Authors: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
For Beloved Jos,
tainted eternally by the gore of our innocence
and memories of the innocents slain
The Second Birth of Hajiya Binta Zubairu
(1956 - 2011, and beyond)
No matter how far up a stone is thrown, it will certainly fall back to earth
Hajiya Binta Zubairu was finally born at fifty-five when a dark-lipped rogue with short, spiky hair, Like a field of minuscule anthills, scaled her fence and landed, boots and all, in the puddle that was her heart. She had woken up that morning assailed by the pungent smell of roaches and sensed that something inauspicious was about to happen. It was the same feeling she had had that day, long ago, when her father had stormed in to announce that she was going to be married off to a stranger. Or the day that stranger, Zubairu, her husband for many years, had been so brazenly consumed by communal ire when he was set upon by a mob of intoxicated zealots. Or the day her first son, Yaro, who had the docile face and demure disposition of her mother, was shot dead by the police. Or even the day Hureira, her intemperate daughter, had returned, crying that she had been divorced by her good-for-nothing husband.
So Binta woke up and, provoked by the obnoxious smell, engaged in the task of sweeping and scrubbing. She fetched a torch from the nightstand and flashed the light into every corner and crevice. But deep down she knew the hunt, as all others before it, would end in futility.
It must have been the noise of her shifting the wardrobe that drew her niece Fa'iza, who, dressed in her white and purple school uniform, lips coated in grey lipstick, came and leaned on the doorjamb of Binta's bedroom with the distracted air typical of teenagers.
âHajiya, what are you looking for?'
Binta, now busy rifling through the contents of her bedside drawer, straightened with difficulty. She pressed her hands into the base of her aching back and shrugged. âCockroaches. I can smell them.'
Fa'iza made a face. âYou won't find any.'
Binta looked at the girl's face and her eyes widened. âWhat kind of school allows girls to wear make-up as if they are going to a disco?'
Fa'iza had turned and started walking away when Binta called her back.
âCome, wipe off that silly lipstick. It makes you look ill. And your uniform is too tight around the hips. You should be ashamed wearing it so tight.'
âAshamed? But Hajiya, this is the fashion now. You are so old school,
, you don't know anything about fashion anymore.' Fa'iza pouted and wiped her lips with a handkerchief.
âYou better put on the bigger hijab to cover yourself up or else you aren't leaving this house.'
Fa'iza grumbled and, as if standing in a pool of fire ants, stamped her feet in turns.
âThe way you girls go strutting about all over the place these days, the angels up in heaven will have a busy day cursing. Looking at you, who would think you are just fifteen, going about tempting people like that. Fear Allah, you insolent child!'
Fa'iza went off to her room and Binta, determined to ensure compliance, came out to the living room to await her.
Little Ummi was sitting on the couch stuffing herself with bread and tea.
, Hajiya?' She smiled up at Binta.
Binta moved to her and brushed away the crumbs that had collected on the girl's uniform. âAnd how is my favourite grandchild this morning?'
âFine, Hajiya. Do you know what Fa'iza did when she woke up this morning?' Ummi smacked her lips in a way that always made her grandmother think she was too smart for an eight-year-old.
âNo, what did she do?'
Ummi sidled up to Binta and whispered into her ear. Binta missed most of it but smiled nonetheless. Ummi sat back down and beamed.
Fa'iza emerged from her room pouting, her slender frame covered in the hijab whose fringes danced about her knees, her books swept into the crook of her arm. She pulled Ummi by the arm, barely leaving the child time to pick up her bag.
âWon't you have breakfast first?' Binta put her hands on her hips and regarded the girls.
âLater.' Fa'iza was already stamping out with Ummi in tow.
Binta shouted her goodbyes. And because the stench of roaches had faded from her mind, she wondered what she had been up to before the interruption.
She went back to her room and sat on the lush blue tasselled prayer rug. And just as she had been doing since she received the news two weeks ago that her childhood friend and namesake Bintalo had keeled over and died of heart failure, she spent time counting her prayer beads and sending off solemn petitions for friends and kin lost. She prayed for a full life and asked God to receive her with open arms when her time came. However, in the midst of this communion with divinity, the meddlesome Shaytan prodded her with reminders about Kandiya's unfinished dress lying on her sewing machine. Binta had promised to complete it later in the day. She also had to go to the madrasa, where women were taught matters of faith.
After a quick shower, Binta rushed down her breakfast. Then she retrieved her reading glasses from the nightstand where she had placed them the night before, atop the English translation of Az Zahabi's
The Major Sins
She oiled and cleaned the sewing machine stationed in the alcove where the dining table, if she had had one, would have been. Picking up Kandiya's wax print blotched with nondescript floral designs, Binta pedalled away. The task strained her muscles. And her backache grew worse as she was fixing one of the sleeves.
It was almost time for the madrasa anyway, so Binta put on her hijab, hoisted her shoulder bag, locked up the house and left.
