“Mercy, where are you?”
“I’m in a lorry with Aba. The rains are very heavy. We aren’t moving.”
Obodai grunted on the other end of the phone. Mercy could tell her husband was trying to be strong, but his voice quivered a bit when he said, “Just get home as soon as you can. I’ll meet you there.”
It had been 2 hours since the rain had started. A slight drizzle which then transformed into a persistent, steady deluge had brought the entire downtown area of Accra to a halt. The traffic jam had started from Circle. Mercy shifted in her seat and looked behind her. The never ending line of cars looked like a bloated octopus, growing a new limb with another car, truck and trotro materializing from the outside of the city, each filled with desperate people trying to get home. The only thing moving in this fetid brine of surging gutter and rain water was the water itself. The vehicles were stagnant.
Aba, just 2 years old, was listless and hungry. She pawed at her mother’s face, defiantly reaching for Mercy’s hand bag to fish for snacks.
“Aba, there is nothing for you to eat in there,” she whispered harshly. “No…no! Stop crying! We’ll be home soon. We’ll see our house and daddy soon.”
Aba would not be placated. The other passengers stared at the two, some with compassion, others with irritation. The driver’s mate – a pimple-faced boy of no more than 15 – was rude when he informed Mercy that he would either have to silence the child or get out. No one objected to his decree. Mercy was miffed.
“Driver, y3 b3 si aha (we will get down here),” Mercy said. The mate opened the door and let her and the squalling child out, slamming the metal door behind them with a bang.
Water fell from the sky in buckets as it began to rain anew, beating Aba and Mercy mercilessly now that they had found themselves outside and on the road. Suddenly, a chorus of screams cut through the air. The knee-deep water in the roads had begun to swell, the bloated octopus coming alive. It waved its tentacles shaking off unwanted pieces of itself, distorting its body as it tipped over vehicles filled with frightened human beings. Mercy watched as the lorry she was just in tipped over, its terrified inhabitants scurrying out of narrow windows for escape. She did not see the driver’s mate emerge. She trembled as she dug into her shirt for her phone. Only one bar left.
She spoke haltingly to her husband. “Obo. I had to get down from the car. I am going to see if one of the buildings will allow me and Aba to enter. The battery on my phone will soon finish.”
Obodai was full of questions, but Mercy begged him to wait until she had found shelter so that they could talk properly.
“I’m carrying Aba. I have to go. Pray for us.”
“Okay, okay…I will pray. I will see you soon.”
“I love you…”
The phone died, cutting their conversation prematurely short. Had he heard her? Never mind. She would tell him again when this ordeal was over.
The water now had reached the middle of Mercy’s thighs. She was a petite woman, who stood at 5 a mere feet in the kitten heels she infrequently wore. But they were strong thighs, tempered by years of walking on Accra’s beaches and frolicking at the coast. She considered water a friend. In all her 23 years, she had never seen a buddy turn to foe so quickly.
Mercy trudged through the sludge and surging water, making a direct a beeline for one of the formidable business buildings at Circle as possible. She was now crossing the bridge at the outdoor market’s edge. A dead cat floated by her, shrouded by a halo of trash – cheap plastic imports from China and India, Indomie packets and a plethora of polythene bags. These were the hallmarks of progressive and modern Ghanaian life. She ignored whatever it was that was clinging to her calf, refusing to imagine what it could be, and shifted her daughter on her back. Aba was much calmer, now that they were outside of the stuffy lorry. Despite the chaos, the toddler began to coo.
“We are almost there, Babs!” Mercy heaved. This was more for her own exhortation than it was for the child’s.
To her disappointment, the office buildings were locked up…darkened by dumsor and void of human life. She assumed all the workers were now stuck in the traffic she had extracted herself from. What to do now? Walk.
Mercy sighed and kicked off her flip flops. This was higher ground, but still pretty deep as far as she was concerned. She felt her body weaken from being exposed to the elements for so long. Aba had stopped cooing, and was now breathing heavily. Her baby had gone to sleep. Good.
Now back on the road-turned-river, she paused to consider which direction she should take, resting her weary forehead against the side of a concrete wall. It collapsed. A brick slammed into her temple, disorienting her. There was a shriek, maybe two…Mercy could tell. All she knew was that Aba’s comforting weight was no longer on her back. She had to find her daughter, but where?
The world existed in colors and sound she had never seen or heard before. In cobalt blues and orangey-reds…her vision veiled by dragons and fire. But where was Aba in all of this?
Ah! There she was. There Aba was amongst the swirling, Milo brown water, bobbing like a newborn light. Mercy scooped up her child and held her to breast.
“You see? You see, Aba? I told you we would make it home. Now let us lay down in our bed and rest.”
When the storm subsided and the waters receded, Mercy and Aba’s corpses were discovered the next day.
*This post is a tribute to the unknown mother and child discovered clutching each other after the June 3rd Accra Floods. Out of respect for their humanity, I am not posting their picture here. May their souls and all of those lost in the devastation rest in perfect peace.