“Are you sure he is the one?” Aisha, for the last time, asked her friend who was struggling with the seat belt at the owner side of her car.
Jamila now done with the seatbelt fastening and now reaching into her bag replied, “Well, it looks like it. My parents like him, and he seems like a good guy. Plus he writes really well. I like his poems. The ones he posts on Facebook.” She opened the pack of biscuit and put one in her mouth. The silence that followed lasted a few seconds until Aisha honked for the car in front of her. The driver was unaware the light had turned green. She probably was on her phone. People were now addicted to phones.
Aisha trying to ignore Jamila’s response pushed the play button and the tender voice of Adele embraced the vehicle. Hello…
Jamila wrinkled her nose, and fidgeted with her hijab. “Hey miss,” after a few minutes she called Aisha, “Can’t you put Zain Bhika instead of this?”
Aisha hisses. “No.”
Jamila kept quiet for a while, focusing her gaze on an old woman crossing at the intersection. She was in rags, essentially. She was carrying a bulky Bagco bag on her head. Just behind her was a fair, middle-aged woman in fine green lace. She kept close distance to the woman. Jamila could see the middle-aged woman’s mouth moving in speech. She wondered what she was saying. “You don’t think he’s good for me, right?”
“It’s not my place to say that.”
“Well, I am asking you.”
“You’re my best friend, Jamila. This guy is beneath you in every way!”
That was a shocker. Jamila had been expecting something different. She could have anticipated something like, how well do you know him, or do you think he has what it takes to be your husband, but the thought that she was higher in everything than him never crossed her mind. But now that Aisha had said something about that, she began to make sense of it. True, her parents were professors and had held positions in the government in the past. She had gone to the best schools in Lagos and had finished her bachelors at the University of Manchester. She had completed her master’s degree in Physical Therapy at Cambridge University. She had been to Makkah for hajj and umra more than once, while Siraj, the man she was poised to marry had never been to Ghana.
“What do you mean?” Jamila asked, and without waiting for a response added. “He’s doing well actually. You know, he’s now a private contractor for Belcatel at Ikoyi,. He’s making good money now, and he’s gentle.”
“But he came from a poor family!” Aisha yelled in return. “The little he makes will go to his family who would burden you both, you will be forced to spend on him later on.”
Jamila averted her gaze, and turned towards outside. Aisha looked sideways, and felt slightly pained that she was making her friend uncomfortable. “Not that I have anything against poor people,” she started, apology in her face. “It’s just that you two seem to have nothing in common, you guys just met via matchmaking at MICA, and you’re already going towards marriage. How would you even know if he really, really loves you and would be with you come scorching sunshine or dense rainfall?”
“I just know,” in a whisper, Jamila answered.
On his way to the clinic, Siraj, whose tallness and slender stature was a perfect match in a brown ankara buba and sokoto walked past a Mr. Biggs outlet blocks away from his workplace. The afternoon sun was already dimming, and carbon mono oxide could be seen erupting from an industry in the distant. His phone sounded, and he immediately took it out of his pocket. It was a WhatsApp message from Shuaib. Siraj hated chain-messages. Shuaib was the matchmaker. He was friends with Jamila’s brother. Two months ago, he had called Siraj early in the morning, and told him that he had an epiphany. It just came to his mind that Siraj, a twenty six year old tech expert and poet, will be perfect for Jamila, a twenty six year old physical therapist. Siraj had gone through a daunting, long screening process. Professor Olaniyan, Jamila’s father, was ultra-conservative when it came to gender relations and what’s permissible between mahram and non-mahram. All his , three brothers of Jamila had respected the Shari’a boundaries when finding their spouses on the insistence of Professor Olaniyan, so there wasn’t a chance that the man would just sit with his daughter without having being vetted.
Now, at the front step of the hospital, Siraj looked back at the two months – of getting to know Jamila, of interviews by three different Imams, of the first meeting with Professor Olaniyan, and the memory amused him. It amused him that for the first three weeks, he wasn’t even allowed to contact Jamila. He had to send any message through her brother. But after the fourth week, a Sunday evening was set for them to see each other. The meeting was at a Thai Restaurant, recently opened in Lekki. Jaffar, Jamila’s brother was the chaperone, and he had sat two tables away. Enough for privacy, enough for no-privacy.
