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More Fire


ISSUE:  Fall 2018

Kwasi woke up somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. What time was it? He looked out the window for a sign of land but there was only blackness and wisps of gray. The boy in the aisle seat who had fallen asleep on his shoulder woke up and looked blankly at him. He looked like he could have been Kwasi’s son. They had the same high cheekbones, the same sleepy, almond-shaped eyes. The boy’s head weighed on him like a great stone, but in the moment, Kwasi felt thankful for it. “It’s okay,” he said. “Go back to sleep.”

Kwasi himself was desperate to catch up on sleep. He and Athena had spent the entire night arguing, wearing each other down until daylight. Athena had again brought up the idea of having children, and Kwasi became moody and petulant. “The thought of having children,” he said, then trailed off, the trace of a wince on his face, as if he was sparing her some gruesome detail. “The thought of having children what?” she asked, but he refused to say. The argument drifted into other aspects of their relationship, which all seemed to touch upon the lack of emotional labor he invested. Finally, around four in the morning, Kwasi got down on his knees and begged that they just go to sleep.

They were supposed to have gone on the trip together. Kwasi had only been to Ghana once before, as a child. Most of the trip was spent in Kumasi, on his grandfather’s compound, where he and his mother played Uno at the kitchen table while his father drank beer with his friends outside. During their trip to a slave castle on Cape Coast, his mother cried when they reached the Door of No Return. Kwasi, hugging her, asked what was wrong, and she told him that a lot of their family were buried in slave graveyards. He and his mother were the only two Americans in their group. Everyone else, including his father, was Ashanti. He remembered his parents arguing about whether he should spend summers in Ghana to learn Twi. It was the first time he had ever seen them so bitter with each other, and it scared him. He wanted to be back home.

Kwasi told Athena this story, like a confession, on their first date, at the Amoeba Records on upper Haight. He had been going on about his uncle Kwaku, from Ghana, who had introduced him to a lot of music when he was growing up. She had asked him about Ghana and he’d said he’d only been once. When she asked him what he remembered, he was hesitant at first, but held nothing back when he began to recount the trip. “It was a strange and kind of hurtful feeling,” he said. “I get anxious just thinking about it.” 

Athena had been the one to encourage him to reconnect with his roots, first by persuading him to call his father, whom he had not spoken to since Obama was elected, and then by suggesting they plan a trip to Ghana. “To change the narrative,” she said. They’d spent a couple thousand dollars on the flight alone, but the sight of him begging like that changed something in her face. A sickened look. Kwasi felt a hot shame on the crown of his head the moment he saw it. After a moment, she calmly said that perhaps he needed to experience this homecoming by himself. Kwasi was so tired, he didn’t put up a fight. But he couldn’t sleep, either. He was gutted. He lay awake, breathing deeply, struggling with the feeling that he ought to apologize, and yet still not wanting to. He thought that as soon as they got pregnant he would have to give up that part of himself he wasn’t prepared to abandon. It was unfair, and yet he couldn’t bring himself to speak. 

Somewhere along the way, they’d fallen out of their respective social circles. Kwasi’s only friends were peers and colleagues he claimed he didn’t really like but had enough in common with, editors and other writers. Athena had befriended a couple of the younger teachers at the grade school where she worked. On Thursday, she would join them for hot yoga in the Mission while Kwasi sat on the couch and smoked weed, writing down ideas for the novel he’d been talking about since they’d met. During the week, they caught each other up on all the drama, or lack of it, of their respective days, usually while they cooked, sometimes after sex, the next morning if one of them had been out late. With fewer nights out, there was less gossip to share, less worth telling, and a silence began to settle into their routine. They began to turn in earlier—or, if awake, seal themselves off, nestled in the glow of their screens.

A friend had told Kwasi about women freezing their eggs, but it wasn’t anything he’d ever bring up with Athena, because at his core he was slightly afraid of her. She was honest in a way he found radical. He was measured in a way she found cynical—at least, that’s how she had phrased it. He had once told her that if there was a heaven, all he wanted was to get there with as little shit on him as possible, which she often repeated back to him, verbatim, during arguments like this one. But she was afraid of him, too, afraid of the cruelty required to get him to access his true feelings, and so they loved and punished each other again and again with the same gestures—each rejection, each kiss, summoning the same ache. They had been together for almost three years, but instead of merging, their identities had begun to tangle, like vines, growing around each other but never truly together.

