The Legacy of Bolewa
By Richard Ugbede Ali (Nigeria)
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Antebellum: Layers of Dust
The eyes of Envy are those of an experienced connoisseur; its emerald lenses seek out only perfection and harmony for they are the only flaws to be found in the rare and avant-garde. It was inevitable then that Envy would espy them and begin to work at it’s centuried mischief, just as Dante’s guide tells us She did when wellborn Aeneas was on his way home from the Trojan Wars. They danced; yet it was felt as if their feet danced to a pulse of their own, one that merely allowed in the music of convention being played over the speakers but which yet remained private and exclusive to Faruk and Rahila. And just as surely as the myriad eyes in that hall affected scandal and shock, so She of the Emerald Eyes saw them and her cold soul hurt only for the two dancers to never dance again.
Jos City lies cradled between the sentinel arms of a thousand mountains, radiating a celestial harmony that has enchanted and drawn many a man, troubadour and adventurer alike, to attempt the top of it’s summitry and there lose himself over time and become a native. Lying high up in the central Nigerian plateau to which the city gave a name, it’s settlement began with the Iron Age autochthonous people who were ancestors of today’s Jarawa and Berom people and their many variegated sub clans. In time, however, the city grew larger because it’s strategic location made it easy to defend from men who sought to rule over their fellows.
In it’s long history, the would-be ravagers had been many, the last in a long line merely being the Fulani and Hausawa horsemen of the Fodio jihad who had sought to spread their Muslim faith into the central Nigerian highlands just as they already had in the Yoruba lowland states of Ilorin and Old Oyo. The people of the plateau at the time of that jihad were not possessed of centralized states and therein, in the poor assumption as to their sophistication, did the horsemen find their waterloo for the mountains did not need a sophisticated government to defend itself, merely men willing to stand their grounds and rain poisoned arrows down. Following the last failed thrust of the jihadists, they withdrew and some settled amongst the indigenous peoples while others remained at Bauchi, a new emirate at the lowest steps of the plateau.
In a strange twist of fate, some of the Josawa, fascinated by the strange religion of their jihadi neighbors, converted to that faith while others abandoned the pagan ways to embrace missionary Christianity in the early decades of the 19th century.
In time, those same missionaries became the advance column of the Queen and her pax Britannica and by the mid 19th century, there was a Colonial Resident in Jos. By then, however, the city, with its climate so reminiscent of a Europe they sorely missed, had acquired the character of a cosmopolis and thus it absorbed the European as easily as it had the Hausawa.
It had become customary that the Governor of the North Central, or the Resident in the colonial days, held an Annual Ball where the crème of the society and any who belonged to their social order could attend. This Ball had been held continuously with the exception of the year 1941 at the Jos Polo Club built in 1925. It was this Ball that Faruk Ibrahim and Rahila Weng Pam attended and danced and in that single act, swept underlying tensions into the fore and made themselves ignorant dinghies in a gathering storm.
In order to understand their relationship, it is inevitable that I tell you how they met and the point in their lives they were when they met.
It was a meeting of wily minded chance. Following Faruk’s completion of the National Youth Service after taking of his Sociology degree, he returned to Jos where he hoped to weigh his options and decide what to do with his life.
In that one year, he had been unable to decide and kept on wavering, preferring the company of the City’s writers and artists and the living of an intellectual but dissipated life. The choice was really whether to work for his father or not. Yet, his father had made it clear that he did not have to do anything; he did not have to work in what would become his inheritance for the simple reason that it was his birthright anyway and he, Ibrahim Dibarama, would not alienate his son from it. So, the father nudged the son only to do what made him happy for whatever made Faruk happy was the joy of his father.
In December 1999, Faruk sat down with his father and told him that he wished to be a merchant in order that he may have a lot of time to write, for he wished to write, and explore his youth. He also told his father that he desired to do a masters degree and wished his blessings in what he had set before him. Ibrahim Dibarama was overjoyed for he was beginning to nurse apprehension that Faruk’s long months of being a libertine, though he said his prayers more or less on time and had not taken to drugs or cocottes, had begun to ruin his only son much in the same way his earlier drifting following the Civil War would have ruined him without the timely intervention of Hassan Abba. The older man had been thinking whether or not to bring up the selfsame topic with Faruk and so was quite pleased, on hearing the boys resolution, to set him up by means of funds and influence for a major distributorship of Ashaka Cement and aluminum roofing sheets.
Faruk’s father was a diehard republican and he believed that the one thing responsible for the ruin of his hero, Sir Tafawa Balewa’s, Nigeria was that the scions of all the great houses in the country had fallen to the laziness of family wealth and in that was the root of today’s social decadence. Soon after Faruk’s trading began, with his very first profits, the boy, with the full and ecstatic support of his father, moved out of the ranch at Vom-Bukuru into his own apartment in the city.
Faruk had been out of his father’s house about six months and had just celebrated his twenty fourth birthday when on that fateful day, he was invited by an art friend of his, Nnamdi, to a selected gathering of critics to view the new collection of an up and coming couturier. He had just finished supplying a private estate contract and was flush with money and cheer. He had never really understood fashion and found fashion shows boring but he went along just to indulge his friend. It turned out to be a gathering of just under fifty people and he, Nnamdi and another friend found a corner where they could be at once visible but out of the way and proceeded to talk about things unconnected with fashion.
“Nnamdi, have you seen Vivi anywhere?” A girl - Rahila. They turned to her like petals to the sun. A dart of silence. Though Faruk felt struck by a thunderbolt he recovered even before Nnamdi and his friend. It seemed all the eyes on the next table were looking at this brown skinned girl as indeed they had been all evening. Faruk recovered and said.
“Yes, lady, you can come and kiss me on the cheek. But only once!”
The moment broke with the laughter of Nnamdi and Greg with “wisecrack” and “you wish” being exchanged between them, even the girl smiled, a beautiful unconscious smile of harmony, before screwing her head as if to say “crazy one here!” Nnamdi stood up and kissed her on the cheek.
“You see what an effect you are having on my friends? Come, let me introduce you and no, I haven’t seen Vivi. She must be somewhere pinching herself that the collection is so well received.”
“Maybe I don’t want to be introduced to your friends”
“At least one of them is not a gentleman!”
All this while, Faruk kept staring at her like a child.
“That must be me then”
They all laughed again but she made no move to leave and so Nnamdi introduced them.
“Faruk Ibrahim, Rahila Pam. Gregory Azubike, Rahila Pam”
“Nice to meet you”, she said, “now if you’ll excuse me”
“I will find you”, Faruk said.
“Finders aren’t always keepers”, replied Rahila over her shoulder length braids.
