‘‘My brother . You are very lucky”, the Prision Warden said.
Mwinbong dusted his clothes, as the huge gates barring the Accra Central prison were opened. The scent of freedom was all around him.
“It has not been easy o”. Mwinbong responded.
He shook the hands of Goka, the Prison Warden , who had been his friend and confidant for two years.
“Take care of yourself, eh.” He said patting Mwinbong on his back. “Many leave here worse than they came. Here, take my number”
He handed him a piece of paper.
“Let me know how things turn out. My friend , Rev. Fr. Suma will be here to pick you soon.”
“Thank you very much. You have been like a father to me. If it had not been for you, I would not be a free man today.” Mwinbong said.
“Take care my boy. I have to get back to my duty post.” Goka said.
“Thank you once again. I will call you as soon as I settle.” He added as he gave Goka a final handshake.
Mwinbong felt the mid-morning harmattan air blow over his face and cause his eyes to water. Two years behind bars had been a difficult time for him. His imprisonment had started a few days after he landed in the capital city, Accra.
There had been so much suffering in his village that year. The rains did not fall as expected and so crop yields were very low. It was sad to see many young people leave to bigger towns in the country. One hot afternoon, a bright red sleek sports car was driven into the village. As the car drove through the village, it left behind thick dust. The sound system in the car was blaring and could be heard from a distance. The villagers came out of their homes to catch a glimpse of the rare spectacle .
Mwinbong and his friends were relaxing lazily under the huge baobab tree at the centre of the village when they heard the loud music approaching.
“Is that not Bambu?”, Sumbo, one of the young men asked loudly as the car drove past them.
They rose up from their various resting positions to see what was happening.
“Yes, that’s him”, Andara replied, as the car came to a stop at Bambu’s compound which was very close to the centre of the village.
Bambu was Mwinbong’s classmate in the Junior High School. He had gone in search of greener pastures in the city of Accra a year ago. It was rumoured that he had become a rich young man within a short period of time.
Bambu’s mother, a widow of two years dashed out of her mud house to meet her son as the villagers watched from a distance. After warmly embracing her son, she danced round the car , throwing her cloth in all directions in excitement. The villagers cheered on , like spectators at a sports stadium. Meanwhile, Bambu waved proudly at the villagers, who had by now drawn close to his house to have a better view, as his mother held his hand and led him into the house.
“Wonders will never end”, said Sumbo who first spotted Bambu. Sumbo had always said that Bambu had acquired wealth through dubious means. He had tried to encourage the young men to learn various trades so they could be self-employed, as farming was no longer lucrative. He was currently enrolled into a vocational course to learn cloth weaving.
Bambu spent the two days in the village flaunting his wealth. By the time he left he managed to convince a lot of the young men to join him in Accra so he could teach them how to make money.
Mwinbong was also learning to weave cloth, but Bambu’s appearance in the village made him long for the better life the latter spoke to his friends about. Like his friend Sumbo, he believed that Bambu was making money through illegal means but he also believed there were genuine opportunities for making money in Accra.
One Saturday, just before the break of day, Mwinbong packed a few of his clothes into a backpack, which Bambu had given to him as a gift, and left the village. He had saved some money from selling the little millet he harvested that year.
It was a long journey from Wa to Accra. Mwinbong had never gone beyond Techiman, where he often visited his maternal uncle. He was happy when the bus finally came to a stop at the Emperor Express bus station. He then began to think how foolish he had been because he did not know where he was going.
“Massa, this be the last stop”. A voice said, interrupting his thoughts. It was the bus driver.
“Please how can I get to ……to… Manina” he asked, scratching his head as he tried to remember the name of the town where Bambu said he lived.
The driver laughed, “Manina? Or you mean Madina”.
“Yes, yes. That one”. He said.
The driver asked one of the young men at the bus station to take Mwinibong to the Madina station.
On reaching the station, Mwinbong decided to buy some food to eat since he was very hungry. As he walked to a nearby food joint which he spotted from a distance, he heard loud shouts behind him. Some boys were running in his direction. He was not sure whether to run too. As the boys run past him one of them threw a small handbag at him which landed at his feet. There was so much commotion around him. Before he could think of what to do, he was surrounded by some people and they threw him onto the floor. He passed out.
When Mwinibong regained consciousness he was lying on a concrete floor. As he tried to sit up, he realised he was in handcuffs.
“Hei, youngman you are up! ” A stern voice said.
He raised his head in the direction of the voice and saw three police officers in front of him.
“You have to show us where we can find the other boys.” One of the Policemen said. “If you don not take us there you will rot in jail alone.” He added.
“Which boys, Sa. I just arrived this morning from Wa and was trying to get a car to Ma….Mani…” Mwinbong stammered as he tried to remember the name of Bambu’s neighbourhood.
“But we caught you with the woman’s bag”. Another Policeman interrupted .
It was then that it dawned on Mwinbong that the boys who were running because they had snatched a ladies bag and as they were being pursued by the Police, they threw the bag in his direction. He felt so sad. He had never stolen before , but here he was being accused of stealing. What would his friends in his village think of him? He was a role model and very active in his Parish. Why did he even decide to come to Accra unprepared? As these thoughts raced through his mind , tears also run down his cheeks. He spent a day in the Police cells and was sent to court. Since there was no one to corroborate his story he was sentenced to prison for three years.
It was while he was serving the eighth month of his sentence that he met his prison warden friend Goka. Goka noticed that Mwinbong was different from the other prisoners. When he became his friend, Goka was sad to hear the story of how Mwinbong landed in prison. He helped him get a lawyer who assisted him through the process of gaining his freedom. It was a long process, filled with many adjournments. There were times Mwinbong felt like giving up, but his lawyer kept encouraging him.
Just before the Independence Day celebration, Mwinbong received news that he as among over 200 prisoners to be granted Presidential pardon. He was beside himself with excitement.
He told his friend Goka, “I don’t know how to thank you for your help. After the time spent here I am not sure how my life will be. I cannot go back to my village and I cannot live here in Accra also. Though I am happy, I am also sad about how to live my life from now on”.
Goka told him, “I spoke to a Priest friend of mine. He is working on a youth development project for the youth in some areas in Ghana and would need an Assistant. I told him about you and he would want to interview you. Are you interested?”
“Yes!” Mwinbong exclaimed. “Of course I am. I can’t wait to meet him.”
Two weeks later Rev. Fr. Suma , interviewed Mwinbong and found him intelligent enough to assist him on the projects.
The sound of a car horn brought Mwinbong’s thoughts back to the present. He lifted his head and saw Fr. Sumas pick up a few metres away. He took one last look at the prison building, heaved a deep sigh of relief and headed to pick up that was to send him to his new life. A new life he so much looked forward to.