“You just keep pushing. You just keep pushing. I made every mistake that could be made. But I just kept pushing. Doubt is the origin of wisdom. Except our own thoughts, there is nothing absolutely in our power. It is not enough to have a good mind; the main thing is to use it well.” René Descartes (March 31, 1596 – February 11, 1650)
MORE TO IT
No polite plea, convincing protest or even harsh warning that Sabrina conjured made Malcolm slow down or turned back to Brofo. Besides, without even turning over the situation for just a minute, she knew Malcolm’s resolution not to turn back was a good call. Who in his or her right sense would run towards danger?
Undercover, unarmed and under direct instruction to stay away during the arrest, Sabrina could only be thankful that Malcolm was way too frightened of the gunshot sound to be influenced by anything, words or deeds to return to the checkpoint.
Her years of experience and Malcolm’s first time impression both informed her that he could easily be a victim of circumstance; notwithstanding, the gunshots gave her a strong cause to believe that the Papa Oteng case could get complicated. It should have been a simple textbook arrest; one that didn’t require gunshots.
The arrest was a huge breakthrough in an epic investigation, one that could lead to the arrest of a major drug lord in the country. It was prudent for Sabrina to ensure she was not unaware of any possible twist the case could take. So while they drove, she sought to find out as much as she could from Malcolm since he had identified himself as Papa Oteng’s employer.
“What’s your name?” Sabrina asked Malcolm, breaking the silence after they had driven for one solid hour without a word. Malcolm had calmed down, no longer speeding and was tranquilly lost in his own thoughts as he drove through the chilly night breeze on the highway. It was as if she didn’t exist. He didn’t look her way even for a second.
“What’s your name, mister?” Sabrina asked again when she didn’t get an answer the first time.
“Me?” Malcolm came back from wonderland.
“Obviously,” she retorted.
“I’m Mal, Malcolm,” he said.
“Mal, Malcolm,” Sabrina repeated.
“No, I mean Oppong Yeboah, thus Timothy Oppong Yeboah. What’s yours?” Malcolm stuttered.
“Mister, I only asked for your name.”
“I prefer to be called Mal or Malcolm.”
Sabrina needed to establish an amiable relationship with Malcom in order to fish out accurate and reliable information to confirm his innocence or otherwise. Though she had no difficulty in being chatty when she wanted to, with her cover blown, she needed to be at her best to get Malcolm to truthfully confide in her. She needed genuine answers from him, not convenient ones.
“All right, it sounds nice to the ear; so why Mal or Malcolm and not Tim or Timothy?”
“Do you have any particular reason why I have to?” he turned to her for the first time since they set off.
“Hey, I don’t bite. I’m just being sociable,” she said with an engaging smile
“Sorry, I’m a little tensed up,” he said easing up a bit. Sabrina’s smiles worked magic on him.
“No problem Mal, you don’t have to feel pressured at all.”
“You have to promise not to laugh when I tell you why,” he had to be a gentleman and conduct himself well.
“I promise my worst will be a smirk,” she replied beaming already. Ironically, his request braced her for laughter. She was glad to notice Malcolm’s initiative to hold court with her so she happily played along. He was finally warming up to her.
“By the time I was through with senior high, I decided I had had enough of my mates teasing me because of my initials ‘TOY’ – Timothy Oppong Yeboah. It was a bit embarrassing when people who didn’t know ‘TOY’ were my initials called me Toy thinking it was my nickname.”
“Uh-huh,” she uttered to keep him going and suppress her smiles as well.
“As a fresher, I read a book titled ‘Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking,’ by a Malcolm Timothy Gladwell,” he said and paused for her reaction. He wondered if she was impressed with his explanation or the whole account was making him sound like a goon to her, but her expressions didn’t give that away.
“So that’s where you had the name Malcolm from.”
“Yes, I took that nickname to cover ‘TOY’. Malcolm X and ‘Malcolm In The Middle’ had already made the name popular so people didn’t have any difficulty welcoming it. In no time ‘TOY’ vanished and I became Mal.”
“I won’t laugh at you because I can partially relate to your story.”
“Tell me about that.”