And she was gone.
But even she had felt the electricity of desire in his eyes and she knew she liked him enough; that was why she had come there really, she knew well where Vivi was.
You know how it is when a string is pulled hard on both sides, the final second when all the tension built up by strain and aspiration, tautens; I do not speak of that moment, I mean the moment just after that, when it snaps, that was how they fell in love. They had been in incubation all their lives and it was predictable that they both, in a sense velvet couched charms, would break into fruition at the same time and hand in hand.
Rahila had already begun to seek out her own identity, seeking to move out from under the long shadow of her mother’s influence and of being her mother’s daughter. She merely drew Faruk into that search.
Her parents were leftist radicals who had met in the heady Lagos of the 1970’s. They had gotten married in Jos but with time, they began to diverge for her father preferred to settle down into a life of running his mechanic shop, the biggest in Jos, and playing golf. He longed for simpler charms of living in Dul Village where he had born because as he had told her, he realized the stupidity of the common people, their utter bankruptcy of imagination, such that no revolution could ever bloom from a peoples revolt. He saw then, much earlier than her mother who would see it too late and become warped when she did comprehend it, that the only revolution the people of Nigeria would ever be involved in was one done for them, a benevolent dictatorship, simply.
But Mr. Pam did not trust the soldiers.
So he settled into a simple life of simple pleasures in the realization that even though the Nigerian people were not intelligent enough to know what they wanted, they were resilient enough to survive whatever came their way. The rift with Eunice Pam and her husband had first begun as the intellectual grounds that had attracted them started shifting and then, later, after her embarrassing 1983 bid for the North Central Congress, it had turned into anger that he had been right while she had been wrong, anger at herself really, just taken out on him. The marriage broke down with Rahila and her younger brother, Abba, between them; in the nasty battle that followed, they court gave custody to Eunice and limited visiting rights to him. It was, of course, for the best.
In the succeeding years, he was able to reach out and gain the admiration of Rahila though Abba would have none of him. It was to him that Rahila turned when she started to define herself. And he had inspired the fourteen-year-old girl with abundant belief in herself for her father was a son of the chief of Dul and he gave her a late course on the assumptions that nobility had to have and why they must have them and more importantly, believe in them.
The cultural geopolitics of the North Central state has always been one of conflicting authenticities. On the one hand were the Hausawa whose system of emirates had been co-opted by the British in order to organize the clannish and variegated tribes of central Nigeria, especially the hill and mountaintop tribes. On the other hand were indigenous princes of the clans - who complicated matters by being duplicitously pro-emirate or anti-emirate; or simply Muslim or non-Muslim - who felt that they had never abdicated any authority to the Hausawa, indeed they had bested the horsemen in battle after battle; nor had they even been conquered by the British. The princes never forgot that and never let anyone forget it. For so long as these two were in equilibrium, there was no problem on the plateau. However, in time, the Hausawa, putting to good use the trust of the British began to see the indigenous tribes less as partners than as hirelings.
A sort of subtle supremacy war was afoot. Increasing radicalization and religious racism, fueled by money from the Saudi’s and the Gulf States, as well as the collapse of the Northern Nigeria Development Company formed in the 1920’s and reformed in the 60’s following the death of Sardauna Bello, saw to a supremacist mindset taking hold of the Hausawa as seen though the eyes of resentful indigenous bluebloods in the North Central.
When economic impossibilities following the burst of the oil boom bubble saw an upsurge of hotchpotch killings across the Northwest, it was realized that the Hausawa Muslim fundamentalists killed indiscriminately, so long as one was not Muslim, one was an enemy.
And the North Central had never really taken religion, especially Islam, too seriously though they culturally had allied themselves with the Muslim Hausawa. These lessons were being grasped throughout the 1980’s and it is into this milieu that the ethnic politics of Eunice Pam can be located and understood correctly. Colonel Lekut’s Southern Zaria rebellion in 1989 and the subsequent use of phantom coups to cut down North Central officers in the army ushered in religion and ethnicity as tools for violence into the Nigerian political space.
She had just had another fight with her mother and Rahila could not trust herself to remain in the same house with Mrs. Pam. So she took one of her long walks. She usually started near her house with really no idea where she was headed; she took the turns and crossed the roads as they came. It was, of course, a dangerous way to exorcise oneself for while serenity lived on the plateau, it could not be said that vagrants would not be prey to kidnap, for sex or body parts, as they were in any modern town. Yet, there was something virginal and untouchable about the young girl dressed in a tight blue denim trouser and a grey booboo as she walked through the streets of the GRA that late afternoon. There was something about her eyes that gave an onlooker the image of an aljanu spirit fabled to haunt riverbanks for it seemed she did not see where she was going, that she did not need her eyes to see where she was going. Shopkeepers kept looking at her retreating back long after she had passed them and men full of their own thoughts and schemes made way for her and did not even consider it, it had seemed the most natural thing to do. At times like that when she walked, she never thought of getting tired, so she never tired.
She had walked for an hour then when she arrived at the Hill Station Hotel junction and she stopped there, gazing a while at the chicken and beef steaks set out to roast on spits, gleaming in curried groundnut oil. She crossed the road and found a place to sit; there weren’t too many people about.
“How may I serve you, ma?”, asked a young boy in a green tunic with red trimmings around the neck, pockets and edges.
“I want balangu na dari biyu da one can of Heineken”, replied Rahila. The boy bowed and left, soon returning with the deli meat and beer. The spot she had chosen was one of those compromise taverns. It was a large semi circular room filled with white plastic chairs and square tables that opened up into a field where the blazing hot spits stood tended by the master mai suya and his boys. A little farther out was space where cars could park; it was just about five p.m. and the place hadn’t filled up yet. On the other side of the room from her were three tables comprising men who had started their drinking early with young girls determined to spend their money.
She popped open her beer and poured it into a glass, taking up to her lips; it was cold. And she remembered the last time she had drunk beer.
“I don’t know why proving this little points are so important to you”, he had said after that.
They had already been going out for over a month one evening when he took her to a favorite spot of his tucked away in Apollo Crescent by an old ECWA Church. She had been dressed in a formal pantsuit, black she remembered, while Faruk wore a green caftan and cap. That day she had gone to see him at his office after lectures. She had gone to see him with Sekyen her roommate, and Faruk had offered to take both of them out for a treat. Sekyen was her dearest friend and had heard so much about Faruk that she insisted on meeting him in person and when they met, she and Faruk hit off immediately.
It was an African themed restaurant built of mud bricks like an old village palace. Outside and inside were decorated with such things as carved heads, brooms and masks. Highlife music, Osita Osadebey, and Afrobeat, played from the speakers.
