INKOOM PAUSED FOR a second when Lydia entered the room. She’d been sitting in the hall crying, afraid of what to say to her husband, wondering how to make him understand. She’d rehearsed line after line looking for a convincing story to tell him but had had to abandon all of them because he knew a lot now and any unexpected question thrown at her could unravel all that she’d tried to hide.

She’d finally decided to tell him the truth though unpalatable. She knew he was going to still leave her. That he wouldn’t forgive her readily but at least he would understand. Her husband was the most patient man in the world and she knew he would get why she had had to do all the things she’d done.

She however, entered the room and found him packing. That’s when he paused.

“Inkoom but…what are you doing?” she cried as she rushed to pull a folded shirt from his hand. There was a duffel bag in which he’d packed some trousers and T-shirts. With tears streaming down her face, she lifted the duffel, changed her mind, put it down on the bed and knelt down before him. “I’m sorry honey. Please let me explain. Please. I will tell you everything just don’t leave, please. I’ll tell you everything. I’ll do anything please don’t go.”

He looked at her dispassionately.

“We have 2 beautiful kids that I always thought you’d kill to protect. I secretly called you maame gyata (lioness) who would guard her cubs against prey and friend. As a counselor, many women have looked up to you over the years. You’ve championed the rights of women and even helped those who’ve been abused to seek redress in court by paying for their legal aid. You’ve helped 15 girls secure funding towards their school fees and assisted teenage mothers to get needed help. Every young woman I know respects you and wished they were your daughter yet, I saw you turn away your own daughter. Your own blood. I listened to you scream in pain when you gave birth to our kids. You obviously did same when you gave birth to her but you treated her like that? How can you call yourself a mother when you inflicted pain into that girl’s heart like she was nothing?” He watched dispassionately as every jab made her flinch. “Like she was a piece of trash found by the wayside. This is not the woman I call wife. This is a stranger I never knew lurked between the show of love and affection. I don’t know this woman. I don’t like her and I can’t stay with her.”

“Please Inkoom. Honey, I’m sorry. I was just trying to prevent so many things from happening because the truth will break her more and I wanted to avoid this. I wanted to avoid you getting to know it like this. Please don’t go.”

Inkoom watched her quietly as she wept so hard that her nose ran. “I want you to go to Cecilia and ask her where your daughter is. Knowing who she is, I can now understand why you were so uncomfortable that day I came to pick you up from her house. You saw your daughter but was running away from her. I made the connection but you wanted me to believe a lie. You watched me believe a lie. Such a shame. Go to Ceci. Ask her to show you where your daughter is and bring her here before you can explain to me what is going on. If you don’t find her, don’t step a foot in this house.”

“Okay Inkoom. I will. Please don’t go.” She quickly bundled onto her feet and swiped her eyes with her palms. She gave him a shaky smile. “I’ll bring her please.”

“Okay.”

As she got to the doorway, “and Lydia, if this doesn’t get resolved today, this marriage is over.”

She gasped. She walked with her hand stretched towards him but dropped it on seeing how tensed he was. She nodded even though he couldn’t see the gesture and with a sob left the room. Inkoom sat on the bed and looked towards the bedside table. On it was a framed photograph of the two of them with their kids. He shook his head.

 

BERNADINE ALIGHTED FROM the taxi in front of the Kotoka Airport and moved to wait for the driver to open the booth for her. He removed her bag for her and collected the fare. She had just placed the bag on the pavement when she heard someone call her name. She froze. That was Kaakyire. In her anguish, she had completely forgotten about him but how did he find her? She inhaled sharply, arranged her face and turned to face him.

Kaakyire stopped a mere breath away from her. He was so confused. Why was she leaving so soon?

“I have to leave.”

“Why?”

“I can’t explain but I really have to leave. I can’t stay here anymore.”

“Oh, but you can’t leave like that without telling me anything. If not for Dentaa…”

“She loves you. She told me. I have to go.”

With that said, she grabbed her bag and entered the reception.

“Bernadine wait…” but it was too late. She entered the departure hall without another word. He stood arms akimbo, watched her receding back, feeling like a tight fist was squeezing his heart. He walked shakily to a wall nearby and leaned on it, wheezing in pain. He knew it wasn’t a heart attack. It was just the pain of watching her walk away but it hurt so badly. He talked himself out of it and finally straightening up, turned to flag down a taxi. It was time to go back home. He waved the taxi off and went to stand near the wall again.