“Well, I started changing my name since junior high, not because people were making fun of me but because as young as I was then, I could tell I deserved better.” Sabrina didn’t want him to feel he was being cowed into answering her questions, so she was ready to give him some private information about herself to make him feel comfortable doing same.
“You thought you deserved a better name? Tell me about that. What was your name?” Malcolm asked her.
“I was christened Affia Boatengmaa Otopah by a runaway father who never cared about either my mum or I. He broke my mum’s heart when he jilted her and married the then newly appointed district court judge three months after I was born.”
“So you’re indeed related to Justice Clara Otopah.”
“No, I’m not! Didn’t you hear a word of what I said, Mal?”
“She is your dad’s wife, Sabrina.”
“Even in that sense, I’m not because he divorced her years later after several failed attempts to make babies but she decided to keep his name.”
“Doesn’t nature have a big sense of humour?”
“The only substantive input that man you call my dad ever made in my life was his semen that caused my conception. How I wish I could give that back to him.”
“That’s harsh! Do you hate him that much?”
“Do you know what’s harsh? That man got my mum, who was his father’s secretary pregnant when he was a theology student in Singapore, home on vacation, and promised to return to marry her when he was through defending his PhD thesis. She believed him. Yes she did; so much that she couldn’t bring herself to get over the ensuing disappointment she suffered when he ditched her and conveniently forgot totally that he had a daughter with her.”
“Did you say theology student?”
“I bet I did, but fortunately for God and country he’s not a pastor. He wanted a ‘Dr.’ before his name and somehow theology was the only path of least resistance so he took it. My birth and his return coincided so he happily named me Boatengmaa after a queen mother in his hometown, a woman neither my mum nor I knew. Afterwards, he never bothered to find out what had become of my mum or me until decades later when he read in the papers that I’ve become the first female lieutenant in the district.”
“How did you receive him when he came back?”
“I didn’t, my mum did and that’s all he is going to get. I’ve always been baffled by how and why he was able to apathetically abandon us for all those years when we lived in the same city. I believe strongly he’s the reason I never liked guys,” she answered in all sincerity.
As she spoke passionately about her hatred for her dad and men, Malcolm was surprised that she was opening out to him willingly with such details. He saw her in a different light – not as a military woman but as a typical accomplished modern day woman who has done a good job to subdue her past and hurts to face the real cruel world.
“I’m sorry for you, Affia. I hope you don’t go on in life hating men and chasing after women and at the end blame your dad for it. These days you can’t even imagine the reasons people give for doing what they do and how they do what they do,” Malcolm said teasingly trying to water her passionate speech down.
“What are you sniggering at, Malcolm?” she asked after allowing Malcolm’s words to sink in for some seconds.
“Nothing, actually,” he cackled.
“What even makes you think that of me; who said I like girls? Focus! Keep your perverted mind on the subject – change of names,” she giggled. Her plan was working as she wished; the diplomacy veil was off and she could win his trust if they followed that trail.
“I was only following your lead; you brought it up and besides, society has evolved enough for me to surmise that. I’m just saying don’t blame anybody for who or how you love,” he said with a big sneer.
“Exactly my point – I have not spoken about love. Well, by junior high school I was matured enough to drop his name and pick my grandma’s name, Fosu. After a prolong resistance which came in a mixture of confrontation, advice and threats from my mum and my grandma, we arrived at a compromise – Affiah Fosu Otopah,” Sabrina beamed as spoke.
“Why did you want to pick your grandma’s name?” Malcolm’s smile was because he was glad they were having a normal chat without riddles, puzzles and commands, whilst Sabrina’s smile was because she was tenderly winning Malcolm over.
“Long story short, she’s the reason I am who I am today. She single handedly catered for my mum and I. She did until I got into the army. Currently my mum manages all her beauty salons,” Sabrina summarised as candidly as she could.
“God bless her heart. Sabrina, why was she against using her name?”
“I used it, but as my middle name in place of Boatengmaa. She said I needed a man’s name as my surname.”
“By a man’s name she meant your dad’s, right?”
“It’s either my dad’s or husband’s, she said.”
“That’s reasonable, don’t you think so Sabrina?”
