Our first trip to the market is something to behold. Cecelia leads us through a myriad of shabby wooden stalls where locals sell everything from flip-flops, to bundles of cloth, to smoked fish rolled up into spirals. Periodically, we stop at a table or two to examine an item from a toothless, grinning vendor.
“You should get some beans,” Cecelia advises, motioning the merchant to bag up a about two pounds of legumes akin to that of black-eyed peas.
“You should get some palm oil,” she adds. Another nearby merchant hands us a half gallon of thick, firey-red liquid. She offers us a taste of the unusual stuff. One by one, we dip our fingers into a deep bowl filled with palm oil. It tastes like buttered popcorn, the kind you get at the movies.
“Do you take peanut paste?” Cecelia asks us while at another vendor.
“Peanut paste?” one of us echoes.
“Yes, you know, made from groundnuts. We make it for soup.”
Cecelia places a jar of what Americans call “peanut butter into our basket. We tell her we spread that stuff on bread. She laughs.
“That must taste odd. I will try it!” she exclaims.
Cecelia is haggling with a vendor over tomatoes; the scene of the marketplace sinks into me. Hundreds of people crowd into an area that spans a mile in any direction. I see a girl, perhaps my age, in the middle of a row of stalls.
She is beautiful.
Atop her head is a box of clear-plastic panels framed by wood, revealing tan colored balls of unknown ingredients. She is selling them. Like most Ghanaian women, she carries the box on top of her head as though it were no trouble at all. Such ease, such grace, like a princess learning proper posture by balancing a book atop her head.
She is studying at me. I am studying her too, her deep, dark eyes enticing and intriguing. I hold my camera in front of me, but I do not snap the shutter. I can’t, I don’t feel right, without asking her permission. I know that if I do, she would surely refuse.
It is a stand-off of observation between two worlds.
I wait. I wait until she thinks that I am no longer watching her, but she keeps looking at me. She puts the box on the ground.
The shutter snaps as she stands back up.
As regrets go, I wish I had asked her for a photo, to have such a subject in my portfolio, to do her beauty justice. Her image encompasses everything I felt that day.
I never even ask her name.