Ghana is the centre of the Earth!” Nova watched the tour group curl amongst themselves at the lambasting statistic. “We are the country closest to the meeting point between the equator and the Meridian line – nearly zero, zero co-ordinates! When you return home, tell your friends you travelled to the centre of the planet! It won’t be a lie!”
This exalt of information was coming from their tour-guide, a proud, dark-brown man-child whose age surely exceeded his height. He stood at the front, lost amongst the still sea of foreigners that stood before him. The sea behind him was equally calm despite it being the rainy season. Still, the heat remained stoic and Nova could feel her face burning a relentless shade of black. Every so often, she became subject to her husband’s shadow as he leaned his stature forward to listen closer to the small man’s sermon for sightseers. It was uncharacteristic that a Ghanaian man graze six feet but there Nova’s husband stood, seven inches above her five foot five frame, ever-defiant of the Napoleon stereotype. She couldn’t say the same however for the man-child commanding the attention of their tour group. At the front he stood, spouting statistics in a pitch of polygamy: the bread of his vocabulary was broken English, toasted by the musical onomatopoeia of the southern Ghanaian and buttered by British idioms. Confused Americanism encased the end of his sentences like crust that had not yet been cut. His sentences were spread and slow so Nova managed to slice through his confusing cadence and accept his information – that Ghana was one of the sunniest settings in the sub-Sahara.
Despite her husband’s desire to shade her, Nova followed suit of her cohort and stepped into the sun’s eye-line. Natural light was the reason she had travelled to Ghana in the first place. Upon Dr Chopra’s trifecta diagnosis of her having depression (the diligent kind), a case of SAD and an extreme deficiency in vitamin D, his remedial proposition was that she get out more. Apparently sunlight could help. And so it was, Nova travelled from East London in England, UK to East Legon, Accra. After having stayed awhile in the metropolitan city for business, she and her husband Kwesi ventured far out to the southern coast to a tiny town called Ada Foah. They were staying in a villa less than a mile north of the beach they were now headed to. Here the sun was unadulterated, free from the barricade of buildings. She hoped its all-access approach to lightening the land would banish the inner darkness behind her eyes. According to the gospel of Dr Chopra, light could do that. Genesis chapter 1, verse 1 of the Bible seemed to concur.
“That is where Castro died,” the man-child leapt onto the apex of a rock to be seen and pointed a brown-nailed finger toward the water. “He was jet-skiing.”
Stunned silence had descended on the group as they battled this new information with cognitive dissonance: C-Castro? The Castro? Communist Cuban cigar-smoking Castro?Surely not. This was contradictory. Still none of them spoke to correct the mini man. Though she was sure they were sure he was mistaken. Nova was humoured but she didn’t smile.
“Should we tell them?” Kwesi tittered beside her.
Kwesi, Nova’s blue-black (sometimes purple) skinned partner of ten years, husband of four, stood amused behind the crowd. Assailed by the subterfuge of a cloudless afternoon sky, every fair and foreign tourist looked fit to burst like red balloons if nudged. Blood had gushed to the perforation of their pores, obstructed only by the seams of their skin but a single poke would have them perspiring into puddles of the reddest tomato stew. Kwesi and a few other African descendants in the group however remained rejuvenated by the swelter like true natives of the land – black batteries energised by natural sunlight. Nova stood alongside, slightly browner but just as black.
It was the third and final day of the tour and they had reached their final destination – an unnamed beach on the coast of Ada Foah. They were on the Gulf of Guinea, just a few thousand metres from neighbouring Togo to its east and on the same route from the road as Elmina Castle – commonly known as the Door of No Return– to its west. The beach had no name because it was not well frequented. In fact, it was a danger zone, boasting many fatalities beneath its liquid belt. Seeing it in person, a crater formed in the bowl of Nova’s belly and she felt she could defecate at any moment. It looked like the postcards that never existed: colonial churches still captained the unmanned shoreline. How ironic that these waters that had once been so still, allowed foreigners to fondle then finger-fuck Ghana before inserting themselves full throttle, had become so libertine. What was once an entry point for few had fast become a parade: from a molestation victim to a consensual partner for penile penetration. Ghana had become the world’s whore – the most bestial of black bitches.
