(A fan-fiction tribute to Sackey Sowah’s 1980’s television drama, Apologies)
I followed him after we had slapped our right palms and snapped thumbs with index fingers. He tittuped ahead, bobbing his head in the manner of an agitated rooster while gliding his legs as if he were jauntily practicing some latest dance steps. All at once, he swiveled and spanked the guilty thought which had caused the apparent oversight off his forehead and reached out for my left hand in a courteous bid to relieve me of my heavy Echolac suitcase. In convention, I hesitated and mumbled he shouldn’t bother but he ignored my insincere objection and grabbed the suitcase from my deadened hand.
As we plodded along the incline of the road which led directly to the boarding house, transuding sweat mapped the back of his white shirt down to the boundary where it tucked into the belt loop of his brown trousers. I felt prickled with regret for having packed my clothes, books and provisions all into that one suitcase.
‘Owelewa!’ he called when we reached the purlieu of the dormitories, his loud voice vibrating my absentminded membrane to perceive we had not really spoken within this period of our encounter even though I had reckoned by his uniform that like me, he, too, was a Sixth Former.
‘Apache!’ he called again while he set down my suitcase near the door to a room.
‘Apache! … Martin Owelewa! Ah, where dɛm pass?’
He sucked his teeth and dance-stepped unceremoniously away from view, still calling out those names.
Its timbre rang like a Yoruba word so I divined he must be Nigerian, whoever he was. He reappeared after seconds had almost indexed a minute and made a signal at me to come inside.
A chair which shouldered a purple shirt around its crest rail as a hanger sited at the left side of the entrance, and I buckled onto it without any prompt, enervated, but now grateful in the grasp of the room’s welcoming cool sheltering us within the envelope of the hostile hot weather.
‘Charley, but your suitcase, e be concrete you gather put for inside?’ he queried clearly with pretended reproach.
We squealed in warmhearted laughter and slapped palms harder than we did earlier.
He donned a pair of sunglasses in a James Bond-esque suave within the bonhomie and introduced himself with imperious conviction: ‘I be Jagger Pee.’
My chortle fizzled at once. ‘I be Aswad,’ I heard my voice waver in introducing myself.
‘I know,’ he assented, accompanied by confident bobs of his head.
He said nothing for seconds, presumably for the revelation of his almighty identity to register, and
then enunciated his next move: ‘I dey go find Apache and Owelewa come. Make u chill.’ I nodded in wide-eyed affirmation.
He moseyed out of the room, apparently pleased with my naked awe.
Ei, Jagger Pee! So here he was: the devious-reputed stager who starred in the theatre of immora l dramas promptly propagated within the secondary schools in our region of the country! His wiry structure, coupled with his genial effusion, chided my imagination for the wrong image it had
sculpted him in those stories. Why did he respond ‘I know’ to my introduction when we definite ly hadn’t met before? Who were those characters he was seeking, and why must his preoccupation with them take precedence over the formal enquiries usually conducted after introductions?
My odorant receptors detected the unmistakable suspicion of Drakkar Noir and the fragrance deviated my mind off Jagger Pee onto a prying course of its source. It seemed to stem from the shirt which hung on the chair’s crest rail behind me. I quivered with the flame of fondness the scent sparked within, for even though I didn’t particularly care for it, the perfume was my bosom friend Martin Nii Atukwei Wellington’s favourite.
My calm creek of curiosity erupted into a rapturous geyser of recognition when I turned and scanned the shirt. It was his! I needed no effort in finding his antiquated, brown leather suitcase within the Spartan room to complete the confirmation. It sat on a locker wedged in the corner of the wall to my right. It also implied the concealed presence of his Panasonic boom box. I scurried across to the bed set closer to the locker and peered under the pillowed end. Saskoberta! The boom box was set exactly where I imagined he would ensconce it. Steamed in excitement, I collapsed onto his bed and laughed out loud.
Martin Nii Atukwei Wellington - or Martin Wellington, as we, his peers, referred to him - and I have been friends since our late childhood. Before then, we were regulars, like the many other neighbourhood boys who would show up for Saturday-morning football matches on the gravelly stretch of the street which also situated Uncle Ewusie’s newsstand a safe distance from our makeshift stadium.
