Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/1686667-The-Shell-Necklace
Rated: 18+ · Short Story · Relationship · #1686667
A management trainee's act of kindness is reciprocated in a touching way.
"You advanced money to a farmer! Are you out of your mind? Do you realize that this is a serious breach of company policy?"

My ears still reverberated with my bosses' harangue the previous day. It had been my worst monthly review. The uncomfortable return from our headquarters in Accra only added to my misery. It had only been a couple of hours since I reached base. The heavy work load at the office precluded me from taking any rest. I went straight to my house, took a quick shower, dressed and slumped onto a dining room chair. My head had begun to droop with weariness when the smell of fried eggs and the clicking of heels on polished wooden floor nudged me from my sleep. Looking up at the glass panel of the mahogany bookcase in front, I caught the image of a plump woman, in her smart white apron, carrying a plate.

"Good morning, Rosa," I greeted my housekeeper.

She placed my breakfast before me. "Good morning, sir. You look tired."

I gave her an exasperated look. "Rosa!"

"Sorry, sir. I mean, Neil. I am just not used to calling my bosses by their name," she said with a rueful smile.

"Get used to it, Rosa. I don't like this sir stuff. I feel so old."

The toast and omelet tasted horrible, but I knew it had nothing to do with Rosa's cooking. Never again shall I commit such a foolish mistake, I promised as I made plans to recover the advance. I had to redeem myself before my bosses. Preoccupied with my thoughts, I didn't read anything into the sweet smell of bananas that hung heavily in the air, and I paid scant attention to the fruit basket. Rosa knew that I wasn't too fond of bananas. I was surprised that she still bought them.

Ignoring the slight transgression, I peeled one and took a bite. Mm. Tasty. It disappeared within seconds."These are delicious, Rosa. I'm happy you bought them." I praised, reaching for a second one.

She beamed at the praise. "Ghana bananas are famous, but I didn't buy these. They are a gift from Abena. She said you would like them."

I threw her a puzzled look. "Abena?"

She creased her brows. "You don't know her?"

I shook my head. The abrupt sound of a car horn prevented any further conversation and I rose from my chair. "Got to rush now, Rosa. Talk with you later. Goodbye."

"Goodbye, sir...sorry! I mean Neil." We shared a kind-hearted laugh before I stepped out of the house. The gardener doffed his hat at me from a distance, and I waved back. My parents would have loved to have their morning tea here, I thought looking at the lush green lawn. I walked through the garden enjoying the floral aromas of the jasmines and the sight of the blazing marigolds as I made my way to the car in the drive.

"Good morning, Joseph," I said, sliding into the seat beside my driver.

"Good morning, sir."

Oh,no! Not again, I thought but decided against another round of lecturing. Not today, at least.

I thanked the security guard when he opened the gate for the car to drive out. "It's quite warm, Joseph. Please put on the AC."

"I am sorry, sir. It still isn't working."

I pulled in a deep breath and controlled myself. Though only ten in the morning, the African sun's furious glare from the cloudless, late-September sky served a grim warning of the scorching afternoon that lay ahead. Thankfully, my humble upbringing placed me in good stead against the vagaries of nature and the defaults of technology. My parents had toiled hard and had eked out a parsimonious existence so they could buy me the best education. I had never grudged them their choice. They'd been absolutely right just as only parents can be; my only regret was how they'd deprived themselves of any type of physical comfort. I was determined to make their struggle count.

I wished my parents could see me now. At the young age of twenty three and still a management trainee, I could boast of a large house with a manicured garden, a caretaker, a gardner, guards, a four-wheeled drive car and a driver. My chest swelled with pride. It didn't matter that these perquisites were a compensation for living in the heartland of Africa, a place where few men of my station would agree to pursue their careers. Recognizing the potential of this job to reward me with both wealth and success, I had plunged headlong into my work.

Fortunately, the job excited me. I headed the primary cocoa procurement activity in Kwakokrum village of Ghana’s Asante region. I had always craved freedom and power, and my new job allowed me plenty of both - of course, only within the defined norms of the company. Everything seemed to be panning out well, and my bosses seemed reasonably satisfied with my performance. That is, until I made the stupid mistake of yielding to a farmer's earnest pleas and allowed him an advance of five thousand Cedis, equivalent of three thousand five hundred dollars; almost equal to my monthly cash savings and a significant sum in the year 2004.

Never again shall I heed to my heart, I vowed. As Joseph inched past the main gate, I noticed a striking woman standing outside the house, a basket of bananas on her head and a child clinging to her back. Though intrigued, the mountain of paperwork awaiting me was quick to dismiss any thought of her. Forgotten, too, were the bananas at breakfast. Hoping against hope, I checked the Over-Dues Outstanding report, the moment I reached office.

