Albert sat down on the grass while the cutlass lay at his feet, he had a look on his face i couldn’t tell_ anger? regret?, he started pulling out the little green weeds infront of him while I sat beside him uncertain if I should talk or not. What will happen now? What will Npa( Father) do to my brother? I thought.
” Ole wo egbe! voju a medi! O le wo e gbe voju me di!” ( You have been caught! Your charm has failed!) The sudden chant pierced the atmosphere. We know that song too well, a thief has been caught. Usually Albert and I would try to guess who the thief was before rushing out to see the culprit.
Togo is a peaceful country, almost free of crime except for the occasional petty cassava or goat thieves. We don’t have much industries in my country and the only one in my area is Wacem the cement factory where you get paid one thousand and six hundred cefa for a day’ s job.
There are some Indian companies too but they treat us so badly and any little mistake results in them shouting ” Go Home!” Which means you are fired. The same president has been ruling us long before Albert was born and he’s 23 years old now.
Nobody dares to lift a finger against the government of the day, just thinking of it alone could lead to death. I don’t blame those who result to petty stealing but that doesn’t mean I won’t mock them when they get caught.
” Efo (bro) Albert, they have caught a thief ” I just couldn’t resist saying so.
” Go see if you want to, am not interested ”
” O le wo egbe voju a me di!” The angry voices got nearer and before I could stop my legs, they were already flying out of the church premises. I was shocked when I saw who was being led with a basket filled with cassava on his head to the king’ s place.
Mensah! My cousin!
He has been so good to us, bringing us a basket of cassava now and then, occasionally some fresh goat meat. The angry crowd dragging him got to where i stood outside the church. Our eyes met briefly but i looked away, what could i do? He was unclad, his eyes were bloodshot from the beatings he had gotten and on his head was a basket filled with cassava that I would have dined on that night if he hadn’t being caught.
I went back into the church compound. Albert was still sitting down in a trance like state where I had left him. When something goes missing, the owner can either decide to swear for the thief with hebieso (gods of thunder) and on the seventh day the thief will slump and die or he either sets a trap to catch the thief and take him to the king’ s palace where he will be fined.
I shuddered as I remembered a terrible incident that occurred in a neighboring village. A man had stolen a goat and used it for his dad’ s burial, the owner of the goat was so grieved that he called on hebieso ( god of thunder)
The owner cast a spell saying ” whoever stole my goat,whoever saw him, whoever cooked the meat and whoever tasted it will die” after pouring some gin on the head of the god.
Hebieso ever so blood thirsty did as he was bided, everyone who attended the burial died on the seventh day. Even my maternal grandma who had only put a finger in the soup a neighbor brought home to taste died. The whole village went wild on that seventh day, there were corpses in every households especially those who love burial food. Some delegates were sent to kuvi to consult the powerful Vojusi( priestess).
The delegates came back shaking their head in fear ” It was Hebieso’ s handwork! the goat used for the burial was a stolen goat”
I vowed not to attend any burial again for fear of dying meanwhile my family and i have been feeding on stolen foods ever since my father got a new wife. What an irony!
“Kojo! ” Albert shouted. Jolting me to the present. ” Who was the thief?”
” I didn’t see his face Efo…..the crowd was too much” I looked down at my dirty feet.
I didn’t want Albert to know his best friend, our cousin, who had been our shield all this time was being led unclad to the king’ s palace for stealing cassavas. Efo Albert will find out soon am sure but I spared him the pain for now.
We headed home at night in silent, we walked through the bushes leading to our house_ I have never thought of it as a home. It has always been a house to me. If you can call a little mud structure with a tiny window to let in air and dried Ebe ( hay) for roof as a house.
In my father’ s compound there are three mud houses, the biggest one belonged to my father. Few weeks before he brought home the new wife, he bought some bags of cement and plastered it.
We all wondered what was going on, that my stingy father could count cefas to buy the ever so expensive bags of cement was beyond us.
I looked at my brother trying to mentally read his thoughts,fear oozed from his body but he was trying to act like he wasnt scared. Albert never talked to me about girls, he loves his books, they were all he ever talks about. If not for his encouragement i would have long since dropped out of school….. thanks to him now am in primary five.
Its not easy schooling in Togo because of the educational system, six years in primary school, three years in secondary school, mandatory four years in Lecee (Poly) and four years in the university. Our parents don’t care if we fail or pass especially my father. We also started school late because my father refused to pay for us that is why at 23 Efo ( bro) Albert is still in lecee ( poly). But he is smart.
We go to class twice a day. Morning classes begin 8 am to 12 pm. We go home to freshen up, while noon classes begin from 2.30 to 5 pm. After a noon class i waited for my brother in front of my school gate so we would go home together but to my surprise he didnt show up. After that day i started noticing Efo Albert combing his hair real good, he always had a comb with him, he washes his khakis everyday unlike before.
Nma ( Mother) said they were signs of a boy in love. She cautioned him not to get any girl pregnant, i tried all i could to pry some information out of him but he always smile n said ” You are too young for this, face your book.”
But while he’s sleeping at night you can get him to tell you anything. One hot night, i had trouble sleeping so i decided to play one of my favorite games. I leaned close to him on the bamboo bed and whispered ” I love you Albert” . He continued sleeping soundly.
” I love you! ” I said louder but not loud enough to wake him.
I waited, my heart leaping with excitement…….he kept on snoring and i was getting sleepy but i forced back the sleep.
” I love you Afine ” Efo Albert whispered.
I smiled and drifted of to sleep.