“City Girl” by Empi Baryeh -an excerpt

As Maanan considered the prospect of marriage more closely, she realized Esi may have had a point. After all, if she were to marry a hardworking man like Sammy Badu, she’d have to be able to help with managing the farms and their produce.
 
“You did well today, Maanan,” a voice from behind interrupted her train of thought, causing her to jump.
 
She turned to see Sammy Badu towering over her. Even when standing, her five-six frame was shorter than his by more than a head, so with her sitting he appeared like a giant looking down at her. Her heart missed a beat as their eyes met, and she quickly diverted her attention down.
 
“Thank you, Bro Sammy.” He didn’t speak to her often, making every moment he did even more special. Out of respect, she kept her eyes lowered. 
 
Though she turned her body to face him, he maintained a suitable distance.
 
“Even though you won, you do not look happy. Why?”
 
“I am happy.” She curved the corners of her lips in a bid to convince him, but couldn’t help the sadness that lingered. “It’s just—”
 
“You miss your friend, Esi.” His voice softened as he said this.
 
Rendered speechless by how easily he’d read her mind, she simply nodded. A moment of silence followed as they both watched the festivities. Glancing up at him, she noticed how serious he looked. She longed to reach out and wipe the frown from his brows.
 
“You should stop competing,” he said.
 
Maanan was taken aback by his bold statement. Was he not the same person who congratulated her a few minutes ago? “Why do you say so?”
 
He shrugged, his tone light, although his eyes remained serious. “You always win.”
 
“But, Bro Sammy, as the ancients say, it is not the cook’s fault when the cassava turns out to be hard and tasteless,” she said. “It is not I who must stop competing to produce another winner.”
 
He nodded, a faint smile touching his lips, and turned to look at her. “Yes, but smooth seas do not make skilful sailors. Only those who do not wish to learn new tricks continue to play with children.”
 
Maanan’s joyful expression faltered at his words, and she dropped her gaze again. He was right. If she remained in Ebinom, she’d always remain under the illusion of being the best without developing any new skills.
 
Just as she parted her lips to speak, someone called to Sammy and summoned him to join a group of men sitting in the drinking shed, most likely drinking akpeteshie. To her disappointment, he didn’t decline the invitation.
 
He turned back to her. “I have to go.”
 
Maanan nodded, her eyes still averted.
 
“Will you be dancing adowa today?”
 
Maanan had been planning on skipping the dance because it would be no fun without Esi, yet she found herself nodding. How could she not when he spoke with such gentleness? She’d be willing to dance for him any day.
 
He leaned forward and spoke in a low tone. “I was going to leave early, but if you promise to invite me to dance with you, I’ll stay.”
 
Her eyes darted back to meet his watchful stare. Her heart stutter-stepped as she experienced a shivering sensation in her spine. Unable to speak, she nodded.

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