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Rigwell Addison Asiedu | Birdcage

Mansa knew someone was following her. It was not a curious suspicion or a panicky feeling; it was a deep-seated knowledge gnawing at the back of her mind. The woman turned her head with a jerky vigilance. Among the few pedestrians behind her on Thirdes Road was a man wearing a black hood with his head bent low; she couldn’t see his face. Mansa muttered a prayer and quickened her footsteps. Her heart rate kept increasing by the minute. The sky above was grey with pregnant rain clouds ready to burst at any moment. Thunder rumbled above, and dozens of crows flew off a mango tree beside a large cage housing cackling chickens for sale. A black Range Rover zoomed past her, and the wind that accompanied it left her kinky hair dancing like black flags in the air. Mansa mustered the courage to turn again and see her stalker fully. Panic fluttered its wings in her mind. The hooded man was out of sight.

Mansa’s hands itched for something to protect herself. Her fingers felt heavy even though she wasn’t holding anything. She was on guard, ready to spring on any attacker. She knew the others on the road; she had met them at Adonai International Ministries where she registered for her Ghana Card. A woman smiled at her with teeth so bright that they could be mistaken for pearls. She had a complexion of chocolates glinting in bright sunlight. Something about her made Mansa think of Kingsbite Chocolate and she decided the woman was harmless. Mansa suddenly remembered her name from the numerous discussions on the long queue for the Ghana Card registration.

“Gladys, the rain is about to fall o,” Mansa said as the woman joined her to walk side by side. She tried to keep her tone normal even though she knew she was being stalked by a potential kidnapper. She had read somewhere that walking alone in quiet places was not advisable when in suspicion of being followed.

“Yes oo, thank God I brought my umbrella; one has to be prepared always. We are in the rainy season now,” Gladys replied in Twi.

When her new friend switched to English, Mansa heard a whiff of a Nigerian accent. Gladys could easily come across as Ghanaian, but Mansa just knew it. She had figured it out when they were still in the queue and someone mentioned that some Nigerians were also applying for the Ghana Card as Ghanaians. Mansa had seen a cloud pass over Gladys’ face before the latter started joking loudly in Twi about Tema’s old women who didn’t want to be either reminded of their aging or called ma or grandma. Something recoiled in Mansa when the fact that Gladys was Nigerian kept crossing her mind. She felt like a snail retreating into its shell. Mansa’s mind flitted to the recent kidnapping cases with Nigerians largely listed as suspects. Lauren Tilley and Bailey Chitty —the Canadians—were lucky to have been rescued from the eight kidnappers. Mansa and her husband, John, had argued about the reportage of the incident earlier that week. The wife felt it was xenophobic to zoom in on the three who were Nigerians whereas the greater number of them were fellow Ghanaians. “Nigerians have always been dangerous,” John had maintained. “Look at what they’ve done to their country,” he bellowed, counting his black fingers.

“Boko Haram, Fulani Herdsmen, corruption, Niger Delta Militants, kidnapping… now they’ve come here to pollute our peaceful country after destroying theirs!”

“Then how do you account for the five Ghanaians who were also involved in the kidnap of Tilley and Chitty? Were they hypnotized with Nigerian voodoo?” Mansa asked with deliberate sarcasm. When her husband couldn’t answer, she continued: “We’ve always had this coming for us—the kidnappings. Many youths are unemployed; many graduates don’t have jobs. Asking for exorbitant ransoms, therefore, sounds like a very profitable venture. What do you think it’ll sound like for someone desperate to feed?”

“What exactly are you driving at, Mansa?”

“The problem is not the nationality of the criminals; it is the crime and the root causes.”

“Some people are just lazy,” John growled and leaned on the sofa. “Some people are just lazy and wicked and greedy,” he spat. “Like Nigerians.”

“Please don’t say this when the Olatundes come over for dinner tonight,” Mansa had pleaded. John’s cousin had married a Nigerian man with conspicuous Yoruba tribal marks. Their family of four lived on Apple Lane, while Mansa, her husband, and the twins lived beside The Church of Pentecost Community 12 chapel.

Mansa was worried about what could happen to her country which was, until recently, one of the most secure in Africa, and her family in particular, if things continued the way they were going. John had pointed out that many of his foreign friends were unwilling to attend the art exhibition he was organizing in July because they feared for their safety. There was already tension between the Mensahs and the Olatundes after the uneventful dinner when the ugly issue reared its head again and John Mensah vehemently expressed his opinion. This was after Mr. Olatunde had suggested that Ghanaians couldn’t take responsibility for the misdeeds in the country and were eager to blame the “other” or the “outsider”. The dinner had ended with tense silence and embarrassed apologies. There was also the Suame attack on Nigerians to worry about. Mansa didn’t want the brotherly relationship between Nigerians and Ghanaians to end. Besides, her brother’s family was based in Ikoyi, Lagos. What if Nigerians took offense and retaliated against the immigrants there?

Gladys’ high-pitched voice brought Mansa back to the present. “We need to hurry if we want to make it to our children’s school.”

“The clouds are frowning paaa,” Mansa observed in Twi. They hurried on the road, with their footwears making a slap-slap noise on the ground and occasionally crunching on gravels. A black vehicle drove past them at top speed. Gladys jumped from the asphalt.

“Who is pursuing him?” Mansa frowned. She saw the car a moment ago. It was similar to her black Range Rover which she left at her garage. She had agreed with her husband to avoid obvious displays of wealth now that kidnapping was on the rise. Her husband now drove the old Toyota Camry while she used the boring red Picanto. Today, she had opted to walk to the centre for the registration, although she felt nauseous that morning. Mansa spat into an open gutter and rubbed her flat belly with her right hand. She smiled.