The name George and the figure of five thousand Cedis against his name stared at me. We were in the middle of the peak cocoa season, and George had not made a single delivery. In all probability, he has sold his crop somewhere else, I cursed, scheduling a visit to his village the coming week. When the day ended, I was only too eager to return home and retire for the night. My dinner remained uneaten.

The next morning, Rosa placed a jar of honey before me during breakfast. "Abena left this for you. She said you would enjoy it with your toast."

"It's from the forest," she encouraged when I hesitated.

I gave her a quizzical stare. "Rosa, did you ask how she knows me?" Indeed, the honey tasted divine on the lightly toasted bread.

"She says you helped her family."

"Next time, ask her to meet me. Otherwise, don't accept any more of these," I replied indignantly, gesturing at the honey.

"She is waiting outside the house."

Keen to resolve the mystery of my unknown benefactor, I responded in a flash. "Please bring her in."

"There is something I should tell you," Rosa said softly.

I scrunched my eyebrows.

"Please do not refuse the gifts, and do not offer money. We villagers consider that an insult."

If she hadn't cautioned me, I would have done exactly that. Respecting Rosa's advise, I gave in. "Okay, I won't. Now call her."

Rosa went out and returned with a statuesque African woman in tow, wearing a colorful, half-sleeved, ankle-length dress. A scarf adorned her head, and she walked slightly stooped as a baby weighed upon her back. She stood facing me, and I could only see the child's tiny feet and hands as it clutched to her sides. A shell necklace pendulating around her neck fascinated me. I recollected the woman's familiar face. I passed her almost everyday, selling fish, fruits and vegetables outside my house and office. Seeing, from such close proximity, the dignity and gravity of her demeanor, struck me as extraordinary.

"This is Abena," said Rosa.

A marvelous name for a stunning woman, I thought. Her serene presence inspired my gentlest tone. "Hello, Abena."

She responded with a slight smile, which barely reached the corner of her lips.

"Forgive me, but I'm not sure how I know you, and why I deserve such fine gifts."

Her soft voice had a plaintive, melodious quality, quite unexpected from a woman who in all probability would have had little literary grounding. "You gave my husband an advance for his cocoa crop. Our baby was ill. We could treat him only because of your money. Otherwise, he would have died," she explained.

She turned sideways so I could see her son. Hanging from his mother's back, the infant turned its head as if on cue and stared at me with wide-eyed wonder. Much later, when I would have the good fortune of visiting the art gallery of the Louvre museum, I would be reminded of that scene. Alas, if only I were an artist! A painting of that mother and her child would certainly have been my most cherished work.

The hard-nosed businessman in me beat a hasty retreat. I regretted the curses I had heaped upon Abena's husband. True, I had deviated company policy, but it didn't seem to matter any more. The value of three and a half thousand dollars paled into insignificance when compared with the life of that dear child. Abena's story and that infant's face turned all commercial logic on its head. I turned my face away not sure what the two women would think about my wet eyes.

It took me some effort to recover my composure. "It is very kind of you, Abena."

"It is you who are kind, sir."

"It was nothing, Abena. I am happy that I could be of assistance to your child. I hope he is fine now."

"Yes, sir. Thank you."

The car horn reached our ears. I thanked Abena for her gifts and left for office.

When I saw Abena outside my house the next day, I asked Joseph to halt the car. I couldn't help notice her colorful full-length dress and her tasteful makeup. She smelled of some nice cream and her lips had the hint of light maroon-colored lipstick. Her elaborate hairdo captivated me. Unlike the previous day, she wore no headscarf, and I wondered when she got the time to braid her hair with such intricate artistry. On the ground in front of her sat a basket full of vegetables.

"Thanks, Abena. The pineapple was so sweet. Where did you get it?"

She gave me her trademark smile, her full lips curving slightly at the corners. The sparkle in her doe-eyes illuminated her face and made her look quite pretty.

"They are from my garden."

"Oh, you also grow pineapples?"

She nodded.

I sensed an opportunity to inquire about her husband George. "How is your husband's cocoa crop?"

"Good. With your money we could buy medicines to spray on the trees."

When'll George deliver his crop? I wanted to inquire. "Where is your son today? Sorry, I didn't ask his name."

Her hands toyed with her shell necklace. "His name is Kibu. I left him with my mother."

I simply couldn’t bring myself to question her about the advance. I also put off the visit to her husband.

