Author’s note: The narrator made use of some Hausa words in the course of telling this story. In the light of that, it will be handy to learn few Hausa words and their English translation.
Uba- Father ; Uwar- Mother; Kakan- Grandfather ; Ganuma – Labourer ; Makaranta – school ; Saniya – Cow ; Fansa – Revenge .
Simple right? Let’s hear the narrator tell his story.
I’m sitting on a small stool, pounding dried pepper in a mortar with a pestle. The thick smell of the boiling herbs I’m making for Uba, is hanging still in the ambiance like water in a pond. I can hear the deathly themed coughs from the nearby hut. Uba is inside, lying sick on his raffia bed. Uwar and Aminah, my sister, are attending to him.
The pepper inside the mortar is ground, its texture smooth like baby powder. I stop pounding. I remove the pestle from the mortar, and place it on the heap of dried pepper. Then I use my hands to scoop the ground pepper. Pain slice through me and I scream as the pepper makes contact with the bruises on my fingers. I have forgotten that the bruises, I got a fortnight ago, are yet to heal.
I see Aminah running towards my direction.
“What is wrong?” she asks in Hausa.
I do not reply. Instead, I shake my hands vigorously, sometimes; I pause and blow air to it with my mouth.
“Oh, it is the pepper,” she deduces, “Let me help you get water.” I watch her saunter towards the hut we use for kitchen to get water.
Things had really changed from to hero to zero. Before now, I was nursing an ambition to school at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. We as a family birthed expectations that we would finally build a modern house. Uba and Uwar were hoping by next year, they would be able to travel to Saudi Arabia for Hajj. Aminah hoped singly that our family status would increase from rags to raja, and that she would be able to draw attraction to a good looking suitor from a rich family. All our hopes were hanged on a single thread- the farm yield for the year.
Uba was the youngest child of his father. His father, my Kakan, had three wives and thirty children, but only Uba and his step brother, uncle Sulieman, were the only males amongst the entire children Kakan bore. So when Kakan died, it was Uba and uncle Sulieman that were the sole inheritors of Kakan’s vast fortune that consisted of a hundred and six saniyas and five hectares of farmland.
Uba’s share of the inheritance gave him a sense of belonging and he threaded Kakan’s footsteps. He married four wives and he had thirty-two children. Uba never loved cattle rearing, so I learnt that he sold the saniyas almost immediately after he received his share and invested mainly in commercial agriculture which was his passion.
Though Uba’s farmland was big, the thirty-two children he bore ensured that the proceeds from the farmland were only sufficient to feed, shelter and to some extent, cloth us. Makaranta, western education, was out of reality for us. The best that could happen to us was the Arabic education we received from Sheik Adam who lived few blocks away from our compound.
I craved for marankata. I wanted to become a doctor and give sick people injections like the white woman, with long nose, that came the other time to give us an injection in our arms. She called it one name like that. I think it was ‘vakseen’. She said it would prevent us from getting polio. So many people here have polio. I wanted to grow up and be like her, helping thousands of my people fight so many dreadful diseases that plagued us.
Uba wanted me like his other sons to become a farmer like he was, but after he gave birth to his tenth son, my love for agriculture dwindled. It meant that the ten of us would have to share the farmland when Uba died. Uwar foresaw this and since I was the only son she bore, she enrolled me into the only marankata in the village. Slowly I learnt how to read and write.
Uncle Sulieman died almost immediately I finished my SSCE. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a son, so Uba inherited his properties. That meant double yield for Uba in the farmland, and more income. I wouldn’t forget the day he promised to send me to the university if I passed my SSCE. Well if you were to measure my happiness on a mass balance, I’m pretty sure it would disobey Hooke’s law.
My thought window snaps close. I shriek. Aminah is pouring water on my hands.
“Stop,” I scream, “you should have told me before you start to pour water.”
“I had to pour it on you when I saw you lost in thought.”
“Kamal, I’m worried about you. Uba said you shouldn’t do it. Leave Fansa in the hands of Allah.”
“Uba said I shouldn’t take Fansa when he died, not when he is alive,” I pour more pepper in the mortar.
“Return to Uba, I hear him coughing.” I advise.
Aminah returns to Uba’s hut in a hurried pace.
The pepper is not much and I ground it with ease. This should be enough for Fansa, I reason. I stand and saunter towards the hut we use for food storage. I take some of the ground okra Uwar and Aminah had ground a week before and I take it where I’m grinding the dried pepper. I mix the ground pepper and okra together till it forms a powder that looks inseparable. Pains eased through my body as I do it, but Fansa gets better of me and consoles me.
Uncle Sulieman’s death was a big blow, but it was a blessing in disguise. Uba got to inherit majority of what he had. The year’s farm yield promised to be a big one, and I was eager to help to make the yield better. Even though Uba hired ganumas to help on the farm, I still joined them after I returned from UTME lessons. I watched out for pests, and I used to take the arduous task of watering as much as I could of the farmland before Uba irrigated the farm. The groundnuts were barely four weeks old and they had just begun to sprout leaves. Everything was on course until when he came.
