My white face drifting through this sea
Of black and friendly faces—shouting “Obruni!” faces
(They’re shouting at me, the hot crowd;
They know I’m rich, wealthy enough to buy
From all)—is not as strange as my Western clothes
And my Western ways that would pay the first price
They ask—if I didn’t know better—didn’t know the price
Is twice or four times any of these bartering sea-
City natives would pay. In their brilliant kabas (traditional clothes),
Bare or sandaled feet, they call with open faces,
“Madame, papaya here—oranges—Come and buy!”
“5000 cedis only!” call the brash crowd.
Piles of shrimp—tiny glistening amber-colored shrimp—crowd
The long concrete blocks—their price
More than the copper-burnt newspaper-wrapped fish I sometimes buy
Only for the dog. But these don’t know; it is better that they not see
They revolve in a world of smells that make me squirm—their faces
Happy in not knowing air conditioning or sanitation. My clothes—
American-bought clothes—stick to me in the black-asphalt heat. Their clothes
Are light and easy. And the piles of fine fufu flour crowd
The coarse banku below black beaming faces
And butterfly hands pulling me in. “We give you good price,
Oburuni!” they say, offering twist-tied see-
Through bags. “No—no, thank you, I don’t buy
Today,” I say, in their way, pull away, quickly pass by
The tables of chicken feet laid out red and gawkish; gaudy clothes—
Purple tunics and bolts covered with orange cowries; giant sea-
Shells and wooden elephants for the tourist crowd;
Hawkers waving toilet paper—“Three for this price!”;
“Malt crackers!” “Apples!” cry the slick bobbing faces.
A woman’s calabash rides high above the faces
Balanced by one ebony arm. I stop her to buy
Boiled peanuts neatly stacked. We don’t haggle over price.
She tips some into a newspaper cone, then, her clothes
Swish away and mingle with the crowd.
And all that’s left is a black, heaving sea.
And suddenly I see the individuality of these faces
Sharpening into focus from the blurred crowd. I eat peanuts, one by
One. These clothes, they weigh me down. That kaba, what is its price?
© 2000 Deborah King