“This loose upon my eyes.”
“Wha’?” Afriyie was stunned, her throat said it. She choked on her bread. Her eyes widened as though catching a last glimpse of dear life. But no, it was the delay of her words that bothered her.
“Wha’?” she managed a second time. “What do you mean by such English?” She had fully recovered.
Ablorde demystified with a frantic tap of her left hand on the bulge that sat underneath her right eye. So haphazard was the movement that she hit the eye. Like any great actor, she improvised. It served her purpose best that tears gathered in her eyes—even if this case, it was just one eye. Her eyes stood transfixed on Afriyie as though frightened by the latter’s lack of depth.
“This!” she points at Afriyie.
“This!” she points at her again.
“This!” she points at herself with a swift up and down movement of her left hand with fingers wide apart, and a growl in her throat as though to say, waste. She did say it eventually, “This waste. Waste of breath!”
Afriyie was scared. She had woken up this morning with little to look forward to, little to offer. She at present, wanted to make it through breakfast. The rest of the day will plan itself. She had driven her two grandchildren who had spent the vacation with her off to their parents’. She wanted so badly to be pampered. Hence, she had skipped her kitchen rituals and had headed for her friend’s. Breakfast was unsurprisingly provided her—kooko and bread interspersed with groundnuts. Groundnuts dancing about in the kooko, groundnut paste flanked by those two slices of bread. Just as she liked it. She hadn’t anticipated a session of ‘Psychology and Horror: The Twins Born Several Years Apart.’ She was dumbfounded, not by the chunk of bread still lurking somewhere in her throat, but because she was actually dumfounded. How was one to respond to being called This! with disgust. Most importantly, how was one to retaliate when one’s attacker repeats the same insult on her very own person? So far this was what she had learnt from her friend Ablorde: they were THISes!
“They caused it!” Ablorde softened her gaze at last. The effect was equally terrible. She looked nutty. Her eyes roamed about in contemplation. In a hopeless contemplation. Finally, they rested on her friend again as though certain now, “They caused it?” she whispered, but audibly enough. It was a question now.
“Herh! Your menopause has started, no?” Afriyie tried desperately at humour to inoculate her friend’s sickness. She even tried laughter; she laughed hysterically. It didn’t work. Ablorde persisted.
“Society? They did this? Tomorrow, I turn fifty and this is all me?” she contemplated in throaty whisper. Words which proceeded straight from the throat to the universe as though the lips were too timid to utter them. “This is all me?” she repeated, gave a short contemplative pause as though judging the weight of her own words. “This is all of me?” Yes, there! That described what she felt better.
“Look. Look Ablor. Go get some rest, erh. We all go through this sometimes. You need to sleep it off. Go, go!” Afriyie dropped her last morsel of bread. It fell in her bowl of porridge; she did not care. There are instances where one is stripped off their taste bud so quickly that one begins to wonder if it was truly they who had been munching a few seconds earlier. This process happens so fast that the sudden switch in appetite causes the stomach to growl in disapproval, the throat to snarl as though threatening to spit it all out. Then one begins to feel nauseated. The stubborn morsel of bread was still there—in her throat.
Afriyie got up from her seat, pushed her meal aside without so much as a glance at it. “I said go!” she ordered giving Ablorde a shove on the shoulder. This is the price I pay for leaving the comfort of my own home.
The soon-to-be-fifty-years-woman stodgy with realisation remained unhinged. “That’s the problem—I have been sleeping all my life.”
With that, it was settled: Afriyie was totally at sea as to what to do. She did not have the right words to say. Her friend had adamantly descended into that darkness. The darkness of which the mind, wanting to keep itself sane never ventured … the mind, wanting to keep sane, keeps itself busy with activity. It is an endless abyss. The mind convinces itself. It lies. It is merely a mire. It clenches one’s feet, grips their abdomen, sometimes, even grasps one’s hands. Surrender without a fight, one descends into the quicksand—lunacy. Crippled with fear and mud, one can fight still. One can defeat this mud—this madness by using their mind. At this stage, you will need your mind to save your mind. Few people have been in this abyss, few people have defeated this mire. These few people change the world.
Ablorde was in this quagmire; it was new to her. Afriyie perceived that her friend had descended into madness, but was oblivious of what it comprised. Yet, she knew enough to know that she did not to want to be pulled into it too. So, she resisted. Not with words—Ablorde’s mind was at a high or low she could not reach. Hence, she did so with tears.
