American Charity by I.C. Moore by I.C. Moore - Read Online

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American Charity - I.C. Moore

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Charity Anasie waited at the side of the dusty roadway. The carrot red earth fought with the deep emerald green plants that exploded above her head. A canopy of shade formed over the hot asphalt. Charity stood under the shade and stretched her thin ebony arm above her head to hold up the drooping palm and prevent it from catching her hair. Despite having spent a whole day at work, her starched pink blouse and pleated blue skirt still held their neatness. Her long angular ebony face, wide smiling mouth and bright open eyes gave no hint of the stressful day she had spent in the Ghanaian Government statistics office, under high ceiling fans that continually circulated hot stale air. Charity was radiantly excited because she was going to the post office to pick up a letter, hopefully from her husband Conrad, who had been in America for over two years and away from her for nearly four years.

It was the end of 1994 the world was not a peaceful place, but it never had been. The civil war in Liberia and Sierra Leone seemed like just another African power struggle. It would be ten years for the world to learn the full extent of the horrors there. Ghana was at peace, the UK was at peace and the U.S. was at peace, despite their perennial political scandals. Charity was beginning to become concerned about Conrad being away so long. She had heard of many women in Ghana who had lost their husbands to the fast life of America. One of her cousins had even surprised her husband on a trip to America, and found that he was married to a white woman! This, she prayed, would never happen to her!

The day was ending. The hot baked day of the tropics would soon retreat into sudden darkness. The sprawling city of Accra, the capital of Ghana, would then fill its night air with the sounds of highlife music and the laughing faces that merged with the black night. As the Mammy Wagon – a small bus run by local entrepreneurs - with the name, No Time To Die approached; people huddled around Charity as she claimed her spot at the front of the line.

So how’s my best mate’s girl? said John the driver, giving Charity a broad smile and a wink as she stepped up into the Mazda van and sat across from him.

I’m hurrying to get to the Post Office. I’m expecting a letter from Conrad today, said Charity breathlessly. The Mammy Wagon pulled away from the roadside as Kofi, John’s assistant, was busy collecting fares and directing passengers to sit down. John switched his attention between Charity and the road, hurling curses at the other road users. John gave Charity his best smile. He had once had eyes for Charity himself when they were in high school together, but Conrad had swept her off her feet and John could only admire her from a distance now.

So how is Conrad these days, he said, is he still in the UK? said John.

Oh no said Charity, He’s in the U.S. He’s been there for over three years now. I hope to be joining him soon, said Charity blushing

He’s in the U.S.! said John. What kind of foolishness has got into him now? Everyone knows that a black man in the U.S. is a walking target for gun wielding racists!

Do you think so, said Charity, suddenly deflated and frightened. You’re right, all those guns they have there; and all those people who get killed for nothing.

Let me tell you, said John, I heard a man died in his apartment and it took a week for his next-door neighbor to miss him! Nobody cared! Neighbors do not care for each other! Can you believe that? John looked at Charity with amazement. That could never happen in Ghana! he went on, I mean, how can people not care about each other? In Ghana, even people who do not like each other look out for each other, if they live in the same compound!

John abruptly transferred his attention to the chaos on the road, and the lines of astonishment on his brow burned into his forehead. He felt a little touch of pride at his Ghanaian heritage, which although poor, was wealthy in human kindness. He had heard many times foreigners saying Ghanaians were the nicest people in the world, and he knew that was true, even including the mad drivers, on the road in front of him who were blocking his way!

Charity felt her discomfort grow as the barbs of John’s words invaded her thoughts. The glow of the day’s excitement was dimmed by John’s stories, for Charity thought of America as a magical land of slick images and the ‘rich life’ where everyone was well fed and working and full of smiles. It was too much to think that this abundance of success could be manufactured. It was too real to be untrue! It fed Charity dreams of the good life, and her hopes that she would soon be with Conrad, her husband, once he had arranged for her to join him in America.

