I was in New York City in 1997 when I heard about the death of Aunty. When the call came in, I was alone in our tiny Manhattan apartment. It was on the corner of 145th Street and 7th Avenue. Immediately, I hurried into a C-shaped chamber I shared with Perry Winn at the time. Holding back tears definitely was not an option. According to the caller, she had died a mysterious death in Tabou, Ivory Coast. Actually, Aunty was not my aunt, as one may immediately assume. She was my long-time friend. She was my first love. Her father, Mr. Alfred Kenta, was a combined lawyer and local civil right activist.Order now
He spent the bulk of his time in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, where he had a government job. Aunty’s mother we simply her called “Oldma” chose not to follow her husband. She stayed back in Jarkaken, the same town where Aunty was born and brought up. Before I forget to mention it, Aunty’s real name was Comfort Sawlode Kenta. Her folks and eventually the entire Jarkaken community affectionately called her by a ‘play-play name’, as nickname is widely known in that rural part of Liberia. She was known as “Aunty-baby,” or simply “Aunty. ” It is hard for me to forget many of the events that occurred in Jarkaken, especially while growing up there.
I would love to re-live some of my most memorable moments from those days, but that’s not achievable in this life. Aunty and I met while I was visiting the town from Wodayken, which was a tiny agricultural settlement built several miles away from Jarkaken. I was in the town to prepare for an enlistment into a male ritual. At the time we started “dating,” I was going on thirteen years of age, and Aunty was a year younger. We actually did not initiate the love affair. It was Aunty’s friend who played matchmaking for us. Her name was Cecelia Kanee Warner. We called her by her Grebo name, Kanee.
I believe she was the oldest in our pack. She was notorious for fighting other kids. She was always caught fighting during recess at Kaytoken Junior High School. Her father, Oldman Sankon Warner, was an elementary science teacher. Her mother enjoyed singing in the local Assemblies of God church choir. The Warners were very active members in the A. G. Church. Aunty was a very beautiful girl; unfortunately, she never thought of herself in that way. Her eyes – though very healthy – looked different or atypical. They were assumed largely by the general public to be “abnormal” even though she saw the world just like any healthy person.
Aunty was painfully bothered by grayish dots on her eyes. As if by design, each eye had one of the peculiar dots. Some kids made painful jokes about the dots. Occasionally, even some adults were downright insensitive and inconsiderate towards her. But according to my best recollection, Iforh Sayon Chea, a friend of mine, was the very first to truly and indeed heartlessly hurt my girl’s feelings. He was the architect of this demeaning portrayal of Aunty’s condition: ” bird-shit eyes. ” These were the vicious words he had coined and despicably used to depict the young woman’s terrible condition.
Aunty was really uncomfortable with her condition, to say the least. I noticed that she was too shy to talk to me about her eyes. She did not tell me anything about Sayon’s offensive name-calling. She did not tell me about anyone else being mean to her. In fact, she never talked to me about her eyes. Equally, I never brought the topic up either. Clearly, my attitude was indifference; I saw a beautiful girl every time. Any eye-related issues I heard came from Kanee or another source. But I know one thing. The number one most-demeaning depiction that stood out among others was “bird shit. The sound of this insult was enough, no matter who said it, to trigger Aunty’s excruciating emotions. Typically, she either ran home or into a self-imposed isolation. Other times she simply kneed with her face down and sobbed bitterly. The families of Kanee and Aunty were neighbors. Their houses were located in the borough of Karwea, not very far from the Prime Timber Product PTP sawmill. That’s how the two ladies became friends. Because Kanee liked to fight, she naturally provided a shield for Aunty. You may be surprised to hear that Kanee, the fighter, was also a compassionate figure that provided a shoulder for Aunty to cry on.
Every time an inconsiderate person used the infamous curse words that depicted her condition, Kanee made sure to stand up physically for her friend. She never let her down. Because of the way the two carried themselves, some people thought the young ladies were sisters. Sometimes Aunty had to defend herself in the absence of Kanee and other good Samaritans. She was strong, but she was vertically challenged, or she was a very short person. She clearly stood well under sixty inches tall. There was an inferred height disadvantage every time she took on someone. She was a very stubborn girl, too.
