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Changes: A Love Story

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A Commonwealth Prize–winning novel of “intense power . . . examining the role of women in modern African society” by the acclaimed Ghanaian author (Publishers Weekly).

Living in Ghana’s capital city of Accra with a postgraduate degree and a career in data analysis, Esi Sekyi is a thoroughly modern African woman. Perhaps that is why she decides to divorce her husband after enduring yet another morning’s marital rape. Though her friends and family are baffled by her decision (after all, he doesn’t beat her!), Esi holds fast. When she falls in love with a married man—wealthy, and able to arrange a polygamous marriage—the modern woman finds herself trapped in a new set of problems.

Witty and compelling, Aidoo’s novel, according to Manthia Diawara, “inaugurates a new realist style in African literature.” In an afterword to this edition, Tuzyline Jita Allan “places Aidoo’s work in a historical context and helps introduce this remarkable writer [who] sheds light on women’s problems around the globe” (Publishers Weekly).

ISBN-13: 9781558610651

Media Type: Paperback(New Edition)

Publisher: Feminist Press at CUNY The

Publication Date: 11-01-1993

Pages: 208

Product Dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

Series: Women Writing Africa Series

Ama Ata Aidoo, one of Ghana's most distinguished writers, won the 1993 Commonwealth Writers Prize, Africa Division, for the novel Changes. She is also the author of two plays, poetry, and another novel, Our Sister Killjoy or Reflections From a Black-eyed Squint.

Read an Excerpt


Esi was feeling angry with herself. She had no business driving all the way to the offices of Linga Whatever. The car of course stalled more than once on the way, and, of course, all the other drivers were unsympathetic. They blew their horns, and some taxi drivers shouted the usual obscenities about 'women drivers'.

In spite of how strongly she felt about it all, why couldn't she ever prevent her colleagues from assuming that any time the office secretary was away, she could do the job? And better still, why couldn't she prevent herself from falling into that trap?

'Can I help you?' She was a bit startled. After she had parked her car and entered an open door, she had been quite surprised to find herself in an empty office. She had consulted her watch, and learned that in fact it was long past five o'clock in the evening. So she was wondering how the office had come to be open, as well as silently scolding herself, when the voice spoke.

She looked up into a very handsome face. Its owner knew it was handsome, too, plus one or two other flattering facts about himself. But Esi was not in any mood to notice looks or be charmed by self-consciously charming men.

'I'm from the Department of Urban Statistics,' she began, trying not to let her irritation show. 'Two of my colleagues and I are attending a conference in Lusaka on Thursday ...'

'Eh,' she continued, 'I understand that normally this agency handles all travel arrangements for our office. But our secretary reported sick this morning, and since we don't know when she will be well enough to return to work, we thought maybe I could come and sort things out.'

But there is nothing tragic about that, is there? he wanted to ask. However, aloud, he asked her to follow him to his office. Inside, Esi felt the coolness of the air-conditioning immediately, and couldn't help reacting to it.

'Please sit down,' said the man, indicating a chair from a group of rather plush and low office furniture in the centre of the room. She was aware of feeling grateful that he had not asked her to sit by his rather imposing desk. The chair by the desk looked high and not so comfortable. She sat down, sighing audibly with relief. He eased himself into the armchair opposite her. Then he jumped up again.

'Forgive me,' he virtually drawled. 'I'm Ali Kondey, and the managing director of Linga ... I mean this agency ... Please, can I have the pleasure of knowing to whom I'm speaking?' It was Esi's turn to feel apologetic.

Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't introduce myself. 'My name is Esi Sekyi.' They shook hands.

Still standing, Ali asked Esi if he could get her anything to drink. She was almost tempted to ask for water, at least, but she didn't. She was thinking that since she was too late for the trip' to be useful in any way, why not just get out of that office as quickly as she could and get home before dark? She said as much to Ali, who was somewhat disappointed, but didn't think he should press the invitation.

'May I sit down?' he asked Esi, who thought the request so odd she burst out laughing.

'Why is that funny?' he asked, genuinely perplexed.

'It is your office, and quite obviously your chair. Why ask me if you might sit in it?'

'Well you see,' he began to explain, and then changed his mind. One area of communication that always made him feel sad were these walls which the different colonial experiences seemed to have erected between the different groups of Africans ... especially when he hit them in relation to women.

Already seated, he said rather lamely, 'Never mind. But about what you were saying ... do you know whether your secretary had already supplied my people with any specific information, like the day you would want to travel and when you are likely to come back?'

'Oh yes, I believe she must have sent in everything. I just thought 1 should come and check on the tickets and flight bookings.' Esi was talking, but she had a distinct impression that Ali was not really listening.

'Alors, Madame, don't worry about anything. They will do everything, my people, everything will be ready, prompt, for your journey, I promise. What I don't know is which of them is handling the arrangements for you and your colleagues. But it will all be okay.' His voice was virtually lulling her to sleep. When she got up to leave, saying that in that case, she better be going, she felt as if she were waking from a trance. It was unbelievable. Meanwhile, Ali was not finished with her yet. He too had already jumped up.