“A Ghanee-en Castro,” Nova heard her husband say.
Kwesi, disallowing the suspension of disbelief to dilate any longer, began explaining that the Cuban Castro had not died here. Rather it was the popular Ghanaian singer of the same name. He doesn’t mention that an unnamed female died alongside the singer, just Castro. Nova watched the three tiers of her husband’s mouth as he spoke. First was the outer shade of swollen purple stolen by the inner flesh-pink near the opening; in the centre were his gated white teeth protecting his tongue from view. Every time his lips parted, the colours came together to complement but stayed separate like laundry, never mixing. The crowd grew satisfied by the sight and sound of Kwesi’s explanation that it wasn’t their Castro that died here but somebody else’s. Ghana’s Castro. Kwesi was careful to omit that neither of the victim’s bodies had been found. Rumour had it the sea goddess known as Maame Water had swallowed them and left no remains.
“Talk about a sales pitch,” Kwesi sneered when the attention of the crowd returned to the tour guide. Together they were all stood at a corner by the unnamed beach but weren’t to venture onto it. A sign up ahead read ‘NO ENTRY.’
“Selling water-sports with a side of death,” she quipped.
“Anything adrenaline-related is a sure-buy for abrokyire.”
“You know these foreigners! Feet off the ground? I’ll take two please!”
Both laughed but Nova stopped first. Upon catching sight of the sea again, her imagination drifted to its underbelly and all of the unclaimed bodies damned to the ocean floor. It wasn’t an angry sea. But if the wind whipped violently enough with the water, a sudden influx would wash much of the coastal land away. Already some of it was gone and ruins ribbed the edge. The sight alone sobered her mirth.
“Anyway folks!” The man that had been her tour guide for the past three days clapped his black hands together, grinned a shade of whitish-yellow and sighed cavernously. “This is the fi–NALstop.”
The western quasi of his accent fast expired as he ducked from view like his height was a bother. Nova could tell by his frame that he was originally descended from the Ga-Adangbe people that populated this area. Men from the coast tended to be more compact with thicker torsos than their Ashanti and Fante brethren on the mainland. This man walked like he was wading through water and not air, pushing his torso forward like a leech on its belly before his legs followed. His skin was the shade of an oil spill. He looked like a three dimensional ink stain, the clay land he walked upon, his bleach-yellow canvas.
“My name is Bright Benson,” he introduced himself when he reached Nova and Kwesi. “They call me BB.”
The whites of his eyes were golden nuggets in his carob-coloured face. Every time he blinked, Nova grew afraid his skin would disintegrate into dirt but it held form over his features and the gold dust of his eyes always returned. She watched them glimmer in familiarity at the vision of Nova and Kwesi: just by sight alone, he knew they were his people (descendants of the diaspora but his people nonetheless).
Struck by the expanse of water before her, Nova continued to take in its corners as Kwesi spoke downward to the tour guide. The man’s name really was Bright. In her own daze, Nova mused and thought of her old Blackberry smartphone and how often she used to finger its keys. It too was black and buff and compact like Bright Benson.
Nova watched as the tour group removed their cameras to capture the view of the unnamed beach and thought of Castro and the female companion that nobody cared for at the bottom of the water. Her thoughts tided over to the corpses that lay alongside theirs: how they had once been eggs in their mothers’ menstruating bellies only to be fertilised, have the fortune of escaping the purgatory of pregnancy yet die as people. What a privilege! To die in a body of water like that of the womb, never to be exhumed.
Black people don’t swim. They drown.
“Bye-bye Bright,” Nova bade after him and her husband’s conversation came to a close. “This three-day tour has been wonderful. I’m so sad it has to end.”