While John continued to rant and rave at the other road users, Charity retreated into herself and struggled to correct the dark images that John’s ideas had created. ‘Surely, he cannot be right?’ she thought, ‘how could such a rich country not care about its own people.’ ‘How else could America be a great nation and survive and be so successful if it didn’t care?’ Charity continued to reassert her positive faith in the goodness of successful things and built herself back up to her familiar bubbly self. She discounted John’s remarks as the babblings of a poor man who could not understand the dynamics of a great nation like America! ‘After all, he was just a Mammy Wagon driver who had never been out of Accra, let alone seen America! What does he know? He was probably just trying to scare me, or impress me more like it!’ She thought. Comforting herself with these musings she looked up from her reveries and called out.

Oh, John, please stop here…. Thanks, said Charity, putting on her sweetest smile.

My pleasure, pretty lady, said John, smiling coyly as Charity brushed by him. He had long forgotten what he had said only moments before, confronted now by the delight of being so close to his dream girl. Tell Conrad he’s a lucky dog to have you as his lady. Next time, pretty lady! I got my eye on you.

The ‘No Time to Die’ doors closed as Charity scampered down off the bus and hurried to the Post Office. In the parking lot the buses, stood like yawning carcasses preparing to stuff themselves with more passengers. She pushed her way through the throng of people herded inside the sweltering Post Office building. Everyone was talking at each other at the same time without listening. The clerks leaned on the counters behind broken wired openings looking with benign indifference at the endless stream of complaints that paraded before them. Charity reached her post box and fumbled with her keys. She felt a strange sense of unease from John’s comments and the anticipated excitement of a letter from Conrad conspired to make her unusually nervous. Taking a deep breath, she attempted to calm herself. She opened her post box and searched with a quivering hand for the folded parchment. She put her hand into the box and felt something. There was something there, but she could not quite reach it. As she stretched and grabbed for the letter, she cut her finger on a metal spike along the side of the metal box frame. She pulled her hand back quickly, sucking the blood and smoothing her finger, wondering, through the pain and discomfort, if this was a bad omen. Reaching back into the box again, this times with her other hand, she pulled out the grimy and now blood speckled envelope. She felt instantly that it was from her husband Conrad, but was only completely sure when she recognized the rough scrawl that he had used on so many letters in the past. She rushed out of the Post Office clutching the letter without reading it. Something told her she needed to be at home with her mother. Tears came involuntarily to her eyes as she pushed through the lines of humanity that continued to throng in and around the Post Office building.

Out in the hot sweltering afternoon sun, she hurried all the way home, passing kiosks selling cassava, yams, beer and canned foods, hopping carefully across wooden beams that straddled trenches where half-connected pipes lay. She ran up embankments, avoiding the cluster of merchants, who clogged the narrow pathways separating the waddled walls of compounds, with their meager spreads of matches and watches and odd electronic products. She waved to her cousin Kwame, who sat in his sewing kiosk. He looked up with a hurt expression on his face when Charity jogged by. He could not understand why she had run by and not stopped to talk to him. It was one of his daily pleasures to talk to his favorite sister. Charity covered her eyes to control her tears, and avoid the eyes of others, as she scampered over the dusty red earth that led to her compound.

As she reached home, she slowed down. The Ashanti man, who owned the compound, where she and her mother rented rooms, was a very serious man. He did not like over-excitement or any form of trouble. He would sit on the verandah of the main house, observing all. As Charity stepped into the compound, she could feel eyes on her. She slowly caught her breath and scanned the compound for where the feeling of dread was coming from. He was there, with his bright Ashanti Kente cloth draped around his mid-rift. He was sitting on his wooden stool, leaning back against the wall of his house asleep, with his mouth wide open, looking like a swollen pig waiting for an apple to be popped into his month. Charity creped across the compound, watching the owner’s children playing and laughing at her creeping around; he glared at them, but they continued to laugh behind their hands.

Bathed in sweat, she collapsed on the sofa as soon as she got into the living room of their small home. Her Mother, Ama, came hurriedly into the room when she heard Charity arrive.

What is the matter Charity? You have fever or something?

I get a letter from Conrad, but I get this awful feeling it is bad news, Charity sobbed.

