Copyright 2020 by S. Thomas Kaza
Yaa ran into the night. She ran away from the village that had been her home for twelve years and into the bush. It was hard to see. The moon was mostly hidden behind a night sky of dust. Several times she stubbed her feet on rocks in her path. She felt the pain and sometimes stumbled. But she did not cry out. She just kept running, running away, running deeper into the bush where the wild animals lived.
Her little child clung to her. After some time she moved him from one hip to the other to give one arm a rest. But she kept running. She was fortunate he had not cried when she ran from the village. If he had, they might have heard and followed her. She might be lying dead on the ground this very moment. No, her child had been quiet. And for awhile it seemed he had fallen asleep. Perhaps the rhythm of her running had helped.
Yaa stifled a sob. She wanted to cry, but tears would not come. She had left her whole life, her older children, the only family she had known for years, and all her belongings behind. But she could never go back. It was all lost to her. They would have to find another place to live, a place far away. She would have to start over.
Her child made a sound showing he was now awake.
“Quiet,” she told him.
But she knew he would want to be fed soon. Soon she would have to stop.
Yaa had not had a chance to prepare anything. She had no water, no food, no shoes, and nothing for the child. She had not believed they would come for her. She believed the authorities when they said they would protect her. Right up to the moment when old granny poked her head into the doorway of her hut and told her.
“They are coming!” granny said, “they are calling you the witch of Nabuli!”
Then she knew she had to leave. Her husband was dead. There was nobody to protect her against their wild accusations. She had to leave at that moment or never leave. So without hesitation she picked up her little child, and she ran into the night leaving everything behind.
Her older children were already staying with their aunt. She was thankful that she had been wise enough to prepare for that. They would be safe there. The men would leave them alone. It was Yaa they were after. Her sister-in-law would take care of her children. She had a husband, who would protect them. He was a good man. She thanked God for that. But she wondered when she would ever be able to see them again. A witch was not welcome in a village for the bad luck she brought. She felt a deep sorrow when she thought about losing her children.
Yaa slowed to a walk. She did not know how long she had been running. For a short while all she could hear was her own ragged breathing as she struggled to catch her breath. Her heart felt like it was going to burst inside her. Then as her breathing slowed down, she realized she could hear better. Her ears reached out into the night, listening for the sound of footfalls, of men shouting. But the only sound she heard was her bare feet softly padding the ground.
For awhile it was a relief to just walk in the cool night air, quietly moving across the open bush. But then her child decided to start making sounds, imitating the words he was hearing everyday in the village. Words that she had found cute just yesterday now drove fear into her heart. He would attract a wild animal. Then what would she do? She tried to hush him, but he would not quiet down. She realized she needed to feed him or he would start crying.
Yaa looked around and saw what seemed to be the dark outline of a tree against the night sky. She knew she might find a stick there and shelter from the sun when it returned in the morning. She walked over to the tree. It was a great, big boabab tree. She let her child slide down to the ground. Her arms were strong, but now they were exhausted from carrying him for hours. Her feet hurt, but so did her shoulders and back. She eased herself down to the ground, took her child back in her arms, and fed him. He hungrily drank the milk she offered.
The next day Yaa woke with a start. It was light. She did not remember falling asleep the night before. But she must have while feeding her child. He was a few feet away playing in the dirt. She quickly sat up and looked around. Then slowly she stood up. Her whole body ached. There was a cramp in one of her legs. She was thirsty and hungry and tired all at the same time. She looked around in every direction, but she could see nothing but bushland. She was not even sure from which direction she came the night before.
Which way? Would they come after her now that it was light? For a moment she felt panic and almost picked up her child and started running again. But run to where? She told herself to be calm. She said a prayer. And in that moment she realized they would not be coming after her now. The men back in the village already got what they wanted. They got her cow and her chickens, the labor of her and her man since they were married. They took everything from her. She had nothing but the clothes on her back, and this child to care for.
Yaa wondered if she could have offered them what she had, would they have let her stay in the village with her children? Would they have left her alone? She thought about it for a moment, but then what would she have done to make a living? How could she start over with three children and no husband? Sure, someone would take pity on her, maybe throw her a scrap or two. But everybody was already living at their limits. She could just not manage everything by herself. She would have to work herself to the bone, and then what would be left? No, if those men were determined to take what was hers, and they had gotten the chief to declare her a witch, blaming her not only for her husband’s death, but also for the death of a baby in the village, then there was nothing she could do.
Yaa wanted to cry. It was so unfair. She had to leave her children and leave her home in the village. How could God let this happen to her? How could he divide up her family? How could he let them call her a witch? But she put it out of her head. She knew there was nothing more that she could about it now. She had to stay focused and think about the little one at her feet. She had to find water and food, then shelter.
