Here I am feigning sleep while neck deep in a mess. Not yet 25 years old, married to this shape-shifting now snoring devil, possessor of a child and a story. Nights like this, I think of my mother, Inna, within the story of my father, Malam Musa. To make sense of how I have come to this point in my life, I have to trace a finger through my entire history, the way one runs a palm through Zana curtains and sees them part and reform in the wake of the intrusion. There is something I am looking for in all this, and I am certain that everything will change when I find it.
My father, bless his soul, was not a prominent man in his days. He started out as an ordinary farmer who depended on his hard-earned, back-wrecking hard work to feed his family. He came from the Plateau regions, as did his first wife, Sa’ade. Sa’ade had in fact been the daughter of his mentor in farming, from a little village named Gero, just west of Bukur.
What remains of Sa’ade is a colourful, confident woman with whom my father quickly became unhappy. It is said she made him do all sort of things he felt a husband was not supposed to do—like making demands of him soon after returning from the market and squandering his little fortune. Year in, year out, for three years, it was the same routine.
Once, she caused him to send his blood sister, then living with them, away from his house. The house was the only thing, apart from a piece of land, their parents had left behind so the younger sister, who died before I was born, had a right to live there. My father’s elder sister, Habiba, had to take her in. But when news became current that Malam Musa had started washing the dishes for Sa’ade, his two elder sisters decided Musa was under a spell cast by his wife. And like responsible sisters everywhere, they prayed for him and took to seeking help from learned Malams who knew of things like dark spells and possession.
Malams back then were authentic, unlike these days when charlatans and crooks abound. Malams today would take money from unsuspecting people, eat their chicken and have a very good snore at night. They would wake up only at eight in the morning to pray their Fajr prayers and tell their customers how they had been standing for them all night “doing your work”. The most powerful of the Malams to whom they were eventually referred did the usual Qur’an recitation to break whatever juju was on Malam Musa.
Gradually, the spell faded away, and he left Sa’ade.
His crops failed after that, perhaps a parting shot from Sa’ade. He eventually got married to Mairo Lauje, who was from a village in Taraba State where he had gone to study the Qur’an. It was there my father learned to sew caps and sell them to sustain himself. But the lure of the land was too great and when his teacher offered him a life in Gombe where they would take on farming and selling produce, my father got ready to move again not long after his marriage. Mairo Lauje had not been lucky to be married off earlier because she had a limp, hence the nickname lauje, which means bent. My father took her anyway. She was from a decent background and he was not exactly choosy. He just wanted a woman.
They moved from Taraba to Gombe Town. But, ordinary farmer and an occasional merchant that he was, business was not stellar for him. Gombe Town was saturated with farmers like him and merchants too. Making a niche for himself was a feat too great for my father. His relationship with his former master and business partner ended in acrimony and the older man returned to Taraba.
With the very last money he had, he had bought a farmland in Gombe. Still, he found it difficult to make ends meet. Mairo Lauje, who clearly had her own bitterness all the while, grew defiant and shoved his failure in his face ever so often.
All this I was told several times while growing up.
My father only found some ease when he resumed making and selling caps. The skills he had learned in Taraba made his caps distinct and gradually he acquired clientele and renown. Not given to boasting, he would smile when he was hailed by his cronies as Mai Huluna, Master of Caps. Through my father’s expertise, I know more about caps than I care to. To be honest, it is the first thing I notice in a man. My father’s problems with Mairo Lauje continued. There must have been something about him.
One day, Malam Musa was talking to one of his friends about his problems.
“Musa, why don’t you try talking to Binta, Malam Audu’s daughter? She
is well mannered, and I heard that her first marriage did not work because she did not love the man. She used to leave his house in the middle of the night and run. I think you’ll find her as a good wife if she agrees to the bond.”
The logic was, if you had failed with two women, getting a third is the answer.
Malam Musa paid heed to his friend’s advice. My father was soon head over heels in love with Binta Audu. So was she, surprisingly, despite her history. Everything was soon rosy between them. Even her family knew about him and the love they shared.
