I grew up with a modest dream. When my friends were dreaming of becoming doctors, pilots, engineers, all I ever dreamed of becoming was a soldier. Our childhood dreams usually come from our environment and what we are constantly exposed to. My father’s junior brother was a military man. He was highly respected in our community. It was the 80s and the name Rawlings gave a lot of people shivers in their spine. My uncle will return from the barracks and tell us stories about how the military people lived and behaved. The only question I always asked him was, “Did you see J.J today? What did he do?” He wasn’t serving around Rawlings but that man was always in the news so he had something to tell me about him all the time.
J.J Rawlings and my uncle influenced my dream to become a soldier. Immediately after I completed school, I started working towards my dream. My uncle helped out a lot but on the recruitment day, I couldn’t pass the test. I was shattered. I thought my life had come to an end. I was only a boy whose dream was to honor his country. But that day, my uncle held my hand and brought me home. He said, “Don’t worry, we’ll try again next year.” A whole year without pursuing my dreams sounded like forever but what could I do? Nothing.
I took solace in the church choir. I will go to rehearsals every day, sit behind the drum and play my heart. On Sundays during church service, I didn’t get the opportunity to play because I was considered a novice. Atobrah was the man. He was a professional band player. Anytime he sat behind the drums, he turned the whole church upside down with his playing skills. I was always with him on Sundays. Watching him. Learning from him. Listening to his advice. One day he asked me, “You want to become a drummer when you grow up?” I said, “No, I want to be a soldier.” He said, ”You want to join the military band?” I asked, ”The military has a band? For what? I thought they fight so what would they need a band for?” He laughed at my innocence. But he was kind enough to tell me stories about the military band. Before he finished telling the story, I knew I wanted to be part of the military band.
Another year, another attempt at passing the recruitment and this time around I was successful. I went through the training successfully and eventually joined the band. The day I returned home and went to church rehearsals, I saw a lot of changes. Atobrah was no longer commanding the drums and the choir had a lot of new faces. Some I knew. Some I didn’t know. When rehearsals had already started, we heard the crying engine of a vehicle. Everyone turned to look at the direction where the sound was coming from. A lady stepped out and took a seat with the singers. I asked the guy next to me, “Who is she?” He said, “You don’t know her. She joined not too long ago.”
All throughout the rehearsing session, I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. She was beautiful when she was quiet. She was more beautiful when she sang. Soldiers don’t sit back and watch. We get involved so I went to her after rehearsals. “Hey, my name is Eric. This is my first time seeing you here.” She smiled. She said, “I’ve been here for several months. This is my first time seeing you. You might be new.” I said, “No I’m not. I joined this choir when I was young. It has always been a part of me but I traveled.” She said, “Then you’ve been away for too long.” I said, “Yeah that’s true. I got enrolled in the military so I was at the military camp.” When she got to know I was in the military, her interest got sparked. We talked until her car arrived. She said, “I hope I will see you tomorrow?” I said, “Until I leave, I will always be here.”
Because of her status, she didn’t have friends. Her father was a rich man. He didn’t give her enough space to mingle with people like us. She came to church in a car and left immediately after church. She’ll attend rehearsals in the same car and leave immediately afterward. When she caught my eyes, I decided to do everything within my means to get her to be my friend and I succeeded. Some days her car would arrive and she would stay longer just to talk to me. When I was behind the drums and she sang, I could watch her until I start playing nonsense. “Is it love that I’m feeling?” I asked myself. The little voice in my head answered, “Monkeys play by sizes. This isn’t your size. Look elsewhere.”
But soldiers don’t back out. We don’t retreat and we don’t surrender until the last blood is spilled. I made it a point to make her get the point. You know what I mean? Yeah. But no matter how hard I rehearsed my lines and planned, anytime I met her and she smiled, courage disappeared. The day before I left town, I told myself, “What do I stand to lose? If she says no, I wouldn’t be here the next day anyway. I will go ahead and propose.” Soldiers are courageous until it comes to matters of the heart. We may scream in front of the battle line. We will face enemies and meet bullets without fear but in front of the woman we love, we are like civilians without armor. A little girl can order you around in the name of love. Love knows no ranks, so we all suffer the same fate.
After rehearsals that day I was in a rush to tell her my mind but that was the day her driver arrived early. She was leaving me. She said, “You’re leaving tomorrow right? We’ll meet again when you return.” I said, ”Please wait, I have something to tell you.” She smiled and said, “Go on I’m listening.” She threw her eyes’ light on me and I was dazed. I said, “It’s nothing really but I wanted to say that I will miss you.” She smiled. She asked, “Is that all?” I said, “There’s more but it’s hard to say everything right now.” She said, “Say it. You’re a soldier.” I said, “I want you to be my girlfriend. I’ve always wanted to say this since the very first day I saw you.” She smiled. She said, “Tricia Boampong. P.O.Box 115, Asylum-Down. Write to me when you go.”