A bit of turbulence shook him awake. Breakfast was being served: a plate of sausage, eggs, and potatoes, which he thought wasn’t bad for a Nigerian airline. He heard the boy’s mother across the aisle speaking Twi he did not fully understand, and then the voice of the German-sounding captain who announced that the plane was beginning its final descent toward Lagos, where he would have a two-hour layover before departing for Ghana. 

He looked at the boy’s mother. Why were they going home? He began to compose the opening lines of a human-interest piece in his head: For many Ghanaians in the United States, the idea of the American Dream is not to own a house in Beverly Hills, but rather to eventually return home and buy property. Still, for many others, content with their American lives, they prefer to bring Ghana back to their new homes. He remembered the bottles of shito his father would bring back from his month-long trips, always as if he’d smuggled back the holy grail.

They landed in Lagos around five in the morning. Upon disembarking, the passengers were greeted by men in uniforms that Kwasi thought were almost comically overdecorated, desperately resembling military-issue. One of the men, whose voice was nearly hoarse, shouted at the passengers: “African passports to the left! All others to the right!”

Kwasi filed to the right and filled out a form. He gave a man behind a glass window his passport. That man gave the passport to another man, who added Kwasi’s to the stack in his hand and walked away. Kwasi asked where the man was going. The man behind the glass, to whom he had given his passport, pointed to his right and shouted, “Go over there.”

He followed the man with the passports, passing the boy who fell asleep on his shoulder. The boy’s mother shook her head.

“They’re not going to give it back to you until we depart for Accra,” she said.

“Where’d he go?”

“He said that he wasn’t with immigration,” the woman said. “That he has to go wake him up. You should just try to relax.”

Behind them a white woman shouted, “Absolutely not! I am an American citizen!” To which the man behind the desk sucked his teeth and returned her passport. Kwasi thought about using the same line, but he was cut off, just as he opened his mouth. 

“Not you,” the man behind the glass said, then went back to his work.

Kwasi took out a small, leather-bound journal from his backpack. He had planned on pitching a piece about Ghanaian cuisine to an editor with whom he had previously worked in San Francisco. He thought it might give him something to do, add to his clips. There was also the Ebola outbreak in West Africa that he could write about, which had spread so rapidly in Liberia that they were forced to close the borders. That would be too much work, though. He took some notes on the airport, described the man behind the glass, down to the gap in his teeth that showed when he laughed. He wrote in the margin: For novel?


Until he was fourteen, Kwasi and his family worshipped twice on Sundays at a small Baptist church in Virginia, about a half-hour drive from Washington, DC. He attended Wednesday night Bible study, too, and Friday night youth group. His father had been a deacon since Kwasi was a boy; growing up, he’d recite bits and pieces of his father’s sermons for schoolmates, whatever he could pick up as the old man rehearsed them throughout the house. Then, one summer, three different women, one of them white, came forward claiming to be his father’s lover. He denied it, but family after family threatened to quit the church if he didn’t resign. Kwasi heard his mother talking to a neighbor, after she’d divorced him. “There were more,” she said. “They just never came forward.” Kwasi’s father moved back to Ghana, after which they saw each other a handful of times. Neither Kwasi nor his mother had attended church after that. 

Kwasi emerged from Kotoka International Airport to find his father standing next to an SUV, talking to a tall, lanky young man. The young man worked for him, and went by Richard. He greeted Kwasi and loaded his bags into the truck. Kwasi hugged his father. “Akwaaba,” his father said.

“Yaa, agya,” Kwasi said.

His father asked him how his flight was, and Kwasi told him about the confusion with the passports, about the older white woman, about the airline food, being careful not to sound entitled. He could already see the word forming in Richard’s mind—oburoni. Foreigner. White man. Devil. Both he and his mother had been called it the last time they’d visited, after they’d complained about the lack of choices on television. Kwasi told his father he was happy to finally be home.

His father had put on weight. He’d always been wiry and athletic, even after he moved back to Ghana. His face looked basically the same—they’d Skyped a few times in the last year—but the rest of his body had really filled out in a way that suited him, gave him a look of prosperity. They drove toward his father’s home in East Legon, a small, affluent suburb of Accra. Richard drove and his father sat in front, listening to a political talk show on the radio. It was still early, and Accra looked empty but expectant. A few cars and motorcycles passed them on the highway. Kwasi took notes. 

