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Opinions of Monday, 20 August 2018

Columnist: Akosua Asiedua Akuffo

Inside Asiedua’s Chest: Compound House Chronicles 2

Akosua Asiedua Akuffo Akosua Asiedua Akuffo

It is a free show now with tenants peeping through their windows to see the faces behind the outrage. They know Kofi Maame will be involved and she is right there in the thick of affairs. She is second best to Auntie Maggie in the league of scolding and her razor mouth could break even the heart of iron. She is the encyclopedia of the house (has information about every single tenant) and is the ‘nicest’ first tenant who befriends new co-tenants as soon as they move in.

Kofi Maame trades information about every single tenant in the house in exchange for new information and ‘something’ about the newbie. Gossip comes to her so easily. And like pictures on a TV screen, her friendship is just as fleeting. Currently, she is not on good terms with at least four tenants in the house. Her type, is not so rare in houses like these.

Her latest victim seems to be the younger sister of one tenant, with whom she has started a quarrel this morning.

“I heard my name, what is going on here? What is it this early morning, Kofi Maame. What has Efe done this time around?” Cynthia quizzed as she walked towards Kofi Maame.

“Your uncivilized and boorish sister is disrespecting me for calling her to order.” Kofi Maame answers with fury.

“Watch what you say Kofi Maame. You realize she is my sister, right? Respect is reciprocal, and I believe if you had spoken to her respectfully, she wouldn’t have disrespected you,” Cynthia stated and asked her sister to take the bucket of water away.

Kofi Maame replies: “Of course, I knew you would support her. No one points at their father’s house with their left finger, they say. I have no time to fight you both this morning.”

She heads for her door after saying this, but Cynthia follows her with a chuckle and a series of claps saying:

“heheheheee guess who doesn’t have time for fight this morning? The Azuma Nelson of this house! Don’t go yet. I have all the time in this world for you this morning. You have been trying to provoke me for months. The last time, it was about my son hitting your daughter, today it’s my sister disrespecting you. What at all do you want from me and my family, Kofi Maame?

“It is obvious you both were not well-trained. Train your children and your sister on how to co-exist with other people. After that, enrol yourself in civilization school, that’s all I ask of you,” Kofi Maame advises.

The rage in Cynthia comes out faster than magma and in what seems to be a nanosecond, she bundles it all into a slap which lands on the left side of Kofi Maame’s face.

At this point, all those peeping through windows are out for a clearer view now. The fight has attracted a massive audience just like the fight between Bukom Banku and Bastie Samir, did a few months back. Most of them obviously wish Kofi Maame would end up as the Bukom Banku in this fight.

One woman warned absentmindedly: “It is too early, you both should stop,” and goes about her business.

You think she should do more to stop them? Hell no! That will be quite disappointing. And oh, Auntie Maggie isn’t at home today, she’s left for a funeral. Yay!

Anyway, Cynthia and Kofi Maame will stop fighting, but of course, not before ‘Bukom Banku’ retaliates. Kofi Maame growls and jolts herself angrily towards Cynthia. Cynthia attempts to dodge, tilts her head and mistakenly unties her braids, making it easily accessible by her opponent.

Kofi Maame doesn’t waste the chance and grabs several of Cynthia’s braids in one hand and starts to pull. Oops, not what many observers expect, but fingers still crossed with hope still high for a Cynthia takeover.

After Cynthia’s attempts to free herself fail, she lunges herself at her opponent and down they both go, with Kofi Maame’s back to the floor.

Cynthia hops on top of her and starts to slap Kofi Maame’s face with both hands. Some co-tenants rush to Kofi Maame’s rescue at this point. But Cynthia wouldn’t get off or stop hitting her. Kofi Maame tries to reach out for a weapon, a kitchen stool she had dropped before the fight had begun. She grabs it and goes for a smack at Cynthia. With her sharp reflexes, Cynthia blocks the attempt, snatches the stool but prefers to go with her hand. She launches more blows at her opponent who is now gasping for breath. Her walloping mouth is now bleeding not with insults but blood. The cotenants manage finally manage to separate the two.

The children jump around and scream with excitement at this moment. One child pokes Kofi, who looks on as his mom struggle and says with a giggle:

“Sister Cynthia has beaten your mother ee ee!” Kofi breaks down in tears.

One tenant who has just returned from the market, drops her foodstuff and quickly runs to help with the separation. Efe, who has been standing by and watching the action all this while, holds her sister by the arm to separate them too. Fight is finally over, but not without threats of a part two from both parties.

Wait a minute, did I just say fight was over? Well what I meant was the morning session was over. Sometimes, the audience is blessed with as many as five bouts a day. Now, Auntie Maggie has an issue to resolve when she gets back from the funeral. The time for the bi-annual tenants’ house meeting is just around the corner.

All tenants agree to make time for that meeting before they are given rooms in the house. Anyone who misses it must pay an amount of Two Hundred Cedis. Due to this, no tenant misses this meeting.

The meeting is just about a week away, but I know one of the main issues for discussion will be electric power. As I type this piece, there is no power in the house. School children in this house must either do their homework before dark or risk being punished at school the next day. Power supply was disconnected a few months ago because one tenant failed to pay the bill on time.

The only single tenant, Bro. Kofi is the man at the center of the ‘dum’ (power outage) situation. He is hardly seen at home, not even on weekends. He leaves very early for work and mostly gets home late. He is the only exempt from bathroom cleaning and sweeping duties. This is due to his status as a bachelor. Of course, not all the tenants support this decision. Not when they see women move in and out of his room the few times he is around.