It always took long time for peacemakers to physically control her every time she had to physically confront someone. It is fair to say that she was bothered more by on-lookers than by name-calling kids in Jarkaken. Majority of the time, the kids showed disciplinary restraint. A great majority of the children hardly attacked Aunty’s eyes, and the few that intermittently attacked her did so while under extreme emotional stresses, which she might have induced. When it comes to Aunty, my memories will naturally continue to fade; however, they will never die. With that said, I do not remember the day or month we started dating.
But I remember vividly the year. It was in 1984. Even though we were in the same school not same class, we interacted minimally at that setting. Our first real meeting, as far as I can remember, occurred at a local dance in the front of Mr. Wilson Swen’s residence. Mr. Swen was a prominent member in the town who was known for his propensity to defend the rights of people, especially women and the youth. Mr. Swen invited the young to a newly coined youth dance. The youth called it “Jumayee. ” It was the only youth dance in the town. A fairly sizeable number of people over 45 showed little tolerance for the new dance. Mr.
Jacob Chelae Belleh, an elderly man whose house was adjacent to Mr. Swen, used to go over and seize the drums the young used. . Of course, there was an underlying reason for the intolerance. The town of Jarkaken, along with other communities, had banned an earlier version of the dance, which was called “Konbo. ” The new generation of youth had altered Konbo’s previously favorable traditional lyrics and had embarked on lyrics that were extremely naughty in nature. They used to direct sexually explicit words towards the town’s females.
The town felt compelled to put an end to the madness, permanently. Obviously, the banning of Konbo did not produce any positive change, such as the curtailing of youths’ unfavorable behavior toward decency and basic moral principles. Jumayee did not deviate from Konbo, as was evident from the following lyrical phrase: “Bo wlede, e kpa Snehwia’a Pen. ” In other words, “If you are late to the dance, you will be stuck with Snehwiah’s Salamander. ” This lyrical comment was addressed primarily to males seeking sexy women. The phrase heartlessly depicted Girlju, Oldman Snehwiah’s daughter.
She was not ugly, but she was too small and tall. She had delayed entry into the puberty world; at the age of 12 she virtually had no breasts. Many boys said she was too slim and bony. They vehemently repudiated the notion of being in her presence, especially during the day. If some male was seen with her in isolation, he had essentially ruined his image. So, the young lady was mostly kept in isolation because not very many boys Ã¢â‚¬â€œ especially the ones her peers dated – wanted to ruin their prestige by stooping so low. They viciously and unsympathetically mentioned her name in their lyrics and equated her to a local amphibian.
The young girl was humiliated because she was likened to a large but seemingly paled lazar. It was these kinds of issues that had triggered the banning of Konbo in the first place. Clearly, the Konbo biases were still present in the “new” dance. Well, while Jumayee was in progress, Aunty said she was in love with me. That was according to Kanee, the matchmaker. She asked Kanee to intervene in order to put us together. Kanee agreed to play the role. She knew that Aunty was too shy to tell me. That night, I was one of the singers at the dance. By the way, I was equally guilty because I sang offensive Konbo-like lyrics, too.
I did not intentionally do anything to lure Aunty to me; perhaps being a Jumayee singer might have played a role. During my early teens, singing made me pretty popular in the small town. But I will be speculating if I claim any specific reasons why Aunty liked me. I simply do not know why Aunty found me so attractive. But I know for a fact she told Kanee to relay numerous messages to me, including this initial one: “Aunty-baby wants to talk to you; she is behind the house. ” Believe me, at almost 13, I was nowhere near ready to initiate this kind of talk yet. I was really uncomfortable, so I did not know how to react.
It was the type of moment I dreaded. Yes, I liked females, but at that time I was too shy, like Aunty, to discuss naughty to an equal but opposite sex. But on this night, it was all set to change, thanks to Kanee. There was no excuse to get me out of meeting her. If I ran home, an alternative I briefly weighed and pondered, my friends were surely going to have a great time laughing at not with me. I did not want to be seen as a gutless that dreaded women. The dancers were in the front of the building while veteran womanizers and their beautiful “go-comes” were at the back.
