Fati squinted under the glare of the midday sun. The heat was sweltering but that was the least of her worries. Her neck muscles arched as she bore the weight of the luggage in the pan. Her customer had drifted away from her in the split second that she was distracted. Fati stood haplessly in the middle of the narrow market lane, hoping to catch a glimpse of her.
She muttered to herself. “Kayayei!” a voice screeched. Fati scanned again and she found the cause of her worry. Her client – a pudgy short woman with a triple chin and too much jewellery dressed in a frilly blouse and billowing trousers – motioned towards her. She hurriedly shuffled towards the woman and let down the pan. “Add these to it.” The woman ordered in Twi. Fati groaned inwardly, her sweat slicked face bore no sign of it. The new additions – two cartons of soap and other toiletries – might as well have been piles of rocks. She loaded them in and then with a herculean effort hoisted the pan back on her head. Her client grimaced briefly.
They made their way out of the market to the roadside. The asphalt shimmered in the blistering heat. Fati’s client stopped a taxi. After haggling briefly with the driver she plopped herself in the backseat and paid no attention to what happened next. The taxi driver helped Fati unload the contents of her pan into the boot of the car. Fati then made her way to her client. “Madam please the charge would be thirty cedis-“she began in Twi. The woman muttering angrily reached into her purse and dropped some crumpled notes and some coins on the ground, breaking Fati’s monologue. The taxi quickly sped away as Fati bent over to pick up the money.
She cursed. Three cedis, sixty pesewas. That’s what the woman threw at her. Fati’s shoulders slumped. She was expecting to bargain and settle for ten cedis. It was always the well-dressed ones who treated them like shit. Fati undid the corner of her cover cloth and wiped her face. She sidled back into the market to solicit for another client.
Fati sat with her friends at their resting spot. The flies buzzed lazily in the relative shade of the butcher’s shop they sat in front of. The cloying stench of blood and spoiling fruit and the clogged gutter nearby wafting around did not deter some of them from dozing off. The market would close any moment soon. Fati was not lulled by that. She had made just twenty cedis, sixty pesewas – well short of the fifty she had to make as a minimum. She had not found any customer after that fat woman from hell. She did not have enough to pay for the shelter where she slept.
Kareem would not like that. She did not fancy walking all over New Town all night long just to find somewhere to sleep. The other girls barely fared any better. Fati could count herself lucky that she did not have a baby to take care of. She touched her face absentmindedly. She could not remember the last time she looked in a mirror. She had two thin scars on either side of her face; marks of her people. She cupped her face in her hands. Her fingers came away with a little black dust. The kohl she had applied around her eyes when she woke up was cracking off. Fati sighed and stretched. She was tall and willowy like many of her colleagues she was sitting with. In another life she might have been a beauty, royalty even. That did not matter now. As the skies darkened Kareem was her worry.
“Kareem I beg you. Let me sleep here. I’ll pay you tomorrow”. Tears streaked down Fati’s face. Kareem chuckled. “Tears don’t mean anything on these streets. Pay up or sleep somewhere else tonight!” he chortled, swallowing a little of his cola flavoured spittle. The streetlight flickered hazily. Kareem had had a long day. He was unable to meet his daily quota of new phones for his supplier. One of his boys had been knocked down from his bike by a careless driver in Nima and the police had impounded it and locked him up for owning an unregistered motorbike. He was not about to let a lazy kayayoo skimp out of paying her night shelter dues. His face turned ugly under the night light. “Fati you are wasting my time. It’s either you pay or sleep somewhere else.“ He sat in front of the door to the kiosk which served as the shelter. The heat emanating from within was something else.
Kareem winced. Fati rose from her knees and started undoing her dress. The soiled fabric did little to flatter the curves of her body. Maybe if she let him have his way with her he would allow her to sleep there. Kareem got up hastily and cursed in Hausa. “Whore! You think you can sleep your way out of paying me? Who do you think you are? Shaitan’s spawn! Jinn!” he spat at her, globules of saliva and half chewed cola drizzling her face. His cruel eyes had turned into dark beads. His right hand curled into a fist and he struck her on the temple. Fati was knocked back and her head slammed into the hard pavement. All she could hear was a ringing in her ears.
Fati opened her eyes groggily and doubled over in pain as Kareem drove his foot into her abdomen. He wore steel toed boots. Fati’s eyes watered and she could hardly breathe as another kick rammed into her diaphragm. She coughed and blood oozed out of her mouth. She curled into a ball as a furious Kareem stomped on her. She felt her side cave in and a dull crunch as her fourth and fifth ribs fractured under the force of the blows. Kareem was in an expletive driven frenzy. Fati resigned herself to her fate. She was suffering enough already. Death wouldn’t be such a bad thing now.