Sekyen had asked for fish pepper soup while Faruk had opted for roasted plantain and a malt drink. The waiter asked her order and she had asked for a beer.
She thought of it now and smiled. There they were, Faruk looking so very Muslim and she was asking for a beer, she could see the busybody eyes from the next table looking at them. Ah, but her angel, he did not even act as if anything was amiss. He realized that while his religion forbade beer, hers did not. Had she wanted to test him? Yes, I have always tested him and he never fails anything. Faruk was devout when it concerned the rituals of his religion, he prayed as was prescribed and stayed away from hamburgers and beer. She never drank but that day she wanted to see what his reaction would be to see her drinking while so obviously with him. So Sekyen had her pepper soup, Faruk had his plantain and Malt while she was only half able to finish her beer. Faruk kept up the talk and they laughed as if they had just heard they would be young forever.
After that he drove them back to the Campus.
“I feel sick”, she told him after her roommate had left.
It was late evening already, about seven p.m. that was when he said “I don’t know why proving this little points are so important to you”, he had said after that, “Why are you hiding and from what? Are you afraid that I don’t love you?” he asked, “Or are you afraid that you love me?”
That was the first time they had spoken the word love to describe what they felt for each other.
“Yes”, she said.
Yes. That’s how it all started. Yes. Faruk had told her that one couldn’t stop the beating of ones heart. One only said yes. That he had no reason to love her and he required none but that if she sought reasons for her love he would always give them to her, he could even maybe write a handbook for her.
Once, she had asked him what love was to him. This was about two months into their relationship. They liked driving around town, she was driving that day and they were on a road linking the Wildlife Park to the 3rd Armored Division cantonment at Rukuba; the road was deserted for it was a long cut out of town and there were many shorter routes to choose from. They had been listening to his jazz CD’s when the question popped into her mouth and she asked it. He was silent awhile for really it was the first time he had ever been asked that particular question, and now, his lover had asked him and he did not want to say that “love was too profound to be described” or some other tripe like that. He wanted to answer her.
“Love is these dry grasses waiting for the rains to return,” he said, looking past her to the dryness ravaged savannah that sped past them, “I think of it as faith; those grasses could just dry out and die or burst into flame and incinerate themselves but they don’t and choose to keep holding on. And when they first rain comes, their faith pays off and they are green again. That is love to me.”
He had a way of saying things, she thought.
“You can only understand love in terms of faith”, he said.
Now, many months later, she was drinking a beer again and her faith was shaken to its roots. The tavern was filling up with the Friday crowd of yuppie’s and civil servants, getting noisier though it did nothing to hinder her thoughts; she noticed them only superficially. She really did not notice them. But they all took glancefuls of her.
She was having a crisis in her soul.
To love or not to love, that was the question.
But everything she thought of, every thread of reflection had the effect of reaching into the deep spaces of her mind and recalling something he had said or implied to her with his eyes.
“You cannot choose not to love; it’s just not possible. Just like you cannot choose to love somebody or decide when to fall in love with him or her. To do that would be hypnosis, not love”
For him, the reality of the mind in matters of love was as absent as the reality of the heart in matters of commerce, Faruk had inured in himself a realization of his natures and he did not need to turn any valves, things flowed through channels appropriate. He was a breath of fresh air, she thought, putting some of the spice-cured meat into her mouth, and such a breath gives pleasure to the lungs and yet serves the vital office of giving oxygen to blood cells. Faruk lived to breath the fresh air and think about the book he wanted to write, because he could; he made a lot of money selling cement and building construction things because he could and both were in perfect harmony.
“Why are you making yourself a pawn to Hamza Ibrahim Dibarama?” her mother had asked her, “Is it that you hate me and can find no other way to get back at me than to ruin your life?”
“I am not ruining my life, mother, anymore than”, then she stopped, but her mother would not let go.
“Anymore than? Rahila, any more than what?”
They had been working in the little garden of potted plants just in front of the house; her mother had bought some germaniums a week before and they were doing badly.
When Rahila was sad or angry, there were two things she could do; either walk on and on in her insomniac trance or she could be with the flowers and plants on her mother’s verandah. But to do that today would have been to remain in the house.
So she had walked.
“Any more than your politics would ruin it for me.”
Her mother was stung.
“My politics provides you with a house, a home and an identity! Ungrateful hussy, how dare you?”
“Identity mother?” she had exclaimed, “I had my identity at my birth. You all too easily forget that I am also someone’s daughter as much as I am yours. I do not need your crusade of politics to define an identity for myself. I have my identity, mother, but you cannot see it. I do not need your evangelical crusade politics to circumscribe me.”
Her mother slapped her then.
She had said nothing, only stood there awhile; looking in her mother’s eyes and seeing for the first time that Mrs. Pam was growing older.
“Your father? Hamza Dibarama is using you against even your own people. You think you can divorce your existence from the politics of that existence? You are princess, you forget. Your symbolic duty is your identity, your leadership. Will you give it all up for a Muslim Hausa boy and his father?”
She had reconciled the slap by them, she stood up as tall as she could and Mrs. Pam hurt that she had assaulted her daughter.
Rahila’s eyes were not with her anymore.
“Faruk is not Hausa”, the daughter said, and turned, leaving the verandah and walking into the yard, to the gate, leaving her mother stunned watching her back, she was just going out of the gate when Mrs. Pam thought to tell her only daughter how much she loved her. She wanted to hold her in her arms as she used to when the girl had been a child, to tell her she was sorry, to try to make her understand.
But Rahila was already out of the gate and her anger, her rage, her humiliation, made it impossible for her to hear so trifling a fetter as the call of her own name.
The beer was finished. More people had filled the tavern. A popular hip-hop song was playing on the stereo.
Was she being blind?
Because she loved?
Were there larger issues at stake?
Did she want to hurt her mother?
Or did she want to hurt her mother.
Sometimes she was afraid, terribly afraid, so much so that it was the only time when she cried, that she was ruining her life in some way, the weight of her choices oppressed her and she fell into unfathomable depths of melancholy. Why could everything not be simple and carefree for her without all these materialized thoughts? If only she could be like her brother, Abba, and many of her friends; to wheedle for a new car from mummy and wheedle for more money to fuel a picture of herself in order to impress the equally gaudy pictures that her friends projected. The crassness of it all had struck her when she was too young, at that age when people can get warped for the last time.
She despised the pictures.
She wanted to have friends, not pictures of friends, to have a lover and not another who would hold the office of breaking her heart once in a while from time to time and being the fulcrum on which sterile thoughts were focused. The gaudy thing we show our friends soon turns out to be our true selves; true, but I show no gaudy things, because, that is not who I am.