This exchange of pleasantries became an unfailing routine of my morning because Abena’s gifts became a regular feature. The bananas, honey and pineapples were followed by milk from her cows, flowers from the forest, meat of wild fowls and eggs from her poultry, and I had to thank her almost every day. I began to marvel at her elegance and admire her simple yet impeccable clothes. In spite of the oppressive African sun, she always looked fresh and smelled nice which meant that she spent considerable time and effort on makeup.

Normal human tendency is to suspect. A couple of times uneasy thoughts crossed my mind. She shouldn't splurge so much on cosmetics. Her husband borrows money while she brings me gifts. If she would have sold all the things she gave me, she would have earned a tidy sum. Why does she do all this? I often wondered.

"Rosa, I think you should ask her to stop bringing these gifts," I suggested one day to my caretaker. Happily for me, Rosa did no such thing. Privately, I wanted Abena to continue her ways. It gave me an excuse to converse with her. Since I loved the way she looked and enjoyed the way she smelled, I wished her beauty regime to continue.


October turned out to be good month for me, and bolstered by a record harvest, I beat all previous records for procurement. I also enhanced my knowledge of the corporate world. To my amazement, I learned that bosses have surprisingly fickle memories. My little episode of the advance was quickly forgotten because my current performance surpassed all expectations. In the ruthless corporate world you are only as good as your last hit, or as bad as your last miss.

One day in late October, I called the admin head to my cabin.

“Robert, I want to shift my desk. You have to call an electrician. I plan to sit by the window and want a power plug there.”

A nonplussed Robert didn't argue, but I thought it best to clarify. “I want to watch the cocoa trucks when they enter our premises.”

"You mean, sir, that you'll keep the window open?" Robert asked incredulously.

"Can't I?"

"It's hot and dusty."

"Never mind, Robert. I am used to tough conditions. I may not keep the window open at all times, but I want to have the option."

"Very well, sir!"

The electrician came the next day, made the necessary changes and my desk was shifted by the window. I now had an unhindered view of the cocoa trucks as they came in and went out. Every truck meant one more notch on my achievement scale. It became a practice with me to work at my desk, one eye on the open window. Robert had been right about the heat and the dust, but somehow it all seemed to be worth it.

I never thought it necessary to discern what it was about those scenes that delighted me more; the cocoa-laden trucks kicking up dust or the slender black woman selling her wares outside the main gate. Sitting at my desk, I had an unhindered view of Abena. After our daily morning exchange of pleasantries outside my home, Abena would trudge the five kilometers to my Procurement Center, balancing a heavy basket-full of goods on her head. Frequently, she also carried her child.

Loaded with her burdens, she would trek along the dusty trails under the hot sun to reach my office and settle down on the pavement outside to hawk her products. Watching her from my window always lifted my spirits. It became customary for me to wave at her whenever I saw her looking in my direction. She never waved back, but I knew that her lips would have curled into a slight smile.

Half of November passed by, but I still didn’t hear from Abena’s husband though I met her almost daily. Besides that, there was no other glitch on the professional front. On the personal front, I faced some issues in mid-November when Rosa stopped coming without any intimation. I sent Robert, the admin head, to her house. It was late afternoon when he returned.

“Did you meet her, Robert?”

“Yes. She is down with malaria.”

"Poor Rosa! I hope she is getting proper medical attention.”

“Yes. I spoke with her husband.”

“I need somebody to take care of the house, Robert. It’s just been two days, but it’s in bad shape. And I can’t be eating out everyday!”

“Don’t worry, sir. Rosa suggested someone.”

“Oh, really! Who is she?”

“She is waiting outside. Can I call her?”

What relief! “Sure.”

“Come in!” Robert shouted. When the door opened, I gave a start. My eyes swept across the tall, majestic woman with a perfect, oval-shaped face.

“Meet Abena, sir.”

My juvenile mind couldn’t fathom the sudden gush of happiness nor was I skilled in the art of concealing my feelings. Surely, she read my face because her lips curled to give me that slight smile, and her doe-eyes sparkled. I was delighted at the prospect of having her close to me for a few days. Aided by my bosses’ fickle memories, I conveniently ignored the fact that her husband owed us money.

I returned home late that night, groaning at the prospect of washing the previous day's pans and plates before I could cook some basic stuff. Thank God, Abena will be here tomorrow. When I reached home and stepped out of the car, I saw the lights in my house on.

Tentatively, I unlocked the door and entered the hall. The smell of hot food and the tidiness of the room astonished me. I heard sounds from the kitchen, and going there found Abena stirring a pan.

She turned to face me. “Food is ready. I'll serve dinner when you’re ready.”