Now, do not be silly, God willing, all will be well. Let me look at it! She made a move to take the letter from Charity, but Charity clutched it to her breast and curled up on the sofa.

Ama, a woman in her fifties was a deep mahogany colored woman with a reddish sheen to her radiant skin. She was stout and wore big bi-focal dark rimmed glasses that gave her an authoritative look, like a school principle, which she had been. She chose to wear the traditional cloth of her people, the Ewe, beige Kente with purple strips that she wrapped around her waist. She had on a white blouse with a picture of her President, J.J. Rawlings on the front. Covering her hair was a purple and beige stripped headscarf held in place by a large silver pin with the face of the president’s wife sculpted into it.

It cannot be that bad child, just read it, it will be well, you will see. Ama comforted Charity. Conrad is letting us know he doing well just like last time.

That was a year ago, Mother, said Charity. I want to hear he is doing well, but the letter makes me feel afraid. I feel something is wrong! Why do I only hear now after so long?

Well, daughter; life in America is different from our people here in Ghana. People do strange things there, who can understand them? They so busy all the time, said Ama, continuing to reassure Charity, but beginning to wonder to herself that perhaps something disturbing was being communicated in the letter that Charity now clutched so desperately. ‘


Charity had always been a child with a great sense of intuition,’ thought Ama. ‘Of all my five children, Charity took to the Lord almost instantly, displaying an affinity for speaking in voices and revealing the Holy Ghost at our Sabbath meetings. It was she who convinced me to leave that heathen of a husband of mind, with his multiple wives and unholy kinship. It was Charity,’ recalled Ama, ‘who had anticipated the trouble Kweku, her middle brother, would have when he went to Liberia in the diplomatic Corp.’

‘Even now, Ama could not believe the prophecy or how Kweku could have got into so much trouble. Kweku claimed he found some marijuana in the Ambassador’s diplomatic purse and thinking others were trying to smuggle it into Liberia had reported it to the Ambassador himself. After a lengthy investigation and some strange questionings, Kweku doubted whether he had even seen the marijuana in the first place! He was quietly let go from his position, and has been unable to find work in the public sector ever since. His elder brother Gordon, who had helped him get the job, who also worked in the diplomatic Corp, was furious with him; because, he feared for his own job, and because, he could not believe how stupid Kweku had been. Gordon had always told him, to not stick his nose in other people’s business. However, Kweku was the honest one of the family, and he could not help himself.

‘Such events are all too common in Ghana,’ brooded Ama, as she continued to muse on the past. ‘But the strangest thing was that the Governing ruling party was from my own tribe! There is a very bad spirit in the land when family and tribal loyalties turn against each other! It was a fateful day for Kweku. He never regained his former position, and it has only been by the grace of God that he has survived. The family prayed long and hard at the Church of the Lord of Zion for Kweku over that incident. We are still waiting for a sign.’ Ama continued her reveries, subdued by the memories. ‘But it was Charity’s dream,’ Ama recalled, ‘which carried the heaviest burden because she anticipated the disaster that befell Kweku, and was tormented over it for weeks before the incident happened. She wanted to warn Kweku in some way, but when she confided to me about her dream, I told her it was the Lord’s work, and we must let it run its course.’

Ama, lost in her sobering thoughts, moved through the crowded four-room concrete cinder block building that they rented from the Ashanti man. A crude space divided into three rooms. The cinder blocks, without plaster, still showed the mortar that connected the blocks together. A cinder block opening covered with wire mesh became a makeshift window, which provided a rectangle of light and allowed the burning air to fill up their stifling habitat. The living room had a sofa and two square armchairs that fought for legroom around a plain but solid mahogany coffee table. Two bedrooms led off from this main room, each with king-sized beds that fought with boxes, suitcases and cupboards for space for the occupant to move around in. A mirror wired to a box on top of a series of boxes, hung in one corner, while a light bulb cable suspended from a hook in the ceiling, draped over clothes in the other corner. The outside kitchen formed an L shape to the building. It had no door, and its crude sink and blackened stove stood shrouded in shadows and stark silhouettes in the hot, late, afternoon sun. Yet, throughout this meager hamlet was an air of dainty neatness. Clean, ironed dust cloths were on the elbows of all the chairs, and delicate crotchet linen covered the table. Displayed in one corner of the living room was a small alter of family pictures and icons of Jesus. The beds in both rooms revealed neatly embroidered covers of the Ghanaian national flag.