Yet, if only she would be conventional, if only she would have sex with plenty of men or steal money from her mother to fuel parties and binges, if only she would have many equally decrepit friends who would shake their heads with a blind smile in their eyes and say, “Dat girl, she no dey hear word!”; if only she could do any and soon all of these things, her mother would be privately ecstatic about the ‘scandals’ her daughter caused in the city. But no, she had chosen to love someone, and she was damned for it. She had made herself incomprehensible by asking no more than what was freely given to her by right or by her effort.
The thing with Faruk was of course his lack of airs about him, his ability to fit in wherever, and his ability to shine, as a natural, without meaning to. The absence of history’s burden and identity’s encumberment on his shoulders and tail respectively. He was a realist, true, but further than that for him was a whole universe of creativity because “there is no black and white to anything, there is a rainbow of colors and optical illusions. The things you cannot change are not meant to be changed, the things that happen are meant to happen. If you do not desire an effect, you work against it, if you succeed then it was never meant to be the effect, if you do not succeed, then, what of it?“
Such attractive fatalism.
But he would have been less attractive if he did not continually fight against the addled status quo, seeking to influence, to unwrap it by his sheer brilliance. Sometimes, he succeeded and he celebrated, like he had when he had advised her to contest the governorship of her Hall of Residence for he said if she wanted to make a spectacle then she had to be in the arena. For that particular project, he had literarily become a student again, donning jeans and tee shirts, distributing flyers and handbills, sitting out with each and every female student he could find, convincing, politicking, wearing himself out in over four weeks for a dark horse he believed in. And she had won, she won with an unprecedented margin and in terms of popularity, she was more popular than the Student Union President. As soon as she won, he had celebrated her and there was so much happiness in his eyes, like a child at the beach, she wanted him to always be like that. Her father had given her N100, 000 so that she could start whatever program she wanted to implement, Faruk’s friends raised about that amount also.
Sometimes she saw him down when his campaigns had failed.
In the depth her thought, she did not keep track of time, and it was about 9 p.m.; she did not even notice she had folded her arms around her breasts from the cold. The serving boys cast glances at her, thinking, “a bottomless one here, she is deep”. Young men lost their nerve but could not stop flitting looks at her.
She was thinking of his campaign to save Greg, an artist who had been a friend of Nnamdi’s. Greg had gotten permission from the Metropolitan Development Board to place a sculpture at a roundabout along Bank Road in the center of the city. They had all become comfortable acquaintances, Greg was an artist Nnamdi had met on one of his numerous rediscovery pilgrimages he took to the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, he had found the young man in his village just outside Nsukka in the South-East and had been so impressed with his sculpting, of local politicians and other worthies, that he felt it was so great a shame for so fine an artist to ply his trade for so vulgar a market.
Though Nnamdi would have protested the use of that term, in the months following his return to Jos, Greg Azubike had become his veritable protégé. Nnamdi mentored him, gave him a place to live, an allowance and easy access to materials; Nnamdi concealed the entire intersection with a twenty-foot high blue cellophane into which he and his helpers went in each day, coming out only to eat. Greg ate so little, talked so much about his sculpture - he said it was about the strength of the women of the plateau. He had seen them in the fields, sowing the acha staple and harvesting and threshing it and something in their resilience connected and liberated itself in his soul.
Three months later, the blue cellophane scaffolding was torn down, exposing the sculpture to a gathering storm of admiration and condemnation. It was a terracotta sculpture of a woman with a pan on her head and a child strapped to her back, but her eyes, her visage; that was where the genius of Greg came to play. Her visage was heroic, warm, and strong, for the soul of the woman he had seen was an indomitable one. Standing on that pedestal, looking to the market above the crowns of houses, the sculpture was simply heroic. And she was the color of the earth whose connotation of warmth was almost mystical in the North Central State.
That morning, many people stopped their cars, many were late for work that day, looking at it and feeling a communal stirring in their hearts. The sculpture was in a language that had no tones, that was just language. People came with cameras to have their pictures taken with the sculpture in the background, many were content with the picture of the sculpture itself.
Then, the feminists launched an avalanche against it, demonizing Greg as a misogynist, a word he had never heard and would never understand. And like an avalanche, it started with a little shift of snow, an article written in the Sentinel Magazine. Faruk, Rahila, Nnamdi and Greg were caught off guard when protest rallies started marching up and down the city, week after week and when women, discredited politicos and other misanthropes camped just at the pedestal of Greg’s sculpture with placards calling that the sculpture to be pulled down.
“It is the most insensitive work of art I have ever had the misfortune to see”, said a little heard of visual arts Dr. from the University of Jos.
“This is not art, this is the celebration of sadist fantasy”
“An affront on all woman, on society!” shrilled another.
Yet another sued Greg because she said her son had been psychologically damaged upon seeing the sculpture and had fainted. Never mind that the boy was asthmatic.
Faruk was angry and it seemed a volcano had erupted in him. She did not see him for weeks but she heard him on radio, read his articles in the papers. It did not matter that most of the people, the regular people with jobs who tried to make ends meet, the students who had not become bigoted already, liked the sculpture and were still having their pictures taken by it. Never in the history of Jos had the acceptance of a public installation cut across every strata of the society like Greg’s terracotta woman. A photographer who had been fortunate enough to picture Greg’s work with the rising sun behind it just before the marches and femi-bombs went off was making brisk business selling copies of his art from art. Many of these feminists were friends of her mother.
Rahila’s first act of rebellion had been to organize a group of students who marched in solidarity with Greg’s painting blown in 40” X 35” borne ahead of them, it seemed as if the town had stopped. The Military Governor’s office made a statement urging for calm and respect. This spiked the feminists and they raved so much that there was a fear of violence breaking out between those who loved the sculpture and those who did not.
The sculpture was removed and Greg left Jos for good.
Faruk had been devastated.
Rahila stood up and paid her bill, giving a tip to the child waiter who smiled.
“What’s your name?” she asked.
“Jamilu”, he replied smiling.
“That’s a very fine name”, she said.
Then she departed the tavern without a name and left a clan of eyes in her wake, leaving them to return to simple uncomplicated lives where philosophies did not clash because there were none.
The girl, Miriam, kept her word and came to see him that same week. She lived with her father just a few streets away from Hajia Astajam’s compound. The day after he had met her again at Ciroma Bindawa, he had driven back to pay and pick up the red carpet. He had met a man at the shop who introduced himself as Abdulkadir Bazza and yes, he had been told someone would be picking up a red carpet. The man was dark skinned and rather squat with the yellow-red eyes of one who had been a brawler in his youth.
