…Our Ram Is Haram is a satirical story of a stingy police man, who for the first time bought a ram for the Sallah celebration. The story is narrated through the eyes of his teenage daughter, Maimuna…
“Allahu Akibaru lauakbar!” The Ladan’s voice ran through the woofers that peeped above the Mosque-minaret to wake us. It was a call to the fajr prayer. The only prayer Baba responded to which I knew was just an act of penance. Baba looked less a devoted Muslim. Mama however was up and had already gone to the balcony of our crappy one room apartment, where she called kitchen. An overpowering stench of the leftover tuwo being warmed was filtering through the window, and it absorbed Baba’s thunderous but smelly farts. As Baba stretched out of slumber, he released more farts. He did that every morning.
“Alhamdulihai,” he yawned recklessly as he groped for his small radio inside the mountain of dirty clothes that was his pillow. Baba would first listen to the BBC Hausa news and when he returned from prayer, he tuned in to Kontagora FM for more local news.
“Maimuna,” he managed to stifled another yawn and fart as he called me.
I heard but I didn’t answer. I was up, thinking about the Ed-el Kabir festival that was two days away. Baba had not bought ram. He had never bought. We had always relied on the parts that came from Babangida’s father, my uncle whom we shared the compound with. The house the duo inherited from their father. Even when Baba and his younger brother were always at loggerheads over the rotation of who to collect the monthly rent for the space in front of our compound that was leased out to Mama Tanko who came to sell koko and akara in the evening, Babangida’s father still compassionately sent those parts. It was the head, the legs and the scrotum of the ram. He said if not for us, the children and Mama, Baba was nowhere worthy of anything from him. Baba who always scrounged free koko off Mama Tanko in the same manner shamelessly accepted these things from my uncle. He would then instruct Mama to prepare the stuff and dish him the scrotum. Baba always ate the scrotum.
Your father has money, Mama had always told us, and not that he was a scrooge but he had always splurged on alcohol, Mama regretfully reported. Mama and I worried how my uncle- an ordinary security man was doing well than Baba who had been a corporal with the Nigeria Police Force for fifteen years. Babangida’s father had built an extension to his own room but Baba complained that they were underpaid by the federal government and he enviously told us that my uncle was working for one big Alhaji who gave him the ram and gifts every year.
Mama whose frequent feud with Baba was as ghastly as that of America and Iraq, eventually told me that Baba had become a dipsomaniac and was spending his salary only on alcohol.
“Awusubilahi!” I shouted, snapped my fingers, circling it round my head.
Alcohol? This should be an abomination in Islam.
“And you think this your father is a good Muslim?” Mama hissed. And she said even at that, the day I find any Nigerian policeman that doesn’t drink, I should let her know. Even when they were at the barracks, none of the policemen could individuate himself. Drinking was a perpetual lifestyle of the policemen, she made me realize. She then pulled my ears and warned me never to marry a policeman.
I would later know what Baba’s alcoholic brand was, one Saturday morning when I had brought his cloths out to wash. I checked the chest pockets of his stinky and fading black uniform- the one Baba wore for almost two weeks without washing, and I brought out more than twelve crowns of 33. All the crowns were peeled and had the same thing written under them- TRY AGAIN. Then I remembered the 33 promo that I heard the advert over Baba’s radio, on Kotangora FM. There was fifty thousand naira up for win. Drink 33 and check under the crown, just keep drinking. The more you drink, the more your chances of winning. Just keep drinking. When I told Mama, she screamed ‘haram’, clasping her hands across her head. If the crowns I counted were more than twelve, Baba must have taken more than a carton of 33, she calculated. In Baba’s other pockets were cigarettes, kola nuts and squeezed twenty-twenty naira that amounted to a meaningful sum. Mama took the money from me, unbuttoned her blouse and scrunched again inside her black bra. It was the rake-off from Baba and his colleague’s roadblock business. Nevertheless, I observed that the days Mama and I saw squeezed twenty-twenty naira inside Baba’s pockets were days Mama’s soup made sense. The days Mama wouldn’t tear one meat into seven pieces for me and my younger ones. And it was not haram. Such nights were nights Baba came home late and Mama would neither raise her voice nor scowl at him as usual, rather their spring-bed bounced noisily throughout the night above our heads where we were spread on the mat. It was these times that I knew the names that were behind Baba’s initials on his uniform- B.B. Barau.
Mama would moan, “Haba Buba Babanyaro… Haba Buba..Haba maigida.”
Whatever it was that they were doing, I knew Mama was enjoying it. It was not haram. And Mama won’t tell me the better part of a policeman, she still warned me not to marry one. I also knew Mama’s name was Salamotu. That was what Baba mentioned when he laughed like someone being tickled.
“Maimuna!” Baba’s voice rose to a shout.
“Naa’aam,” I wiped my dreamy eyes and answered reluctantly. Then, he asked me to help him switch on the light. I got up from the mat and as I groped around in the darkness to reach for the switch-box that was by the door side, I stepped on Aminu’s head. He screamed. And Mama rushed in, with the lamp in her hand. The room became illuminated and suddenly I saw a red-head lizard peeping through the space between the door hinge that was tearing away and the cracking wall. I screamed and as I jumped back, I landed on Aminu’s head again. He screamed louder.
“Shut up!” Baba shouted. He had found his radio and was pulling out the antenna but Aminu’s noise won’t allow him pick the headlines from the BBC Hausa news.