“Do you remember Ghana?” his father asked.

Kwasi’s attention was still outside the window, taking in the vast horizon, the emotional release of knowing he was in a black country. This was a moment, he thought, he and Athena were supposed to share. Along the highway there were billboards for Accra’s megachurches. One pastor wore a dark, three-piece suit and held his Bible like a diploma, close to his chest, smiling with all of his teeth. “Just flashes here and there,” Kwasi answered. “The red earth and the green.”

“Kumasi,” his father said fondly. “We’ll go there in a couple of days to see Kwaku. Do you remember Piesie?”

“No,” Kwasi said. “I don’t think so.”

“Hmm. You were too young, maybe. Another cousin. He’s going to drive us there.”

His father’s home, like most of the homes in the neighborhood, had high walls surrounding it, with iron gates lined with palm trees. When they rang the buzzer, an elderly man, a security guard of sorts, judging by his plastic badge, came to the front gate and let them in.

The morning sun was shining on his father’s house, which, unlike the other homes in the neighborhood, was painted bright orange. It reminded Kwasi of his childhood, the houses in Virginia, how all the homes on his block were white or gray, nothing this jubilant. 

Later that morning, Kwasi’s father took him to one of the new cafés by the mall. “I like this one,” he said, pointing up at the television. “They play the news.” Kwasi ordered a double espresso, his father ordered a latte. The BBC had been running stories on the Ebola outbreak all day, how it had started in Guinea and had now reached Liberia and now Sierra Leone. Kwasi’s eyelids felt heavy, and he strained to focus on the screen. He let his eyes close as he sipped his espresso.

“So you and your girlfriend broke up?” his father said timidly.

“Not yet,” Kwasi answered.

“You lived together?”

“We still do, technically.”

“Technically,” his father repeated. “I want to ask you what happened, but I get the feeling that maybe it was something that was always going to happen.”

“Well, I don’t know about that,” Kwasi said. “She was diagnosed with this condition called endometriosis. Last year. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to have kids in the future, so she wants to try now.”

“And?”

“It’s just not something I want right now.”

His father took a sip of his latte, and his eyes averted to the television. “The summer of Ebola,” he said, and he sucked his teeth in rapid succession. “It’ll never get to Ghana, though.”

“You don’t think?” Kwasi said.

His father let out a single laugh. “There are some things Ghana will not allow to happen.”

Kwasi thought about responding but didn’t. His father took another sip of his latte.

“If we get married,” Kwasi said, “we’ll be divorced in few years, just like everybody else.”

“How old are you again?”

“Thirty-one,” Kwasi said, with a bit of a snicker.

“And her?”

“She’s twenty-eight.”

“Well, if it’s going to happen anyway, you might as well get it over with,” his father said.

On the drive back to the house, they passed more billboards advertising megachurches. Some included traditional portraits of Jesus; one had a photograph of a bearded white man who looked more like a hipster than a prophet. He groaned just looking at them. “In a country of 25 million black faces, this is who everyone worships,” Kwasi said.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” his father said.

“All those pastors are thieves, and you know it.”

“They don’t get much from me.”

“You’d think we were still living in biblical times, the way these guys go on about being prophets.”

His father simply said, “You don’t know that they’re not,” and kept driving.


Piesie owned a bit of land in Accra Central, a quarter acre of rocks and dirt surrounded by concrete walls. There were maybe six or seven cars or vans on the lot, which he fixed up and sold, and a small cinder-block office with a couple of couches and a television. Upon entering the office, Kwasi and his father found two men sleeping there. On the television was a sports talk show, during which one man riffed in Twi about Ghana’s national football team and the other responded by saying, “More fire!”

Piesie was pissing on a wall in the far corner of the lot, under the words do not urinate here. He washed his hands under an old metal tap and dried them with a handkerchief. He waved when he saw Kwasi and his father. “Wofa,” he said. “Kwasi, Akwaaba.” 

“Yaa, adamfo,” Kwasi said.

“Do you remember me?”

Kwasi laughed nervously and said no.

“I came to visit you once when you lived in DC. You were young.”

“Who does he look like?” his father asked.

“Kwaku,” Kwasi said.

“This is Kwaku’s brother,” his father said.