I remember his face, built of evil and it glowed of animosity. He was clad in a green kaftan and a dirty cream pant whose length did not pass his ankle. He wore a raffia hat and he hung a water bottle, like a hand bag, on his shoulder. The cream, dongoyaro, cane stick he held affirmed who he was: a member of the largest nomad in the world, a Fulani.
I had just returned from lesson that afternoon and I was resting inside the hut while the sun rained its hot rays on the ambiance. I felt an urge to urinate, but I held on, the dreadfulness of the sun rays peaking high on my mind. I should have gone to urinate. Maybe I would have been able to savage enough of the farm, enough that wouldn’t have allowed Uba to fall into a comma.
There was heat inside, but I had gotten used to it. My eyes were battling to a close when I hear a distinct sound. A sound that should not be heard on the farm, at least not four weeks into planting: the moos of saniyas. I sprang up with a reflex reaction as if I was prickled with a pin.
“Uba, Uba,” I screamed in the highest intensity I could conjure.
I ran outside, towards his hut. He was fast asleep when I burst into his hut.
“Uba, Uba,” I called, tapping him to wake up.
“Uba, saniyas are on the farm.” My voice was tense, and it was laced with fear.
He sprang up like I had done when I heard the moos of the saniyas, and he charged towards the farm clad in his red kaftan. I followed him, running with the highest speed I could generate.
The sight of the farm wasn’t good. There were saniyas everywhere, eating up the little leaves that had just begun to sprout. I was clueless on what to do. There was no stick nearby that I could use to pursue the saniyas. Uba looked clueless too, even more clueless than I was. He was running haphazardly. Then he made a mistake that would prove costly in a short while. He shooed at the saniyas.
Now saniyas have been known to charge at people cladding red attires. In fact the Spanish matadors are known to taunt saniyas by flagging a small red cape, or muleta. Then they would take the muleta away just before the saniya reaches them. The truth about the matter was that the color red doesn’t make a saniya go mad like it is commonly believed, instead, they charge at whichever object is moving the most.
The mistake Uba made cost him dearly, and the next thing I saw was his body being tossed from the horns of a cream and black coloured saniya to about fifteen feet in the air. I saw it in high definition. My mouth opened and my brain couldn’t soak in the reality. Gravity did its part, and Uba was falling down to the terra firma four seconds later. He couldn’t stand after he fell. He hasn’t stood up since then.
I put the mixture of pepper and okra in a paint container and I proceed to where I am sure Fulani and their saniyas will pass. As I walk, I remember how Uba scolded me a few days ago.
“Kamal… Kamal, open your ears to what I am about to tell you.” He advised. He coughed a bit, and I wanted to get him water, but he gestured that I stayed. “You see this life is a small place, and nature fixes all things. One shouldn’t take the control of the affairs of the small but wicked world in his hands.”
“I know we have been wronged.” He coughed again. This time it was worse that I didn’t obey his gesture to stay put. I went to get him water. Fast.
“Thank you.” He offered, as he collected the glass of water from my hand. He drank a little out of it, and then he placed it on a small stool beside his raffia made bed. “When I die, don’t go on to fight the Fulanis. It will be a senseless war. Apart from the fact that they are ferocious and resilient, it is a waste of time and energy. Leave Fansa to Allah. He will do perfect justice to it with nature.
“Instead, you and your brothers should farm on the land and use the proceeds to take care of the whole family. Do you promise that?”
“Yes Uba.” I answered.
Here I am, breaking Uba’s promise. But wait, am I breaking it? No! I’m merely bending it. He told me not to take revenge after he died, but he hasn’t died. He hasn’t at all.
The long dusty road before the farm is a sure route where Fulanis and their saniyas habitually pass. The sun was hot, hot enough to melt ice in the matter of a minute, but I stride on, Fansa surging through my system like waves in the sea.
I sprinkle the mixture across the road. It settles on the dust and blends with it. Hardly have I done that do I hear moos of saniyas. Allah is with me. I walk in hurried pace off the road into the farm and take a good vantage point where I’m sure I will see the aftermath of my action.
The saniyas come in thousands. I guess there are about three thousand in the packs- three thousands that ate up my future. They deserve to be punished. I watch the saniyas move closer, raising dusts in the air. Just what I need. They pass by the place sprinkled the mixture and nothing happen. Fear begins to gather at the outskirts of my heart, and its circumference is reducing with the passing of each seconds. I see the Fulani, the same one that was herding the saniyas that ate up the groundnut leaves.
Half of them have already passed when I hear a saniya cough. I smile. Then another saniya cough, then another . I see the face of the Fulani, shock is rapidly destroying it.
Like an epidemic, the saniyas begin to cough. The Fulani starts to run up and down frantically in a confused form. I know the saniyas will soon start to fall down and die one after the other. Fansa is done. No need to climb the tree beyond the leaves. I begin to walk back home with a relieved mind that all is done.
As I enter the compound, I see crowds surrounding uba’s hut. I didn’t need to be told what happened.
‘Innaa lillaahi wa innaa ‘ilayhi raaji’oon.