Day 2: Onyx met dawn with a renewed sense of purpose. After spending the previous night with the Mulbah family, he was ready to leave for Bong County a day ahead of schedule.
He informed Kerkula about his decision on the way back to his hotel. “Anything you say my man, just be ready by six dat all,” Kerkula responded in his gruff voice.
Onyx took a cold shower, packed his bag and checked out of the hotel by 5:30 in the morning. To his surprise, Kerkula was already parked outside the driveway wearing a green velvet cowboy hat with a purple and yellow polka-dot shirt and blue velvet pants accompanied by orange suspenders. His outfit was completed by a pair of florescent green Converse sneakers.
“My woman prepared ‘dry-rice’ and plantain for the trip,” the eccentric driver said with a smile. Onyx returned his smile and sat in the taxi. Before the sunset, hopefully, he would know his father’s whereabouts and begin rebuilding his family.
Before they left Monrovia’s city limits, Onyx knew he had to call his daughter and ex-wife. He was not looking forward to the experience of having his ear burned off by Efua’s, his ex, vitriol. She was his polar opposite, which was probably the reason they got married.
Efua Hayford was the New York born and bred daughter of two Ghanaian doctors. She married Onyx when he was an artist full of promise and she was a medical intern. Efua was a complete steamroller of a woman who practically had him running away from their marriage in terror.
The woman scheduled every aspect of her life in a leather-bound planner. Her perfection obsessed nature drove Onyx mad. Dealing with her was something he just had to go through to hear his daughter’s voice.
“Could you please turn the music down while I make a call to my daughter Kerkula?”Onyx asked.
“My man, you know I myself having children, the music da MP3, I can rewind,” he responded.
Onyx dialed Efua’s number and fiddled with his seatbelt as her phone rang.
“Hello,” said a clipped impatient sounding voice. “Hello,” Onyx countered. “You really have some nerve,” Efua said in recognition of his voice. “Yamma has been worried sick about you! She was wondering if something had happened, or if she would ever see you again!”
Onyx rolled his eyes in reaction to Efua’s penchant for drama. “Efua,” he said in exasperation, “I have been gone less than three days. There have been times when Yamma and I don’t talk on the phone for over a week and our relationship remains intact.”
“Really?” she asked on the verge of hysterics, “That’s your excuse for calling us from a Liberian number? Do you want to get away from us that badly? Divorce was not enough for you? You needed to put an entire ocean between us?”
Onyx sighed and asked, “Efua is Yamma there or not?” There was silence on the phone for about twenty seconds, “She went over to her friend Shirley’s place, I’ll tell her to call you; not that you deserve to hear from her,” Efua said in her most self-righteous tone.
“Thank you,” Onyx said and hung up quickly.
“What!” Kerkula said in a sharp high-pitched voice, “Da na small trouble you put on you-self oh! Da woman sounding like real mammie peh-peh! I was hearing her voice just like one mosquito even when I was driving!”
“Yes,” Onyx admitted, “that woman was one of the biggest mistakes of my life. Ironically, she helped produce my daughter Yamma; my greatest achievement.”
Kerkula let out a drawn out piercing whistle, and said, “No matter which side of the ocean, being a man is never easy yah.”
“No,” Onyx replied, “No it is not.”
After four hours on the road they finally arrived in Gbartala. Onyx felt butterflies in his stomach, but told himself it was nothing more than a little gas after eating Vic’s dry-rice. They slowed down in front of a small market that sold everything from cassava to succulent looking watermelons. Kerkula rolled down the car’s window and greeted the market’s proprietress—a woman in her late 40’s— in fluent melodic Kpelleh.
Onyx got down from the car to examine some of the fresh organic goods. He looked at the thick cassavas, piles of brown and pink eddoes, and gigantic sweet-smelling pineapples with awe. Getting his hands on this type organically grown produce would cost him a fortune in the states. As he picked up one of the pineapples the woman looked at him and shouted, “Ooooh! I know you! You boy come here! You Richard Togbah’s American child! You real stole you pa’s face oh!”
Onyx looked at the woman closely and did not recognize her in the slightest. Smiling at his obvious appraisal of her the woman said, “You don’t know me, but I know you from Richard’s pictures. Call me Sis Tita yeh?”
Relived at not being put in the awkward situation of feigning recognition, Onyx replied, “Pleased to meet you Sis Tita, my name is Onyx. I hate to ask you this, but how do you know my father?”
“Know him?” Sis Tita asked, “I married him!”
Kerkula looked at the shocked expression on Onyx’s face, smiled and asked, “Since dis man da family we can get some of the eddoes for free?”
As they pulled up to the small house in the center of the farm, Onyx’s heart started beating rapidly. Kerkula and Sis Tita chatted away in Kpelleh as his palms started sweating. Onyx looked around at the impeccably tended farm. The grass looked as if it was cut by machine and the crops were planted in impossibly neat rows. He could not believe he was here.
They got down from the car and climbed up the stairs to the house’s neat little porch. Sis Tita looked at Onyx and seemed to sense his nervousness. “Da your pa,” she said matter-of-factly. She stood in front of the door and said “Coh-coh-coh,” making the customary sound Liberian’s use to imitate someone knocking.
“Who’s dat?” answered a voice that had a confident melodic cadence, yet a tone too similar to Onyx’s for his comfort. “Come see oh,” answered Sis Tita playfully. Kerkula looked at Onyx’s sweaty face and smirked mischievously. He seemed to be enjoying Onyx’s obvious case of nerves.
A few seconds later the doorway was filled with the white-haired presence of Richard Togbah. He took one look at Onyx and grabbed him in a powerful rib-crushing hug and said, “Everything has finished, all we have now is tomorrow.”
Sis Tita left for the kitchen followed by Kerkula, who said he wanted to watch her prepare a pot of eddo stew filled to the brim with chevron.
“So,” said Richard Togbah to his son, “How have you been?” Onyx blinked a few times in confusion. He wanted to approach the situation in an adult manner, but his inner teenager came bubbling to the surface.
He asked “I have been writing you for the past 15 years without any response, why are you acting like we have been in touch?”
Richard Togbah looked his son in the eye and said, “I grew up on my own, without any parents or the comfort of knowing I was valued. I was a houseboy who had to sell other people’s market to go to school. I am stronger because of it. I found myself within my solitude. It taught me how to love without expectation.
I left you alone because I knew that you would find me when you needed to. This is that time. You are here because you need to be. In finding me you have found yourself.”
Onyx’s initial instinct was to laugh cynically at what his father said, but his conscience told him that he was exactly where he needed to be. He looked at his father’s face and then walked onto the front porch.
“I am moving to Liberia, and I will take over this farm,” he said meaning every word. He turned around and met his father’s warm smile. At that precise moment, his phone began to ring.
He pressed the answer key and a soft female voice said, “Hello Daddy.”
Onyx responded to his daughter’s greeting with a question: “Yamma, do you want to talk to your Grandpa?”