"Kojo: are the cocoa beans covered?"
He looked outside and shouted again:
"Kojo: the cocoa beans. It's raining".
Kojo was nowhere to be seen.
In haste Opanin Ansa rushed to the bamboo platforms where the newly harvested beans were drying on large raffia mats. By pulling up the edges of the mats to bundle the beans in the middle and covering them with leafy palm branches, he was able to protect the pile from the lashing rain. This was work that Kojo should have done. It confirmed the old man's perpetual grumble that nowadays young folk have no sense of responsibility.
Well after sundown, Kojo returned home, obviously under the cheering influence of alcohol as he called his greeting.
The old man was still angry.
"Where have you been, you good-for-nothing boy?"
"Playing cowrie shells with my friends", was the infuriating reply.
"Don't you realise that the cocoa is our whole life? If I hadn't done your work for you when it rained, the beans would have been ruined. Then how would we live for the rest of the year? But what do you do to help? How could you go off gambling and drinking on this special day, which you know is restricted? Have you no respect for our traditions? You could bring calamity to the whole family."
"But Uncle, I was only joining in with what my friends were doing."
"Be quiet Kojo, and let me speak. Ever since your Mother died I have looked after you. What is my reward? Even the simple jobs of turning the cocoa beans and protecting them from the rain are too much for you. If you go on behaving like this, there is only one thing I can do. I will disinherit you."
"You wouldn't do that to me" exclaimed Kojo, for once taking serious notice of what his uncle said.
"I would do that", said his angry uncle.
Kojo flared into an uncontrollable temper at the thought of the cocoa farms being distributed to others instead of coming to him. He lashed out at his uncle and knocked him down. With the old man lying moaning on the floor, Kojo went out to console himself at the palm-wine bar.
It took Opanin Ansa three days to recover from the attack, during which time he stayed in the house, instead of making his usual daily visit to the Shade Tree. This was the place where the old folk, sitting on log benches sheltered from the burning sun, would discuss village matters. This was where Opanin Ansa liked to be, far removed from the disturbing influence of his nephew.
His return to the Shade Tree was welcomed by Nana Dua, the most senior of the Elders present, and one of his closest friends. "What has happened to you? We have not seen you for a few days."
"It's my nephew Kojo", replied Opanin Ansa, and he shared his troubles telling how his nephew was always gambling and drinking and could not be relied upon to do the daily tasks of the farm. He concluded with his main worry:
"He was my sister's only son, so he is my legitimate heir. To get him to behave properly and work on the farm, I threatened to disinherit him. Then he attacked me. Could I ever appease the spirit of his mother if I did disinherit him? Would her ghost haunt me? All these worries have made me unwell. Now sickness is overtaking me."
An old woman said:
"I think you should consult the Chief about this. Young people these days no longer show any respect and should be disciplined".
Nana Dua agreed with the old woman, adding:
"Think twice before you take any drastic action. What would happen if you disinherit Kojo? Blood is thicker than water. You cannot drive him away from your house - for where else can he go? If you disinherit him, he will be so angry he may destroy your farms. The path you must travel is not an easy one, my friend, but you must face facts and accept what the Gods have in store for you."
Time passed and Opanin Ansa's sickness worsened. Death was catching up in the perpetual race we all run against him. Kojo rejoiced to see his uncle getting weaker day by day. Although lazy and selfish, he was not without intelligence and knew that in practice his uncle would never be able to break with tradition and carry out the threat to disinherit him. Soon the cocoa farms would be his. He would be free from the constant nagging he now endured, and would then be able to enjoy life.
As Opanin Ansa weakened, special treatment offered the only chance of a cure. He wanted to visit the famous healers in the Shrine at Tanoso in Brong Ahafo, but it was two days journey away. He begged his nephew to take him there, but Kojo refused, saying that the old man was not fit to travel. Kojo saw no point in post-poning his inheritance or in wasting what was to be his cash on the expenses of treatment at such a famous Shrine.
Soon Opanin Ansa was confined to his bed. Kojo was rude and aggressive when visitors called, and would make nasty insinuations, especially when he had been drinking. Visiting the old man was made very unpleasant when Kojo was at home, so that not many people came. All of this suited Kojo's purpose. He wanted to avoid the risk that someone might bring medicine that would cure his uncle.