Lightning flashed and the sky coughed. As they neared the school’s gate, Gladys told her about her niece who had been kidnapped in Takoradi. The girl was still missing. Gladys shared this slowly in a quiet tone. Her cheerfulness was gone. “My sister is half-mad now; she won’t eat. She is inconsolable. Her only child…”

Gladys trailed off, sucking through her teeth. Mansa winced with empathy and felt herself warming up to Gladys, like a flower opening up at dawn. She was beginning to forget about the hooded stalker. He had disappeared after all.

“They’ll find her,” Mansa said, wrapping a hand around Gladys’ shoulders. “What’s her name?” “Jocelyn.” Mansa raised an eyebrow; that’s what she had wanted to name her daughter before John insisted they gave the baby his late mother’s name.

“I have a daughter whose name is Josephine,” Mansa disclosed. “Her twin brother is Joseph.” Gladys brightened up when she heard this.

“You have twins? You’re blessed! I’ve always loved twins.”

 “They’re trouble oo!”

 “Then what will you call my four boys?” Gladys asked.

Mansa’s mouth dropped open. She couldn’t believe that the slender woman with the hourglass shape beside her had birthed four children and still looked like a flawless Instagram model. Mansa felt fat beside Gladys. She needed to hit the gym soon, she decided. Her clothes were getting tighter. She needed new underwear. She would need to watch her weight now, control her diet, and count her calories. She didn’t want John to start looking elsewhere. John was decent, but her mother once told her that all men had the beastly potential to sleep around. All men.

 “Men are dogs inside. If they don’t see what they want, they start barking. If they don’t get what they want, they look for the nearest bitch to mount. Make sure John’s dog never comes out. Keep it in,” her mother had warned her, drawing her right ear for emphasis.

Although a few kids were running around in the large compound, the school looked like a graveyard under the ominous shroud of the dark sky. It looked like God had painted above with ink. Forked bolts of lightning made the firmament seem like a cracked pot about to break and spill its liquid on them. A group of children was attempting to catch some hens. A parrot talked endlessly in its cage beside the class of Mansa’s twins. Mansa wondered why her kids were not outside playing; they always played with others when she kept long. It had been that way since John stopped them from using the school bus. That was after the bus almost had an accident one foggy morning last December. She split up with Gladys who went for her boys. The sky barked with thunder and the woman jumped. The kids screamed excitedly. The parrot flapped its wings frantically in the cage. “Thunder… thunder!” The bird mimicked the children.  Mansa met only the class teacher of her kids in the classroom. Ms. Crystal looked up from her iPhone with a mixture of confusion and surprise.

 “Mrs. Mensah!” the teacher exclaimed and hugged her quickly. Mansa saw a WhatsApp chat on the iPhone with numerous red heart emojis beside the contact’s name. Her eyes had barely registered the name when she received the shock of her life.

“I thought you sent someone to pick your kids for you.”

 Mansa’s mouth went dry. Her limbs weakened.

 “Who?” she managed to ask with a choked voice. Her ears were ringing.

“Aaah, I don’t understand o. I even called you to confirm. You said yes, that you weren’t feeling well and your voice was even hoarse.”

Mansa’s hands itched. Her phone! She was holding her phone at the registration centre. She fumbled through her handbag as lightning flashed and illuminated the dark room. “That wasn’t me!” she screeched as she searched through her things.

“I didn’t send anyone to pick my children.”

 “What are you saying, Mrs. Mansa Mensah? The person came with your car—”

The sky cracked. Winds blew through the compound. The windows banged close and the noise gave Mansa a splitting headache. Her mind flashed back to the black Range Rover she saw on the road.

 “That wasn’t my car, the plate number was different,” Mansa began to slap her temples and pull her hair.

“Calm down—”

 “Don’t tell me to calm down,” she yelled. She let out a piercing wail as the rains began.

“I’m dead!”

She jumped and pranced hysterically. When Crystal came close, she grabbed the teacher by the neck.

 “Where are my children? Where have you taken them to?”

The yells had attracted the little kids, Gladys, and some teachers. They pulled her away as her ears rang with bells of hysteria. The sound of rushing rain agitated her all the more. She tried to run outside but was restrained. Pellets of rain made the roof rattle like bacon in a saucepan. Sprays of rain sprinkled through little spaces between the windows and the sills. Mansa kept screaming and writhing in the strong arms. The lightning took pictures of her frenzied state. The hawks and rains had come for her chicks, and she had no wings to protect them.

“I wanted to tell him today, John…” Mansa felt the little life in her throb. Did the kidnappers want ransom or body parts? Her energy was fast dissipating. She heard a sizzling in her ears like radio static. She knew that soon, there would be media announcements of her twins’ abduction. She was losing consciousness. As she sank into darkness, she knew her husband would be called, and a hot search would begin. Her intuition had always been strong but now she couldn’t tell if her children would be found or not. Her body was growing limp.

“She’s fainting!” The alarm came from afar. The downpour drowned her weakened wails. She closed her eyes and saw herself following the black car in which her kids were trapped like birds in a cage, flapping and fluttering, waiting endlessly for a key to turn, for a door to open.

—————

Image: Priyanka Pandey Unsplash cropped

Rigwell Addison Asiedu
Rigwell Addison Asiedu
Rigwell Addison Asiedu is a writer based in Accra. In 2019, he won the Dei Awuku Writer’s Contest and was longlisted for the African Writers Awards in the poetry category in 2022. He has a passion for writing about identity, mental illness, sexuality, spirituality, and African history. He is also obsessed with water, black cats, and crows. Twitter: asiedu_rigwell Facebook: Rigwell Addison Asiedu Instagram: asiedu_rigwell

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