Night fell on Latifah as she sat in her living room, the dainty curtains rolled up, giving a clear view of the darkness that enveloped the blue sky. Outside, the humming noise of a grinding machine kept splattering, and the sounds of Okadas – motorcycles – plying the road challenged the former.
One boy ran up to the shop beside a mosque attached to the house of Baba Ilorin to buy kulikuli, and a girl called her sister in the dark to walk fast, or else they would miss Isha prayer. People were doing their bits of the world; life was, as usual, going on, while Latifah was trying to make sense of her point being alive, and if there was any point to it in the first place.
She and Islamiyah had had a falling out. Or more appropriately, Islamiyah had cut her off, and had a fight with her on Friday evening. She left her place much earlier and had put Sofiyyah in the care of one of Islamiyah’s cowives. Getting home and nursing her emotional wounds, she sat in the backyard, and watched a rooster in the distant between the trees of orange and mango that separated their compound from that of Baba Ilorin’s house, pinning down a hen, in a show of domination, a symbolism that, to Latifah, was nothing short of a marvel and provocative enough to usher down the tears hitherto welled up in her eyes. Her face flushed out warmness as she tried to block the images from reappearing in her mind.
He had come for an advice. She had given her two cents, or two kobos in Nigerian lingo. He had stayed, unable to remove his gaze from her. He had found the eyes to be sparkling. He had beforehand wondered how she looked. She was covered fully, and that made his desire more intense to see her unveiled. It was an adverse effect. Because humans need to feel good about themselves, he had consciously found a reason to return, while implicitly his mind wanted other things.
She had missed maghrib while sitting for a long time in the backyard. She had been there, sitting on a used paint bucket, head in her hands, when her phone rang. She had picked the phone, and the boiling words coming from the other part of town burned her eyelids more.
Who the hell do you think you her?
She tried to make sure she heard correctly. What could have happened? What did he tell her? Was she angry because she left Sofiyyah with her cowife? Or, was she, like herself, blaming her?
You this bad friend! I knew it! You this pretender. I know you would try to take him away from me.
Something must be wrong with her ears. “What are you talking about?” Her voice breaking, she had mumbled.
Thief! Pretender. You want to play games with me? Gold digger. Shameless woman. How dare you act like you don’t know what you have done? You have turned my brother against me with this stupid feelings you lured him to having for you. Now, he is not thinking straight because you have told him to marry you. Don’t you have any shame? Don’t you? He is seven years your junior? You’re old. You have seen a wealthy family abi? I see, we gave her Jamiu, she no wants. But it is Eesa she wants. Don’t you even have shame? She’s the mate of your aburo, little sister, for God’s sake. Taqu Llah!
The phone buzzed in her ear for long, before she realized Islamiyah had ended the call. Her mind replayed all the harsh things she had just heard from her best friend. She sat for another thirty minutes and gazed at the full moon towering over the world. She then dried her tears with the back of her hands and went into the house.
Abu Matrud sat on the sofa in Jamila’s room this night thinking of what he had done earlier. He felt disgusted aat himself. He struggled hard to figure out exactly what descended on him. First, he tried to blame it on the fact that he was not feeling fine, but then he realized that should have been the more reason why he shouldn’t have been interested in something like that at all.
He replayed how tears came down his eyes as he took ghusl under the shower in preparations for Jumuah. He remembered how he walked back into the living room and sat inches away on the three-sitter from Latifah, initiating a conversation about possible khutbah topics. The reflexive reaction of Latifah as soon as Abu Matrud took a seat was standing up and excusing herself, but he had told her to sit down. Minutes into the discussion, he had started to move inch by inch towards her, patting her shoulder and gently undoing her niqab.
Latifah froze. Unable to process what was happening, she shut down, her eyes fixed on a frame of Surah Yasin on the wall over the TV. But just before he forced a kiss on her, she regained herself and her voice returned.
“Imaa… erm.” She stuttered at first.
He kept leaning.
“Imam, please I beg you to remember Allah, and not do this.”
It was as if Abu Matrud was under spell and Latifah had just undone the spell. He remembered Allah and drew back immediately. But now, he just couldn’t shake away the extreme guilt he was feeling. Astaghfirullah, he muttered, as Jamilah, the third wife, came into the room in her blue flowing dress and pashmina hijab. Jamilah rushed to her husband and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“How are you darling?” She said in her locally gained British accent.
“Jamilah, look at the time.”
“Honey, I am sorry. The book signing took longer than I expected because lots of people showed up. Alhamdulillah!”