He called on the carpenter and said that in a few week's time his uncle would be making a journey to the village from which there is no return.
"There isn't much money, so make a poor person's coffin as cheaply as possible. Send it to the house by the end of the week. We can store it there so that it will be ready for the funeral."
Next, he called on the palm-wine tapper to arrange supplies for the burial, and then bought schnapps and local gin to refresh the mourners.
The passing of each day brought his inheritance closer, but Kojo found the boredom of waiting in the house for his uncle to die was becoming unbearable. He was a young man who enjoyed action. One dry afternoon, he decided to leave the house and call on his friends for a game with the cowrie shells. But on that day luck was not on his side. Whenever he guessed the shells would be "open" they were "closed". Whenever he said "closed" they were "open".
"Kojo", laughed one of his friends, "what has happened to you today? You usually do so well. For once it looks as though luck has deserted you."
Whilst Kojo and his friends were busy playing with the cowries a stranger came to the village and made his way to the Shade Tree, calling out:
"Hello: I am Yao Ababio of Foase, the herbalist. I can treat barrenness, worms, whooping-cough, smallpox, measles and rheumatism in old people".
"Can you treat an old man who has been sick for several weeks after quarrelling with his only nephew, and is now confined to his bed?"
"I have had much success in treating old people"
Nana Dua spoke to one of the small boys standing around:
"Go to Opanin Ansa's house and see if Kojo is in."
The boy returned with the welcome news that Kojo was not at home. Nana Dua asked his brother and his sister to escort the herbalist to Opanin Ansa's house, where he knew they would be welcomed in Kojo's absence.
Opanin Ansa was delighted to receive the visitors, and even more pleased to see that they had brought a herbalist. He had nothing to lose by agreeing to accept treatment. Without medical help his days were numbered.
The herbalist examined the old man. With careful, skillful fingers he manipulated every joint and tendon. He looked into Opanin Ansa's eyes, nose and ears, and he asked many questions.
Then he said to the old man:
"I have seen cases like this before. I will leave some medicine for you to take each day in your soup. By the second full moon, you will be well."
"But what if Kojo finds the medicine and destroys it", said Opanin Ansa. Then he had an idea.
"Let my friends here take the medicine to Nana Dua to keep, and ask him to send his daughter to me each day with my soup. I will insist on seeing her and will not let Kojo stop her coming in."
When the soup was delivered every evening Kojo was annoyed, but even he could not offend such a respected elder as Nana Dua by turning the girl away, especially as his uncle called out welcoming greetings whenever she knocked at the door. The secret of the soup was never discovered!
Opanin Ansa responded well to the treatment, and to Kojo's intense dismay, his uncle gained in strength with each passing day. By the second full moon, the recovery was complete.
The frustration of his ambitions caused by the unexpected recovery made Kojo drink even more than usual. One evening he was so drunk that he collapsed on the way home and lay on the ground all night.
In the cold, damp dawn he returned to his senses and staggered back to the house. He had a fever. The fever worsened and in the afternoon Kojo was delirious. In the evening, he died.
Members of the family came to offer condolences to Opanin Ansa on his loss, and to discuss burial arrangements.
"We must get a coffin." remarked one of the family.
"There is no need for that. There is one already here in the house", replied Opanin Ansa. He asked two boys to fetch it.
When the coffin was produced, there was at first a strained and painful silence followed by murmured conversations which showed that the family were very unhappy. For a while no one knew what to say. In the end an elder brother had the courage to speak out.
"Opanin Ansa, you are a man of good standing and of some wealth. How could you think of burying your nephew in this poor person's coffin? When a man makes the fateful journey to join his ancestors, custom demands that he is given a proper ceremony. To bury your nephew in this cheap coffin is a disgrace. What will people say? Think of the shame to the family."
Surprisingly, the rebuke did not upset Opanin Ansa. With a look of satisfaction on his face, he stood up and faced his critic.
"I am glad you spoke out. Now hold your peace and let me explain. You all know that some time ago I was very sick and at the point of death. Well, this is the very coffin that Kojo bought to bury me in. He must have thought it was suitable.
Let my nephew enjoy the coffin that he himself chose."