I had my friends from Ghana staying with me, in what is becoming a July tradition. Their two children Mya Ekua (2) and Chris Kofi (11 months) were a joy, but a handful. Shannon had been able to guide me — a 40-year-old bachelor — into buying the right gifts for them on my trip to the States.
Simon and Efua didn’t want the chocolate I’d brought back for them, but I had something she wasn’t expecting. We’re both fans of Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and I had planned a little surprise for her weeks in advance. I opened up an Amazon box, telling her I had something I knew she’d love. I took out a copy of the latest novel in the series: Blue Shoes and Happiness. “There you are,” I said, triumphantly.
“It’s the latest in the series about Mma Ramotswe.”
“It can’t be. I’ve read them all,” she insisted, holding the weighty hardback.
“It is. It’s the latest one,” I said. I looked at Simon, who looked embarrassed by his wife’s incredulity. “He was contractually obliged to write two more after Cheerful Ladies.”
“There are no more books on Mma Ramotswe. This is something else.”
“But can’t you see from the cover? It’s by Alexander McCall Smith. Read the back cover.”
“Have you read it?” asked Simon, perhaps to break the awkwardness.
“No. I’ve been too occupied with reading for my novel. I’ll get it when it’s out in paperback.”
“Oh,” said Efua finally, reading the cover. “Thank you.” Then she turned to me. “You didn’t ask my question on the radio!”
“You didn’t get it to me in time, so I had make one up.” Harriett Gilbert, my course director on the MA, has a couple of BBC World radio shows. In World Book Club earlier this year, she interviewed Alexander McCall Smith. I had promised her a question from a Ghanaian, knowing Efua would love it. “I emailed you a number of times and I copied Simon so I knew you’d get them.”
“Why didn’t you get her to ask my question?” I found her aggression difficult to read, and out of character.
“You emailed me after the show was recorded.”
“But I emailed you the question. You should have got her to ask it,” she said, irritated.
“But the show had been recorded by the time I got it. That’s why I had to make up a question on the day. I emailed you several times and you never replied. It had been recorded by the time I got your question.”
Simon saw my discomfort: he was uncomfortable himself. “She had her hands full with the kids when she heard it. She was really pleased to hear her name read out on the radio. It was a lovely thing to have done.”
I explained the bizarre business of the book and the question to Shannon the next day: I couldn’t understand Efua’s behaviour. “How old’s Chris?” she asked.
She laughed. “Less than a year. Her hormones are everywhere — she’s just not herself. And just you wait until fatherhood, mister.”