Kwesi and Nova had officially been in Ghana for two weeks. The first ten days had been spent in Accra whilst the last four days were to be spent here in Ada Foah. Today was the third which meant tomorrow they’d return to their life in London. Up until now, Kwesi hadn’t participated in any leisure; instead of abandoning his work in Accra, he carried it like a load on his head to Ada Foah and had continued making contacts, talking to locals and conducting market research. It was by whim that he decided to join Nova’s tour group and finally meet the man who she’d been raving about during their bedroom conversations: Bright Benson. A Look on the Bright Sidewas the name of the tour and now Kwesi understood why – it was a play on words of his own name.
“The man’s name is actually Bright,” Kwesi snickered as if Nova didn’t already know, as if she hadn’t been on this tour for two days already listening to the man glorify Ghana, as if she wasn’t privy to his introduction just minutes earlier and heard her husband verbally audit Bright’s business credentials.
“Your name is actually Kwesi,” Nova retorted.
“Because it is a matter of fact,” he begins. “Kwesi is the Ghanaian name given to a male born on a Sunday. It means being born under the sun. Its association means universe. I am a male born on a Sunday. I was born under the sun here in Ghana. I became my mother’s universe when I was born.”
“And so?” Nova challenged.
“In Ghanaian culture, we prophesy names our children can attain. This man’s name is a fallacy because he can never be bright.”
“How can you say such?”
“Look at his skin, look at my skin, look at your skin, and look at our skin.” Kwesi scoffed. “Look at us!”
Both of them were burnt beyond the brown of berries. They were blackening.
“Maybe he is bright on the inside.”
“He has never been formally educated,” he continued. “He said himself his family is from the local village near the Volta River.”
“We are not our names,” Nova argued on. “We don’t always fulfil and become their meanings.”
“But we must! Ghanaian naming culture is persistent in giving us names we can live up to; calling a black man Bright is like naming a white girl Ebony. It is pointless.”
“Maybe he is a bright on the outside – a light for others.”
“Of course,” Kwesi rolled his white eyeballs away from his wife and tutted in that typical Ghanaian way – a sucking of the molars followed by a ceremonious ‘ah’ before adding “Good ol’ Gold Coast is a sucker for light.”
Today was their final opportunity to relax before they would take a coach to mainland Accra and so they seized it. A stall which sold refreshments became their resting spot and the two sat on plastic chairs, sipping their coconut water under a parasol. Despite the fact the tour was over, the tour group had banded around Bright Benson like eager beavers, keen to take pictures with the wonder of a man. All wore sunglasses and hats as if to disguise their identities but Nova recognised their pallid red skin and accenting mute apparel. Most of them were staying at the hotel up the road – the converge for all rich foreign folks to lap a taste of Ghana without swallowing a true bite.
Nothing was familiar about this place to Nova except for Kwesi. This was her first time in Ghana. She liked to joke that she’d visited before whilst in her mother’s ovaries, after all, women were born with all their eggs, albeit unfertilised. But Kwesi had actually travelled from Ghana to England many times – the first time as a baby before returning annually to see family. Throughout his childhood and late teens spent here in the summer, he picked up the language and custom. He was Nova’s window into Ghanaian culture, and finally, after much trepidation, became her plane ticket to the actual country when he surprised her with two for her thirtieth birthday: one for him and one for her. This was her first time in Africa. She’d had no desire to visit before but now it made sense – to work on improving her mental and physical health as prescribed by Dr Chopra, celebrate this milestone age she was to reach tomorrow and find her way back to her ancestral home. The tug in her torso was tantamount.
Now she existed as an independent, fully fledged adult, motherless and childless, with Kwesi acting as her only chaperone. Despite having not visited for almost a decade, he seemed to blend listlessly with the local culture and gist; where he had tanned, Nova had burnt and flakes of white had christened her skin. Mosquitoes beguiled her like friendly foes, spotting her arms and legs in red welts that she knew would polka dot her skin a shade darker in places. She felt like an animal.
“They’re trying to get planning permission for a water park,” Kwesi interrupted her thoughts.