Suddenly the kicking and swearing stopped. Fati felt a shadow over her. “Stop what you’re doing.” She heard a gruff voice. “Bossu keep walking and mind your business. I’m dealing with a prostitute here.” Kareem pitched. Kareem made to swing his foot at the supine figure of Fati. The owner of the voice expertly blocked his foot. “Touch her again and I’ll make you wish you were born without that leg.” He growled. A chill ran down Fati’s spine. Kareem shuffled his feet and raised his hands. “You think you’re some super star eh. I’ll beat you today so that when you see me in town walking you’ll cross the road to the other side.” Gruff voice said nothing.
Kareem sized his opponent up. He was short and squarely built. His right eye was milky white and he sported a buzz cut and grizzled stubble. His t shirt was tattered and stained with engine oil and his trousers were no better. He seemed to move gingerly on his right side, presumably because of the eye. This should be an easy fight. He rolled his head and shoulders and charged at him.
Gruff voice cast a cursory look around and moved in towards his opponent. Kareem was tall and athletic and moved like a cat. He was thus surprised when he caught a crushing uppercut on his chin. He staggered back. Gruff voice did not allow him to move away. Ducking from a wide swing, he pummeled Kareem’s body. Kareem winced under a flurry of short jabs to his face. It had started swelling already. He swung wildly and caught just air as Gruff voice leaned away. He bellowed and charged again, forcing his opponent back towards Fati, who hadn’t moved since the fight began. He parried a jab and swung his left fist.
Gruff voice dodged the wide swing and leaned into Kareem’s next blow coming in from his right side. The hook connected to his temple and he saw stars. His mouth welled with blood. He spat out a tooth and grinned at Kareem. He lunged at Kareem ferociously, delivering a combination of hooks and jabs into the other man’s midsection. Kareem sputtered and reeled. He was not expecting such power from an old man. He moved in again, throwing jabs towards Gruff voice’s right side. Gruff voice did not flinch. Kareem’s face darkened and he reached into his back pocket, producing a switchblade. The long thin blade gleamed in the streetlight. Gruff voice smiled sardonically. “Come.” He said and went into a crouch.
Kareem thrust the knife at him. “I’ll kill you today and dump your body in the Odawna.” Gruff voice was impassive as his opponent reached towards him. At the last moment he sidestepped Kareem and grabbed his wrist, jerking it violently, throwing Kareem into the air and landing none too gently on his back. Kareem grunted. Gruff voice got up and assumed his boxer stance again. Kareem rose gingerly, eyes on Gruff voice. He sneered. The switchblade lay on the pavement, forgotten.
Kareem let out a roar and kicked at Gruff voice. Gruff voice caught his leg and rammed his elbow into his thigh, fracturing his femur. Kareem’s scream rent the night air. Gruff voice darted towards his opponent, raining a series of punches. Kareem put his arms up to protect his face. Gruff voice man smirked and drilled a vicious punch into his kidneys. Kareem screamed and doubled over.
Gruff voice harried his opponent. The dull splat of punches hitting flesh reverberated around the quiet street. Kareem sunk to his knees, his face a bloodied mass. Blood and saliva dribbled from his mouth as he raised his arms weakly. Gruff voice rabbit punched him, shattering his cervical vertebrae. Kareem slumped to the pavement and lay still. Gruff voice went over to Fati. “Are you okay?” he asked. She nodded in response. “Good.” He replied. He examined his bloodied fists. The skin on his knuckles had peeled off. His left hand throbbed dully; he had probably broken his metacarpals. He picked Fati off the pavement and took her into the shelter. He lay her down gently and walked away into the night. Fati, unable to cope with the pain, lapsed into unconsciousness. What she had just witnessed was definitely a dream.
Fati rose from the standpipe and adjusted her cloth. Asibi and the other girls were gossiping as they slathered shea butter on their bodies. Fati went over to them. She winced slightly as she felt pain in her side. “Fati did you hear what happened last night?” Asibi asked her. “No o. What happened?” Fati queried. “Farida said she saw an old man beat Kareem in front of the shelter last night.” Asibi quipped. “Ei are you sure? You know Farida says a lot of things.” Fati countered. “Hmm. I don’t know o. She said Kareem was beating you for not paying for the night and the man came to beat him. It was his boys who found him at dawn today because he didn’t come for Fajr prayers. They said his neck was broken o.” Asibi narrated excitedly. “At least it will be a while before they come to collect money from us again”. A chill ran down Fati’s spine as Asibi’s voice faded out into a warble in her ears.
It was not a dream.
There is an urban legend known in the backstreets of Accra. From Ayslum down to Adabraka. From Lartebiokoshie through to Nima. Blowing through Old Fadama and swirling in Osu and Labadi. A legend that chills the blood of even the most hardened Kwashe Boys. A legend that the police refuse to confirm or deny. A legend of a man with a white eye going round when the city sleeps. Nobody knows his name or where he came from. All they know is that he rains fire and brimstone to any rapist or kwashey boy or gangster unfortunate enough to cross paths with him. He is unlike anything they have ever seen. He is Old Testament
image courtesy heavennet.net
© Sena Frost ‘19