‘’heh heh… see me see trouble o,’’ Laila shouted, followed by a long hiss.
‘’What happened?’’ Mujeedat inquired, curiosity written all over her pimples rigged face.
Ronke and Halimah turned their gazes towards the duo who were sitting on a long wooden bench close to the fence. Paying attention to what Laila was about to reveal, Halimah’s right hand held a strand of Hajarah’s braids without an effort to undo it.
‘’Ara ile e mani , Yusuf.’’
They all roared with laughter at the mention of the guy’s name.
‘’What does he want this time around?’’ asked Mujeedat. ‘’ I thought you already told him you’re not interested in him.’’ ‘’ I did,’’ replied Laila, ‘’ but I guess he has listening issues. Do you know what he told me this time around? He said he had a dream and that I was shown to him in that dream to be his wife.’’
‘’Don’t blame him now. He wants to be like Prophet Yusuf. Orukolo’nro.’’ Halimah, now sitting beside Mujeedat on the bench, commented between chuckles. ‘’Well, at least he manned up to you,’’ Hajarah chipped in. ‘’Don’t you girls think for that he should at least have our respect?’’
Ronke laughed. ‘’Well, how was his English?’’
‘’Not that bad.’’
‘’Perhaps he may earn my respect then. You see, many of those brothers are boys not men they cannot muster the courage to talk to us sisters. And those that do among them are usually murderers of English language. They can’t even express themselves!’’ Ronke shook her head as a sign of disgust.
‘’Mujeedat, remember brother Sulayman?’’ asked Halimah. ‘’O’ no, please don’t go there,’’ Mujeedat warned, a grin already escaping from her mouth. In the dark, Laila asked what the brother had done. ‘’ He once said,’’ Mujeedat started, about to explode of hysterics, ‘’ he once said to me: ‘You’re fine sister Mujeedat, and I am loving to became your husband, did you want to became my wife?’ So I told him, yes, I did.’’ He said Alhamdulillah but I explained to him that ‘I did’ want to become his wife which is past tense not ‘I do’ want to become his wife which is present tense.’’
‘’The professor!’’ hailed Ronke, while others started to laugh, except Hajarah who only smiled.
‘’And you know the worse thing about those brothers, they don’t know how to show love. They are not real men at all. They are not in the least romantic,’’ Laila asserted.
‘’For me o,’’ started Ronke, ‘’before I can consider a brother, he has to be handsome, outspoken, must have a nice job, speak and write English well, be romantic, memorize at least half of the Qur’an, have beards, must always dress nice—no jalabia, but nice shirts, and he must be caring.’’ Hajarah let out a faint smile.
‘’Those sisters are too pompous for my liking,’’ Raqeeb complained to a group of guys sitting inside the mosque. ‘’And they are Hijab sisters who should know better!’’
‘’You’re right,’’ supported Naheem. ‘’ When you say salaam to them, they usually respond back with their noses.’’ ‘’ah,’’ began Quadri, ‘’shebi they at least respond to you, most of the time they don’t even respond.’’ He hissed. ‘’I once greeted one of them outside the campus, if you see the way she looked at me you would think it wasn’t God that made me.’’
‘’Their arrogance is too much,’’ resumed Raqeeb, ‘’if they don’t take care, they will live their entire lives as spinsters.’’
‘’No doubt about it,’’ Naheem nodded. ‘’ Because they’re in university they think they are above us, as if we’re not inside this same UI. When they clock thirty, they will soon know.’’
‘’Some of them even called themselves feminists!’’ roared Quadri. ‘’Imagine that?’’
Shakir felt compelled to join in. ‘’You see, most of them now believe we’re equal, that’s why they’ve become so haughty.’’
‘’Equal for where?’’ Naheem asked rhetorically. ‘’We are not equal at all. Men are Qowam.’’
‘’You know their other problem? It is that they love this world. They might use Hijab but don’t really follow the Sunnah. I proposed to one of them one time and she asked what I had to take care of her. Imagine?’’ Quadri exaggerated his hands in gesture.
‘’ You should have told her the hadith of the man that had nothing but some verses of the Qur’an he knew yet the prophet married a lady to him,’’ commented Shakir.
‘’Well,’’ continued Shakir, ‘’ I think the solution is to go and find sisters who have not attended higher institutions. The sisters here, wan ti jaa!’’
Abeeb entered the mosque and saw them discussing. He walked over to their circle and ask what they were talking about.
‘’We’re talking about those UI sisters and their proudness,’’ they answered chorally.
The amber light shone brightly over the main campus announcing the sternness of the seemingly big ball suspended over the earth in far distant space. The mystical lantern emitted strong light, sucking up whatever dampness left in the atmosphere and battered it with a stiff hotness. People walking about subscribed to hats or umbrellas while those who were observing prayers inside the central mosque of the university had the fans to thank.
‘’Brother Abeeb, Brother Abeeb…’’ Hajarah walked hastily to catchup with Abeeb, waiving her right hand amid the crowd of students egressing the mosque. Abeeb heard her voice and a look of surprise overcame his face. Is she really calling him? Everyone knew Hajarah at school. She was a star among Muslim students as well as non- Muslim students. A semester ago she literally won all the prizes available for medical students. That accomplishment had been a much lauded one among Muslim students and Abeeb had been urged by the editorial board of Al Fahad Magazine to write an article about Hajarah.
