Ma’s Wig ~Tanya Chan-Sam

I always fell asleep in Ma’s bed, cuddled up to her soft, upper arms as she told bedtime stories.  One night after the story she said, ‘You’re a big girl, aren’t you? Can you keep a secret?’

My grandmother’s eyes, behind her tortoise shell glasses were fixed on mine.  Unused to direct eye contact with her, I blinked a few times and then concentrated on the twin suns in her lenses that were reflections from the naked bulb above our bed.

Ma guided my hand onto my heart, my finger on my lips and made me nod my head to an oath that I would never tell anyone, ever, what I was about to see.  She lifted her hair.  Right off her head.  I kept my forefinger pressed tightly against my gaping mouth.

‘It’s a wig,’ she mouthed.

‘Oh,’ I said through my barred lips.

I watched as she combed her fingers through her own hair.  Thick, coarse, grey fibrous hair twisted into braids.  Fascinated by the long, crinkly, strands growing past her ears onto her shoulders, I stretched out my hand out to touch the tendrils that dangled against her wrinkled neck. 

‘Uh huh, don’t.’  She slapped down the back of my hand. 

I sucked my stinging skin and watched as she took up a wide tooth comb and forked through her hair.  The yellow light above us shone on her mass of grey hair that she plaited into long tap roots then wrapped it all under a white headscarf and patted me on my head before turning out the light.              That night, I started my lifelong apprenticeship of wig duty.  My responsibility was to keep a vigil, to warn her of any hairs showing.  ‘The vagrants,’ she called them.  To alert her, I would have to swivel my eyes from left to right and finger the side of my head to let her know which side her natural hairs were beginning to stick out.  Ma would try to tuck them back into the wig, gripping the wig with her middle finger and shoving the vagrants back inside with her forefinger.

One Saturday morning, we went to Claremont to shop.  A long boring wait for me in the haberdashers where Ma bought buttons, zips and sequins for the ballroom dresses she sewed most nights.  Laden with Ackermans and OK Bazaars shopping bags, we joined the long queues at the bus terminus. 

The Lansdowne queue snaked past the pissy smelling sub way steps to Claremont railway station.  I could hear the train conductors shouting out destination stops; ‘Rondebosch, Mowbray, Kaapstad,’ followed by their squawking whistles and the squeal of the train wheels as it thundered off in the direction of the city centre.  Around us, hawkers balanced boxes of fruit and vegetables on their heads or outstretched forearms.  Deftly they rustled fuzzy peaches into brown paper bags and juggled change in their baggy pockets.

            Ma and I shifted forward slowly, heaving the shopping bags a few steps at a time.  Suddenly we were pushed forward into a huddle colliding with the women in front of us.  My head was caught between a bum and a large rump covered in nylon flowers.  When I extracted myself out from under the tutting women, I looked up to see four or five skollies standing close to Ma. 

The tallest one spoke first, “Ok mummies, stan’ now still.’

Then the second tallest said, ‘You’ve all lekker done your shopping.  We also poor mummies.’

The smallest one, who had the word, TEARS, tattooed in the space that joined his eyebrows.  In a low voice he said, ‘Don’t shout, and you’se won’t get hurt.’ 

            Ma’s hand pulled my face so close to her wide hips that my view was obscured by her green crimplene dress.  I craned my neck around her thigh to get a better look.  Sunlight caught the gold slit between the tallest skollie’s full lips as he smiled broadly at Ma.  Above my head, she held out her purse to him.  He stared back at her, right into my grandmother’s eyes.  I twisted my neck to look up.  From behind her tortoise shell rimmed spectacles, she stared back at the skollie.  Not at the purse in her trembling palm.  He placed a large brown hand over hers like the priest did when he shook Ma’s hand after mass on Sunday.  In the skollie’s opened mouth, I could see the pink tip of his tongue slithering around the gold slit between his two front teeth.  

‘Hey, auntie,’ he said softly and shook his head from side to side.  He leaned right over my head and whispered in Ma’s ear, ‘I knows where auntie is keeping auntie’s real money.’

He held her gaze, then lifted his eye to the top her head, and nodded delicately.  The skollie crossed his arms over the multi-coloured cloth of his printed shirt and tucked his hands into his armpits.  With a dancer’s balance, he spun on his heels and turned his back on Ma.  His long fingers appeared and he drummed at the side of his lean ribs.  The sinews on his neck stretched first left, then right, as he looked up and down the queue, while Ma’s hand reached under her wig and gingerly tweezed out the two banknotes with her thumb and forefinger.  I had leaned forward like the skollie.  Ma yanked me back to behind her hip and hissed, ‘Look for hairs.’ 

