By Nii Sackey Vanderpuye
This was written by an old, homesick clergyman who yearns for a home that he has never known.
My origin story spins a tale that not even the cleverest of writers can fathom. My parents stowed away on a cargo ship that was bound for London in the year 1918. Per my father’s account, they were huddled up in the cargo hold for nearly a month, surviving on cocoa beans and the water that condensed on the windows. To the detriment of their scheme, they were discovered before the ship reached London and were consequently cast off at a port in Serbia. In the years that followed, my mother and father lived an were cast off d worked as surfs for Oligarchs. I was born four months after my parents as a matter of fact, I was one of a pair of twins; however, my twin never made it past three days. I cannot tell for sure if my twin was a boy or a girl the sex of his newborn babies –– for my father neglected to observe but I digress. My mother proceeded to have five more children in quick succession, of which three died before reaching puberty. My mother died of consumption before I turned six, and now I can scarcely recall her visage. I quite recall my father selling my mother’s corpse to a scientist who studied anatomy (a fact later corroborated by my father). I vaguely remember him selling the bodies of two of my three deceased siblings to that very scientist.
The scientist, Dr. Smirnov, was like a vulture, visiting our household whenever someone died; however, his monetary compensations afforded us a decent living. When I turned ten, my father sent me to live in the parish house, under the guardianship of a German Missionary therein lies the first in the series of oddities that are my life. You see, although I grew up in Serbia, I am incapable of speaking a word of Russian. Probably because the whites preferred our kind to keep to themselves, but the German Missionary (Brother Tobias) was unlike the Serbs. I remained in the parish house till I was 21, and in those years, I learned to read and write both English and German. Before that, I only spoke Akan since that was tongue my mother spoke in my infant years (Later, following her passing, father would unsuccessfully try to change languages from Akan to his native language, Ga). I loved Shakespeare, and I felt Plato was overrated, I also learned woodwork, arithmetic, and music. A week after I turned 21, brother Tobi as succumbed to botulism and was succeeded by the rather hostile Father Ralph. No sooner was I cast out of the parish house to fend for myself. Father Ralph sent me packing with my scarce belongings, old robes, a pair of boots, some rye bread, resins, and an atlas from the first world war. I managed to sneak out a letter of recommendation brother Tobias had written for me before his death. He assured me that the Catholic church in Germany would commission me for missionary work based on the words of his recommendation, so I set about my trip to Germany to become a missionary. But before that, I went in search of my remaining siblings and my father. I found my sister Adoma, and my brother Adotey, they still lived in the shack we were born in. Just like my parents, Adotey and Adoma worked as laborers, either tending to crops or sheering sheep. They were married and had a young son, barely three months old. We spoke at length in Akan and shared their dreams to save up enough money to return home to Accra the beautiful land father so dreamily spoke about. Because I was dressed in Brother Tobias’ old robes, they thought me a priest and requested that I bless their son, I hesitantly obliged, explaining I was merely in training to take up the priesthood. I blessed my young nephew and performed the sacrament of baptism; I prayed in German (for fear of offending my siblings) that God would not hold his parents’ crime of incest against him. You would have to forgive my account of the dialogue that ensued thereafter, for it has been nearly two decades since, and it was done in a language I cannot write.
“Papa is on the run from Dr. Smirnov; he sold his corpse premortem for 60 rubles. And he is under the impression that the doctor wants to kill him and claim his purchase” Adotey said, rather whimsically.
I visited with them for three days. And believe me you, those three days were agonizing. I struggled to suppress the impulse to judge their choice to live as husband and wife. When they were in fact, brother and sister. On the day that I departed, Adoma walked with me along the path that led up to the main road. For most of the journey, we walked in silence until we reached the point where we had to say goodbye.
“I know you do not think much about my decision to live with our brother as husband and wife, but I pray your understanding and God’s forgiveness for we are all we have in this cold, frozen wasteland,” said Adoma.
“I understand.” was my only response. We embraced, and I departed. That was the last time I spoke with my sister. I would later be informed by a letter from Adotey, 12 years thence, that she fell ill and died on their voyage back home to the motherland.