Someone could have knocked me over with a feather. She no longer wore the formal full-length dress which I had always seen her in. Instead, she had simply draped a white-colored cloth around her body and a scarf around her head. Knotted at her chest, the edge of the fabric reached her knees, leaving her shoulders and arms bare. I had noticed village women attired like that when they did their household chores or carried firewood from the forests, but had never seen Abena dress so informally. I loved the way she had coiled the shell necklace around her long neck. Normally, it reached until her chest. Perhaps it hinders with her cooking, I supposed. The white serrated shell surfaces looked alluring against her black skin. A garland of diamonds on a queen would not look half as pleasing as the shells look on her elegant neck, I reflected.

Surrounded by the trappings of domesticity, Abena had transformed into an adorable bride, eager to please. Accustomed only to her reserved nature, her overwhelming femininity and expressive eyes numbed my mind with bashfulness. Shyly, I gazed at her smooth bare shoulders, enchanted by the seductive appeal of her exposed dark-brown skin.

“Don’t you want to wash before dinner?” she asked softly, breaking my trance.

Embarrassed, I glanced at her eyes, and derived comfort from her tender gaze.

“It’s so late, Abena. How'll you go home?”

“Don’t worry. I live nearby. I'll leave after you've eaten.”

“I was expecting you to start tomorrow.”

“Robert told me that you aren't eating well.”

Why should that concern you so much? I wondered. Genuinely concerned about her safety, I could not disguise my irritation. “One more day wouldn't have made any difference, Abena.”

She lowered her head like an errant child, and I regretted my harshness.

“Come, let me drive you home,” I suggested in my most affectionate voice.

“No. I can go alone.”

Her voice had a certain finality which hinted at the futility of insisting further.

“Fine. I think you should leave now, Abena.”

She remained rooted to her spot. You won't leave until you have fed me, won't you? I guessed.

I thought it best to hurry my dinner. “I am extremely hungry. I can’t wait to wash. What have you cooked?”

The excitement on her face returned. “Your favorite chicken with capsicum.”

I wrinkled my eyebrows. “My favorite?”

“Yes. I went to Rosa’s house to take the keys and understand the work.”

“Oh! Come, let me help you lay the table.”

She looked aghast. “I know how to do it.”

I forced a wry smile, realizing that in her assumed fiefdom she would brook no interference. Arguing no further, I seated myself at the dinner table and watched her serve the food. She brought a certain finesse and artistry to every activity which made it a pleasure to behold her while she worked. The food was the tastiest ever since I had left my parents’ house, and I ate a hearty meal.


I greeted the news of Rosa’s continuing illness with uncharitable glee. I had fallen in love with Abena’s cooking and grown fond of her company. She became a great source of information for me about local customs and practices. A few days after Abena had started working for me, Robert caused me some embarrassment.

You don't keep your window open nowadays," he remarked.

I flustered. "No, I do."

Robert didn't argue, but I read the disagreement in his eyes. His simple observation underlined something which I had always doubted. The true motivation behind my open window was to watch Abena; the cocoa trucks were incidental. Realizing the need for prudence, I started to keep my window open though I knew Abena wouldn't be there. Secretly, I exulted that right at that very moment she was in my house, cooking for and taking care of me.

I looked forward to returning to her every evening. What would she be wearing? What would she have cooked? I would wonder, drumming my fingers on the car window as I drove back. At home, Abena would hover around me most of the time. I loved that and felt restless when she didn't. Even when I would be on the telephone, she would remain by my side. The thought never crossed my mind that she could perhaps be eavesdropping on my conversations.

“What is it, Abena?” I asked her one day while having breakfast. I had begun to read her body language and knew when she wanted to say something.

“You should come home for lunch."

“I save time by having it at the office.”

“The food gets cold.”

“It doesn’t, Abena. The hot case you pack it in is good.”

“Joseph tells me you don't eat on time.”

Till then I had no clue that she kept tabs on me through my driver. I felt no irritation at this breach of my privacy. “So what do you want?”

“You should come home for lunch. Like everybody else.”

I stole glances at her bare shoulders. “And how'll that help?” After the way I had gawked at her the first evening, I had feared that she would switch to something more formal. To my relief, she didn’t. She would arrive and leave in a formal dress, but her working clothes were hand-dyed textiles rolled around her body and tucked in at her chest. It displayed her bare arms and shoulders and reached until her knees. It was the same costume that had mesmerized me when I had first seen her in my kitchen.

She looked at the landline phone. “I can remind you.”

My heart leaped at this chance to spend more time in her company. "I can come home for lunch. But on one condition."

Her almond-shaped eyes widened with surprise.

I had always been worried that she neglected her health. This was my time to rectify that. "If you promise to have lunch with me."

Abena lowered her eyes, but not before I glimpsed the shyness of a newlywed bride.

"I can't," she said softly.