Kwasi laughed again, and he and Piesie hugged awkwardly. He’d never known that Kwaku had a brother.

Piesie woke up the men on the couches. “This is my cousin. Kwasi, this is Kojo and Dangerous Kofi. Kofi, tell him why you’re so dangerous.”

“Every morning, I wake up with this thing,” Dangerous Kofi said, gesturing to his crotch. “I think it might kill someone, so I gotta put ice on it until it goes down.”

“I say put some more fire on it,” Piesie said.

A woman from the bar across the road walked onto the lot. She had a tray with a bowl of peanut-butter soup and rice, covered with a plate, for Kwasi.

“I’m mad at you, you know,” Kwasi’s father said to Piesie. 

“Wofa, what did I do?”

“I called you about two weeks ago and you said you were going to call me right back. Do you remember?”

“Oh, Wofa, I remember.”

“And you never called me. I even had to call you the other day.”

“Wofa, I was just about to leave for a funeral.”

“Whose funeral?”

“My wife’s uncle. We had to drive to Kumasi.”

“I see.”

“I’m sorry, Wofa. I should have called you back.”

“But you got drunk, right?”

“I did, Wofa.”

They laughed.

After he finished eating, Kwasi’s father asked him if he wanted to smoke a joint. Kwasi, bewildered, stuttered for a moment before saying yes. His mother had mentioned something about his father “smoking dope” to one of her friends on the phone, right around the time that Kwasi had begun to experiment with marijuana himself. Through all the resentment, he thought it might be something he and his father shared.

“Roll three,” his father said. “We get it by the pillowcase here.” Kwasi sat at the table, rolling, licking, and pressing the papers carefully, as his father watched him. They walked toward the back of the lot, behind a van in which another man was sleeping. “You two sit there,” Piesie said, pointing to a plywood bench. “I’ll sit next to Nana Frimpong.” Upon hearing his name, Nana Frimpong woke and slowly lifted himself up. They lit their joints under the noon sun. Kwasi listened to the sounds of the city—the motorcycles buzzing up and down the narrow streets, a religious talk show piped through a speaker in the next lot, laughter coming from the office. Kwasi closed his eyes. They were still heavy from a lack of sleep. When he opened them, a police inspector had made her way onto the lot and was approaching the bench where he sat. She was staring at the joint in his hand.

“Are you Kwasi?” she asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” he answered.

“Do you know who I am?”

“No,” Kwasi said, paralyzed with confusion.

“I am Piesie’s wife, Akua.”

“It’s good to know people, right?” Piesie said, and kissed her. 

“I’m honored to meet you,” Kwasi said. “Meda ase.”

“Are you going to pass that to me?” she asked. 

Kwasi, embarrassed, passed her the joint. She took a heavy draw and exhaled slowly, drawing the smoke up into her nostrils. She coughed as she let the breath out, then passed the joint back to Kwasi. “I’m still working, but I wanted to meet you right away,” she said. “Come by for dinner before you go, Kwasi, okay? Don’t make me come find you, okay?”

Everyone laughed. Kwasi stood up with her. “I will. Thank you.”

Nana Frimpong came back over to the van.

“Nana,” Piesie said. “This is my cousin Kwasi.”

“How do you do?” Nana Frimpong asked. His English sounded more British than the others’. It took Kwasi by surprise. 

“Quite well,” he said. “And you?”

“Nana Frimpong, tell him how many girlfriends you have,” Piesie said.

“A gentleman doesn’t speak of such vulgar things,” he said, drawing deeply from the joint.

“All day, he sits around making phone calls,” Piesie said. “Some of them, he doesn’t even remember their names. He just calls them ‘Baby.’ One of them he called a helicopter. He said, ‘Oh, my helicopter, you’re going to bring me up to heaven.’ He just makes calls all day. And then when they call him, he won’t pick up. Sometimes we sit and the phone is ringing and ringing right in front of us. I ask him, ‘Why don’t you pick up the phone?’ He says, ‘Just let it ring, baby.’”

Nana Frimpong shrugged. “There is nothing I can do.”

“Can I ask you a question?” Kwasi asked.

“Yes, of course,” Nana Frimpong said.

“How old are you?”

“I am fifty-eight years old.”

“How do you find the energy?”

“I wake up every morning and I work out on the beach. Stretching, running, push-ups, everything. How old do I look?”