Soon, Aminu’s noise woke Aliu. And while Aliu was stretching out of the mat, his right knee kicked Atahiru’s head, while the left foot went for Adamu’s head. Adamu who had slept before dinner got ready the night before, sat up and started mewing. He woke up with hunger and anger. The collection of cries soon terminated Habib and Habiba’s (our twins) sleeps. They started crying too. Mama had to attend to the twins first because they were the last born. Then, she told me to go out and check on what was on the fire. As I stepped outside I pressed the switch button and got to know that there was no light. NEPA people were very stingy with their light.
Baba was hissing. His radio batteries were weak and the volume was fainting. He had to press the speaker side to his ear.
I stooped, outside, fanning the coal-pot and I was hearing Baba and Mama from inside. They had started quarreling again. Mama was shouting at Baba, asking him how many times she had told him that it was time we moved out of this room. It couldn’t contain us anymore. Baba unconcernedly was just whistling along with Muhamman Shata’s music that was now playing on his radio. And he grinned mischievously when I heard Mama threaten him that she won’t stay inside this room to have the eighth baby she was already carrying. I had lately looked askance at Mama. Nevertheless, I was shocked to know that indeed an eight baby was on its way. I returned inside, stood by the door and I quietly folded my arms across my chest, watching them.
Everything that was happening was less or none of my concern, all I wanted was just for Baba to buy ram for the Eid-el Kabir. Mallam Gimba, our new English teacher had told us not to resume if we didn’t bring Sallah meat for him. He also added that our first assignment would be an essay on how our Sallah meat was prepared. Mallam Gimba had been told that I was the best student in English from my class, so he was particular about me.
“Maimuna, make sure you bring my Sallah meat and your own essay would be the first to be read to the class when we resume.” He had announced in the class, the day we were going for the Sallah break.
Mama was petting the children and Baba was just laughing, rolling on the bed.
Mama became incensed at Baba’s behavior and she would snap her fingers at him, saying “Allah zai raba abun bakin ciki da ka yi mun, you this old fool.”
Baba saw me where I stood and noticed my unpleasant face.
“Maimunatu, is it because of the Sallah ram you told me about? Don’t worry; I will buy our ram today.” Baba proudly said.
The frown on my face split into smiles immediately but Mama looked at his eyes, with disbelief.
Then, Baba threw his legs out of the bed and the rest of his body followed his malformed potbelly as he took to his feet. Baba was always encumbered by this big stomach of his. I wondered how Baba even scaled through the fitness stage when he was recruited into the police force. His two uniforms had become undersized.
“Yes!” Baba shouted with excitement as he moved to grab the jacket of his uniform he hung on the window-curtain rope that was his wardrobe. He brought out a bundle of fifty thousand naira and he counted out twenty thousand naira and asked Mama to take it from him. Mama was surprised. I was, too. But Mama hurriedly grabbed it from him. Then, Baba told Mama that she should use the money to go to the market and buy Sallah things, including our Sallah cloths. He promised to get the fattest ram at the kara market with the thirty thousand naira left on him.
“Allahu Akbar!” The Ladan was almost rounding off with the call to prayer. Baba made haste to meet the prayer. I always wished Baba could just get devoted once and for all. After Morning Prayer, others didn’t matter to him.
I asked Mama where Baba would have gotten that kind of money and she told me that it must have been from the cooperative society of their division. She added that we should even thank God that he was back to his senses. She then urged me to clean the room while she attended to breakfast and later we would go to the market together. I was so happy.
That evening, Baba came home with a fat ram. I became happier.
It was the Eid-el Kabir day. Everybody was happy. We couldn’t even sleep over night. We were all talking about the ram. It was our first time of having to kill one. My brothers had almost over fed the ram. It looked fatter in the two days that Baba had bought it. Our balcony that was Mama’s kitchen was stocked with enough. I had never seen a happy family like this before. Mama and Baba did that thing that they used to do at night whenever the day ended a happy one. For these two nights, the springs of the bed almost lost its elasticity. We all just couldn’t sleep.
When it was time for the ram slaughtering, Baba pulled of his kaftan inside and brought out knifes and cutlasses. The ram bleated louder at seeing Baba’s knifes. I supposed it knew its time was up. We all stood outside, under the tree where our ram was tied. Aminu had been playing with the ram’s horns. As Baba bent to roll his trousers up, he smiled at me and told me to take note of how the ram would be slaughtered and prepared so that I could have something to write in my essay. I nodded cheerily. Then he asked me to quickly go in and bring his radio for him. He wanted to be following the news while he was at work. Baba can’t just do without his radio, without BBC Hausa and Kontagora FM.
When I returned outside with Baba’s radio in my hand, I saw Baba and Aminu running after the ram. Mama stood with arms akimbo and told me that it was Aminu’s fault. He had removed the rope from the ram’s neck before his father got ready.
“Mainuna!” Baba shouted and asked me to get something to block the compound’s entrance. Quickly I dropped the radio but before I could get there the ram ran faster and had jumped out of the compound. Mama shouted. I shouted, too, and Baba, Aminu and Adamu took after the ram. The ram was headed for the express road. It bleated profusely as it ran, and Baba kept shouting, “subuanallahi,” as he managed to pick his race behind his paunch. I saw his trouser falling off his waist.
Suddenly, Mama started laughing, shrugging and saying she knew it. I asked her what it was that she knew. That the ram wasn’t going to be acceptable to Allah, she said. I became inquisitive and she told me that a few days ago she saw one of Baba’s friends who congratulated her over Baba’s victory at the 33 beer promo. It didn’t occur to her on time, where Baba had gotten the money from.
She said the money was haram, because Allah does not want such sources. She said our ram was haram. Everything she had bought, too, with the money was haram.
I smiled and my mind raced to our resumption day at school. I was going to title Mr. Gimba’s essay- Our Ram Is Haram.