(Prose part 2) African Initiation by Louisa Calio

Louisa Calio with Ghana family hosts2
Author third from left with her Ghanaian family hosts

Part Two: Departure

The six month visit in Ghana had finally come to an end.  Although it was the last night for sharing a supper or sitting by the fire to tell or listen to a story, no one could eat or find voice to speak. Only the sound of the crackling fire broke the heavy silence. Ashneen was away, but had promised to be back by morning. Ashtai had already left for the country. Only Kwame, Essie and the young children remained to sit out their final vigil.

The fire light made strange shapes and outlines on their faces reminding Lucia of African masks, but there was no doubt in her mind that Essie’s face was streaked with tears. She reached over and hugged her friend.

“Are you crying? You won’t miss us that much. We’ve been a lot of extra work for you.”

“Take me with you?” Essie blurted. “Take me and my baby? I’ll be a big help to you. You’ve seen how well I cook and sew. You work and need help.”

Lucia was surprised. She thought Essie was happy in Tasai. Then she thought about the void left by the death of her husband, the slim chances for a widow with a child to remarry, her limited economic opportunities, and she understood her pain. Had she not just left the experience of Philadelphia, she might have tried rescuing her. But she was more conscious of the complexities of rescuing another human being now.  Instead, she gave her sister Essie a long hard embrace and promised to write. They both sobbed deeply.

“Stop this,” Kwame said, assuming the authority of the male elder in his father’s absence. “If anyone is going to America, it will be me.”

Lucia was hot with anger. The privileges of the old male world felt like porcupine quills on her sensitive skin. She saw Essie wilt before her, a crushed flower. She was ready to meet fire with fire. Yes, Essie was only a sister‑in‑law in a hierarchy where a woman had a low place to start, but how could he be so cruel! She hadn’t seen this part of Kwame before. She wanted to say something, but, as if he knew, Will gently squeezed her hand, whispering, “Stay cool.”

Atola stood up and broke the mood. “Let’s do our farewell dance and song,” she exclaimed. “We owe it to our guests, Kwame.”

The value of ritual was never more apparent. It helped them channel their feelings in a creative way. After a good work out Lucia felt different, remembering that Kwame was as much a captive of his role as Essie was of hers. The dance tired them enough for them to get a good night’s rest.

Suddenly Africa’s spell was broken. Lucia and Will found themselves looking forward to modern conveniences: flush toilets were never as appealing, hot showers anytime, accessible cool drinking water, elegant restaurants with air conditioning and smooth highways looked immensely inviting. Boarding the flight, they waved good‑bye to the Kwando family promising to write and meet Kwame when he arrived in America. As the 747 headed skyward, West Africa became a point of light on the horizon.

During the flight they overheard other travelers recounting their journeys.

“Africa, you can keep it,” exclaimed an attractive black woman in her twenties. Seated beside her a tall, slim man in a white shirt and tie tacitly agreed.

Will interrupted, curious to learn more. “Did I hear correctly? Are you saying you didn’t have a great time in Ghana?”

The couple looked at him with astonishment, their mouths agape. “Great time! You must be joking. We arrived on a charter with our group of high school teachers from Chicago three weeks ago. We were sent to the University of Accra for lodging. You’ve been to college, man, these people must be kidding! We stayed in a malaria infested dormitory without screens or glass on the windows, a bare mattress on the floor and no working bathroom! Half our group got sick with malaria and the other half sick from bad water.”

Will and Lucia were astonished.  Had theirs been a charmed visit? Could the Nkisi have worked? Could Kwame be right? Does what we expect color our experience?   Kwame’s words came to mind, “Before any important act or decision pray to the ancestors for guidance and protection. What is visible comes first from the invisible. The gods were with you because you made a ritual asking for their protection and intervention.”

The couple had wondered how the two worlds of matter and spirit mixed or whether they had indeed made contact with the ancestors through Nkisi, but they knew it was more than luck that guided them to Kwame from the start, and they were grateful someone or something was watching over them.

From the unpublished novel,  Lucia Means Light

Read part 1.

Read Meet Mago Contributor Louisa Calio.

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