Wallahi, the sister is so beautiful! Later on that night, Siraj had told his sister, Shukrah, who had beamed as a result. He had spoken of her brown, spotless face, which often gave way for dimples to emerge on her cheeks. He had revered the green, silk fabric on her head, and admired her black abayah. He had listened to her speak so softly, and her British accent had been so enchanting that hours after their meeting, while on his bed, facing the slow moving brown ceiling fan, he was still playing her voice over and over in his mind. You will hear marriage counselors speak in workshops and write on Facebook that there’s no perfect spouse. Well, they were mistaken. He had found a woman of the same age as him – check, beautiful – check, petite just as he likes it – check, religious – check, has a lucrative job – check, from a noble family – check, a Yoruba like him – and check. He had found Jamila.
“I’m here to see Dr. Onyegbule,” Jamila said after pressing the bell on the counter.
The auxiliary nurse was fair in complexion, her uniform was a white short gown, but her long Ghana braids gave no chance for the small common hat. She woke from her slumber, and rushed her answer. “Yes, do you have an appointment?”
“Yes, I do.”
…Yes, I do. That was the reply she had given her father five days ago when she sat with him on the leather loveseat in the living room. Her father had exhaled calmly, and rubbed her shoulder against his chest in a half, warm embrace. “Are you sure you want him?” He had asked again, after a few minutes interval, staring at her, while she nodded. “I am asking over and over because you don’t get into the water and be complaining of coldness.”
Although her father, in his own mind, was just playing a cautious father, and emulating the fathers he had watched in Yoruba movies, the words he had chosen to part with Jamila had serious effect on her. And that was why on getting to her room that night, she had stared for minutes in front of her dressing mirror opposite her bed, her shadow, caused by the bright yellow bulb on the ceiling, falling over her the walls. She had flashed back to the discussion she had had with Aisha in the latter’s car. She had picked up her phone and dialed Aisha’s number.
“Sal aam alayki.” Sleep in her voice.
“Wa alayki salam. Did I wake you?”
“No, not really. What’s up?”
There was a brief silence. An ambulance siren wailed in the background. It was becoming common, unlike before, to hear that in Lekki nowadays, especially at night. Before, if there was an emergency, people rushed into their cars to get to hospitals, but with the new emergency services, ran mostly by private companies, quality and efficient service was just a dial away.
“Is everything alright, Jamila?”
“It’s about Siraj. I like him a lot. He seems cool, and you know, religious. He practices Sunnah. But my father asked me some things, and with what you said, I am just, erm…
“It’s gonna be okay, a’ight. Just chill. Maybe I was just being hard on the guy that’s all. I’m sure he’s a good guy.”
“I know. But you said something about his past or something…”
“Yes, he might be religious now, but you have to do STD tests. Who knows what he was up to in the past? Drug test too. You know, we can never be sure. Heroine and codeine use is now on the rise. And I have something else to tell you. Are you listening?”
Siraj and Jamila were now sitting side to side on the two chairs facing Dr. Oyengbule. Dr. Oyengbule was a fair woman with a round face. She had on a black, curly wig and a stethoscope fell on her blouse. She smiled to the couple before taking out sheets of papers from a vanilla envelope. She put on her glasses, and read to herself for a while.
Siraj was pulsating so much that he had to press his feet firmly to the tiled floor to make sure his legs did not shake. HIV tests sacred him. Who knows? Maybe he had contacted it in a barber shop. Or maybe it was while playing with Morenike on a bed so little it barely sufficed one person. Or was it with Rashidah? The one who had invited him into her father’s house. Or maybe a nurse had injected her with a used syringe. But he looked okay. He was not sick. He didn’t feel like someone with HIV. He looked nothing like those images of malnourished people from countries in east Africa. AIDS no dey show for face several ad campaigns in his childhood days had warned.
