When you’re the firstborn of your family, you often become the natural caretaker of your junior siblings when you come of age. Luckily for me, I have only one sibling who moved from Takoradi to come and live with me when he got admission to study at the University of Ghana. The idea was to get him a hostel accommodation but looking at the cost involved, I rather decided to rent a two-bedroom house so he would live with me and go to school on campus. Where I live is not too far from the Legon campus. Martha, who was then my girlfriend knew my junior brother so well. Each time she came around, she came to meet him. When she cooked, she served him. They had a very good vibe so I was surprised by the kind of question Martha asked me about my brother when we were about to get married. She asked, “So what happens to your brother when we marry?” I probed, “What do you mean?” She said, “Is he going to continue living with you when we marry?”
I knew where she was driving but I wanted to be sure so I asked her. “Would there be a problem if he continues living with me after we marry?” She said, “I didn’t say there would be a problem. I’m only asking the way forward with him.” I told her, “He has only a couple of years to leave school.
I don’t think he would continue to stay with me after school.” The face she made after my answer wasn’t a cheerful face. I didn’t ask any further questions but rather directed the question to my brother. I asked him, “Would you like to go to a hostel or you would like to have a room for yourself?” He wanted a room so I saved towards it and got him a room somewhere closer to campus. My brother moved to his rented place eight clear months before I got married to Martha.
Our marriage was new. We had to make new plans every day to ensure we moved toward the kind of family we both agreed to build. A year after marriage she told me, “My sister has gotten admission to Legon. Usually at this time, getting an affordable hostel is very hard. I would like her to come live with us for a while until I could secure a place for her.” I didn’t shake my head. “ A while isn’t forever. I believed she understood why family shouldn’t be invited into a young marriage since she indirectly drove mine away before marriage.
Two years later her sister was living with us, occupying the room my brother was occupying before I got him a place. I was looking forward to when the “a while” she spoke about would expire so her sister would move out to a hostel. She never talked about it and looking at how she decorated the room for her sister, It didn’t look like she was going to leave any soon. Two years was long enough so I brought the conversation up. “Your sister. It’s been two years already. What’s the plan for her.” She pulled a subtle frown on her face before she asked me, “Are you going to use the room for something?” I answered, “Definitely the room can be used for something but I can’t use it now because she’s here. I’m only asking the way forward before I can think of what to use the room for.” She said, “When you’re ready let me know. But for the meantime, I would look around for a hostel for her.”
Third-year her sister was still living with us. Her staying with us wasn’t actually a nuisance. She was helping with the cleaning of the house and also helped in the kitchen. When we were not in the house, she was there to take care of everything. Her existence with us was very useful so I decided to let her be until she completes school. When it comes to family issues, if it’s not well handled, it may bring a lot of fights and internal battles between couples. I didn’t want my young marriage to go through that face so I patiently waited until she completes school, then I would have a reason for her to go back to where she came from.
One evening we were in the hall watching TV when my phone rang. I looked at who was calling and it was my wife’s senior brother. I told my wife, “Check your phone, it looks like your brother called and didn’t get you so he’s calling me.” She checked her phone and there was no missed call on it. I picked up the call and he said, “Akonta, Hmmm, I’ve had a new job in Accra ooo. It’s not too far from where you live. I’m thinking I could crash at your end for a while and use the time available to look for a place of my own.” I asked him, “Have you discussed it with your sister?” He said, “Yeah, I spoke to her two days ago and she said I should discuss it with you first.”
I didn’t know what to tell him. It was like a trap had been set for me to give the final verdict so my name would be on their lips. I told him I will discuss it with his sister and get back to him. When I hang up I asked my wife, “Two days ago and you haven’t mentioned it?” She answered, “Why would I turn to discuss it with you when I’d already asked him to discuss it with you?” I asked her, “Where is he going to sleep when he comes around?” She answered gleefully, “He can share the room with Fafa. Ain’t they siblings?” She had already welcomed her brother in her heart and was waiting for me to say no so she would tell him it’s her husband who said no. I’ve learned to handle family issues like the way traffic light works. When it’s red you stop until it turns green. That conversation was a red light, so I stopped.
