The town of Akumadan is drenched in darkness and there is no single trace of light. I notice immediately that there’s a power outage. I would have lingered in Techiman for a while if I had known. But how could I have stayed longer when there is a dead body in the restaurant that hasn’t been discovered by anyone yet? I arrive home at 10 p.m. and find the compound empty. Probably, my mother is in her room, but I’m surprised to see her room dark. She hasn’t turn on her lamp, I suspect it is dead. My mother has the habit of not charging her lamp until I remind her to. I know she prefers using the lantern, but the smell of kerosene suffocates me and that’s why to date, she doesn’t know I threw it away. How would she even know, when I was the one who helped her search for it when it went missing.

I turn on my phone’s torchlight and find a matchbox on the pillar of the verandah. I instantly remember the termination letter. I quickly burn it and enter my mother’s room without knocking as usual. I find her sitting on the floor with a dying candle, flickering in front of her, and some pictures spread on the floor. I move closer to her and recognize the images. They are pictures of my father and sister. I hear her sobbing and I get irritated. I feel like taking those pictures and burning them. My father and sister had been the only loves of her life, I have never been acknowledged!

Right now, as I seethe with anger and envy, I am convinced that I was right by not telling her my father came back. Yes, he came to apologise a year ago. After ten years of leaving my mother, when my sister and I had just turned twelve. My mother keeps blaming the other woman and sometimes herself, but I wish I could slap her and plant some sense into her head. My father is the only one to be blamed for this. He was the one she was married to and he was the one with the responsibility of taking care and sticking with his family through thick and thin. He knew exactly what he was doing and I know he was never influenced by anyone. It was a decision he boldly took all by himself. So why should my mother keep dwelling in the past and reigniting all the pain he had caused? He walked away when we needed him. He looked away when we cried and begged and he disappeared when my sister and I vouched to go with him.

He came back after all this, looking older than his age and so frail that he fell severally because I had refused him a seat and left him standing. He looked sick, the rashes on his body jutted out like boils and he coughed while he spoke. I was only glad that my mother had gone to the market and knowing that woman, she would have forgiven him immediately, especially if she had seen him in such a condition. I paid no heed to his apology and drove him away. He came back a few days later and fortunately for me, my mother had traveled to another town to attend a funeral. He looked worse than the first time. His voice quivered as he spoke. He pleaded with me to give him the chance to speak to my mother. And again, I refused. He stayed till evening and when he realised my mother wouldn’t return that day, he left. That was the last I saw of him. I don’t know if he is still alive or dead. I hope for the latter because I never saw the essence of his existence anyway.

 I stare at my mother and the pictures for a moment before walking away. She can cry herself to death if she likes.

I get to work at 9 a.m. only to meet a crowd. The death of the manager has totally escaped my mind and I only remember when I see Cane running towards me while saying, “ Our manager, our manager o”, I feign ignorance and ask him what’s happening.

“ The manager was found dead in his office this morning. I hear he had an asthmatic attack”, Cane says with his shoulders slightly raised and his arms crossed over his chest as he shakes his head.

“ Eeeiiii! How could this happen? So he’s gone just like that? Haaaaaa! That fine man. Life is indeed unfair oo”, I exclaim dramatically as I swing my handbag away and place my arms on my head while stamping my feet. My performance draws the attention of the spectators and I see most of them shaking their heads in pity. I wish tears would drop from my eyes to make the performance complete. But none comes; they abandon me when I need them most.

“ You were alone with him, you should know what happened”, I hear Emefa’s voice behind me. I turn and see her staring at me accusingly. I’m glad the crowd is diminishing, else there would have been another gossip to feed on. I open my mouth to speak and just then my tears begin to flow like a faucet with low pressure. It came at the wrong time and in front of the wrong person. I want to give her a piece of my mind, but then, giving a sarcastic retort with tears is a terrible combination. Cane holds my hand and takes me inside the restaurant.