Abeeb took the responsibility thrust on him very seriously. He labored arduously night and day for two weeks, visiting Hajrah’s families and friends and lecturers to garner enough information to write on. Three days before he submitted his draft to the editorial board, he had asked Hajarah for an interview to be included in the work. She consented and the interview took place at one of the places of sitting nigh to the mosque. The sitting place allotted them the needed privacy to talk without being disturbed but it was not discreet: any passerby could see them.
The night following the interview thoughts of the cordialness and politeness of Abeeb influx into Hajarah heart so that whenever she closed her eyes, a silhouette would cover her view, and she knew the body could only have belonged to the one that interviewed her earlier. An impalpable feeling of admiration was born in her. She had thought she read the same thing in the eyes of Abeeb, she could have sworn she noticed Abeeb also felt the same way, but now, after months had been exhausted, she was having doubts.
‘’Laila, what do you think about proposals?’’ Hajarah asked her friend one night in her room. Laila sat on Hajarah’s new mattress which was still awaiting its release from the factory’s plastic and responded to Hajarah with another question.
“What do you mean by proposals?’’ Hajarah realizing the evasiveness of her question, stood silent for a few moment, her countenance glowing behind the kerosene lantern sitting on the desk on which were arrays of books and other stationery. She heaved from the white plastic chair and paced slowly about the room. The issue revolved in her heart and became palpable from her serious demeanor as she thought of how to phrase her words to Laila without getting misunderstood.
“I want to propose to Brother Abeeb.’’ She shut her eyes, awaiting the expected protest. And the protest erupted.
Laila’s jaw dropped. She must have heard wrongly. ‘’O’ you meant brother Abeeb proposed to you?’’ she feigned a misstatement.
Hajarah regarded Laila and a tinge of sorrow escaped from her gaze. Ever since the interview, she had grown in her attraction to Abeeb that she sometimes scolded herself for falling for a person who might not like her at all. She had convinced herself that it was just a crush meant to dissipate as another semester began but now they were four weeks into the current semester, and if anything, her love for Abeeb was growing exponentially.
“No, Laila,’’ she resumed, ‘’I want to propose to brother Abeeb.’’
“Why would you want to do that?’’
“I like him.’’
“And so?’’ Hajarah eyes widened, surprised by Laila’s lack of emotion. “And so, I want to marry her.’’
Laila did not utter a word for a few minutes and Hajarah decided to keep it that way from her end too. If she wasn’t going to receive support from Laila, the least Laila could do was not to discourage her. She returned to her seat and took from the desk, a novella titled Beneath Her Khimar. She opened to page thirty six where she had left off earlier that day, she read a paragraph absentmindedly—she had no idea what the paragraph said about Ruqayah, the main character of the book as all her thought was on Abeeb.
“Don’t do it, Hajarah.’’
‘’What if he doesn’t feel the same way about you?’’
‘’What if he does?’’
‘’See, if he does like you, he will eventually propose to you. So there is no need to degrade yourself by proposing to him. You’re a girl, Hajarah. We’re to be sought.’’
‘We’re to be sought…’ the words echoed in her head as she now began sashaying towards Abeeb who stood poised under a giant baobab tree near the tiled road, hands buried in his trouser pockets. Laila had a point after all, she had reflected on her bed that night. There are subtle ways to find out if a brother is interested or not, or better yet there are artful ways to make a brother become interested. She would show Abeeb that she shares artfulness with the Wife of Al-Azeez—albeit non-sinisterly.
‘’Salaam alaykum, Sister Hajarah. ’’ Greeted Abeeb. ‘’I’m sorry, I did not know that you were calling me at first.’’
‘’Wa alaykum salaam. It’s okay.’’
‘’Is everything alright, you said you wanted to—-‘’ ‘’Wa alaykum salam,’’ Abeeb on top of his voice responded to two men on Okada who bade him salaam. ‘’I’m sorry,’’ he turned to Hajarah. ‘’O’ it’s okay.’’ Their eyes did four. ‘He loves you, didn’t you see how his eyes flickered?’ her mind encouraged. Hajarah struggled to repress a grin but her thin lips betrayed her. Abeeb caught her smiles but quickly lowered his gaze.
‘’I have just entered into an essay contest,’’ she started, ‘’and I was wondering if you could help me with the editing as I write.’’
‘’Sure. Just send it to me when you’re done with the draft. I will be pleased to edit it.’’
‘’I appreciate it. But because it is a long essay, actually it is like a paper. I will need editing from the beginning to the end. You know, you writers know better how to structure essays, the attention getter and all other stuffs. I’m going to need help right from the beginning.’’
‘’That’s okay by me. Just tell me when we start.’’
