KAAKYIRE KNEW HE was in trouble the minute he opened his mouth.
”What did you say?” Bernadine asked in growing anger. “I asked if we could be friends,” he blurted out hurriedly, afraid she’ll walk away.
“Ah. I thought you said something else,” and Kaakyire watched miserably as she did walk away.
KAAKYIRE HAD BEEN standing with some of his friends in front of Pinanko’s house when he saw her. He had been listening as Josey teased Pinanko for trying to toast a girl who snubbed him but allowed another guy to chat her up a few meters away. He had turned away laughing and his laughter literally died in his throat when he saw this angel in white spaghetti striped blouse and pink shorts walking across the street.
“Hey, guys do you see the beauty going?” Albie Cash asked.
“Who is she?” Kaakyire couldn’t resist asking.
“Don’t you remember Bernadine Baffoe who lives just down the street?” Roko the fountain of knowledge told them.
“You mean Bernadine Baffoe? The small girl who always wanted to play football with us? The one who left for Nigeria years ago?” Albie asked, visibly shocked by this info.
“Yes,” Roko said simply.
Kaakyire could only watch in mute fascination at how spending some years abroad could change a person so completely.
He suddenly remembered all the times a skinny ten-year-old always bothered him and the other guys to allow her to play football with them. He had always been able to convince the guys to allow her to play for five minutes but hadn’t bothered to become friends with her. At that age, he hadn’t been crazy about being friends with girls but now he felt that after all these years they could become friends or perhaps more.
He’d listened to his friends as they spoke more or could it be said, as they listened to Roko tell them more about Bernadine.
“I heard that Bernadine’s father got a teaching contract in Nigeria and left with the whole family to Kaduna where she attended the best schools. But five years ago Bernadine’s mother returned to Ghana and seemed to vanish into thin air. All efforts to trace her proved futile and I guess after a while, her family chose to stop the search.”
“And how do you know all these?” Albie asked.
“Bernadine’s been friends with Dentaa and they’ve been Whatsapping each other over the years.”
At that moment, Dentaa yelled from the compound that their mother wanted Roko. He nodded at the guys and left.
Kaakyire had chewed all that he had learned about Bernadine and hoped he’ll be able to meet her soon.
THAT OPPORTUNITY CAME sooner than he’d expected. The following evening, he had felt out of sorts and wondered what to do as he was bored. His mother was an American citizen and had left him here in Ghana since he was 19 years. He lived in their family house with two of his aunties and their children. He loved them but they always gave him his space.
HE’D DECIDED TO go and see Roko to download some movies unto his drive and hadn’t been watching where he was going as he browsed on his phone. Before he knew what was happening he’d nearly bumped into her.
“Hey watch where you are going.”
He looked up and there was his angel. This time she was wearing a white cropped top with pink jeans. He wondered if her favorite colours were white and pink as this was the second time he’d seen such a combination on her. He realized he was staring at her like an idiot.
“I’m sorry. I was just checking some info online.”
But she hardly seemed to pay him any attention as she started to move away. He had to stop her.
“You’re Bernadine Baffoe aren’t you?”
She stopped shocked. “How do you know my name?”
He gave her a winsome smile. “It’s been fifteen years but I still remember the girl I always let my friends allow her to play football with us.”
“My word, Kaakyire!
“Wow, you remember my name,” he said, delighted.
“Hey, how could I forget the guy who always gave me five minutes of pleasure every day after school?” She smiled at him in remembered delight.
He took one look at her lighted face and felt tongue-tied at the beauty before him. Her smile slowly faded as she found him still staring.
“Well it was nice meeting you again,” she said and made to walk past him.
That was when he’d opened his big mouth and blurted the first thing that came into his head.
“I want you…” Kaakyire uttered the words without thought and watched anxiously as she turned and stared at him through narrowed eyes.
He watched as she walked away and wondered how he could have spoken those idiotic words but hoped he got another chance to talk to her and this time more sensibly.
He shook his head and returned back home. The movie could wait. Having met and spoken to her had just made his day.
IT WAS A beautiful morning. Little to no clouds in the sky and the birds just chirped away a merry morning.
Bernadine stretched on her bed as she awoke to their melodious tunes. She lay for a minute and stared at the ceiling.
She had to return to Kaduna in a few weeks to start college. She had decided that the only way she could go another rung on her academic ladder was if she knew the truth behind her mother’s disappearance. She needed to find answers to the questions she’d been asking for the past five years: why had her mother left? Where had she gone to?