“P.O. Box 115. P.O. Box 115. P.O. Box 115…” I sang the address until I found a piece of paper and wrote it down. I wrote her a letter the very day I got to the camp. The tenses and grammar were all over the place but I didn’t care. After every paragraph, I will write, “You know what I mean?” Just to emphasize my point. I was a soldier, not a grammarian. When her reply came, I was very glad to know that she understood my bad English. Her words were polished. Her handwriting was divine. If written words could fade due to over-reading, words in that letter would have disappeared. I read it every day until the next one came. She accepted my proposal and asked me to come around often. At the end of every letter, she wrote “Please don’t die at war. We just started.” It was funny and sad at the same time. I assured her, “I won’t die. I’m made to die next to you.”
The very first day I visited her home, I was in my uniform. Her father looked at me from the soles of my boot to the tip of my hair. He said, “What’s a soldier doing in my house?” Tricia said, “Dad he’s my friend. The one I was talking to you about.” He said, “You didn’t tell me he is a soldier? You can’t just bring a soldier in my house and expect me to be comfortable.” He turned to me and said, “Gentleman, go back to where you came from. My house is not a military base.” He pointed his finger at the door and asked me to leave. Soldiers obey instructions so I bowed to him and walked out. We met at rehearsals. That day the two of us didn’t rehearse. We walked through the park in front of the church until we found a large stone and sat on it.
I asked her, “Why is he mad at me.” She said, “He thinks you are a spy. It has something to do with his hatred for the government. He suspects you might have been sent to spy on him.” I said, “A spy won’t identify himself the way I did. Tell him I’m only a humble man in love with his daughter. I mean no harm and have no links or relationship to the government. I came for love.” A week later I went there again in my civilian attire. He said, “Young man, if you want to put me in trouble, I will make sure I put you in trouble first. You want to lose your badge? Tell me and I can ensure that. I know people too.”
You can’t take a rich man’s threat for granted, so I laid low. But my love for Tricia was always on a high. We continued exchanging letters. Whenever I was around, we met at the park and stayed in the dark, far from the view of her father. For three good years, we were hiding. In a letter to me one day she said, “I’m traveling to my mother’s place. My dad feels threatened. He still thinks you have connections to the government and you might cause his downfall. He’s sending me away but trust me things would be easier while I’m with my mom. She understands and she will pave a way for us.”
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My heart was broken for days. I couldn’t think straight and couldn’t act on purpose. It was June 1996 when she traveled to Germany to live with her mom. She wrote to me often. She asked me to remain strong. One day, I slept at the communication center so I can get to speak to her mom on the telephone. She asked me, “Are you ready to get married to my daughter?” I screamed excitedly, “Yes I’m ready. I can marry her today but her father is the problem.” She said, “Then do one thing for her. You’ll pull down your uniform. I’ll facilitate your travel to this place. Once you’re here, everything will be easier.”
In September 1998, I said goodbye to the military—my childhood dreams and traveled to Germany.
The most beautiful soul I’ve ever seen in a person is the kind of soul Tricia’s mother have. She worked her way out to get me a job just one month after reaching Germany. She rented a place for me and did everything for me to feel comfortable. She said, “I will handle my husband from here. And she did. I always say that women are the true soldiers. They don’t win wars on the battlefield. They win the war before it gets to the battlefield. Tricia’s father was still against me. He continued thinking I was a spy though I had resigned from the military. He said, “Spies will do anything to get the information. I’m surprised you guys are falling for him.” In the end, Tricia’s mother was able to calm him down. He still had his doubts about me. He still felt I was using his daughter to get to him. Nothing would change his mind so I left him in the hands of time.
Finally, in April 2000, we got married and became who we had always dreamt to be. Her father was present. Not because he accepted me but because he owed it as a duty to be there. We’ve been married for twenty-one years and not a single day had met us sad or regretting our decisions. Tricia is still Tricia and she’s still the prettiest I’d seen. After we got married, we found ourselves a local church nearby and joined. We went straight into the choir. She sings and I sit behind the drum and play my heart out. She still sings and I still play the drum.
I still look at her when she sings. Her voice always sends me back to our beginning—the day I first saw her at the rehearsal. I think of the miles we’ve covered in life and all I think about is gratitude. “What did I do to be favored this way?” Three beautiful kids that bring warmth to our hearts each day. A life where we see beautiful things together. Where we age next to each other. I was once a soldier—I was trained for war but the only war I fought was the one that won me Tricia. And I’m always glad that I won that fight.
We were in Ghana when his Father died. That man never trusted me. He held me a spy until his dying days but I didn’t hold it against him. He played a huge part to make this life I have possible. If nothing at all, he gave birth to my wife and that’s enough reason to celebrate him.
One more thing. It’s been over twenty years but my wife still calls me “You Know What I Mean?” What can I do to make her stop? You know what I mean?