Coming home one evening to a Mairo turning tuwo in the small zinc shed that served as her kitchen, he greeted her and brought out his mat to sit. Soon, his two children, Asma’u and Iyami, came jumping around him. He was a very friendly family man, even in those days. They did not notice he was distracted as he had been thinking of a way to broach the topic.
“I’m getting married.”
Mairo paused from her dance with the turning stick and looked at her husband as if he just told her that he was going to kill her.
“Repeat yourself,” she said. He did. The next thing he remembered was a hot mess of white pudding dumped on his feet.
Their dinner was gone. His hard-earned maize for the day lay wasted, his scalded feet hurt. For a few seconds, he went mad but was surprised that when he came to, he had not killed Mairo Lauje. She was still standing there, yelling.
“I promise you! You better stop with this craziness before it is too late! You’re not taking another wife while I still breathe!”
“Well, that’s a shame, because I’m taking a wife. And you will watch me do it.”
With a fierce glare, Mairo replied, “Then, let’s see.”
In the period after the confrontation with Mairo Lauje, Malam Musa stopped going to meet Binta. Having had enough, Malam Audu called Malam Musa to inquire about his stand on the issue. He apologized and said he was ready. But the same thing happened again when he told Mairo Lauje. It was only after the third arrangement that Malam Musa braved his way into the marriage.
The wedding was not a grand affair. The women arranged the bride’s room and decorated it with woven straw plates on the wall, pots and kitchen utensils were arranged in a wooden cabinet. A leather carpet was put in place in her bedroom, which also served as her living room. Lastly, a brass metal queen-sized bed with bells and flourishes was put in, along with a pile of bed sheets and pillowcases for her use.
The men ate outside after the wedding Fatiha was solemnized. Later the bride was conveyed to her matrimonial home by relatives according to custom and traditions of the Hausa and Fulani people of Nigeria.
Just a week after the wedding Fatiha, my father’s household was witness to a strange sight. Binta came out of her bedroom with a kettle in her hand. Moving through the house without a single word, she headed straight for the door. She had no veil on, only a wrapper, blouse and a scarf not on her head but thrown untidily over her left shoulder. That was how she walked an hour across the length of Gombe Town, from my father’s house in Tudun Wada to Fantami, her parents’ home.
Iya, Binta’s mother, who everyone called Oldie, a petite woman with a straight nose on her ever-smiling face, lost her shine at the sight of her newly- wed daughter–an apparition looking as if crazed, sweat all over her body, feet swollen as if she was pregnant.
“What is wrong with you?” But she did not get her answer. Binta collapsed in a heap before her. On return from the market to eat his lunch, Malam Musa was soon
searching for his new wife. Mairo Lauje kept on with her chores, not minding or answering him.
He later found the courage to meet her parents and share the bad news. He was struck with shock when he found her in her parents’ house.
“Baba, I’m so sorry. I did not know when she came out, I…”
“It’s okay, just tell me something. Is everything all right between you two? Because she came here with no veil and she was crying.”
Malam Musa nodded. “In sha Allah, it won’t happen again. Maybe she was just missing home?”
Binta was taken back to Malam Musa’s house. But this was the first of many times she would return to her parents’ house. The thing was, whenever she returned home, she would be fit as a horse. But the moment she was back at Malam Musa’s house, she would lose her senses. Like clockwork. Sometimes, she would sleepwalk in the wee hours of the night. Seeing this, Malam Musa told her to always have her veil with her, to avoid further embarrassment. In time, he decided he had had enough of Mario’s antics. “This would be your last warning, whatever it is you did to my wife, I
want you to undo it right away.” He hadn’t been this angry with her when they fought over his marriage.
In fact, Mairo had never seen her husband this angry and it scared her. “What if I say it’s too late, nothing can be undone?” “Then as long as Binta cannot stay in this house, I’m not staying either.” Mairo hadn’t expected that. The idea had been that Malam Musa would
drive Binta out, not threaten her with a divorce. Thinking about what to do kept her up all night for days before she reached a decision.
