Another new best friend

“Hey Mister. Mister. Mister White”. The butcher is yelling out. “White man. Look! Want to buy?” I turn around and suddenly realise he is talking to me. The tourist group is nowhere in sight. The butcher holds up a slimy bundle of entrails slipping through his bloody hands. “Hey white man”, he laughs. Good for you. Cheap. Special price. I feel shocked and alarmed that he has called me a white man. I want to tell him I’m not. That, where I come from we too have markets like this, butchers like him. My father ate everything. Me too. Tripe, liver, heart and even spleen. I grew up with these smells.

His friends laugh and jeer. I feel defensive. Want to explain who I am. They keep referring to me as Mr. White. This is a new one for me. This is the first time I’ve been called white and it won’t be the last. Surely they must see the difference between me and all the other tourists. I look at my brown skin glistening with sweat. I look at his black skin. I understand. I do look white next to him. I realise he sees me as a white man. I look around at the faces that surround me. All shades of black and brown. I look at my forearm again. I see brown. Sri Lankan brown, Indian brown, mixed race who-knows-what brown. The butcher and his friends are laughing at me. My annoyance turns to amusement and I laugh with them. I’m not going to get into a debate on ethnicity nationality and colour here. White, black, brown, yellow or coloured.  Definitions of convenience to suit those in charge.  Ask the ‘coloured’ South Africans under Apartheid or the ‘white’ Aboriginal people of Tasmania what they think.

My thoughts are interrupted by a small boy tugging at my shirt. Trying to sell me a bag. He looks up at me. Round, nut brown face, oval eyes veiled by long eye lashes hiding yellow eyes, pearly white teeth smiling widely at me.

 I buy the bag and turn my attention back to the butcher. The boy still hangs around looking at me. I am starting to attract a bit of attention now. A woman balancing an enamel basin of tomatoes on her head saunters up. “Six for fifty.”

selling tomatoes

I smile politely and say not now maybe later. She says “How much later?” “Why not now”? I need to put something in the empty bag she tells me. I realise I have just bought the bag. The boy lights up and offers me another bag. I buy the tomatoes and the second bag. Another woman pushes in trying to get my attention. The butcher keeps laughing, his one gold tooth flashing. His friends enjoy a secret joke with him at my expense. But I don’t mind.

I’m starting to feel a bit more relaxed now. I’m getting into the vibe, trying not to look like an idiot. In fact I’ve noticed that I’ve been acting a bit differently the last few days. I feel more friendly. More approachable and less morose than when I left home a few weeks ago. I’ve been walking more slowly. Almost a lazy shuffle. I seem to be walking with more rhythm. In time with the polyrhythms of Africa playing in my head. A refreshing change from the dark thoughts that occupy me most of the time. I think I like this place. Seems to agree with me.

“Goats head soup is very good for you my friend”. It’s my best friend the butcher’s voice bringing me back. Make you strong like a lion” he growls, winking at me. His eyes glint with mischief as his friends join in laughing. “Yeah man”. “You in Africa now”. “Try some tonight. You love your woman too long tonight. She never want to leave you”. The goats head stares blankly at me as I try to remember the last time I had a girlfriend.

 I’m not good with women. I’ve had a few girlfriends in the past, but they never seem to have worked out. Brief, unsatisfactory relationships. My fault. I am difficult to live with. Too selfish. “How do you make the soup?” I say, not really caring but looking for an excuse to hang around. I’m surprised that I am in such a good mood. Not brooding and snappy. I am actually enjoying this amusing discourse with my new best friends. I don’t mind them having a joke at my expense. I’m getting into the banter and the repartee.

“You going to cook the soup?” He asks incredulously. “Oh. Very easy for your wife but maybe not for you eh?”I don’t want to tell him that I’ve been cooking for myself for years. I actually fancy myself in the kitchen. I have my repertoire to impress guests and one for myself. Heavy on the chilli.

“My wife is the best cook in Accra” he says to me rubbing his flat stomach and winking at his friends. They all have flat muscled stomachs I note ruefully. His tooth glints again as his wide grin draws me to him. We talk a bit more. He says he is a Hausa from up North. I tell him that I’d like to travel up North and will drop in and see him before I do. I ask him what language he speaks. He says he speaks four. He breaks into African French from African English. Back to African English. Two more in-between that I didn’t understand. “You make the soup from the head of the animal. Put special spices. Very tasty. Good for your waist. Make you toooooo strong” he says laughing mischievously. He friends laugh along with him. I shuffle nervously and force myself to laugh with them.

Then, as if by magic I am surrounded by the ingredients for the soup. A bunch of carrots dangles before my face, a long cucumber sticks into my ear. My chin begins to sprout a beard of parsley. I don’t want to cook. I can’t cook in my hotel room anyway. I have to move on. This is getting ridiculous. I marvel at the smooth teamwork that has me walking out with my bag now bulging with the tomatoes, carrots, cucumber, parsley, onions, garlic, spices and goat’s head that snuggles next to the tomatoes.

I’ll see you a bit later I tell my Hausa friend. “OK. Make sure you came back. You are my best friend,” he shouts at me.

I have begun to acquire a lot of best friends who I keep promising to visit tomorrow. Everyone wants my address. Everyone wants to visit me in my home. Everyone wants to leave Africa. I want to stay.

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