But he was pleasant enough.
There was a knock at his door. Probably one of those almajirai seeking a commission to fetch water, he was getting irritated at their constant interruption of his calm but he had found out that they were such incorrigible itinerants that it was impossible to pick on or two who would get the hire for as long as he would be in Bolewa.
It was a little boy wearing a dirty fez cap, a scholar and he was about say “I don’t need water”, when the boy said.
“Mallam, a lady seeks you. She stands by the well and asked that you come.”
“I came as I said I would”, she said, when she saw him, smiling, but this time shyly.
” But what have you come for?”
She was wearing a brown print wrapper with butterflies designed into the fabric, she wore a grey hijab under which was a light green tee shirt which peeked out a bit from under the grey veil.
“You do not have a pail with you today.”
“I have trouble with my assignment. I wondered if you could put me through.”
“Are we going to stand here?”
Faruk beckoned one of the girls who worked with the women in the kitchen and bade her bring a mat, which was placed under a mango tree within the compound. They sat and she showed him an essay she had written. It was an essay in English and of course, she knew it was finely written. Faruk knew intuitively that the girl was smitten with him and it flattered him greatly so he decided to play her game. He pointed out more refinements that could be made to the essay but he phrased his suggestions as flaws in the essay, he saw her confidence begin to ebb and he smiled at her.
“But, for a girl in an out-of-the-way little village, this is a fantastic essay.”
“You do not like me very much, do you?”
“What does that have to do with the essay?”
“How do you mean?”
“I am a woman”
“A woman” she insisted, almost in tears.
He was silent awhile.
“I am sorry,” said Faruk.
“Tell me about you.”
Thus their relationship began, with her seeking out higher ground and he wary that she should not drown in her infatuation. She told him the man he met at the shop was her father and that she had an elder brother, not her mother’s child, who lived with his wife in Kano. She had grown with her mother until she had died six years earlier, just as she was admitted to the College. Her father was a maghuzawa but she was a Muslim because her mother had been a Muslim. She was currently in the Form VI and was top in her class, she hoped to study in the University and become a doctor. She wanted to know all about the university and Faruk told her all she wanted to know, realizing that hers was a mind quick to the uptake, her questions came on and on and he was fascinated when he would reply about something or the other and she would recall what he had said earlier, stealing a brief sharp look in his eyes to indicate inconsistency.
“I am not a little girl”, she said, “I am a woman and I like you”
“I like you too and we can be friends.”
“Friends”, she repeated dubiously.
It was already getting dark and he knew that women in Bolewa were not expected to be out of their homes past seven p.m.
“I think you ought to get home now. I won’t want your father starting a search of Bolewa thinking you’ve been kidnapped.”
“Will you walk me a bit?”
“If you wish it”
“I wish it”
So he walked her to her house which was just round the corner and bid her good night.
Rahila had not called and he filled his loneliness with the precocious Miriam Bazza. So three weeks passed with his neither hearing from Rahila nor finding anything about his mother. He could simply not find anyone who knew anything of Ahmed Anwar and an “Usman” without a surname.
Then, one week in his third month in Bolewa, it began to resolve itself.
Dije, the mistress of the Staff Room at the College had asked him to help her move some goods from her house to Ciroma Bindawa. There were so many cardboard boxes that he had to twice make the trip and when he returned the last time, she invited him in and made him some tea. Her youngest child, Ahmed, about seven years old, sat engrossed in his building blocks and paid Faruk no attention save a halfhearted greeting. It was a tastefully decorated house, one that was integral to Hajia Dije’s aura; the house fitted the woman. Her husband worked in a petroleum company in the Delta State and made the long trip to the Northeast only quarterly. This, it seemed, suited Dije just fine. While he was having his tea, she came and sat with him in the living room.
“You told me you are from here. Who are your parents? Ibrahim is such a generic name.”
“My father’s name is Ibrahim Dibarama, he use to be a soldier but he left Bolewa just after the Civil War to settle in Jos with my mother. But she died soon after. So, I grew up in the North Central, I was just two years old when they left Bolewa.”
“Oh”, she said, ”That’s sad. So why did you come back here, I was in Jos once, and it’s a much nicer place than hot dry Bolewa. And you have a degree in Sociology, I am surprised at you”
The little boy had gotten tired of his play and come to cling to his mother, leaving after wheedling something or the other from her. Then they were alone.
“I really wanted to rediscover my mother. She lived in this town and has a lot of history here. I wanted to know what it was.”
“How do you mean history? You wish to discover history? Why not ask your father? What was his name again?”
“I told you he was a soldier. He too has history I do not know and if he hasn’t told me, it’s because he did not want to. So, I respect his wishes and go out seeking answers for myself. About the degree, I own a cement distributorship in Jos so my coming up here really is more a holiday than anything else.”
“Your mother. What was her name, perhaps I have heard of her? I grew up here and married here”
“Habib Ummi al-Qassim”
She sat up at once, her eyes bulging out of their sockets, all her attention had left the fine young man and was focused in realization of who he was, of what his words, that name, meant. But she had to make sure. Faruk noticed her shock upon hearing his mother’s name and his heart leapt that perhaps here, with fashionable middle-aged Dije, lay his long awaited first clue.
“Tell me, boy, did you say al-Qassim? Ummi al-Qassim”
“Yes. Did you know her?”
But already, Dije saw Ummi’s features all over the boy, how could she have been so blind? Oh Allah, oh Allah! He watched her closely and thought she had suddenly fallen ill for the color left her cheeks, her eyes seemed white and faraway.
“Hajia, lafiya? Are you well?”
al-Qassim, she thought.
“I am suddenly unwell”, she said, “I think I must go in now. I am unwell”, she repeated, standing up.
He stood up too and wished her speedy recuperation before leaving the house into the midday sun. Only later did he realize that she had not answered his question but he never brought up the issue of his mother with Dije again because he noticed that her manner towards him had changed after that evening, while it was not cold, an impersonality had entered into that manner and he consequently held his peace.
Dije stood at her window, looking at Faruk enter his car and drive away, she sighed and a three-decade-old grief and bitterness descended upon her heart and filled her soul. Allahu akbar, Ahmed Anwar, inna lillahi wa inna lillahi rajiun.
“As’sallamualaikum”, Rahila said, wishing peace upon the inhabitants of the house before stooping slightly to enter through the rather low door. Like most of the houses of the Hausawa, this one retained elements of a style that had changed little in centuries. Perhaps the purpose of low doors had been to make the houses easily defensible in the far off times when human life was worth less than a chicken’s.
