About the book
In this sequel to Joy Came in the Morning, Cobola Ennison, now in her mid-seventies, has resigned herself to an uneventful and lonely old age in the village when a family crisis makes it necessary for her to move temporarily to her son's home in the city. The move becomes permanent and affects her life in unexpected and sometimes dramatic ways.
About the author
Author of two previously published novels, Road to Freedom, Bittersweet, Redemption Song, and Joy Came in the Morning Yema Lucilda Hunter was born and grew up in Freetown, Sierra Leone. She had her secondary education at the Annie Walsh Memorial School in Freetown and completed her studies in the United Kingdom. For many years she worked as the Librarian at the Connaught Hospital in Freetown before taking up an appointment at the Regional Office for Africa of the World Health Organization in Congo Brazzaville. Now retired and a grandmother, she lives with her Husband in Accra, Ghana.
Each time Cobola Ennison had to go into Freetown, she grumbled about how long it took to travel a mere six miles. As usual, she was alone in the taxi, but by the time they reached Ascension Town Cemetery, the oppressive heat, petrol fumes and black smoke belching from beat-up lorries, had brought on a headache. She took a deep, slow breath before heading for the grave she had come to visit. It lay beyond two towering silk cotton trees, some distance away from the road that ran through the cemetery. She was so pleased that the City Council now controlled grass that had flourished unchecked during the Rebel War and its immediate aftermath. This made it less likely that she would twist her arthritic ankle on the concealed concrete edges of graves; but, even so, it wasn?t easy to reach her destination.
Once there, she spent a few moments looking down at the marble tombstone whose inscription read:
KWEKU DANIEL ENNISON
October 1, 1931 ? November 14, 1991
A devoted husband and father
Dearly loved. Sadly missed
Apart from visits on New Year?s Day and on the anniversary of his death, Cobola still went to the cemetery to inform her late husband of every significant event in her life. On this occasion, she had come to tell him that she?d just returned from America.
?You would have enjoyed it-o,? she said as she picked off the dead leaves littering the whitewashed concrete surface of the grave. ?It?s a wonderful country.?
So much had happened in the years since she had placed that tombstone. In addition to identical twins, Eric and Derek, babies when Kweku died, her son, Yao and his wife, Isabella, had produced a daughter. Cobola had been quite annoyed that they named her Adora, after Kweku?s mother, but she?d hidden her vexation and soon recovered. Of far greater importance had been her marvelous reunion with the son she had had to give up for adoption in the 1950s. He was now an American eye specialist called Orlando West, and had visited Sierra Leone the previous year to see how he could help pick up the pieces in his birthplace which, from all accounts, had been shattered by conflict. It was in the course of his investigations that he had met Isabella, Yao, and subsequently, Cobola herself. Cobola had discovered that Orlando had a family of his own?a wife, Beverly, also an eye specialist, two sons, a daughter-in-law, and a granddaughter. The trip to America had been to meet them all.
Every time she went to the cemetery, Pa Cowan, the wiry little man she paid a small annuity to tend Kweku?s grave, somehow got wind of her arrival? even when there were no other workers visible. As usual, he came running up in his sweat-stained singlet and ragged khaki shorts to assure her, with his bad stammer, that he was doing the work, ?All the time, ma; all the time?. Cobola smiled, knowing what was expected of her.
?So I see,? she said, and fished in her bag for a ten thousand leone note. ?The grave is looking nice, and the flowers we planted are doing well.?
Certain now of his supply of local gin for the rest of the day, Pa Cowan?s stammer accompanied her cheerfully to where Alimamy was waiting beside his car.
Alimamy was Cobola?s favourite among the three taxi drivers she had listed on her mobile phone. He was almost never late for appointments and always willing to do small errands that saved her from having to get out of the car along the way. Furthermore, she never had to ask Alimamy to turn down his music or put out a cigarette. And he was always ready to offer an opinion on the events of the day which led to some interesting conversations. Driving into the city with him was the only thing that made it bearable to be stuck in traffic.
?Take me to Wilkinson Road, ya,? she said. ?I have to see Mrs. Kargbo.?