I worked furiously and furtively, my eyes darting around her hairline, my fingers surreptitiously pointing to the unfortunates.  Only once I’d nodded my head to signal all was in place, did she tap the skollie on the shoulder and hand over the notes.

            On the bus home, I stood next to the seat where Ma sat, my gaze in line with her wig.  I concentrated on the line of her nape, the edge of the wig around her temples.  I placed my hand on her shoulder and she looked at me.  I gave her our signal, a lift of the eyebrows, meant not a single vagrant could be seen. 

            Ma put her hand over mine and squeezed my fingers then took out her handkerchief and blew her nose loudly.

 

 

Tanya Chan-Sam was born in South Africa.  She started her working life as a switchboard operator, moving to a brake and clutch factory, the night shift on radio control for ambulances, teaching in schools and colleges in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Sheffield UK and now works as a language teacher, writer and facilitator. 

She has performed and read at international literature festivals, amongst others, Spitlit (London); Off the Shelf (Sheffield);Sunday Salon (New York);George Washington University, Washington USA; Wan Tru Puwema, Suriname as well as in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Amsterdam.

In 2009, she was editor-in-chief for Matter, a creative writing journal at Sheffield Hallam University where she obtained a First for MA (Creative Writing).

On a late in life gap year in 2011, she participated in a public arts festival called Infecting the City in Cape Town, South Africa where she told wild tales to public audiences in the streets and squares of Cape Town. 

Tanya was a reader for Pen South Africa and read submissions for the 2011 prize for which JM Coetzee was on the final judge.  In November 2011 she attended a writers’ residential in Uganda on African literature. 

She is currently involved with Sunday Surgery, a writing-for-theatre development project based in London and writing scripts for Tell Theatre.

Tanya has participated in theatre making workshops at The Actor’s Space in Catalunya, Spain, collaborating with actors, writers and directors.

 

 

Other Duties ~By Kobinna Ulzen

Yaw Owusu sat at his desk at the head office of Freedom Investments Ltd. at  Osu RE Accra.  His cell phone rang.  He pulled it out of his pocket and noticed his father’s number displayed.

            “Yes I am here….Everything is fine…You don’t need to worry. Just enjoy yourself at        Aburi… Later.”

            There was a knock on his office door.

            “Papa I have to go. Someone is at the door. You have now retired. I’ll make you proud of me.”

            There was a harder knock on the door.

            “Come in!” Yaw yelled.

            Mariam Mensah walked in. She was a slim woman in her twenties. She was wearing a close fitting dress that showed her full bosom. Mariam walked past the sofa and coffee table to the large table thatYaw sat behind.

            “Good morning Mr. Owusu,” She said in a sensual voice.

            “Please, please. Enough of this formalness. You don’t need to call me Mr. Owusu,” Yaw Owusu said. “Just call me Yaw.”

            “Sir, I have to call you Mister. When your father sat in that chair, he insisted on our being respectful. I want to give you the same respect now that you are the Managing Director of this company.”

            “That was my father. I’m different. It’s been a month now,” Yaw said.

            “I know but it may take a while for me to change,” Mariam said.

            Mariam sat on one of the chairs in front of the table and handed Yaw the folder she had brought in.

            “What have you brought me to look at?” Yaw asked.

            “These are the minutes from the share holders meeting we had last week. The normal procedure is for you to review them,” Mariam said.

            “Yes, you are right….” Yaw began.

            “And you had told me that you preferred that I bring them in person as opposed to emailing them to you,” Mariam interrupted.

            “Yes I had said that.” Yaw opened the folder and began to read.

            “Can I leave now?” Mariam asked.

            “No, can you come around to this side of the table? I need you to explain something to me.”

            Mariam went round and stood beside Yaw who remained seated. He opened the folder and pointed to the names of the board members in the minutes.

            “Dr. Ampofo. Which man was he?” Yaw asked.

            “He was the man in the dark brown suit,” Mariam answered.

            “Wearing glasses?”

            “Yes, that’s the man. Anything else sir?”

            Yaw gently placed his hand on Mariam’s lower back. She flinched a bit then let his and settle even lover down her back.

            “Yes, I have one more question,” Yaw said.

            “Business related or personal?”

            Yaw looked up from the folder and up at Mariam’s face. He reached for her hand.

            “Your hand feels soft,” he said.