“Oh but chairman wossop?” the driver asked. Surprised, that h.is new passenger would change his mind without a word but Kaakyire’s thoughts were far away. The driver waved in his direction for a moment and when the boy refused to look his way, steuped and drove away, miffed at the snub.

 

CECI WAS STANDING on her porch looking uncharacteristically grim. She felt sad for the role she’d played in today’s fiasco. Lydia had wanted everything under wraps but all she’d thought was having the truth finally come out without thinking of the young lives this was going to affect. She’d sat watching her friend thrusting a spear into the little girl’s heart and could imagine how she’d feel if someone had done that to any of her daughters. One thing she couldn’t put her finger on was why Lydia was doing all these. A promise? What is a promise when your daughter’s heart is breaking?

“Ceci, please I need your help,” the object of her thoughts interjected.

Ceci turned towards the sound of her voice and became surprised. Lydia had alighted from a taxi wearing two different sandals, with a tears-ravaged face and unkempt hair.

“Why should I help you?”

“You have to help me,” Lydia said furiously, stabbing the air in front of her friend’s face. “I told you, no, I warned you severally to not meddle. To not make my daughter know about me but no-o-o, Mrs Cecilia Maame Mensima Kwansa, you had to feed her breadcrumbs which ultimately led to me.”

“Get that finger off my face before I double smack your stupid face. When your ex-husband came looking for you, didn’t I keep mum about your whereabouts? Didn’t I tell you that you’d have to consider telling your kids one day which you still said no? Your ex might deserve any treatment but not your kid. Not Bernadine but, you hit her head repeatedly against the wall as if she wasn’t human. What is wrong with you Lydia? What kind of woman will do this to her own kid? If Inkoom doesn’t leave you after this then I’ll be surprised because I watched him and I know he felt as disgusted as I did when I watched what you did to that poor kid.”

Lydia wilted. “He’s leaving me.” Her legs gave out from under and she quickly grabbed hold of the ledge to avoid falling. “He says he’ll only stay if I bring Bernadine home so that I explain to them both what is going on.”

“Good man. I’ve always known him to have sense in that head of his.”

“That’s why I need your help Ceci. I need to find Bernadine. Please take me to her house.”

“I can’t.”

“Ceci, I beg you,” Lydia quickly knelt before her and grabbed a corner of her cloth nearly disclothing her. Ceci was wearing a blouse on which she’d wrapped a cloth around her waist. Her friend’s actions if not stopped would reveal her nakedness. “Please take me to her house. I’ll do anything please.”

Ceci pulled her cloth from her grip and tied it tighter around her waist. “I can’t because I don’t know where she lives.”

“Eiiiii. I’m dead. Inkoom will leave me oooooooh. Ceci please you have to help me. Any information, I beg you. Please I will die today if I don’t find her. I have to find her. Please Ceci.”

The slap dazed her. She stopped and stared at her friend, lifted her hand to touch her cheek and felt the warmth. “You slapped me.”

“Get a grip. We won’t find her with the way you were wailing as if someone had come to carry the corpse you were burying away. She always came to the market with her friend, Dentaa. If we find that girl, we will find her. Let’s go to the market and ask around if anyone knows the girl.”

A subdued Lydia nodded.

 

‘HOME. WHERE’S HOME?’ Bernadine wondered as she looked over the clouds. Ghana was some minutes away. Ghana. Where she’d met Dentaa and Kaakyire. She had tried so hard not to fall into his arms when he came to her at the airport. Walking away had been as hard as leaving without answers. She’d known she would break if she saw him which is why she’d been glad the uber picking her up had had tinted windows which she’d immediately rolled upon climbing in. She’d watched him standing with his friends, laughing and smiling.

She’d etched his handsome face, his tall frame and grin into her memories. Memories that she’d pluck anytime she needed succor. Anything to hold onto so that she wouldn’t descend into an abyss of despair. To know that whiles everything about her was destroyed, he would be an anchor to grab hold of. That he came to the airport was a torture she didn’t want and had had to walk away knowing that with every step she took, her already broken heart was breaking apart all over again.

The look on his face as she walked away was a memory she hadn’t needed. It was a look of torture, despair, and pain. Everything she felt now was what she’d made an innocent soul go through. She had done to him what her mother had done to her and it hurt. She burst into tears and finally accepted that the world she had thought was straight As to Zs had turned upside down.

