THE HARMATTAN is here again, same time as last year. Birds have been arriving on the great wave of dust that blows south from the Sahara and marks the beginning of their annual holiday. Perched on razorwire, telegraph poles and the occasional tree, all different colours and sizes and varieties: turtle doves, nightingales, flycatchers . . . holidaying, out here on the edge of the savannah.
Here again, same as last year. The scorched sand eddies and whips about the roads and scrubs the house walls like flying sandpaper, making it hard to believe that just one month ago tropical rain gushed from rooftops and pounded the lush grass.
It has been a quiet week in North Legon. Kwame Ansafo-Mensah is crunching up and down his parched front lawn in a state of high agitation as he tries to revive his drooping hibiscus and potted oranges.
He’s been without mains water since buying the house more than a year ago, despite constant assurances from both developer and water company that the plumbing is ‘on course’. In the meantime he relies on deliveries from a borehole, which offends Kwame. The most painful aspect is that the water has to be plumbed from one of two sources at either end of the street not one hundred feet from his house. One of the mains pipes even leaks into the gutter by the main road. It shimmers and swims before Kwame’s eyes like a mocking mirage.
Martha Ansafo-Mensah looks on ruefully from the porch. Kwame, she believes, has become a little obsessed with the garden’s welfare during this dry spell, following all the water conservation tips on the internet so he can favour his plants. All very well rationing flushes like they do in Scandanavian countries, Martha thinks bitterly, but an unflushed toilet in 32 degrees of heat is no joke.
Ben, the foreman of the development company building Kwame and Martha’s estate, walks briskly past. He has learnt to keep the pace brisk in order not to be waylaid by Kwame Ansafo-Mensah, who does indeed yell out his daily forlorn inquiry about the water supply.
“By His good grace, in a day or two,” replies Ben with all sincerity but, sadly, not for the first time. Nor will it be the last.
Ben is nursing a problem. The final connection depends on a plumber who is demanding a small, small unauthorised payment. It seems that the water company hasn’t paid his salary for months and he has a large family; on the other hand, Ben’s employer has made it clear that a bribe is out of the question. So, for now, a stalemate.
Next door the Yeboahs, Edward and Victoria, are not part of the new-build estate. They have more mains water supply than they know what to do with.
This is especially true of the downstairs bathroom where water has been flowing, unstaunched, from a gash in the wall that opened up when Edward tried to install a new showerhead bracket. His claw hammer went through the surprisingly brittle tile with one tap and embedded itself in the pipe. Panicking in his haste to stop the furious jet of water shooting across the room, Edward then irreparably bent the stopcock .
The plumber arrives and the two men stare in silence at the scene. Neither seems to know the location of the building’s main stopcock so for now the water continues to hit the opposite wall, drains down to the floor and slides from the room, forming a river down the hallway, across the kitchen then onto the patio through the open back door.
Victoria has removed herself from the stress of this disaster. Instead she supervises the cleaning at the front of the house. Floors swept and mopped, flyscreens soaked, rugs battled and washed. Every day now the Saharan dust must be beaten from her home.
She has just presided over a less than satisfactory scrub of the terrazzo lounge floor. Her daughter – one child who never flew the nest – and Charlotte the house-girl couldn’t get it back to the gleaming condition Victoria remembers from her youth, so of course they had to do it over. And over. No one has the heart to tell Mrs Yeboah that a smoker can’t just brush away 60 years of nicotine so the job is, eventually, discreetly abandoned.
At each year’s end the Yeboahs’ other children, the three who left home, fly back for Christmas just like the birds, from all curves of the globe to settle for a week or two with Mum and Dad and, perhaps, to remind themselves why they left.
But for the moment, only one daughter remains to read the morning Bible text with the old couple; only she and Charlotte are on hand to run errands. The daughter, herself not so young, still wonders if she, too, should have left and even whether she might still do so.
She stands on the famous terrazzo and gazes out at something sailing past the high front wall of the property. A small, localised whirlwind has drawn up a discarded water sachet within a pirouetting column of dust, throwing it around and around so its printed brand name taunts her with each twirl.
Everpure. Everpure. Everpure. The Harmattan is here. . .
And that’s the news from North Legon, where all the politicians are good-looking, the liquor is strong and the temperature always above average.
TIMOTHY J.BANKS, a former West End chef, moved his family to Accra in Ghana where his wife, Eleanor, has started a small bakery and sandwich shop. When not writing his novel, Tim helps out