She wailed. She flailed her arms in her wail. She was inconsistent in her blub; her every blabbering contradicting her own blubbering. She praised the gods, she cursed the demons. She spoke of the past, the good old days; she spoke of the present. She cursed societal progress, she damned the paradigm shifts—all the paradigm shifts. Why? She did not know. She blessed the good old days when, “We just sat there and died in peace!” She accused science. She acquitted technology but she accused science! She lacerated those men for what they did to her fore fore fore fathers. These curses reminded her of her own dear mother whose funeral has been closed casket. She blamed Yaa for inflicting those leprous pots on her mother. She denounced the thirst for money, but decried poverty. She cursed all men in passing. She blamed her friend—albeit compassionately.
“See what you’ve done to me! Huh?! See! See!! See what your craziness this morning has done to me!” she sobbed. “See! Huh! Is this what you want? See me cry like a baby. Are you happy now?” She was reduced to a whimper by a cough. Seeing that her planned tears had done little to yank Ablorde from her trance, she resumed her seat, gingerly.
She had noticed her friend stare at her, not as absent-minded as she had been all morning. In her performance, Ablorde, she noticed, watched her carefully. As though critiquing her every move, her every flailing of her arms, her gestures, her hands placed above her head in anguish, the keening, when she was reminded of her deceased mother. This look on her friend’s face had befuddled her so much so that she knew she had to put an end to the teary episode—quickly. Hence, she had introduced the cough. She didn’t like what that look made her feel as though she were the crazy one in the room.
Tranquility was restored. The storm proceeded in a whisper still, “Afriyie, I’m scared.”
“Me too. Me too! You are scaring me, Ablor. Stop it! I don’t even know what you are talking about. Gibberish is all I hear.”
“It would kill you if you did,” she said flatly.
Too know is to be enlightened, but insane too; to not know is to be ignorant, but insane still. Afriyie was mum. She threw caution to the wind and listened.
“Afriyie, I am fifty,” Ablorde decided. “But I haven’t been.”
“See? Gibberish!” Afriyie scolded feebly. “You have two amazing children. You have had a steady career. You were a great doctor. Look at me, Ablor. I am telling you this today, you have been an amazing amazing mother who has had a great career and a … a … a good husband.” Afriyie was weak on the ‘good’.
“What do you mean by that? Are those not enough for you?”
“Are they enough for you?
“I said are those enough for you?”
“See—you are feverish. You should get some sleep.”
Ablorde was at the moment more awake than she had ever been all morning. She was convinced that she was not alone.
“Ablor, you’ve forgotten what we read the other time! Never underestimate your role as a mother! You brought a soul, no—two souls into this world! You fed them! You nurtured them! And now they have lives, careers, and very soon families of their own!”
“You mean my son, right?
“If all the woman is to do is to birth, feed, and nurture her children, then when does the cycle end? For her daughter, too would be expected to only birth, feed, and nurture her children. And that goes on and on. So, in essence, what you’re saying is that we are just this massive warehouse for producing history making, world changing men.”
“Who is saying that? Me?! I have not said that! No one has ever told you that. Not your father, not your husband! You’re a doctor for Chrissake. Yes, once a doctor always a doctor. You chose to …”
“That’s why I said I was scared,” she interjected.
Afriyie was left to swallow her words.
“My… my dad, he … he used to call Kobla and Prosper ‘togber’. ‘Togber Number 1, Togber Number 2’, he would call them. I was the scholar of us three, you knew that,” she smiled warmly at Afriyie who nodded in agreement. They had grown up together in East Legon. Their families had been long-time friends. So of course, Afriyie knew that Ablorde had been her father’s first and last bet, and she hadn’t disappointed.
“And you know how those two boys are. ‘Apparently, ignorance is bliss’ You remember Dada quipping, right?”
“Yes, I do,” Afriyie agreed once again with hesitant tears sprawled about her unsurprisingly long eyelashes. “Kobla with his incessant request to marry me. ‘I want mixed-race babies’, he would say, even though I kept on telling him that in my culture, my family would have to be the one to pay for his dowry, and that we weren’t willing to waste a penny on him.” She chortled to her own dismay.
“Oh! Goodness. I love my brothers. They were unperturbed. Poor guys did not give a hoot about our father’s incessant taunts. They didn’t hate me for it. They didn’t mind that they had to come to me for math lessons. Up-to-date those two babies call me ‘Madam Ew! Ew!’
“Because you liked saying, ‘ew!’” Afriyie was laughing uncontrollably now.
Ablorde wiped a tear (a rather mixed one, that of pain and joy) and continued, “Dada would go on and on, bragging, ‘This my daughter—from first to third positions, she is always there. Right in front of those ‘two stooges’ as he sometimes called them. Yet, I repeat, my brothers still love me and still believe in me,” she pressed a forefinger hard against the dining table emphasizing the ‘still’.