Yaa stepped to edge of the shade offered by the baobab tree. The sun was not as bright as it could have been, mostly hiding behind all the dust in the sky. But it was bright enough to cast a shadow. It was strong enough to force any wild animals in the bush to shelter during the day. She realized that from now on she needed to travel during the day. She sniffed the air. Animals could smell water. Some people claimed they could too. But she smelled nothing different. What caught her attention was a dark cloud in the distance. Judging by the sun, she determined it was north, which she knew meant further away from her village.
“Keep moving,” she told herself, “Find water”.
By mid-morning Yaa was quite thirsty. She came across a dry river bed that would have been overflowing if it had been three months earlier during the rainy season. But there was no water to be found now. By noon she found some shelter from the sun at the edge of a small forest. Her child was starting to cry again for milk. She knew she would not have much to give since she had not eaten all day. He would not be satisfied and would cry and fuss all afternoon. Yaa did not want to go into the forest. She had nothing to protect herself with. Not even a stick. Instead after resting she decided to walk around the forest. On the far side she found a small village.
Cautiously she approached calling out “hello” as she did. At first the village seemed to be empty of people, but eventually a young woman came out of one of the huts and asked her what she wanted. She thanked God the woman spoke Dagbani. Yaa told her that she was lost and needed water and a little food for her child. The woman told her that she was lucky, because all the other villagers were away at the moment. So there was no one to chase her away. She brought Yaa food and water. Yaa fed her child while she ate. But when the woman asked about her village, she told her she was from Kpatinga, which was her birth village. She said nothing about her husband’s village which was Nabuli. The woman had never heard of Kpatinga. But Yaa caught her several times staring at her feet which were bruised and had dried blood on them.
After she ate and drank some more, the young woman suddenly got up and asked Yaa to leave before the villagers returned. She said she was not what they would do if they found a strange woman there. Yaa nodded and thanked the woman. She had already eaten more than a meal and felt revived enough to continue on her way. But before she could leave the young woman told her about a safe place that she could go to which was a day’s walk from where they stood. Yaa did not understand what the young woman meant by a “safe place”. But she pointed in the distance and told Yaa to walk in that direction until she found a road. Then follow the road west all night. By morning she would be at the safe place. It was a village for women run by the sisters of the Church.
“A village for women?” Yaa asked.
The young woman nodded and pressed something in her hand. At first Yaa did not look at what it was. She was too confused by her statement that there was a village for women. “Did that mean there was a woman chief?” she wondered. She had never heard of such a thing.
But before Yaa could say anymore, the young woman turned and walked back into the village. Finally Yaa looked at what she had given her. It was something wrapped in a leaf. She unwrapped the leaf a little and found there was dough inside. She pinched off a piece and popped it in her mouth. It was corn dough with some herb added for flavor. Food for the road.
“Ti pagi da!” Yaa called out after the young women, “thank you!”
Now with food and water in her belly, she set out looking for the road in the direction the young woman had pointed. She walked and walked in the heat of the sun, stopped once to feed her child, then walked some more. Just when she was starting to get tired again, she came to a road. It stretched off across the bushland to the west on her left and to the east on her right. At first Yaa wasn’t sure which direction to take. But then she recalled that the woman had told her to go west.
She also recalled the woman said she was to walk all night. When Yaa set off from the little village by the forest, she had just eaten and drank plenty of water. She felt it would be no problem to walk all night. But now all that energy was gone, sapped by the heat of the day. She was tired like she had been the night before, tired and sleepy. Her head kept nodding off even though her feet walked beneath her. A couple times she woke after having fallen asleep. She did not know how long she had been sleeping. Maybe it had been for just a moment. Or maybe she had been sleeping and walking for an hour. She felt so tired she could not tell the difference.
Nobody came along the road all afternoon. And when it began to get dark, she unwrapped the dough the village woman had given her. She took a small bite out of it. It tasted good, but she was so tired, she almost forgot to chew. She went on this way for awhile. Finally she realized it had become dark as she walked with her eyes closed. She knew she should find a place to sleep for the night. But where? There were no trees around. Just open bushland. And the road stretching off into the distance. What should she do?
Thinking about it seemed to wake her up. Or maybe it was the cooler temperature. She became aware again of her surroundings. Her ears perked up and listened for animals. Several times she crossed herself, hoping that it would lend her some protection. She ate the rest of the dough that the woman had given her. It tasted nice, and gave her some energy to keep walking. But she was thirsty again with no water. Her mouth was dry. And after awhile she could only taste dust. Yaa knew this was not good. But the woman had told her the safe place would be there if she walked all night. So somehow she had to keep going.
When her child started getting hungry again, she decided to feed him as she walked. She knew she could not stop now. For stopping meant she would drop to the ground in exhaustion and fall asleep. Then her crying child would attract some animal. She had to keep moving, stumbling down the road like she was a walking dead person.
“Just put one foot in front of the other,” she told herself, “Keep moving. Stay on your feet.”
At one point she woke up and found herself standing in the middle of the road. She was not sure why she had stopped. She looked around. It was still dark. Somewhere in the distance an animal cried out. She couldn’t tell if it was crying in anguish or crying for another of its kind. But it set her walking again. The air was cold to her skin. She moved her child to the other hip and lifted him up where he could lay his head against her breast. She tried to wrap her arms around him to keep him warm. His little body also helped to keep her warm. She knew it must be sometime early in the morning, not long before sunrise. She had to keep moving.
