It was dark. Everything was pitch black. You couldn’t see your hand if you raised it to your face and the rain was hitting hard. It felt like the roof was going to cave in. “Oh God”, Aisha prayed, please save our mud houses”.
The emergency centre had predicted floods in most of the Northern states that year. It was not a secret that most of the architecture was of mud, or at least most of it where the peasants lived. The winds alone had removed peoples’ roofs. The trees had been cut down for coal and firewood and there were almost no trees to serve as wind breakers… and the deserts kept encroaching. The state governments in the North had embarked on tree planting campaigns, but only one out of twenty trees actually survived. The weather was too dry and the plants withered and died. Just hot as the weather always was during the dry seasons, the rains come with as strong a dedication as the dry season, it rained constantly and heavily too, havoc almost always, left in its wake.
There was thunder and a bit of lightening, and Aisha looked towards her daughter’s room. She felt for her torch and flashed it towards the room. There was movement. She called out to her daughter, there no answer. Then she shrugged and thought in that rain, it would be impossible to hear anything. She hoped the girl had slept, for she was always afraid of thunder storms. They usually slept together when it rained, especially when her husband was with any of his wives. She turned back to the mattress on the floor, avoiding to flash the light directly on her sleeping husband. He snored loudly and she wondered at how she could hear his snore even when she couldn’t hear her thoughts over the angry sounds of the rain.
He sprawled all over the bed. She tapped him lightly, “Aminu, shift”, she said. “Snort,” he turned and laid on his side.
She sighed lightly as she got into bed beside him. “Tomorrow when I tell you that your snoring kept me awake, you will think I’m exaggerating” she said to the sleeping figure.
They had argued about that constantly since they got married, less than two years ago.
“Haba Aisha I don’t snore that loud”
“You think? Wallahi I can hear you from a kilometre away”
“Lie, lie” he laughed, How come nobody has told me this before?”
“Maybe they are just being polite”
“It’s possible.” They had laughed.
Aisha was thankful for Aminu, he was a good man. She remember how she had refused all the marriage proposals she received after her husband died. Reason was that none of the suitors was willing to take her and her daughter, Halima who was just a little over seven years old at the time. Her mother had suggested that she left Halima with them and marry any of the numerous suitors. Aisha had refused. What would be the use of getting a husband and abandoning one’s child? No, she’d rather take care of her daughter until a time when she won’t need her, then she’ll get married, she told her mother.
“How can I leave her now?”
“What do you mean?” Her mother asked her
“Mama, this girl’s father is no more, not his making or hers, and you suggest that I also abandon her?”
“It won’t be your making either. Besides, how will leaving her with us be abandoning?”
“How won’t it be? I’ll choose to leave her here and go”
“At least you’ll have a husband”.
“Mama”, Aisha had looked at her mother in the eye and told her, “marriage fa is overrated”
“Subhanallah”, mama had screamed, “sunnan Manzo?”
She had expected the discussion to go there. That was how it always ended. Nobody looked at the fact that the marriages were not operated just like the manzo did his own, or how he said it should be done, but the moment you said something different, they go. “The messenger said”. She hissed, albeit in her head. How she wished she could let out a long audible one. How was getting married again better than raising her daughter well? She got up, and mama asked where she was going.
“You are running away ko? You always run away when we start talking of marriage”, mama accused.
“No, mama, it is time for the Asr prayers”
“Oh, it is four already?”
“Almost four, yes.”
The discussion did not end like that. That day, Aisha’s father came back with an ultimatum.
“Aisha”, he called out, as soon as he had returned from the masjid.
“Na’am!” she answered as she walked into the zaure. Her father wasn’t sitting on the mat as usual. He stood by the other entrance, his hand sort of resting on the door frame. He had nothing inside the babban riga he wore, and since he didn’t gather the garment around him, you could see his tommy. He had a very lean frame, but his tommy bulged slightly. “Aisha,” he said, as she got unto her knees, “you must know why I called you”. Without waiting for an answer, he went on. “I’m just from the masjid, people are talking about you. The Liman called me out today to talk to me. I know your husband died, an act and will of Allah, but it is taking too long for you to still be single. You have many suitors, all sort of men have come and you have refused to choose any. Aisha, what do you want?”
This was the first time her father had come out this blunt. And it wasn’t customary for her to really answer him back, so she kept quiet. He went on to tell her that a suitor was coming after the magrib prayers. He wanted her to give him her answer by morning. Baba promised that he knew the man well and that he treated his family well. “He has shown interest in you, but is afraid you will turn him down so he went to the Liman”
“Toh Baba”, she said as she got up to leave.
As was expected, Aminu showed up immediately after the magrib prayers and Aisha was sent for. He went straight for the kill. He told Aisha that he knew why she had refused all the other suitors, most of them better than him. He said he was willing to marry her and accommodate her daughter.
“A child does not belong to only one person ai”, he said. “Who knows who is going to benefit from what she becomes?”
“True“, she said.
“So, what do you say? He asked her. I know that I have a wife. I have three children, all boys and I won’t keep you together in the same house so that Halima would not be teased or treated unfairly. I promise I’d be fair.”
By the next morning when Aisha was asked for her decision, she had consented to the proposal. As she wasn’t a virgin bride, preparations didn’t have to take long. Aminu paid only sadaki. Kayan lefe was optional. A week later, Aisha was Aminu’s wife.
True to word, she was rented a house, a very short distance away from where her co-wife lived with her sons. Not that the man was wealthy, but he got by. Aisha’s house was composed of three tiny detached huts. The first hut served as the entrance into the compound, called the zaure. The zaure was some sort of visitors’ lounge too, the one beside which the cooking area was constructed, was Halima’s room and the other one by the other side of the entrance was the one Aisha shared with Aminu whenever it was her turn to host him. Two years now they’ve been married and for two years she had no regrets. He treated Halima like she was his own and she in turn, had accepted him as her father. She called him Abba, just like his sons called him.
Aisha came to with a start. She thought she had only dozed off, but she really must have slept for hours because when she turned on her side, Aminu was not there. He must have gone to the masjid for the subhi prayer, she thought. She felt for her torch and got up. She meant to wake Halima up to pray too otherwise with this weather, she’d sleep till noon. The rain had stopped falling, but there were still sounds of thunder and the sleepy town was still dark, it could still have been night, but she did not bother to check what time it was because she assumed Aminu had already left for prayers.
Aisha walked towards Halima’s room suddenly feeling some apprehension. She did a mental shake-off praying to Allah for all to be alright. She pushed open her daughter’s door not thinking to knock or even call out her name first. Then she froze.
There was a man on her daughter’s tiny bed! Her daughter was struggling with the man who had his trousers undone and dragging around his ankles, hindering his movement. He had one hand pressed firmly over Halima’s mouth. He was so preoccupied with getting his way with the little girl that he didn’t notice that the door had opened or that a figure had frozen in shock watching him. If she had not put off the torch, he might have noticed her, but the first flash must have seemed to him like lightening. Aisha took a step back and felt for the pestle they always kept resting on the wall by the door. Without warning, she brought it down, hard, upon the man’s head.