I traveled 700 miles from Latkovac through Zagreb, then Vienna, then Belgrade, till I reached Hamburg in September of 1943. Based on the locale, I either traveled by train, or by horse wagon, drawn coach, boat, or on foot. And although I was physically exhausted upon reaching Hamburg, I was delighted at the prospects that awaited me in Hamburg. I wasted no time in finding the Diocesan head office of the catholic church in Hamburg and presented my letter to Friar Thomas, (as instructed by Brother Tobias).
On the 12th of September, four days after I arrived at Hamburg, I was admitted into a baroque seminary in eastern Frankfurt. I must say, this was done with many compromises, for unlike the other men in the seminary, I had to take lessons from the corridor and work in the kitchen as a kitchen boy, and also work in the automobile yard, well, because I was unlike my seminarian brothers, in terms of color. But this arrangement did not bother me, for I had come to accept I was not born equal to the white man — I was in fact, God’s thoroughbred. My skin did not blister under the sun, I was stronger and more resilient, and most of all, I was wise enough to know that it is impossible to confer worth on a human being because of his race.
In the four years that followed my admittance, I lived and learned as a second the walls of the seminary class human within and was due to graduate the most excellent student by the end of the fifth year. After which I was to be commissioned as a missionary to serve in either Aboriginal Australia, or South America, or in Africa. I prayed and fasted for providence to favor me and discharge me into the service of my motherland, Africa.
As fate would have it, providence would conspire against me, but before that grim tale unfolded, a young mulatto woman who hand come into the employ of the seminary’s warden caught my eye. She was a year my senior and was of English and Sudanese descent. She worked as a maid in the warden’s bungalow. I courted her and wore her down with marriage proposal within two months, my passions for her raged in every fiber of my being, from mind to my heart to loins I was consumed.
In February of 1949 I was commissioned as a minister and a missionary under the Presbyterian church while I had set my sights on a catholic priesthood, I was black, and in the opinion of our revered pontiffs, could not be a priest “for the lord abhorred my hue.” And so, that same year, I set off to post with my wife and all belongings all of which fit into my traveler’s portmanteau. My destination was somewhere in bucolic Australia, a town called Tasmania.
Our voyage to Australia was difficult; it lasted for two weeks, within which my wife’s reservations about being a missionary’s wife fully registered, but alas! It was too late to turn back. Obviously, she was no Jane Eyre, yet, I made do. We arrived in Australia in the comp any of some gypsies who were heading our way; as we journeyed from the port at Victoria to Tasmania, my wife developed a rather close yet innocuous (apparently) relationship with one of our travel companions. We settled into our lives at Tasmania rather quickly, and although it was hot and dusty, we made a beautiful homestead for ourselves in the parish yard. Our gypsy friends settled in the main town. And while a significant number of my parish was white, they regarded and accepted me with kindness. My wife bore me four children, two sets of twins, in quick succession. She no sooner disappeared with her gypsy friend and the entire gypsy caravan, abandoning me with our four children. I did not read the letter she left behind, for I knew she could neither re ad nor write and also for fear that I might gain sympathy for her cause. I never searched for her, and I didn’t grief her abandonment. I only continued to discharge my responsibility as a minister, and with the help of my congregation, I raised my four children.
It has been twenty years since, and my four children have grown I must admit, all four of them do the Norman name proud. My first child, Dorothy Akyaa Norman (named after my mother) is studying in anthropology at the University of Melbourne, her t win sister Kalysa Norman is the teacher at the elementary school here in Tasmania. Then there is Tobias Odotei Norman (after brother Tobias), he is under training to be a priest in Rome, and his twin, Claudia Norman is my warrior princess, with a spirit as strong as Yaa Asantewaa’s, she works as a reporter, covering the berlin wall, and before that she was a red cross nurse on the battlefield during the Vietnam war.
I write not to engage your pity but rather to elicit your sympathies and pray you to count m e among your sons. I live in a parochial world, one that demands that I dedicate all my time to my flock, I, therefore, pray you to sympathize with me and understand I cannot adjudicate what would become of the days hence, but if God wills it to be so, I s hall depart from these hostile shores and return home to the land of my ancestors, but until then, may the peace of our Lord God be upon you.
Your Son, Reverend Moses Papafio Norman.