“ Ignore her”, he whispers to me. I see he read my expression wrongly, all the same, I’m glad he took me away from that wretch, she was about to ruin the whole show for me. We meet a middle-aged man in a white long-sleeved shirt and black trousers. His right hand is dipped into his pocket while his left-hand caresses his heavy beard. He’s not bad looking.

“ That’s the new manager”, Cane whispers again. I raise my eyebrow in astonishment and eye him up. His demeanour is of someone who has been waiting for an opportunity like this. Like those people who always wait to turn the misfortune of others into their fortune. The manager just died last night and he’s already been replaced. It’s not even as though this man is an acting manager, he is actually now the manager, wow!

“ I’m Carl. I would prefer you all just Call me that, I don’t want any mister attached to my name. Mister is for old men,” he says nonchalantly. I roll my eyes and he catches my reaction but says nothing.

“ I detest lateness and misconduct neither do  I  give second chances. Have I made myself clear?” he says and I hear Cane and Emefa respond, “Yes sir”. I  didn’t even notice Emefa’s presence. Cane gives me a nudge and I see Carl glaring at me. I’m the only one who hasn’t responded to his caution yet. “Yes mister, sorry, Carl”, I mumble. He nods his head like a lizard and heads to that cemetery of an office. If I were him, I wouldn’t step foot in that office for at least a week.

It’s 1 p.m., two men enter the restaurant and I know immediately that they aren’t customers. I see them walk to Cane who has just finished serving a customer and wave something like a card to his face. He walks out with them and I become restless. I hover around the windows and catch a glimpse of Cane, talking and gesticulating as the two men nod their heads. Moments later, they come in and the next person they approach is Emefa. I’m unable to sit now. I suddenly get the urge to visit the washroom. The men stay longer with Emefa this time and I’m wondering exactly what she’s telling them. I visit the washroom two more times and drink five glasses of water before they come in. I know I am next. Even though I didn’t get the opportunity to speak to Cane, I know it’s about the manager’s death. The men approach me while smiling.

“ Hello Miss, we are sorry to interrupt your work. We would like to have a word with you concerning the death of your manager. I am Detective Nimo and my colleague here is Detective Bediako”, the rangy one amongst them introduces and they simultaneously show me their ID. I nod slowly and Detective Bediako gestures to the door. I take the lead and they walk behind me. I am just thankful the restaurant is so busy that no one notices anything awkward.

“ We’ve been told you were the last person seen with the deceased, do you mind telling us exactly what happened while you were with him?”, Detective Bediako asks while Detective Nimo stares amorously at me. I know, just like most men I have met, that he is already fantasizing about me and he doesn’t even have the decency to hide it.

“ Well detective, he called me into his office because he wanted to discuss something with me. I left immediately after we were done speaking. He told me there was something he needed to resolve before leaving”, I lie while effortlessly keeping a straight face like I always do.

“ What did you both talk about?”, he asks again.

“ It’s confidential”, I snap.

“ Does that thing have to explain why your fingerprints were found on his body?”, Detective Nimo finally asks as though he has been reminded that he is here to interrogate me and not stare at my cleavage.  I am silent for a moment, trying to sort my thoughts so I don’t give myself away. I remember exactly where I touched and I need to find explanations for that. I sigh heavily and say, “ Listen, detectives, I have great respect for the dead okay and I try as much as I can, not to soil their reputation.”

“ What are you insinuating?” Detective Bediako asks. I look over my shoulders and theirs and scan the area where we are currently standing as though I’m scared someone would hear our conversation. I move a bit closer to them and then whisper “ The thing is, the manager pursued me for so many months but I never gave in to him. Due to that, he always had issues with me and my colleagues can testify to that. Last night he called me into his office just when we had closed. After everyone had left, he tried making advances towards me. He even threatened to fire me if I didn’t let him have his way with me. Detectives, this job is my only means of survival and I have a sick mother to cater for. I had to beg him, I went on my knees and even held his leg, pleading with him to have mercy on me. But he wouldn’t just take his hand off me. So I had to take it off myself”, I say in a quivering voice and with misty eyes. I’m excited my tears hearkened to me this time around.