Getting hold of him to hand him his utility bills has always been a ball and chain. This delayed the payment of the electricity bills in the past until Auntie Maggie suggested that the bills be paid without Bro. Kofi’s. His arrears plus the bills for the previous month caused the disconnection. He has paid all the arrears to Auntie Maggie after the disconnection, but power has not been reconnected. Guess why – A reconnection fee must be paid. The other tenants have refused to pay, blaming him and asking that he be forced to pay.

They have been going back and forth over this issue for the past four months, hence the current ‘dum’ situation in the house.

But Bro Kofi has complaints of his own. He had seen one of the tenants using a heater in his room one evening and was incensed. That tenant had time without number claimed he had nothing in his room except the two bulbs in his hall and bedroom.

With one electricity meter shared by 14 tenants, a decision on how much each tenant will pay for electricity is always a potential trigger for another war in the house.

Mostly points are shared according to electrical appliances in each room but many tenants hide their ‘assets.’ Tenant with appliances like the water heater, gas cookers etc which consume higher voltage would normally attract two points while bulbs, TV and radio sets would attract a point each. At the end of the month, the entire bill for the house is then divided according to the points each room has.

But in a clever way to avoid paying for the right points some of the tenants will not openly declare their ownership of some appliances even though they use them in their bedrooms and under the cover of darkness.

Bro Kofi had caught one of the tenants red-handed with hot water from the room with the water heater lying on top of the center table in the hall. That is part of the reason why he refused to pay the reconnection fee.

The Sunday scheduled for the meeting came as fast as words could fly. The tenants have converged in front of Auntie Maggie’s door. This is the best time to introduce some more tenants to you. Seated at a table is Auntie Maggie, the caretaker and Atindana, the secretary.

Atindana, 49, lives in one of the rooms with his wife, Adiza and their four children. The commercial bus driver and his wife are among the respected people in the house. The respected couple makes sure every room receives a bowl of rice and stew with a lot of meat during Edi-ul-Fitr each year. Who would want to be on bad terms with such a couple? No one, not even Kofi Maame.

Frempomaa, the only tenant who can argue over biblical fact all day long has just said a prayer, so the meeting has formally begun.

Auntie Maggie starts by reminding all tenants of the reconnection fees and asks that stands should be taken on the matter.

Two tenants, Nii Shiatse and Efo Xexemekutor nodded in agreement.

Efo owns the biggest television set in the house. Parents who cannot afford television sets together with their children watch all their shows in Efo’s room. His doorstep might be mistaken for the doorstep of a mosque during football seasons.

One other, Ekow Blay got up and said:

“I think our brother Kofi’s arrears contributed to the disconnection but so did the bills of the previous month. Mind you, his arrears have been piling for some time but the power was not disconnected. It was disconnected after we failed to pay the bills of the previous month. I think suggesting that he alone should bear that reconnection cost is unfair. Let’s just pay and move forward.”

“With all due respect, I don’t think we should waste any more time discussing this issue. He caused the disconnection and must pay the reconnection fees. It’s that simple. We all have work and other things to take care of, but we make time to receive and pay our bills on time. He must bear the cost alone to deter others from doing same. He doesn’t buy detergents and brooms like we do every now and then, he should pay with that money.” another tenant, Sedem Maame throws shade. She literally holds an advanced degree in shade throwing.

“You spoke well Sedem Maame but I think your last line was unnecessary, I think you should apologize to Bro. Kofi.” Kofi Maame stated.

Slowly Bro Kofi stood up and cleared his throat in a manner that appeared conciliatory, as if to say he was going to pay the reconnection fee but he released the bombshell.

“If I have refused to pay the reconnection fee it is because some people have decided to play us for fools. Whilst some of us have sincerely declared all the appliances we use in our rooms others are using their heaters and other appliances in the dark and…”

“That is a serious allegation you are making,” Kofi Maame interrupts. Who is using the heater and do you have any evidence? She asked.

Bro Kofi points in the direction Sedem Maame but she will not take the allegation without a fight. She springs to her feet virtually cursing and shouting in denial.

Kofi Maame again intervenes and calls for calm. She demands for evidence. Bro Kofi had none except a testimony of what he saw but that was not good enough.

Sedem Maame was still fuming. Another fight looming? Sedem Maame lives with her husband and her mother and two children in one of the rooms in the house.

She and her husband are tagged the cat and dog’ of the house for frequently fighting. I must say that they really deserve the name. They insult each other publicly and the kind of things they say about each other, trust me you do not want to hear. I’m concerned about the effect these fights will have on, not just their two children but other children in the house.

Sedem Maame was not done yet. “You don’t buy broom like we all do? You don’t buy detergent like we all do; you don’t sweep the house or scrub the bathroom and you dare accuse me of using a heater…”

For a woman whose record of insult in the house is legendary, it was clear where she was going. Auntie Maggie and some others in the meeting had to stop her in her tracks before she escalates the matter.

Auntie Maggie rules. Bro. Kofi would pay fifty percent of the reconnection fees while the other fifty percent is shared among all the other tenants. Other issues are discussed and resolved before the meeting ends.

Antie Maggie takes time after the meeting to resolve all the disputes between cotenants and makes sure they coexist peacefully. But that is only a routine. In a house where “could you please take your dried clothes off the drying line so I can dry mine” can turn into exchange of blows, anything at all can happen.