Thinking it best to not respond, I left for my work. When my phone rang at lunch time, I picked up the receiver knowing exactly who it would be. "Hello."

"Please come home," Abena said.

Tenderness and affection seeped through my body at the sound of that voice. "I'm busy."

"You have to eat," she insisted.

I could hear the sound of her breathing. "You can pack it like on other days. Joseph must be there."

"I'll send him back to bring you."

"Only if you agree to eat with me."

Her response after a pregnant pause elated me. "Yes."

Thus begun my practice of going home for lunch. It became my happiest time of the day. We made a silent pact. She would serve me and I would serve her. It worked brilliantly.

In the evenings, Abena would leave only after I had eaten my dinner. Some days, I would get delayed. She would patiently wait for me and always greet me with a warm smile.

“I feel bad, Abena. You shouldn't wait for me,” I would say insincerely - because secretly I would always wish for her to be there.

“There is no problem. I live nearby.”

“I feel bad for your family.”

She would only smile.

Abena’s pampering and a rich cocoa harvest made November a happy month for me. Rosa, my previous caretaker used to work half a day on Saturdays and took Sundays off. However, in spite of my insistence, Abena steadfastly refused to take any break. Though it pleased me immensely, I worried about her health and felt guilty about keeping her from her husband and child.


Abena’s husband continued to elude, but I just couldn't muster the courage to ask her about him. I couldn’t fathom the cause of my temerity. While I should have been concerned about recovering the dues, I worried myself more with Abena’s well-being. Early December on a Saturday, I set out on a tour of nearby villages. I told my dear caretaker that I would not return home before late on Sunday which meant she would have the weekend off.

Accompanied with my Procurement Officer, Dino and my driver, Joseph, I started early in the morning. The first village we hit on our trail was Mekura, located 20 kms away.

We met several farmers, and it was then I saw George. He seemed to be not in the bit perturbed about seeing me, and greeted us cordially. He looked smart in his well-ironed shirt and trousers.

“Hello, sir. Hi, Dino. Hi, Joseph.” He shook our hands.

“Hello, George. What are you doing here?”

He smiled. “I live here, sir. This is my village.”

“Your village! I thought you lived…” I couldn’t complete my sentence. In the courtyard behind him, I saw a familiar figure hunched on the ground over some bamboo mats. Hearing our voices, she turned to face us and a bright smile lit up her face. She got up and hurried toward me.

“When did you come?” asked Abena.

“Just now,” I replied. Not good at concealing feelings, I am sure she would have seen the petulance on my face.

“You know, George, my husband, right?”

I nodded. How can I forget someone so ungrateful?

“Mr. Neil, Joseph, Dino, why don’t all of you come inside our house. Abena makes good coffee. You’ve to excuse me. I have some deliveries to make,” George said, pointing to a small truck by his side laden with bags of cocoa beans.

Hearing the sound of scampering footsteps, I turned in the direction of the house behind the courtyard and saw three boys come running.

“Meet my children, Neil,” said Abena.

George looked horrified. “Abena!”


“Say sir!”

I interrupted. “It’s okay, George. I have asked everyone to do that. Sir or Mister, makes me feel so old.”

Everybody laughed, and even I was feeling less peeved, though I had strong reasons to be upset. Abena had lied to me about where she lived, but seeing her sensuous face and hearing her melodious voice, all my annoyance disappeared like clouds on a windy day.

“How old are they Abena?” I asked. You don’t look like the mother of such big children! I pondered.

“Thirteen, eleven, seven. The little one you have already met. He is sleeping,” she responded.

"Who takes care of them? You are gone most of the time."

Abena's face beamed with motherliness that made her look even prettier. "They are well-behaved kids."

George gazed at Abena with affection. "My Abena is really hard-working. She wakes up early, cooks for all of us and then leaves. It is not usual for women of our family to work in a foreigner's house. But you helped us so much."

I felt embarrassed and also embittered. I wish you would have repaid your debt. With Abena watching, I just couldn't confront him.

The words 'My Abena' plunged a dagger into my core. I couldn't help but envy George's good fortune.

A baby’s cries were heard from the house, and Abena hurried inside.

“Now, if you'll excuse me Mr. Neil, I'll have to leave. Come boys.”

George got up next to the driver while the three boys climbed onto the back of the truck.

“Why are the children going with him?” I asked Dino.

“Every farmer starts training his sons when they are young. The boys need to understand how to negotiate. The mother trains the daughters in preparing the cocoa beans. The whole family is involved in the business,” Dino explained.

Abena came out of the house holding her baby. The little one stared at all of us with annoyance as if we were competing with him for his mother’s attentions.

