“Nia,” said Abuyama to my daugher, as we sat on her front porch in Techiman and ate the fufu she had prepared for us. “When you grow up, you have to marry a black man.”
Nia held a ball of fufu dripping with groundnut soup and smiled uneasily.
“And you have to cook for him,” Abuyama added.
I laughed, and wondered if I should take any of this personally! After all, I used to be Abuyama’s boyfriend, back in the days when we both lived up north in Navrongo. As for her second statement, the one about cooking, I took issue with it. I cooked a pretty mean groundnut soup myself. Why shouldn’t Nia’s husband cook for her?
But I kept my mouth shut. And although I knew my groundnut soup was good, I never would have the guts to serve it to Abuyama. She is one of the finest cooks I know. “I read catering at O-level,” was one of the first things she ever said to me.
How marvelous it was to see Abuya again! I was aching to go out with her for a beer after supper, so I inquired, “Do you still drink Guinness?”
“No, I’ve long stopped.” She went on to explain that she had just completed Shawwal, a voluntary six days of fasting in the month following Ramadan. I told her about my faux pas in Indonesia, when I hired people to do a cooking class for us on the first day of Ramadan. Abuya got a good laugh out of that.
We went on to have a wonderful few days with Abuya, though she never left the boundaries of her property and kept covered up in headscarf and robes (looking gorgeous as ever, I might add). She was still the same vibrant, wisecracking Abuyama, the one who used to party with me in Navrongo like there was no tomorrow—in fact we sometimes partied into the morrow. One reason for her subdued lifestyle now was that her brother, Babs, had sufferred a stroke in the past year and required continuous care. She’d moved him into her house so that she could look after him.
Though Abuya’s smile and wit were as sharp as ever, I could feel a toll weighing on her. One of her sisters had passed away in the previous year, and she’d added her late sisters’ son, Mahmoud, a little guy who never smiled, to her household and was raising him alongside her gentle teenaged son Alhadji. All this Abuya did on her own with limited resources. She was separated from her husband, a truck driver who lived farther south in Tema.
As Abuya was housebound, it was just me, Nia, Alhadji, Mahmoud, and the taxi driver who headed off the next day on a safari to the nearby monkey sanctuary. This was in the forest outside the villages of Boabeng and Fiema. I’m happy to say that, deep in the forest, with bananas in hand and Mono monkeys everywhere, Mahmoud’s smile and laughter finally came out shining bright. Mahmoud also loved climbing inside the hollow trunk of the mysterious ficus tree, and looking up through it.
Back in Techiman, oh how Abuya cooked! Fufu the first night; the following morning she had Alhadji deliver to our hotel room the best egg sandwiches I’d ever eaten along with a thermos of Milo. And then, when we got back from the monkey preserve, Abuyama had the “waakye” (Ghanaian rice and beans) ready. Wow!
On our last morning, we walked over to Abuya’s for breakfast. Oh my! She had prepared koko porridge, a tangy staple breakfast of the north made from millet, along with kusi, which are fried bean cakes that have a touch of spice. Oh my! The kusi were still warm and crispy on their edges, the best I’ve ever eaten. But that’s Abuyama. She read catering at O-level, she’ll have you know.
After breakfast we sat with Abuya on her porch and posed for a few photos.
“Okay, time to go,” I said. “To Navrongo.”
“To Navrongo,” Abuya echoed.
I wished she was coming with us.
Abuyama walked with us to the edge of her property. I turned to say goodbye.
But then she kept walking! Covered head-to-heel in a lovely black and white polka dotted cloth, Abuya walked onward with us down the red dirt road. She looked classy as hell, as ever packing more class in her pinky finger than most people carry within their whole body. “I’ll come see you off at the bus station,” she said as we joined a taxi.
I had wondered if Abuya was closing in to an extent, shutting down, becoming a woman who just kept to the home. But she told me that when Babs was better, and he was getting better, she would return to her salt trade in the market. Gone however, I knew, were the days of my dancing and drinking Abuyama.
But that’s okay. Things change. The beat goes on.
Nia and I got in our seats on the bus bound for Tamale and I bought her a Fan Milk ice cream from the top of someone’s head. Abuya stood outside our window, smiling up to us and chatting. “Tell Sweetie that I am annoyed with her!” she said.
Abuya was speaking of our friend (her cousin) Sweet Mother in Navrongo. In the fifteen-plus years since Abuya moved to Techiman, Sweet Mother has never visited once her, although she had promised to do so.
“I will,” I said. “As for myself, I won’t keep so long away next time. Not six years! Maybe I’ll be back in two years?”
Abuyama grinned and gazed up through the window. “Next time you come, I’ll travel to Navrongo with you,” she said.
And I believed her. I didn’t think she was just saying that to say it.
I’m going to take her up on it.