By the time Nana Ayi began to untie the white hen, Akosua's heart was already threatening to burst out of her rib cage. She was angry, and this anger clearly showed in the contoured twitches which spread across her smooth-skinned face.
She looked at the strange scene in front of her. Her husband, Kweku, had an anxious look on his face as the fetish priest performed his rites. Had it not been for for her respect for supernatural authority, she would have been hurling abuses at Kweku that very minute.
Thirty minutes earlier, Akosua had been plucking pepper from the small garden she tendered behind their hut when she heard a voice call out for her husband. At first, she made nothing of it, but she soon heard Kweku respond. The raffia curtain at the entrance to their hut swished, and she barely made out her husband's exchange with the visitor.
"Akosua! Akosua! Come here now!"
She dropped her basket instinctively and walked towards the door. There she saw the fearsome local fetish priest standing with a cold and frightening look on his face.
Nana Ayi had a white cloth around his waist, with a satchel strapped across his upper frame. A white hen hung upside down from his left fist.
"What is it, my husband?" Akosua's voice shook with her inquiry.
She tightened the noose of the dark cloth that draped her body up from her breasts down to her shins.
"Sit down." Kweku pointed to a low stool in front of the hut.
He darted into the hut and soon emerged with two more stools. He offered one to Nana Ayi but the priest shook his head. Kweku sat down on one of the stools as Akosua stared in trepidation. This priest was surely going to float in the air, she thought.
"Akosua, I believe you are well prepared?" Nana Ayi's deep voice pierced her thoughts.
"Yes -- she is," Kweku answered.
"Young man, does your wife not have a voice of her own?" Nana Ayi snapped.
"I... I am sorry Nana." Kweku pleaded.
Akosua was totally bemused. Her fear peaked with her confusion as she looked at the priest. When their eyes met, she gulped. She opened her mouth to speak, "Nana, I --"
The priest raised a thin finger to silence her.
"It is clear your husband has not told you anything."
"No Nana, he has not." Akosua confirmed. "Kwaku, wha --"
"Enough! A man need not disclose matters of urgency to his wife," Nana said brusquely, "Your husband has been concerned about your infertility. That womb of yours has not housed a baby although you have been married for two years now. Many men in his situation would be anxious. I am here to invoke the hand of the gods in this matter and I will not await approval. What must be done will be done."
Akosua threw daggers with her eyes at her husband. If not for the fearful presence of Nana, Kweku would have had his fill of another one of her fiery tantrums. She was fuming! She bit down on her lower lip to minimize the anger she felt. She folded her arms across her chest and rocked her legs in furious rhythm.
The truth of the matter was that Kweku had had enough. He had become the laughing stock of his peers in their two-year marriage and the embarrassment grew unbearable each day. He could no longer remain in any gathering of his peers without someone slipping a remark about fatherhood in jest. He no longer had any friends he could trust to soothe his sorrows. His mother had long since stopped visiting him. She had vowed never to come to his hut till it echoed with the cries of her suckling grandchild. "I want to hold my grandchild in my arms. I want that baby to hear the lullabies of its grandmother. Nothing else will bring me here," she had said. His father, a man who had produced eight children from his loins, had been his only support. The old man had urged him to be proactive. He had even suggested numerous solutions to Kweku's predicament. His most recent suggestion was for Kweku to call on Nana Ayi. Kweku knew Akosua would have objected to this, hence his secret invitation to the fetish priest.
Nana Ayi gently let down the hen and whispered something into the air. The hen stood still, evidently in a trance and in submission to divine authority. The priest unstrapped his satchel and took out a small leather pouch. He then sat on the bare floor and placed the pouch by his right hand side. He brought his face within inches of the hen and called out.
The bird stood motionless. Akosua held her husband's arm in fright.
"Akosua Kissiwaa!" Nana called again.
The bird still betrayed no response, but Akosua's heart thumped rhythmically like a festival drum.
"Akosua Kissiwaa!" Nana called the hen a third time.
The bird slowly lifted its head, turned its neck to fix its eyes on Akosua, then on Kweku, then finally on the priest. It then tilted its head backwards and released a long shrill cackle from its throat. Akosua fell off her seat momentarily. Her husband slowly dragged her back up. He was just as petrified as she was, but he retained some consciousness of his masculinity and quickly gathered courage to remain calm. He garbled reassurances at his wife.
"Silence!" Nana bellowed. He frowned at the couple for half a minute before he reached for the pouch at his side. He presented it to Akosua. She stared bewildered at his offering and slowly shook her head, all the while clutching Kweku's arm tightly. "Woman! DO NOT WASTE MY TIME!"
Kweku nudged her in the ribs and nodded in the direction of the priest's hand. Gently, Akosua stretched out her shaking right hand and received the pouch. She squeezed it tight in her palm.
"Now, drop the grains before the fowl. Each grain she picks will be an offspring you shall bear." Nana ordered. The words roared like thunder in Akosua's ears. Her immediate thought was to drop the pouch and run out of the compound.
"NOW!" Nana roared, before she dared make up her mind.
Quickly, her trembling hands emptied the contents of the pouch in front of the hen.
For a few seconds, nothing happened. Moments later the hen lowered its tiny head and slowly began to peck at the grains. One, two...
A sharp smile, like a carver's stroke on wood, instantly parted Kweku's lips. Akosua remained terrified at what was transpiring before her. She held her breath. Meanwhile, the hen pecked its third grain, then its fourth. By the time Akosua finally began to breath again, the hen had pecked its eighth grain. When it reached its tenth, Akosua felt something threatening to fall out of her throat. She swiftly excused herself from the scene and dashed into the hut. By this time, Kweku was greatly animated and began to count loudly with each peck of the hen.