 

KAAKYIRE ENTERED THE uber and pinched his nose tightly. The driver confirmed the destination and started the trip but his passenger’s mind was far away. He’d stood at the airport for almost 2 hours hoping that maybe Bernadine would reconsider and walk out or would somehow and miraculously miss her flight and would have no other option than to return. After waiting for so long and knowing that her plane would have taken off earlier, he’d had no other option than to return home. Mentioning the word “home” felt strange. For the past few days, home had sounded like Bernadine. Love with Bernadine. Life with Bernadine. Happiness with Bernadine.

He was in love with her. He couldn’t explain why her and why now but it hurt that she had thrown Dentaa at him as if he’d had anything to do with his friend’s sister.

Was the girl loving him enough justification for walking away from him? From leaving without saying good-bye? Was he so insignificant that he wasn’t worth a common “hi Kaakyire, sorry that plans have suddenly changed and I have to return home”?

Then something occurred to him. Wait. What if something had happened to her dad or her brother? Or Emeka? He quickly erased that name from his thoughts and concentrated on her family. Yes. He was sure something serious had happened which had made her rush home. He refused to think anything beyond that. Anything else but that would hurt him and he didn’t want to remember the pain. Even if truly there was such an emergency, it wouldn’t justify why she abandoned him like that but at least it would help him understand.

He removed his phone from his pocket and checked his messaging app. She was offline. He quickly typed a message and after clicking ‘send’ finally smiled after 3 hours.

From this point, he could only hope that things would get better.

 

NOTHING WAS GOING right for Lydia. None of Ceci’s colleagues in the market knew Dentaa. Because they ran on shift, it was likely those who saw Dentaa and Bernadine, were now home. Lydia had gone around asking as many of the traders as she could find. She ran her hand on her face when she met another “no, I don’t know the girl you’re talking about. You know our customers are many. Unless you have a picture of her.” She sighed.

Lydia didn’t have a picture of her so knew she was in trouble. She had a picture of Bernadine, 8 photos actually, which she had carefully hidden in her luggage, in a secret part where Inkoom or anyone for that matter wouldn’t be able to find easily. She would have loved to go home for them as it would make her search easier but to do that would mean facing Inkoom and she wouldn’t be able to do that. She didn’t even have her daughter’s contact to check her status for it.

“Wait Ceci, come here.” Ceci was standing with a couple of her colleagues discussing the effects of the lockdown on their business. Yes, finding her friend’s daughter was necessary but her pocket was being affected by the lockdown too. She turned when her friend called her and was surprised at how excited she looked.

“Have you found her?”

“No.”

“Ah, the way you’re smiling. I thought you had.”

“Not yet but I’ve remembered a way we could make our search easier. Do you have Bernadine’s contact?”

“Yes. Why?”

“Oh Ceci, so you have this girl’s number and you never called her to ask her where she lives? Ebeei.”

Ceci’s eyes widened at the realization. How could she have forgotten? She quickly removed the phone from her cloth bag and handed it to her friend. “Search for Bene Ly. That’s how I saved her number.”

“Bene Ly as in Bernadine Lydia?”

“Yes. To make it easier to remember which is her contact since there are two other Bernadine’s stored on the phone.”

“Okay.” Lydia saved the number and tapped call. “She won’t know I’m the one calling in case she wants to avoid your calls. I’ll let you talk to her when she finally answers it.”

Lydia called 9 times. The line buzzed in her ear till the call ended but nobody picked at the other hand. She called 9 more times but was still unsuccessful. She called 2 more and still had the same result. She walked towards Ceci’s stall and sat down on the bench. Her throat felt dry, her tongue was scratchy, her face had hardened in the areas where tears ran and her body felt grimy. She was so tired. She looked down at her phone as message notifications showed up. She clicked on the app and saw Bernadine’s status. There was her picture. She looked closely but it wasn’t her daughter. It was a picture of a young girl.

“Is that Dentaa because I didn’t take a close look at her.”

“Yes. That’s her. Searching for her should be easier now.
They went round again showing the picture to the market woman until they hit gold. One of them used to buy second-hand clothing from Dentaa’s mother and showed them where her shop is. Lydia breathed a sigh of relief, knowing that she was a step closer to finding her daughter.

 

TO BE CONTINUED

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