for villagers carrying produce into Wa Market. They would drop off
garments for shortening, lengthening, widening, tightening, for attachments of patches and buttons, for reversals of cuffs and collars. In the
late afternoon, on their way home, they would collect their repairs.
James became a frequent visitor at the house. He had a wife in Bole,
but in a polygynous society, that was hardly an impediment to romance.
The house filled with music and laughter and visitors. There was always
company: friends, children, elders, dinner guests, houseguests. But an
uneasy current ran beneath the gaiety. Jamilla wanted a child but could
not conceive. She had been told this, but she did not believe. Instead, she
besieged local healers, desperate to restart her menstrual periods.
Over time, Jamilla grew sad.
She craved marriage, children, a family: the everyday miracles of ordinary life. She visited diviner after diviner in a fruitless attempt to get
pregnant. James began to visit less often, discouraged by the weight of
Jamilla’s sadness or by her barrenness. Or both.
On the morning of December 24, 2000, a Jeyiri villager on his way to
Wa Market dropped off a pair of trousers in need of a button. Jamilla
searched her supply but found nothing suitable. During a noontime lull,
she hopped on her bicycle and sped into town to buy more fasteners.
Sailing into the intersection with the main highway from Kumasi, Jamilla was hit by a lorry with no brakes. She was killed instantly.
On Christmas Eve, the transatlantic phone calls poured in—from
friends in Wa, from James. From Boris wanting money for funeral expenses because this was not going to be a small, low-cost affair. Village
leaders were insisting that Jamilla be buried alongside clan elders under
a mango tree in the center of Danko. They mourned her in public because in private she had lent them money and never dunned them for
payment. Women keened. Children wept because for years Jamilla had
been feeding village little ones on the sly, sometimes from the leftovers
of my table but also from her own meager means. Jamilla had become a
Hundreds of people turned out for her funeral, and Boris was proved
wrong: Jamilla might have been orphaned, unwed, cast-off and childless
when she died, but her death was not like the death of a chicken.
I was left wrestling with surly, uncomfortable questions: Had I saved
Jamilla’s life only for this pointless, untimely death? Were the eight extra