The wind stood still. Somehow the trees still danced, the palm trees waved from one direction to the other, as though they listened to a jazzy beats played by the bland weather. Kasuwa was full that day, it was market day. The Hausa music coming from a distance mixed with the sonorous tune of the beggars on the streets made the perfect melody.
I used my veil to wipe a string of sweat trying to make way into my mouth, it did still, and the salty taste took charge of my mouth. I wished it would rain; I wish the rain will fall heavy and cool off the steamy sun; I wished it would rain the kind of rain I heard fell in the south, the kind that comes with Wuthering wind that the rain hits the wall of the houses and not the roofs, the kind that Bisi said left Warri cold for days, the kind that always made the sun too dizzy to shine and just when it was about to regain its strength it will rain again. But it didn’t, hence the sun was getting hotter by the day. Then I imagined that perhaps the sun was mad that it couldn’t shine nationwide, it was mad at how it always rains in the south, in Warri and Port-hacourt hence, it sends all of its rage to us here in Kaduna, I guess if it shines at same time nationwide, perhaps the sun wouldn’t be this hot here in Kaduna.
Maryam had picked that day for shopping, of all the other days, she had to pick this one, the day it seemed like the sun was at its hottest, I had protested but she had insisted, and Maryam can be persuasive, very persuasive, same way she had persuaded mother to give us the 10grand for the brocade we want to sew for Aunty Sefiya’s wedding, mother’s kid sister. She had her ways with words.
“How about that one?” Maryam said, pointing at the red brocade with white stripes.
“It looks too Scottish,” I said, still going on through the pile of clothes.
“And that one?” she asked pointing at the one with green and black.
“Nope, not that one, it doesn’t speak our personality, it looks too drab, imagine us in that, we will look like grand ma’s house help.”
She let out a little smile before it ebbed into a scowl. “Well, I am done picking, maybe you should since everything doesn’t seem to satisfy you well.”
Shopping hasn’t always being my strongest suit, Maryam knew that, we’d been family-friends since like forever, we like to think of one another as twins, a fraternal twin, since she seems more cute than I am; light skinned, pointed nose and a very slim face, am talking Fulani slim, her shoulders always stood high when she walked, and her hips dangle from side to side like a runway model. Her lips were always red from how generously she applies her lipsticks, such a beauty. Most times I get jealous of her at how my chocolate brown skin wasn’t as fair as hers, couldn’t even be as fair, I have tried, used several creams and all attempt, futile. I get jealous of how soft and silky her hair was, how my kinky hair couldn’t make those well standing ponytails hers does, like those Fulani girls in the car park I heard they sold their hair for us to braid, her hair danced with the wind like the palm trees on the roadside. She smiled easily not having to practice or try hard as I did on the car windows parked on the roadside most times when we walked the pedestrian route. I wished I had her looks though, I envied how perfectly her breasts formed from behind her clothes, how they curve at each end, perfectly aligning with the width of her hips, each curve appealing to the other as though the angles were measured by God with a ruler, to ensure that she was perfect. I stared at her for a while, how could she not be sweating even, Hmmm, I wished I didn’t feel so jealous of her though, but I did.
“We will take the black and white,” I finally said
“I thought we agreed no black and white?” Maryam asked as she dragged the brocade from my grasp.
“Well, you know how I am with black and white; I just can’t find anything else that goes so perfectly together.”
She hummed and shook her head, in a fit of mild irritation, I stared at her trying to phantom what she was thinking; how could I pick a black and white yard again, we already have too much of that, almost all of our wears had black or white or both.
She smiled to the Hausa man who was already growing rather angry, if we didn’t buy the yard from him, heaven will let loose in that shop that afternoon.
“Na wa ne?” Maryam asked and placed the yard across my shoulder. My chin made contact with it; it’s soft silkiness, cold and smooth and I wish I could lay on it and become as cold as the cloth, and make away with the sun. I folded the cloth and placed it on my head, trying to shield the sun away from my face.
“Dubu goma,” the Hausa man replied, trying to arrange his yard the other and manner he had before we came. We had offered, actually, Maryam had offered to arrange it back but he refused, he said he had a “fattern” he arranges the clothes with.
“Ah, Mallam, dan Allah mana, kasan kai mutumina ne kwo.”
“Toh, sobo da kai, ku bani Dubu tara da dari byar.”
“Zen baka Dubu tara.”
The negotiation was taking longer than anticipated, I wanted to be done and get home, get out of these clothes, take a cold shower and sit directly under the air-conditioner in the sitting room.
The Hausa man finally nodded and Maryam signaled for me to hand her the purse.
“Aina su ke? Where dem dey” a man shouted from the market. A group of Hausa boys made their way through in shining cutlass, it reflected as they waved it in the air. One of them brushed his on the ground and it let out some sparks.