"Fifteen! Akosua, are you okay?" He yelled at the hut, without moving off his seat. There was no response from inside.
"Women," Nana Ayi sighed and spat on the ground, "They never appreciate the privilege of childbirth."
"Seventeen!" Kweku went on. His mind began to wander disorderly to the extra huts he would now have to build. He thought of the extra hands he would get on his farm and smiled. He thought of the pots of palm wine and akpeteshie he would be getting from his daughters' bride prices and chuckled delightfully. He would be hailed as a real man by his peers. He could see their faces now seething with envy. The most prolific among them had produced ten children; the wife of this man had died on the bed where she pushed out the tenth child. This thought jolted him momentarily. He suddenly remembered Akosua and turned towards the hut.
"Leave her alone. If she wishes to be absent at her own feast, we shall drink her wine for her! " Nana Ayi shouted. He let out a loud cackle and Kweku joined obediently. When they finally fell silent, Kweku turned towards the hut. The shock of what he saw made him fall off his seat. Nana Ayi quickly stood up.
In front of the hut and now slowly walking towards the two men, was Akosua Kissiwaa. Firmly clasped in her hands was Kweku's hunting gun. He had just finished loading it with gunpowder when Nana Ayi arrived on his compound. Kweku immediately tried to convince himself that Akosua did not know how to handle the firearm, but he remembered this wasn't true. He had personally taught her how to shoot when they were newly married. At the time, he thought it would be a great marital bonding activity. It was Akosua who had grown weary of it after a couple of weeks and opted to wait for him in the hut when he went out hunting. Surely, she could not have forgotten how to shoot his gun.
"Nana!" she yelled.
"Akosua ple --" Kweku started.
"Kweku, menkasa!" Akosua warned and Kweku fell silent.
"Nana! Make it bring out the grains! All of them!" She yelled.
"Calm down Akosua," Nana Ayi pleaded. His voice had now toned down considerably.
"I said make it bring all the grains out!"
"That is impossible, my daughter."
"Make it possible! Or I will not think twice before shooting!" Akosua inched closer to the priest.
The hen, still in divine obedience, made nothing of the occurrences around it. It pecked on and looked set to complete a perfect ritual. There were only about half a dozen more grains now littered on the floor.
Akosua glanced down shortly at the hen and gasped at the sight of the very few grains remaining. She pointed her gun squarely at the priest now.
Nana Ayi quickly squatted before the hen. There were beads of sweat all over his forehead and his lips quivered as he started to mutter inaudibly. After a series of words, he shook his head and restarted.
"Nana, you are wasting my time!" Akosua grew impatient.
"Akosua, si abotare. Please be patient my daughter. I have never done a thing of such nature before. No woman has ever demanded a reversal."
"Quickly!" Akosua squawked.
Nana Ayi looked briefly at Kweku. The young man was in shock. He sat motionless on the ground to which he had fallen. A fool who cannot control his wife, the priest thought. He refocused on the bird and continued the task he was set.
At the muttering of another long series, the hen finally stilled. It raised its head and let out another loud shrill cackle. The tiny eyes seemed to roll about in the tiny eyelids which struggled to hold them in. Then slowly at first, but later with increased pace, it coughed out the grains it had swallowed, one after the other. After it littered the ground again with all the grains, the neck rolled back into shape and it stood in silence with slowly blinking eyes.
The sound of the first shot ripped through the still air and the bird was hit square in the breast. It fell on its side, spurting out blood on the brown soil. Nana Ayi raised his head in time to see that the second shot was aimed at him. He shuffled quickly to his feet and darted through the bushes just in time, as Akosua let off another blast. She missed the priest narrowly. She turned around swiftly and aimed at Kweku who quickly raised his hands up to plead.
"Please Akosua, I --" he started.
"Be quiet and sit down!"
Akosua picked up the dead bird and walked to the little heap of rubbish she kept by the hut. She let out a long drawn tut and threw it unto the heap. She returned to her husband, frowned at him and aimed.
"Go inside," she ordered.
"GO INSIDE!" she screeched.
Kweku stood and walked into the hut. She watched him lift the raffia curtain and waited for his frame to disappear into the hut.. The sun was setting slowly as she dropped the gun. She reached for a broom lying in front of the hut to sweep away the grains and some few feathers the bird had shed. As she angrily swiped the broom across the earth, her eyes fell upon one of her hens crouched in a corner in the bushes. Its little chicks gently jostled for room underneath its wings. Akosua paused for a few minutes in thought, You are mad! She glanced at the hut's entrance to see if Kweku was standing there. The raffia curtain hung motionless in its place. She probed about her to see if anyone else was lurking in the bushes. There was nobody in sight. Nana Ayi was long gone with his supernatural powers. Yes... I am mad. She reached towards the ground and picked up one of the grains of maize Nana Ayi's hen had expelled. She shut her eyes, dipped the hard grain into her throat and swallowed.
When Akosua joined Kweku inside the hut, he stood in a corner with his hands on his head. He shifted slightly when he saw her enter with the gun. She smiled with satisfaction when she saw the fear on Kweku's face, but at the same time, she pitied him. He had endured so much in their young marriage and she could understand his desperation. But he was a man of too little faith, and Akosua had no remaining empathy for that. She was a fighter, and her calling as a wife was to remain strong in his weakness. She slowly dropped the gun on the ground and gently loosened the cloth that was tied around her body. It fell silently to the floor, revealing her beautiful naked frame to her husband.
Daniel Hanson Dzah is a graduate of the University of Ghana, Legon, where he studied philosophy.