“Come in. I'll make coffee,” invited Abena.

The moment I entered the simple mud and brick house, warm feelings of domestic bliss emanated from every nook and corner. Accustomed to Abena’s extraordinary homemaking skills, the tidiness didn’t surprise me. I couldn’t spot a single speck of dust nor any cobwebs. The utilitarian furniture, though sparse, beckoned with its homely appearance. Clean curtains embellished the windows, and a gentle breeze circulated in the room.

Watching from the living-room sofa, I observed Abena bustle about in the kitchen, preparing coffee. I couldn’t help comparing her husband George with me. A frail man, George seemed much older than his wife. He had a kind face, but my serious, bespectacled features wouldn’t compare unfavorably either. A couple of my girlfriends in the past had complimented my sensitive look. In the physique department, I would probably rate higher, being taller and stronger.

Abena entered the living room carrying a tray with three cups of coffee, a bowl of freshly cut fruits and a plate of Kelewele, a fried and spiced plantain snack. Her mere presence graced the austere surroundings with the aesthetic appeal of a palace. Without the embellishments of creams or perfumes, she smelled pristine. Devoid of any makeup, her sensuous features bloomed like a dainty flower. A traditional gown covered her whole body. I should have been intrigued about her appearance. In my house, she would be adorned with cosmetics and trinkets, whereas in her husband’s presence she shunned them. Even her attire should have triggered my suspicions. She displayed much more skin in my house.

I motioned toward a photo on the shelf which showed a young Abena, with books in her hand, pose with an old white man. “Who is that gentleman?”

She smiled. “He was a Protestant priest in my village who also taught us English. I was his favorite student.”

“You indeed speak good English, Abena,” I praised.

“That is true. Better than most of us,” seconded Dino.

"Even in that photo you are wearing the same shell necklace," I observed.

She giggled like a young girl, and my heart lurched at the sweet sound.

“Would you like to see our cocoa trees?” Abena asked after we had drunk the coffee and gobbled up the snacks.

“I would love to.”

“Neil, why don’t you go ahead. Abena has good knowledge about cocoa. You can learn many things. Meanwhile, I'll go around and meet the other farmers,” Dino said.

Abena's eyes glittered when I agreed with Dino's suggestion. After Dino and Joseph left, Abena walked me towards their plantation, her baby safely fastened to her back. I stole sideward glances at her. Almost every time, she caught my gaze and rewarded me with a gentle smile, her fingers toying with the shell necklace.

“Look, that is our plantation,” she gushed with girlish delight. I looked in the direction of her fingers and saw the funny spectacle of the cocoa trees with their colorful, rugby ball-shaped pods sprouting from the trunk. From a distance the pods gave the appearance of defying gravity, jutting straight out of the trunk. I knew that those pods housed the secrets to the wondrous world of chocolates.

Pointing to a patch of land where small plants had sprouted, she continued, “These have been planted this year. They'll flower after four years.”

“How do you cut these pods?” I asked.

“With hand. Big knives are attached to poles to slice the ripe pods.”

“How do you know a pod is ripe?”

“These are raw pods,” Abena pointed to a bunch of trees with green pods. She waved at another side, adding, “Those are ripe pods and need to be cut.” I saw a bunch of trees with golden-orange colored pods.

“You can also tell by the sound. Come, I'll show how,” Abena continued. She went near the raw pods, and shook one against her ear. “Heard?” she asked me, when I did the same. I nodded hearing a muffled sound. “Now let us go to the ripe ones.” I repeated the action, this time hearing a deep, hollow sound. “In a ripe pod, the beans are no longer packed, but loose.”

“And those are your banana trees. Really delicious bananas!"

“Yes. Cocoa trees have to be planted next to big trees whose leaves will protect the cocoa pods from sun and wind,” she explained.

Picking up a knife concealed between the banana trees, she cut a ripe cocoa pod. “You have to be careful not to hurt these eyes,” she said, pointing to the slight protuberance on the trunk from where the pod had sprouted. “If you hurt an eye, it will never produce any future pod.”

She squatted on the ground, and I also settled down beside her, shaded by the leaves of the banana trees. With expert hands, she split the pod open. “If you are not careful the beans can be damaged when you open the pod,” she explained.

Abena pointed to the pulpy substance surrounding the cocoa beans inside the pod. She smeared her finger with the pulp and licked it with her pink tongue. “This white thing is good to taste.” She rolled her eyes in ecstatic delight, reminding me of schoolgirls sucking candy.

She repeated the action a couple of times, cocked her head and looked at me. Batting her eyelashes, and without saying a word she dipped the same finger in the pulp and held it before my mouth. When I dipped my head without hesitation, she moved her hand away. She did this several times, her eyes rolling in mirth at my dismay.

