DENTAA AND BERNADINE reached the junction that led to Ceci’s house. She saw a Kebab Seller and pointed at him.

“Let’s go and get some sausages.”

When there was no response she turned to her friend to realize that Bernadine’s mind was elsewhere. “Bernadine,” she said gently and watched as her friend’s eyes lost that dreamy look. “You’re thinking about your mum right?”

Her friend smiled ruefully. “Yeah but mostly about my dad. I really want to find my mum but I’m wondering whether he really wants me to find her or not.”

Dentaa looked confused at that, “why do you say that? Is it something he said or-?”

Bernadine, “no. But he came looking for her years ago and didn’t find her yes but, he could have returned or even hired a private investigator. What if she’s dead and we don’t know?”

“You have a point there,” Dentaa said. “But you said he doesn’t know the real reason you’re here, so unless you’re ready to tell him you’ll never know his real reason for not searching for your mum again.”

Bernadine, “madam counselor.”

Dentaa, “in the flesh.” They both laughed. Bernadine was very much relieved at this chance to laugh because thinking so much about her mum was giving her sleepless nights. Dentaa pointed to the kebab seller and they went to the stand to place their order. She wanted grilled gizzard, her friend preferred grilled sausages.

While the seller dabbed some coconut oil on the grilled meat on the fire, her phone rang.

She looked at the caller ID and saw it was her dad. “Amazing,” she said to Dentaa, “just after talking about him he’s now calling.” Dentaa smiled and shrugged.

“Hi dad.”

“Hi dear.” Her father’s warm baritone spoke into her ear. “I’ve waited all this while for your call. How’s your trip?”

Bernadine grimaced. She should have called him as soon as she reached Ghana.

“It’s been good so far daddy. I’ve been meeting old friends and checking out the whole neighborhood. Oh dad, I wish you’d come along.”

“You know I couldn’t, honey. Not in my condition.”

“Daddy, there’s nothing wrong with you and you know it. You’re as fit as a fiddle and your heart can’t keep up that’s why it’s tripping.”

Her dad’s hearty laughed bounced off the phone’s speaker. “Oh my dear girl, I’ve missed how you make me laugh. Have you spoken to your brother?”

“I’ll call him this evening.”

“No need. He’s here already and asking for the phone.”

Dentaa handed Bernadine a line of gizzard on a stick. She took a bite and waited for Kwame to come on the line.

“Whadup sis.”

“Hi small bro, sup?”

“You know I’m not small anymore. But tell me are you okay? How’s the old neighborhood?”

“Still the same.”

They chatted for a few minutes as she and Dentaa resumed their walk back to their street. She ended the call with a promise to call soon and saw a Chop bar her parents used to frequent when she was young.

“Do you care for some fufu?” Dentaa saw where she was looking at.

“Go and eat food that I don’t have to prepare and no Roko to run away from the pounding only to return when the food is ready to be served? With pleasure.”

Bernadine laughed, “you should come and hear some of Kwame’s excuses when I’m preparing fufu and, because we prepare yam and not cassava, you can imagine how hard it is to get the right consistency.”

“I can imagine. Brothers, who needs them? They’re a pain and even more so on the day of your traditional marriage.”

Bernadine couldn’t help laughing at that. “Why do you say that?”

“If they don’t agree to accept the Akonta sikan, how will your future husband marry you?”

“That’s so true.”

They entered the chop bar still laughing and ordered fufu with goat meat soup for lunch. While they ate, they recollected fond memories of what each of their brothers used to do. They laughed so much that a patron of the eatery had to warn them to make sure the soup didn’t enter their heads.

They sobered at that. Maybe for just a second and burst into laughter again!

 

DENTAA AND BERNADINE reached the junction leading to Bernadine’s house. She turned to her friend, “thanks so much for coming along with me today. I really appreciate it.”

Dentaa shook her head at this, “I did nothing that you wouldn’t have done for me if the shoe was on my foot. I’m really glad I came.” She hugged her friend.

Bernadine hugged her back glad for her support. “So when do I see you?”

“Mm, I’ll pass by tomorrow after I finish washing a ton of clothes, mostly Roko’s.”

“Why? Doesn’t he know how to wash?”

“He does but my parents are sending him to our village. He has to send some things to my grandparents. He’ll be gone for the weekend and I will have to look after the store here.”

