Allah buttered my bread. I was married off to Ayuba Khalifah, the son of the commercial trader Alhaji Jibril Khalifah and his third wife, Alhaja Atikah Khalifah. I was very excited about marrying him because all my friends had been married off before me. I didn’t attend the university because my father did not have enough money to send all his children to school and so he sent our two brothers. Ali and Usman. My sister, Rabi’ah and I were the second and fourth children and father was one of the few Muslim men in our village who had one wife. Mother said that she was sure that he would marry another wife if he could afford one. She said that the women of the present days did not want to marry a man and build with him; they wanted to marry a man who would buy them lace clothes and a lot of jewelry to show off to their friends.
Mother or Ma ‘Ali as she was usually called told me that jewelry and lace clothes were not everything. She said that I should marry a man if I loved him and he loved me back and build with him. She had married father when she was a teenager and had served him all through the years. She was a trader, selling local Hausa beaded jewelry. Ma ’Ali was very hardworking and industrious. Sometimes, she made more money than father and this made him very insecure so her friends advised her to stop letting him know how much she made each time. Father was a very proud man, my brother Usman was taking after him very much. Usman would not eat from the plastic plates anymore and would not drink water from the tap. He said that he wanted to be like father and that if father drank pure water, water in sachets, then he would also drink pure water. I always scolded him for trying to grow up faster than he should but when he went to university, I stopped.
He never even listened to me anymore just because he had an education and I didn’t and when I complained to Ma’Ali, she told me not to worry that Allah never slept. Mother tried to talk father out of his biased and preferential treatment towards his male children but he never listened. When he found out that mother had been saving up money from her jewelry sales to send Rabi’ah and I to school, he reported her to her useless and older relatives. Father took the money and used it to pay for Usman and Ali’s school fees. Eventually one day, father came home and said that mama should cook a lot of food and make drinks for the family and to share with the neighbours. It was after we had finished celebrating, that he told us that I was going to be married Ayuba, the son of his old time friend.
“Over my dead body, Alhaji”, mama said. Papa almost hit her. That evening, mama came into my room and sat with me on the bed.
“Do you want to marry him?”
“Do you want to marry him, Turai?”
“I don’t know. What if he behaves like father, what if he treats me the way father treats you, Rabi’ah and I?”
“You will not marry him, over my dead body.”
“Ma’Ali, did you love father before you married him?”, I asked. She said yes.
“I will marry him, I will try it. Since your method did not work, maybe this method will.” Mama heaved a sigh of resolution.
“Go to sleep.”
In the weeks before the marriage, I started wearing dresses of brighter colors and wearing shoes with higher heels because I wanted the other men in the village to admire me and feel jealous that they couldn’t marry me. I also dressed up just in case Ayuba showed up at any time; that way he wouldn’t be disappointed at our fathers’ choice. I had seen him a couple of times while I grew up but I had never had a discussion with him because when he lived here in Jos, he hardly left his father’s house or at least he didn’t go to the places where we went to. He grew up in wealth and affluence and sometimes I wonder why his parents hadn’t insisted that he marry a girl who belonged to the same social class as them. Mother had told me that I wouldn’t have to always wear a complete jilbab when I move to Port Harcourt because there weren’t as many Muslims as there were in the North. I was thinking, with my stare fixed on the ceiling when mama came into the room. She closed the door before she spoke.
“Turai, your father is on the phone with Ayuba, I overheard him talk about how well you can cook. I want you to go to the living room and ask to speak with your husband.”
“Yes, she is ready. We are already making preparations for the marriage ceremony. Will you be coming to Jos with your friends from Port Harcourt?” Papa was saying when I got there.
“Papa, let me speak with Ayuba. I have never spoken with him”. He let me speak with Ayuba. He didn’t sound very enthusiastic on the phone but he sounded very much aware of the wedding arrangements.
“I will be coming in a week; do not pack too many clothes because we will be flying back down to Port Harcourt”, Ayuba finished. I didn’t reply, again, I handed the phone to father and went to mother’s room.
“Mother, what did you do when you first moved her from Kaduna after you married Alhaji?” I asked my mother. She replied with a very sarcastic laugh, “my child, all you have seen me do. I slaved.”
How are you doing? I saw your sister, Kemi the other day when I stopped at the creek but she was going towards the main road so I didn’t bother to call her. I will be going to Jos to visit my family and I will return very quickly. This is the best time to travel to the north since school is off for the long vacation. I will bring you back carrots and I will tell my family about you because I am sure they will like to meet you. I will visit you just before I go. I hope Kemi and your father are doing fine? I love you, ‘Bidemi.
I chartered a cab, drop, to the airport in Omagwa to fly to Jos. The drive was short and rough too. The cab in which I was had an Ondo number plate and the driver had tribal marks across his face like the whiskers of a cat. He was a Yoruba man. He drove very roughly and sped on the pedestrian side of the road whenever we were held up in traffic. He didn’t speak until about twenty minutes into the drive to the airport.