Many Jarkaken boys euphemistically called their beautiful females go-comes. Originally, the term was coined and used as commercial endorsement for a locally produced sweetbread. To add to the advertisement, customers who left after purchasing the bread were guaranteed to return because the flat and rectangular shaped bread really had an amazing and magnificent taste. It was everyone’s favorite bread. The sweetbread analogy was applied to beautiful women because their irresistibility figures lured pimps, hustler and other sexual addicts.
Kanee directed me to the back of the building, where she had previously positioned Aunty to wait for me. When I got to her at the secluded area, she immediately held my hand. Then there was a long pause, as if we had been ordered to participate in a considerate moment of silence for some martyrs, willing victims who suffered for noble and just causes. The silence continued for well over three minutes before Aunty had enough and broke it. “Are you going to tell me something? ” she asked me. “Oh yes,” I said, “Kanee said you wanted to talk to me. ” Without saying a word, she gestured a hug. I did not hesitate.
Then more and more hugging followed. Even though other personnel were sporadically located around us, it was too dark outside to facially recognize any person from the distance of about six or more meters. Even the visibility level was so low that Kanee, the curious matchmaker who now stood just a few meters away from us, presented a shadowy glow beyond recognition. It took many meetings before our conversation became to have meaningful contents and substance. Many of our encounters occurred during the night. This was typical in the town for many teens and young adults because there were farms to go to.
I stayed in Wodayken. I commuted to town with my older brothers on foot to attend school. But we later discontinued the long walk and stayed in the town from Monday through Friday. On some weekends and holidays, we had to go to the village to help out on the farm. These and other contributing factors made it hard to meet during the day. For sometime, only Kanee knew what was going on between Aunty and me. No, I take that back. A few people in our immediate circles were aware. Iforh Sayon Chea, a combined friend and cousin, knew everything about us. Saybeh Swen and Roosevelt Joes RJ knew, too.
Over time, Aunty and I were used to each other. Whenever it was possible, she used to spend an entire day or night with me. I used to miss her a lot every time she departed, even after a long stay. Soon our relationship became public knowledge. Even schoolteachers knew about us. But it took a while before Oldma, Aunty’s mom, found out in a dramatic cat-and-mouse way. When the Oldma found out about us, she naturally was unhappy. According to Aunty, her mother occasionally had some choice words for me. “She doesn’t appreciate our relationship,” she told me one day.
That wasn’t a cause for concern because I expected that parental response. Even my own mother could have reacted in the same, if not worse, manner. I told Aunty, “As long as you like this relationship; that’s all that should matter. ” The Oldma and my father had few things in common. Firstly, they were friends. They were part of the same “generation,” a group of folks who were named based on their age. She and my father’s mother, Ma Nyangbe Teaty, were from the tribal section of Gbeapo. These relationships further enhanced our parents’ friendship. One day, I agreed to Aunty’s decision to spend the night at her house.
She asked me to come over. I gave it a little thought and agreed to stay at her place for a night. Prior to her request, I had never entered her father’s house. But for some reasons, I thought it wasn’t a big deal to spend a night. I could have said no to her request or even fabricated my way out of sleeping in her house. However, the thought of some countless nights she slept over at my father’s house made it hard to turn her request down. “She puts up with a lot from her mother every time she sleeps over at my house; it is my time now to do the same for her, ” I pondered.
Let’s face it, no parent wanted his or her child to “sleep outside,” or sleep over at someone’s house. For Aunty and me, that was not a concern that night. We crept in Mr. Kenta’s house. There was no light in the house, so she held my hand. She knew that I had no clue how the inside was set up. Without her help, I would have ‘let the cat out of the bag’ too soon. I could have bumped into a desk, a table, a chair or even a fixed object, such as the wall. That would have caused her mother to wake up. Who in God’s name knew what she would have done to Aunty or me after such an observation?
She could have attacked us, especially me, with a sharp object Ã¢â‚¬â€œa machete or something of that sort. Thank God she did not wake up, at least not due to our entry. I wore “Made in Liberia” the night of the sleepover. They were locally manufactured sanders. These sanders were the only choice for kids who came from very poor families. Children did not get the sanders casually. In fact getting a pair of them had to be condition driven, such as a promotion to a class where the wearing of shoes was mandatory. They were the shoes of choice that night. I don’t know at what time we went in her room, but I will bet on 11pm.