Each time she came here, she found herself thinking of “The Passport of Mallam Illiya”.
“Wa’allaikum wa salaam”, someone returned from inside the house, it was Nabila’s mother, “I will be with you as soon as I get rid of this child.”
Rahila smiled at the idiosyncrasy of her friend’s mother. She was seated in the little zaure where women were allowed to sit so long as the men were not there palavering and nudging themselves at jokes or at business of a more serious sort. If men had been there, she would have gone on into the house; or they would bid her sit down and then went to call whoever she wanted to see.
It was a small room of about twelve by fifteen feet with the main door through which she had just entered and another door with beautiful zana curtains made of reed and raffia palms leading into the main building, the rooms and the cooking area. On the floor was an old Persian carpet getting threadbare at the edges on which were placed five leather cushions and just as many small tables. At the other end of the aqua green wall was a stand holding a 20” color TV, a dusty video machine and a newer VCD player beneath which were a scattered pile of movie discs, mostly Indian films and Hausa titles. Someone had left a football at the far corner of the room.
“Ah my daughter,” exclaimed the plump woman as she burst into the room, cradling a little child on her side, “My daughter, yaya kike? Come and show affection to an old woman.”
Rahila smiled, shook the proffered hand and hugged her. Nabila’s mother always had a very homely smell of local perfume and corn for she was eternally in the kitchen. Immediately, she started fussing about how lean Rahila was and if the books she was reading meant that she could not eat?
“Rilwanu!” she shouted through the curtains, “Get some refreshments for our guest. Let it not be said I did not feed her. You ”, she said, turning to Rahila and lifting the others arm, “how lean you’ve grown, eh, haba, at the rate you are going we shall be unable to find a man for you”, said the woman, laughter in her voice now, “It’s conceit this thing they say about men liking skinny broomsticks, it’s not true you know?”
Rahila finally managed to get a word in and said she was fine and that the woman was looking more beautiful than ever to which the elder woman smiled and Rahila said perhaps some handsome young man was courting her friends’ mother. The woman burst out laughing again, a gleam in her eyes just as Rilwanu, a nephew of about twelve who was living with them came in with a serving dish of couscous and fried meat with a stainless steel jug of zobo drink and a cup. He set it on a table beside her and disappeared into the house again.
“Courting is for you and Nabila. I keep telling her she should get a man coming here to see us but she just laughs at me, that girl, I wonder. Now all she does is go out and trade and then sit down at her books and then it’s off to school. Oh dear, you have made a bookworm out of my daughter”.
They were conversing in Hausa but the word ‘bookworm’ was rendered in English and Rahila smiled, wondering what exchange between woman and daughter had educated the mother on that word.
She ate the warm couscous and meat while drinking the refreshingly cool zobo, one of the drinks made from the yakwa plant. It was one of those silent things, cultural exchanges between her people and the Hausawa, that even she could not be aware of; for the yakwa plant and the zobo drink were indigenous to the plateau though the Hausawa had appropriated it seamlessly and much in the same way they had taken the chewing of the kolanut, a stimulant from the Southeast, and made it definitive of a northern description. Between mouthfuls she told Fatsuma, for that was Nabila’s mother’s name, all that had been happening in town and to her, that her family was well and in good health and that she had been busy which was why she hadn’t been to see her awhile but that Nabila had been to see her about a month before. The woman nodded.
“Yes, she told me. You were still in the University season then, before you went for break. You want to see her don’t you, of course! She came in from selling about thirty minutes ago, had her bath and said she had to finish up an assignment for school. I think you will find her at the Islamiyya college, you know where she sits don’t you? Just ask for the women section okay?”
By then Rahila was done with the light repast and she stood to go.
“God preserve you and give you strength Hajia”
“Allah preserve you, my daughter”
The college she mentioned was just a few hundred yards away from the house and was the ubiquitous sort you find in all nooks and crannies in northern Nigeria. It comprised a head Mallam, two or three resident disciples and a multitude of students who could literarily be from anywhere, come to learn the Koran and Muslim law; it used to annoy Rahila that whole generations of children were still being offered to an Arab language and culture that would not help them in any way. No one is ever employed if he can recite the Koran by heart, or the Bible from Genesis to Revelation – not even if you could pour out the entire epic of Shaka Zulu, you were paid if you could speak English and manipulate mathematics, computers, a relevant skill. She really did not give a damn about their reciting the Koran, if only they would do that while also learning English in these very madrassa’s, if the enlightened members of the ummah would buy even one computer and hire a tutor to teach these children, these painfully human cannon fodder.
She had thought this was a problem of al-Islam but too soon she realized that this insensitivity existed even in her own faith, that it was a part of the human condition and if she had a problem with that aspect of the human condition, then her own hands were not tied, she could do something about it. And she had, in the most remarkable circumstance. This paradigm of worldview had altered long before she met Faruk, at a time when her life would easily have been on the line and ultimately lost.
The settlement of Unguwan Rogo, named after a cassava plant of all things, shared a fence with the temporary site of the University, which was about twenty minutes from the hostels and permanent site. Most of the Science departments were located at the temporary site while Arts and Humanities were at the new site; all students who wished to lived in the hostels.
The settlement had originally been a Jarawa settlement but the Jarawa people had never seen distinction between Islam and Christianity and though Jarawa’s lived there, it was on the outskirts of a tiny emirate called Dass which was located on the lower steps of the plateau, just before the Bauchi plains. In time, people from elsewhere came to live there, some from inside town, others from Bauchi and it became predominantly Muslim settlement; there was really no difference between it and any town in say, Zamfara, in the far Northwest. Islamic law was upheld there and no one had a problem with that, everyone knew and respected that in that Muslim quarter, beer would insult the sensitivities of the inhabitants and so there was no beer drinking there. They had their mosques, they prayed on Fridays and each day. All was well.
As she walked through the houses, she would have marveled how they seemed much like Bolewa, albeit more cramped for space. Half naked children followed footballs, yelling at the top of their voices, the savory aroma of rice and ragout wafted from houses, more children were rolling a hoola-hoop, riding bicycles; she spied men in the mosque, squatted reading the Koran or praying. The roads were mere swathes of land between the houses, just enough for a car and a half to pass, some houses could not be reached by roads at all. When the breeze blew it raised the light brown dust and some of it settled back on her black caftan worn over black jeans. She had on a transparent white gele over her hair.
