23 – By Nana Prempeh

Few days after our first encounter I was summoned into her office. She had previously given me a copy of “Courtesy for Boys & Girls” with the instruction that I read and memorize it. I was ready for her. I don’t remember a single thing from that book today but I was ready for her that day. I thought it was a useless punishment – asking me to read a book and memorize it. I have always enjoyed reading and writing. So when I walked into her office that Thursday morning I was prepared to casually impress her. She asked if I had eaten yet and I said I had. It was the second break. Most of the girls ate during the second break. That was when Mama Dee’s angwa mo with pepper and sardine would be ready. Some of the girls, particularly those in the primary school, would spend the rest of their time jumping ropes, playing ampe or any other game that was suggested by the gangalia of whatever clique they belonged to. I belonged to the category of girls who would stay in the classroom reading one storybook or the other. Books by Nora Roberts were the most popular. With books by Daniele Steele a close second. Everybody read the Animorphs series though. My headmistress looked at me and said, “Well if you say so”, as though she knew I was lying.

I was anxious to start answering questions about the book. She seemed to have forgotten about it entirely. Noticing my anxiety, she smiled. Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t that she was always frowning but she perpetually wore a perfect poker face. It made it difficult to gauge whatever emotion she was processing at any given moment. Her smile was one of those things that made someone so markedly distinct because only they could wield it, such that it was impossible to forget. We ended up talking about how movies tend to fail great books by refusing to honour seminal plots.

She looked up at the clock and announced that she had taken enough of my second break. She pointed to the “Courtesy for Boys & Girls” which I had been clutching all that while and asked if I was interested in trading that for another book. I was going to say no but she pushed what was in front of her toward me and I immediately set down what I was holding. That day she gave me Alexandre Dumas’ “The Count of Monte Cristo” and added, “We will discuss it when you are done”. There was something about her use of “we”.  It laid the foundation for an unexpected sisterhood.


I wanted her to eventually say it was just an elaborate figure of speech, a rather tasteless anecdote; the day she revealed the abuse her husband put her through. Her small office felt smaller. I shuddered at the intimate and casual eloquence she said it with. She’d never given birth, not because she didn’t want to but because she was biologically incapable of that miracle. And her husband took it to mean that God had punished her for her perennial insubordination as a woman. Before that day I had never noticed the gray clouds in her eyes. We usually talked about things that made our hearts light and our cheeks heavy with laughter. Things like the latest gbaament by the Form 3 English teacher (who intervened in a popular stereotype by being our silly reference for a non-Akan that struggled to distinguish ‘r’ from ‘l’).Or how unsafe it is that people eat kyebom with thick blankets of margarine on either side of their bread yet we liked eating it anyway.

The only other conversation we had somehow telepathically steered away from was the issue of my second rape. Two weeks before my JSS graduation, she had found me after a teacher had violated me. It was the one conversation we didn’t bring up.

I don’t regret what I did. I know you are recording all this. And as my lawyer you naturally want me to desist from speaking like this. But it’s okay. The first question that was asked by her husband’s lawyer during his trial was if she had a pattern of showing disrespect to her husband. There they were, the gruesome images of how a powerful and loving woman had had her head smashed into mush by a hammer her husband swung – 23 times – yet somehow, the world said she must have asked for it.

If I had not stabbed him at the funeral, it would have been another woman’s head on the smashing block next time. The world won’t forgive me. It won’t permit me to be human and forgivable. It never has. So let me do my time.