Nova didn’t have to turn her head to know he was referring to the two Chinese men across the way. Even bowed, she could still spot their exaggerated mannerisms perusing the landscape in her periphery. They had been a part of Bright’s tour group and had treated it like an inquisition rather than an informal guide. Even amongst the rest of the tourists, they looked out of place with their Indiana Jones attire.
Kwesi nodded, confident in his understanding of Mandarin. “Their application is in its final stages of approval by the government…” A sigh. “I can’t believe we’re still pimping ourselves out to these people. There have been a record number of casualties in this town already due to unregulated water sports.”
“Yes but the casualties have been Ghanaian,” Nova clarified. It felt full circle to parrot to her husband what he had explained to the tour group earlier that day. “Nobody cares about us.”
“The sea demon, Maame Water is to blame,” Kwesi replied, kernelling the shell of information that he had omitted when speaking to the foreigners. “She seeks revenge on us and spares them.”
Nova knew what Kwesi meant. Ghana’s water had long been a great source of investment even throughout history. The Danes and Dutch experienced little trouble when travelling over it to trade centuries ago. It was the Portuguese port of Elmina castle that facilitated the shipping of bodies from the Gulf of Guinea to the Atlantic of America. This water park would invite even more tourism from all corners of the world. No reports had been made into the death of tourists being killed in this water so it was clear Maame Water’s instruction was to swallow with discrimination. Like a succubus with acquired taste, she seduced Ghanaian people to the sea before straddling, strangling and sucking their lives away. Fishermen and families who made a living locally, economic migrants from the north and holiday-comers from the mainland in search of fun and freedom met their death in these waters. Her penchant meant she preferred drowning Ghanaians to Arabs in the North and Europeans in the West and Asians in the East who sought to pillage Ghana. Nova wondered herself, with her birth-right British citizenship but Ghanaian bloodline, if she was Maame Water’s preference.
“Who is them? Are they not us?” She eviscerated.
Kwesi slipped his bare feet into his slippers. Dust danced as he ceremoniously stamped on the ground as if to stake claim. His expression was one of conflict, torn between his birthplace and breeding ground. He himself was not certain where he stood but one thing was for sure: these Chinese men were philanderers, only here to fertilize trouble and then abscond when the rotten fruits of their outsourced labour spawned. They were not here to save a Ghanaian soul.
Night came quickly to hood the day and Nova was awoken by the darkness. It was gone eight o’clock so daylight had long succumbed to sunset. The lamp light that was supposed to illuminate her dreams had switched off and she was reminded that the expense of their villa did not inoculate from Ada Foah’s circadian rhythm. It was lights out – when Ghana’s electricity circuit cut out and all houses were left in darkness in the absence of a generator. From the bed, Nova saw the reflection of darkness staring back at her through the window and winced. It was hard to believe that this place that once shone only hours before was now almost pitch black.
Slap. Slap. Slap.
The sound of her chale wote slippers loudly hitting the linoleum forced her to treat lighter as she manoeuvred from the bedroom. Kwesi remained asleep, snoring slightly in preparation for the day ahead. They were due to be awake before dawn to catch the coach to Accra the next morning then catch their flight. She already sussed he planned to surprise her with a shopping spree at the airport for her birthday and wanted to thank him for his thoughtfulness. Instead she quietly threw a thin cardigan over her clothes and removed herself from the villa.
Clack. Clack. Clack.
On clay, the sound of her slippers slapping was akin to a baby being reprimanded on bare buttocks. Besides the occasional shock of light from a closing stall or car trampling by, there was nothing to see for it was too dark. She wasn’t in Accra where beaches like Labadi championed parties all year around – for the most part, Ada Foah was a quiet coastal town when it wasn’t holiday season.
Reminding herself of the co-ordinates Bright Benson followed on the tour, Nova soldiered without sight but through memory alone: a gathering buzzed ahead at her first checkpoint – the stall where she and Kwesi had drinks after Bright’s tour. ‘Me Firi Ghana’it was called. Local men, just as brown and coil-haired as she, manned the till and served. None glanced up to view her as she passed.