Her dad was tight-lipped about that subject and had refused to talk about her. Four years ago, after he’d returned to Kaduna after spending several months looking for her mother, she’d seen a change in him that she’d never understood.
He didn’t smile so often anymore and watched her like a hawk. Bernadine knew her mum must have had a good reason for leaving her matrimonial home, her husband and two kids but she wished she knew what that reason was. It had been killing her all these years not knowing and she needed to find her mother and get those answers as soon as possible.
But as she got up to take her bath, what she didn’t know was that she was going to change completely before she left Ghana again.
KAAKYIRE TRIED TO walk nonchalantly, wearing shades and listening to hip-life booming from the speakers of his Redmi Note 9 as he searched for Bernadine’s house.
He’d wanted to ask Roko where she was staying but hadn’t wanted the guys to tease him. So this morning he had waited in front of his house until he finally saw Dentaa leaving her house. He’d followed a few meters behind her hoping she was going to see her friend. But she’d just vanished in between some houses and he had had to find her.
He suddenly did.
There was Dentaa laughing at something Bernadine was saying as they stood in front of a porch. He took note of the house and walked back the way he came from. As he walked home, he couldn’t hide the goofy smile that spread on his face as he started hatching a plan on how to talk to Bernadine again.
BUT BERNADINE DIDN’T know any of these as she chatted with her childhood friend.
“Seriously Bernadine you’re looking good.” Dentaa cast an admiring look down her friend’s physique.
“Look who is talking.” Bernadine laughed. “Everybody knows Ghanaians are more relaxed, carefree and gorgeous due to the peace in this country.”
“You’re speaking as if you’re no longer a Ghanaian. My friend, you’re still a Ghanaian but Nigeria’s treated you well.”
“Thank you,” Bernadine said, “but where are you going?” gesturing to the basket in her friend’s hands.
“To the market.”
“Can I come along? I’ll just go inside and dress into something simple. Want to come in and wait?”
“Sure,” Dentaa said simply as she followed her in.
Bernadine wanted to use the opportunity to ask some of the market women she knew if they knew of her mother’s whereabouts.
She grabbed her purse, spritzed on her favorite perfume and turned to see Dentaa looking around the room. It contained a well-laid mattress on the floor, a sofa and, wardrobe which came with the room, her suitcase, some hand-bags, shoes, a rice cooker and nothing else.
“Girlfriend, is that all you brought from Naija?”
“You know I’m only here for some holidays, that’s all. Shall we go?”
As they left the house, Bernadine wondered if she should confide in her friend. Dentaa knew of her mother’s disappearance and the year-long search for her but didn’t know Bernadine’s real reasons for coming back. She decided to pull the bull by the horn.
“Dentaa there’s something I need to tell you but it comes with a favor I need from you.”
“You’re looking serious all of a sudden. What is it?”
“I want you to promise me never to tell anyone the real reason for my coming here.”
“I promise but it’s obvious that I don’t know the real reason why you came back.”
Bernadine stopped midstride and sighed. “I came here to look for my mother.”
Her friend looked surprised at this but wisely kept quiet waiting for her to finish.
“You know I told you that dad has refused to even hear anyone mention her name at home. He’s torn all her pictures. He doesn’t know that Kwame and I hid some of them. Now that I’m old enough to know the truth, I want to find out for myself. I need to. I have to ask her why she left.”
“But have you thought about the fact that she doesn’t want to be found? You did tell me that might be the reason why your dad finally gave up.”
“I know, Dentaa but I have a gut feeling that if it had been for that reason, my father would have told us. I’m afraid it might be something else…”
“I’m afraid my mother might have run away with another man.”
Dentaa absorbed this in silence. Bernadine walked beside her in silence thinking about what she’d just told her friend, afraid that she might be right.
“Do you need my help?”
“Oh, I would love any help you can give me as I’m afraid of what I might learn.”
“What are friends for?”
The two walked away and took a cab.
BERNADINE LOOKED AROUND the market as they approached. Every market in West Africa was virtually the same; vegetables, crockery and, meat products sold side by side but there were differences nowadays. Due to the social distancing rules of the World Health Organization, some of these markets run a shift system.
She and Dentaa inquired about her mother from some of the traders she still remembered whiles bargaining on food prices. Unfortunately, almost all of those she interviewed didn’t remember her or her mother. The few that claimed to remember her, told incredible stories which made her wonder if they did indeed remember her mother at all.
