Ernest’s big red jeep was parked just in front of his house, and after saying goodbye to the young man who had been sitting with Jahfar while I had toured the site with Ernest, we all piled in – me, Ernest, Jahfar, and the small child who, Ernest now explained, loved to be with him. “He has been with me all day – I need to return him to his mother,” he said with a chuckle. Climbing into the backseat of the jeep, I reminded Ernest about one other time I had gotten into a similar red jeep with him, when he and a German friend of his had driven BraSibi and me to a mortuary in Accra early one morning. “Ah yes,” he said, remembering the incident well, “it was my friend Andrea who drove us.” I had known that, like me, Ernest had had no desire to go to the mortuary or spend any time with the family from whom Koro had been entirely estranged, who had arrived from the North the day before to retrieve Koro’s body for burial. The only reason I was going was to recover some of the belongings they had taken from the shack, before I had had a chance to go up there – as I, too, had only just arrived. BraSibi, ever of assistance, was accompanying me, and it was he who had insisted that Ernest go with us, though I had never really understood why.
I rode in the backseat of two privately-owned vehicles that day, both SUVs of some sort, one taking me to the mortuary and then one taking me to the home of some supposed relative of Koro’s, and inside both I felt like a child; with my feet barely reaching the floor in those big backseats, it was as if I was nine years old again, getting in the backseat of my father’s fancy car, to go on a ride to some destination I had no desire to visit – just fulfilling an obligation that someone else thought I should have. These SUVs felt fancy simply because they were not public transport – I had perhaps only once or twice before ridden in a privately-owned vehicle in Ghana, and I had felt so bizarrely, awkwardly privileged getting into them. It felt nearly as awkward to be getting into this one now – shouldn’t we be walking? This was the first time I had gotten into a vehicle since the ride from the airport to Kokrobite, and it had been wonderful to have a break from these noisy machines. Now I had the sensation of being back inside the belly of the beast, swallowed up. I remember feeling the same thing on that unpleasant day so many years ago, when I left the mortuary in that second huge SUV, with people I had never met before – again feeling like a child just doing what I was told. But at least I had had BraSibi sitting faithfully at my side, shepherding me through that trying day.
Now, as we started down the road, Ernest spoke to Jahfar, who sat up front holding the little boy, in a local language, and by Jahfar’s reaction, I could guess that Ernest was explaining some bit about the story of our losing Koro. We drove back down to the main road, turned left towards Kokrobite, passed the next road – the middle road across from AAMA, which Ernest now pointed out was the one that Koro and I used to take out to the shack, and then turned up the next road over. At BraSibi’s house, one of his daughters told Ernest where we could find him – he had been staying at another house nearby, which he was caretaking while its owner was in England.
Getting back into the car, Ernest sighed and said that, as to Koro’s untimely passing, “Still I question, ‘Eh, why? How?’ …And then I say, ‘No, this is not God’s doing.’ Eh, it is too much,” he said, shaking his head. “No, this I can never understand.” Ernest’s way of thinking about Koro’s death was clearly very different from my own; I had never felt the need to question the workings of the Universe, or the unfolding Path I traversed through my life, and somehow this had especially been the case when I lost Koro – I could never bring myself to question why. I stayed quiet in the backseat, just listening and observing, taking it all in...
We stopped at another house not too far from the first, and Ernest and I got out of the car, Jahfar staying behind with the child who had now fallen asleep in his lap. Ernest knocked on the metal door in the tall cement wall bordering the large compound, and after a short wait, he was walking inside, with me following behind. …And then there was BraSibi – an older, greyer, perhaps slightly shrunken BraSibi, quiet as he always was, moving slowly and looking quite taken aback.
As was I.
The entire time I had been at the site with Ernest, I had been fine – “calm, cool, and collected.” But as soon as I was greeting BraSibi, I was struggling to keep the tears inside and to be able to speak without bawling at the same time. Dear, sweet, ever-helpful Bra Assibi. He loved Koro so very much.
The last time I had arrived in Ghana – shortly after Koro’s passing, at the end of a very long and multifaceted journey from Maine (involving multiple planes, trains, and automobiles), in a shambles, and wearing the old black mourning shirt that had become my uniform, I had gone straight to BraSibi at AAMA. And when I stepped out of the taxi and BraSibi was waiting there for me, just outside AAMA’s gate, wearing the royal blue coveralls that were his uniform when on duty as night watchman, I had wondered how to greet him – a hug, a handshake? Back then he had stepped right up and hugged me. But now we were all formality and awkwardness, or perhaps we were both just too full of emotion to make any movement – using all of our physical capacities to try and hold it together – that’s how I felt, at least. Ernest told BraSibi who I was, but BraSibi knew; he said that he had been watching the road from the window and as soon as he saw me in the car, he had said to himself, “It is Susan.”
Wow, it really was so hard to speak without crying. I couldn’t manage much at all until, after quite a long while, Ernest left us alone and I felt a bit more freedom to express myself.
“There has never been another like Koro around these parts,” BraSibi was eventually saying, all of our shared thoughts on the past, on Koro, “no one as clever and bright as Koro.”
“No, I have never met another person like Koro,” I struggled to say. Eh, it was impossible to speak to BraSibi without letting out some of my tears – just impossible, and I was very thankful that Jahfar had stayed in the car and that Ernest had now left us to ourselves. When BraSibi told me about how often he thinks of Koro, I struggled to tell him that, every day, Koro is still with me, that I think of him every day, but that I know he is gone and at peace, and that my life has indeed gone on without him – again, struggled to say all that without bawling. That was really hard to do – all the emotions that for the most part during this trip had seemed in the past were now completely taking hold of me, and just like the last time I had arrived and had gone straight to BraSibi, back in 2000, all I wanted to do now was cry a fountain of tears.
I never thought I would find BraSibi, never imagined myself having this conversation.
BraSibi was so clearly and so deeply hurt when Koro died…
As we communed over the memory of our dearest of friends, BraSibi and I spoke slowly and tenderly, careful with our so suddenly raw, exposed hearts. And after what seemed a long while, eventually I felt not only the pressure that had been building within me – from all the tears pressing on me, desperate to be let loose, but also a pressure from without – of Ernest and Jahfar, these men I barely knew, waiting for me. Finally BraSibi and I agreed that I would come back for another visit before I left, and then all too quickly I was climbing back into the jeep.
I knew I needed to be alone, ASAP, to let out the fountain of tears that was pressing hard on me, ready to burst through the dam that had been holding them back for too long already. Why was I even getting back into this car? What was I doing with these people? If I were to walk home, alone, I thought, maybe I would feel I had enough privacy to cry along the way… I was so used to having my freedom, to going it alone. But here I found myself, tied up in social etiquette, and again there was that feeling of the child just doing what she was told.
I pushed my emotion and my tears further down inside, tucked them safely further away from the gateways – eyes, nose, throat – through which they would find their freedom. And then I settled in for the unnecessary ride back to the village. Well, I reasoned with myself, I suppose I don’t mind a ride back, and getting home a bit sooner – getting back to my journal a bit sooner…
But this was not how it worked out…
Aharona Shackman has used writing as her primary practice for connecting with the Self pretty much since she learned to write. With the commencement of this blog, she is now beginning to practice the sharing of some of her writing...