by Ikogba Sarah A.
There won’t be any party, not even a little celebration.
No food or gifts or music. I won’t even see my friends. I am not allowed to.
I’ve been in my room for three Mondays. The only people who are allowed to see me are my parents and siblings—Alhassam, my brother, and my little sister, Zainab.
I’m supposed to be preparing for a rite. My feet are covered with this black sticky substance; mother rubbed it on me. My hair has been braided into two cornrows, a white coral bead on them.
My marriage is in two days and I can barely wait. Don’t jump into conclusions—if there’s any day I dread the most it is that day.
His name is Bakarr, but I call him Shaidan which means Devil in Hausa.
“Sannu.” Mother comes in, sits on my bed and holds my left hand.
“Yaya kake? —How are you?” she says.
“Are you sure you’re fine?” she asks, looking me all over.
“Eh.” I look away.
My mother’s eyes are ever so piercing, digging into one’s soul, searching for loopholes, signs and symbols of unhappiness.
I’ve been doing a good job masking them, but I do not trust mother. Once she finds out about my plan, that’d be the failure of it. She would find a way to abort it, like always.
“Are you prepared for Friday?”
“Watakila,” I reply.
“Maybe? Suki, it’s two days from now, your answer should be yes, okay?”
I give her a convincing nod and tell her I’ll be ready before Friday.
“Ina son ka—I love you.” She pats my cornrows and leave.
One more annoying day to go, I say to myself.
I’m the ugliest bride ever. The sari is so long I have to scoop the excess material in my hands.
Mother keeps clapping and cheering me on. Aunt Dunni made the dress, she’s a shitty tailor.
My 15-year-old breasts can’t even hold the blouse. I know how this will end; mother will hold them with pins. Just great.
My final wish is to see Aliya, my childhood friend.
Unbelievably, mother accepts. The only person I can trust with my secret is Aliya.
When she arrives, I sweep her off her feet with a bear hug. Aliya is 17 and she’s married with two kids.
“Sit down, my friend, sit down.” I dust my narrow bed and her buttocks occupies the space I created.
“What’s good, Suki?” She can see the urgency on my face.
“I’ll do it.”
“Of course, you will. You can’t run away when a marriage has been arranged.” She unwraps her toddler from her back and lays him on the bed. “He’s wearing pampers. Don’t worry, he won’t wet the bed.” She gives a short, stammering laugh.
“I mean, I’ll do it. Not marry him, I’m talking about the other plan. Same one you had two years ago before you married Gozo.”
Aliya’s eyeballs grow as large as saucers. “A’a!” she exclaims. “Don Allah! Please, I was only a child when I came up with that idea. Don’t think about that Suki, it’s a death wish. Look at me now, I’m with two children and I’m okay.”
“But are you happy?”
“That doesn’t matter, it’s—”
“It’s what, Aliya?” I interrupt her. “Bakarr is 42 years old and I’m just 15, I do not love him.”
“But he’s a man, after all—is he not?”
“He’s a ruthless, ugly and devilish man. Do you know what I call him?”
Aliya shakes her head. “No.”
“Don’t let him hear you, Suki.”
Bakarr is the owner of a famous brothel; mother is not pleased to hand me over to him for marriage but she’s scared. She doesn’t know I know she’s scared.
Bakarr had suddenly picked interest in me last November. He had approached mother and father. When Alhassam heard of it, he had gone to Bakarr to tell him to stay away from our family.
Bakarr imprisoned Alhassam for one month and two weeks. After much pleading, he agreed to release Alhassam.
“You know what he’ll do to you if he hears you.”
“What? He’ll beat me, what else?”
“Look, today is the last day. Keep your head straight, Suki. Marriage is all about pains—”
“No, it’s not supposed to be so. I read a book—a romantic book—there’s what they call love, happiness and joy in marriage!”
“Who’s been giving you those?” Aliya asks.