“Kai,” the Hausa man exclaimed “ki gudu fa” he said turning the Maryam and me, “Wana masala ne, I run follow back, I take lept I see road there, I take bike, I go house. Kin ji kwo?”
“Na’am” Maryam answered and snatched my hand and made way for the back entrance the Hausa man had pointed earlier on. What was wrong, I wanted to ask, but I didn’t, Maryam was walking too fast, calculating route with her hands, counting the building maybe before making any turn.
“It seems like the Hausa boys are angry again over something” Maryam said, still calculating route.
“Well, I rather we find out on the news and not here at the scene,” she replied and turned left. I agreed with her, well, that was the only logical thing to do. She made a right and we saw a group of men pounding on a man.
“Arini ne,” they were chanting, “ba sun da hankili,” another man shouted from the crowd and then in matter of seconds large black smokes made their way up the skies. The man screamed, trying to run, each time he made it to one end of the crowd, he was sent back to the center. The man shouted, but no one heard a thing. I couldn’t hold the vomit so, I threw up, the sound drew the attention of one of the men in the crowd and he tapped the second man.
“Kai, ku zu nan,” one of them screamed and soon, more attention was drawn to us. “Ina magana da kai” he said again and drew a bit more closer pointing us with his shiny cutlass and muttering something to his friend. Very soon their walking was fast becoming running, Maryam grabbed my arms and ran, she stopped calculating, now she was just running to survive, taking whatever direction her guts told her, houses were already set ablaze, the dead corpse of men and women butchered lied on the streets amiss the dumps, some of them were burnt, burnt beyond recognition, cars were in flames and at the end of every junction was a burning tyre. We managed to stop a bike man.
“Ina zuwa?” the bike man asked as he pulled a quick stop
“Mando, angwan snooker.” Maryam said and she hopped in and I followed, the man revved his engine and zoomed off, even in his speed, the wind still seemed still, my heart was pounding, I could feel almost pulling out of my chest, the man took a left off the main streets “people burn, like you, there, so we go inside village and commot for Kawo,” he explained in his deep Hausa accent.
The motorcycle came to a halt when we arrived at another crowd lynching another victim. They turned to us and the Hausa driver made a quick turn.
“Kai Mallam ka Kawo arna nan,” one of them screamed. “Carry dem come, infidels”. The Hausa drive sped off leaving smokes behind as we drove past huts and mud houses, the road washed in erosion, the motorcycle kept bouncing for each bump we fell into and we were cornered, there was nowhere to go any more, the Hausa stopped the motorcycle, turned and looked at us, he felt pity for us, his eyes spoke goodbye to us.
“Ku sauka, come down,” one of the Hausa men shouted, he seemed like their leader. His eyes were red, he held cutlass in one hand and a stick of cigar in the other. “You infidels” he said, he didn’t have a deep Hausa accent like the others, his English seemed polished.
You’re the one with the cigarette, you are the one taking lives like that’s your job, you’re the infidel, I wanted to say, but couldn’t, I tasted my own blood running up my throat, Maryam still looked calm, she still had her generous red lipstick on and her face was still smooth, but now, she was sweating, she looked at me and locked her fingers with mine.
They dragged us to the center of the crowd and made us kneel, this was it, this was certainly it, I thought to myself. I thought of my mother, and I wished she wouldn’t know of how I died, burnt to ash, burnt beyond recognition, I rather she thinks I was missing, kidnapped or ran away as I always threatened her I will whenever she became a thorn. I thought of my beautiful white brocade, how I will not wear it ever, that was when it struck me that I had lost it. The poured fuel on us, chanting and calling us infidels and how we deserved to die, some of the fuel escaped in to my mouth and I could tastes death looming around, I wondered if I would go to heaven or hell, I began to think of all my sins and good deeds, I wanted to judge myself before I get there. I thought of Mallam Ibrahim and how he had interpreted the Qur’an to us and I wondered if these people read a different Qur’an. I shot my eyes, if this was it, I wouldn’t want to see it coming. I saw myself running in flames and screaming and being sent back with stick strokes to center whenever I try to runaway like the man we had seen earlier. Maryam stared unblinking a wink where knelt, she stared directly in the eyes of the Infidel man. He sipped his cigar again and held it between his fingers.
Everything became silent and still, the trees were still dancing, I closed my eyes and took a deep breath and made a silent prayer, and a tear rolled down my cheek and also escaped into my mouth mixing with the fuel. I locked my hands in Maryams and she squeezed in tighter.
“Dan Allah, sobode Anabi Ku kyale su, dan Allah,” a strange voice came from the big house behind us. Amiss the seeming silence I had created, the voice stood out.
“Ina Danalami?” the woman asked and the man with the polished English answered. I opened my eyes and I saw the slim slender woman in red lace whispering to Danlami. He came over to us; “na Hajia una come visit?” he asked.