            “Thank you. What was your question sir? I have a lot of work to do.”

Yaw stroked the palm of Mariam’s hand.

            “Can you stay behind after work today? I need some help with a report I am drafting.”

            “Sure I can.”

            “No husband or boyfriend to go home to?”

Mariam giggled.

            “No sir. I’m single and stay at home with my mother. I’ll text her that I’ll be late. She’ll understand.” Yaw got up from the chair.

            “You know Mariam, I think you have the potential to be upwardly mobile in this company.”

Mariam smiled. “I hope so,” she said.

            “See you at 5.30 p.m. then.”

Mariam walked away towards the door making sure to swing her waist just a little bit more. When she got to the door she cast a last glance back at Yaw whose gaze was transfixed on her. She smiled then left.

 

            Efua Konadu took one last look at the numbers on the Excel Spreadsheet on her computer. She looked at Mariam who sat next to her in the office they shared with two other administrative staff at Freedom Investments Ltd.

            “I don’t like going in to see Mr. Owusu,” Efua said to Mariam.

            “Why I find him very friendly,” Mariam said.

            “Maybe you do. He always seems to flirting with me.”

            “Isn’t that what most friendly men do?”

            “I know they do, but I’m a Christian and I don’t want to be a part of that.”

            “You Christians. Always so rigid. You need to be more flexible. If you did, you would get some overtime, like I have been getting.”

            “Yes, I’ve seen that. You have been staying late for two weeks now. What exactly are you working on?”

            “It has to do with Human Resources so it’s confidential.”

            “Well, wish me luck. I have to explain these numbers to Mr. Owusu. He has no clue about this business. Sometimes I wonder how he got the job.”

            “Don’t you know? His father gave him the job. His father built this company from scratch.”

            “Rumour has it that Yaw Owusu almost failed at GIMPA,” Philomena Nsiah one of the other secretaries piped up.

            “Really?”  Efua said

            “We shouldn’t start rumours in the workplace” Efua said.

            “I’m just saying what I heard.” Philomena said.

            Efua stood up and went to the printer.

            “Sister, I hope you have been watching what you eat.” Mariam said.

            “Not every man likes a skinny woman like you. Some men like me this way. They say there’s more of me to love. I’m a true full bodied African beauty.” Efua responded.

All three women laughed. Efua grabbed the printed spreadsheets and headed down the corridor to Yaw Owusu’s office. As she approached the office Christina Mensah, another secretary with the company, came out the door looking dishevelled. She bolted past Efua.

            “Christina, is everything okay?” Efua asked.

Christina glanced back and yelled, “Yes everything is fine. I just need to use the washroom. Mr. Owusu is expecting you.”

            Efua knocked and walked into the office. As she walked in she noticed Yaw buttoning up his shirt and tie.

            “Sir, did I come at a bad time?” Efua said. “I can come back later on.”

            “No, no, Efua. This is a time as good as any other. There is a deadline for that Annual Financial Report anyway. My father called to say we may have a new partner for the company.”

            “That’s great news,” Efua said.

            “Yes it is. Why don’t we sit in the couch and discuss the figures? I’m not good with numbers so I need you to go over everything with me.”

            As Efua took a seat, Yaw Owusu came and took a seat beside Efua. Efua began explaining. “What I want us to look at today is the income the company generated as opposed to the expenses. Once you grasp those two concepts, the rest will be easy.”

            As Efua continued talking, Yaw’s eyes were fixed on her lips.

            “Efua, can you stop for a minute?” Yaw interrupted.

            “Did I say something wrong?” Efua asked.

            “No no…I just wanted to say you have very lovely lips.”

            “You’ve told me that before and I told you I am a Christian. I’m engaged and do not engage in those kinds of things.”

            “What kinds of things?”

            “I come to work to do my job. Nothing else.”

            “I understand, but don’t you know that sometimes to go ahead, you have to give up something?”

            “Then maybe I have no place in this company.”Efua stood up.

            “Where are you going? We haven’t finished our meeting yet!” Yaw said angrily.

            “I think we have. You seem to be more concerned about my physical features than on what we were discussing.”

            “You are being very disrespectful. Can’t a boss compliment his employee?”

            “You and I both know that you were doing way more than that. Why don’t we continue tomorrow? Maybe by then we both would have cooled down.”

            “That seems like a good idea. We should meet first thing in the morning as this report has be finalized for my meeting in the afternoon.”

            “I’ll see you at 8.00 a.m. tomorrow morning then.”