"Don't!" I protested.

She continued to tease me, her laughter spreading sweet sunshine in the shade.

I caught her wrist. She gasped and lowered her eyes, but didn't protest and made no effort to release her hand. A current of excitement seared through my body at our first physical contact. I could hear her labored breaths as I brought my mouth to her finger and savored the tartly, lemonade flavor. We indulged several divine moments in this sport where alternatively one of us would taste the sweet substance from her same finger. I was convinced that the pulp tasted so good because her saliva was in it. The crying of her baby interrupted our little game. We walked back to her house in silence. I wished to hold her hand, but refrained from doing so.

Instead of being wild and angry with George for not repaying the advance, I began to harbor tender feelings for his wife and the mother of his children. My mind threatened me with dire consequences if I did not stop the dangerous game I had begun to so much enjoy, but my heart ceased to listen. Abena had taken complete control of my life.


The next day, when I met Abena in my home, I confronted her. She was cooking, her back to me. “Why did you lie to me about where you live.”

She didn’t reply.

“Abena, you walk twenty kilometers every day just to work for me. And you go home late in the night. Are you mad?”

Still no reply.

“Okay, Abena. At least look at me.”

She turned toward me, and I gazed at her unabashedly. Her lipstick looked darker and her perfume smelled stronger. I guessed she had used extra makeup, and it pleased me immensely.

“Abena, I appreciate all that you do. But I would not be able to forgive myself if something happened to you. I really love,” I checked myself, watching keenly the happiness in her eyes, before completing, “Your cooking.” Her dejected look made me sad, but I couldn’t bring myself to reveal my true feelings.

“I love to cook for you,” she responded softly.

My eyes flickered over her bare shoulders, which looked more lustrous today. I knew she had applied extra cream. Oh, God! What would I not do to be able to graze her smooth skin with my lips.

“Doesn’t your husband worry about you?”

“He knows I can protect myself.”


“Come, I'll show you.”

I followed her to the maid’s bathroom which she used.

“Come inside,” she called me from inside the bathroom.

I entered with tentative steps. Her formal dress hung behind the door. She thrust her hand inside the pocket and pulled out a dagger.

I shook my head at her naivety. “Oh, my God! You think you can hold away some miscreant with that!”


“Doesn’t your husband feel jealous?”

“Should he?”

“Certainly. I would if you were…” I couldn’t complete, but I desperately wanted to say ‘my wife.’

“He trusts me,” she responded.


Rosa disappointed me by joining work a couple of days later. However, I felt relieved. Though I would certainly miss Abena, I didn’t want her to take undue risks for my sake.

We returned to our old routine. Abena would wait outside my house every morning where I always found some excuse to ask the driver to halt the car. Later, I would watch her from my office window. My only regret was that I no longer saw her in that lovely dress which she wore in my house.

In the beginning of January, I was transferred to Accra. Though George’s advance never came back, I had excelled in procurement and was being rewarded with a more comfortable location. For some reason, the news failed to cheer me because I knew that I would move away from Abena.

One day, in the middle of January, I saw a boy standing next to a truck in our warehouse. I had a fairly good memory for faces and easily recognized Abena’s son. When I approached him, he smiled and came running to me.

“Hi! Aren’t you Abena’s son?”

He nodded.

“I’m sorry, but I never asked your name.”

“David,” the boy replied.

“What are you doing here?”

“I brought cocoa. My brothers are in the truck.”

I was pleasantly surprised. At last, George is paying back his advance.

“Where is your father?”

“He went to town to sell pineapples and bananas.”

David carried a pink-colored receipt in his hand which I knew was the Goods Receipt Note.

I wanted to see how much he had delivered. It would help me understand if the advance would get cleared. “Can I see that paper, David?”

Surprisingly, the receipt mentioned David’s name and the Supplier Code 1756. I didn’t find any reference to George anywhere. It struck me as unusual. “Give me a moment, David.”

I hurried to the Accounts section and asked to see the ledger of Supplier Code 1756. Tears welled up in my eyes when I saw the credit of 5000 Cedis in David’s name since early October. George had taken the advance in his name, but had paid back in David’s. I had always checked the report of supplier’s with outstanding dues, but had never seen the exhaustive report, or I would have seen the credit entry a long time ago. I learnt an important lesson in ‘Attention to Detail.’

I felt wretched. All along, I had cursed Abena’s husband for betraying my faith. Thankfully, I trusted his wife completely and never suspected her of any hidden agenda. It was just a quirk of fate that I spotted Abena’s son today, otherwise I would have, forever, believed that George had mala fide intentions. Worst of all, I would have also suspected Abena.

