Aba teetered between sleep and waking. Each time she drifted off, a bark or a croak or the rumble of a car rushing past roused her, so that again, she counted her breath – to not only slow it down, but also to distract herself from her thoughts, which whirled and collided like balls in a lottery machine.
Around 6am, her mother’s prayer echoed through the wall. “Sanctify this day, Lord! Sanctify this marriage! Bless Aba and Frederick with years of happiness.”
She tuned out her mother, and listened to the hadedas squawking. A piece of classical music – her father’s ringtone – cut through the birds’ discordant screeching. If God had answered her plea, it would be Ekow, calling to say he’d heard the news. He would be there after all, to receive his akonta sekan, and wish her well.
In the adjacent room, her father shouted directions in Twi. He mentioned not her brother’s name, but Mr. Gyamfi, one of the Ghanaians coming from Butterworth for the traditional wedding. Months ago, before Aba knew about the akonta sekan, she’d made a deal. Traditional wedding at her parents’ in Queenstown, then in four months, the white wedding in Jo’burg, where she and Frederick lived.
She cared little for these traditions. But her parents, as well as Frederick’s, had insisted on the Ghanaian ceremony. Frederick himself had said, indulge me, wouldn’t it be cool to wear kente and be like Asante kings and queens. She’d rolled her eyes at him; he was Ewe, nowhere near Asante. In response, he’d pranced around his living room, throwing his arms about like a kete dancer. He’d pulled her to her feet, and she’d laughed, loving the way his dimples deepened as he mimicked the sound of a fontomfrom drum.
Yawning, Aba pried her eyes open. She squinted at her old room, with its pink walls and Boyz II Men poster. On the bedside table were the teen Bible her parents gave her when she turned 13, her phone, and Ayi Kwei Armah’s The beautyful ones are not yet born. Ekow had given her the novel in their first year of university in Cape Town, after a course mate from Ghana had raved about it. She’d never read the book, but yesterday evening, following her parents’ revelation, she’d picked it up from the stack on the desk, and lay in bed flipping through the pages.
“Akonta sekan, literally in-law’s knife,” her father said last night. “A cutlass in the olden days, now a cash gift for the bride’s brother.”
They sat at the kitchen table, their plates stained with palm oil and white bits of yam. Up until the words akonta sekan, Aba had focused on the oven light as it flicked on and off, revealing and concealing the cakes Auntie Esther was baking. On hearing her father’s explanation, goose bumps rose on her arms. She glanced at her mother, seated across from her. Auntie Esther, her mother’s sister who had arrived from Ghana the previous week, washed her hands and left the kitchen.
Her father cleared his throat. He pushed his glasses up his nose.
“We’ve asked Kwame Antwi, Uncle Antwi’s son, to accept the akonta sekan.”
Her mother wiped her hands on a paper napkin.
“You remember Kwame, from Butterworth. He’s in PE now.”
An image of a pimply boy with buck teeth flashed in Aba’s mind. Kwame had been at the same university in Cape Town, and had offered to tutor her when Ekow disappeared and she struggled to concentrate. A kind boy, but that didn’t mean he should be collecting her twin brother’s akonta sekan. Aba tugged at her necklace. Their parents had never taught them Akan traditions, not even insisted they speak Fante or Twi at home. Now, almost thirty years in South Africa, and they wanted to reclaim a culture they’d long lost.
“You could have left out the akonta sekan. We could easily take it out.”
Her father drummed his fingers on the table. He got up and turned to the sink. “These things have to be done right. Everything is significant. You and I may not understand, but everything is significant.”
Aba leaned into the table. Her tone was the measured one she used with difficult patients.
“But you’re making it obvious Ekow is not here.
Who would notice if we took it out?”
“Humph.” Her mother stacked the plates on the table. The rollers in her weave bobbed as she went on about people who looked you straight in the eye, then said all sorts of things behind your back. “They will notice and they will have even more reason to talk.”
Aba joined her mother at the sink when her father left to watch the news. The shortest in the family, her mother stood plump and curvy next to her gym-toned body. “Why didn’t you tell me about the akonta sekan?” Aba squirted soap onto the sponge and scrubbed hard at the plates.
“You weren’t interested. You told us to organise everything.”
“But you could have said something anyway.”
“What difference would it have made? Your brother’s not here.”
Read more the full story in New Contrast 199.
Artwork by Imile Wepener- Leopards Leap.