“My husband is too quiet a man to be too opinionated. I guess I’m lucky,” she laughed. You remember how confused and helpless he got when I went through that phase right? ‘Why don’t you trying staying home and breastfeeding your son too!’ Can you believe I actually once said that?!” she chuckled, still in her reverie. Afriyie could only nod.
“And the male classmates, colleagues I have had …” she continued, giggling here and there still. “Men are the baser of the two sexes, that is a fact! Those poor souls respected the brain but were awfully always very happy to be around the beauty.” Afriyie joined her in her laughter, in agreement. “I deserved their respect, they gave it to me …” She gave a long pause as though scared of her very own thoughts; thought of which she was obliged to put to words. “Afriyie … no man has ever looked down on me.”
“But that’s a good thing. So why are you crying? Aww! Ablor, you are making me so uneasy today.” It is true, Ablorde was crying. Afriyie was helpless as to what to do. The last time she had seen her friend sob so, was at her (Ablorde) father’s funeral. She tried rubbing her back, she tried hugging her, made a failed attempt at motivational words. None sufficed. There are such tears when bottled up, only hurt the soul. For the mind to move on, the soul must heal. It took a while for Afriyie to realise that. She gave up her attempts at mollifying and joined in the dirge of tears.
“Society caused this?” Ablorde mumbled. Afriyie heard, ‘Society caused this.’ Thus, in a desperate need to console, she grasped at this last straw of pacifying her friend, “Why, yes! Society since the beginning of civilization has abused, underestimated, controlled, and vilified women. Sometimes, I am sad to be a woman!” She interpolated theatrically.
“It is I,” Ablorde said, thinly.
“I caused it.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’m a fraud.”
“Maybe I should have asked this from the very start—are you drunk?”
“No, no, Afriyie. This is something I should have realised a long time ago. Better still, this is something I came to a long time ago, but ignored.” She got up, ambled pensively about the dining room, cracking her knuckles. “Afriyie, I find that I’m not even qualified to raise my own daughter. She is twenty now—is it too late for me to make amends? To reeducate?” She reassumed her seat, took Afriyie’s hands into hers and with an eager pair of eyes, queried, “It’s too late, isn’t it?”
Afriyie wasn’t sure she understood a word of what her friend was talking about. “Huh?!” she asked sheepishly.
“If … if I, a woman, who since childhood through to her teenage years, had always been made to feel that she was a man’s equal. If I never for once was doubted just because I was a woman. No opportunities denied because I was a woman. If I was allowed space to flourish, to take it all up, nothing of which was given a man denied me. You can say that it is because I never met a fool in my life. Perhaps so. But that is my truth. So why have I lied to myself? Why have I claimed victimization at so many junctures of my adult life? So may opportunities have been afforded me in my adult life, I have let them passed. In doing so I have blamed. Blamed it on them. The men? Which men? I have blamed it on society. Which society? The working mother’s guilt? All the women in my life are working mothers. In fact, to be a stay at home mother, to us, is a novelty. Right? Afriyie, right? So why do I still carry that burden? Which society have I been talking about? No one has sneered at me. No one has ostracized me? They might be thinking it. Thoughts? What is my business with someone’s thoughts if they have not put them to words? Why have I been carrying this load? Who put them on my shoulder? It was easier when I had these two punching bags: the men, society. But today the realisation is so real that it physically hurts. These two have been replaced with one person. Me. Am I a fraud, Afriyie? Have I lied to myself? Have I placed this ceiling on myself so as to give me rest? Has it been my dream not to be too much … too much success, too much self realisation? And I’m realizing, I have lied to my daughter too. I have bequeathed her my cushion, my punching bag …”
“Oh! Oh! Ablor, is this it? This is why you’ve been acting all batty all morning? Listen! Look me in the eyes, listen to me. You can unload that burden, it is not yours to bear. Perhaps, you are right, in retrospect, I can say we have been quite lucky. But think of the millions and millions of women who are denied the same privileges you and I have been blessed with. Think about the thousands and thousands of women abducted because they are easy to keep, rape—because they are good to have, and sometimes killed—because they are not strong enough to resist. Think about those still denied access to education in some parts of the world in this very age of ours! Think about those who are not classified as ‘adults’ in the concept of universal adult suffrage. There are women who are not trusted enough to be entrusted with the decision as to how they should even dress! Many are still kept at home as ovens—what is her use but to birth and nurture? For heaven’s sake, there are women even in the developed worlds denied equal pays with men for the same jobs! Think of those …”
“But I have not been one of those women. I have had it differently. So why have I spent my years carrying their anger, their indignance and feeling of victimization. I have not been a victim so why have I thought like one? Why have I behaved like one?”
“Because there are too many of your kind out there who are victims that it’s mighty difficult for you to fall outside the set.”