‘’We start like now.’’ She blushed. ‘’If you don’t mind we could exchange numbers and email to facilitate correspondence.’’ She had deliberately picked the words, she wanted to appear to Abeeb as a mistress of the language. Abeeb, a writer and a poet, would appreciate big vocabs. ‘’Okay.’’ Abeeb stretched out his phone to her, she typed in her number and returned it back to him all the while making sure that their hands did not touch. Haram line she was bent not to cross.
Soft wind embraced her navy blue hijab which hid her diamond earrings and silver necklace as she walked slowly towards the school library, her heart full of hope and her head heaved with confidence that Abeeb, without a doubt, would soon be proposing to her.
Hajarah stood alone in her room basking in the silence of the noon. She had been debating herself whether or not she should go ahead with the plans her mind was forming. It had been five weeks now since the commencement of almost daily interaction with Abeeb and with the paper already submitted two days ago it looked as if there would be no alibi for them to interact anymore. So that’s it? Her mind asked her. Don’t be a stalker for God’s sake, cautioned again her instincts, at least there are other brothers who are interested in you and have not shied away from showing that. After all, what was so special about Abeeb?
Lately, Abdul Fatah, the Imam and the Spiritual Guide of Islamic Progressive Union sent words to Hajarah showing his interest in her. ‘I will think about it,’ was the invariable response all the time. Now in her room, a hand resting on the white plastic chair and the other hand holding her Samsung S5 phone, she contemplated which path she should thread. ‘’Oko ti wan lo de ,’’ the words of her mother and aunties sounded in her mind, ‘’you better don’t waste time.’’
Her head vouched for the Imam, but her hearts proved to be a strong dissident—it wanted Abeeb. Well, why should I be heads over heels about Abeeb who clearly isn’t into me? She decided to return the messages of the Imam even if she was just going to say she was just greeting him.
‘’Hello, salaam alaykum.’’ It was Abeeb’s voice. She quickly did a double take on the screen and saw that she had unwittingly called Abeeb. ‘’Erm, erm. Wa alaykum salam.’’ she composed herself. There was a moment silence. ‘’Brother Abeeb, I want to thank you again for helping me…’’ ‘’don’t mention it,’’ interjected Abeeb. ‘’But I really want to,’’ insisted Hajarah. ‘’I know you will not accept any money from me nor will you accept gifts—-‘’Abeeb laughed, ‘’No, I won’t.’’ ‘’So I have something totally different for you, but first you have to promise to accept it.’’ After a moment hesitation, ‘’I will.’’
‘’What’s your favorite dish?’’
‘’ I like Iyan ’’
‘’Alright. How about I prepare Iyan and Egusi and give it to you?’’
‘’Ma shaa Allah, I would like that. Thank you.’’
‘’But you know I can’t bring it to you because it may make us be without anyone by us. And you know that’s haram. Why don’t we meet at Agodi Garden that way there will be no issue of seclusion?’’
Before Abeeb had a chance to protest Hajarah ended the call.
They sat on a mat, the green grass around made a splendid view. It was just like those cozy picnic pictures. Abeeb sat legs folded, a book on his hand and a young boy by his shoulder. The boy was reading along with Abeeb. The boy was Hajarah’s twelve year old brother. Hajarah had brought him along hoping that would quail the issue of seclusion. Hajarah wanted to be sure that she wasn’t doing anything haram. In a brown overall Hijab, on her kneels, she reached into the coolers and one by one set up the delicacy on a white porcelain plate. The pounded yam was white as snow, the Egusi soup retained a corner of the plate, snail meat and turkey competing beside it. The aroma escaped into Abeeb nostrils and his mouth watered. They ate and stepped down with bottled water. Hajarah, a medical student, has a belligerent attitude toward sodas. After eating, Yahqub left the duo, and went to play with the swings. At any other time Hajarah would have stopped him because he had just finished eating, but now she let it pass.
‘’Brother Abeeb,’’ Hajarah started, her gaze lowered and are hands clasped, ‘’I’d like to marry you.’’
Abeeb’s eyes blinked in shock, he couldn’t help but stare at Hajarah who now buried her face in her Hijab. ‘’Erm…erm,’’ Abeeb tried to find his voice but fell silent. Then after a few second, ‘’I cannot say I will think about it…’’
Water threatened to egress Hajarah’s eyes as the words of Abeeb fell into her ears. He cannot say he will think about it? How had she humiliated herself to that extent? She should have known poets are coldhearted monsters. Why didn’t she listen to Laila? We’re to be sought, the words of her friend came back to haunt her. She fought back the tears as weeping in front of Abeeb would only worsen her humiliation. She then looked up and saw Abeeb smiling. Why is he smiling? Oh’ so I have become *saltless* like that? She wondered.
‘’Like I said, I cannot say I will think about it because I have thought about it countless times but just don’t know how to tell you.’’ Abeeb looked into her eye. ‘’Hajarah, I would love to marry you.’’
‘’But why haven’t you said anything since?’’
Tohib Adejumo is a Nigerian writer and the author of the short novel, Love In Ramadan . He spent most of his childhood and adolescent years in Ibadan, Nigeria where he attended Ad-Din International School. He graduated from Government College, Ibadan in 2009 and he is currently a baccalaureate student at the City University of New York where he majors in the Liberal Arts. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.