She entered the Islamic school, Bait ul-Kaffawi or Keffi College, passing an old Fulani man sitting just inside the door, stopping just long enough to place a N10 note in his bagging bowl; he was the only beggar allowed in the madrassa and Nabila told her he had been there before she was born. He smiled a toothless smile at her; he was purblind. At the far end of the compound a company of boys sat cross-legged with slates in their hands, listening to their Mallam, they sat with their backs at her, their attention away from any distraction, focused on the Mallam. She passed as quietly as she could and made her way to the back of the building.
Nabila was a dark-skinned girl of seventeen, she had dreamy waiflike eyes and underneath the dark green veil she wore was very rich long hair. Her eyelashes were elegant arc’s that gave her face, her sharp aquiline nose and thin lips red from chewing tobacco leaves, a certain, Rahila had thought about it for a long time and the word she came up with was, virginity. The girl was bent over her notebook, scribbling furiously, a textbook open on the bench beside her. She was alone in the room and Rahila could not see her eyes, but the girl’s eyes, she knew, were just like her mother’s. Rahila knocked on a table, breaking the girl’s concentration, and smiled on seeing the fluorescence like gleam of light leap into Nabila’s eyes. The girl shouted and ran to her, hugging her hard, her breasts on Rahila’s breasts, her head on her shoulders.
“La’illa, La’illa”, she repeated until her emotions ran out.
“I was thinking of you just now, I wondered if I would see you soon, how you are? And here you are now!” she beamed, her eyes twinkling, pulling Rahila, also smiling happily, to sit down. Rahila sat down on the table of a desk, facing her friend across the scattered books.
“Nabila, how are you doing? You look so good”
“How did you know I was here? Who told you? Mama?”
“Yes, I was just at your house and she said I could find you here, complained you were studying.”
“Pah, she always complains! It’s either this or that or this. She doesn’t mean anything by it, she just likes to. What can I get you, oh, I’m not at home! Have you eaten? Are you hungry? We can go back to the house if you want.”
“I am okay, Hajia has fed me.”
“So, how are you, my love, I have missed you. You should see my grades. I wanted to tell you so many things.”
“Ah. I am proud of you. So, here I am; but finish your homework first, then we can go out and you will tell me all the suitors that come to seek your hand”
The girl laughed, “My mother has been giving you an earful, hasn’t she? I won’t be locked up just yet. I will soon be through, it just an essay I am to send in on Monday.”
Rahila watched as her friend returned to her notebook, soon becoming engrossed in what she was writing, and thought of that far off day they had met in the center of apocalypses and how so much had changed irretrievably for her since then.
Two years earlier, on September the 9th, she had just returned to her room from the University temporary site just on the other side of the fence from Unguwan Rogo, it had been one of those tiring days when you go through the mesh of Admin bureaucracy. There had been a problem with a script and she ran the risk of carrying over the credits of a course if it was not rectified, the lecturer finally agreed that yes he had made a mistake but short of ensuring his error was fixed, he gave her a note with a transcript from the department and told her to go sort it out in Admin. By the time she was through with it all, she was too tired to do anything other than collapse on her bed. Maybe she slept off, she never really knew. But when she woke up it was to the frenzied patter of slippered feet passing past her door, but it was unusual because there were just too many feet. Just outside her door she could hear a radio turned on.
“Wetin dem talk?”
What was it about this time, she thought; maybe one of those students protests. Sekyen was not in the room. She had gone into town for a sleepover at her boyfriend’s. Rahila remembered how tired she had been.
“Dem don start, oh!” wailed a girl and Rahila shot out of the bed and through the door. She saw that the quadrangle was full of girls in groups, many crying, and many near hysterics already. She was in her bra and did not notice it until she was almost at the staircase when she ran back to wear a shirt and lock up her door.
“What is going on?”
“They are killing people in town”
“They are killing people.”
“Who is killing people?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know”, wailed the Igbo girl, bursting into tears, shivering “What will we do?”
But Rahila’s mind was far away. How could people be killing people in town, in Jos? There was something inherently impossible about the thought. What was happening? Or was it a coup? She did not know what to think but even she, so sensitive to the spirit of the plateau, could feel that there was a bloodlust in the air, the distant smell of blood, and of death. She panicked. Girls sometimes got raped during coups, what if the soldiers came here? There were over four thousand girls here in the hostel blocks. God forbid such evil. Thoughts of rape and slaughter were for movies, did not belong to her Jos city. But the news she kept hearing did nothing to allay her gathering dread, her savagely distorted sense of reality, and tranquility. They are killing people in town. Who? Why? How?
It was a Friday, just after mosque time. 3 p.m. thereabouts. She had seen some of the Muslims with prayer mats folded under their arms heading out to obey the call. She was still an intellectual virgin then. She had never thought of Muslims as adherents of a religion, they appeared to her more as a cultural collective than as anything else. She knew nothing of politics and bigotry and violence, so sheltered had her life been. That day, September 9th, she was to receive a devastating homily of what had been missing in her education, what was needed for her to start thinking. The hostels were a bedlam of voices and wailings; women, girls, our weakness has always been our curse. No matter how much jeans we wear, no matter all the slogans, when the chips are down, when we are responsible for each other, there weakness is found. And I am a woman, she thought. She panicked.
Should she try to get home, or stay where she was?
It had all started in Ahmadu Bello Way when it was said that a Muslim had spat on a woman or a woman had slapped a Muslim. No one knew for sure.
Soon some boys had the presence of mind to come over from their own hostel and try to calm the girls. So long as it was not a military coup, there was no problem. The police would take care of everything. The police could not take care of anything. But they had not known that then. The University authorities were silent, in that most critical time, students were alone to take care of themselves and it was a tribute to the resilience of their spirits that they did. The NITEL phone network was down and those were in the days of call cards, just before GSM networks reached the plateau, thus, no communication from the outside. The world had forgotten them and all they had was themselves.
She had thought of Sekyen, where was she?
The boys had organized themselves to keep guard of the female hostels and in a few hours, the entire hostel blocks, male and female, was a garrison with all exit points manned by students and the entire perimeter, about one kilometer radius patrolled every five minutes by boys. Her belief in socialism was burnished during that time for she saw how as if by the hand of God, the unknown hand of Economics, the boys had been transformed from jeans wearing libertines into a compact social unit. By sundown the University authorities hadn’t said anything yet. Some girls who had fallen into the rhythm of things soon as they calmed down cooked food for the boys. Other girls insisted on leaving for home. These were some of those who died. Her thoughts, as an uneasy night fell on the students’ quarters, were of Sekyen.
