I walked out of my apartment, trying not to let the heavy, green iron gate slam behind me. It was 4 o’clock in the morning and I didn’t want to wake my brand-new neighbors. Even though it was 4 a.m., the air was still warm enough to sweat if you moved too much. I peeked around the mint green wall that shrouded my building to the red dirt road that led to it and didn’t see anyone. Scuttling back to my room, I wondered what in the world was I doing. Who was this person who was meeting up with strange men in a strange country at 4 o’clock in the morning? Was this me? Really? The alternative was to wash off all my makeup, change out of my thotting clothes and go to bed like any sane person would do. But seeing that in the past 90 days, I had ended my relationship, quit my job and fled to Ghana, maybe my sanity was up for question.
I had just come home after a night at a slightly disappointing soca party in Accra (in hindsight, I’m not sure why I expected better seeing that most people I met barely knew any islands outside of Jamaica). I was looking cute and wasn’t ready to end the night just yet. Not after hearing about but having never experienced those famous nights out that ended at 6, 7 and sometimes 8 a.m. I was feening for a good night out, one where I could dance continuously until the sun came up and my feet hurt and I had no choice but to forget about the past and focus on the moment.
Where are you? I messaged him back. It was a guy I’d met on Hinge a few weeks before but had never met in person. I think I love you was the very first thing he’d said to me. We exchanged Instagrams and talked intermittently until that night when I took him up on his request to see me.
I’m parked outside, he responded. Shoving the critical voice that was highly disapproving to the back of my mind, I walked outside again to see if he was there. Where there was just blank dirt road before was now a figure silhouetted against the faded salmon wall that ran along the road behind my complex. He stood confidently, his arms rising wide when he saw me walking towards him, his white button-down shirt slightly rumpled from a night out and contrasting against his midnight skin. I nearly turned around to see what camera he was performing for. But there were no cameras. It was all for me.
“Alecka.” He pronounced my name correctly on the first try. He introduced himself and then led me to his large Range Rover that was parked just a few yards away yet impossible to see from my road due to the high walls that surrounded every yard. As I climbed in, I asked about his night to which he revealed that it was his birthday and he had been out celebrating.
“Oh,” I said, surprised he had left his celebration to pick me up. “Happy Birthday!”
He thanked me and we made our way back to the club he had been in. I squirmed in my seat as he drove way too fast and rounded a corner.
“Are you good?” He asked. “If you’re uncomfortable you can tell me.”
I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t help but think back to another situation where I was uncomfortable in a car. That time, I actually said how I felt and what came after was emotional disaster.
Six months before, back in Oakland, when I still had a relationship, a job and a permanent address, I was driving back to my apartment with my ex in tow. I was a little frustrated. I had spent the morning catching up with some coworkers who I rarely got the chance to see, then spent the afternoon helping him run errands. We had spent around two hours together and he hadn’t asked me a single question about my day or how I was doing. It wasn’t that I necessarily wanted to tell him; I guess I was just expecting the person who claimed to love me more than anything to care enough about me to ask.
He could tell there was something on my mind and asked about it. I decided to be honest. I had been honest with him the entire time so far, I figured it couldn’t hurt.
“I just feel a type of way,” I said as I’m often prone to saying, “that we spent all this time together and you haven’t asked me about my day yet.”
What I expected was a simple, concerned, “I’m sorry. How was your day?”
What I got was the biggest argument of our relationship so far (which was only three months long at that point). He took personal offense to the fact that I felt neglected and immediately pointed the finger at me for accusing him of not being good enough. He said he had just gotten a bill from the dentist and simply didn’t have the bandwidth to ask about my day. I asked him if he didn’t have the bandwidth to ask about his girlfriend, then should he really be in a relationship? The argument rocked my car and then my apartment. I was sure the neighbors could hear us yelling at each other back and forth through my thin walls. He even packed his stuff and threatened to leave. All because I said how I felt.
Another sharp turn brought me back into the present. We were on a dirt road this time heading to a popular club. 4 a.m. meant people were both coming and going so traffic on the tiny dirt road had forced him to slow down. I breathed a sigh of relief and chided myself for not saying something before. But when you were in a relationship where you regularly got punished for speaking up, saying something seemed like the hardest thing to do.
He parked in a spot that seemed reserved for him right in front of the entrance and we attempted to make our way in. A bouncer blocked the path. The club was closed to new patrons. He was allowed in since he had been in before, but not me. I zoned out as he haggled with the bouncer, wondering whether this would be another disappointing night with another disappointing man. But after a few minutes, they waved me in. He held my hand and led me inside. I looked at him as we walked down the dark halls filled with tired and drunken party goers and wondered, who is this man?
He led me right to the emptying bar and slapped his card on the counter. “Get anything you want,” His voice was barely audible over the pounding music. “It’s on me. Anything.”
I watched him as he swayed to the music and waited for the catch. It seemed like when it came to the men I chose, there was always a catch. What if I ordered a whole bottle of liquor? What if I got 20 tequila shots? Would he care?
