No, not Halima, the one that actually made me feel my teaching was making an impact. No, not her. Every day I sat like a zombie and watched as they came and withdrew my students; and metamorphosed them into women, I thought.
“Miss Naichaya, my father respects teachers he will listen to you.” Halima’s small voice brought me out of my reverie, my dazed eyes roved around the sparse furnishings in the staff room and came to rest on Halima’s face.
“Wipe your tears Halima. I will go and see your father after school today.” I promised.
“Thank you, thank you Miss Nachaiya!” Halima said profusely and left the staff room.
“I will try my best.” I resolved within myself at her departure.
It was with that resolve I stepped on the threshold of the Funtua’s. The Funtua’s compound was a big one; it had four small huts and a big hut.
A lone cow stood eating grass beside the farthest of the small huts, which said a lot. In these parts a man’s worth was gauged by the number of cattle he had.
Halima’s father was seated outside his hut-the big one. “Aha Teacher! You are very welcome to my humble abode.” he said with a gap toothed grin.
“Good afternoon Alhaji.”
“How are you teacher? What brings the generous teacher to my home?” Alhaji Attahiru asked.
Running my sweaty palms across the hem of my Mary Slessor style skirt, I said, “Alhaji you once assured me that I was welcome to your compound anytime.”
“It is true teacher, sit-down.” Alhaji pointed at the wooden bench he was seated on, “Let me call for some fura de nunu.” he offered.
“Alhaji please don’t bother about a drink, I have come on Halima’s account.”
Then let us go inside my hut for some privacy.” He invited, leading the way.
Inside the hut Halima’s father yelled, “Amina have someone bring me a mat and get some fura de nunu for teacher.”
Two barely clad children ran in with a raffia mat, they spread it on the mud floor and scurried off.
“Teacher thank you for all the gifts and help you render to my children in your school. Allah will reward you.” Alhaji said as Amina a fair well-rounded woman walked in carrying a calabash, which she gave me.
Hands outstretched I collected the calabash, “Thank you.” I said to Amina.
I knocked down some sips of the local brew- wishing it had the ability to provide the much needed Dutch-courage, then I broached the subject of my visit. “Alhaji permit me to talk to you about Halima’s impending marriage.”
“You may go ahead.”
“Alhaji, please Halima is too young to get married. She is the most intelligent student in my class; she has the potentials to achieve more if left to complete her primary and at least her secondary education.” I started boldly.
“Everyday teacher our daughters get married at Halima’s age so she is not too young but since you say she is very intelligent it is good; but …”
I interrupted Alhaji, ‘Please before you go on listen to my story. Ten years ago, I know of a little girl who was in the same predicament as Halima. Her teacher at the time pleaded with her father to allow her stay in school and he granted her request. Today that little girl is before you, and wants your daughter- Halima to be left in school.”
“Teacher I’m glad you were allowed to stay in school but where do you propose I get the money to pay Alhaji Ribadu?”
“Who is Alhaji Ribadu?” I probed.
“He is Halima’s suitor, I owe him some money.”
“Alhaji are you saying that if the money is provided, Halima’s marriage can be stopped?” I asked hopefully.
“Yes if the money is paid, the marriage can be cancelled. Halima is the pride of this household; she is the most educated person in this family, people come from neighbouring villages for her to read their letters. My daughter makes us really proud but for this debt I would have allowed her to continue schooling. My other children have refused to step into the four walls of a school. It’s a pity she would have to stop schooling.” He lamented.
“Alhaji forgive my asking, but how much is it you owe Alhaji Ribadu?”
“Twenty thousand naira.”
“Twenty thousand naira!” I exclaimed.
“Do not be alarmed teacher. Alhaji Ribadu will cancel the whole debt if he marries Halima.” He explained.
I was only surprised you were giving your daughter out for peanuts, I thought to myself and said aloud “I will get you the money to pay the debt.”
“Thank you, teacher but Alhaji Ribadu will be disappointed because plans have already begun for the Nikkai. He is a man with good intentions.”
“Alhaji a man with good intentions will never offer to cancel a debt with marriage.”
“You may have a point there, thank you teacher.”
The moment I stepped out of the hut I bumped into Halima who had been eavesdropping and got the biggest hug of my life.
“Thank you Ma, Thank you.” Halima screamed with tears of joy. We shared a triumphant hug for some time then Halima walked me to the gate of their compound, as I was walking away, Halima stopped me with a question; “Miss Naichaiya is this the end, will my father never have another debt to pay?”