Ustaz Nura, the bearded teacher, had called in sick and the women were left to their own devices that day. They agreed to make good use of the time by revising previous lessons, but disagreed on whether to start with Hadith, Tarikh or Fiqh. Binta sat through the deliberations, her books piled before her, watching the women over the rim of her reading glasses. After a lengthy and discordant debate, garnished with thinly coated sarcasm, the women left in groups. Binta found herself tagging along with a number of aged women. They chatted about the symptoms of impending senility, the inanities of their grandchildren and how much better things had been in their youth. Until each one made the turn to her own house.
Binta pushed open her gate. She crossed the austere yard where, after dawn, little finches, itinerant pigeons and other birds hopped, pecking the grains and crumbs she occasionally cast for them. On reaching the front door, she discovered, much to her surprise, that it was ajar.
!' It then occurred to Binta that Fa'iza might have returned early from school. So, driven by a mild irritation over her niece's escalating eccentricity, she pushed open the door and went in.
A strong arm clasped her from behind, pressing firmly across her mouth. âUnderstand, if you scream, I'll cut you,
.' It was a grating male voice. Even though whispered, it almost made her heart, devastated already by the ravages of age and the many tragedies she had endured in her life, burst. The point of a dagger pressed lightly into her throat. She discerned the pungent smell of marijuana coming off her assailant. And with that offending smell came gusts of memories eddying in little swirls around her mind. She struggled and moaned in fright.
âMoney, gold.' His grip around her tightened. When she nodded, his left arm tightened around her chest while his knife, clasped in his right hand, dug into her flesh, drawing a little pool of blood.
He allowed her to catch her breath. And because she could not see her decoder and DVD player in their places on the stand, she assumed they were already in the khaki-coloured duffel bag on the coffee table. Obviously he wanted things he could take away with ease.
âPlease, I'm old,
.' She knew from his voice and strong arms that he was a young man. âI only want to make peace with my God before my time. Please, don't kill me.'
âMoney, handset, gold.' His voice rattled her ear, her heart.
She made to move but he held her tighter. His arm crushed her breasts. She realised, even in the muted terror of the moment, that this was the closest she had been to any man since her husband's death ten years before.
!' She hoped her muttered appeal to God's purity would cleanse her mind. Beneath her breath, she damned the accursed Shaytan who persistently sowed such impious thoughts in the hearts of men.
She indicated her bag under the folds of her hijab and he allowed her reach for it.
But, having learnt to be suspicious, her assailant speculated that she might be trying something. Like the woman who had sprayed perfume into his eyes in his early days. So he grabbed Binta's hijab and tried to pull it over her head. She resisted. In the brief and unorthodox tussle that followed, her reading glasses fell from the bag and were crushed underfoot.
âI'll cut you, I swear.'
And she knew he meant it. She allowed him to pull off the hijab and seize her bag, the contents of which he emptied onto the floor. He rummaged through the pockets and found a small roll of money. He picked up her handset from amongst the books in the bag and shoved both, money and device, into his pocket.
He straightened. âGold.'
She took the opportunity to look at him for the first time. He was in his mid-twenties, his lips were dark, and his short, kinky hair was like a field of little anthills. He rushed at Binta and held her, positioning himself behind her once again.
Holding her, his dagger at the ready, he guided her to the
bedroom. His breath on her neck and the heat from his body made her knees weak. She almost buckled several times. He clasped her firmly so that they tottered like an unwieldy four-legged beast. The friction of her rear against his jeans made his crotch bulge and push hard against her.
In the bedroom, he released her so she could function unencumbered. She leaned over the trunk by the side of her bed to fetch the jewellery, presenting her full backside to him. When she turned, holding a casket of her valuables, he saw that she was not that old. Perhaps a little heavy around the hips, a little heavy at the bosom. Not too mamarish. And when he caught sight of the gold tooth in her gaping mouth, his countenance dimmed further.
She watched him come towards her. â
! My son, I am old enough to be your mother. Please.'
When he stopped, Binta could not discern the expression on his face.
âYou don't know a thing about my mother.'
She was perplexed when he put away his knife under his shirt and held up his hands. She held her breath as he fetched a handkerchief from the pocket of his jeans.
âYou are bleeding.' He reached out and dabbed at her neck, at the spot his dagger had dug into. He looked at the cut and dabbed some more. âIt's not deep, you understand?'
Her bosom rose and fell just an inch from his chest. Her breath staggered as he looked into her eyes.
âI will leave now, ok?' He stepped back from her. âI didn't mean for this to happen. I just â¦ just â¦' He turned and walked out of the bedroom.
He took her things and left, having sown in her the seed of awakening that would eventually sprout into a corpse flower, the stench of which would resonate far beyond her imagining.
The mystery of the missing appliances and Binta's smashed reading glasses would baffle her daughter Hadiza. Quite unaware of the robbery the previous day, Hadiza had arrived from Kano to pay her mother a visit.
Ummi had jumped on her aunt, who had been trying to set down her bag in the corner of the living room. âAunty Hadiza, thieves came to our house yesterday.'
Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'un
!' Hadiza shrugged off the girl and straightened. She turned to her mother who smiled wanly and waved her hands before her face. âHajiya, what happened?'
âWhat happened?' Fa'iza had just emerged from her room. âWhat happened was that we went out to school and they came and broke the lock and took away the DVD, the decoder and â¦ I don't know, stuff.'