“Get anything.” He repeated. Settling shyly on a mojito, we made our way to the outdoor dance floor that was packed with brown bodies moving in time to the afrobeat that blared from the DJ booth. I had been to the club before, but seeing it this packed felt like a whole new place. Apparently, when I’d left at 3 a.m. the last time, I left too early.
All night, Get Anything Guy kept reiterating that he only wanted to make me happy.
“It’s all about you.” He said.
I didn’t trust it. Not only because I just met him, but also because I was so used to the men in my life promising me the world in the very beginning and failing miserably. They would promise everything that I wanted, just to prioritize their own needs time and time again.
Like the time I realized my ex didn’t give a fuck about me. This time it was four months before, towards the end of August. I was fresh out of the airport after a few weeks of visiting his family, and then my own. I’d barely slept the night before due to another argument and I was crying from the edge of my bed late that night, pleading with him to squash our dispute and leave so I could get some rest. But no matter what I did, he wouldn’t leave.
He looked different from the man I thought I knew. He didn’t look like a man who loved me. He watched me crying and begging with the most callous expression. Like what I was experiencing was just par the course. Like how I was feeling was how he wanted me to feel. Like he got a high from my low. This stony unfamiliar face regressed back into his usual angry one, and amid his rage and insults he insisted that I talk to him or else he wouldn’t leave.
I didn’t want to talk. I was tired. I was drained. I was frustrated. I just wanted to go to bed. Slowly my tears started to dry up. My emotions, once a rich, thriving and expressive oasis, had evaporated into an arid wasteland. I started to realize that no matter how much I begged or pleaded or tried to reason with him, it didn’t matter. It only mattered that he got what he wanted. Fuck what I wanted.
I got up and decided that I would go to bed anyway, whether he was here or not. Seeing that I was sufficiently ignoring him, he got desperate.
“Alecka, if you don’t talk to me right now, then I can’t be in this relationship anymore.”
I looked at him, half-naked from my bathroom as I prepared to step in the shower. His face was all seriousness but I knew what this was. I knew his only goal was to manipulate me into doing something I didn’t want to do. In that moment I recognized that he was skilled at it; he knew where to dig to get my emotion to rise to the surface. The only problem was he dug too deep and took too much. I had nothing left to give. I didn’t care.
“Ok.” Was all I said as I disappeared into the shower.
He immediately doubled back.
“I didn’t mean it. Please, let’s just talk. I really didn’t mean it.”
But the damage was done. I knew the lengths he would go to in order to get what he wanted, even if it meant trampling all over what I needed.
Around 5:30 a.m. the music receded and Get Anything Guy insisted the night was still young.
“What do you want to do? Beach or breakfast?” He asked.
I looked at him, turning over the question in my mind. What did I want to do? I remembered that was the whole point of me abandoning Oakland and coming to Ghana to live for six months. I did it because I wanted to, not because anyone else wanted it for me. It was an unusual feeling to just do what I wanted. Usually, I would consider what everyone else wanted, and then choose what I wanted from there. I found myself doing it a lot with my ex. He would always ask what I wanted just to pick at it until it became what he wanted. I became an expert at feeling out what he wanted and pretending like it was what I wanted originally. I found myself trying to do that again. What did Get Anything Guy want? Did he want to go to the beach or breakfast?
I stopped myself and remembered why I was there. What did I want?
As we walked to his car I added, “Maybe don’t drive like a crazy man this time?”
No one I had met in Accra would recommend Labadi Beach but I still thought it was beautiful. Even though empty plastic bottles and ragged plastic bags lined the shores and the sky was obscured from Harmattan, I thought the pink-tinged dusty sunrise was breathtaking. We stood on a short cliff admiring the waves that reflected the soft, rose-colored sky before a guide offered to take us down to the water. Get Anything Guy looked to me for a response.
“Let’s do it.”
The guide led us down rough, amber rocks that trailed lazily from the cliffs into the sea. I don’t think either of us was expecting to do a full-blown early morning hike in last night’s clubbing clothes, but neither of us chickened out. Get Anything Guy led the way, being extra attentive and careful with me when I needed a steadying arm. This took real effort, as I luckily wore soft outdoor sandals while he had on dress shoes. That still didn’t stop him from going out of his way to make me comfortable.
We hiked lower and lower, down the cliffs until we could no longer even wear shoes. We barely spoke a word, but our collaboration was impeccable. It felt like it took both twenty minutes and forever, but finally we made it as far as we could go.
We stood barefoot on rocks that jutted just barely from the water, feeling the waves lap at our toes and the subtle salty breeze that caressed us from the open sea. Our arms snaked around each other as we watched the fishing boats bob calmly along the horizon before the transforming pale orange sky. In that moment, I was so grateful that I left Oakland, and the relationship that was rapidly transforming into something terrible in search of new waters.
Maybe it is possible to find people who care about what you want.