The ruffle dress she has on used to be another’s Sunday best or a store reject attire from England, shipped to one of the African shores. Then, tossed onto the “second selection” pile, the pile of less trendy clothing, at the Kantamanto market, where discarded clothes from The West were sold.
On Tuesdays the tray she balances on her head would have black eyed beans poured onto it. It was a weekly chore of separating the bad beans from the good beans. At about 4 am on Wednesday mornings Mama would boil the beans on one of her two coal pots in the shared kitchen of the compound house. The beans would be cooked just in time to be packed as school lunch.
“When we come back on Monday I would like to have all your notebooks covered with brown paper. No newspapers!” Miss Tetteh instructed the class.
Her plea to Auntie Adzo, the kelewele seller whose stall was next to Mama’s, had been for nothing. Auntie Adzo had been very reluctant in giving her the newspapers. “What would I use to sell my kelewele?” Auntie Adzo retorted when she had ask to be spared some newspapers for her notebooks. The kelewele seller uses the newspapers to wrap the hot and oil drenched, spicy, plantain she fried for her customers.
It had been a month since mama transferred Adjei and her from the government school. They now attended Pride of The West. She had easily been among the best three students in her old class. Now, she barely knows what she ranks as. She feared she’d have to repeat a year and by default assume the nickname Grade Six Maame. A name that implied that she was a repeater and most likely older than her classmates, a mother to her Grade Six classmates.
“Mama, my teacher said we shouldn’t use newspapers to cover my books. I need brown paper.” Mama simply replied, “Okay,” then instructed her to peel the oranges and to go and hawk them at the trotro station.
When she had asked Mama why they had been transferred out of the government school, Mama had incoherently said that Adjei and her could now go to university. She never thought that she had not been allowed to think about tertiary institutions before the transfer. She had been rebellious then, because she had considered which of the engineering specialties would best suit her.
She had artistically peeled the oranges. Being meticulous about this chore was the only incentive she could give to her customers. Maybe the bus drivers and their conductors at the station would buy more if the oranges had a nice appeal. She had gathered the orange peelings in a bowl. The peelings would be used as a mosquito repellent when the coil dies out at Mama’s stall at night
She returns to Mama’s stall holding her empty tray. Mama sits at a smaller table making jackets for notebooks with brown paper.