Dentaa had exhausted her list of provisions and was preparing to carry the basket on her head when she saw Bernadine’s attention turned elsewhere.
“What is it?”
Bernadine pointed to an elderly tomato seller. “I know that woman.”
She was looking at a woman obviously above 60 years. The trader was wearing a straw hat to shade her face and was using a cloth to drive away the flies that wanted to perch on her tomatoes. They both walked to her. The woman looked up to serve them and stared hard at Bernadine.
“M’ewuradze is that you Naana?
Bernadine hadn’t heard herself called by her house name in years but she couldn’t help smiling at this link to her past.
“Aunt Ceci, I’m surprised you remembered me after all these years.”
“If my body has grown old does it mean my sharp brain should also age? How can I not remember the daughter of my next-door neighbor? How’s your father? When did you get back? Will you keep long in Ghana?’’
Bernadine laughed out loud making Dentaa smile.
“Auntie Ceci, something tells me that I have to come home and visit you so I can answer all these questions.’’
Ceci joined in the laughter, “you know me, always asking questions. Remember when you were 8 and decided to wear a black dress to a friend’s birthday party?”
“You asked me if I was going to bury my friend. I was so scared my friend could be dead that I went to the party crying.” Bernadine laughed out loud, but then she became somber.
“Auntie I have a question of my own. Do you know where my mother is?’’
Ceci heaved a sigh. She paused for a minute as she used her cloth to drive away some more stubborn flies. “My daughter I wish I knew where she is at the moment. Years ago, your father came looking for her and asked me the same question.”
“But you and she were such good friends…”
“Listen my daughter, I believe you have to stop this search if that is what you’re doing. Your mother must have had a good reason for leaving the way she did.” She watched Bernadine’s face harden as she spoke.
“Auntie Ceci, I can’t stop especially when I don’t know if she’s dead or alive.’’
A customer came to stand near where they stood, her face turned away whiles listening to a phone call. Ceci looked at her and as her customer seemed to be deeply engrossed in her phone call turned towards Bernadine.
“Listen, why don’t you come and visit me soon so that we talk more? Who knows I might be able to remember something that could help in your search.”
“Alright I will.” Bernadine smiled in relief. “Are you staying at your old house?”
“Then can I come and see you tomorrow in the morning?”
“I will be looking forward to seeing you my dear.”
Bernadine thanked her and turned to Dentaa, “Okay, Dentaa, let’s go. Auntie Ceci, we’ll see you tomorrow. Thank you once again.”
The trader brushed aside her thanks and waited for her customer to finish making her call. As they walked away Dentaa groaned.
“Thank God, we have a silver lining in the cloud but this load is heavy.’’
Bernadine helped her carry it. At Ceci’s stall, the customer ended her call and turned to Ceci as she tucked the phone inside her purse.
“Good morning oh, do you have any fresh tomatoes and onions for me?”
Ceci stared at the woman who was wearing a pink and white bubu, pink bag and white slip-ons.
“Do you see those two girls going?”
The customer turned to watch Dentaa and Bernadine exit the market.
“What about them?’’ she asked without much interest.
“The one wearing the pink and white attire is your daughter, Naana.”
Lydia’s eyes widened in shock. She twirled around to look at her daughter again but Bernadine and her friend had walked out of sight.
Ceci continued. “She just came here asking of you. You’re lucky I made them leave before she realized you were the one who’d come to stand beside her.”
“Bernadine is here in Ghana? Looking for me?” Lydia was still so shocked that the words seemed to trip over themselves in her haste to speak.
Ceci served another customer, “didn’t you hear what I said?”
“I did but…what did you tell her?”
“I told her to pass by the house tomorrow for more information on your whereabouts.” Her beady eyes were trained on Lydia to see her reaction. She wasn’t disappointed.
Lydia gasped in horror. “No, Cecilia you can’t tell her. Please give her some false information please. Anything but the truth, please.”
Ceci looked at her friend of over twenty-five years. ‘’Lydia you knew your past would catch up with you sooner or later. That little girl has grown up not knowing why you left. I looked into her eyes and I could see the pain she feels inside. Be the mother you are. Go and tell her the truth. She deserves to know.”
“No. She won’t understand. I – I can’t.” In near panic, Lydia ran out of the market as if the demons of hell were after her.
“Never forget my dear friend, that the truth has a nasty habit of coming out when you least expect it to,’’ Ceci said softly as she watched Lydia run away. She shook her head and went back to her tomatoes. Now that the drama was over, she could concentrate on selling.
To be continued…