“But you’re a wife and a mother, you should…”
“No, Sharaf, please. Not tonight.”
“What do you mean not tonight? We have to speak about this book tour of yours and this speaking up and down.”
“Sharaf, please for God sake. I just had a brilliant night. I don’t want to argue with my husband.”
“Okay, we can talk about it later. It’s just that I don’t understand why you’re putting yourself through all that. You don’t need it.”
“Excuse me! I don’t need what? You think you know what I need?”
She bit her lips.
“Sharaf, please, I don’t want to fight. You asked me to quit my accounting job. You said I was interacting with men. I listened to you and resigned. Now, you want me to quit this too?”
“No, I am just saying.” Abu Matrud tried to double down.
“I want to see you more. Spend more time with you. ”
“You have other wives, Sharaf!Remember when you proposed to me? I told you I am different. I have life purpose and goals other than being a housewife. That’s exactly why I agreed to marry you. I told you what ruined my first marriage. You knew how important it was for me to have my own world, my own career, outside of you. We had a deal.”
She put her hands akimbo, shot him a telling gaze, as tears slid down her face.
“I can’t believe that even though I agreed to be a co-wife, you had not intentions of keeping your side of the deal.”
“I am keeping my side of the deal. You think I will entertain all these shenanigans otherwise? But now, you’re going too far.”
“All of you men are the same. Bloody cowards!”
Eesa had no idea what her sister had done. He sat on the porch of her sister’s flat, imagining a lifetime with Latifah. Whenever he visualized years of marriage with Latifah in the past, the face of his wife would be obscure. He would see her from the back blurred in the sunsetC in the imagintion but never from the front where he could see her face. However, this morning’s reverie of a near future was different because he could put a face to it, finally.
Yesterday morning, before Abu Matrud came in the living room, Latifah had given in into her desire to be seen by a man she’s attracted to. She had taken a quick selfie photo – without niqab – and sent it to Eesa. She giggled at first, but then became anxious when Eesa did not write anything in response, unbeknownst to her that he only received it at night when his data was on. So early morning Saturday he called Latifah to check on her, bustling with affectionand attraction.
Latifah could not go back to sleep after fajr. She recited her morning adhkar and did a few pages of tilawah tul-Qur’an, reading of the Qur’an. Then she her phone rang.
She ignored it the first time, but decided to pick it up the second time.
“Hello, Salaam alaykum.” Eesa greeted.
“Wa alaykum Salaam. Bawo ni?”
“I’m fine. I saw the photo. You’re so beautiful. Subhanallah! Wow!”
“I should have responded earlier, but I just couldn’t find the right…”
Latifah began to get all butterflied up, hearing him speak with so devotion to her, his sincerity audible even over the phone, but the she remembered the stern warning of Islamiyah, and it bothered and terrified her. After fajr, she had resolved to put an end to whatever they can call her relationship with Eesa, before things got really messy. She did not want a fight with Islamiyah, her friend and supporter. And with what transpired with Abu Matrud, it would be better to give the entire family a space.
“Eesa,” she interrupted him.
“Yes, Latifah.” The “sister” prefix had been dropped days ago upon Latifah’s request.
Latifah exhaled. “I want you to listen to me.”
“I can’t do this. We can’t. Our age difference is an issue.”
Eesa couldn’t believe his ears. “Issue to you?”
“No, not to me. But to people.”
” I don’t care about people. I care about you. I care about Allah’s words.”
“I wish it were that simple. People opinions stil mater. We’re social beings. I’m older. I’m a widow. I’m a friend of your sister.”
“Did my sister say anything to you?”
Latifah chose to be quiet. She would not lie and she would not get in-between siblings either.
She said in a soft tone. “Eesa, I like you a lot too. But please don’t call me anymore.”
And then the line dropped.
Fuming, Eesa entered his sister’s flat, slamming the door behind him, and shouting. “Sister mi! ”
Islamiyah came into the living room, chin up and with a knowing gait. “Yes…”
“What did you say to Latifah?”
“What did she say I said?”
“Don’t play with me sister. I’m not joking.” He walked up to her, towering over.
“I’m not joking either. You this small boy!”
The atmosphere in the living room became tense.
Eesa realized the anger bustling in him, so he decided to walk away. For now. He stormed out of the living room, grabbing his sister’s car keys on the way.
“That’s what I thought,” Islamiyah huffed.
Later that day, Eesa drove to Latifah’s place. But on getting there he found a familiar vehicle parked in front of the face-to face bungalow. He surveyed the car well and it dawned upon him. It was Abu Matrud’s car.
To be continued.
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