With the sound of rural nightlife soon buzzing behind her, it was only a matter of time before she’d reach the sand of the unnamed beach. Whistles of wet wind soon confirmed she was on the right track. Living in England, bursts of rain were unpredictable but Nova had a sixth sense for petrichor. When she could smell it in the air, she’d always jump into the nearest pair of shoes and rush to collect the clothes from the washing line if they were hanging in the garden. In her bones, she felt that same sensation now: it was a chill, passing from her cranium down to her ankles like a current.
A voice attacked Nova from nowhere and she swallowed her cadence away in a gulp.
“YES?!” She sounded like she was from here – British accent gone, replaced by that of a small southern Ghanaian girl, fresh off the boat. A presence came over her in response but there was no sound.
Nova continued, horrified by the reality of her imagination and reached the unnamed beach. There were no barriers to stop her: just a derelict sign with a universal hand underlining ‘NO ENTRY’ so there was no room for misunderstanding. The signal was twofold – she mustn’t go farther. Even in the darkness, she could see it. Yet she ignored it and found herself on the rocky sand anyway. Slipping off her slippers and cardigan, she felt the water on her toes as she ventured past the edge into its tenement. Wetness awaited as her head broke the surface and she descended underneath.
That’s how many seconds it took for her eyes and chest to scream for open air. She wasn’t a mermaid and she wasn’t used to seawater being so crisp and she hadn’t held her breath right. She was supposed to duck on three not hold for three.
Breaking the surface of the water again, Nova came upward and gasped, let her vision clear. An obsidian figure ahead stood watching her and she questioned its figment. Head swooning, she wrestled with the human instinct to pass out. There was no on-duty lifeguard to oversee her struggle. Here she could barely be seen, let alone saved. Yet she hadn’t drowned.
Reluctantly she repatriated to land and saw that it was her husband, Kwesi stood waiting for her, facial expression unknown. Her cardigan was in his hands and she let him cloak her before filling the sleeves herself. It felt like an invasion of privacy – the way he held her shoulders for an inappropriate amount of time, breathed in her essence for far too long. She knew he was only savouring the moment of being able to touch her after all. It had been forbidden for a while.
“Water no get enemy,” he said.
“Macy Gray,” she recognised.
“Fela Kuti,” he corrected.
Nova bowed to button the sides of her cardigan together and let herself be stolen by Kwesi’s sight. She let him drink her in as if she would soon evaporate before meeting his gaze.
“I came for water,” she explained without prompt.
“You couldn’t get that from the kitchen tap?”
His tone was half-hurt, half-teasing.
“I meant, a body of water.”
“We have sinks, a shower and bathtub,” he continued. “Heck the hot tub at the local spa is open till late.”
Nova sighed and turned her back on him to face the sea again. Like a trespasser, he encroached and she saw him lick the inside of his lips to taste the moment. Being surrounded by nothing but water was soothing, so encompassing it blocked out every transmission. Sometimes it felt almost enough to drain the dreaded sorrow within.
“I woke up to turn on the generator and saw you were gone.”
“I came for silence,” Nova explained, turned to the blank canvas that was Kwesi’s face.
“You can’t just leave like that, I was worried.”
“You didn’t have to follow me.”
His arms tightened around her and she felt herself imprinting on him. Apparently we humans must leave impressions everywhere, to be remembered, so she nestled into his torso just enough for his skin to prickle and her smell to linger. There was no proof that she would be here tomorrow but these markers would keep her alive for his sake. These moments were more sentimental than any image Kwesi’s mind’s eye could conjure. Not only had he seen her; he’d touched her, smelled her, and heard her voice. All that was left to do was taste her.
The name made her shiver.
Sucking up her angst, Nova turned to face him with her back to the water. The short distance between their bodies felt like a pilgrimage but she pushed through it to hug him. Bodies pressed to one another, she looked up into his face like a mountain to climb. His bearded chin was the rock she would scale to get to the peak of his lips. And when she got to the top, her eyes would close and imagine the dark sky. And she would become the star.