“Yes,” Maryam answered quickly as though she was already in on the plan with the woman from the start.
“Toh Ku tashi,” he said, he dusted the sand off from Maryam’s purse and handed it to her. “Kai, Hajia sobo da ki ne fa” he said turning to the lady, “ki san sun arna bas u de sorron Allah.”
“Na San ni. Na gode ko, na gode so sei,” she smiled and she exposed her gold teeth, proof that she had been to Makkah. She dragged us with her and opened her gates and let us in.
Her compound was big enough to land two choppers, the sitting room had very high roofs and a chandelier dangling round, she had blue bulb in the house. She shut the door behind us and gave us a smirk,
Later she offered us water for bath, I sat under her air-conditioner and I still was sweating profusely. She made food for us to eat, she later told us of how ungodly these killings were, how it will disgust God and then I remembered Mallam Ibrahim, she spoke like him, perhaps he had taught her Qur’an also, I wanted to ask but I didn’t. She smiled more often when she spoke and her dimpled cheek sunk in like the holes Ahmed my kid brother made on his semolina before he ate them.
She offered us bed and said she will take us home the next day when the all killing spree might have dropped and army from Jaji cantonment would have been storming the streets already in other to restore order.
Later after our bath Maryam requested that she calls home to tell them we were fine. She never told them about how we were almost lynched; she said our parents only needed to know that we’re fine and alive. We agreed to not tell them. My body still smelt of fuel and I couldn’t sleep at night, most of the night, I imagined that the woman would open the doors for them later and in our sleep they will finish the job they had started.
The next morning came really fast, I had stayed up staring at the fan, counting with my eyes how many times it rotated, I was still jittery, still scared to go outside, scared to even see the sun, the few times I had closed my eyes I kept seeing myself running in flames, me and Maryam, and she still had that perfect smooth skin, she wasn’t even getting burnt, she was too cute to be burnt. Maryam raised the curtains and I yelled that she closed them back, I wasn’t quite ready to see the sun yet; “are you okay” she asked putting down a cup of tea she and biscuit she had bought from down the road. Of course I wasn’t, I wanted to tell her, how each time I so much as blink I keep seeing myself running in flames and she not getting burnt, but instead I gave her a slight nod that of approval that I was fine, and then faked a faint smile.
Hajiyah was seated at the dining table, sipping coffee from a small tea cup and reading through the day’s newspaper, her bifocals hung on her nose like a University Professor. We exchanged good mornings, my legs were still light and shaky, and I wished mother would come sooner, but she had said that she will be branching over the office to pick a few things before coming over, since Maryam told her that we were fine where we were. Hajiyah smiled and I wondered if she had a family; a husband, kids, relatives, someone, I wanted to ask but I didn’t, hence, I smiled back.
“How was your night” she asked putting the tea cup and the newspaper down, she folded her bifocals neatly cleaned it with a small cloth piece in the case before putting it in. she has a chubby jaw, and smiled very often, her face was smooth, not as wrinkled as her hands, she had grey hair on the side of her hair that arranged itself neatly like they had been painted there, the room was cold, the whole house was cold. Or maybe it’s just me, I still don’t trust her though, I sipped my tea nodded that I was fine.
“Your sister has been helpful,” she continued turning to the kitchen where Maryam was, “usually I get these yaro boys to do my house chores, but she had offered to do them all, such a darling, I pray she gets a well deserving husband” she added and let out a smile and turned to me.
“Maryam says you school at ABU.”
“Yes I do,” I answered and sipped my tea, I wish wouldn’t try to create a conversation, I wish we could just sit there in silence and she would continue reading her newspaper and I would finish my tea and mother would walk in take us home. Maryam was still fetching water in the kitchen, I wanted to get stand up and help her out but my legs were still shuddering. I could hear the water as clatters as she fetches it from the tap and pour it to a container, she hummed a song, I will survive I think. I wished I had the strength to actually work like she did, so Hajiyah will also approve of me and pray for me to get a good husband as well, I wish I had even thought of it, but I didn’t and I couldn’t even go help I still feel jittery and every scream from outside or within threw me off.
Mother came around later and Maryam did all the talking, she asked if I was okay and I shook my head, Maryam told her what happened except for the part where we were chased by a group of angry mob who seemed to have issued with everyone who didn’t look like them. I looked out the window all through the drive; there was a peaceful tune to the way the wind bathes my face, how the birds chirp, jumping from one branch to the other on the dogo yaro trees planted along the roadside; how the hawk circulates the skies. Then I start to wish I was a bird soaring to endless heights. Mother and Maryam laughed occasionally, I didn’t know why, I didn’t care, she turns to me and asks; “isn’t that so Aisha”, and I shook my ahead in agreement, let out a benign smile and turn back to continue staring at the skies.
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