“Aminataaaaa”, I hear mama scream. I’m jolted from my reverie. I’m not sure how long mama has been calling my name. Her voice sounds impatient; anxious almost.
I quickly get up; spilling the vegetables I was cutting on the floor. ‘Ohh, why now?’ I thought in my mind. I hope mama doesn’t catch me; even if she doesn’t, when she tastes the sand in the food she’ll know. I quickly pack them up and rush to her side.
‘Yes mama’, I said almost breathlessly. I expect her to start with her raving but she smiled so sweetly you would think she just got a gold tooth and was showing it off.
‘Go and change your dress. Hurry up. Wear something nice and brush your hair’, she says. I nod my head but I can’t help wondering what was happening.
I change into my kaftan: the one uncle Yerima bought when he went to Mecca. I let down my hair, brushed and repacked it. I put on Vaseline hoping it would make me glow. Mama looked nice too, I thought, so I guess we were going to see someone nice. At least I will get to take a break from making dinner today.
I walk into her room beaming with smiles. She looks up and gives me a look-over, satisfied with what she has seen. She draws me close and puts her chain on my neck: the one with a crescent and star on it. By now i’m getting confused. Mama holds this necklace as a treasure. Once I was beaten for even daring to touch it. This must be someone very special we’re going to see.
‘Mama where are we going’, I ask. She shrugs and said I should just be a good girl. Something good is happening to the family soon. We wait in her room for a while when Fatima comes in. She doesn’t look too happy. ‘Papa wants to see you both’, she says. I’m wondering why Fatima is not dressed up like we are. We get up and leave for the sitting room.
Papa was there with a big man. The man was very dark. He had about two other men standing behind him. They were both talking in hushed tones with each other but looked up when we walked in.
‘Sannu Alhaji’, mama says and bends as if to kneel. I do the same.
Papa starts to grin really hard and beckons to us. He doesn’t seem to know he’s gesticulating fervently with his hands. The grin on his face is like the one I saw on one of those clowns I watched once on the Western TV station.
‘This is my wife Shetima, Alhaji’, he starts ‘you have met her already. And this is my daughter; the reason you are here: Aminata’. He says my name as if he just drank very cold water and is trying to cool down from it. He pauses for effect and then continues.‘Aminata, this is Alhaji Shehu, your new husband’.
It takes a while for the words to sink in. No, it can’t be, I think. I’m frozen to the spot. It feels like I have just been given a hot slap on the face. I look from mama to papa who is still grinning sheepishly, and then I look at the man. He has a big pot belly and wore a green kaftan embroidered at the top with white trimmings. His face is wide and fat with long marks going down his cheeks: about three or four of them. He opens his mouth to smile and I can count two, no three gold teeth. He smiles like he just won a prize. I didn’t know what to say. So it was true. I had heard the rumours but I did not want to believe it. I am only fourteen and I have Nadia and Fatima before me. How could this have happened?
‘..haba, won’t you kneel for your husband?’, I hear papa say, almost sounding embarrassed and beginning to apologize to Alhaji. I heard him utter something as an excuse for me.
I mumble a ‘sorry’ and proceed to kneel. Tears were already beginning to form in my eyes so I bend my head as if in reverence. I didn’t want him to see me cry. He starts to pat me and say something but I don’t hear him. I keep nodding but I can’t speak. My thoughts travel back to the last few months and I think of Kamoru; ah, Kamoru!
‘…I and my people will be coming back in the next one week with the Kudin Gaisuwa. Prepare her for the feast. I will send my men with clothes and gold jewelry’, I hear Alhaji Shehu say to my father interrupting my thoughts. He gets up to leave, looks at me again and smiles. “Sai mum sake saduwa yauwa”. Till we meet again, he says.
Papa gets up too and keeps bowing his head and grinning. It almost looks like it will fall off by the way he keeps shaking it. I can’t believe my father will do this. I thought I was his precious Aminata. It seems he can’t wait to marry me off.
I wait till Alhaji Shehu leaves the house before I retreat into the room I share with Fatima and Nadia. I lie on my mat on the floor and start to think of what had just happened. Thoughts of dinner and going to nice places had been long abandoned. I couldn’t stop the tears flowing as I thought of my precious Kamoru. What will become of us now? How do I tell him?
Kamoru has been my friend ever since I was a child. We had done almost everything together up till the point when mama and papa said we were no longer children. That was when our silent love relationship started. We were deliberately kept apart except for celebrations when everyone is in a festive mood. Mama didn’t want any scandal. ‘You’ll be stoned if you become pregnant’, she warned one day. I wasn’t messing with Kamoru as I knew better than that but people would still talk if we spent too much time together.
We usually talked with our eyes except the few times when I would meet him in the market and we would linger and talk. He always made me happy any time I thought of him or saw him. Just yesterday, he asked his little sister to bring some suya for me. His brother bought it on his way from Kaduna. I felt very special because he thought of me. Now I won’t see him again; at least not in that way.
‘Hmm. Maybe i’m destined to marry a man old enough to father my father. After all, I’ve always known what our culture allows but I never thought….’, I think.
‘What of Nadia? What of Fatima? No wonder she didn’t look happy. Maybe Kamoru is also destined to marry a younger girl who has not even been born. Maybe…just maybe’, I think, as the world around me falls into oblivion and I don’t realize when I drift to sleep….