“Okay, I’ll let her stay here. On one condition.” Malam Musa’s face lit up. “Tell me.” “She has to do as per my bidding. She will cook for the family and tend
to my needs, she won’t sit and chat with me. I don’t want to see her around, period.”
“Are you crazy? Binta also has an equal right to this house as much as you do. She is also someone else’s daughter. I refuse to agree to your conditions.” With that, he stormed out of the house. He spent the whole of that day and the next thinking of what to tell Binta’s parents. He finally summoned up
the courage to tell her the truth. Her response surprised him. “It’s okay, I can do that. I can help her with all the chores as long as she lets me stay with you. You’re worth it,” she said. At that moment, Malam Musa resolved to always be by her side. It was a very strange love. But that was the beginning of a miserable life for my mother. She swept the house, washed the dishes, made Mairo’s bed, washed her clothes and bathed her children and even let her husband go because she was introduced as the new
maid to the guests. The only time she saw or spoke to Malam Musa was if Mairo was out of
the house, or sometimes when it was her turn with him, but she still cared for him to stay in the marriage. That was how they had their first son, my brother, Yusuf.
When she came back from her parents’ where she went for delivery, Binta found her room in shambles. Her mattress was ripped through and through and her leather carpet torn to shreds. Her dishes were missing.
“I’m sorry about this. I’ll get them back for you, in sha Allah,” Malam Musa said.
Binta nodded. But when he replaced the items, he made it known it was from her parents, so Mairo wouldn’t raise hell in the house. The older wife had become a terror in the lives of Malam Musa and Binta.
And this was where I was born, into a house filled with hatred, conceit, and agony. Growing up, I did not play in the courtyard like other kids. Instead, I kept to my mother’s room, the only room where I had freedom in my father’s house.
My earliest memories have always been of seeing my mother in tears and that of my father’s sad eyes. I had never seen my stepmother smile in her life, not once. Not even when she married off her first daughter or when the first daughter gave birth to her first grandchild. She was tough, a menacing presence with a limp all through those years.
My mother was a dark, frail Fulani woman with the right proportion of nose, enough to make someone categorize her to her tribe. When she smiled, she filled the room with a light that shone from her teeth displaying a thin gap between the upper set. It was perhaps this that fuelled Mama Mairo’s hatred for her. Everyone was struck by my mother’s dusky beauty and her kindness.
Being a reserved person made her always come under Mama Mairo’s taunts. From a young age, we knew we were our mother’s only hope, her friends, and her pride.
After my elder brother, Yusuf, I had three younger sisters—Halima, Aisha, and Hajara, who was lovingly called Hajo. Then our last born, Gidado. From my stepmother, I had three elder sisters, Asma’u, Iyami and Zainab, who was one month older than I am. One elder brother, Habu and, two younger sisters, Safiya and Umaima. I grew up to call Mairo Mama, as she insisted.
We all called my mother Inna.
Iwas late again and I was sure Malam Habu would be glad to give me the five lashes prescribed. It was his life’s mission to see me in trouble. Which I mostly was. I could not afford to be late. I did not want to come to school
late. Unfortunately, the circumstance at home made it near inevitable. How would I ever get the time for doing my assignments in the evening when I was Cinderella in my house? Don’t get me wrong. I love her dress and all, but that’s not the deal. I was the maid. Not that I minded that, of course, when it was not getting me in trouble.
After morning hadda school, I would rush home and wash the dishes for Inna, then my extra school uniform for the next day. I would sweep Mama’s room and cook her lunch. She did not take the same meal as the rest of us. Something bogus about her needing a special diet prescribed by a doctor. But my father, as always, believed her or maybe he just let it be. It was either I did the chores or Inna, my mother, would do all the housework herself. Only when these were done could I head back for the evening classes.
My other sisters would raise hell once in a while. Once, Hajo, my youngest sister, burnt several of Mairo’s wrappers in the local firewood stove because Mama Mairo had asked her to iron her clothes with her teeth. Don’t ask me how that ended. Just know that, from then on, Mama packed her clothes off the clothesline whenever Hajo was home from school.
I have often wondered what was so special about our father to make Inna go through all that for more than eighteen years.
