The whole town mourned the death of Michael Opoku known by everyone as The Barber. The chief of Odikro-Akyem and community members stood by the graveside as young men shoved sand onto the coffin that carried their all-time warrior.
The casket was designed like a dagger to reflect the status of the dead when he was alive.
‘We’ve lost someone indispensable,’ the chief’s linguist said. His voice faded with the passing wind.
The Barber was part of the Akyems warriors who laid ambush and murdered Nana Osei Tutu of the Ashanti Kingdom while crossing the River Pra with his army. The tragedy happened at a time the Akyem nations broke away from the Adansi Kingdom to avoid becoming subjects of the Ashantis. Nana Osei Tutu was motivated by the desire to exact revenge on the Akyems. With his army, he pursued the defectors across the River Pra and it was when he reached the bank of the river that he was shot dead. The Ashanti army retreated after the murder and it had been a taboo for an Ashanti King to cross River Pra save their armies.
Mr Opoku and his colleagues earned the enviable title ‘Abuakwanfo’ which stood for Guerrilla fighters. The men who carried out the assassination jealously wore this title and were given preferential treatment at community functions. But after Mr Opoku took up the barbering profession, his warrior name gave way to The Barber, a title he loved.
‘I like my work because it gives me the opportunity to contribute to the look of people,’ he would tell people.
It was said that anyone who didn’t know The Barber was either a stranger or had been bedridden by love. Or the two. That person was laughed at until he visited the salon and because of that every community member strived to know him, both young and old.
But the young knew more about him because they visited his salon often and he told them stories. The Barber was an epitome of history. He told tales of the past that the younger generation were not privileged to know. He talked about the many wars the Akyems fought, the heartaches and victories. He loved to talk about how the Ashantis raised the largest local army to expand its rule.
The community members loved to visit his salon not because of his style of hair cut but the way he occupied every void minute with stories, some mythical and others about love.
‘After we crossed the Pra River, I fell in love with a lady who became my wife within months,’ he wowed Abeiku, a student at the Makerre University in Tanzania who had come home on a long vacation.
‘How did you propose to her in those days?’ he asked turning his head. ‘What did you tell her?’ The barber slapped the back of his head and humbly barked at him to concentrate.
‘Your head please don’t turn else the machine will harm you.’
The Barber reviled casualties in his salon. The last time someone was hurt was some eight months ago when the blade he used cut the flesh of Akwasi. He lost many of his customers because of the incident and since vowed to eliminate that in the future.
‘Mansa was first to propose.’
‘How possible?’ Abeiku said. ‘It’s rare for a woman to propose to a man even if her love for him outweighs vice versa.’
He was soon to cover his mouth after the weight of what he had said dawn on him.
‘I won’t continue with the story,’ a vexed The Barber said. ‘I’ve observed you for a while and I’m convinced you have no respect for the elderly.’
Lines of anger zigzagged on his forehead as though they had been summoned for a meeting of grave consequences.
‘I doubted you because I know it’s always the men who initiate the move to propose to women,’ Abeiku sounded apologetic but didn’t know his further comments were escalating the problem.
‘Who told you? How old are you?’ every sentence that came out of The Barber’s mouth was a question. His voice was rising and his heart, racing as if he was taking part in an 100 meters race at the Accra Sports Stadium.
He refused to continue with the tale even when other patrons pleaded with him.
‘If you were there why didn’t you tell me the story?’ he piped out, taking two steps behind to assess the figure seated before him.
The Barber rushed with the haircut and discharged Abeiku less than three minutes. ‘I will tell you no more stories.’
‘I’m sorry for the interruption, The Barber.’
Mr Opoku was often disarmed anytime his name, The Barber was mentioned after a quarrel or misunderstanding. He beamed a smile and looked at Abeiku. He accepted the student’s apology and said: ‘I’ll continue with the story the next time you visit.’
Everyone laughed in the salon. Some patrons sat on the floor and laughed uncontrollably. They knew the weakness of The Barber and often capitalized on it anytime they had issues with him.
The Barber laughed, but he was measured. He laughed out of courtesies because he still harbored pain in him.
The Barber hated to be opposed, especially to his accounts of past events. He felt divinely positioned to tell them and any sign of opposition was enough to put him off. He would throw fit and he had done that several times.
‘Today’s youth lack the patience to listen or do something worthwhile. They are often going for the quick fixes.’
Another patron hopped into the seat the moment Abeiku stood up. Theo sat in the chair with smiles on his face. His name was Theophilarius Asante Baako but everyone called him Theo. Only few people called him Baako, a name he hated.
‘Can you wait for me to take my breakfast?’ The Barber said gesturing to demonstrate the seriousness of the hunger.
‘I’m attending a wedding with my wife and I need to appear smart.’
‘I’m aware of Asare’s wedding but all I ask of you is ten minutes.’
‘I don’t have it fix the hair for me.’
‘I think you have to go to Kofi Opoku’s salon to get then.’
Baako’s anger welled up inside of him. It boiled that his skin felt the heat.
‘After wasting my time, this is what you’re telling me?’
He stood up and made way towards The Barber. He was shook feverishly as though the gods had visited him. He balled his fist and before the other patrons noticed it, he had pummeled The Barber several times in the face.
Blood oozed on the floor. Baako reached for a pair of scissors and butchered The Barber.
‘Save me…save me.’
The other patrons jumped to separate them. The Barber bled and his blood was dark red.
That night, The Barber died while on admission at the Kyebi Government Hospital. The community mourned his passing as though he was a king.
The Barber was the last of the Abuakwanfos. His death had come as a surprise because the others had died five years ago in separate incidents. He had been tipped as the next linguist because of his understanding of history.
Baako was charged with murder and handed a 25-year jail term after he was arraigned. Though it was not his intention to kill The Barber, he ended up doing just that. He remembered what his father told him while growing up.
One day after he had quarreled with his best friend after school, Opanyin Frimpong cautioned him to learn to control his anger else he would nurse his wounds tomorrow.
‘An accident does not ask for permission to enter,’ Baako was told. ‘Anger is like the nose. Everyone has one but we all don’t sneeze everytime.’
The writer Austin Brakopowers works as a journalist at Joy99.7FM and could be reached via Brakomen@outlook.com or www.brakopowers.com. Views expressed here are the Author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of management of The Multimedia Group.
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