“You look like you’re in your late thirties.”

“I know,” Nana Frimpong said. 

“I hope I look like you when I’m your age.”

“Exercise every day.”

They left Piesie’s lot after sundown, once the traffic had finally let up. Kwasi’s father drove. He glanced over at his son in the passenger seat, who looked like he was dreaming with his eyes open. “What are you going to do about your girlfriend?” he asked.

“Athena.”

“What are you going to do about Athena?”

“I really don’t know. I mean, I was kind of an asshole. I should call her before all my stuff goes out into the street. I don’t even make enough to have my own place in San Francisco. I’d have to get a studio in Oakland.”

“In the seventies there was a song called ‘Foxy Girls in Oakland.’”

The host of the religious talk show had begun to talk about the reports of Ebola in Liberia. He said that God had punished them, and only through God could they be healed. Kwasi was sulking in the passenger seat.

“There’s a whole world that’s suffering,” his father said.

Kwasi rolled his eyes.


The next morning, Kwasi’s father went to church. He had asked Kwasi to join him, but his son just scoffed and pulled the blanket over his head. By the afternoon, he and Richard were on a tro-tro headed into Accra, to buy minutes for Richard’s phone. The whole way, a woman riding up front read Bible verses aloud in Twi. At a stop light, Kwasi and Richard got off and walked along the beach. They bought plantain chips and bofrot from a street vendor, then walked a bit more, Kwasi jotting down details in his notebook from time to time. Richard asked Kwasi why he was always writing.

“I’m taking some notes for an article about the food here.”

“For a newspaper?” Richard asked.

“For a lifestyle magazine,” Kwasi said, laughing a little at the sound of it.

Richard gave him a curious look. “Tell me about the food.”

“All food is basically the same, right? We all have cows and goats and chickens and vegetables. But Americans love food that is ‘international.’ Vietnamese, Indian, Caribbean, Middle Eastern. As is, they barely know the difference between Ghana and Guyana. For them, they’ll see an article about the food and the palm trees and the music, and they’ll feel a part of it. The culture.”

“And so you are the tour guide,” Richard said.

“Basically, I guess,” Kwasi said, and he put his notebook away.

That evening, they all gathered on the patio for beers and fried plantains. Lizards scurried from the bushes, across the tile. Kwasi’s father pointed at one. “We used to kill those with slingshots when I was a kid.”

Kwasi shared the details of his adventures with Richard that afternoon—haggling over the tro-tro fares, crossing a highway on foot to catch one home.

“You know,” his father said, “most of your cousins have probably never been on a tro-tro. They’re too class conscious. Some of the tro-tros even look like they’re being held together by rope.” 

“You should put that in your article,” Richard said to Kwasi.

Kwasi laughed nervously. “I might,” he said.

Richard finished his beer and excused himself. Kwasi’s father told him to roll a joint. “We’re going to see the Asantehene while we’re in Kumasi. Do you have a suit?”

“Yes,” Kwasi answered.

“What’s the material?”

“It’s light. Sharkskin. Gray. I have a white shirt and a blue tie.”

His father nodded. Kwasi sealed the joint and handed it to his father.

“Is everything okay?” Kwasi asked.

“No,” his father said calmly. “It’s always the same old tricks. They’re trying to mess with Kwaku.” He handed Kwasi the newspaper that lay folded on the patio table. “They hate the Ashantis.” 

Kwasi read the front-page headline: gh 32m missing from venture capital—bni investigating.

Details are emerging that the Ghana Venture Capital Trust Fund has been virtually depleted. Mr. Ezekiel Asare, speaking on behalf of the Board of Trustees, said in a prepared statement that the Bureau of National Investigations has been invited to look into the actions of former CEO Kwaku Mensah. Mr. Mensah, who was appointed by the late President John Atta Mills, has been removed by current president John Dramani Mahama…

“Shit,” Kwasi said. “What happened?”

“Mahama and the NDC trying to settle scores.”

“But Kwaku is innocent?”

“Don’t worry, son. Kwaku will be fine. We’ll talk to the Asantehene and he’ll help those bastards realize it was a mistake.”


Kwaku had always been Kwasi’s favorite cousin—or uncle, as he liked to call him, since he was nearly twenty years Kwasi’s senior. Kwaku was the playboy of the family—handsome and gregarious, even childlike in the joy he carried with him.