Fifteen minutes later, Alimamy placed a large plastic bag beside the front door of the bungalow where Cobola?s oldest friend, Gertrude, lived with her husband, Abu. It was full of the gifts Cobola had brought them from the States.
?When shall I come, ma??
?In two hours,? she told Alimamy, and announced her presence.
The women had been chatting for a while when Cobola said,
?Trudy, life is strange, eh? Had it not been for that stupid war, and had Bella not been working for that NGO, Health for the World, I would never have seen my first-born again, I would never have known that I had other grandchildren, and a great-grandchild, and I know for sure that I would never have gone to America.?
Gertrude?s response was to lean forward, open her eyes wide and sing in her deep and husky voice, ?God moves in a mysterious way??
Cobola had never been able to carry a tune, but she still sang along with Gertrude: ?his wonders to perform. He plants his footsteps in the sea and drives away the storm??
They were chuckling over this rather irreverent rendition of one of Freetown?s favourite hymns when Sia, Gertrude?s house help, brought in a tray with glasses of iced ginger beer and a saucer piled high with freshly made rice akara, and pepper sauce. Gertrude licked her lips in anticipation of pleasure.
?Cobs, come let us enjoy,? she said. ?Nice food is the only thing that takes me close to heaven these days.?
After more than sixty years of friendship, Cobola was so used to Gertrude?s earthy humour, that she merely said,
?As for you!?
?Am I lying?? Gertrude retorted as they settled down to eat.
?No, but only you would say it.?
With a chuckle as throaty as her voice, Gertrude dipped one of the fried balls made with rice flour and banana in the pepper sauce.
?So gist me about America,? she said.
?Gist? What is that now?a new slang? ?
Gertrude let out another chuckle.
?It?s what young Nigerians say when they want their friends to share gossip or tell them the latest news?Nigerian films are all the rage now-o.?
?Ehn,? Cobola said. She wasn?t at all familiar with Nigerian films. In fact, what with the lack of electricity in George Town, she hadn?t watched television since the time the rebels attacked Freetown and its environs and she had been forced her to spend a month with Yao, who had a generator. She washed down the akara with ginger beer and exhaled gustily before saying, with a shake of her head,
??Trudy, Sierra Leone is far behind-o?far, far behind. First of all, let me tell you about Accra.?
She had undertaken the journey to visit Orlando and his family with a good deal of anxiety, made worse when she realised that she would have two days to wait in Accra for a Delta Airlines flight that would take her straight to Atlanta, Georgia. Yao offered to accompany her to Accra, and they had stayed at a guest house close to the vast complex of buildings that make up the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital. The reservation had been made for a Yao Ennison and, assuming he was Ghanaian with that name, the owner, a friendly man called Nii Areyeetey, had automatically welcomed them in Asante Twi, which was the local lingua franca. Yao explained that he had a blood connection with Ghana, through his grandfather, but didn?t know any Ghanaian language; to which Nii Areyeetey replied in his jovial way, ?Never mind, you are still a brother,? and offered to show them something of the city while running errands the next day. Cobola now said to Gertrude,
?In the parts he showed us, there were traffic lights everywhere, and most of them were working. And there were policemen on motor-bikes controlling traffic at busy intersections, not just making way for presidential motorcades. They have roads on top of roads?they call them flyovers, and some wide, wide streets with plenty of shade trees. And everything so clean. You should see the area around their Black Star monument and parade grounds, and the marble structure they have built for Kwame Nkrumah?s tomb! Impressive-o. Even when the plane was descending the night before, I could hardly believe my eyes. The lights were like a carpet of stars below us?Trudy, to tell you the truth, I felt ashamed of our backwardness??
Over the years, Cobola had learned that there was no one more loyal than Gertrude Kargbo, whether it was to her friends, her family or her country. She was therefore not at all surprised when Gertrude pursed her lips and eyed her with disapproval.
?Cobs, I?m sure that man only took you to the best parts of Accra,? she said. ?And don?t forget it?s not long since we came out of a war.?
