Fate or Flight
Times were good, and the rains — though sporadic — copiously watered the fields. The harmattan was fast setting in and most crops failed in its haze. Many farmers doubled as hunters, setting patches of vegetation ablaze to drive out game.
One late afternoon, faint sounds of crackling were heard.
“That isn’t the sound of twigs burning under the pot, is it?” Darra wondered.
It wasn’t, and as she sneaked out for clearer hints, a thick smell of smoke filled the air. But it was what her eyes saw — even from afar — that told the terrible, terrifying truth.
Terrorized, she ran back into the hut to report to her father, Baba Yussif, raising an alarm. Nobody knew how this fire — now a wildly blazing inferno – started to raze down entire farmlands. As the flames eventually died and ash settled, Baba realized the family’s farm had been struck, too. He was crushed. Everyone was. The next few days — and months — would be truly difficult.
With almost nothing to sustain the family in the immediate future, they moved in with a relative in the next town. The host, Baba’s brother, generously provided for them as his own limited finances permitted. Of course, Baba was grateful, but he didn’t find the situation too comfortable. Where he was from, a man’s pride was measured by his ability to care for his family. And, right now, he wasn’t doing so very well, albeit due to unforeseen tragedy. Such feelings forced a return home before the family was really ready for it, and reality soon struck.
Life was hard. People scavenged the little produce that remained. The dry season hadn’t spared the river which, by now, had shallowed to a brook. The hardship had many traditional heads enquiring possible supernatural causes and, after the oracle had been consulted, a day was set for the purification rites that customarily followed such disasters.
See, people here had always believed unfortunate occurrences of this severity amounted to punishment from the gods over their devotees’ disregard of certain purification rituals. Hence, to restore the gods’ favour, some action was required – some ‘cleansing’: a special preparation rubbed into small cuts made on the skin of all males; circumcision for uncircumcised females. For those to whom the rules applied, theirs was a fate almost inevitable.
Darra, for all she was worth, wasn’t exempted and belonged to the latter category. Along with others destined for same, the young girl came before Ma Aisha, a woman revered and feared in equal measure for her ruthlessness in such ceremonial matters of importance. First, a concoction was sprinkled on them, then forced down their throats. Next, due the following day, was the really hard part — the circumcision itself.
It was an acrid cup looming and Darra’s head spun with fear. Her mother knew circumcision meant agonizing pain and bleeding — or worse. Ma Gezele had gone through it herself as a teen and also recalled how a close friend had lost her daughter to the barbaric practice years later.
There was an escape route out of the ordeal, yes, but it was one that ultimately took the very few who dared tread it out of the town — for good. If Darra was to evade Ma Aisha’s clutches, they had to act fast. That very night, a plan was hatched which, for their sakes, couldn’t fail. Darra struggled to get any sleep. When she tried, nightmares cut her attempts cruelly short. Then slipped Ma Gezele into the room, uttering words that brought Darra both relief and pain.
“Darra,” she called, “time to go.”
Darra knew what she meant, even if the lasting implications didn’t fully sink in at the time. With a few things packed into a dark plastic bag to not invite suspicion, mother and daughter slid into the darkness outside. Baba, a stickler for tradition, was oblivious to the ongoing covert drama, as his deep snores in the other room betrayed.
The night was quiet and cold, as the village rested up for the following day’s grand ceremonial cleansing, some in dread and others with excitement. On walking a distance out of town, Ma Gezele hugged Darra one more time, possibly their last embrace for many years – maybe forever. Who could tell?
She had instructed Darra to find a relative who lived in the nearest city, but not to tell what her mission was. And, really, was there even a mission to tell, aside simply running away?
When The Sun Pointed South is a weekly series — exclusive to Daily Mail GH every Saturday — that tells the entirely fictional and incredibly inspiring story of a young girl who escaped the rigors of life in Ghana’s North, braved odds down South, and emerged smiling. Get the previous episode here if you missed it.
Mathy Adortsu — Daily Mail GH