“Zainab has a friend in school, she—”
“Look, Suki—” She cuts me off. “—I thought I could never be with Gozo, but as time passed by I began to understand and respect him. Don’t do anything drastic, please. Promise me you won’t do it.”
Gozo is different from Bakarr. He works in a mining construction site. He’s 38 years old and not as wicked and heart-hardened as Bakarr.
Aliya’s baby wakes up and starts crying.
After much petting and breastfeeding, he falls back to sleep.
“Ah, they are always so stressful!” Aliya sighs as she put the baby down. She stays another half an hour before leaving.
33 minutes to go…
The weather seems to be in the same mood with me. It’s pouring heavily, so am sitting in the living room with father, mother and Zainab.
Alhassam had gone out—he just can’t bear to watch me go. My bags are packed. I’m dressed in a red Sari and, yes, there are pins holding the blouse.
“Ina madacin ma—I’m staying too,” Zainab whispers.
“You miss me already?” I ask.
“Yes.” she hugs me and buries her face in my shoulders.
“Don’t soak her dress!” mother says, a weak smile on her face.
“Don’t worry Zainab, you’ll marry a man you love and who loves you in return,” I say.
“Just like Richard and Jessica?”
“Yes, just like Richard and Jessica.”
Father just keeps staring, smiling too.
Father suffered a stroke last year but he’s recovering now.
I walk up to him and plant a kiss on his cheeks. “Susu!” he calls me, playfully. “Listen to your husband, respect him and all will be well.”
They never mention love. It’s always respect. Bakarr will surely get the respect he deserves.
Mother and Aunt Dunni escort me to my husband’s house. The house is painted in white and brown. There’s a duplex inside. It’s a massive compound. Bakarr has three wives already and they all have their flats.
The rules are:
I’m to cook for him on my duty days. Whenever he wants sex, I must be ready. No complaints at all. I’m to wash his clothes on and off duty days, because I’m the last wife and the youngest.
One thing I know is: Bakarr is never touching me. Just as if mother reads my thoughts, she bends to me and says, “Suki, don’t reject your husband. Shin kuna fahimta? —Do you understand?”
And we stroll into the compound. There are people waiting inside, relatives of Bakarr. His fellow potbellied friends and brothel associates.
My sari trails on the floor. “Why didn’t you tell me it was so long?” Aunt Dunni asks.
I ignore her because obviously she’s both blind and deaf, because I clearly told her it was very long.
Bakarr emerges from the room and everywhere goes silent. Mother follows me to the seat I am supposed to sit on and retreats.
All eyes are on me. Bakarr smiles when our eyes meet. I almost puke right there in the spot. There is no way on earth, absolutely no way I am letting this man touch me.
“Good day, everyone!” His voice echoes round the walls. Someone stab me, please.
“We are all here to witness the joining of Suki and I in matrimony.”
“Onni will proceed from here.”
A man with white beard stands and approaches us. Under twenty minutes, the ceremony was over. Part of me didn’t want it to end, part of me was eager to get it over.
Mother bids me her last goodbye. I call it last because I’m not sure I would be seeing her again. Everyone leaves and I’m left with the Shaidan himself.
He gives me his ruthless smile. “Yaya kake—how are you?”
I remain mute.
“Hey, look at me.”
I do, and my eyes fall on his ugly face.
“I’ll be out for a while, Sami will show you to your room. Get ready for me when I get back.”
He caresses my hair and does this one thing I want to murder him for. He kisses me.
I nurse my anger as Sami walks me over to my room. Sami is Bakarr’s servant.
“This is your room.”
For the first time I’m alone. I sit on the wide bed and sob.
I don’t know when I fall asleep. I wake up to the time showing 11:15 am.
How could I have been so careless? What if Bakarr had come in. I quickly scurry to my bag, produce the knife and place it under the pillow.
I plan to murder my husband tonight.
But Bakarr never shows up. I stay awake till 5 am and my body breaks down.
I doze off.