'In that case, let me finish locking up this office and drop you where you are going, please? ... It would be a pleasure.'

'You are very kind, Mr Eh, Kondey, but actually I came in my car.' Esi became aware that something quite new and interesting was trying to make itself felt in that room that early evening, late in the month of June. She was not quite sure she wanted to welcome it or even identify it. Therefore, since she knew silences sometimes have a way of screaming strange messages, she spoke, to fill the air with words.

They know that art well who trade in food — pad up where resources are scarce, or just for cool profit: grains for sausages some worms for burgers more leaves for kenkey!

'You see,' Esi went on, 'my car is here. Except that it isn't too good. In fact, it stopped a couple of times on the road. But ...'

'Ah ...' said Ali who had been struggling to deal with a solid feeling of disappointment, 'in that case, leave it here, and come with me in my car. I shall get it to your house for you early in the morning.'

What an alarming proposal, Esi was thinking. 'No, thank you again, Mr Kondey, but that would just be too complicated,' she said aloud.

By now they were out of his office and in the main office of the agency and business arena. They came straight out into the open, and he locked the office. Ali recognised what for Esi passed for a car, and a tiny smile came playing around his lips. He killed a comment. And in any case Esi was talking, with an extended hand.

'Bye, Mr Kondey ... thank you very much ... and I hope your people will get in touch.' Then she was opening the door of her car, sitting before the wheel, putting it into motion, and with the old machine coughing like some asthmatic, she was gone.

Ali, who was completely fascinated with the sheer swiftness of her performance, caught himself saying, 'But of course ... but of course.' Then there was really nothing else for him to do but get himself home.

This was a Friday evening. As a strictly brought-up Muslim who had actually gone to the mosque earlier in the afternoon, there was only one way to interpret his encounter with this fascinating woman: a gift from Allah. So he should not let himself feel too bad about the way the encounter had ended. If it was His will, things would right themselves in the end.

At that moment, the southern sky was ripped by massive lightning, followed by a heavy boom of thunder. As he got into his solid and luxurious vehicle, Ali had only one fear; that the threatening storm might sweep that woman and her car away. They both looked so frail.


Later, when she was much much grown, Ogyaanowa was to ask herself what she would have preferred if she had been consulted:

staying in their room and watching her parents fight; or sitting outside at the dining table, pretending to eat porridge and hearing them quarrel.

Actually, that morning, no one had consulted her. She had had to eat the porridge as part of having to get ready to go to school. She wished she didn't have to go to school. She wished she had already gone to school. She wished, maybe, she hadn't had even to wake up. She didn't know that morning that she was thinking of these things. All she knew was that she was very unhappy.

Just ask anybody. There are many thoughts that come into our minds which we are not aware of, at the time we are doing the thinking. Feelings can be even worse.

Ogyaanowa didn't feel like eating any porridge that morning. Therefore an accident happened, and the bowl of porridge fell off the table. The bowl, which was plastic, rolled away, building a solid line of porridge on the floor. Ogyaanowa started to cry.

The commotion that was coming out of her parents' room was terrible. They had turned the radio on, thinking the noise from it drowned their voices. It didn't though. True, if you were trying to listen from where Ogyaanowa was sitting, you wouldn't have been able to make out the words; although you would also have known that something was going on that was not quite normal. But for the child this had become quite regular. At least, that is what she might have said if anyone had asked her about it, and if she had had a more grown-up language. When Esi opened the door to the bedroom, she was quite surprised to see Oko still in bed.

Strange, she thought, for a man who takes his work as seriously as he does.

She unwrapped the cloth from her body, moved to the dressing table, took what she would need and brought the things to her side of the bed: some cream for her skin, a deodorant stick, a very mild toilet spray. She sat down, and picking these one by one, she started getting her body ready for the day.

As for the day, it was very young; but already the breeze that was blowing was maturely hot, as expected. In the course of it, for the next ten hours or so, there might be slight variations in temperature, a centigrade down, a few fahrenheits up. No one would take notice.

As she picked this up and poured a bit of that into her palm and rubbed it on parts of her body, Oko looked at her. Lying down and watching her go through the motions of dressing was a pleasure he was fully enjoying this particular morning. It occurred to him then, as it had occurred to him on countless other mornings before, that Esi had not lost a bit of her schoolgirl looks or schoolgirl ways.

For a teacher in a co-educational school, and soon to be a headmaster of one, this is a very dangerous thought indeed. He scolded himself.

Esi was a tall woman. That fact made a short man of Oko, since people mostly expect any man to be taller than his wife, and he was the same height as her. She was quite thin too, which gave her an elegance that was recognised by all except members of her own family. When she was younger and growing up in the big compound with her cousins and other members of the extended family, she had had to be extremely careful about starting a quarrel with anyone. Because no one lost the chance to call her beanpole, bamboo, pestle or any such name which in their language described tall, thin and uncurved.

I love this body. But it is her sassy navel that kills me, thought Oko, watching the little protrusion, and feeling some heating up at the base of his own belly.