I took off my shoes and went to sleep. We tried to stay quiet all night. Her mother’s room was directly across from hers, so there was a zero tolerance for noise. We whispered our way through the first hour until Aunty peacefully and effortlessly fell fast asleep. Typically, I do not fall into deep sleep every time I sleepover. That night was no different. All night I was half asleep. About 3pm, we heard a loud and forceful banging on our door. She was convinced it was her mother. Naturally, I was very confused and scared. Aunty was also scared and confused. She asked me to get in her closet or under the bed.
But I was smarter; I was not stupid to stoop that low. Those were the first places anyone with workable intellects would have initially inspected. I got dressed somehow and made a quick decision to get out of the house. Because the banging was at the door, it was not the exit I was considering. I jumped out of her unusually high window. Once outside, I traveled about hundred meters away from Mr. Kenta’s house. Then I noticed I had forgotten two things Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the window and my “Sakpa,” another local name for the sanders. I forgot to close the window when I got out of it. I had no time to do that.
But I should have made time because Aunty let her mother in without first closing the window behind me, a huge clue that someone had exited the room. Her mother asked her, “Where is Wilfred? I know he is in here. ” I heard her mother as I sat under the nearby palm trees. “Do you see anyone in here? ” Aunty responded with an inquiry. Her mother wasn’t convinced especially after seeing male sanders by the bed. I did not go home immediately. I thought Aunty was going to make time and bring the sanders to me. So I sat nearby listening to the mother-daughter exchanges. I sat on one of the benches under Mr.
Jacob Nyenpan’s palm trees. I waited there for about 30 minutes, but I did not see Aunty. So, I left the site without my shoes. On my way to the house, I passed a few people. Because they had no knowledge about what had happened, they bothered not to look down at my feet. No one noticed that I was walking home without any shoes. While sitting under the palms that night, I also overheard her mother saying, “I will take you to Saylee’s house tomorrow so you will marry your husband, Wilfred”. Immediately, and for the first time, I became concerned that my folks were going to know I was sexually active.
I stayed up the rest of the night thinking of what to say to my dad. Obviously, denying that something had happened was totally out of the choices I was weighing. The Oldma had convincing evidence that I was in her house. In her possession were my “Janynidia,” as the sanders were also called locally. Early the next day, say about 8am, my cousin RJ came to the house to visit. I explained everything that happened the night before to him. I even showed him some flip-flops slippers on my feet, and added, “The Oldma has my sanders. ” It was a serious issue for me; RJ knew that, too. But somehow we caught ourselves laughing.
I told another cousin, Saybeh Swen, and we tried to laugh it off, too. Iforh or “I. F. ” found out much later. By noon, Mr. Josiah S. Winn, my father, sat under his almond tree. The tree had been in front of our house for well over a decade. By the time of my trouble, it had grown so big and tall or short, just the way we wanted it. We “artificially” controlled its height and how far it branched out. We used to cut the top-most branches. Regular trimming allowed it to grow new branches near the cut sites. The family regularly continued this grooming process during the life of the tree.
The concept behind this was to have a tree with many branches. It also did not allow the tree to grow too tall. An opposite of this process would have resulted to a tall and weak tree that could not have withstood strong winds. During the sunny season, the manipulated tree provided adequate shade anytime of the day for those who sought refuse from the town’s excessive heat. The front of our house gradually evolved into a recreational setting. Children, youth and adults alike frequented under the tree to play several of the town’s popular games: marbles, ludu and the game of checkers.
Some came to the tree not necessarily to visit us but to simply sit down and relax. The Oldma kept her words; she came to my father’s house. However, she did not arrive until much later in the afternoon. I wondered why so late considering the fact that she had been infuriated the night before. At about 2pm, she showed up to our house with my sanders in her hands. She walked behind Aunty who was setting the pace at which they traveled. They did not enter our house, but unlike the few folks that were utilizing the tree for recreational purposes, Aunty and her mother cared very little about tree-ameliorated comfort.
They meant business that afternoon. The Oldma was not coming to sit under a shaded almond tree. Had that been the case, she would have sat under Mr. Jacob Nyenpan’s palms, which stood just a stone throw from her family’s house. The Oldma was coming to talk about a troubled kid who had entered her house unannounced and slept in her daughter’s room. She was coming to confront an inexperienced trespasser. She knew the felon by name. She knew the person that left the shoes, which served as the elements of identification that facilitated investigators to point a finger at the perpetrator.
