In this country, a boss should always be bald and have a big belly. My uncle isn’t bald, he hasn’t got a big belly, and you don’t realise, the first time you see him, that he’s the actual boss of a big office in the centre of town. Well, that’s because he’s nouveau riche; he broke the mold when he stumbled into wealth and scorned the poverty that had, for long, gripped our whole family. His sawmill currently sits in Obuasi, near the state capital, and employs around thirty or forty men. Even my Pops now defers to him so that when they talk, he is all smiles and nods, and so quick to say yes that I fear he has forgotten that there is such a word as no, a word that sits permanently behind his foul lips, waiting to jump out when either my Moms or I ask for money.
I assume you’re already tossing ideas in your head about how my Pops must be a loafer and uncle Jamal probably found wealth through hardwork. You’re wrong. My uncle did not find wealth, wealth simply got off its entitled ass one fine, or perhaps tragic, afternoon and found him. But I shall tell that story later, after I have addressed a more pressing issue, one that gives me the heebie-jeebies simply thinking of it.
Today, only two days after I arrived here in Obuasi to spend Christmas with his family, and exactly one year after my cousin, Nsikak, got crushed by a cement-carrying truck until he was a mash of pulpy red meat and cracked white bones, his guts splayed like a butcher’s goods across the tar, his eyes bulging out of their sockets as though in shock, uncle Jamal has sent me out to buy him that sour-tasting Ghanaian food, Kenkey, from the shacks across the busy expressway.
“Tell them to put enough spices with plenty fish,” he’d said, smiling. The smile was gentle, warm. My uncle is both of those things. Then he’d dipped a hand in his right pocket and passed me a crisp note. “Buy me an ice-cold bottle of small stout too, you hear?”
Now, that, right there, is the problem. Not the beehive of an expressway that lacks, for many miles, a footbridge. It is the stale-smelling Kenkey, with its oil and spices and fish and, yes, the small stout.
I know you think I am mad, that there is nothing uncanny about being sent out to buy food at noon, but don’t forget what I told you earlier. This is exactly one year after that truck crushed Nsikak, one year after my uncle got that life-changing settlement from Bamako Cement Plc, a settlement born from the demise of his only son. I remember because, like today, that day was the 25th of December. And I panic because Nsikak had gone to buy just the same things – Kenkey, fish and small stout.
This 499 word short story was prompted by the Afreada × Africa Writes contest into which I entered it. Unfortunately it only made top 35.
Writers who entered for the contest were charged to begin with the first two sentences of this piece (also the opening lines from Alain Mabanckou’s novel, Tomorrow, I’ll Be Twenty) and see where it led them.