Moving forward, she kissed him briefly then slowly with her tongue, let him taste the salt from the water she’d gulped before coming up for air. Their lips came apart softly.
“Do you know why I changed my name to Nova?” She whispered against his cheek.
“You said you liked the idea of being new, Nova means new.”
She shook her head at the half-truth, took a step back. “It’s short for supernova.”
He followed her gaze upward to the sky.
“The supernova is an event in a star’s life,” she explained. “They say it is the most astronomical.”
“It’s when a star destroys itself.” She watched him reprehend for what followed: her fingers outstretching to dramatize an explosion. The breath from her cheeks caved inward then outward for added effect.
“Catastrophically,” she added.
Silence befell for a moment.
“So the entire galaxy has self-saboteurs huh? It isn’t just humankind on Earth?” Kwesi continued to tease in that boyish, British way. “Could have named yourself Nebula, Bula for short, or is that too old ladyish?”
Nova ignored his failed joke and turned back to the water.
“It’s not about sabotage,” she reminded him. “We’re all going to die you know Kwesi. Every organism has an expiration date.”
“I know… but the idea of a star exploding on its own…I don’t know… it sounds like self-destruction, l-like -”
“Suicide?” She filled the word in for him. Beating him to the punch meant he couldn’t dillydally with a synonym to take off the edge. She wanted him to know what they were talking about. And it was death, God-damned suicide for that matter: checkmating the gods and beating them to the punch of demise. If she had to come to grips with it, so must he. For closure, at least.
On impulse, Nova kicked the sand beneath her feet and slipped her slippers on once more. Her soles felt dry like ash. No longer looking at Kwesi or the sky, her eyes levelled with the dark water in a descent of terror. Even in the low light of her periphery, she could see fear blanching her husband’s features. She felt it too, rippling off of him in waves.
In Kwesi’s imagination, Nova’s allegory was a coded cry for help and any second now, she would break away, run into the water and try to drown herself. To fulfil his saviour complex, he would give chase and race her to the shore; how conceited that he felt like his legs, his love, his life could save hers. He didn’t know that this town was her ancestral land so its water was her lifeblood. It was where she belonged and thus should be buried. In telling her she needed more sun, more light, to get out more, Dr Chopra had sent Nova back to herself, her supposed motherland, and sealed her fate. The promise that the sun of the most central country in the world would defeat the tripartite disease of depression, deficiency and SAD was mythical. But Maame Water was the dark truth.
“We’re not meant to live or love forever,” Nova explained.
“I know that,” Kwesi replied. “The thought of anyone wanting to end their own life just petrifies me.”
Surely he knew her intentions couldn’t be disabused at this point?The words he was speaking were fodder for his sake, not hers. Already he was cannibalising the guilt that would come from not being able to stop her dying yet she wasn’t yet dead – a reminder of the unsafe fickleness of humanity.
“Don’t try and rationalise it.”
The only fear that Nova had was that she would float instead of drown. This body had long since become a shell of its former self – shedding entrails in the form of fat and muscle. A third of her body weight had been lost since she met Kwesi over a decade ago: the supple flesh of her thighs and slight swell of her cheeks had become sharp and less shapely. Plus her periods had stopped and it felt like the mosquitoes had siphoned every last drop of blood from her. After three years of attempting conception, she’d accepted she wouldn’t bear children. She felt empty, no longer the woman she used to be. The only thing sustaining her was the water that made up 80% of her body but she wasn’t complete. Sometimes she’d find fragments of the remaining 20% in the shower or in the rain or submerged in a pool. That’s where the quietness reigned. It soothed Nova’s rough edges. It’s where she wanted to be including now. So this was the only way she’d become 100% complete – by drowning in the sea.
