Abu Matrud was the Chief Imam of the Shaykh Al-Arabiyy Mosque situated at the center of the town. He was a graduate of a prestigious university in the Arabian Gulf and was the unofficial leader of a major movement in the town. With grants from the Gulf States, he built a massive Islamic center in with modern Arabic school alongside the mosque.
He was respected in the town and beyond, and his philanthropic activities towards the members of his movement were well known. He was tall, fairly light in complexion, with scanty beard. He could not be seen but in a white jallabiya and a white, small turban. Along with these was his handsomeness and his eloquence, so it was almost a given that he had more than one wife. Indeed, he had exhausted the permission of four wives at the age of thirty eight; Islamiyah being the fourth wife.
“Are you ready to sleep?” He asked, one knee already on the bed.
“No, I need to take my medicine first.” Islamiyah replied, walking to the little stool by the cupboard, beside the window.
She took out a sachet from the pack, and removed two tablets. Glass cup full of water in her left hand, she put the tablets in her mouth with her right, and washed the medicine down her throat.
Back on the bed, she drew her nightie around her, and pulled the ankara comforter over her head. She stood silent for a while, and when she saw that Abu Matrud was not getting the gist, she shouted. “Won’t they shut-off the gen? It’s late already, and the noise is not allowing me to sleep.”
Abu Matrud sighed, and reached for his phone. He called his eldest son and told him to shut off the generator, and in a matter of five minutes, darkness covered the room, and silence reigned.
He was just falling into oblivion, half awake, half asleep, when he heard a long hiss. Islamiyah was the mistress when it came to sucking teeth. She would draw it as long as needed. The man opened up his eyes, but was surprised to the see that Islamiyah was still bundled up in her ankara comforter. Wasn’t she feeling the heat?
“So, what is the problem o?”
“Abu, you know you keep offending me?” she jerked her body to ward off Abu Matrud’s hand on her shoulder.
“Why did you have to put the new generator close to my flat? Why?”
After a moment silence, she continued. “Why not at the back of Umm Ibrahim’s flat? Or Umm Saad? Or why not at the back of that one that they call Jamilah?”
She never liked Jamilah, the third wife. Maybe it was because she was the tallest and almost the same height with their husband, or maybe it was because she held a master’s degree in accounting.
“Ah! Islamiyah! But you know the electrician made that call, not me. He said it was because of the way the wiring was done.”
She huffed, and returned back to sleep. Abu Matrud told her to sit up and made her say what was troubling her mind. She said it hurt her that he couldn’t stay with her two nights in a row even when she was menstruating during her regular night. Last week, the last night of her menses fell on the night it was her turn in Abu Matrud’s rounds, but they hadn’t been able to do anything. Since the next day was Abu Matrud’s personal day, she said it was only reasonable and fair that he used that to compensate for her night which she had lost to menstruation. Abu Matrud said he was sorry. He would pay more attention the next time.
Abu Matrud yawned. He had had a long day, lecturing and commissioning new departments at the Islamic center. He wanted to sleep and give his body the proper night rest it needed.
“Can we now sleep, my wife?” He asked, putting his head back on the pillow.
“Sleep for where? Abeg come here!”
Latifah gave a welcome back lecture at the sisters’ halqah. There was an outpouring of emotion after her talk which was centered on the lives of the women around Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. Sisters wished her well, telling her how proud of her they were. She had eeman, they said. She was patient, they praised. God will reward her for her patience, they prayed. At the end of the halqah, her knit group of three stayed behind, and brought her to speed on the happenings in the community.
Rashida, Hanifa, Islamiyah and Latifah were the four cooking stones that must not spill soup. They were all niqabis and married. Well, until Latifah became a widow. Today, Rashida told them of the rumor in town: a prominent sheu was asking for sexual favors and in some instances was sexually assaulting his female customers who patronize him for spiritual healing or help.
“Serves them right.” Islamiyah remarked with a smirk.
“Those women are foolish for patronizing such man in the first place.”
