Here's Lesley's story...
Running away, when you live in West Africa, is a tricky business. If, like me, you read a lot of Enid Blyton as a child, it was made even trickier. The Famous Five only had to pack a sandwich or two and hop in a boat and they were invariably back by teatime, anyway. For us, it was an awful lot harder. To begin with, the heat made it impossible to run, so you had to walk away. Not very dramatic or effective. ‘I’ve had enough! I’m walking away!’ Then there were the snakes. Back in the day, when Accra was a lot less crowded than it is now, there were huge swathes of ‘bush’ everywhere. Our house backed onto one such swathe and it was crawling with snakes. Dangerous ones, too. There are no grass snakes in West Africa, only mambas. Fifteen minutes is all you’ve got between bite and death which makes it pretty much instant. And if that weren’t enough, there were the grown-ups. In West Africa, all adults are in loco parentis – even complete strangers – and as such, are fully authorised to step in at any point and deliver a slap or a sermon if they feel you’re up to no good. The sight of three children determinedly marching away from the house with sticks (with which to beat a snake) and a bottle of water (to pour over your head in case of sunstroke) is a clear indication of ‘no good’. And so it came to pass . . .
At the age of nine, after an argument with my father (not that you could actually argue with him. Ghanaian children do not, I repeat, do not talk back. You just listen.), I stomped (slunk) off to my room, determined to run away. I had no idea where I’d run to, just that I’d run away. George was always running away: why not me? I packed a bag: pair of knickers, a clean T-shirt, a book (Enid’s, of course) and, incongruously, a box of aspirin – I’ve no idea why. I begged the cook for a fried egg sandwich (at 5pm? Why?) and I left. But before I reached the gate, my two younger sisters begged to be allowed to come along too. I had to wait for half an hour for them to pack the same: three pairs of knickers, three T-shirts, three books and three boxes of aspirin. We’d run out of eggs so they had jam sarnies instead.
However, the sun sets in the tropics at 6pm on the dot and by 5:45pm it was already getting dark. Suddenly running (or even walking) away didn’t seem like such a good idea. We made it as far as the first corner. A rustle in the undergrowth sent us shrieking back to the gate. We decided to eat our sandwiches in the garage (don’t ask me why). It was usually cool and dark in there and quite Famous Five-ish, in a petrol-smelling, secretive kind of way. We dragged open the doors, determined to make the most of our adventure and Make A Point . . . and then we froze. Curled up in the middle of the floor, seeking a warm spot of concrete where the heat of the tires had seeped, was a snake. I don’t actually remember what sort of snake – green, black, blue, orange? – we fled, screaming, dropping the aspirins, knickers, T-shirts and sandwiches en route (but not the books). Jabbering like idiots, we burst into the living room where my father was having a nap.
‘What’s the matter?’ he roared, annoyed at having been woken from his precious pre-dinner snooze.
‘A snake! A snake!’ My two sisters shouted, pointing to the garage.
‘What were you doing in the garage?’
‘Running away!’ they shouted in chorus.
‘Hmph.’ My father looked at me, frowning exasperatedly. ‘Is this another one of your silly ideas?’
‘No. Yes. Sort of.’
He sucked his teeth in that way that only Jamaican mothers and African fathers can do. A sort of ‘tshchew’ sound that combines exasperation, irritation, disappointment and forbearance in equal measure. It’s the ultimate, gentle-but-effective put down. ‘Next time, tell the driver to drop you.’
I never ran away again.
Here's Lesley's latest book...
Here's Lesley's latest book...