Dentaa’s parents had met when they were both traders at Kantamanto back in the eighties. They had pooled resources and opened a small shop where they sold clothes at rock bottom prices. This had attracted a large clientele over the years, enabling them to expand the store and even open two more branches in other parts of the city.

They had employed people over the years to manage the stores but constant embezzlement from the managers had compelled them to run the stores themselves. Her parents and Roko ran the three stores while Dentaa stayed at home to take care of the house. She would have preferred to man one of the stores but her parents had promised to open one soon and hand it over to her.

“Ok, so see you tomorrow,” Dentaa said waving to her friend and left.

Bernadine sighed as she looked at her friend’s retreating back. She glanced towards the direction of her house. She really didn’t want to be alone right now with her thoughts for company. She wished Kaakyire were around.

She laughed at that, Kaakyire. Why would she even be thinking about him when Dentaa wanted him? She shook her head.

She walked towards her house and stopped short a few meters away. There was Kaakyire lounging on the steps. She knew she shouldn’t be so happy to see him especially with her pledge to help Dentaa with him but blame it on the day or something, because seeing him waiting for her just made her forget about everything.

“What are you doing here?” She asked him with a smile as she stood within touching distance.

And that was what Kaakyire did. He grabbed hold of her praying she won’t resist. Thankfully she didn’t and hugged him back.

“I just wanted to be with you. I came here, realized you’d gone out and decided to wait for you.”

Bernadine looked into his handsome face and made a decision.

“Are you busy with anything this afternoon?” She asked.

“Yeah,” his heart nearly burst out with happiness when he saw the disappointed look in her eyes. “I’m busy being here with you.” He saw her eyes clear and wondered if just maybe she returned some of his feelings. He hoped so. Bernadine grabbed his hand.

“Well, I’d like to watch a movie so care to take me to the Mall?”

“Your wish is my command.”

He thanked God in his heart as they both went to catch a cab.

 

IT HAD BEEN a week of fun for both Kaakyire and Bernadine.

For her, it was the only way she could calm herself down as she waited impatiently for Ceci’s friend to return back to town.

When it came to Kaakyire, she liked to think that she was getting to know him better so she’ll know how to connect him to Dentaa.

She knew it was a lie but didn’t dwell on that thought much.

As for Kaakyire, he couldn’t be happier. He’d arranged trips to the beach, evening strolls listening to music on his phone, 3 dates at a restaurant and service at his church so he could spend every day with her. He found himself admiring more things about her.

Like the way she loved laughing even when he asked her why she liked wearing pink and white all the time. She’d told him it was because those were her mother’s favorite colors. She’d however worn a black attire with a pink and white necklace-set to their beach date and a yellow printed dress with pink eye shadow for the church service.

He found himself falling for her deeply as he saw how intelligent, witty and caring she was.

He’d had a migraine just after church and she’d gone to the pharmacy to get him some painkillers. She’d even stayed with him till he slept and woke up four hours later.

His parents had called him and she’d been so respectful to them as they questioned her on what she was doing in their son’s room. She’d even refused his usual offer to see her off so he could sleep more.

But in all that time, Kaakyire had realized something. Even though Bernadine had told him she’d come to Ghana just for the holidays he felt that she wasn’t being entirely truthful to him. He needed to know why she was in town.

 

KAAKYIRE WOKE UP Monday morning feeling better than he was the previous day. He smiled when he saw the medicine Bernadine had bought for him. She’d been so considerate and had allowed him to sleep instead of going to see her off at home. He stretched for a second reveling in the memories of seeing her pretty face looking down at with worry in her eyes. She really cared about him.

Then a thought occurred to him. He hadn’t called her last night to find out if she’d reached home okay.

He searched for his phone and saw it on the center table. The battery was dead. He put it on charge and went to take his shower. After 15 minutes the battery was a bit charged. He dialed Bernadine’s number.

“Hey handsome, how’re you this morning?” She asked as soon as she answered the call.

“Oh Bernadine you’re the reason I woke up with a smile this morning,” he said.

“Really?” she asked with a smile in her voice.

He grinned. “Yes really. Thanks so much for yesterday-”

“Wait,” she interrupted. “Would you have done the same if I were ill?”