If Esi's mother could have read his thoughts, she would have told him that that dainty affair had nearly killed her daughter. For, instead of healing after a couple of weeks, like any baby's, Esi's had taken its time, going almost septic at one point. Meanwhile, as every old lady in the village reminded her throughout her childhood, Esi had been such a grouchy, wailing infant, her tummy had normally looked like a pumped balloon. So that even when the navel healed, it still stuck out.

Soon, the bedroom filled out with a mixture of scents.

'Aren't you getting up at all this morning?' Esi finally asked. Following her question, relief flooded through her like the effect of a good drink. For these days communication between them had ground to a halt, each of them virtually afraid of saying anything that might prove to be potentially explosive. And these days nearly everything was.

She needn't have worried. Oko had, on his own, decided that the months of frustrations and misunderstandings were behind him. Even hopefully behind them both. In any case, he had decided to give the relationship another chance.

If you are being honest with yourself, you would admit that you have always given this relationship a chance, he told himself.

Thinking of how much he had invested in the marriage with Esi, and how much he had fought to keep it going made him feel a little angry and a little embarrassed. With all that going on in his head, his penis, which had by then become really big and hard, almost collapsed. But since his eyes were still on Esi's navel, the thing jerked itself up again.

He had always loved Esi. And what was wrong with that?

'It's not safe to show a woman you love her ... not too much anyway,' some male voice was telling him. But whose voice was that? His father's? His Uncle Amoa's? He wasn't sure that the voice belonged to any of those two. Of course those men and their kind hid their hearts very well. They were brought up to know how. On the other hand, they were also brought up too well to go around saying anything crude. No, it must have been one of his friends from boarding school days. They were always saying things of that sort. 'Showing a woman you love her is like asking her to walk over you. How much of your love for how heavy her kicks.' And were they wrong? Look at Esi. Two solid years of courtship, six years of marriage. And what had he got out of it? Little. Nothing. No affection. Not even plain warmth. Nothing except one little daughter! Esi had never stated it categorically that she didn't want any more children. But she was on those dreadful birth control things: pills, loops or whatever. She had gone on them soon after the child was born, and no amount of reasoning and pleading had persuaded her to go off them. He wanted other children, at least one more ... a boy if possible. But even one more girl would have been welcome.

The fact that his mother and his sisters were always complaining to him about the unsafety of having an only child only made him feel worse. One of them had even suggested that he did himself and them the favour of trying to be interested in other women. That way, he could perhaps make some other children 'outside'. The idea hadn't appealed to him at all. In fact, for a long time, the thought of sleeping with anyone other than Esi had left him quite cold, no matter how brightly the sun was shining, or how hot the day was. Yet, what was he to do? Esi definitely put her career well above any duties she owed as a wife. She was a great cook, who complained endlessly any time she had to enter the kitchen. Their home was generally run by an elderly house help, whom they both called 'Madam' behind her back.

The bungalow came with her job as a data analyst with the government's statistical bureau; its urban department, that is.

Good God, what on earth did that mean?

He knew she was very much respected by her colleagues and other people who knew the work she did. So she should not really be trying so hard to impress: leaving the house virtually at dawn; returning home at dusk; often bringing work home? Then there were all those conferences. Geneva, Addis, Dakar one half of the year; Rome, Lusaka, Lagos the other half.

Is Esi too an African woman? She not only is, but there are plenty of them around these days ... these days ... these days.

Esi rose, picked up her tubes and bottles to return them to the dressing table. Oko's voice stopped her.

'My friends are laughing at me,' he said.


'They think I'm not behaving like a man.'

Esi was trying to pretend she had not heard the declaration.

'Aren't you saying anything?' Oko's voice was full of pleading.

'What would you like me to say?' she spoke at last, trying very hard to keep the irritation out of her voice.

'You don't care what my friends think of me?' he pressed.

When she spoke again, the irritation was out, strong and breathing. 'Oko, you know that we have been over this so many times. We all make friends. They either respect us for what we are, or they don't. And whether we keep them or not depends on each one of us. I cannot take care of what your friends say to you, think of you or do to you.'

'I need my friends,' he said.

'I also need mine,' she said.

'Opokuya is a good woman,' he said.

Esi yawned, groped for her wrist-watch from the table, and looked at it. Oko snatched the watch from her, and threw it on the bedside table on his side of the bed.

'What did you do that for?' Esi demanded.

For an answer, Oko flung the bedcloth away from him, sat up, pulled her down, and moved on her. Esi started to protest. But he went on doing what he had determined to do all morning. He squeezed her breast repeatedly, thrust his tongue into her mouth, forced her unwilling legs apart, entered her, plunging in and out of her, thrashing to the left, to the right, pounding and just pounding away. Then it was all over. Breathing like a marathon runner at the end of a particularly gruelling race, he got off her, and fell heavily back on his side of the bed. He tried to draw the bedcloth to cover both of them again.


Excerpted from "Changes: A Love Story"
by .
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