“Sir, na where you dey travel to?” he asked.
“Jos. My family is in Jos.” I said.
“Okay, Jos. I don hear about that place oh well well but the fight there is too much” he replied. I didn’t answer and when he stole stares at me as if waiting for an answer, I said “Jos. Nice place”. He returned his focus to the driving, seemingly unsatisfied.
Mother and I spent the whole day cleaning the house and making food. Father didn’t tell us until that morning that Ayuba was coming with his people. Rabi’ah and the other people in the compound helped us cook and prepare for the visitors. Mama was very good at suppressing her feelings and she seemed happy to all the others. I knew how she felt about this but we also knew that there was nothing she could do about it. At least if the visitors enjoyed her food and thanked her, she would be happy and would feel like the work was worth the stress. Towards evening, mama sent me and my sister to go and get dressed, She boiled water for us and said that she didn’t want us smelling of smoke when we had to meet Ayuba’s family. I took a bath last, after Rabi’ah was done. The hot water had already cooled a bit, it was lukewarm and refreshing. As I bathed, I prayed silently that everything would work out fine and Ayuba would like me. I dressed in Ankara; a new one that mama’s sister had given me from her store. It was the informal introduction of both families to each other and not as big as the traditional wedding or the introduction involving all of both families. Just before six, I got dressed and mama gave me a hug, saying that all will be well. Ayuba’s family arrived on time. Ayuba came with his father, his mother and some men who were his brothers and uncles. They were clearly a rich family. They came with a few lace materials, the expensive kind that rich people wore at weddings and that were very heavy and sequined. I didn’t come out into the living room to meet the party until I was called. Before then, Rabi’ah sat with me on my bed playing with the hair that came out of my head tie and telling me stories that would make me laugh and release tension. She knew I was nervous and I sensed she was too so I returned her funny stories, mostly of memories we shared together. I laughed and was teary-eyed. Rabi’ah dabbed a white handkerchief on my eyes, trying not to smear my eyeliner. Then, mama came into the room to call me.
All of sudden the huge rush of emotions returned and I was nervous again. I walked almost staggering to the living room with a veil over my head and my mother by my side. Rabi’ah stood only at the door. As I walked, the people clapped and I greeted them all. When my veil was opened, I saw Ayuba. My heart smiled, he was a very handsome man.
As we returned to Port Harcourt, I sang a song while I cried, thinking about my mother whom I had left behind in Jos.
Many women have cooked, but my mother’s food was sweetest
Many fathers have spoken, but my father’s words were the softest
I want to drink from my mother’s cup
But my children will have to taste my own food.
At home, I cooked some rice and stew for myself and my husband and served them on a tray. He ate it and told me that he liked it. I smiled and thanked him.
“Why were you crying, Turai”
“I am family now. We would go to Jos and visit soon”, He said assuredly. He was a strong man and I had respect for him. I looked deep into his eyes and nodded in belief.
“Why did you marry me?” I asked politely.
“You’re beautiful” he said “and I know that you will be a good wife. I love you.” I smiled again, fighting the anxiety rushing through my heart. Ayuba hugged me. His arms were strong and safe just like he looked.
My wife, Turai is very beautiful. I saw in her eyes fear and uncertainty. I married her first to please my father but I am sure I will grow to love her even though I have Abidemi at the back of my mind. I can’t marry Abidemi because she is Christian and I am Muslim and even if we wanted to defy all odds and get married, our families might be against us. The only thing I fear is how Abidemi would feel when she returns from her village to see that I have married another woman. Turai barely did anything else apart from cook, clean and sleep. I told her after a few days, that I would take her into the city and show her to my friends.
Inside the room where my husband slept, I saw a big, brown Koran and his string of prayer beads. They looked like they were touched regularly, like Ayuba didn’t forget to read his Koran or pray. His Koran was very beautiful, covered in brown leather and seating alone on a stool at the side of his bed. I saw how huge his bed was with the thick quilt that lay on it. As soon as I glanced at the room, without touching anything, I returned through the door with my handbag slung across my shoulder. Later that evening, I saw a stack of letter that my husband had been exchanging with someone named ’Bidemi. I looked at the letters, trying to convince myself that my husband did not like another woman.
I tried to drown my feelings in my tears that evening. The callous man was calling my name, perhaps wanting to ask for food. I tried to out-drown his voice with my tears. I took the most recent letter and kept it in my purse. The letter where he had promised her his undying love. I rumpled the sheets on Ayuba’s bed and curled up into it. I imagined the face of the girl, how she smiled whenever she saw my husband. I was hoping something would interrupt my thoughts. At the time, anything, even the crow of a cock would be music. Then I stared at my feet, the feet of a robber!