“Of course I would and even more,” he answered.

“Then you don’t need to thank me. Am I seeing you today?”

“Nobody can keep me away. Can I see you this morning?” He asked hoping she said yes.

“I’ll be waiting,” she said and ended the call. Kaakyire went to the mirror on his wardrobe. He knew he was grinning like a fool but he didn’t care. She wanted to see him as much as he did her but then he sobered up. He needed to question her and he wondered if she’ll trust him enough to tell him the truth.

He opened his wardrobe and looked through his clothes. He needed to look casual but stylish. He laughed. He’d never dressed to impress a woman before and then he laughed again. He’d never dressed to impress a woman before Bernadine. He finally decided on some clothes and grabbing them, quickly dressed up.

As he came out of his room, he wished he hadn’t.

There were his friends and from the look on their faces they had a lot of ribbing to do and he was the victim.

“Yo Kaakyire. Where’s your purse? Aren’t you with her today?” Roko teased as the others laughed.

Kaakyire groaned inside but laughed goodnaturedly as his friends teased him for falling for Bernadine.

“For someone who refused to date because you’re a ‘Christian’ you certainly have been thinking “unchristian” thoughts,” Pinanko chipped in.

The teasing went on and on but he just laughed it off. He knew that secretly they wished they were the one dating her. Dating her? He wished. He didn’t know if she was interested in him or not. And whatever it was, would it prevent the two of them from getting together?

That thought worried him so much that without a word he walked away, leaving the guys wondering aloud if he was offended or not. But he walked away with just one thought on his mind, Bernadine.

 

BERNADINE WAS SEATED in a chair opposite Kaakyire. He was sitting on top of the banister and looking drop-dead gorgeous in a white Tee over blue jeans. He’d topped the ensemble with a black cap with the inscription “God is Real.” In fact, to her, Kaakyire looked good in anything he wore.

She suddenly realized that he’d been quietly staring at her for some time without saying anything. She wondered what he was thinking about and if it was about her.

Since they’d became friends again he was the only guy she’d wanted to talk to. Yes, the neighborhood guys all went out of their way to chat with her any time they met her but she was always quick to leave.

However with Kaakyire it was different. He was decent, God-fearing, caring and fun to be with.

She knew she was falling for him and for a moment thought of Emeka but he seemed to have faded somewhat from her memories. She even wondered if she’d ever been in love with him or whether she’d just liked him because their fathers were best friends.

She replied eagerly as Kaakyire asked, “can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” she said.

“What is your real reason for coming back to Ghana?”

Bernadine was disappointed. She’d thought he was going to propose love to her or something. She wondered whether to tell him the truth or not. She decided to.

“I came to Ghana because I want to find my mother. She left my dad for no reason 5 years ago and I want to know why. Why she left a man who is dying to raise two kids on his own.”

Stunned silence greeted this revelation. She seemed unaware of Kaakyire sitting by her as she went to lean on the banister lost in her thoughts.

“She didn’t even bother to return or get in touch with us to find out how we were.” Her voice was rising but she was unaware of this as she poured out her frustration. “My dad has lost all will to live and I know that it’s due to the broken heart he suffered when he lost my mother. I don’t want to lose my father. I just wish,” her voice broke in a sob as Kaakyire enveloped her in his arms, “I could find her. Why did she leave? Why couldn’t she love me enough to stay?” She burst into tears.

“Oh darling, you’ve held on to this pain for so long. Just let it go. I’m right here babe, I’m right here for you.”

Bernadine just grabbed hold of his Tee tightly, happy to be in his arms at last.

And that is how Dentaa came and found them. Bernadine who had been smiling one second, froze and pushed him back the next. Kaakyire looked at Bernadine with no little surprise. He turned to follow her gaze and smiled when he saw his friend’s sister.

“Hello Dentaa,” he greeted with a smile.

“Hi Kaakyire,” she responded in a deadpan voice. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“Well, I came to see this beauty here.”

“I didn’t know you two were an item,” Dentaa spoke through gritted teeth. Bernadine heard the edge in her friend’s voice and wished the earth could swallow her.

“Oh we aren’t,” she hastily corrected her friend. It was Kaakyire’s turn to stare at her. He didn’t like the edge in her voice. He decided not to ask any questions. He was hoping she wouldn’t think he took advantage of the situation to get closer or anything.