I increased my pace. It was only three minutes before they locked the gate of the Islamiyya school I attended. But whether I ran or not, I knew wouldn’t make it in time. When I took the turn that led to the school, I saw Malam Habu’s huge face from a distance. I froze there a moment. From where he stood, I knew I would get the leather that day.
What was that? I swore he sneered. That was what brought me back to my senses and I realized I was not walking anymore. I moved fast, making the hand-painted drawings and Arabic letters splashed on the yellow wall sprint past me. I made for the narrow door without pausing.
“Assalamu alaikum, Malam,” I greeted. I did not have the chance to complete my escape.
“Hey, girl, where do you think you’re going? You’re late, so go inside the gate and kneel down.”
I could not help but gape. His red eyes and yellow teeth alone could give someone a nightmare. That left out his wild hair, which I bet had not seen the tip of a comb in years.
“But, Malam, I’m not late yet.” “And who gets to decide that, huh?” I curbed the urge to roll my eyes. “The time decides that. And it says 3:59,” I said quickly, glancing at my
battered rubber wristwatch. That earned me a monstrous look from him. He raised his hand.
“Sorry, please, Malam, I won’t be late again…” “Hadiza! Hurry up and go to your class.” The command interrupted whatever apology I was giving, which
wouldn’t have worked anyway. It was Malam Saddam. A tall, burly man with set eyes and thick brows. I let out a sigh of relief and ran into the said classroom.
The moment I stepped into the class, all eyes were on me. I lowered my head and went straight to the third row on the right, where my two friends, Lantana and Samira, were sitting.
We greeted in hushed tones, the Luggah teacher’s voice suddenly rang through.
“Miss Hadiza, if you’re through, can we please continue?” I sobered up and tried to concentrate on what she was saying. I had to do something about my frequently getting into trouble. Thanks
to that, I was now a popular girl in the school. Which I hated, by the way. The two hours went in a blur. With the Hadith teacher coming in after the Luggah teacher: there was usually no break during the classes. Only weekend morning classes had a break time for the senior students.
“Ouch, that hurts. A lot!” I said, squeezing my face. There and then, I contemplated making Lantana an ex-best friend. “What’s that even about?” I rubbed my shoulder. The girl had pliers for hands considering her size. She was as small as I was. If that was even possible considering how thin I was. At least I was taller.
“I saw you missed today’s dose of leather from Malam Habu.”
I looked at her with an open mouth. “And was it necessary to make up for that? I’m sure he will take compensation when next we meet,” I said, rolling my eyes at her.
“I just felt like doing it. Anyways, why were you late today?” “The usual, forget about me. How is Mama doing? Did you ask her?” My step-sister, Iyami, was getting married and the bride would be conveyed to Bauchi where her would-be husband resided. I wanted to go with them, but my father won’t let me. So, I had asked Lantana to come with me. That way, my father wouldn’t refuse us. Even though I knew Mama would raise hell if she knew I even attempted to go to her daughter’s wedding. Let her die, for all I cared.
“Why are you quiet? Please tell me she said yes?” I asked. She nodded. I jumped out of joy.
“Really? I can’t believe it! Well, now we have to convince Baba. We’re going to have lots of fun.”
I parted ways with Lantana and Samira on the bridge leading to their house. I had five minutes more of walking to get to our house, passing a throng of shops along the way. I increased my pace, I sighed in relief when I saw that the crowd that gathered every evening bashing under the neem tree in front of our house was absent.
The few trees, lining the untarred street in front of our house, usually housed young men whiling away the evenings. They favoured the neem tree in front of our conventional house though, it was large and somehow quite breezy.
A mud step led up to the house proper. Small pillars supported a worn and rusted zinc roof, creating a small open veranda which led to a spacious corridor that we call the zaure. In the zaure, my father would usually be found sitting on his rubber mat reciting the Qur’an in the evenings.
A door by the right, inside the zaure, opened to the room my three brothers lived in. A second door to the left linked the outer world to the main house, opening unto a large open-air courtyard of bare dirt that insisted it could never be swept neatly enough.
