Ayesha Harruna Attah - Harmattan Rain Excerpt

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October 1997
Akua Afriyie sat behind a huge cream computer monitor. She clicked on the Queen of Spades, dragged it onto the King of Hearts. She sighed. She was bored at work. But what was she doing there? There really wasn’t much work to be done these days. No big elections. No getting roped into Barnor’s politics. No Sugri to go home to. She knew it was unhealthy, not dealing with the fact that her raison d’être was away in university across the world and she was holing herself up in the office. She picked up the Daily Graphic. Earlier in the day she’d seen an ad that she’d found interesting. She unfolded the paper and flipped through the black and white pages. There!

Farida’s Studio
Looking for a space to work?
Looking for artistic instruction?
Want to meet promising artists?
Come visit …

She looked at her watch. It was just after five. Everybody had left the office half an hour ago and she was sitting there playing solitaire. She might as well go check out this place. She got out of her seat and shut down her computer. She picked up her bright green purse. This was the first time, since Sugri left, that she was leaving the office before seven.
Farida’s studio was not far from John Barnor’s office.

Akua Afriyie parked her car along an open gutter. Before she rolled up her window, the smell of kebab wafted into her nostrils. She would have to get some of that on her way home. She locked her door. The kebab man stood behind a grill as high as his waist, his dreadlocks shaking to their own music as he dabbed the meat with oil. She looked around for Farida’s and saw a small yellow bungalow two uncompleted houses away from the kebab man. She strode to it. A signboard posted on the maroon door spelled the letters farida’s. Akua Afriyie straightened her skirt, pulled off the thin ribbon holding up her ponytail, smoothed her hair and retied it—not that this was an interview, but she still wanted to make a good impression.

She knocked feebly on the door and didn’t hear a response. She tried the door handle. It yielded and led to a semi-dark room, hidden in shadows. As her eyes adjusted, she saw that the room’s walls were covered in paintings. She made her way toward a lit second room.

The first person she saw was a voluptuous woman, completely naked. She was seated on folds of white cloth, staring straight ahead. Three women and a short man stood behind easels. The woman closest to Akua Afriyie had sketched the naked woman in red conte crayon. Out of nowhere, a thin woman with skin the color of coffee beans materialized. Her blue turban, patterned with white and aqua triangles, seemed bigger than her whole body. Her dress, straight and sleeveless, matched the blue of her head-wrap. It was stamped with two pockets with the same print as the turban. She noticed Akua Afriyie and put up her right hand. Blue bracelets clanged from her wrist down to her elbows.

“One minute,” the woman said. Her voice—gravelly, scratchy, a cross between Nina Simone and Louis Armstrong—shocked Akua Afriyie. She couldn’t believe that a sound like that would come out of a woman, and from such a tiny woman. “Miss Quaye, you’ve thrown a voodoo head-shrinking curse on your sketch,” she said to a woman behind a grey easel. “Fix it.” She turned to the short man. “Brilliant! Carry on!” she croaked, walking toward
Akua Afriyie. “Yes, my dear?” she asked.

Akua Afriyie could tell she had once been beautiful. Now, her skin looked too dry. “I came because of the ad in the Daily Graphic,” she said.

“Excellent!” the woman rasped, putting her palm on Akua Afriyie’s back. “Farida,” she said, extending her arm. “Let’s sit out here. Come.” They walked back to the shaded room. Farida brought over two foldout chairs and switched on a light. “Please, have a seat!” she said, walking toward a desk behind them.

Akua Afriyie looked around. Her eyes darted from painting to painting—a nude man painted in green, fruit still lifes, abstract swirls and arrows, posted on a black wall. She looked up, saw rafters up above, and beyond them, an exposed zinc roof. Three spotlights hung from wooden planks nailed just under the roof from one end of the wall to the other.
Farida walked back and sat across from Akua Afriyie.

“Are you here to make me rich, or to steal my knowledge?” she asked in her gravelly voice.

“Yes,” Akua Afriyie said, not sure how to respond. “I’m here to do both. I’d like to take lessons.”

“Do you have an artistic bone?” Farida asked, shifting her turban with her right hand. Her bangles slid down to her elbows.

“I guess…. That’s what I studied in school. But I haven’t drawn in years. I’m so rusty.”

“Well, we’re very serious here,” Farida said, batting her eyes. “You pay me upfront. Per month. I start from basics with each person. It’s all about discipline, discipline and discipline. And of course, you have to have talent and passion. La passion.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a packet of Camel cigarettes and a green butane lighter. She stuck the cigarette between her lips, lit the tip of the Camel, took a drag and coughed. “Courses are twice a week,” she continued, “for the first three months. Once you’ve proven yourself worthy of my time, the studio is open to you. So, when do you want to start?”

“As soon as possible. What do I need to bring?”

“Well, money.” Her expression remained stoic. She looked Akua Afriyie straight in the eye, then burst into a haughty laugh that ended in a coughing fit. “Here,” she said, handing Akua Afriyie brochures. “These are our rates. If you need special instruction, that’s more money for me. I’ve also taken the time to suggest places from which you can buy good art material et cetera. I provide you with recycled paper for your drafts but for serious work you need stellar paper and canvases.” She coughed. “Oui, yes. I think that’s it. I’ll let you go marinate in, or is it ruminate on your thoughts, but I’m sure I’ll be seeing you soon.” She smiled. Yes, Akua Afriyie thought, the woman had once been very beautiful.

“Thanks,” Akua Afriyie said. She looked back at the studio and walked out. She loved it! And that Farida! Who better than a liberated woman to teach her art?

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