“Listen, let me leave you two girls to chat. Bernadine, I’ll see you around soon. Dentaa, greet your bro for me.”

With a jolly wave and a hesitancy to leave Bernadine, he walked home unaware of the turmoil the object of his desire was feeling.

“Look, it wasn’t what you think it is.”

Denta stood, arms akimbo, staring at her friend. “Then, tell me. What should I think it was?”

“He came to visit me and we were talking about my mum’s issue. I couldn’t hold back the tears and he hugged me.”

Dentaa melted. She knew how much pain her friend was in.

“Come here,” she said with open arms. Bernadine ran to hug her with a sob. “I’m here for you ok? At least, you know that you’re not alone.” Bernadine nodded. “And it’s ok with Kaakyire.”

Bernadine pulled back, “I’m so sorry Dentaa. I wouldn’t want to do anything which would hurt you. I promise.”

Dentaa smiled ruefully. “I have been trying to catch that guy’s attention for 5 years. 5 long years. I’m his friend’s sister and he has been there through some shitty times but never did he hold me or give me any indication that he saw me as a woman. He doesn’t have any girlfriend in the hood and some of the girls even think he might be gay.”

“What?” Bernadine gasped.

“Yep but clearly he isn’t because what I saw when he was leaving your embrace clearly meant his equipment prefers girls.”

They both burst into laughter but Bernadine quickly sobered up.

“But Dentaa, on a serious note, you know I won’t be here for long.”

“Yeah, I know.”

“After finding my mum, that’s it. I have to go back home and go to school.”

“I know and I will miss you so much.”

The girls hugged again.

 

MEANWHILE, LYDIA WASN’T having a good day. Inkoom was stressing on the girl he saw the other day.

“Do you think we should go and visit Ceci?” he asked as he spiked a cube of carrot with his fork. “The way that girl looked like you, are you sure she isn’t a relative?”

“Inkoom, I’m sure she’s not a relative,” Lydia was trying to keep the bite from her voice but it was getting stressful with the way he’d gone on and on about Bernadine. He’d gone from asking her if Ceci had told her about the girl to now wanting to visit to inquire about her. The last thing she wanted was her husband to meet her daughter. If wishes were horses, she’d curl down on her bed in despair praying this week away but the downside was doing anything like that was so unlike her that he would worry. She was so tired but had to continue to keep this heavy burden a secret. She’d made a promise she couldn’t break.

 

CECI WAS ARRANGING vegetables on a tray when she saw the two girls approaching. She took her time to watch Bernadine uninterrupted. ‘Lydia really needs to talk to this girl,’ she thought.

Meters away, Lydia was thinking of a good excuse to convince Ceci to lie to Inkoom on her behalf. She knew Ceci would never lie to cover up for her but she had a strange feeling her husband would come asking questions. He never liked to leave things unanswered. She was so lost in thought that she didn’t see two girls approaching. One of them was her daughter.

“Ma?” Lydia froze for a split second and walked away. She knew Bernadine had seen her profile and might call her again. She hoped she wouldn’t.

Bernadine watched the woman walk away. She was about 10 meters away but had thought the woman resembled her mother. She couldn’t help calling but seeing the woman ignore her, she wondered what made her cry out like that.

“I doubt she is,” Dentaa said helpfully.

“I know. Do you think I should run after her just to be sure?”

 

CECI HAD WATCHED the exchange with glee. She knew Lydia was probably trying hard not to cry. It was bad having this much fun at her friend’s expense but the truth had to be told. When she saw Inkoom approaching some meters behind the girls, she knew it was going to be more fun.

She didn’t remember the last time coming to the market was this eventful.

 

“Lydia!” she heard her husband calling out her name and turned. What was he doing here at the market? To see Ceci about Bernadine? Her eyes widened when she met her daughter’s shocked face.

“Ma?” Bernadine’s jaw gaped open. Dentaa looked at her friend’s mum in shock. Inkoom looked so confused. Ceci hid a grin behind her hand and Lydia just fainted onto the dirty market ground.

“Ma!” Bernadine cried as she rushed to her mum’s side. Dentaa followed her.