“Nova don’t do this,” Kwesi commanded as if he could hear her end thoughts. His voice sounded like it had been gagged from him but fell flat. Nova felt for him. His final attempt at amelioration was weak and pathetic, like a droplet squeezed from the clear sky onto land. For his sake, she wished he had said it with more vigour to wipe his conscience clean. Instead his words were desert-dry.
Nova touched his face and looked into the ether of his eyes, wondered what it meant to be on top of the world and how easy it was to fall purposely from a cliff. Her gaze quickly fell from his visage, as fast as a shooting star.
“There are parts of me that you don’t know,” Nova’s voice fell a few notches. “That are ugly and dark.”
“I know every part of you.”
Kwesi’s hands came to her face but she moved and let him hug her instead, their silhouettes meshing into one. From afar, she was certain they looked like a single, blue-black-purple two-headed, multi-limb beast. The sighing ascent of his diaphragm made it hard to relax. It was hard to breathe easy when both knew the tide was so near. Oh how she wished it was raining right now. It would have made this much more familiar.
A couple steps backward was enough for the water to strum the cracked skin of Nova’s heels. A few more metres and she’d plunge into its haunting depths, salute the sun on its return home to Paradise and go down to the bottom of the Earth, straight to Hell.
“I know every blemish and patch and scar-”
“I’m not talking about my outside hyperpigmentation Kwesi,” Nova cut him off. “I’m talking about the inside – the words I consume, the thoughts I don’t share, the feelings I don’t express. They are blacker than any colour on my body.”
Every one of Kwesi’s breaths summoned a tremor that Nova had to untie herself from to keep from chickening out. Both of their chests expanded alternately now – when he breathed in, she breathed out – and she knew this was the last time they’d be in synchrony.
“Don’t you find it how the dark parts are unseen?” The laugh that followed was humourless. “Even on the body – the back of the knees, pits under the arms, space between the legs. All so dark and disappearing.”
“Stop saying my name, that’s not my name.”
Kwesi rarely listened to her. Back in England, when a delivery was at the door or he wanted to introduce her to a friend at a function or he was slamming her insides with his penis, he would holler her name for attention and she would ignore it, act like she couldn’t hear. But he would repeat it, sing it sometimes. And she’d respond the same way all of the time – with a monstrous moan. It was her biggest gripe hearing him scream ‘Nova’ when it wasn’t her natural name.
“Ghanaians know darkness more intimately than anyone,” he continued self-righteously. “But we survive it.”
“Look at where we are!” He reminded her. “Remember what Bright said about us being at the centre of the Earth? We have so much sun, so much light. We have God.”
That sounded like something Nova’s mother would say. Hence, Nova always had to wear bright colours – the loudest Kente print for hall parties and sunniest, uncharacteristic clothes for church. That’s how God would see her. Through this contrast. Nova had come out of the womb too black to ever be considered anything other and so was christened with the Ghanaian name, Maame Yaa, at birth. No English or Anglican add-on. Her mother stuffed her with jollof rice that was always too orange, fried plantain that was pale yellow, seasoned with scarlet pepper, to compensate for all of this darkness. Ginger tea to cast out inner sickness, bronze Dettol to disinfect the outer. Instead of being baptised like most black babies, she was confirmed, consecrated when her childhood had reached full-term and she had already begun pubescent bleeding. Then she developed into a black woman with a bouncing bosom and bountiful bum that rolled when she walked. Maame meant mother and Yaa meant Earth. And so every time her mother called her Maame Yaa, she proclaimed her as mother of Earth.
Nova’s turning nineteen marked her descent into depression after her mother died. That’s when she grew to despise her name Maame Yaa and so changed it to Nova. Kwesi entered her life less than a year later. By twenty-six she was Nova Darko after taking his surname after their marriage and with the loss of every maiden tie she had to her mother, it seemed the prophecy of her name disappeared. The womanly weight she wore and bore was gone. She felt pure and infantilised like Benjamin Button. In her protruding belly button where her umbilical cord had been cut at birth, in this bastard body that wouldn’t bear her people’s posterity, she accepted that her life was officially over. It was the third day so it had to end properly before midnight, before she turned a dirty thirty.