His brother came. Fafa started sleeping in the hall at night and went to the room only when her brother was out during the day. He said “for a while” right? A year later he was still living with us. Fafa had completed school but went home for a few weeks and came back. I started getting angry at their presence. I couldn’t go directly to my brother-in-law so I told my wife, “Talk to your brother. He’s been here long enough to get a place of his own. Ask him about his plans and tell him we need the space so he should plan to vacate it. My wife told me point blank, “I’m not going to do your dirty work for you. You allowed him to come and stay with us. If you think he had overstayed, go and tell him to leave. I can’t do that work.”
Maybe it was the way she said it and the mannerisms she used to express herself. I got very angry. I said, “Is that what you’re telling me? That’s fine. You brought Fafa here, right? Then let’s start with her. She has only one week—in fact, one week is too far. Three days. She has only three days to leave this house. When she leaves, I would know how to deal with your brother.”
If I said that to a stone, I may have had a reaction. This woman didn’t mind me. Fafa didn’t leave. His senior brother also lived in the house and threw his shoulders around as if we were his pet. He left the house when he wanted and came back as late as he wanted. He had spare keys that I didn’t know how he got it. That wasn’t discussed. Since I wasn’t a man enough to tell them to leave, I had to tolerate them.
I traveled outside Accra for work. I didn’t go with the company car I was driving. I came back home three days later and the car was not in the compound. I called my wife Immediately on the phone; “Why did you go to work with the car?’ Then I remembered she doesn’t know how to drive. I asked, “Where’s my car?” She answered, “I think my brother took it to work this morning?”
My wife knows the rules governing the company vehicle. Not even my spouse is allowed to drive it so why would she allow her brother to drive the car? When I was screaming on the phone asking why she allowed him to take the car, she screamed back at me, “It’s ok! It’s only a car. He’s not going to chew it. Do you know how long he had been driving? Then she cut the call on me.
“Eiii Martha! Has it gotten to this? A point where you can talk back at me and even cut the call on me?”
I didn’t go inside. I sat in front of the door waiting for them. My wife came in first. She didn’t even greet me and she entered. Fafa had started her national service. She came in next. When she greeted me I told her calmly, “You came here for a while when you were a first-year student at Legon. I don’t know how long is ‘a while’ but I need my room. I’ve spoken to your sister about it. You can have a further discussion with her and decide where you’ll go but I don’t think I would be happy to see you here a week from now.” She sensed my anger and asked if she had done something wrong. I said, “No you haven’t. I only need my room. That’s all.”
I heard them talking in the hall but I didn’t bother. I was only waiting for that guy who drove the car to work. He came home around 9pm. Immediately he saw me he started talking, “Oh Akont, the way the car was parked for that long, I decided to heat the engine small for you.” I took the key from him. I told him the same thing I told his sister. “I need my room. A week from now I don’t think I will be happy to see you here. Talk to your sister about it and think of what you’ll do next.”
So calm. So cool. I didn’t engage. I just gave him the information and left. In the night, my wife wanted to have a discussion but the period for discussion was over so I wasn’t ready to listen to her. She ranted, “How can you give people one week to vacate? Is that how it is done. Who can get a new place in Accra within one week? You’re doing all this because of a car?” I said, “If you think I’m not being fair, you can also join them and go wherever you would want to go.” She went mute. The kind of sleep I had that night could not be compared to any other sleep I’ve had since they walked into the house.
It’s been over a week and they are still living here with us. The annoying part is that no one is saying anything. Their demeanor when they walk around here seems to say, “We belong here so you can’t send us away.” I asked my wife why they are still here and she said, “Why are you asking me? Go and ask them.” I asked them why and her brother answered, “I haven’t had any better place. I’m still searching. When I get some I will leave. As for Fafa, I haven’t spoken to her. The whole issue is, I don’t want to do anything that would bruise the inter-family relationship. They would paint me black in front of their parents. Their parents may not ask me but rather build a bad opinion about me. That’s what I want to avoid.
What’s the best way to push these people out without causing any family friction? I want them to leave. If they leave today, I would be happy but how do I do it so it doesn’t generate family chaos?