When Ama returned from the kitchen bringing Charity an iced drink, Charity was stretched out on the sofa, her hand across her head day dreaming. Charity dreamed of the day Conrad and she had graduated from the University of Ghana, Legon; he with a degree in Animal Husbandry and she with a degree in English literature. Everyone cheered them. The dream dissolved to him getting on a plane for Scotland, to visit his uncle, which would lead to him getting into graduate college in the U.S. She and Conrad were holding onto each other tightly, very much in love and surrounded by happy parents and relatives. Conrad’s last words to Charity were repeated in the first letter that he sent Charity which she still cherished:

Sweetheart, I’ll send for you as soon as I get settled in

College and I have a place to bring you too.

Charity had replied:

Conrad my love, I’ll wait for your every message. I love you so much.

The letters and cards had continued:

Sweetheart, I love you too! Many hugs and kisses.

Then the letters were less frequent as the months accumulated. Charity’s dream dissolved to her coming away with a letter from the Post Office, reading excitedly about Conrad’s arrival in Scotland, a second letter, a month later, with a money order in it, told how Conrad had found a job. There were other letters, every month, at first, updating Charity on Conrad’s progress in Scotland. Then after a year she received a letter, with a larger amount of money, saying how Conrad was going to Canada, to visit with another uncle. A fourth letter three months later, with a money order with over a thousand dollars in it, declared that he was enrolled in a college in Idaho, U.S. and was working and studying hard, ‘soon my darling, we will be together’ he penned.

Then the letters became rare, but Charity’s dream jumped to those happy letters where Conrad confessed his love for her. She revisited all of his letters in her dream, following his travels vicariously. In a strange way, Charity felt she was learning about the world through Conrad’s letters. She counted the money he had sent, nearly two thousand dollars now. She had not spent it, believing that a higher purpose would call for its use. In addition, she wanted to be ready for when Conrad called for her. She could easily live on her Government salary, because she didn’t need much while she was staying with her mother. She wanted to be ready with some cash for when the time came for her to join Conrad.

However, Conrad’s descriptive letters of wealth work and success began to seem like a strange world to Charity. Reading between the lines she found the scrawling text, full of hints of frustration, loneliness and fear. They didn’t sound like her Conrad. Charity felt Conrad, seemed intent on painting a rosy picture of his time in the U.S. Yet the curious contradictions in his letters filled with fanciful stories, and questionable prospects did not sound like the Conrad Charity knew. They seemed more to do with Conrad trying to convince himself, and her, of the wonders of America, rather than what he was really doing and succeeding at.

Finally coming out of her day dream she plucked up the courage to open the letter. Sitting up straight on the sofa, she pulled the envelope apart, extracting the single sheet of paper on which was simply written:

4, September, 1994- NY

Dearest Sweetheart,

When you get this letter I’ll probably be in prison or dead. I learned too late that it’s only your family that can help you in this world. I’m sorry I let you down. Don’t blame yourself; I don’t deserve your love and trust. Please look in on my mom and dad. I’m sorry, I’m so sorry

Love Conrad

After a night of tears and nightmares, Charity knew she had to do something to save Conrad. Charity believed that by saving Conrad she would be saving herself; because without Conrad she would be an empty shell. Conrad was the only man she had known and all her hopes and dreams were with him.

When she woke in the morning to the cool breeze filtering through her wire mesh window and the cocks and hens breaking dawns tranquil glory with their shrill cries, she lay for some time meditating on a dream to go to America, find Conrad, and bring him home. She had been out of the country before, so she knew what to expect. She had studied in Nottingham University, where she studied English. She had stayed with her eldest sister, Patience, who was married to an Englishman, John, a professor at the University. She had made several trips to New York, once staying a month with her cousin Wallace and his family.