But Yaa was thirsty. Oh, so thirsty. She could not help thinking about a drink of water. How many times had she enjoyed that without thinking about it? She then thought of her warm bed, her children around her. How many times had she slept there without thinking about it? It was like it had all been a dream. And the only real world was this night that she had to somehow walk through until morning. She thought she might cry, but no tears came to her eyes. She stumbled forward this way for awhile longer. Then a low growl woke her from her walking slumber.
There was something in the road ahead. Fear seized her, but she hissed, “Get away! Leave me, you devil!”
Yaa knew she had nothing with which to fight off a wild animal. She thought to reach for the ground and find a rock. But she was afraid that she might drop her child, then out of sheer exhaustion not be able to pick him up again.
“Get away!” she hissed again. This time stamping her foot. The joints in her knees and ankle hurt.
The animal seemed to back away. But a moment later it was back. Yaa knew she was not herself. She was having trouble seeing and even standing. She thought she might fall to the ground at any moment when suddenly she saw the eyes of animal animal glowing in front of her. It turned and ran, and she realized there were lights behind her. Was the sun finally rising? Slowly she turned and watched as a small truck approached her on the road. It stopped several feet from her, and a man got out. He walked around to the front of the truck and said something to her.
At first she could not understand what he said. But then she caught a few words. He was telling her to go somewhere. He spoke Nagbani, but he said some of the words funny. It took a moment before Yaa understood that the man was telling her to go inside the truck. He helped her over, then helped her step up into the cab. It was the first time she had ever been inside a vehicle. But she was so confused and unwell that the whole experience was lost to her. The only thing she remembered was that the man offered her water and she tried to drink it all, but he pulled it away before she could. She remembered getting angry and trying to shout at him, but her words came out garbled and strange as if she could not speak them anymore.
She then remembered the man doing something to make the vehicle move. He took hold of a stick coming out of the floor and pulled it back, then the vehicle lurched forward and down the road. Thank God. She looked out once into the darkness of the bush, once and she was out. When she woke there were others around her, women helping her from the truck. She started thanking them, but again found it hard to form the words. They moved her and her child to a hut. Then to a bed. They had her sit on the edge of the bed. They asked her name. She didn’t remember telling them, but then she heard them calling her by her name.
“Yaa, drink this.”
“Yaa, eat this.”
“Yaa, don’t worry. We will feed your child.”
“Yaa, go to sleep.”
Two weeks later the man came back. This time he brought a white man. She had seen a white man before, but this one was not as white as the one she had seen before. And his hair was different. It was straight and black. And his face was different. His nose was flatter. It did not stick out of his face the way the other white man’s nose had. He only spoke a few words of Dagbani, but the others spoke to him in English with respect, like he was a chief. But the white man nodded when the others talked, something you would never see a chief do.
Yaa watched him thinking how strange it was. So much had changed about her life in the last two weeks. She had slept and eaten and slept and eaten again, before she finally felt better. The woman from the village by the forest had been right, this was a village of women. And there were sisters of the Church here. They all looked after each other. They all shared their chores and ate together. They didn’t have much, but her child did not go to bed hungry.
And they were teaching her things. One woman from a village that Yaa never heard of showed them how to make necklaces. They were sometimes taking these into the town to sell them. But they only earned a few pesewa for each one they sold. One of the sisters of the Church cooked something she called abobbie for them. Yaa thought it was delicious, but her child did not like it. Most of their day was taken up by some kind of chore. But they always took time for prayer. And in the afternoon. when the heat was worst, they rested.
At that time Yaa would sit in the shade outside of the hut she shared with another woman and wonder how her older children were doing. She could never go back to the village of Nabuli, but one day, one day when her son was grown, she would send him back to meet his aunt and his uncle and his brother and sister. The thought of it filled her heart with warmth. And it brought peace to her mind.
The man that had brought her in the truck that first night came over and greeted her. He asked how she was doing. Yaa thanked him for helping her that night. She knew that he saved her and her child. She felt that God must have sent him. Suddenly she had an idea.
“What is your name?” she asked the man.
“Michael,” he said.
It was a strange name to her ears. “My-kel?” she repeated.
The man nodded.
She thanked him again. Yaa had decided she would give this name to her son as a second name. “Mykel,” she said to herself.
Pini was the name her husband gave to her child. It meant gift from God. Her husband had considered the baby to be a gift from God, since they had told him that Yaa would not have children again after her second. But she did. Now Yaa wanted to also give her child the name of the man who save them.
“Pini Mykel,” Yaa said to her boy. He looked up at her for a moment, then back at the little wooden toy truck that the man had given him. He played with the truck all day, even slept with it at night. Watching him Yaa felt tears suddenly well up in her eyes. And she quietly cried for the man she knew he would one day become.