Having always listened to her mother all her life, Hauwa is now poised to make the biggest decision of her life; a decision that is geared towards anguish.
Today – 8.20 pm
The room was filled with happy laughter. Glasses clinked as mini toasts were carried out. The waiters moved round the room almost invisibly with their trays. The young single women stayed in small groups taking sly glances at the single men. The single men laughed at silly jokes and pretended not to notice the women, at least for that moment. Where did they all come from? I didn’t know almost all of them.
The couples stuck together, the old ones looked round at the gathering, nodding their heads at the splendid arrangement. Of course, everything was perfect; it had been planned by the great perfectionist – my mother.
There she was, holding a glass, one hand slightly holding my father captive and yet still surveying the room for any imperfection. Everything had to go according to plan.
I had studied what she wanted, became what she could proudly say out loud amidst friends and was going to marry who she had selected. I was indeed the perfect child, an exemplary daughter. The type of child all parents wanted, the one most girls hated and all men wanted. This was my engagement night. I was to be properly introduced to my fiancé this night. We had met once; recently when a party was thrown after I had been declared the best graduating Medical Student, it was a fast introduction and we were left alone for two minutes before someone came and dragged me away.
I only knew his name and what he did but he must have been mightily impressed because the marriage proposal came immediately after that and a beaming mother told me how I had done her and the family proud and that she was going to throw me the best party ever. No, she didn’t even ask if I wanted to get married or what my feelings were; she never did that.
“Look at you! I have been looking all over for you, is this where you have been hiding?” My sister asked, clutching a wine glass and stepping out on the veranda.
“Why, is the party not to your taste dear madam?” I asked playfully, I loved my sister to bits. She was the closest I had to a friend but even she had been taken from me, married to an Alhaji as the fourth wife.
“Funny, does mother know how cheeky you have become?” She asked tugging at my cheek playfully.
“Mother doesn’t know anything about me with the way she carries on.”
“Now, come on! Mother doesn’t do these things on purpose. It’s all for our own good.”
“So, she says but sometimes I can’t help but think it might not be for our own good. Sister Gadina, I don’t know if I like this Danladi…”
“Ssh…don’t say it out loud, lest mother’s enemies hear and rejoice. You certainly do not think everyone here wishes us well. And what is this I hear about Danladi; you think I loved Zaki at first? He was disgusting to me and I felt nothing but disdain for him but I have come to understand and feel something for him.”
“I have heard tales such as yours and have also heard of others who never felt anything for their husbands so it’s not as open and shut as you say it is.”
“Oh, so you want to wax philosophical on me?”
“No sister, just as we assume that women feel a rush of motherly warmth when they first hold their babies, we now know that it’s not true for all women. I don’t want to manage anyone or be managed. I feel far removed from all of this; I have done everything mother has ever wanted, why can’t I have this one decision to myself?”
“Hauwa, where are you?” Mother’s voice rang out from across the room interrupting Sister Gadina and even though the veranda was kind of dark, I winced and so did my sister.
“Put on a smile now, for your sister perhaps?”
Smiling woodenly, I stepped into the room and walked towards mother, all eyes were on me.
“Hauwa, where have you been hiding? This is your party and you are not even here to host it, hiding away like a little child.” Mother scolded me smiling as if to remove the sting in her words and stretching her hands to pull me into her gathering. Did she have to say that in the midst of everyone?
“Barka da yamma,” I murmured in general to the group.
“Is that how to say ‘good evening’ to our esteemed guests and our in-laws?” Mother asked with a tinge of exasperation in her voice.
“She means well,” father interjected, perhaps to show that he was still the man of the house but he had disappointed me too much for me to care.
“How are you?” One ugly looking man in the group asked me.
“Very fine sir, thank you.”
“She seems quite timid though, nervous of Danladi already?” An elderly woman in the group asked. Everyone laughed as she continued, “don’t worry about him though, it’s his sister you should worry about, a bit like your mother which is a good thing, ladies of nowadays need a strong guiding hand.”
Oh, the joy of exchanging one prison for another, glamourous indeed!
“Quite true…” Someone replied as my mind drifted off.
Yesterday – 5.00 pm
“You seem to be holding up quite well considering…” The man said.