Our house constituted four rooms, apart from my brothers’ room in the zaure. The vast courtyard was linked directly to each room by a zinc and wooden door. None of the rooms had a living area. They were all bedrooms; functionally split to serve both the purposes of sleeping and living.
Mama Mairo had made sure that Inna got the room to the farthest south of the courtyard, next to the convenience room which also served as the bathroom. All this was long before I was born.
Inna’s room had only one window, which opened to the courtyard. By the outside wall just below her window sat two old metal barrels that used to house fuel once upon a time. Now we used it to store water, topping it up several times a day from the well. The water level in Inna’s drums indicated what time of the day it was and what the household had been up to.
Three adjacent rooms lined the opposite of the house. Mama Mairo hogged those for herself, my father and his crops when it was harvest time. Out of harvest season, she used it as a storeroom or, more usually, as an extra room for her kids.
A large mango tree stood at the centre of the sandy courtyard, which served as a respite on the hot, dry afternoons. Across the courtyard from the zaure was the powerhouse, our firewood zinc kitchen, where Inna spent most of her time.
There was always one commotion or the other in the house because something bad always happened, almost always made to be Inna’s fault. I got the shock of my life when I saw the apparition in our courtyard. In front of me was a very delirious Habu, my elder stepbrother clearly high on some trash. I did not know what he got out of those. For some reason, he found his heaven in them. There he was, throwing a tantrum. A very grown-up-teenage-boy tantrum.
“I swear to God! If you don’t give me that money, I’m going to burn down the house!”
Mama was standing by her door, looking at her masterwork. Yes, she regularly bragged about Habu. She took pride that her son was a no-nonsense
boy who took decisions and replied for a taunt, tit for tat. Now, her pride was threatening to burn down her house. I wondered what she’d have to say.
From the corner of my eye, I saw Inna draw closer to Habu, “It’s okay, calm down Habu. We’ll get you the money, now sit down and rest. I know you must be tired. Are you hungry?”
Habu shoved Inna out of his way. We were all caught off guard.
“What do you have? Stupid poor folks, what do you have that you want to deceive me? You and your poor good-for-nothing husband. Even that stupid woman standing there by her door that claimed to be having a good business is broke. It’s all a sham. Let me tell you her secret.” And he lowered his voice an octave, “She takes people’s money and uses it for herself!”
He let out a long rumble of a laugh.
I could hear Mama gasp from where I stood next to Inna, holding her away from the mad Habu. He continued to ramble in a slurry voice. It lasted until, finally, Yusuf and Baba came in from the Masjid. They somehow managed to persuade him out of the house to the boys’ room in the zaure.
I sat with the now shaken Inna in her room. Halima, my immediate younger sister, spoke.
“Inna, you see what we’ve been telling you? These people hate you. I see no reason why we should interact with them. You’re nothing to them but just a substitute maid, you see what happens when we try to be one of them. There is no future for us. We can’t be together not as a family, so please let go of them and don’t enter their affairs.”
Inna smiled and said, “We should do good unto others. You never know the amount of reward for doing that. And, do you have any idea what your father must be going through because of their actions? Habu is your elder brother, I wouldn’t want you to be pointed out in town as the drug addict’s sisters. For your father’s sake, I don’t want anything going wrong with him.”
Hajo said, “Not if you’re punished to the point of emotional and physical abuse.”
Inna wanted to protest but I quickly said, “They are right, Inna. You should stay out of this. Look what he did to you today. I just don’t understand, after the way their mother treats you in this house. I wonder why you still want to reach out. Or do we need to remind you that never once has Habu greeted you good morning since he was born? That apart, I think it’s high time we stood up for ourselves in this house. We need to fight back.”
I was trembling by now. The anger had finally come to roost, firing my engines.
I still could not shake off the image of Inna being shoved away by Habu. He was a lanky but very strong young man. And I knew she was hurt and was just braving it so that we wouldn’t get worried.
The house was quiet for the next few days after that drama.
I was standing in front of the storeroom, plaiting my hair into two thick braids when I heard raised voices from the kitchen. I secured my head-tie and moved towards the kitchen.