            “Efua, I have to say this before you go. I am the new boss in this company and if you are going to advance here, you are going to have to be like all the other administrative staff.”

            “What do you mean by that?”

            “What I’m saying is that if you can’t do the other duties as I ask you do, you may have to find another job. Think about that overnight and tomorrow we’ll talk.”

            Efua stormed out the Yaw Owusu’s office, went to her desk and grabbed her bag without saying a word to anyone.

 

            Yaw Owusu sat at his desk dressed in a dark blue business suit. He was wearing a white shirt and woven kente tie. He glanced at his watch. In a few minutes his father would be coming in the door. This was going to be one of their routine monthly meetings to make sure that Freedom Enterprises was being run properly.  Mariam knocked on the door and came in with a tray of tea and cookies.

            “Thanks Mariam,” Yaw said. “Please set it near the sofa.”

            “Okay Yaw,” Mariam said.

            “So no news from Efua since she left without a word yesterday?”

            “Not a word. I have called but I hear she’s unavailable. I hope she’s okay. We knew very little about her. Good thing you knew as much about the Financial Report as she did.”

            “As you know, I’m talented in many many areas.”

            “Yes, I know…and we’ll talk more about that at my place later tonight.”

            “For sure.”

            As Mariam was about to leave Mr Yaw Owusu Senior walked in. he was a man in his eighties and used a cane to walk.

            “Good morning Mr. Owusu Senior. Good to see you,” Mariam said.

            “Get out of my way Mariam. I didn’t come out here to see you.”

            Yaw got up from his chair and came towards his father.

            “Papa, why are you so angry?” Yaw asked.

            Mr Owusu Senior turned to the door, “Come in!” he yelled.

            Efua came.

            “Father, you know Efua? I bet you she told lies about me.”

            “She recorded most of her conversations with you including yesterdays’.”

            Mr. Owusu Senior pulled out a digital audio recorder that was shaped like a pen. Yaw Owusu grabbed it from him before the recording began.

            “How could you do that? I thought you trusted me!”

            “Trust you? You earn trust and over the years, you have never done that. I have had to bail you out of so many situations. How can I trust you when you are always so irresponsible?”

            “Then why did you hire me for this job?”

            “Because I wanted to give you another chance to prove yourself to me. I’d rather have my own flesh and blood run my company than give it to another person. Yaw Owusu, I’m relieving you of your duties immediately. Efua will now run this company. Her father is Professor Kofi Konadu who will be joining this company as partner/investor”

            Yaw got on one knee in front of his father.

            “Papa, I beg you. You can’t do this to me. I’m your first born son.”

            “And a very irresponsible one at that. This is my company. I do I please. Efua are you ready to start your new assignment?”

            Efua stepped forward, “Yes, I am Mr. Owusu Senior. Am I allowed to hire or fire anyone?”

            “Of course you can you are the boss.”

            “Mariam!” Efua yelled.

            Mariam came in the door.

            “This company no longer requires your services for regular or other duties.”

            Mariam and Yaw left the office. Efua sat next to Mr. Owusu Senior and began discussing the next steps for Freedom Investments Ltd.

 

 

 

 

About Kobinna Ulzen

Kobinna Ulzen is a Ghanaian born writer, poet, and playwright. He has called Toronto home for the past two decades.  Kobinna first had his work published in Ghana, Kenya and English speaking Africa.  This included poetry, articles and short stories in Viva Magazine, Step Magazine, Ghana’s Weekly Mirror as well as other publications.

 

In Canada, Kobinna Ulzen has had his poetry published in Accra! Accra! Poems About Modern Afrikans and Akwantu, Thoughts of a New Canadian. His work also appeared in T-Dot Griots, Anthology of Black Storytell­ers in Toronto, The African Drum, and Toronto World Arts Review amongst other publications.

Kobinna has performed his poetry at various locations in the greater Toronto area. Kobinna has facilitated an interactive educational event called Postcards from Af­rica for over a decade.

Kobinna Ulzen is a skilled facilitator, producer, and com­munity organizer who has also been involved with numerous community groups in Toronto. Kobinna’s has written/produced several theatrical short plays including Karibuni Canada, Malaika, Bus Stop, Lunch Time, Lunch Time Again.  Kobinna Ulzen is currently working on his first African themed feature length play Ekua na Kamau. This is a love story set in Accra.

 

In April 2011 Kobinna Ulzen was the featured guest at the Writer’s Project’s monthly reading at Accra’s Goethe Institute and on their radio show Writers Project on Citi 97.3 FM. He has also written several short stories for Worldreader.com.

