‘The Man in the Tower’ is part of a web of stories that depict the state of urban West Africa, in the ‘not-so-distant future’. The general idea is to create a portrait of urban West Africa as if current systems are to persist – for instance, the unequal distribution of wealth. With that general picture in place contemporary issues are evolved and discussed in the future context along with approaching confrontations with ecological collapse.
Stroking from side to side about a dozen times. Then up and down another dozen. He spat the fizzy sweet-tasting paste into the basin and rinsed. The décor of his bathroom shun with sleek modernism. The sink, the showerhead, the ashy black floor tiles and even the toilet all spoke a language. Maybe French? Definitely something sophisticated. The toilet’s flush was actually quite impressive. Every time he finished shitting, a pleasant squirt of water would rinse his ass before his shit got washed away, never to be thought of again.
Thoroughly applying the Axe ‘vigilante’ gel, he fingered his scalp brutishly before slicking his hair back, then combing it all towards one side of his head. Just outside his bathroom door Scrappy, his little white fluffy dog, was fervently awaiting Jeff. Scrapping and snatching at his master’s ankles he followed Jeff to the bedroom. Jeff kicked his also white fluffy slippers underneath the bed, then unlaced his silk gown trotting over to the walking closet to pick an outfit for his Sunday stroll with Scrappy.
Walking his dog was always a fashionable moment for Jeff. In fact his SnapChat followers had accrued to over a 100,000 viewers all because of his sense of regal and sleek.
He noticed that a shirt was missing. Yes! The purple low-cut v-neck. The one with the hanging shredded long sleeves. He considered where it could be. It was most likely his maid, Ama. Her sense was as broking as her English and Jeff thought that he should really call the agency and fire the fool.
Ah yes. The simple white long sleeve shirt was always a classic.
Wilfully wandering the acclaim he would receive from his SnapChat followers, he scanned the bottom deck of the walking closet to pull out his tea blue short-shorts. Ramming his short-shorts way up his waist then tucking in the white shirt, he grabbed his go-to boat shoes before picking Scrappy’s blinged-out collar.
Before leaving, Jeff yelled at Siri to inform him of the weather forecast for the day.
‘It will be perfect day today, in Accra! With temperatures ranging between 23-26 degrees Celsius. Some slight winds are to be expected!’
‘Mmmm. Can you message Dr Togbe, tell him I’m bringing Scrappy over right now.’
‘Sure Jeff! Do you need me for anything else?’
‘Make a note to remind me to ask Ama about my shirt. I keep on telling her to remind me when she is taking things out for laundry. It has happened now way too many times.’
‘Sorry. Did you mean to say ‘Unkempt telephones are my hobby’?’
‘What?! No. That will be all Siri.’
‘God what a wonderful day!’ Jeff thought as he strutted down his gated community garden. Sure it was quite hot. But the fabric of his shirt was soft, and light, and incredible in all the ways a shirt can be. He was simply immune to the sun. He was immune to everything. No jab or insult thrown Jeff’s way would do him any wrong. A truly outstanding kind of obliviousness. He waved to the gardeners, who were too busy toiling on the ground and couldn’t pay him any notice.
Airport residential had become absurdly detached from the realities of bitter poverty and inequality ravaging Accra. So much so, the social bubble had bubbled up into the minds of the tenants. Lavish parties, soirees, libraries of cars, garages full of slave-workers, and sacks of money that was spent like nobody’s business.
Yes! The residences were in a champagne bubble – shiny, perfectly round, and delicate. Why not be? It’s better living without a care in the world! Living life like a motion picture.
Anyway, Jeff had gone to one of those lavish parties the night before. Music and drugs were all on point. Ladies were fabulously dressed and the guys’ haircuts were as sharp as knives. Jeff had gone with his girl friends, Lana, Esi, Blair and Shevan. Those bitches got shit wasted and Jeff was forced to be the ‘responsible one’ for the rest of the night.
Dr Togbe’s house wasn’t far now and Jeff knew that he could maybe order a lite breakfast while waiting for Scrappy to get his checkup. Last time though, they were serving this traditional option called waakye. Black beans and rice, sultry spicy stew with shitto, topped with sautéed tofu. Hardly a lite breakfast but a mouth-watering one nonetheless.
He checked back with his phone to see if it was the next left, which he knew it was, but he always needed to check again. Ushering Scrappy onto the other side of the street they made their way up the front stairs of Dr Togbe’s clinic.
Dr Togbe’s house/animal clinic had just had its walls plastered with pictures of all the adorable pets that had come to his clinic. Jeff leaned over the pleather chair to stare at the portraits. There was this one photo, which was just unbelievable. The owner had found a way to make it seem that his dog was holding him like newly weds do. Same silly smile as any bride would have and the groom sweeping under his face all bits of anxiety.
