The Mpeasem villagers couldn’t remember the last time the sun’s rays were so harsh and Kwakyewaa couldn’t have been more glad. The icy feel of the wind against her cheeks were getting too familiar.
As she walked towards the stream, she tilted her head back, and allowed the sun to blind her eyes shut. She smiled and inhaled the fresh air – it was a nice feeling. “Ei, Kwakyewaa! Always dreaming! *Inshwɛ babia erikɔ?” Kwakyewaa felt a playful slap on her arm. She hated that… Such slaps usually came at the wrong time, and the offenders usually lingered and squeezed her fleshy arm – she hated that. In spite of that, Kwakyewaa smiled and greeted the older woman, as a sign of respect.
As she walked away, she muttered to herself; “They won’t stop provoking us, then when we get fed up, they tarnish our name…hmph!”
Kwakyewaa loved her village, it was a very close-knit community. It was the people – mostly the elderly people that forced a bittersweet taste down her throat. It made her wonder how life would be if families living near each other weren’t as codependent. ‘It will be like living in the city’.
She smiled to herself. She thought about the city a lot and the entire village had heard about her strong desire to leave to the city, if even it was just for a day. When she was younger, she spent a lot of time at the Village Square, and heard a lot of stories about the crazy people in the city.
It was the liveliest place amongst Mawusu, Shwitom, Fabom and Mpeasem, possibly because it was the converging point. Even though the Square was quite a distance from Mpeasem, a lot of children went there as often as five days in a week but as they grew older, they spent most of their time following their parents to their farms to “make good use of their energy”; as the parents often said.
Kwakyewaa suddenly dropped the pan she held under her right arm – she felt an extreme pain in her abdomen. She bent forward, anticipating the sharpness to hit her again, but it didn’t. She felt a wave of nausea wash over her, and she suddenly felt the urge to go home and sleep. She gingerly picked up the pan and shuffled along, recoiling into her thoughts.
By the time she got to the stream, her back was aching slightly and the pain in her abdomen was consistent. She waded from the bank, enjoying the water around her legs. She was filling the pan when she noticed blood mixing with the water. “Kai!” She exclaimed. She quickly looked around, trying to spot what animal had been shot or wounded and was bleeding into the water but she found nothing. She studied the situation closely and realized she was bleeding. The blood was hers – flowing from between her legs. She gasped.
A thousand and one thoughts flew in her mind. She was shaken, afraid and worried at the same time. She used to think having her first flow was an achievement. The joy with which mothers announced to everyone that their daughter was bleeding for the first time was envious. It was a joy every girl looked forward to giving their mothers but Kwakyewaa eventually abhorred the idea.
When she was nine, she had lengthy conversations with one of the older girls in the village – Baaba. At the time, Baaba was seventeen and had been married for three years. Baaba had bitterly recounted her days as the 15-year-old girl who had just started her monthly flow of blood. She described how happy she was to be a source of pride in the home. She explained that as a girl who had become of age, you were to be immediately married off to the highest bidder. Baaba shared the dreams and aspirations she had had before she became a wife and mother.
Her stories left a bitter impression on Kwakyewaa, who already set for herself a high standard of achievement beyond the Mpeasem village, though she hadn’t even set eyes on a tree stump outside the village before. Her hopes made her believe it was possible – and that was enough assurance. Looking at the trickle of blood, Kwakyewaa’s heart rate had increased too fast. Her blood was pumping violently and she felt thick beads of sweat roll down her face.
She was expected to be happy – to run home and share this great news with her family. She should be looking forward to seeing her mother dance around the courtyard in excitement, “My daughter is of age, ooo!”, Kwakyewaa could practically hear her mother’s voice in her head but she was scared to witness that scene – knowing that if she were to let them know, she will be sold off within the shortest possible time to one of the big men in Mpeasem or the neighbouring villages. She would be a third or fourth wife – no big man she knew of was unmarried. That life was not hers. The 15-year-old beauty who was well-known in her village and neighbouring villages for her ambitions and zest knew her destiny was much greater than that.
She looked at the path she used to come to the river, she looked at the half empty pan at the bank of the stream. She felt the moist sand underneath her bare feet and tears filled her eyes when she realized what she had to do – she felt a shiver go down her spine. Her heart told her, to run and she knew she had no other choice. Kwakyewaa run and she didn’t look back.
*Inshwɛ babia erikɔ – Won’t you look where you’re going?