The old man had just finished undertaking his daily chores; tending the crops on his farm and pruning and trimming the flowers at his home. His home and farm were both located in the town of Nkusukum. The flowers had formed a hedge around his large compound and as always, had attracted lots of people to his home albeit all these people had an agenda. Some had come to the compound with Brother Sammy, the town’s most popular photographer, to take some memorable pictures while standing near the hibiscus, lilies and sunflower or while sticking the bougainvillea into their hair. Many had also come just to seek the old man’s permission to pick some seeds so as to go to their various homes and spread the good news according to flowers. Hebob as he was called by his grandchildren had gained yet another name, Flowers Wura (Owner/keeper of flowers) and his home became known as Flowers Fie (Home of flowers).
Like all people trained during the early post-independence era of modern Ghana’s history, Grandpa Hebob had become fond of writing letters. At age sixty eight (68), he still had it in him. And he wrote letters with such art and skill. He would purchase brown cardboard paper from the local bookshop and make envelopes out of them. He would then prepare some starch with which to seal the sides of his “locally produced” envelopes. He wrote letters to his acquaintances, friends and family and he couldn’t be blamed. As at the year 2000, he could not boast of owning a mobile phone. Even if he ever nursed that ambition, his meagre pension could not allow him enjoy the luxury of owning a cell phone. And there was the unending bureaucracy involved in procuring a SIM card, without which one could not put the mobile phone to use. The farthest he could get with regards using a phone was doing so at Nkusukum’s only Communication Centre, where he could speak with his relatives via the telephone in one of their booths, which cost a fortune. So, he had resolved in his heart to use the good old pen and paper until the times changed.
One of Hebob’s daughters had married a teacher who had at the time gained a teaching appointment at the prestigious SOS Herman Gmeiner Children’s Village, Asiakwa in the Eastern region of Ghana and what a distance it was from Nkusukum! Well, like most men, Hebob’s son-in-law, Andy, took with him his only son, Fiifi, to Asiakwa to begin a new phase of their lives. He sought to test the waters before sending for his wife and daughter to join him at a later time.
The news of leaving Nkusukum for the first time was received by little Fiifi amidst shouts of joy. However, upon learning that he would not be leaving with his grandfather, mother and sister, the shouts of joy were replaced with “Ohhhhh” and intermittent tears. To sustain the joy of trying out the new adventure, Hebob assured Fiifi: “I’ll always write to you,” in his colonial British accent.
Life in Asiakwa was in fact a new adventure for Fiifi. Here he was in a new land full of large cocoa farms, orchards, rivers and thick forests. He could not go anywhere without being greeted by the smell of dry cocoa beans that filled the atmosphere at all times. Neither could he escape the rains.
As a school boy, he had a couple of “walking friends”; they walked him to and from school every day. That was where their friendship ended. They did nothing more besides walking together, which was largely due to his father’s command: “I don’t want you to be friends with those boys!” This command was nonnegotiable. Typical of most schools, the headmaster or whoever he delegates fetched the school’s letters from the town’s post office every week. When the second week of March 2000 arrived, letters were fetched, as usual. Little did Fiifi know that Grandpa Hebob had kept his end of the bargain.
The sun was blazing on this day and Fiifi could not find his shadow. When he finally saw it, it was underneath him, proving true what Mr. Appiah had taught them in the science class that day: “Whenever it is 12 O’clock, you stand on your shadow. This was how our forefathers used to tell the time.” Fiifi at that moment, although in the twenty-first century had tasted life in the nineteenth century and the centuries before it. As talkative as he was, he could not wait to tell his “Dada”, as he called his father, about his science experiment. Just as he was about to leave the school’s quadrangle for his classroom, he heard a voice call his name. It was a familiar voice. One that he had been accustomed to. His brain quickly diagnosed it as the voice of the headmaster, Mr. Attakumah.
With both hands firmly placed behind him, Fiifi walked towards Mr. Attakumah, watching his steps carefully so as not to make much noise while walking on the gravelled walkway leading to where the headmaster stood. As he approached the man, he wondered what he may have done and it dawned on him that perhaps the break period had long been over and since he was enjoying his science exercise, he may not have notice it. Whatever the case, Fiifi was prepared to be whipped and he feared not, for he had worn a thick boxer shorts underneath his school shorts that morning, as though he had a vision that come what may, he would be whipped in the course of the day.
Upon reaching Mr. Attakumah, Fiifi saluted, accompanied by a loud and clear “Good afternoon, Sir” which the headmaster responded to with a broad smile. He had noticed that Fiifi was in fact the son of his newest teacher. Thus, Mr. Attakumah just said “Here is a letter for you, son” and handed it over to the bemused Fiifi. He left the headmaster’s presence utterly confused with thoughts such as: “Who on earth would write a letter to a nine-year old boy?” “Or could it be from the World Bible School or even the Joyce Meyer Ministries?” It was when he took a cursory look at the brown envelope and the beautiful italics in which his full name and address were written that he remembered his grandfather’s words: “I will always write to you.” At that moment, Fiifi knew where the letter had come from and could not wait to tear it open and peer into its contents.
On this day, Fiifi abandoned his “walking friends,” the first of its kind since he struck up friendship with them. He rushed home after school, not even waiting for his father. He even did not venture into any cocoa farm or orchard, very unusual of him. Well, it was obvious that the joy of receiving the letter had made him forego some of his daily formalities. Once home, he locked the door behind him and took out his key, just as his father had always instructed him to do. Fiifi then retreated into his bedroom to open up the envelope. Before tearing it open, he saw further proof that the letter had come from his grandfather. The stamps affixed to the envelope read: “Nkusukum, ¢300.” With this confirmation, Fiifi could no longer waste any more time in opening up the letter.
Grandpa Hebob was one who held on closely to the rudiments of English grammar. As he would always say, his standard seven and middle form four English teachers had forced him to master the art of letter writing and he intended to go by the rules he was taught no matter the type of letter he was writing. As such, when Fiifi opened the letter and started reading, he saw his grandfather’s full name and address at the top right hand corner of the page:
James K. Hasford
C/o P.O.Box 66