Before he realised how far deep his knees had sunk into the chair’s cushion, Dr Togbe had come out to greet Jeff with his usual sunny disposition.
‘Jeff! Got your message, how can I help you?’
‘Just a general checkup doctor, my little boy here Scrappy hasn’t been here for two months. You know I don’t want what happened to Ama Sam’s poodle to happen to Scrappy – isn’t that right Scrappy!!’
While Scrappy scratched and spat at the furniture of the lobby, Jeff and Dr Togbe finalised payments before the doctor took Scrappy into the back office for his checkup.
Jeff stood idle in the waiting room. He hadn’t had anything to eat since late last night with the girls. Summer was fast approaching as well. There was a need to keep his pudgy figure intact but leaner would be preferable. ‘The waakye though!’ he thought concedingly. When would he be here again?!
He strutted over to the cafeteria on the second floor/dining room to ask the chef if there was any waakye. But just before he got to the counter the chef pulled out a couple of takeaway packs, probably for some other patient. The aromas permeating the room were heavenly. Chewing the edge of his fingers Jeff realised that his fickle resilience to food would be broken once again this morning.
‘Please can I have a pack of waakye. Pasta, boiled egg, black pepper stew, fried plantain and some salad on the side please. Need to eat healthy right? But it’s for my friend anyway.’ The chef smiled and went to fetch Jeff’s order, returning in a matter of minutes smiling curiously. Jeff snatched the package and hopped back downstairs slightly embarrassed and overly aware of his tummy bouncing up and down with him.
Scrappy was as snappy as ever by the time he was done with his checkup. Jeff and Dr. Togbe immersed themselves with some neighbourhood gossip before Jeff pardoned himself out of the office.
Jeff stepped out of the building and was met with the full force of a rushing wind all of sudden.
Checking his step and adjusting his feet he scooped Scrappy and pressed him to his chest.
‘What! – The Hell! – Is Going On?!’
The words that left his mouth never seemed to form fully as they were swept along with swooping and powerful gushes of wind. It was so ferocious, the wind, and it was uprooting the whole street in front of Jeff’s eyes. The stop sign pole had bent over and its plate was banging on the sidewalk. Plastic bags twirled high up in the sky and closer to the ground the earth was scattered across the street. There weren’t many people out because it was a Sunday, but you could hear wild screams from all corners of the neighbourhood as the buildings creaked to the force.
Jeff was incapacitated and seeking shelter in Dr Togbe’s office was the logical thing to do. But the urge in him to change his outfit was too strong to reason with. It looked too worn now and there were sweat patches at the armpits giving the white this awful piss-like stain. Going back was not an option. So he continued onward.
Each step felt like Jeff would be swept off his feet and Scrappy had sunk his nails deep into his shirt. After a while, Jeff could not think about how good he looked. He was too focused on trying to keep his centre of gravity as low and steady as possible. About half way to his apartment the relentless wind became somewhat bearable and he picked up his pace to a brisk jog. Panting and heaving desperately for breath he staggered into the lobby of The Magnificent.
‘Home! Finally, home. Sweet-sweet-safe-secure. Home. Jesus, Scrappy! Fucking calm down!’
By the time he was in the elevator and headed up to his room on the 79th floor, Jeff had regained some composure.
Deep breaths, that was the key! One… Two… Three…
All the way up, a hideous feeling was bubbling in his stomach. Each level the elevator climbed the more violently the building cringed. Scrappy was shivering, scratching and snapping all in one long annoying fit. Jeff was planning to dump him in his ‘bad dog’ hole where all Scrappy’s antics would be muted by the soundproof walls of his caged cubicle.
The building jerked sharply and Jeff lost his balance forcing Scrappy to leap from his falling hands. He slowly picked himself up. Trembling. Hoping that it been safe.
He managed to corner Scrappy after some time, and pet down his dog’s shaking fluff before the elevator stopped at his floor. Luckily, all of Jeff’s windows were shut and the wind had not menaced his apartment.
‘Siri! Turn on the TV to CNN: Ghana for me. Now! This can’t just be happening here!? Maybe it is something that is passing through? Siri didn’t you say it would be slight winds? Do you know what slight winds are?! Does it look like its slight winds!? Whatthehellisyouruseifyougivemefuckingstupidinformation?!’
‘Sorry Jeff. Would you like me to turn on the TV now?’
‘Yes! Yes! I just said!’
‘Sorry Jeff. Turning on TV to CNN: Ghana. The current conditions today are sunny and slightly windy.’
It was sunny, but Siri must have misinterpreted what ‘slightly’ meant and Jeff was in no mood to continue quarrelling with his phone again.