Kwaku had moved to the US with Kwasi’s father to attend university, while his father got a job in insurance. Kwaku took to America quickly—compared to Kwasi’s father, at least. He loved American blackness. He had a record collection full of jazz and soul music, and he had adopted the Lakers as his favorite sports team. By the time Kwasi was old enough to remember, Kwaku was living in a large condo by himself, and had a new girlfriend whenever Kwasi saw him. He taught Kwasi how to play chess, and sent him money on his birthdays. He told Kwasi time and again, “You have to love life.”

Everyone seemed to adore Kwaku, except for Kwasi’s mother. Kwasi often recalled a day trip from Woodbridge to visit Kwaku in DC, when Kwasi was still a child. The boys had gotten hold of a video camera and spent all day recording themselves in the city. When they got home, they all sat in the living room and watched the footage with Kwasi’s parents. It was pretty clear who had shot what—little Kwasi’s shaky footage of the Washington Monument, the White House, street performers; Kwaku zooming in on different women walking past them, some smiling at him behind the camera. Kwasi remembered feeling somewhat embarrassed out there on the street, though unsure at what, something in the way Kwaku talked to them. Whenever he caught Kwasi staring, he winked.

It was late at night when Kwaku finally arrived at the family compound in Kumasi. Kwasi had expected him to look broken down, unkempt, but he looked upbeat and carefree. They sat in the living room, passed beers around. Kwaku told story after story. He’d politely started telling them in English for Kwasi, but inevitably slipped fully into Twi. He looked around the room and drank his beer slowly. He could barely understand what anyone in the room was saying.

Kwaku and Kwasi’s father went to the Asantehene’s palace the next morning. They were gone for nearly three hours, but they were in good spirits when they returned. Kwaku delivered an anecdote about a little girl at the palace. “She couldn’t have been more than seven or eight,” he said. “A beautiful little girl, in hysterics about Mahama, shouting, ‘Mahama is the one who has let the thieves into Ghana!’” 

They all laughed.

“I swear,” his father said, “that girl will be the president of Ghana one day.”

They had a couple of beers before Kwaku left for the airport. He left Kwasi a bag filled with handcrafted souvenirs to take back to California. “I’ll be traveling for a little while,” he said. He winked at Kwasi and gave him a long hug.

Kwasi called Athena in the evening and tried to engage in some small talk about the article he was writing. She told him about a young boy, who couldn’t have been older than nine or ten, calling her a bitch on the train after she’d asked him to turn his music down.

Kwasi sighed. “I’m sorry,” he said. He told her that he missed her. Athena was quiet for a moment, but she told him she missed him, too. He told her that his uncle Kwaku had left them some souvenirs to bring back to California. He had put the newspaper in the bag, too.

Later, he and Richard went to a party at the beach. He saw Nana Frimpong there with a young woman. 

“Adamfo,” Kwasi said. Nana Frimpong introduced him to the young woman. They ordered drinks and poured libations for those that came before them.

He found Nana Frimpong the next day at Piesie’s car lot. “I know it’s vulgar,” Kwasi said, “but I need to know how many girlfriends you have.”

“You really care about this number?”

“I do,” Kwasi said.

“I have forty-one girlfriends.”

“How do you manage them?”

“How do you manage anything? Diligence, my friend. And exercise. And always drink the local brew.”

“Where do you buy yours?”

“I don’t buy it,” he said. “They make it for me.”

“Can you get me a bottle? I want to try and take one back to California.”

“Will you be here tomorrow?”

“I will. Tomorrow is my last day.”

“I will bring some for you then.”


Nana Frimpong was asleep on the couch when Kwasi and his father arrived at the lot. There was a bottle of brew on the floor next to him. Dangerous Kofi was laughing at a movie. “Nana Frimpong?” Kwasi said. “Adamfo.” Nana Frimpong didn’t move.

“He is drunk,” Dangerous Kofi said. He reached out and grabbed Nana Frimpong’s leg. “Wake up,” he shouted. “You are drunk!” This startled Nana Frimpong, and he sat straight up.

“What happened?” he asked.

“You are drunk,” Dangerous Kofi said. “This whole place could’ve been burning down and you wouldn’t have moved.”

“I am not fucking drunk!” Nana Frimpong stood up. Kwasi stepped in front of him.