 

Kobinna Ulzen’s website is www.kobinna.com. He can be reached by email at kobinna@rogers.com

Sun-Searching ~By Nana Akosua Hanson

image

One morning, Mr. Chagreen left and never came back.
 
He picked himself up from the corner of my room, skipped out the window into a freedom I had never had. I stare at the window and watch the wind blow my drab curtains. I wonder if freedom felt like the happy swing of the purple patterned fabric.
 
I didn’t understand why I was never to leave this room. They said I was mentally unstable, they said a  traumatic experience brought it on. They said I could put others in harm’s way. And then they said I was of no harm to anybody but myself. I don’t understand people. They say one thing all the time and mean another. They don’t make sense to me. But I guess that’s what makes me different. I guess it’s what makes me ‘mentally unstable’.
 
Mr. Chagreen was my invisible friend. He made me laugh when they made everything seem sad. Once, we went sun-searching. That is what Mr. Chagreen called chasing the sunset, trying to catch the shimmery orange rays of the sun as it fell away from earth to give way to the moon. We’d rush outside and sit on grass, stretch our palms out to the sky and try and catch as many rays as possible before the sun said goodbye. When he caught a ray, Mr. Chagreen always looked beautiful. The orange glow set his brown face in a shimmery halo, and a thought always flashed at that moment: God sent him to me.
 
But they say Mr. Chagreen is bad. They say he takes away my real friends and he is only a figment of my imagination. They say he scares people away from me and makes me talk to myself when real people want to talk to me.  So they drove him away. For days, I was lonely. I wanted to call him back but I dared not. Because they said it was part of my ‘treatment.’ And I hung alone in parks, played in the grass and went sun-searching all by myself. The real people didn’t know how to talk to me, they stared at me funny and whispered behind my back.
 
 All I could hear was screaming voices. It was the night pain began; that day was when Mr. Chagreen first came to me.  Mummy and Daddy were angry again. Mummy was crying and  screaming at the same time. Daddy looked like the evil purple monster in my bedtime story. I crawled to the corner of my room and closed my ears and hummed the song mummy taught me to hum. But they were shouting and I couldn’t hum loud enough. I started to cry. I wished they would stop. Then a thought flashed in my mind: Tell them to stop.
 
I run out of my room to the hallway, looking up the staircase at them and just when I filled my lungs to scream ‘stop,’ Daddy hit mummy hard. She fell and rolled down the stairs. I looked down at mummy lying next to my left big toe. She was no longer shouting. She was no longer crying. She was staring at a place between my legs and her red juice started to creep under my toes. It was warm. It was sticky. I called her but she didn’t respond. Then daddy swooped me into his arms.
 
Mr. Chagreen pinched my cheeks and kissed me awake. He told me he would be my best friend. He told me we would play lots of games together. And we would grow up together. He was with me when the men in blue came and took daddy away. He was with me when the fat ‘institootional’ lady came to take me away. He was with me when the doctor with thick glasses told me I’m ‘unstable’. He was with me when the nightmares came and mummy kept staring at somebody else with her red juice wetting my hands and feet and my favorite purple dress. I screamed her name but she simply looked away. Mr. Chagreen was with me when I woke to find the red juice had become urine all over my sheets and clothes. He cried with me when the fat ‘institootional’ lady gave me a ‘good spanking’ for wetting my bed.
 
 He was with me when the other children refused to play with me. He made my tongue form words when I was so scared to talk, I stuttered. He made me talk of the green leaves, orange sunlight, rainbows and unicorns when my mouth wanted to scream that mummy’s red juice was on my feet. Mr. Chagreen braided my hair and put flowers in it, though it made the other children shout, “She’s putting dead flowers in her hair again!” And when we went sun-searching and the magic orange rays fell on our faces, that hole in my chest that made it difficult for me to breathe vanished. That urge to scream ‘stop’ melted and mummy’s smile came back, daddy’s laughter caressed my cheeks again. And we were rolling around in my bed again, tickling each other and laughing and telling stories. Like the story of the handsome prince who looked like Daddy and had a dark horse that would take us to a far away land.
 
But the doctor with the thick glasses and moustache like a toothbrush said Mr. Chagreen was bad and had to go away. So I pushed him away. But he still held on to my hand.
 
Then one day, he went and never came back. And the nightmares came back. I began to cut myself and mummy’s red juice was with me, in my bed.