Chapter 2 – All Alone
It’s hard to believe that there’s nobody out there
It’s hard to believe that I’m all alone
At least I have her love, the woman who loves me
Lonely as I am, together we cry Under the Bridge, RHCP
Two years later...
Juldeh woke up with a silent scream stuck in his throat. He’d been having the same nightmare for three days. In the nightmare, which didn’t terrify him so much as it disturbed him, he was being hunted by his parents who had being transformed into flesh eating zombies as they mercilessly berated him for abandoning his brothers. The passing of time had brought more ambivalence about his decision than he cared to admit even to himself. He had been so sure at the time that he’d made the right choice, but as his life deteriorated, and the years went by with no knowledge about the welfare of his brothers, he sometimes wondered.
Juldeh looked at the watch on the little coffee table that was the only piece of furniture in his cramped room. It was almost 5 am and he should have been awake at least thirty minutes ago. He kicked off his thin blanket, sat up, and surveyed his room. It was cramped, being only about 10 by 8 feet. The bed took up most of the space and the coffee table was the only other piece of furniture. It was no five star hotel, but it was the best on offer at the orphanage. The others at the orphanage had to sleep in large dormitories that resembled little more than battery cages for human livestock. Juldeh was spared this fate, but he bitterly reflected that the only reason for this was the orphanage needing to keep him happy as their “prized possession”. Everybody knew and loved the youngest chess grandmaster in Ghanaian history. Too bad nobody loved him enough to get him out of this hell on earth. Circumstances had made him cynical, but he was not about to look a gift horse in the mouth, no matter how meagre it was.
His morning routine was always the same when he had to go to school. After taking an ice cold shower, getting half a cup of thin, lifeless looking gruel that was supposed to be porridge and a piece of stale bread with suspicious looking green spots, he had to walk almost forty five minutes to get to school. But today, he would be taking a little detour. He put on his school uniform, which consisted of a blue and white checkered shirt, khaki shorts, white socks and his black boots, which had definitely seen better days.
It was the dry season in Accra, and even this early in the morning, swirls of dust blew around the streets. The chaotic sounds of a city shaking itself out of its slumber cried out across the land. Juldeh walked with a purpose that he had not felt in years. Eventually, he found his way to Nella Owusu’s house, or more accurately, he reflected, mansion.
She was waiting for him, looking as radiant to him as she always did. He’d first met her almost two years previously, after moving schools, and they’d become fast friends. She was the only person he’d allowed to get close to him since the incident with his brothers. He looked closely at her and smiled. Her hair was done up in incredibly beautiful twists. She had a pert, round face caramel coloured skin, and a lean, toned, model-like body. “So, what’s the plan? You asked me to meet you this morning, and well, here I am”, Juldeh said evenly. It was only then that he noticed that she was not her usual perky self.
“Is something wrong?” The look of concern on Juldeh’s face touched Nella deeply. She regretted what she was about to tell him. She had come to care for him deeply, and she truly hated that she was about to visit even more heartbreak on his life.
“I don’t think we’ll be going to school today. There’s something very important I have to tell you.” Juldeh had never seen her look so serious. It frightened him a little bit, he had to admit to himself. This didn’t stop him however, from dutifully following her past the immense cast iron gates into the Owusu family compound. He’d been here twice before, but the view always took his breath away. She led him on a path of marble stones that zigzagged their way through the impeccably maintained lawn. In the middle of the lawn was a pond with two giant Koi fish swimming lazily back and forth. Nella stopped and fed the Koi. This gave Juldeh a chance to take a better look at them. One was black and the other was white, and as they swam around each other, they reminded him of the symbol for yin and yang.
I suppose that was the idea, he thought to himself.
“You can’t seem to get enough of the Koi, can you?” Nella asked playfully. “I think they’re a bit decadent myself, but you know my mother.” As she said this, she opened the intricately designed door. Juldeh stepped in, tried not to look too impressed and failed miserably. She led him through the foyer, past the antique furniture, the tastefully furnished interior dotted with invaluable paintings and furnishings, and into the kitchen.
“Would you like a drink? We have almost everything under the sun.”