“I want Maame Water to know my name,” she declared finally. Both of them watched the water ripple like it could hear Nova’s proclamation and welcomed her. “My natural name.”
“She will steal you and your name,” Kwesi’s voice was stern. “And then nobody on land will remember who you were.”
Darkness bled inward as Nova closed her eyes to block her husband out. She lullabied herself as if alone, willing sleep’s cousin to bed her for the night for the last time, for forever. Christian and Catholic churches still lined this coast like stretchmarks on black buttocks. Or rather lashes. And the rubble and ruin of old slave ports still stood ruminating. Nova wondered what an eyesore it must be for the sea goddess Maame Water to see this all the time: did she revel?Her husband’s incitement of fear didn’t sit well with her. Instead it moved about her. But still she knew what she must do.
“Do we taste better to her?”
She was ankle-deep in the water now. Even in the silence, she could hear Kwesi’s trepidation washing over her in whiffs in his hasty words. Her eyes remained closed, lips puckered.
“Maame Water… does she prefer to eat us because we taste better?” She soliloquised. “I guess we are more seasoned.”
Kwesi chewed the inside of his own cheek. “She just spit you out right now Nova… you tried to force your way into her and she choked. Whatever she wants, it isn’t you.”
His voice became pained and Nova imagined it darkening, like a brown bruise beneath his nose.
“I came up,” Nova denied. “Swam away from her.”
“NO!” He exclaimed, let his voice carry before continuing. “You came out of her mouth because she spit you out. If you belonged with her, don’t you think she would have taken you? You belong here with me on land!”
Nova heard the crack in his voice, knew his world was coming apart.
“She is not a goddess, she is a demon,” he espoused, ignorant of her question to which there was no right answer.
“What’s the difference?”
“She will swallow you whole the next time,” he continued, fast running out of breath. “She will shit you out to the ocean floor like she has done with so many before you and she will never give your body back to the land from whence you came. Nobody will remember you.”
“And so?” Nova cried, curled her lip. “Let them forget me!”
Nova took another step back. Now her calves were sodden.
“God doesn’t grant Heaven to those who commit suicide.”
Another step, now the water was at the tip of her hips, like she was preparing to be dipped for adult baptism.
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.”
Her recital of the Bible’s opening passage was enough to consume her with contempt, confirm why she could never repent and would continue to resent. From the onset, she had been damned to darkness – her first friend and God’s first foe. Jesus could only save and salvage so many sacred souls for salvation, she knew. The Holy Spirit denied dilution with the waters of her body, cast her away like a castaway. So for Kwesi to mention this Christian God as her only source of salvation was raw cocoa-rich. Bitterness made Nova bite her tongue and she tasted blood in her mouth, felt it blemish her teeth. There was little blood left inside her yet Maame Water still thirsted for the final few drops.
Breath titillated on Nova’s tongue as she opened her eyes once more to see the one remaining source of light in the sky – the moon. A warm smile crossed the abyss of her lips. God had denied this golliwog Ghanaian girl because dark girls didn’t make it to Heaven. They were simply too black for God’s bright Kingdom. So Nova became her own source of light – a star. But it wasn’t enough. The largest star was the one in the sky – the sun – a reign to which she couldn’t compete, had to admit defeat. It burned every hour of every day somewhere, certain to rise again no matter where. Nova could never compare. Kwesi’s white-gold eyes chased her to the water and she watched his blue-black face disappear as she dove into the water’s depths, right into the centre, his bronze-brown pupils saturated with despair. This was supernova unseen – the event in a star’s life where it dies. Thus Nova become complete – 100% water, from her head to her feet.
Korkor Kanor (@korkorrr ) is a Law student born and raised in London. She enjoys writing and listening to music. Some of her stories have been featured on e-reading platforms like WattPad, one of which boasts over 30,000 reads. She has also written regular pieces for platforms like Black Ballad and the Kalahari Review.
Related country: Ghana