“Increase it, you’re so miserly. Need I remind you that this is not Malam Audu’s property? Oya, two more ladles.” It was Mama. She stood over Inna, her enormous silver bowl on the floor. Inna was dishing out danwake. Just as I came in, Mama limped a few steps forward and took the larger pot and turned its contents into her bowl.
Inna looked at her. “But that is all of it, I haven’t served Malam.” “Make another batch,” Mama said, as she turned to leave the kitchen. I don’t know what possessed me. All I remember was grabbing the bowl
from Mama’s hand and going back into the kitchen. I opened Baba’s food flask and poured his food in. Taking some ground pepper, oil, and Maggi cube, I dressed Mama’s share of food and handed a dumbfounded Mama her bowl. She stared at me like she’d seen a ghost.
“Is it not enough?” I asked, she grudgingly trudged back to her room. Inna smiled, shaking her head. She said, “You did not have to do that.” “Oh, if I’m going to see that smile on your face again, I’ll do that again
and again.” Inna rinsed her hands in a rubber basin before taking care of Baba’s meal. “Here, take this to Malam. Let me finish with your food. Tell Halima and
Hajo to come and take theirs. Aisha is fasting today.” “Okay,” I said, as I took Baba’s breakfast, feeling on top of the world. It
felt good to fight back for Inna. Oh, that look on Mama’s face. I wished I had seen that more often.
I walked to the hadda school with my sisters, narrating the morning incident to them. I somehow managed to understand that day’s tajweed class
better. That is saying a lot. After finishing my JSCE, Baba had enrolled me in the hadda school. Now my sisters went with me because they were on their holidays. I was in a good mood. It was a pleasant day.
I had more pleasant days until Baba announced that he would travel to Gero to take Iyami’s wedding kola nut, a token distributed among relatives and friends, to announce either a wedding engagement or, sometimes, a set date for a wedding.
That dampened my spirits because Baba’s travel always meant days of starvation. The house’s authority was handed over to her majesty, Mama Mairo, who made sure we had next to nothing of the money given to her. She would give Inna a hundred naira daily, while she and her daughters lunched and dined on street bought Moi-Moi, Awara, and the likes.
I was so engrossed with the issues at home, strategizing a plan that would set Inna free from Mama’s clutches when Lantana touched my shoulder to bring me out of my reverie. Apparently, I was out of it.
“Haba Hadiza! What kind of thoughts are you putting yourself into these days? Would someone just be talking to you while you keep ignoring them? That doesn’t define a true friend, you know?”
I blinked back into focus. “Oh, Lantana, I’m so sorry. Just the issues at home, you know how it gets when Baba travels.”
“Oh, dear! I’m sorry about that, everything shall come to pass in sha Allah.”
“Come let’s go and get some water for ablution. It’s almost Asr and you know Malam Habu, he starts the takbir immediately after the adhaan,” I said. “Yeah, and that too as fast as a Ferrari. When you start your ablution at the beginning of the takbir, before you wash your left leg he’d be saying the
salaam!” We both chuckled. “May Allah forgive you, Lantana.” With that, we went to the school’s tap to get our kettles filled. I filled my kettle and took Lantana’s and two more of the kettles strewn
there for some other students to use later. After the other day’s narrow escape, I decided to join the league of early comers praying my late afternoon prayers in the school’s masjid.
From my vantage point, I saw Malam Saddam standing by his motorcycle while he conversed with a stranger. A wave of uneasiness washed over me. I could not help it but it seemed their attention was on me. When I shifted slightly to confirm, I could swear the stranger’s eyes were dead on me. Our gazes locked, his eyes were intense. I averted my gaze and said rapid isti’aza incantations.
Lantana was still laughing. “I swear I saw them look at me. It was so weird.”
“Why, you see everyone looking at you. From the provision store guy to the tailor and now it’s the Malam. Your paranoia is for real, girl.”