“I was quite weighed down about it but not anymore, whatever will be, will be insha Allah.” I replied getting up and straightening my gown and hijab.
“I still feel we should tell your family …”
“No!” My outburst surprised him and I smiled to reassure him, “I have everything planned out don’t worry. My mother won’t know what hit her.”
“I hope you aren’t planning anything drastic?”
“And what if I am?”
Shaking his head, he replied “Hauwa, you are simply too intelligent to carry on this way.”
“Ah! But then how did you gauge my intelligence, through our witty conversations or because I agreed to go through with this?”
“Don’t blame me for that, you agreed to it, without that agreement we won’t both be here.”
“Hmmm…I won’t be able to make it to these meetings again though.”
“I understand; what do you feel as regards your impending marriage?”
“Oh, I thought that topic was off limits? Well, I pity Danladi somewhat, if you must know.”
“And why is that?”
“I think it’s time for me to go. I have less than one hour to go get what I need for tomorrow.”
Seven years ago – Evening – Time Unknown
“I don’t want to study that!” I yelled at my mother.
“Stop that noise this minute, Allah save us from stupid children. You are going to study that Hauwa, you will live your life according to my…our plan for you.”
“I want to study English; I want to be a writer, a journalist”
“Who are writers? The scum of the society I tell you. Who knows they exist? Everyone writes; I don’t know why you think you have to be trained for that, if your husband agrees to that mad idea …”
“I don’t want to get married either, I want…” The deafening slap brought tears to my eyes.
“Listen to me and listen well! I have the final say and you will do as I say, if you attempt anything contrary, I will sell you off or kill you myself, whichever one pleases me. I have indulged your tantrums enough; fill that form before dinner is served or start to kiss this life goodbye.”
She flung the form at me, slamming the door on her way out. I sat frozen and without asking for my permission, the shedding of the old me began, paving way for a future robot.
Present day – 8.45 pm
“Can I be excused?” I interrupted, taking care to smile. It was time.
“Don’t be rude…” Mother began
“Let the poor girl go. I think Danladi will soon approach her and she perhaps needs time to gather her thoughts.” Father was really amazing this evening nearly making me abandon my plans. He touched my arm briefly smiling and looking into my eyes. Was that a plea? Could I still go through with this? I have to, the time was now.
Smiling briefly again, I walked away.
“Hauwa, can we move somewhere a bit private?” Danladi asked suddenly materialising by my side. I nodded, inclining my head towards the veranda that I had just vacated moments earlier.
“Good evening.” We were at the veranda, at the spot I had loved as a child.
“Evening nyarinya, you look beautiful as always.”
“This is our second meeting, isn’t ‘always’ a bit overboard?”
“Silly girl, I heard you were a cheeky one.” He replied laughing.
I knew I was being childish but I couldn’t stop the counter, “I hate being called silly.”
“Then don’t act silly.” He replied quite unapologetic. I really didn’t need this back and forth.
“Please, can I be excused? I need to get something.”
“Okay but don’t keep me waiting.”
I smiled as I walked past him, walked past everyone and towards my room. In my room, I locked the door and removed my veil. I looked at myself in the full length mirror as I removed my clothes and stood nude.
I cupped my breasts sighing. I ran my hands slowly over my body. I regretted everything. I wish I had felt another man’s touch, something to hold on to in these last moments.
I opened my wardrobe and pulled out a bottle of Russian Vodka and a valium prescription bottle and a wineglass buried deep under my clothes. The valium was already ground and I emptied it into the wineglass adding a generous dose of the Russian vodka.
Downing it immediately, I lay down. In 20 minutes or less my heart should stop beating. I would first go into paralytic shock and then slowly oxygen would be cut off from my brain. I knew all these because we had been taught on what happened to humans as they died especially those who died violently or committed suicide.
I have had pancreatic cancer for five months and didn’t have much longer to live, two days at most. I have been going for therapy to try and come to terms with my illness and on coming demise and yesterday was my last day. My therapist had wanted me to let my family know but I wanted it this way…when mother was at the height of her glory. She had always insisted on perfection, I was going to be the blip of imperfection on her …
It was happening; perhaps there was more to life than…
Regrets? It’s not so…
Darkness was beckoning…
I gasped for breath and then…