by Foday Mannah
As a school teacher who dabbles with creative writing, the summer holidays represent a fertile period, a time within which one can strive to produce the odd piece. This is especially relevant because I am a master of procrastination and as such struggle to write.
Within this context, I have come to realise that the only thing that compels me to write is the metaphorical gun to the head; a deadline. The task therefore became a case of finding deadlines against which to produce pieces. Cursory investigation online revealed a plethora of short story competitions which ran through the year. Of further convenience was the fact that said competitions had staggered deadlines which were perfect in the sense that they would ensure that I was constantly writing.
I realistically do not hope to win any of these competitions, but my thinking ran along the lines of producing a different short story for every competition would result in me having a collection of stories.
The foundation for these pieces predominantly seeks to draw on experiences from my childhood. My late parents who had studied in London, moved the family back home to Sierra Leone in 1979 as was the norm back then. We lived in a place called Calaba Town, a bustling settlement located approximately ten miles from the centre of the capital city, Freetown. I was six at the time and lived in Calaba Town till I was eleven, by which time my parents’ marriage had disintegrated.
Calaba Town though remains vivid and engrossing, a place of unforgettable personalities and riveting experiences. This location has provided inspiration for one short story which I submitted at the end of July. Since then I have taken to writing down random memories from that period in my life, stockpiling them in a manner mentioned in a previous blogpost. Below are a few random musings which may not necessarily flow since they are detached from the context of a wider experience:
Care for Morton’s puppies became the responsibility of Amie Samba who would count them every morning in the kitchen where they lay before returning to her atlas under the tree. The relationship between the dogs and Amie was cemented after she boiled a couple of ripe paw-paws and squashed them into an orange paste which she fed to the mother and her offspring. As the puppies grew and Morton’s teats dried up, Amie would use the crumpled money she kept in her bra to occasionally buy teaspoons of dried non-fat milk which she would dilute in a knocked-in aluminium bowl. The puppies would slurp up the dull white mixture noisily, their tales wagging in appreciation. They had by this time graduated from their mother’s fastidious attention and instead spent days frolicking around Mama Fatu’s yard under the eyes of Amie who would reprimand them with sharp commands if they strayed or transgressed.
Mama Fatu’s second dog was named Tourist, a brown and white specimen who no one liked because she left dark splotches wherever she sat. With time, Tourist learnt to obey her name, and stayed wandering…
Bees on a Sunday
The bees had first attacked Amadu Palaver as he returned from church in his customary white safari suit. I didn’t see the bees waylay Amadu Palaver, but heard it dripped down as one of the numerous anecdotes that were narrated with gusto after the bees had departed. Amadu Palaver was what we called a bluff-man, a strident show-off whose voice and opinions always had to dominate. In our time, he had fallen out with almost all the other adults of the area, hence the word “palaver” being appended to his name. The bees had alighted on Amadu Palaver who had fled down Alusine Street, one of his white shoes left abandoned upside down in the dust. Mama Fatu who had witnessed the attack on Amadu Palaver had likened his distressed movements to a frenetic gumbay dance, a description that everyone found hilarious. Then again everyone agreed that Amadu Palaver deserved to be served a dose of comeuppance by bees.
The resistance to the bees took the form of a giant bonfire that was lit in Mama Fatu’s yard. From the windows of our place we could see her five sons gathering large pieces of firewood and a couple of oversized cartoons that had once housed powdered Nido milk. Using a couple of slender cutlasses, Ali and Abdul sliced down thick sheaths of dried elephant grass which were added to the pile of wood. Soon, a ferocious fire was in full flow, acrid smoke climbing into the air. It was only then that us neighbourhood children ventured out, flocking to her yard, anxious to feed the fire with more grass, pieces of scrap paper and any other object considered fuel-worthy…
Dealing with Devils
The devils in this case were the Ariogbos, terrifying figures that regularly patrolled Calaba Town seeking out “witches.” Ariogbos moved about in clusters of threes and fours, clad from head to toe in searing red. Small mirrors, porcupine quills, sea shells and other accoutrements adorned their costumes, adding further mystique. The Ariogbos had huge rectangular heads and narrow feet sheathed in red socks. You at times worried that the disparity in their physical structure would one day cause them to topple over, but this never happened. The fact that we knew that people were inside these frightening costumes did little to allay the fears of us kids. The chief concern of course was the possibility of the Ariogbos arbitrarily identifying one of us as a witch, a fate which sent us fleeing indoors whenever they descended on the area. Theses devils were always accompanied by retinues of men clad in ronko gowns, brandishing sturdy sticks which they used to guide and direct the Ariogbos. Clutched in the Ariogbos’ hands were ugly squat hammers, which were used to strike down witches and other malevolent forces. We once heard a story of how these devils had struck the trunk of a tree at Wellington Fields, after being called to investigate a spate of infant deaths in the area. Blood had allegedly gushed from the tree, evidence of the Ariogbos killing the dark force that had been preying on the infants…
Having managed to get a few of these experiences down in short paragraphs, the plan is to see if I can perhaps build entire short stories around some of these individual memories. I have found writing in these short bursts quite fulfilling and rewarding. Inspiration usually takes the form of texting my older brother who currently lives in Ghana, bandying our memories of these experiences. Real life regularly conditions and influences creative writing, and reaching thirty-five years into the past has been fun!
Thanks for reading and have a nice day.