This can't go on, Peggy vowed. On her next trip, a year later, she announced that she would be choosing new elders. She asked the town crier to roam about banging his drum to let her people know that anyone who wanted to join the council—including women—should show up at her cousins' house for an interview. One afternoon, as Peggy and Comfort sat at the dining room table sipping beer, the front door swung open and a woman stomped into the house in an old field dress and apron, her tatty headwrap askew, her calloused hands holding a machete.
"Nana!" the woman cried in a husky voice as she approached the table and performed a crooked curtsey. "I heard you want strong women on your council." Cousin Comfort eyed the machete with apprehension.
Peggy looked the woman up and down and considered. She certainly had a commanding presence. And her voice was very loud, loud enough to make herself heard in council when the men tried to drown her out, as they certainly would.
"What is your name?" Peggy asked. "How old are you? What are your qualifications? Can you read and write?"
"My name is Mama Amma Ansabah," the woman replied. "I am 67 years old. I was born in Otuam but moved away with my husband for many years. Last year I returned here to take care of my sick sister. I don't know how to read and write, but I can tell wrong from right, which is more important, and I let everybody know if they are doing well or not. My neighbors said that I am so loudmouthed and nosy and bossy that I should put these qualities to good use and join your council."
"Would you care to have a beer with Cousin Comfort and me?" Peggy asked. Aggie, who had been standing against the kitchen door with her arms crossed, grinning, quickly brought Mama Amma a beer.
Mama Amma plunked herself down in the chair, gulped her beer in a long swig, set down the empty bottle and belched energetically. Then she wiped her mouth noisily with the back of her hand.
"You have a lot of thieving old men on your council, Nana," Mama Amma said. "Dogs, snakes, and crocodiles. They don't care about the children of Otuam. If you let me join the council, I will keep an eye on them. I will keep them in their place when you are not here and make sure they don't steal another penny."
Right then and there, Peggy gave her the job. After Mama Amma left, Cousin Comfort surprised Peggy by smiling broadly and saying, "Nana, of all the applicants, I like that one best of all."
And Amma was as good as her word. At the first meeting the next day, she let loose with her accusations and what she thought should happen to wicked, dishonest old men. Peggy just sat back and watched. She was glad to see that Mama Amma was more like an American woman, self-confident and unafraid to express her opinions.
Peggy's spirits rose. For the first time since this odyssey began, the new king knew that she was really and truly ready to rule. No longer afraid of the problems in Otuam—the angry elders, the dishonest behavior, the vengeful plots—Peggy felt confident. Bring it on, she thought.
Adapted from King Peggy, by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman. Copyright (c) 2012 by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman. Published by arrangement with Doubleday, an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, a division of Random House.
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