“No, I’m fine, and by the way, isn’t there something you wanted to tell me.”
Nella got a glass of iced tea for herself and, once again he found himself following her into an expansive living room. She was one of the few people who always kept him off balance, he reflected. He didn’t quite know how he felt about that. Vulnerability was not a position he particularly cared to be in. They both sat down in the plush, luxurious sofa. Juldeh forced calm into his voice that he did not really feel and asked Nella to please explain. The suspense was killing him.
“I won’t be going back to school,” she said somewhat cryptically. Juldeh was confused, shocked and bewildered, but he decided not to say anything, hoping she would elaborate.
Nella continued with a pained look on her face. “My father just got appointed ambassador to England. We’ll be moving there before the week is over. I’m sorry I didn’t tell you earlier, but you have to understand, I wasn’t sure how you’d react.”
“I’m not that fragile,” he replied ruefully after an interminate pause.
Nella was surprised. He’d taken the news much better than she’d expected. Then again, she’d never seen him be anything other than even tempered and calm. “I was hoping we could spend the day together before I leave. What do you say? You up for it?”
“Am I? Do you even have to ask?” Juldeh said with a mischievous grin. As he finished saying this, she impulsively gave him a huge hug.
“Great, you won’t believe what I have planned,” she said excitedly, “but you’ll soon find out.”
They returned late that evening, tired but exhilarated. Juldeh couldn’t remember the last time he’d felt so carefree. The last time he’d had this much fun, his parents had still being alive. Times had been different then. He’d had no responsibilities, and life had been simple. He shook his head to snap himself out of his reverie. Lately, he’d been catching himself brooding, and didn’t really like it. He looked up and caught Nella staring intently at him. She blushed and quickly averted her eyes.
“I had a really good time.” She paused and said in a softer voice “I could get Godfrey to drive you back home tonight, or maybe tomorrow morning. I make a mean breakfast.” As she said this, she closed the distance between them and cradled his head in her hands. She gazed deeply into his eyes, and Juldeh felt like time itself stood still in those moments. He knew what was coming, but he still felt the breath rush out of him as she embraced him passionately and pressed her lips to his. He returned the kiss just as passionately, but a voice in the back of his head sent off alarm bells. Things seemed to be moving on fast forward as he felt Nella tugging at his shirt. Pure, undiluted passion was something he had endeavoured to never experience again. He’d seen the heartache it could cause. What was the point of caring, if you lost everyone you cared about. The alarms got louder as her hands wandered across his body. He had to stop, and he managed to pull away with a superhuman effort.
Nella was astounded, puzzled.
“What’s wrong?” she asked finally. “Is it me?” Her face gave him a look of dismay.
“No, it’s definitely not you.”
He wanted to tell her that her unfounded guilt about moving might explain it, and he didn’t want to feel like he was taking advantage of her, but he said nothing.
“So, what’s the problem?”
Juldeh wanted to tell her that he wasn’t sure about her motivations, and he didn’t trust his motivations, but he remained silent.
“Nella, I really like you, in fact, I more than like you-I love you. I don’t want our first time to be like this. If we’re meant to be, then we’ll meet again, in better times. You have to trust me about this.” When he saw that she was crying softly, his heart broke even more. After what seemed like eternity, she wiped the tears from her face and smiled. Juldeh offered her a hug and she stepped into it.
“That was a smart move,” she said. “You’re completely right, and you know what, I believe you love me, or you wouldn’t have done that. And I love you too.”
Fatigue rushed into the calm moment, filling the vacuum left by passion and leaving them desperate for rest. “I’ll take the guest room, if you don’t mind,” Juldeh finally said. He was afraid he’d lose his self control if she kept looking at him like that. He followed her upstairs as she led him to the room. “I’ll be in the other room if you need anything,” she said as she walked out of the room, leaving him alone once again with his thoughts. He lay on the bed with his hands folded behind his head. He was sure that this was just another test in his young life. He’d faced many setbacks, but he knew he’d find a way to come through. His final thoughts as he drifted off to sleep were about how lonely he felt, how alone he was. He could say that he never worried, but that would be a lie. His heart was heavy with the pain of his experiences. He still believed in God. Everything would be alright.