“They will be asking for trouble, then when they see trouble, they will be shouting.” Hanifa added. “Yeye people.”“What we women do to ourselves.” It was Latifah’s turn. She put a finger in a corner of her eye, trying to remove a dirt. Then she blew the dirt off the tip of her finger. “I don’t think people who don’t use hijab know what they’re doing.” She began. “The dangers they’re putting themselves into is so big. They’re the ones who tempt the men by showing their nude.”
They moved from one topic to the other until the time for Maghrib prayer came. After the prayer, they dispersed for their homes except for Islamiyah and Latifah who branched off to Shoprite.
On their way, as dusk fell upon the town, and the yellow headlights and red brake lights decorated the town square where the main roads intersected, Islamiyah, with the steering wheel gripped firmly in her hands, glanced over Latifah by her side, and asked what was on her mind.
“Nothing.” She replied quickly in a calm tone. “Nothing. In sha Allah.”
“Well, if you say so.”
But there was a lot on her mind. And tears had begun sliding down her cheek as she faced outside, gazing at a market woman reaching into her purse, another one turning the akara balls inside the hot pot, and a young boy hawking moin-moin by the roadside. When they leave Shoprite, Islamiyah will be going home to her family, her husband, her eighteen months old daughter, her cowives, and stepchildren. But she, on the other hand, will be going to her room and parlor, to eat and sleep alone. No one to exchange words with. Moments such as these, she wished earnestly that Allah had blessed her union with a child. At least now that her husband was dead, she would have someone as a companion. Her barrenness tugged at her heart and made a deep hole in it. Perhaps, Allah was punishing her for how her relationship with her parents had panned out. Perhaps, she was to be blamed for everything that happened. On occasions when she watched Yoruba movies, she could not help but feel like she should do as the lead characters are told to do. Go and beg the person they offended if they wanted so and so.
Was the pleasure of one’s parent interlocked with Allah’s gift towards one? This was the poignant question that disturbed her mind. But, she had not said anything wrong to her parents, especially not to her father. She had kept contact with her mother for the first year, until her father got to know, and threatened her mother with divorce if she didn’t cut all ties to Latifah. Having Abu Hamzah, who exemplified the ideal husband, gave her the assurance that their union was sanctioned by Allah, even though opposed by her father. But after that pivotal call five months ago, which changed her life completely; a police officer telling her in strong northern accented English that her husband had died. Her mind had gone into a trance for minutes before she realized the reality that had just befallen her. She had cried all night with no one to be her shoulder. No one to tell her to stop.
She had slept off crying and had woken up shivering. When her senses started to return, the first person she called was Islamiyah, her friend of life. Later the next morning, a thought formed in her mind, and she hadn’t been able to ward it off ever since then. Was her barrenness and the sudden death of her husband signs from Allah that her father was right to have rejected her marriage to Abu Hamza? And more crucially, was it a sign that her father’s path of mysticism, of claimed sainthood, of singing and dancing dhikr as forms of ibadah, of asking saints in the grave for helps, of travelling to a tomb for worship was the right path?
“I am lonely.” Latifah did not know when the words came out of her mouth.
“You’re not.” Islamiyah dashed back.
“If you were lonely, you wouldn’t have turned down Brother Jamiu.”
Latifah was quiet for a while, gathering her response.
“I know this is on your mind, Umm Soffiyah. I know we should talk about him. I don’t see Brother Jamiu as someone I can love or respect. I am not attracted to him in anyways. And when I said I am lonely, I don’t mean husband lonely. I am just lonely. That’s all. I think I can do without a husband. I am not nymphomaniac. It is just that I sit all day in the house and it’s depressing. I am thinking of starting something, but I don’t have the…”
She stopped herself before she mentioned money. She was tired of being a burden.
“You can visit me often.”
“And be looked at as though coming to eat all day.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, Latifah. I have a two bedroom flat to myself in that compound of ours and Abu doesn’t come by every day. You can come stay with me, or come often. What am I saying gan? Do you want to work?”
“Yes, this is what I am getting at.”
“I am starting my master’s program in a month. You can come to my place on days I have class and babysit Soffiyah. I will tell Abu that he needs to pay for babysitting. He will pay. You can use that time to get more close to sewing machine. I will show you how to cut and all that. We will talk of Islam, Sunnah, and all. We will be gisting. It will be fun.”
Latifah’s lips cleaved, and a small smile emerged.