A slight breeze drifts in through the open louvre blades in the windows facing the veranda, but still the living room is hot, almost as hot as it is outside. Why has Nana Nancy not turned the ceiling fan on? Doesn’t she feel the heat? In her green, patterned kaba and slit, she is sitting humming to herself on her favourite sofa, the brown leather one made by Mr Osei, the furniture maker, down the road. Staring into space with a half-smile on her face, she hasn’t noticed I’ve walked in.
Nana loves this living room, full of furniture, family photos and ornaments. In fact, she loves this old, colonial house, that she inherited many years ago from her parents after their death. With high compound walls topped by coiled razor-sharp wire to keep burglars out, the white two-storey house has a wide, front veranda and a gravel drive leading to it from the compound gates . The back garden, that cousin Ama and I love to play in, is full of fruit trees and flowers, including every shade of bougainvillaea imaginable as they are Nana’s favourite flower. I’ve heard Nana talk many times about how much this house means to her. It is here she raised Auntie Cissy and Mummy and now her grandchildren, Ama and I.
This house means a lot to me too. Since the age of four, it’s been a place where I’ve felt loved, safe and happy. Every time I walk in, I get this warm sensation and feel like I’m home.
‘Good afternoon Nana Nancy,’ I say, walking towards her with a smile.
Her oval-shaped face lights up as she turns to me, looking much younger than her sixty-three years of age. ‘Oh, good Esi, you’re home. Come and sit down, my dear,’ she says, patting the space next to her on the sofa. “I have good news.”
Wondering what the news could be, I go and sit beside her, getting a waft of her lavender perfume as I do.
‘Esi, Maggie called this morning,’ she says, looking excited as she clasps both my hands in hers.
Baffled as to why this is big news as Mummy often calls, I ask, ‘How is Mummy?’
‘She is well, Esi, and sends her love. But the reason why she called is that she has finally sorted things out so you can go and live with her in London,’ says Nana, her speech quickening with excitement. ‘She is sending the money for your plane ticket and at the end of August, you will be flying out to join her!’ Nana’s eyes sparkle with happiness.
I smile at her. She is clearly expecting me to be pleased with the news. But I feel more … shocked than happy. I wasn’t expecting this at all! Mummy has been working in London for so long, I’ve gotten used to her living there and me living here in Accra with Nana.
‘But that means that in less than three months’ time, I’ll be leaving.’ The words slip out of my mouth as it dawns on me.
‘Yes, Esi,’ says Nana, her smile widening. ‘In less than three months’ time, you will be living with your Mummy once again. Thanks be to God.’
But I’m not thanking God. Panic makes my head pound as I think about leaving behind Nana, Ama, Auntie Cissy, this house and everything I have known in my thirteen years of life to go to London by myself.
I don’t want that!
Yes, it would be nice to see Mummy – it has been three years since she came to visit and seven years since she left to work in London. But I don’t want to live in London. I’m happy living right here!
Nana carries on talking, oblivious to my turmoil. ‘How I’ve been praying for Maggie to send for you. Every child should live with their mother, Esi. It has worried me that you and Maggie have lived apart for years.’
Letting go of my hands, she picks up the white handkerchief on her lap and mops her forehead before waving it in the air, saying, ‘Thank you God for answering my prayers.’
She leans on the armrest and pushes herself up to her feet. ‘Da n’ase, Da n’ase, Da Onyame ase,’ she starts to sing, thanking God. Swaying from side to side, she slowly makes her way around the large wooden centre table, singing and waving her handkerchief in the air, her black house slippers tapping the terrazzo floor.
‘Eh Mama, you’re in fine voice this afternoon,’ Auntie Cissy says beaming at her. She and Ama have just walked in. When we arrived from school a short while ago, I headed straight to the living room, but Auntie Cissy went to the kitchen while Ama disappeared upstairs to use the bathroom. Auntie Cissy looks just like a younger version of Nana – slender and petite with a kind face.
Nana stops singing to happily tell them the news, adjusting her green head tie as she does so. Auntie Cissy and Ama start to jubilate loudly before rushing over to hug me. Ama links her arm through mine and sits down beside me. Auntie Cissy shakes her curly weave from side to side and sings with gusto, as she follows Nana who has started singing and dancing around the centre table again.
‘You’re so lucky, Cuz,’ Ama says quietly, resting her cornrowed head on my shoulder.
‘I don’t feel lucky,’ I mutter, absolutely certain I’d much rather stay here than go to London.
‘C’mon Esi. Of course, you are. I wish I could go to London.’ Ama smiles and winks, her dimpled face looking at me. ‘Maybe you can put me in your suitcase when you go. I’m sure nobody will notice. I’m only small after all.’
I smile at her as she laughs, wishing I could take her with me. I would be much happier about moving to London if she were coming.
Ama starts to clap for Nana and her mum as they dance and sing. She gets up to join them, singing at the top of her voice and shaking herself vigorously in her blue and white school dress, which is oversized like mine.
The intense afternoon heat has them sweating before too long. Damp patches appear in Nana’s green kaba and Auntie Cissy’s white work blouse. But they don’t stop.
I don’t move. I can’t move.
I’m biting my tongue to stop myself screaming at them, ‘I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave you!’
But I can’t say it out loud. Look at them. They won’t understand.
So, with a smile fixed on my face, I watch them as a feeling of dread settles in the pit of my tummy.