Jamila also had her own share of trepidation, even though milder. She wanted this doctor’s visit to be good so that her flames of fear could be put out by the coolness of the test results. Siraj had expressed a mild objection to the blood tests idea, arguing that istikhara had intensified his resolution to marry Jamila. “I thought you said you have prayed over it too,” he had tried to cajole Jamila over the phone, tugging at his beard and smiling beside himself.
“I have.” Jamila had responded in a subdued voice. “But it is also good to do this, you know. It’s for our own benefit.”
Yes, Jamila was confident. She knew her status. She had donated blood several times while in the U.K. and had done on a number of occasions since her return to Nigeria. Her concern was for Siraj to come through clean as a whistle.
“So, Mr. Siraj Adekunle…”
Dr. Oyengbule was smiling. Siraj was hopeful.
“You’re HIV negative. Congratulations.”
“Thank you doctor. Thank you.” He was happy, and she was happy.
“Miss Olaniyan, you’re also negative.”
“Alhamdulillah,” Jamila replied with a half-smile.
“As for the drug test, Mr. Siraj also passed, and his result shows that he has no traces of drug in him. And Miss Olaniyan, congratulations. Mr. Siraj is a perfect match for you as he is AA, as per genotype.”
Bustling of smiles, Jamila thanked the doctor and heaved from her chair. Siraj, a bit confused, also rose and thanked the doctor with a subtle reluctance. Dr. Oyengbule walked them out, and said she would give Jamila a call the next day.
In the lobby, just past the fair auxiliary nurse attendant, Siraj asked Jamila what the doctor must have meant when she referred to him as a perfect match because of his genotype. Jamila at first told him they would discuss over the phone at night, but Siraj said no, and told her he would love for them to discuss it right now, face to face. And that was how they walked to the Mr. Biggs outlet Siraj had passed on his way to the clinic.
“As you know, I am SS.”
“No, I don’t know. You never told me.”
“I thought I did. Well, I am. I can marry only AA. And alhamdulillah you’re AA.”
After a long, heavy sigh, Siraj asked, “What’s the possibility of us having children with SS?” “None,” Jamila replied with confidence. “And that’s why I am happy.”
Siraj raised his head and met Jamila’s brown, spotless face. Her dimples enchanted him and he smiled in return. “It will be fine,” she said. And her accent sent him to a land of no return.
Siraj got home with optimism. He was still getting married to Jamila. Their children will be okay. He got home, ate amala and ewedu prepared by Shukrah, and took a shower. In the shower, he fantasized about Jamila. How she would touch him, and the ways he would touch her. How their lips would lock every day after their wedding. How he would stare at her face of gentle beams when she slept next to him on the bed. He imagined having a girl as the firstborn. He would name his daughter Zahra, after Prophet Ibrahim’s wife, because she would be beautiful like her mother. He had all these favorable views of the future until he told Shukrah, who later told their mother.
“Never, never! Not in front of my eyes!” Amope, Siraj’s mother continued to roar. They were in the living room. It was a quarter to nine at night. She was in her iro, which she wrapped over her bosom.
“But mom, I love her. She’s from a good family.”
“Gbe gbogbo enu e soun. What do you know, ehn? Tell me what do you know? You will not marry die-to-day-wake-tomorrow type of girl. God will show you both separate ways.”
Siraj found himself unable to resist her mother’s persuasion. Later that night, just before sleeping, he called Professor Olaniyan, and after formal greetings, said, “I am sorry sir, in light of recent revelations, I take back my proposal to your daughter. I can’t marry her. I am really sorry.”
It was early in the morning when Jamila took to her phone. She was in her navy blue pajamas, coffee mug in her hand, and she was standing in the kitchen, waiting for the sizzling noise from the boiling kettle.
“Hello, salaam alaykum.”
“Wa alaykum salaam.”
“You were right girl.”
The kettle sizzled, she put off the gas stove, and pour hot water into the mug. Hot vapor rose instantly, and the grounded beans spat out that scent she savored each morning. “Ma shaa Allah,” she said with a smile.
What did you think of Siraj’s decision?
Was Jamila right to have cornered him to do the test on genotype?
Was Aisha out of line?
Do you believe Jamila?