While the others usually rushed to grab the privileges punctuality provided with pre-match selection, Martin Wellington and I would lag and linger at the newsstand, entranced by the colourful cartooned tabloids that garlanded it. Uncle Ewusie promptly took advantage of our enticed presence one such Saturday morning by having us run deliveries for him after which he rewarded us with fresh copies of Laugh and Laugh with Homotta Fun Time and Joy-Ride.
We devoured the entrails of the principal columns that consisted the contents: Asuo and Koo, The Adventures of Super Mugu Yaro, Gyato Magani and Baby Wayo, For Married Women Only, Mallam Soofo, Akweley the Maidservant and Dr. Agooji’s witty remarks on quotidian observations. The hurricane of interest these enthralling stories buffeted us soon deracinated our zest for those toe-bruising, wɔnkyɛ ndi matches.
We got transformed from colt footballers to studious enthusiasts. Uncle Ewusie kvelled for his ostensible sowing of scholastic seeds in us and we, in turn, availed ourselves for errands just to sustain our access to his tabloids and back numbers.
Martin Wellington and I then became inseparable friends, bonded by an unappeasable appetite for stories and a mutual taste in the literary dishes we procured. We later became fast fans of Merari Alomele’s humour- imbued articles in The Spectator and conceived ‘Merarify’: a crafty tactic of skimming a column in a newspaper for sale with no intent of honouring our transactional onus.
We loved the Talent for Tomorrow anthologies and concurred that Kwame Adogboba’s Sweet Ouagadougou stood tall in the short-story lot as the poems of Isaac Shakespeare Botchway, James Amoako Glover and Mansfield K. Anyidoho. I actually committed Bismarck Odarquaye Annang’s Heroes Die So Young to memory and he did one other poem entitled Wandering Thoughts. Victor Amarteifio’s Bediako, The Adventurer and E. K. Mickson’s Who Killed Lucy? too, got gobbled.
Referrals and discussions of novels constituted the major contents of our correspondences within the early years of our O-Level tenure. We guzzled Pacesetters flock of stories and did not dispute Philip Phil-Ebosie’s The Cyclist being the stand out narrative. We adored the spectacular manner Cameron Duodu projected a familiar setting in his thrillingly entertaining tale, The Gab Boys and since we also thought the novel more than held its own comparatively with those that consisted the library-accessible, Heinemann’s marquee African Writers Series, we wondered why it did not come as an inclusion.
Literature revealed a profound secret to us along the way: ravenous reading somehow begets a tendency to write! The contents of our correspondences soon transitioned from a cannonade of discussions into sporadic exchanges of our own short story and poetry attempts when O -Level’s final year approached. Our fledgling authorship influenced a critical decision during the short Christmas vacation we convened to properly prepare for the commencement of the examination:
We would choose the same school for our Sixth-Form course because our collaborative intent necessitated nearness. Our plans materialized but fate would present me a present which, in value, seemed as fortifying and as impeding as a direct-free-kick wall to a jittery goalkeeper.
Within the juncture we gained admission, my distaff uncle who had long been domiciled in the United Kingdom proposed I join him pronto since his own children were now grown and gone on marital and occupational calls. Mom was ecstatic, dad was unenthusiastic, and I was the confused amalgam of the polarity, both ecstatic and unenthusiastic!
I shared my mother’s happiness in the perceived prestige of going abroad. While I saw the sense
in my father’s insistence on the completion of my A-Levels before the commitment to any move,
my half-heartedness was kindled really by its adverse implication on our authorship plans and a disinclination to miss attending Sixth Form at home.
Other than the transitioning from the sartorial simplicity of knickers to the splendor of trousers and pristine shirts, Sixth Form at once represented to us the laurel wreath of O -Levels’ success and the
truer proving ground of one’s intellectual prowess. The fun-filled, free-spirited feature of Sweet
Lower also fueled my dissuasion. We had witnessed the panache and hijinks that characterized our predecessors within the Lower-Sixth era, so it seemed incredibly insane to even be contemplating sacrificing such long-coveted prizes on the opportunity-cost altar in the advent of the epoch.
On the day we made our way towards the Lava Limited area of downtown Accra to purchase
suitcases right after we had completed the copious documentary requisition of our admissio n, Martin Wellington’s excited but opportunistic response contrasted my expectations when I
apprised him of the development: he would procure a boom box, UB40’s Labour of Love album and some Drakkar Noir with the money allotted for his suitcase and then I would hand him mine
as a parting gift ‘when I leave.’