?I haven?t forgotten, Trudy, but still?And why did we have to have a war in the first place? Anyway, that was Accra. Yao saw me off the next evening. I had dosed myself well, so my arthritis had gone to hide; but Yao still arranged a wheel chair for me as Orlando had suggested?Trudy, you should have seen that plane! It was as high as a storey building. When I thought about its own weight, so many passengers, all that cargo, and flying non-stop for more than ten hours, I remembered what people used to say in the colonial days: that the white man is next to God.?
?Some people still believe that,? Gertrude interjected.
?Not the young ones-o,? Cobola said, and continued her story.
?Except for the noise of the engine, it wasn?t even as if we were moving. Not like that small plane that took me to Banjul after Kweku?s funeral and nearly gave me a heart attack? Orlando had told me that I should move around to avoid getting blood clots in my legs, so I went up and down the aisle between the seats a few times?even when I didn?t feel like going to the toilet??
?You are lucky to have a son who is a doctor,? Gertrude said. ?How many people know an important thing like that? By the way, how are they getting on in Bo??
?They say they like the town, and that the government officials they have seen are very happy about their plans to provide a free eye clinic for one month every year. The town council has already given them a building to use...?
?Enh. That?s good-o!?
?Yes, I?m praying that it works out so I can look forward to seeing Orlando every year?Where was I??
?You went up and down to the toilet so you wouldn?t get blood clots in your legs??
?Oh, yes,? Cobola said, biting into another akara. ?When we got to Atlanta, they announced that everyone who needed assistance should remain seated. My foot was still okay, but by then I was fagged out and my ears were blocked, so I didn?t move one inch till a young black man came to get me. His hair was cornrowed??
?You mean like a woman?? Gertrude asked in disbelief.
?Just like a woman; he had made a style and all. And that was nothing,? Cobola went on. ?You should see what some of them do with their hair, especially the young ones. Some have long, long dada like that Bob Marley?they call it dreadlocks. Some of the ones with short hair let the barbers make designs on their heads?circles, triangles, zigzag lines?Anyway, this boy took me to a special immigration queue for people in wheel chairs, helped me to get my suitcase, and handed me over to Orlando and his wife. He was nice-o. He even tried to make conversation while we were waiting; but with my tiredness and blocked ears, his American twang was too much for me. I could hardly understand him, except when he asked where I came from. I answered, ?Sierra Leone? and he said, ?South America?? After that I just gave him sweet smiles when he spoke to me. He must have thought I was stupid? Orlando?s house isn?t very far from the airport, but I couldn?t keep my eyes open when I sat in his car??
?I hope your mouth wasn?t gaping,? Gertrude said. She dropped a whole akara into hers and smothered another in sauce.
?Even if it was, they wouldn?t have noticed. I was in the back seat.?
?Orlando would have seen you through his driving mirror; anyway, tell me about their house; and you know I like details??
?Let me drink first. This ginger beer tastes almost as good as what my mother-in-law used to make. May she rest in peace.?
Cobola?s pious wish sounded somewhat insincere, as well it might. Kweku?s mother hadn?t wanted her to marry her son and they never became friends though, for his sake, they had treated each other with courtesy. Knowing the whole story, Gertrude added an ?Ay-men? in a similar tone of voice.
?Orlando?s house is on one floor like yours, but with a green lawn all round it like a carpet,? Cobola continued, ?And it has five bedrooms. Their own, and the one they gave me, have private bathrooms and toilets. In their bathroom, there is one sink for Orlando and one for his wife??
Gertrude?s mouth fell open, exposing remnants of the akara she was chewing.
?You don?t mean it!?
?It?s true. His and hers,? Cobola answered with emphasis. ?And the house has nice wooden floors with beautiful carpets, except in the kitchen. Even the bathrooms and toilets have carpets?small ones, but thick. They have four freezers, and one big air-conditioner that makes the whole house comfortable no matter how hot it is outside. Those are in the cellar, which is not like any cellar I had seen before. They call it their basement. Part of it is like another small parlour. That is where Orlando listens to his music. And you should see their television, Trudy ? three times the size of yours! They keep it locked in a cabinet, so when no one is watching, you won?t even know it?s there. And their garage can take two big cars.?
?Hey! And they are just ordinary people.?