She knew she could get a visa without any problem, because she had good references from her Ghanaian Government job. Gordon, her brother, would help her at this end getting the necessary papers, and Wallace would also help to establish a reliable contact in New York, to assure the customs and immigration authorities. She would have to keep her real mission a secret - finding Conrad! Her family would not support such a crazy idea and her mother would never let her leave if she knew she might go wandering around America by herself. She meditated on the ideas, as she lay in her bed in the early morning hours, trying to imagine how she could put her plan together.

First, she thought, she would have to study all of Conrad’s letters and try to discover a trail that would help her locate him. Were there any hints, beyond her uneasy feeling, as to what he was really doing? She would have to gather all of her money together and have easy access to it. Then the tricky part would be to talk her mother into encouraging Wallace to invite her to New York for a few weeks. She was due some vacation time from work, and so needed to set that process in motion. As she sank deeper into the folds of her mattress enjoying her Saturday morning sleep-in, her meditations took on the fantasy of a great odyssey. Her readings of Homer, the great Greek writer, had always fascinated her, but it is one thing to read about a great voyage ’ she reminded herself, ‘it was something else to set out on such a voyage alone.’ She began putting some of her ideas down in her diary:

14, September, 1994

If I’m ever going and find my man, it has to be now, another six months and he may really be dead or worse, I will never forgive if I let him just slip out of my hands. I probably need to give myself three months to get everything together. This is Ghana, after all, and even the nicest people in the world will drag their feet when it comes time to work. I’ll tell my mother that I need a break from Accra and want to spend some time with Wallace and his family in New York. I know there will be risks but I have to try. Re-reading Conrad’s letters has convinced me that they are a plea for help and I must answer his call. During my time there, I’m sure I’ll be able to find Conrad, if he’s still in New York. If not, I’ll improvise as I go. Either way I’m determined to find Conrad, and I’ll not return to Ghana without him.

Pleased with herself, and her newfound courage and plan, she rolled over and let the thin cotton sheet float over her naked body. Placing her hands behind her head, she gazed up into the concrete ceiling absorbing the increasing cacophony of the compound sounds and dreamed of Conrad’s arms, body and lips caressing her all over.


Charity suddenly jerked awake as she heard the flight attendant say,

Please fasten your seat belts and place your seat backs and tray tables in their upright position, we will be landing at JFK airport in ten minutes.

Charity looked out of the plane’s window and down to the clusters of concrete and steel punctuating the skyline of Manhattan. The gray green waters around the island formed a patchwork puzzle of flatness against the elevated eruptions of buildings packed alongside the waters of the greatest financial capital in the world. Charity’s fascinated gaze followed the rolling motion of the spluttering plane’s engines through the flaky mist that covered and then revealed the celebrated city of New York. The City, which celebrated itself every day, as the most important global village in the entire world. The City that called itself number one in everything! It’s hungry spirit and towering needs radiated a dynamism that sucked millions to her doorstep every year from around the world.

As Charity looked down on New York poking out into the north Atlantic ocean - bursting with the thirst for more land, more sky, and more everything - Charity couldn’t comprehend how such a mere point on the map, lying so exposed and small beneath her vision, could hold the world and its citizens in such fatalistic awe?

Charity felt her stomach flutter as the sudden lowering and turning of the plane’s wing made her heart jump into her throat; followed by an exhilarating feeling of falling. Falling with eyes wide open into the bubble of her future, which would - she hoped, and must - she prayed, end happily with her finding Conrad. God willing, she would find him healthy and quickly bring him back home safely.

However, she did not feel completely comfortable about this journey she had set herself upon, for she had never dared do such a thing before. She suddenly realized just how alone she was. She could not expect any help from Wallace, who she was going to stay with when she arrived in New York. If he found out what she was up to, she would be on the first plane back home. Therefore, she had the double fear of holding onto a lie, something she was not comfortable with, as she had never lied.

Her mother use to say she was honest to a fault, sometimes not realizing that telling the truth was harming her. Like the time when she found some money outside of her Government compound office, and returned