When I leave! But what about the plans for our authorship collaboration? The look he gave me said it all: Boy, you must be out of your mind to even consider scrapping such a humongous opportunity for anything else!
Confusion embroiled the wrench as it became apparent travel preparations on both ends might actually take the better part of the year. Skeptical of the deal’s fruition, Dad insisted I did not have the option of loafing at home in the seeming interim. Mom, on the other hand, was disapproving of my relocation to school since she basically feared my interest in the whole affair might dwindle and die altogether if I did.
So, a good three weeks into the academic term, I dragged my addled self one Friday morning, on her blind side, and made for campus to see that one person whose potential advice, I surmised, should suffice to solve the nodus.
‘Frank Otu! Frank Otu! … SP!’, a masculine voice projected from some distance behind me when I reached the ingress of the two-storeyed administration block and I twirled, conjecturing someone was mistaking me for someone else. A middle-aged man dressed in long-sleeved white shirt and some kind of navy-blue trousers beckoned. As my hesitant legs lugged towards him, a fellow dressed in Sixth-Form uniform appeared from behind and scurried past me in likewise route.
I realised then, contrary to my mistaken- identity assumption, the man’s calls and gesture must have been directed at the fellow who had apparently been located on the upper floor. I retraced my steps to the veranda upstairs and briefly observed their tête-à-tête before I settled in the reception area adjoining the headmaster’s office.
The fellow appeared some minutes later and knocked on the headmaster’s door. Without waiting for a response, he fully depressed the door handle and nudged the locked wooden barrier. He sighed and turned attentively to the reception area. An acknowledging smile of my presence broke in his cheeks and rippled away the frustration of the headmaster’s absence from his face. He then tended to me and we slapped palms.
‘You dey come see Billy Goat?’ he asked me, his voice cautiously modulated to a negligib le decibel.
My facial expression must have registered my incomprehension because he asked again, this time gesturing his right thumb over his shoulder at the headmaster’s door.
‘You dey come see am?’
‘Yea,’ I replied.
‘You get appointment?’
I wagged my head to imply no.
The smile vanished from his visage.
‘Ei, Charley! But you …’
‘SP! … SP!’ the masculine voice from downstairs interrupted him.
‘Yieee, so this man no go make I breath small?’ he groused.
‘Frank Otu!’ the voice rang again.
‘Sir! Please I’m coming,’ he shouted and scampered down the stairs.
Frank Otu. The senior prefect. His name did not ring a bell but his face had struck me as familiar.
Either I had seen him somewhere before or he very much resembled someone whose identity I could not immediately recollect. No worry. Since he also had business with Billy Goat, I presumed
he would be back in some minutes or so after he’d settled whatever issue there was with the pestering man for us to get properly acquainted.
He did not show up the next hour. Neither did the headmaster. I froze at the sound of feet shuffling up the stairs just as I had begun making my way to the notice board area so to rev circulation in my legs and kill some waiting time at the same time. A cornrowed-headed lass, sable-skinned and skinny as a scarecrow showed up with another in tandem.
‘Aswad!’ the second one exclaimed and moved closer to hug me even before I identified her. ‘Adelaide Adjei,’ she introduced herself with the fervour of one who had found a long-lost friend. ‘Roberta Coffie,’ she said and pointed at the cornrowed-headed one whom I proceeded to greet by a handshake.
I stepped back and examined this Adelaide Adjei, wondering where and how we had been acquainted for her to ease up to me with such vim and verve.
‘I am a friend of your cousin, Eudora. We first met over a year ago at the Accra Workers’ College when you accompanied her for registration,’ she volunteered information, saving my brain the labour of recollection.
Of course, I had not forgotten that day when my garrulous elder cousin had inveigled me into coming along with her for her own business. She reinforced my resentment when she had spent a bigger chunk of the time parading me around to the numerous members of her swooning-friends association which, by inference, must have included this Adelaide Adjei. No way under that circumstance was I now going to remember her particularly.
‘Are you here to see the headmaster?’ she asked.
I nodded affirmatively.