With mountainous proof on hand, how could this intruder have denied any of the charges anyway? He was basically a sitting duck waiting to be picked up. My father was still under the tree when the Oldma and her daughter arrived with my sanders. She wasted no time: “Last night, your son was illegally in my house. He was caught sleeping in my daughter’s room. In fact he jumped out the window and left these shoes. ” Before my dad could say something, she tossed the shoes in my general direction. A few bystanders giggled. Then she added, “This is why I am here with my daughter. I have brought her to marry your son, Wilfred. . My father politely handled his friend’s concerns. Without further saying a word, she gestured the acceptance of dad’s apology and departed. As for Aunty, she only stayed for an hour or two, and then she followed her mother. Case closed! My father did not say anything to me in front of the Oldma. He did not say something to me immediately after her departure. His silence, I am assuming, may have been to spare me from additional emotional or physiological embarrassment since those who had giggled during the shoe tossing were still hanging around.
Dad waited until the following day before telling me this, “The next time you go to her house, use the door. ” Even though my father did not further offer elaborative or supportive comments, I knew precisely what he meant. It is a no-brainer that anyone who accesses another person’s home unannounced and leaves through a window cannot be up to any good. So, his inferred point was as clear as crystal. I thought I saw a somewhat positive side, though. I believed my dad had essentially given me his seal of approval to continue dating Aunty. You may ask why I thought that way.
Well, firstly, I heard what he said; however, what he did not say mattered a whole lot to me. He could have used one of his signature threats, “The next time I see you or hear that you are over at Mr. Kenta’s house, I will order Kpadeh or Mantee to beat you, anything it costs me I will pay”, laugh. He did not say that. He did not say ‘don’t go there; instead, he said “Ã¢â‚¬Â¦next timeÃ¢â‚¬Â¦use the door. ” My father did not even use any harsh words towards me for my offense, which could have carried many felony charges by any national standard. I had anticipated some type of parental reprimand, but I didn’t get any.
I don’t know why I did not get any corrective actions. My father, a renowned disciplinarian, chose not render any punitive actions for my crime. I did not stop going to Aunty’s house, though. In fact I frequented there after the incident. Aunty’s mother called me a few days after she returned my shoes and told me to “Ã¢â‚¬Â¦take care of my daughter. ” Did she and my father enter into some kind of compromise? Maybe they reached a mutual agreement to let us go on. In my judgment, however, the steps the two parents took or didn’t take after the not so great escape could not have been mere coincidence.
Anyway, I am not entirely sure any steps to bar me would have been effective, so the decision to avoid forcefully parting Aunty and me, weather intentional or not, was an excellent one. And no, I did not get the chance to take care of her. While nearing the threshold to maturity, a stage in life at which I could have handled individual responsibilities, I was relocated to Zwedru to continue education. Aunty went to Pleebo Maryland County soon after my departure, where she worked very hard and dealt with whatever life tossed her way. She did it well.
I heard from friends and other sources that she used to buy palm oil in bulk and retailed it in the Pleebo area. She also did some trading across the Cavalla River in neighboring Ivory Coast. In July1994, just few months before my departure for the USA, I was very fortunate to meet her in Tabou during one of her errands. That was exactly a decade from the hour Kanee negotiated our love affair. Ten years had passed since we were behind the tiny hut, stirring away from each other and wondering who would be the first to say something. Now in Tabou, we were grown, but we were a world away from Jarkaken, where it all started and played out.
We both agreed that our relationship had been very turbulent. We spent over four hours together in Kablake, Tabou, at Jerkins Noring’s residence. We did nothing but reminisced on whatever we identified as “good” and humorous in our past. Then I walked her home to Tabou Trois, another borough in Tabou, where James Jarbo had his house. Actually, she had stopped at the home of Dokuludo, her older sister who had married to Mr. Jarbo. So, that was the last time I saw her. She died in 1997 from an ill-defined condition. She’s always in my prayers; she is missed greatly. I know the Almighty God is blessing her Soul.