I was shocked to hear her say that, but who knew? Maybe what she said was right, maybe I was over thinking things. It was just too much. Baba had been persistent on me all these last months to introduce someone at home, seeing as my stepsister Zainab, who was my age mate, had already introduced someone. I just could not bring up anybody’s name at that point, not that there was a long queue of boys lined up who showed interest in me.
I was just plain Hadiza who was barely in her senior year in secondary school. In the looks department, I was just that. Plain. I did not apply makeup or wear shapely clothes. Pfff, which curves was I going to flaunt? It was not as if I was pencil thin, but I was okay with my figure all covered up in the exclusion of my hijab.
Someone once said to my face that I would not get any proposals if I kept covering myself like a secret pot or a married woman. I did not see any connection between the two though.
I would love to tell them that I was not interested in boys and my books were paramount to me. Nevertheless, I knew no one would listen to me. My household was among those that believed when a girl had her first period; the next should be in her husband’s house.
The only respite was that Baba was equally against forced marriages. He would let us go to school as long as we had no suitors on our tails. Once suitors started showing up, Baba would start talking to you to formalize everything. According to him, it was degrading the family honour to be seen with a throng of men at one’s heels. Only loose girls did that, he believed.
Anyways, halfway through the day’s classes, I was summoned to the staff room by none other than Malam Saddam, our Hadith teacher who was also the head teacher. I then knew I was right. Something was definitely up. This was not good, so not good.
“Wa alaikumussalam,” he answered from the very small space allotted to him as his office.
“Ya Mudir, they said you wanted to see me.”
He kept the pen he was holding on his table, which was overflowing with old report cards, roll-call sheets and manila files. He pointed me to the other chair in the office. By that point, I was very sure whatever it was would either make me bolt or keep me rooted to the chair. I think he was aiming for the latter.
“Hadiza, how are you?” “Alhamdulillah,” I stuttered. “Uhh, don’t worry, you’re not in trouble, I just wanted to ask you something.” That got all my senses peaked. I wanted to hear what he had to say. I had
a suspicion. The only compensation I had that he would not say anything untoward to me was that he was the rule enforcer. There had been some cases where teachers got involved with students that had led to a full-blown court case filed by the girls’ parents.
Knowing that Malam Saddam knew what was at stake made me relax a bit.
“Hadiza, do you have any prospective suitor that your parents know about?”
I stumbled out of the chair I was perched on. The way I reacted made him jump out of his seat. “Are you okay?” I was shaking, my eyes big as saucers. “Yes, I’m fine.” “Sorry about that. So, what do you have to say? Because a friend of mine
saw you here and he showed an interest in you. But he asked me to speak to you first.”
I realized that he was waiting for my response. I was not comfortable with this, whatever this was. I had never talked about anything personal with this man other than giving an excuse of being ill. He knew nothing about me apart from that which my bio data stated. Except maybe that I was a latecomer and an avid rule-breaker, though never a troublemaker.
“Hmm… Malam, I am about to get married,” I lied through my teeth. Which I was so sure was obvious, considering I hated telling lies.
“Look Hadiza, I know this is odd to you but my friend is serious about you. He has been bugging me to talk to you; he too wants to get married. Are you truly committed to someone?”
Oh, now I could not lie to him again.
“No, I’m not, but my father doesn’t allow us to see people randomly. You have to seek his permission. And, can I think about it first?” I rubbed my now dampened hands over my hijaab-clad legs.
“Sure, no pressure. Take your time and pray about it. Whenever you are ready with an answer, just let me know and I will pass it on. Or maybe you can give us an address to your house so that you two can meet each other and have a better understanding of things?”
“Okay, but first I have to tell Inna… I mean my parents.”
“Okay, thank you. You can go back to your class now.” He did not have to say that because I was already halfway out of the room. My palms were balmy and I was still shaking like a leaf in the rainy season.
“Ya Salam, Ya Salam!” I kept chanting until I reached our classroom where Lantana and Samira were waiting for me.
“What is wrong with you?” Samira asked. Before I said anything Lantana added, “Yeah, you look awful.”
“That’s because I feel awful. Gist you later, after school.”
No matter how much I tried to concentrate on my lessons, I just could not.