The two CNN: Ghana broadcasters (Katie Robinson and Jakob Lamptey) were sporting some ridiculous windbreakers and wearing foolish smiles as they joked about the unexpected wind.
‘Jakob, I guess we won’t be needing our plane tickets any more. We can just JUMP and FLY to Tamale.’
‘HAHAHAHAHAHA, wasn’t that funny guys?’
*Applause from studio audience*
‘Let us give it up to Katie Robinson. HAHAHA. I guess you won’t be needing a hairdryer either!’
‘HAHAHAHA. Oh MY GOD. Jakob you really BLOW me away.’
‘HHAHAHA. Aaah there is a tear in my eye. Let us give it up to Katie Robinson.’
*Applause from studio audience*
Jeff all of a sudden found the idea of mashing a comedy talk show with presenting news stupid and obnoxious. He had to watch for another thirty minutes before he got some actual details on what was happening with the weather in Accra that day.
Apparently, the winds were being caused by a sudden depression of cool air. As Jeff understood it, it was something of an extraordinary event. No weather channel had predicted this occurrence and the climatologists who were busy waving their pointers trying to explain something they didn’t quite get, looked confused and excited all at the same time. Finally, an official statement from the mayor of Accra deemed it unsafe for anyone to go outside. Jeff didn’t quite know what to make of the news but felt comfortable enough to saddle up for the night by making some hot cocoa and marshmallows and possibly a movie.
As he opened the tap to fill the kettle, a strong gush rocked the apartment building sending Jeff tumbling to the ground again. He could hear Scrappy squealing madly from his hole. But there was little Jeff could do. He would have to wait till the building stopped rocking before he could be sure of reaching Scrappy safely.
Realising the ridiculousness of the situation Jeff suddenly felt the gravity of it all weigh on him. He was literally stuck on the floor of his apartment shaking with fear over the possibility that the building might collapse! The apartment itself was falling apart. The kitchen appliances clanged and crashed as they fell onto the ashy tiles. White noise from the TV churned and crackled while the winds whistled and whipped outside. Glass décor fell over and shattered into millions of tiny little pieces.
Sharp shards flew across the floor to the corner where Jeff was cradling himself.
Soft tears were creeping down his cheeks. Staring only at the floor, he hoped for it to be over soon.
Ama knew it was late. She was also terrified at the thought of having to walk through the storm of winds lashing outside on the streets of Accra. But if she didn’t return Jeff’s shirt she would surely be fired and that will make it even harder for her to get another job to support her family. She found a collection of items in the recycling bin of her neighbourhood that looked like it could deflect the winds.
Wrapping herself in rubbery textured trash she felt unbelievably stupid. But failure to deliver the shirt could lead to unthinkable disaster for her and her family. Tightening her belt over her makeshift wind suit Ama was ready for the worse.
Initially, Ama seriously considered turning back. But after a while the winds seemed to just zoom past, over and underneath her. She would sometimes walk sideways to be even more aerodynamic and other times she would lie flat on the ground and sort of crawl onwards. After weaving through the narrow side streets and walkways Ama could see Jeff’s apartment a-way-away.
It was swaying.
She could see it bending?
Like a cartoon almost.
Ama stood still watching the monstrosity of the apartment building swing back and forth. Buckling at frightening angles. Twisting impossibly.
An incredible burst of wind suddenly caught underneath Ama and she felt its force rise up. The pulse of nature was pounding on her eardrums and there was an unbelievable pressure weighing on her immediate surroundings. She quickly bent down to stop herself from being caught in the current that was sweeping over the whole world it seemed! Recovering from the rush she looked back up.
The top half of the apartment was hanging at a perfect right angle. She could see large metallic beams break from the building’s failing structure as the wind punched and beat it to submission.
It balanced for a moment as the wind withdrew from its onslaught.
There was no sound but the moans of the squirming metal.
The sun was now cast at sunset.
The silhouette of the building made for an odd horizon.
A collective breath being drawn.
Then it dived down.
Descending with a jarring metallic tear the building crashed into the ground. The crash split the world in two and tore the world around Ama into shreds. She found herself behind a wall, crouched but shaking with fear and disbelief. She could feel clouds of dust blast past her, tossing and ripping anything that was caught in its wrath.
Compacting herself, her hand clutched on to something soft in her wind suit. She absent-mindedly pulled out a shirt. It was Jeff’s shirt. The one with the horrid sleeves. She tied the arms together and wrapped the top around her face to shield her eyes from the wind. The mist of sand and debris was still difficult to manoeuvre, and the air was difficult to breathe. But she decided to trek back home regardless. It was the only thing she could do amidst the tower’s wreckage.