now call Helpers, the people were the first invaders. They invaded my lands, and now they lock us away in a beautiful cage because they are afraid of invasion? What foolishness.
In front of their eyes, I will weave silk so finely. And when the web is ready, leave it for them to walk into. And just like my sons carried a bag of stories to the sky, I will carry all the world’s people in my bag, and throw them into the door!
With the Power of the Trunk and the Seed, I will shake all the sky in the world, and I will not stop until my sons fall into my web. And once they are safe in my arms, I will return the Trunk to the Tree, and bury the Seed under its roots, and with this close the door forever.
With no more people, I will put an end to the history of invasion, I will sit under the stars with my sons, light a fire, and tell stories of the names of the stars, and all their histories. And I will wait for the tremor of the Helpers on the ground, and the ones with scales, and wings, and all the creatures of the world will flock to me, and I will hear their stories and wrap them in silk.
Do not step on the spider.
If you see her web outside, she has only created it to catch her sons who may one day fall from the sky. And when it’s on the inside it is simply looking for the one who carries The Trunk of her Seed. She would stop at nothing to unite the keys, save her sons, and end the history of invasion.