CHRISTMAS EVE saw me reach the age of – by my own calculation – exactly twelve years and seven months old.
So I thought of myself as being thirteen years old. When you are young, you want to become old quickly, not knowing that when you become old, you would want your years to be reduced, not added to!
Since I was 13 to myself, I decided that it was time to find out what it was like to get drunk. Ah, whatever happened, I would one day find out, wouldn’t I? So why not now?
My excitement at the idea was enhanced by a new idea – why not get rid of my virginity at the same time? I was supposed to wait until certain physiological changes had taken place in my body – you know, the growth of pubic hair and the unimpeded rollback of the foreskin, for instance. But who would know that I hadn’t waited for these changes to occur before getting to know what adults knew?
I didn’t need to ask where to go and buy a drink. Very often, I had had to wait in a car or truck while the older members of our vehicle-driving community went into a certain house and came back, after a while, with red-rimmed eyes. This house belonged to a woman known only as “Maame Afia”, and those who went into it were only people she trusted. You see, the drink sold there – akpeteshie – was “illicit” or a smuggled product.
The colonial government had made it illegal to produce akpeteshie because, it claimed, the ingredients used in brewing it were “harmful” to humans. (These ingredients were said to include carbide, washing soap and copper wire.)
But, apparently, the real reason for the ban was that akpeteshie was about three or four times as powerful as the “spirits” known as “whiteman’s drinks” (mmorϽsa), such as “gin”, “schnapps” and “whisky”. These were sold in certain licensed shops and cost about twenty times the price of akpeteshie. Yet, those who knew about drinks said they produced only about a third (if that) of the effect that akpeteshie had on people!
The whitemen who exported “spirits” to Ghana couldn’t compete with the Ghanaians who could brew nearly 100%-proof alcohol out of relatively cheap ingredients. So akpeteshie was banned. Yet people drank it in secret and were relatively none the worse for it. Unless they overdid it. But then, isn’t there a popular saying that “too much of everything is bad”?
The situation in Ghana at the time was the reason why laws made by whitemen – as against the so-called native customary laws that had always existed in our country – by are often despised. These whiteman’s laws almost always have an ulterior motive other than those for which they were ostensibly enacted. I mean look – you want to give a monopoly to your spirits-manufacturing companies but instead of saying so, you claim the locally-made spirits would kill the populace. Yet the populace drink it in secret – and stay very much alive! How can they trust you?
Well, I walked to Maame Afia’s place.
And I said to her, “Maame Afia, please give me one tot!”
And she said, “But you didn’t bring an empty bottle?”
And I said, “I am not taking it away!”
She said, “You want to drink it?”
She looked me up and down. In a village like ours, everyone knows everything about everybody, and she probably remembered the day I was born to a tee. But assuming an attitude of commercial unconcern, she said nothing.
She poured me the drink. A “tot” was in a small glass which could take about a thumb’s size of liquid.
I paid three-pence for the tot.
And I took the drink from Maame Afia.
And I placed the glass on my lips.
I closed my eyes.
I gulped down the drink (as I had been told to do!).
I felt a sharp pain in my throat – as if I had lit a fire in there!
I felt more fire inside my stomach – when the drink got down there!
Frightened, I looked round me. But everything was as before.
I thanked Maame Afia and stepped outside.
I had hardly taken ten steps when things began to change in a strange sort of way. Instead of me walking up the road towards my house, it looked as if it was the road that was coming fast towards me!
The ground too did not stay down but came upwards towards me when I moved my foot to step on it. I stopped, and then had to meander my way slowly, step by step, past the up-rushing ground and the oncoming road!
I don’t think I have ever concentrated on doing anything as much as I concentrated on walking safely home that day. Suppose I fell down? It would be the scandal of the year!
So, step by step, going sideways now to avoid an onrushing bit of road and standing still later to allow the up-pushing bits of road to pass on their way skywards, I managed to get home! About ten minutes after I had set out from Maame Afia’s house – a distance to be covered, normally, in two or three minutes!
I went into our bedroom and lay on my mat. Normally, my feet lay on the mat when I slept, but in this case, my feet lay half on the ground and half on the mat.
I passed out for a good ten hours, I think. By the time I woke up from my drunken stupor, it was well past 3 a.m.
I couldn’t hear the noise of crackers and fireworks which should have been coming from the streets.
And there was no singing.
Twenty-fourth Night had sailed past me into history.
It was Christmas Day!
What was I to say when everyone asked – and trust me, they would ask! ‒ about what had happened to me on 24th Night?
BY CAMERON DUODU