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Opinions of Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Columnist: Appiah, Papa

The Day the Music Stopped – May Their Souls Rest in Peace

I was in the sixth form. St Augustine’s College was fifty years old. The celebration was going to be the biggest ever in the history of the school. And the preparation had been feverish. Every single building in the school had been newly painted in the green and white colours of the school. Even the coconut trees by the roadside had not been spared the painter’s brush. On top of the Administration Block at the entrance of the school just by the sea, the red, gold, green and the Black Star blew in all its majesty, alongside the green and white of Augusco.

Every afternoon, bus loads of girls from the Holy Child School would come in to practice with us in the choir, in the various cultural dance groups, in the orchestra and in the school play. All afternoon, there would be a festive mood as the singers sang and the sounds of drums hung heavily in the warm Augusco air.

Away in the distance, members of the school Cadet Corp would be heard and often seen practicing their drills:
“Guard of honour, preseeeeent Arms!!” The sergeant-major’s voice could be heard for miles

Everybody shouted just that little bit louder, moved just a tad faster, and danced that wee bit more vigorously, when the girls were around. Finally, Augusco was ready.

And it had all started so well. The headmaster was interviewed on national television. Our school choir and orchestra performed brilliantly on television as well. At the time, we were about the only school in Ghana with a full orchestra. The final week was going to be the climax of almost a year long celebration. To set it off, there was going to be a candle light possession through the principal streets of Cape Coast with brass band accompaniment. We all looked forward to this.

On the night of the procession, every single student wore the Augusco Golden Jubilee t-shirt on a pair of khaki trousers. Candles were distributed to us and we started the procession. We marched past a tall collection of wood on the school field that was to be used for a bonfire after the procession. We were in high spirits. There were different generations of old students marching as well, from university students to pensioners. They were all there. There were doctors, engineers, diplomats, politicians and musicians, who all came, eager to contribute their bit to the school that had made them who they were.

Awichway was there. Awichway was a well-built good-looking guy in year five. He was one of those guys who just happened to be popular. People just loved Awichway. And Ankamah was there. Ankamah was a thin lanky lower sixth former who was new to St Augustine’s having done his O’Level elsewhere. From all accounts, he was a brilliant student having done exceptionally well in the O’Level Exam. He was amiable too and full of humour and had already made a great impression on those who knew him in the short while he had been in Augusco. I had seen him at the beginning of the march. He was dancing. He had turned to me and seemed disappointed that I was not dancing;

“I’ve been in this school for barely two months but I seem to be having more fun than you. Come on, dance!” he had said playfully. Little did I know, that it was the last time I would see him alive.
The procession went exceedingly well. The people of Cape Coast are nothing if not fun-loving and nothing gets their women waist and bum-shaking more than good brass band music. They joined us and danced with us. Awichway engaged a lady in a brief erotic dance to wild cheers from all of us. The guy was having more fan than anyone else. We marched through Bakano and over the Fosu Lagoon on our way back to school.

As we marched, cars that approached us slowed right down. Boys will always be boys and some of them took to drumming on top of the cars as they went by. But it was all boyish fun with no harm intended. Indeed most of the drivers honked their horns in time to the brass band music, just their little contribution; congratulating us on our school’s anniversary. But out of the blue, it happened. It happened right in front of the Central Hospital which shared borders with St Augustine’s. And I saw it all clearly.

A car that had been driving slowly as we parted to make way suddenly accelerated and rammed through the marching students. I was right there where it occurred. For, I happened to be, that very moment, on the side of the road. I heard the acceleration of the car, right beside me. I heard the most awful sounds of the impact between machine and men. I saw with my own eyes, boys flying in the air either from the impact of the car or in desperate acts of self preservation. I saw the car as it sped away, leaving in its trail, visibly shaken students, with a number of them lying in pools of blood on the ground. And the music, had stopped.

Then the doctors in our midst got to work, giving first aid and helping to get the boys into the hospital. They had all stayed to help the on-call doctors as they struggled frantically to save young lives. Awichway was the first to go, soon to be followed by Ankamah, but there were five other students critically injured and many others with minor injuries. An old student, a senior officer in the Ghana Air Force, had quickly made some phone calls and a military helicopter had soon arrived to take the critically injured students to the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra.

As the rest of us walked back to school, we stood for a while by the bonfire which had been set alight in anticipation of our arrival from town. It had burnt vigorously while we had all been in the hospital. We watched silently as the last embers extinguished and with them, gone, the lives of good young people and that joy that should have been but never really was. And that song, it came to me again, in my sleep and everywhere else;

“Go with the Lord
The same good old Lord
He that walks with you
And forever keeps you safe.”

Papa Appiah