For Latifah, the worst was now over. The depressing four month and ten day waiting period which following the death of Abu Hamzah, her husband, ended three weeks ago, and today she stepped out of her sitting room into the spacious hallway of the face-to-face bungalow she and her husband lived in as tenants. In the hallway, a boy of three years old ran up and down with spoon and a plastic plate in his hand. Two women sat at a side, braiding hair.
The hair-braider was Iya Kafayah, a small statured woman, who went to people’s homes and braided for fees, and the one whose hair was being braided was Iya Qudus, the wife of the landlord whose room and parlor was adjacent to Latifah’s.
Latifah, in her floor sweeping black hijab, walked over to them, exchanged pleasantries, and had a light chit-chat. They asked how she was faring, and if any of her deceased husband’s family sent supports. Only one person – her late husband’s big sister had call every now and then to check about her, but the others had been mute. However, she lied and said they did, adding a smile.
“Iya Qudus, ehn, see as you leave your hair out for other men to see.” Lateefah joked as she started towards the exit.
“Eyin Ahli sunna tun de niyen. Which man fit look at my hair at my age.” She said boastfully, even though she was forty five, seven years a junior to Latifah’s mother, Basirah, who was always looking young and appealing.
The last time Latifah saw her mother was about three years ago. And that last time was everything but pleasant. Baseerah had been fuming with sadness and disgust, an emotion coming from her disappointment in her child, Latifah, who was being unreasonably confrontational with her father, and her powerlessness to bring her husband, Sheu, to reason before acting.
In anger, Latifah’s father had removed one of the many rosaries around his neck, and sworn by it that he was disowning Latifah in this world and the next for her going against his path, for defaming his spiritual order, for going ahead to marry a man of different ways. He was sweating, and his eyes were red. He held out the rosary, and pointed it towards the door with force. ‘Go and don’t look back… you bastard! You’ve left the path of Inyas, and have joined those extremists!’
Latifah, smiling at Iya Qudus’ ignorance, held the boy running around, and gave him a light tap in his behind. “Can’t you stay still, ehn? His mother’s husband. Ọkọ ìyá ẹ̀. ” She said to the child who looked her in the face, understanding nothing of what she said.
“Anyway, I am going to the mosque.” Latifah turned to Iya Qudus and the hairdresser.
“Don’t be long.” They replied together.
When Latifah was out of sight, the hairdresser took to the stage.
“This woman, how did she survive the four months without work? You know those ahl’sunnah don’t allow their wives to work. They just stay home and pop out children every now and then. How did she take care of herself?”
“You’re correct. Those elehas, hmnn. They’re lazy jaare. I don’t think her husband left enough money. He drove commercial buses to the north, so I don’t think he left her money.”
“Hmnn. May God protect us o. I heard he joined Bokoharam, and was killed by soldiers.
Iya Qudus’ face became wide, her mouth agape. “Haa! People and their mouths. Where did you hear that? That is a lie o. He died from an auto crash, and he was buried in the north. Ehn, people and their hearsay.”
“I knew it couldn’t be true that he became Bokoharam.” Iya Kafayah in a whisper said. “But how did she survive? I heard her husband’s people don’t like her.”
Tired of the discussion, Iya Qudus blurted. “I don’t know. You can ask her the next time you meet her here. Abi isn’t she your customer too?”
The sun was waning behind Latifah as she covered her nose against the rising dust. Harmattan was palpable in the still, cold air, and the vehicles plying the road added to the rising vapor of sand. The ends of her hijab, touching the floor, had become slightly brown and stained with a few goat droppings. She stopped by the street’s transformer, enclosed in brick square walls for a minute, and greeted the roasted plantain seller who had an umbrella pitched by the side of the road.
“How much is this?” Pointing to a long, slightly burnt banana, hung on the roasting net.
“Take it, eleha. It’s for you.” The woman in a faded iro ankara and blouse that left her arms and the greater parts of her bosom bare said.
“No, Mummy Samson. No, please let me pay.”
“Eleha, no. Since all these days. This is a welcome back gift.”
“Thank you then, Mummy Samson. Thank you.”
Lateefah wanted to buy groundnut too, but now she decided against it. It would be as if she wanted more free things. She turned to the next street, and as she crossed the road, the minaret of the central mosque came to her view.
Last night, Islamiyah was sitting on her bed, waiting for her husband, Abu Matrud, to finish his prayer when her phone rang. She reached for the phone which was sitting somewhere around the center of the mattress.
When she picked the call, the voice greeting her was that of her friend, Lateefah. The call lasted less than three minutes and as soon as the call ended, quietness engulfed the fluorescent bulb lit room. The noise of the Hilux generator rattled from outside her flat. She fixed her gaze on the screen of the smartphone in her hand, surfing absent mindlessly her WhatsApp chats.
When Ustaz Abu Matrud finished his prayer, he turned to her and asked why her face spoke anger.
The call was from Lateefah, she said. She was not interested in Brother Jamiu. She wanted to take her time before entertaining any thoughts about marriage. Can you believe her? The brother is saheeh, ma shaa Allah. The brother will take care of her. The brother is even trying, considering the fact that she’s a widower and the brother is single.
Ustaz Abu Matrud smiled and heaved. He took off his white jalabia and hung it on the rack behind the door.
Although Islamiyah did not ask, she was confused by the expression that spread over her husband’s face. He should be a bit angry that Latifah, after all he had done for her after the death of her husband, was turning down the proposal of his right hand man— Brother Jamiu. She was being an ingrate, but Abu Matrud seemed unperturbed by it. And in fact, Islamiyah could swear she saw, for a tiny second, a glimpse of delight in her husband’s eyes before he stood.
To be continued...
Next Time on The One With Sparkling Eyes.
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– Tohib Adejumo (Bàbá oní Story)