But how possible is it to sleep when death lurks in the shadows? Throughout the night, the sentinel of death stoked the heart of the students with rumors - that it was religious, that Muslims were killing Christians, that Christians were killing Muslims. Through the night, those who could not sleep could smell burning buildings in the air, some claimed to hear screams and shouts coming from this way and that way. By dawn, a precarious calm hovered over the students for the hostels were located between Unguwan Rogo, predominantly Muslim and the outskirts of Bauchi, a Hausa town in the Northeast, also overwhelmingly Muslim. Muslim students started disappearing one by one. Soon, the campus was turned into a barracks fortified this time, not by students, but by Christian students and students who were indigenes of the mountains and who stayed in parts of town accessible only through neighborhoods in which their faith and identity had rendered hazardous. It was then she saw how many guns there were on the campus, how red and angry eyes can become. For the first time, since her initial panic, Rahila was afraid. Would these boys, many of whom she had known; would they use those guns? Her parents, where were they, were they safe?
That second night, she couldn’t sleep. She went to the toilet to ease her tense bladder for the umpteenth time. The toilets were located just before the landing of each floor. Something made her go to the last toilet. The door was closed, and unthinking, she forced it open. In there was Nabila, her eyes wide open in terror, her tray of fried groundnuts on her laps, a telltale black hijab over her top. It seemed as if moment itself stopped still. Like the aftermath of the blast of a train whistle. But it was in the eyes. In those eyes, Rahila Weng Pam saw what she had never seen before and in those eyes, wide with an unspeakable terror grown over two days of huddling there and waiting to die, in that unspoken unspeakable plea was completed an essential aspect of her education. Explained to her there and then was the tragedy of the innocents.
Nabila remained in her room for the next day. Rahila had given up thoughts of Sekyen, she prayed her roommate and friend was safe and well; before her, however, was a new roommate and one as different from Sekyen as could be and yet, strangely, one who would resolve her doubts and the ambiguities of her mind by simply telling her of her life. They kept their voices low. Rahila cooked, Nabila ate and talked and slept. Something in the two of them sync’d. One, a girl trying to make sense of herself and the other who could not afford that indulgence, who made her daily trek for a few naira, who could so easily be raped or killed over peddled groundnuts not worth N 100.
Maybe it was sympathy, or maybe it was the unconscious realization of how symmetrical life really is, how definition and difference are merely superfluous and how impossible it was to reconcile them to moments such as this when life was second-to-second survival.
“My father died a long time ago. I was very little then. I don’t even remember him”
“He died at a time like this, my mother tells me, that is why I was so afraid.”
“When did he die?” Rahila asked, though she did not want to hear anything about death.
Though the University management, or the Military Governor, had sent some soldiers to guard the school and the hostels were reasonably safe, she was still very aware of their danger. The girl, on the other hand, had become rather relaxed, insouciant even, as if she believed that her coming into Rahila’s room had dispelled danger from the air. Each time Rahila went out of the room, she locked the Hausa girl in because she knew that if another girl so much as suspected, she would blow her mouth and then anything could happen. Rahila had begun to understand how religion works, how her religion worked, and that was the basis of her subsequent understanding of her mother’s power and how it worked.
“He was a truck driver, she tells me and he was in Kano during the time of the Maitatsine riots. Nobody knows if it was the zealots or the soldiers who killed him. He never returned. They found his trailer burnt. My mother knew he was dead.
A forlorn glaze entered the girls eyes then, as if she longed to have known the man who sired her, even if for one minute, enough time to ask him why he went for that fatal trip, enough time to ask him not to go. Rahila did not know what to say, she had never been confronted with loss before and she could not envision so personal a loss as ones father.
“When I overheard some girls saying that Christians were being killed, I knew that they would kill me also because I am a Muslim. I could already smell that things were burning and I thought of my father. I did not want my mother to suffer because of me, if I was killed, if I did not get home. So I hid, in the bathroom. I slept there. There were plenty of mosquitoes there but I folded myself into my hijab. But the hijab is black and mosquitoes like black things. All the time I was just praying, oh Allah, save me. I was afraid. But when I saw you, I knew that Allah had answered my prayers because there was the light of kindness in your eyes. And you were not a man. Men do very bad things to women when they can, when the world is unsettled. I know. We will be alright”
Rahila had sat listening to this strange girl, this enemy, and talking to this strange girl, an enemy; all the while deconstructing structures she had never realized were there, that she had never accepted into her consciousness.
Her father had come to pick her up later that day, with two trucks of soldiers. She had never been gladder to see him. She had insisted on leaving with Nabila. She knew her father smiled at her amusedly even while he said “Of course”; they had passed through the town, sections charred by fire, shops looted, sometimes black patches of blood on the ground, in silence. They went to her father’s house in Dul Village.
He never asked her who Nabila was. They stayed there with him for five days until the September crisis had spent itself and bloodlust had exhausted itself, a very obviously Muslim girl, who still said her daily prayers, who prayed, prostrating herself severally, in a Christian or pagan Berom village. Her father, just as she was, had been fascinated by the girl’s very simple faith, how she could so easily trust herself into their hands and not think anything of it. Rahila told him about her much later, when the evil jinn, as Nabila had called it, had passed away from the plateau, having left death and destruction in its wake.
“I am through” she said, smiling “I hope I have not taken too long. What are you thinking of? Hmm”, Nabila, like her mother, had the heedless faculty of asking questions and making statements as she thought, there was something endearing about it because for the two years she had known them both, they had never said an embarrassing thing. “Tell me, tell me. You are thinking of a man!”
“Must I be thinking of a man? I think you are man-crazy Nabi’, it’s always man, man, man for you.”
“No, men are crazy for me, not the other way. They want to lock me up in a kule so they can look at me all day! ”
“You’re just crazy”
Together they walked out of the Bait ul-Kaffawi, it was already four thirty p.m. and the scholars had closed for the day, even the old Fulani man at the gate was gone. She was happy whenever she was with Nabi. Nabila liked to say that the water of love flowed between them. How colorful a thing to say, and how true! They went to the little house where her mother wished to put some more food into Rahila, “you are really like a lamppost!” she declared.
They dropped off Nabila’s books and then left the house for Rahila’s where they would talk of Nabila’s school and where the slightly younger girl would hear from her true friend of the dilemma of love in her heart set against love for her mother and a meddlesome identity.
Nabila’s mother stood just outside the house, looking at the backs of the girls, her only daughter and the other girl who was delicate as the eyelids of November rain, in whom had grown a strong insuppressible resilience, the plateau girl who had given her her daughter back and given Nabila a shot at life. Who could plan such symmetry except Allah?
Allahu maktub. Allah writes our fates, as He wills. We live to pray and do our duty. Mrs. Fatsuma turned and entered the house, already yelling for Rilwanu to start getting things ready for supper.