?Not so ordinary-o. Don?t forget that both of them are doctors. Doctors make money in America, and Orlando and his wife are specialists.?
?Beverly, right? Is she nice??
?Yes, Beverly. Very nice. She calls everybody ?honey?, not only Orlando and their children...I have a feeling she?s older than him. Her hair is grey.?
?You can?t go by that-o; don?t forget Orlando shaves his head.?
?Something tells me she is older,? Cobola insisted.
?And the grandchildren; did they take to you??
Cobola?s expression grew tender.
?Trudy, it?s as if God is trying to make up for allowing that lorry to kill Kweku. Orlando?s children accepted me as if they had known me all their lives, particularly the older one who is married?Ronald. He said I was their only grandparent still alive and asked if they could call me, Nanna. As for his daughter, Keisha, even Yao?s Adora wasn?t as cute at that age. And the wife is expecting again. She?s called Wendy, and she likes to cook?just like Bella. I spent a nice weekend with them before going to Washington D.C. to visit George and Tina Tucker?Bella?s parents. You remember that Bella?s big sister, Lillian, sponsored them to go to America during the Rebel War. Well, I don?t think they are ever coming back. Lily is divorced now, so there?s no son-in-law in the house to make them feel unwelcome. Tina helps Lily to cook and look after the children, and George has got a part-time job in a supermarket.?
?Ehn!? Gertrude said. ?What about you, Cobs? If Orlando invites you to stay with them won?t you like to live in America? Water and electricity every day, two doctors in the house??
?And leave all of you here? Never, even though half the time I was lost in wonder, love and praise. Those skyscrapers I so wanted to see? Amazing. Also the size and quantity of everything. They have roads that can take six lanes of traffic going one way, and big, big shops, full of things. As for the food, Trudy, the food! Those people eat-o! You think you are fat? You have to go to America to see huge people?men as well as women. Unbelievable! But I also saw poor-looking people, really, really poor, especially among the blacks. Some of them looked as if their hair hadn?t felt a comb for years. And you should have seen their dirty feet and shabby clothes, Trudy! Sad-o, in that rich country. Beverly said some of them have nowhere to go; they live in the street. And that many of them are drug addicts or drunkards.? Cobola chortled unexpectedly. ?She called them ?dranks?. At first I thought it was their word for drunkards, then I realised that she was saying ?drunks?. It was her twang that made it sound like ?dranks?.?
She paused to savour the last of her akara and clean her fingers before telling Gertrude, who was still chuckling over ?dranks?, ?I?m happy I had the opportunity to see America and the rest of my family-o, but to tell the truth, I wasn?t sorry when it was time to come home?no neighbours to talk to, nobody passing in the street, no cocks crowing in the morning...When my people were at work, it was just me, the television, magazines, and the microwave?Monday to Friday, till Orlando showed me how to use his computer and this wonderful thing they call the internet. I was able to get any information I wanted, and I enjoyed that, but I couldn?t do it for long. My eyes?America is a wonderful place to visit-o, but to live there? Permanently? Maybe, for young people looking for a better life; not for an old cow like me...Here. Let me give you your presents?The dress, the slippers, the cream, and the nightie are for you. The shirts are for Abu?Where is he, by the way??
Gertrude sucked her teeth,
?As for that one,? she said, ?he doesn?t know he should rest more with his diabetes. He still goes to meet his kabudu almost every day after breakfast?those of them that are still alive. They drink palm wine and talk their idle talk. He?ll come home when he starts feeling hungry??
In spite of her dismissive attitude, Cobola knew that Gertrude was fond of her husband, though, unlike hers with Kweku, their relationship had never been what anyone would describe as romantic. She said, ?The other things are for the rest of the house?You will decide who gets what.?
Gertrude was still admiring the gifts and lavishing Cobola with praise, when Alimamy knocked on the frame of the front door which had been left open to catch the breeze. He saluted smartly from the doorway.
?I?m coming right now,? Cobola answered.
? Cobs, I?m glad you are back-o,? Gertrude said as they parted. ?Six months without your company was just too long,?
?Six months without yours was too long for me too. If I ever go back to America, it won?t be for that long. Home is home, ya?especially at our age.?