“  The Manager tried sleeping with you?”, Detective Bediako hits the nail right on the head.

“ Yes, he did. Like, who wouldn’t want to?”, I say with my gaze fixed on Detective Nimo. He looks away, sniffs, and rubs a finger under his nose in embarrassment. He gets the message and finally takes his eyes off me.

“ If that’s really the case, why didn’t you say this to anyone? You could have told the owner of the restaurant at least”

“ Who would believe me? It would have been his word against mine. He looked reputable outwardly and received so much reverence. I’m just a poor girl trying to make a living. You have no idea how I’m being harassed each and every day. But thank God I’m a decent woman from a strong religious home, at least I’m able to overcome all these obstacles. So if you think I was wrong trying to defend myself from a dog, then feel free to arrest me”, I conclude in tears. The detectives are silent. I don’t know what they are thinking but I hope they fall for my performance. I was once told by a friend that I could be a great actress if I tried. I hope her prophecy manifests today.

“ In what state was he in, when you left?” Detective Nimo asks.

“ I can swear on my mother’s life that he was totally fine when I left. There was absolutely nothing wrong with him”, I admit convincingly. “ Do you think you would have still come to meet me here if I had a hand in his death? C’mon, I’m not dumb. I cherish my freedom”, I add.  Why won’t they leave me alone? The man died of an asthmatic attack, can’t they just take that and leave?

“Thank you for your time Miss, we will contact you if we need more information. But you may see us here again after the autopsy results are revealed”, Detective Bediako says.

“ I’m always at your service”, I say with a smile and a slight nod. I watch their retreating backs and Detective Nimo still looks at me over his shoulders with a wry smile. I frown and head back into the restaurant.

Since the day of my encounter with the Detectives, my heart hasn’t been at rest. I get startled anytime I see a man walk through the doors of the restaurant. It’s even worse when they are in pairs. Occasionally, I look through the window with the hope of spotting them earlier, so they don’t take me by surprise. I had even intended to leave town, but that would create more suspicion. I just hope they never show up again.

It’s 5 pm and the restaurant is almost empty aside the two customers left. I am currently serving my favourite customer among them and Cane is wiping the other tables while Emefa is picking up empty plates to the kitchen. Someone storms into the restaurant leaving the door ajar. We all turn abruptly to see who it is. It’s them, they are here again, after almost a week. But this time it’s Detective Bediako with two policemen. I can feel my blood pressure rise and my legs are unable to stay still.

“ Oh, you’re here again”, I say in a feeble voice. I’m standing at a reasonable distance away from the detective, Cane is behind me, and Emefa is behind him.

“ Yes, I’m here again. The result of the autopsy is out and we did further investigations. The Manager’s attack wasn’t by accident and we’ve found who was behind it”, the detective says. At this moment I’m perspiring and the restaurant feels like an oven. I wish someone would just pour a bucket of ice on me.

“ Thank God. So who is this person?” Cane asks. The detective smirks and looks at me without answering. He turns to one of the policemen and says, “ Arrest her”. The policeman moves forward and I stagger backward while shaking my head in protest. I try to speak but pause when I realise he just walked past me. I’m puzzled for a moment. Wasn’t I the person he was asked to arrest? I turn quickly and see him seize Emefa instead. Cane and I exchange looks, we are both nonplussed. Emefa screams her innocence and refuses to be handcuffed.

“ I didn’t do anything, I swear I know nothing about this. Abena tells them. You know I’m innocent”, Emefa shrieks. My lips are heavy, I cannot even open them. Even if I could, I wouldn’t say anything.

“ You need to remain, quiet Miss, anything you do or say may be used against you in the court of law”, the policeman says.

“ Enjoy the rest of your day, lady and gentleman”, the detective says and leaves immediately with the policemen scuffling with Emefa as she refuses to move. I can’t explain what just happened, but it is what my mother will call a “Miracle”. My mother’s God is truly alive. I’m definitely going to join her in praying this evening. At least this will bring an end to my hiatus, because the last time I prayed was three years ago when my sister died.

Written by : Nasreen Zankawah

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