 

LYDIA SMELLED THE blossom fragrance of her room before she opened her eyes. She always liked her room smelling fresh and had a bouquet of freshly cut flowers sent to her every other day. She smiled and remembered the horror she encountered at the market today. Maybe it was a dream she thought as she opened her eyes.

It wasn’t a dream after all as she met the eyes of her husband, daughter and the girl she was with. She turned her head and saw Ceci sitting at the dining table watching TV.

She sighed. The day she’d been trying to avoid just came sooner than expected.

“Lydia, what is going on?” her husband asked impatiently. “Why is this young lady calling you her mother?”

“That’s because she is her mother,” Ceci provided.

“Ceci, enough. I’m right here in the room,” Lydia said as she sat up with a wince. There was a pounding headache claiming residence in her head.

Bernadine had been watching the exchange in silent shock. Finding her mum was not as much shock as realizing her mum didn’t want to see her. Her mum had avoided seeing her? How long had she known she was in town? Why had she hidden herself from her own daughter? Was it something she did? Did her mother hate her? Why would she do that? Bernadine didn’t know tears were streaming down her cheeks until Dentaa handed her a paper tissue.

“Ma, why?”

Lydia was afraid to look at her daughter. She couldn’t bear the pain she knew she would find there.

“Bernadine, you shouldn’t have come.”

“Why ma? For years I didn’t know if you were alive or dead. I saw you today. I did and I called you but you snubbed me. Why?”

Lydia rubbed her nose. How was she going to deal with this without creating more problems than there were? Inkoom won’t forgive her. She looked over at him and quaked at the look on his face. He was looking at her calmly but with a blank look on his face. For all that she had done, hurting him like this was something she had tried to prevent. She didn’t know how to make it right. What would she do?

“Ma, I asked you a question.”

“Enough! If you want answers, go and ask your father what he made me promise years ago and why.”

“Daddy? He came to look for you two years ago and said he didn’t find you.”

Lydia smiled grimly. “He lied. Just like he lied about a lot of things. I cannot answer your questions until you talk to him. Now if you don’t mind, I want you all to leave.”

“Ma but…”

“I said leave!” Lydia turned her face away

“One question before I go,” Bernadine sniffled. “Am I your daughter?”

Silence. No response from the hardened face on the sofa. The silence in the room broke a little girl’s heart. She had a headache. A terrible one. She wanted to go to her mum for one of the warm hugs she’d missed but knew she wouldn’t get one. She needed answers but also knew she wouldn’t get them. She wanted a lot of things right now but she wouldn’t get them.

“Dentaa, let’s go.”

Ceci lifted her stout frame from the chair she’d been seated on and with a brief look at her friend, followed the girls outside. Inkoom without a word, walked into the bedroom, leaving Lydia in tears on the chair.

 

DENTAA LOOKED AT her friend with worry. Bernadine hadn’t said another word aside calling her airline to book a flight. Luckily, she’d gotten a seat for a flight leaving in 3 hours. Aside that, she’d quietly packed her clothes and rearranged the room.

Bernadine found it painful to even breathe. She wanted to cry so badly that there was a huge knot in her throat. She knew she would break down if she did so. Her mother didn’t want to see her and had sacked her from her house. She continued packing the rest of her things, trying to get over what happened less than an hour ago.

 

KAAKYIRE WAS ON his way to visit Bernadine when he met Roko. He’d been calling her for the past hour but all his calls and messages had gone unanswered. They were chatting about the likely restrictions from COVID-19 on their town when a taxi cruised by. Due to the tinted windows, he didn’t see the occupant but felt uneasy. Roko called out to Dentaa who was just some meters away.

Kaakyire saw the look on her face and quickly rushed to meet her.

“Dentaa, is she ok?”

“Who?”

“Bernadine.”

“She’ll be fine. She just left.”

“Left? To where?”

“Back to Nigeria of course.”

So she was the one in the car? No wonder he felt an unease. Wait. Did she see him but chose to ignore him? Why was she leaving without saying goodbye?

Without another thought, he flagged down a passing taxi and climbed inside, to the shock of Dentaa and Roko. Roko was fast to recover as he burst into laughter.

“That boy has got it bad.”

“What do you mean?”

“Your friend is his girlfriend. He’s so head over heels in love with her that he’s even considering moving to Nigeria to continue schooling there just because of her.”

The comical look of shock on her face set him off again.

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