She and her friend exchanged impressions of unease on their faces before they moved and sank into seats in the reception area. I sauntered away to scan the notice board, my mood not permitting the conventionally appropriate deed of staying and engaging them in chitchat.
The headmaster, Mr. Albert Nunoo, presently arrived and had them in and out of his office within
ten minutes. Because Adelaide Adjei and Roberta Coffie walked away in high spirits - their elation seemingly submerging any possible thought of waving good bye in my direction - I deduced a positive outcome of their rendezvous.
I walked back to the reception area and paced back and forth. That the headmaster did not attend to people without a prior arrangement had become transpicuous from my brief interactions with the senior prefect and the girls.
So, what was I to do now? Find his secretary somewhere in this block and make an appointment for another time, or summon enough courage and go in in spite of
the condition he might well be waiting to engage those who had set up this time with him?
Yet imprisoned by my abiding dithering, the pestering man turned up with a lady who also bore the appearance of a school official, and knocked on the headmaster’s door. I heard him invite them in.
They promptly entered but the lady apparently misjudged shutting the door properly behind her because the content of what was to ensue spilled clearly through the tiny opening into the area, turning me into an unwitting witness to the headmaster’s attempt at a resolution.
‘I want us to talk about what happened last Saturday night,’ the headmaster set the meeting in motion when they had exchanged customary morning greetings and taken seats.
‘Oh, nothing did happen Mr. Nunoo,’ the lady answered. ‘Nothing to cause any -’ ‘Yes, something did happen!’ the pestering man interrupted her.
‘Something serious enough to keep me still embittered. I am the entertainment master in the school and anything concerning
entertainment is under my jurisdiction. You have no right to go there and scatter the students!’
‘I have every right as far as the girls are concerned because I am the senior housemistress!’ the lady retorted. ‘Entertainment for the students is supposed to end at nine thirty after which I expect every girl to be in bed. But I went to the girls’ hostel at nine forty p.m. and there was not a single girl in bed!’
‘Still, you should have consulted me before going there on your own powers!’ the entertainme nt master protested.
‘Well, I did what was right because I was expecting every master to do his job well,’ came the caustic response from the senior housemistress.
I espied the senior prefect within the periphery of my left vision, arms folded across his chest, wryly smiling and listening in to the happening. The shock of the fiery exchanges barraging in the
office had evidently rendered me nescient to the announcing sound of any advancing presence. ‘Please, please! I did not call you here to come and quarrel with each other,’ the headmaster steered the skirmish along a pacific direction. ‘I have sent for the senior prefect and the entertainme nt prefect. They should be here soon.’
Cued Frank Otu knocked on the door and shut it properly upon entering the office in response to the headmaster’s invitation. The males’ elocution then emerged marginally muffled but the loudness of the female’s unyielding assertiveness would not be subdued in any notable measure by the fastened barrier.
‘Entertainment was hardly in progress! When I got there, SP, there was only a handful of students in the assembly hall.
The others were scattered in pairs at very dark places. Some were even lurking at the forbidden place they call… what do you call it? ... Devil’s Corner!’ she averred.
‘Well Mr. Nunoo, since it has been established that the fault lies with someone else, I think I better get out to the classroom; I have a lesson in progress,’ she concluded and emerged with the crestfallen entertainment master behind her after what must have been an admonishment of sort from the headmaster.
It was only the senior prefect’s exclamation of ‘Jagger Pee’ which jolted me from the aftershock of their fierce conflict.
In the peculiar manner Adelaide Adjei and Roberta Coffie did earlier, Frank Otu, too, hastened from the headmaster’s office, bubbling within a bubble of excitement and hurried away from the premises, essentially snipping my one prospective means of relaying my presence, as I intended, to Martin Wellington who had since settled on campus.
I discarded my mantle of diffidence, knocked on Mr. Nunoo’s door and quickly strode into the office unbidden. I greeted and spewed the story of my quandary to him in a well-orchestrated, delivery-before-reaction strategy.
The hardheaded headmaster predictably perorated on his appointment-before- meeting principle plus the immediate and potential consequences of my indecisiveness in moving to school: by now, I had most likely lost my dormitory-allocated bed and risked losing my admission status altogether to another on his waiting list if I did not relocate to campus - my ‘UK predicament’ notwithstanding - by the end of the succeeding week!