I rushed to the main gate where I knew Abena would be standing. My hopes were crushed when I didn’t find her. In fact, I had not set eyes upon her for the past two days, and my life felt empty and meaningless. David. Let me ask him, I suddenly remembered. The boy stood next to the weighing scale, taking notes of the quantity. How can I ask him about his mother? What right do I have? I reasoned. Crestfallen, I walked up to him. "David,will you drink something?"

The boy's eyes lit up. "Coke."

Two different voices sounded in unison from the truck. "Fanta," said one and "Sprite," said the other.

I took Abena's sons to my office and served them from my bar.

"What is it?" I asked, when David hesitated.

"You won't tell our, Mom! She doesn't like that we drink soft drinks."

I laughed. "No, I won't"

The boy extended his small coiled fist and I banged mine against it. We had a pact.

Watching Abena's boys drink gave me immense happiness. They are my Abena's children. Only, if they were mine! I wished.

My last days in Kwakorum passed away in a blur. I had to close the season which meant mountains of paperwork. Worst of all, Abena had deserted me, and I missed her bitterly. I worried about her well-being, but couldn’t make inquiries lest it trigger some salacious gossip about our relationship. I wished I could visit her village, but couldn’t think of any plausible reason. The season being over, nothing would justify my trip. For the first time, I regretted George clearing his advance. Following up on an outstanding due would have been a perfect alibi.

I lost both my hunger and my thirst. Restlessness plagued me at night. Terrifying thoughts that some grave illness had afflicted Abena troubled me all day. The closer my departure day dawned, the more depressed I became. My mind obsessed with Abena, and what looked like a promising career almost came to a grinding halt, so negligent had I become . Only the able support of my team helped me avert any potential crisis, and prevented me from committing any colossal blunders.

Abena finally came to see me on my last evening in Kwakorum. When I saw her on my doorstep, my heart pounded heavily against my chest. Her presence excited me so much at first that I initially failed to see her swollen eyes. A simple half-sleeved dress covered her till her ankles, and her braided hair hung till her shoulders. The trademark shell necklace adorned her neck.

I could barely contain my emotions. "What happened, Abena?"

She kept looking at the floor.

"Is everything okay?" I insisted, going near to her. She raised her face, and to my utter amazement, I saw tears cascading down her face.

"You are leaving," she said between her sobs.

Suddenly, the dream which I had cherished became real. She loved me, as passionately as I loved her. Every act of hers floated before my eyes. It had started simply enough when unknowingly I helped her child, and she reciprocated with the bananas and honey. Perhaps, it was my mistake that I insisted on meeting her. That fateful encounter had hurled both of us down the path of forbidden love and compelled us into an exhilarating, yet painful relationship.

All her actions displayed exemplary courage. Blessed with a rare boldness, she had chosen to nurture and cultivate her tender feelings rather than suppress it under the encumbrances of domesticity. Her every act had only one singular motivation; to please her lover, me. To enhance her allure, she spent hours preparing herself for me. She exposed her lovely body for my hungry eyes to feast upon and walked unbelievable distances under the stars to prove her love. She cared for me and pampered me as only a loving bride would.

At that moment, watching her cry, only one thought crossed my mind. To make her my own. I framed her lovely face in my hands, our first real physical contact, other than that flirtatious encounter in her husband’s plantation. My heart raced feeling her warm skin and pounded seeing how much her beauty surpassed all my notions of feminine pulchritude. With her braided hair and ebony complexion, she was my Black Goddess and my darling.

She was older than I was, married and with children. We were separated by race, nationality, religion, culture, education, and status. Alas, the human heart has scant respect for such differences. Overwhelmed by sweet emotions, I kissed her deeply, feeling my intense need for her. When she kissed me back, I knew she wanted us to consummate our relationship. I tore myself from her using all my will power.

I felt her necklace. "Can you give me this?"

She hesitated.

My voice almost choked. "It is not an ordinary necklace, Abena. It caresses and kisses you all the time. It has your essence in it. I'll treasure it like a priceless jewel because I'll smell and feel you in it."

She nodded slowly. "Take it."

I took my time to unclasp the necklace. It allowed me to touch her once more. Her skin felt like silk and the sensation set my body on fire. "What will you tell George?"

"I should have replaced the worn out thread. It broke on the road and the shells scattered."

Like my heart, I thought.

When she left me, she departed as pure as when I had met her the first time.

I never met Abena again. I had nothing to offer her. I had already caused enough upheaval in her life and wished to give her no further pain. I only hope she knows that her love and the shell necklace will, forever, be my most cherished possessions.

Word Count: 7668

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