“But I am not! Afriyie, at one point in my life I hated Kojo so much! I hated him with my very soul just because he ate! I see him eating and I feel like ripping off his throat. Why doesn’t he take care of the cooking? Why am I the one to do it? I would rant, at times to him. But I didn’t want him there. I didn’t want him anywhere near my silverware, my utensil. Once he cooked, it was good—too good. Nii, who was then only twelve years old, innocently went on and on about how good dad’s groundnut soup was. Oh! I hated that bastard all the more. It’s not enough that he has taken my dreams, he takes my children’s love too. It’s foolish now that I final say these thoughts out loud, you see. Nonetheless, I have brooded over them over and over as though they were truth themselves. Why the anger? Why those unnecessary blames? Why the need to invent an invisible, invincible puppeteer over my life? So as to pay my dues to other women going through hell?
“None of us is free if all are not free, Ablorde.”
“Yes, I’m Ablorde. Of course, I’m free!”
“I wouldn’t be too quick to conclude if I were you. What is happening to those women can happen to anyone of us.”
“So should I stay in fear, in preparation of it? Should I punish the prospective perpetrators before they even consider thinking less of me or victimizing me?”
“No—no. This cheap reductio ad absurdum you are employing is not helping this conversation. You know what they say that if you ever saw your neighbours beard on fire, it was always better to have water by yours. Just in case …”
“Uh oh! So, there I go, splashing my beard with water, even though it’s not ablaze.” She theatrically accompanied her words with illustrative gestures.
“Oh c’mon. now you are just being sarcastic. You know what I mean.”
“No, don’t get me wrong. I really do get you. I’m just trying to make you get me too—my inner most, subdued thoughts over the years. It has not been pretty. That’s exactly what I’ve been doing, Afriyie. Splashing water on my beard—no fire ablaze. Yet pouring water on it. That’s madness, isn’t it?
“Oh! Great. Look at this right here,” Afriyie exclaimed as she fumbled with her phone, with trembling hands, she handed the phone to Ablorde who was in some sort of REM cycle, albeit awake, for she just sat still, dazed, swallowing hard. “Go on, take a look. You see the news, don’t you? How many women have been kidnapped right there for just being women. C’mon read the number out loud. Maybe the glass ceiling, as metaphorical as it is, may sometimes be too illusive to point out. But acts like these, acts as glaring and gory as these—right there—give us every right as women to be apprehensive!”
“I know. I know!” Ablorde returned frailly. “Afriyie, it is just you and I here. No one else is here—just you and I. The rest of the world is not here to judge us for bursting in the glory we, as women have been blessed with. The glory given us for our hard work and the environment afforded us to be who we are. There is no judgement here. no ‘Successful Women’s Guilt’ here. Just you and I. Can you name one perpetrator?”
“You remember that cocky bastard who said he blamed my ‘obstinacy’ on menopause when …” The air quotes were felt.
“I didn’t say to name me a fool, Afriyie.” Ablorde interjected weakly. “Maybe that’s where we get it all wrong. You don’t expect to conduct a fruitful statistic when you go about counting mad men too. That lawyer colleague of yours is a failure one woman laboriously brought into the world. You don’t count him when counting men. This entire movement of propelling the woman forward must not spend a second in grief over comments from brains which do not even qualify as brains.”
“You can’t control what the heart feels, dear.”
“So, are we saying that that action from your colleague is enough to go by when talking of ostracizing of women by society?”
“Oh, oh! Very much so!”
“I hear you say that that is how it is forever going to be—the weaker sex tag is an indelible mark on us.”
“No, what I’m saying is that we will continue to fight until there is a total revolution.”
“And how is there a total win if we do not record our individual wins?
“Erh? I don’t follow.’
“That little girl in the village in some part of the world, denied access to education looks to people like you and I as the win they should aspire for. But if you and I, the supposed win, are sitting with our fingers opening up purported wounds, why should she bother? If you and I cannot admit to a win, just because we are under the illusion that that would mean an ignorance and lack of empathy on our path for her plight, where does the cycle leads us? We are not allowed to recognise, record, and remember our successes as women. Should I continue to go about hunting for perpetrators just to prove my theory of the unfair society—just to have a story to share when the society of women meet to mourn? Who amongst us is to be the examples then? Who is the yardstick, the encourager, the proof that we are not fighting an unwinnable cause?
“See—this, this going on right here. This—see, see …” Afriyie made a sweeping gesture with her hands around the room as though the THISes were to be found there. “It’s a fact, all of us are in one soup,” Afriyie grumbled, fumbling.
“Another thing I hate about this soup. Everyone claims to be in there. Even those …” Ablorde mumbled.