“Don’t worry about Dangerous Kofi. He’s just trying to provoke you. It’s not worth it. Let’s go smoke a joint.”

“Tell this guy I am not fucking drunk.”

“Dangerous Kofi, he’s not drunk, okay?”

Dangerous Kofi sucked his teeth and went back to his movie. Kwasi and Nana Frimpong walked to where the van was. “I told you I would bring you some of this local brew, right?” Nana Frimpong said.

“Yes, you did.”

“Well, look at this.” There was a box in the back of the van with fourteen bottles of root-and-bark brew.

Kwasi’s eyes widened. “Meda ase, adamfo. I can’t take them all, but I’ll try to take one in my suitcase.”

“Do not forget me,” Nana Frimpong said, pointing a finger at Kwasi. He tried to answer but Nana Frimpong stopped him. Kwasi packed away the brew and shook Nana Frimpong’s hand, vigorously. He, his father, and Piesie got into Piesie’s car and drove away. Nana Frimpong shouted at them, “Don’t forget me!”

Kwasi brought the bottles back to his father’s home. He gave five bottles to Richard, put one in his suitcase, and left the rest with his father.

As promised, Kwasi stopped by Piesie and Akua’s home for dinner. The table was crammed with plates of tilapia, a spinach stew, peanut-butter soup, fufu, and salad. They ate and ate and Kwasi told Akua that he was going to mention avocados from her garden in his article. She asked him when he would come back to visit, and he said he hoped it would be soon, and that his Twi would be better.

“Tell her what Nana Frimpong gave you today,” Piesie said.

“He gave me some of the local brew to take back.”

“How many bottles did he have?” Piesie asked.

“A lot. More than ten.”

Akua laughed. “Kwasi,” she said, “do you know Nana Frimpong’s story?”

Kwasi shook his head.

“He left when he was young for Sweden. After several years, he came back with a fortune. He had a house by the university. Everyone would see him driving his Porsche up and down the roads. But after a while he got bored of Ghana, and he said, ‘I’m going back to Europe. To Belgium this time.’ The same as before, no one heard from him for years. Then one day, he was back. But now he doesn’t even have a car. Do you know where he lives now?”

Kwasi shook his head.

“He lives in a single room above the bar, across the street from the car lot.”

“But he’s still happy,” Kwasi said. 

“He won’t be happy forever. All men get old,” she said.

“Our grandfather was chasing them until the very end,” Piesie said. “One hundred and seven years old.” 

“Is that what you want, Kwasi?” she asked.

Kwasi smiled, embarrassed.


They woke up at five to take him to the airport before the Accra gridlock set in. Kwasi ate breakfast in the airport by himself. He took out the small journal and pen from his backpack and jotted down, It was the summer of Ebola, and I was on a plane to visit my father, whom I had not seen in nearly ten years. I was running from many things. I was a stranger in so many ways. He stopped there, put his materials away, and found a restroom. As he washed his hands, he stared at himself in the mirror. He gave himself a hard look, leaned in, and did his best impersonation of that old white lady.

“Absolutely not! I am an American citizen!”

He was the first person in the waiting area. He thought Athena might be up, and sent her a text. She texted back. They talked on FaceTime for a while. He made some jokes about Nigeria and they spoke vaguely about talking more when he got back. 

On his way back to the US, he passed through Nigeria without incident, and composed the majority of his food story on the sixteen-hour return flight—2,000 words on fufu, jollof rice, kenkey, groundnut stew, the tro-tros, Nana Frimpong, the libations poured out for those who came before them. His editor loved the “texture” of the article. He said it felt “authentic—not any of that over-the-counter tourist bullshit.” He appreciated the use of Twi. 

That night, he shared the bottle of the root-and-bark brew with Athena. He offered a measured apology as they drank on the couch, which she accepted. The silence that followed held them both still, a subtle pressure that sucked just a little bit of air from the room. Kwasi took out his phone to show her photographs—scrolling, pouring the brew. They laughed together. They made it to bed, drunk and contented, and scrolling through their Twitter feeds, sharing ridiculous posts. She laughed and showed him something on her phone—a meme, a video, he wasn’t sure. He’d turned his head but stared at his own screen for just one last moment, making sure he read the headline right: Ebola had made its way to Lagos; authorities were scrambling to contain it.

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