“In Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries, people have two surnames. The first surname is usually the father’s and the second is the mother’s. And since my mother also didn’t have a responsible father, my grandmother’s maiden name was undeniably a good pick.”
“You couldn’t have chosen a better country; Spain has a complex naming system.”
“Well, when I got to senior high, without seeking anybody’s permission, I conveniently dropped Affiah and added Sabrina to my name. And when I was through with my first degree, I came home with a certificate that read ‘Sabrina Fosu Ottoppah’. Thankfully, people pronounce my surname very differently from his,” she said with a smug smile.
“So, just as Shakespeare coined the name Jessica, you’ve coined your own surname.”
“Though that was not my intention, I am happy I did because now people are reluctant to assume that I’m related to him or the judge when they see my surname.”
With the grisly episode literally behind them, the two enjoyed a hearty chat in the halcyon atmosphere of a misty dawn as they drove to Malcolm’s house uneventfully. They got to Malcolm’s place around 6a.m. When they turned off to Old Freeville, Sabrina began to actively scan the neighborhood, turning left, right, back and front. As they drove through the community, Malcolm could easily tell that Sabrina was not comfortable.
“I reckon that this wasn’t the Old Freeville you were expecting to meet, Sabrina.”
“Though I’ve not been to this part of the town before, I had a fair idea of how it’s supposed to look like.”
“So, are you pleasantly surprised or coldly stunned?”
“Mal, isn’t it too early for the neighborhood to be swarmed with food vendors and hawkers?”
He was not the least bothered by what Sabrina could possibly be thinking about where he lived, but rather he mocked at her discontentment. Malcolm’s block had few houses properly fenced. If the fences were not wooden, it was at knee level or without gates or it was broken; that was the story of most of the houses they drove by.
“Welcome to Old Freeville and that is my house,” he stopped in front of a well fenced single-storey semi-detached house and pointed to it. The compound did not have enough space for the car to enter so he climbed the pavement in front of the house.
“To tell you the truth Mal, I didn’t expect to see painted or fenced houses or even tarred roads here.”
“You won’t be the last to harbour this perception but for your information, Old Freeville used to be one of the most beautiful communities in the country during the colonial rule.”
“It definitely had to be during the colonial rule. But anyway is it safe to park here, Malcolm?” she asked as she rolled up the windows and got out of the car. Malcolm was contemplating on inviting her in or otherwise, but when she didn’t ask for her keys when he got out, he knew they were going in together.
“With all said about Old Freeville, I can appreciate your apprehension but there is no reason for you to be afraid. It is morning and all the people you see around are keeping an eye on the car. Once people have seen me park this car, nobody will touch it.”
“Why have you parked on the pavement, Malcolm? Where do you want pedestrians to walk when you park your car in their way?”
“Thanks for assuming I have a car but which one exactly is your headache, safety of the car or the pedestrians? Sabrina, you don’t have to be afraid of any danger, though this place looks like a ghetto it’s very safe for those of us who live here,” he said smiling with pride as he led her through the slightly opened metal gate.
“Malcolm, your lofty opinion about this place will be derided by anybody who comes here for the first time. I’m concerned only because the neighbourhood is a tad too crowded, and I didn’t suggest by any means that you own a car.”
“Granted, but let that same person stay for a day or two and he/she would fall madly in love with the place.”
“It seems there are vendor’s tables and posters of everything all over the place. Look at the dust and smoke in the air and the dogs and fouls and goats and sheep; don’t they have owners? The neighbourhood doesn’t match its name at all,” she complained as she followed him closely into the house not knowing what to expect.
“It isn’t unusual at all that not everyone lives in the lap of luxury. Irrespective of the time of the day, people have stuff to sell, others have to sweep, others have rubbish to burn and the huge population is good for advertisement hence the posters. And if you want to see the owners of these animals, just touch the animal,” he answered still not worried about Sabrina’s accession.
“To know what people really think, pay attention to what they do, rather than what they say. I desire to live in peace and to continue the life I have begun under the motto ‘to live well you must live unseen. He, who hid well, lived well.” René Descartes (March 31, 1596 – February 11, 1650)