Fatima is muttering prayers as she walks down the narrow path which leads home. She cannot stop peering through her shoulder. Everywhere is silent. The kind of silence which injects fear. When all a person hears is the chirping of crickets singing lullabies for street kids whose nights never end with a mother’s tender tucking in. She could hear snores pouring out of wooden window panes in the nucleated settlement of Hausa quarters, Gboko.
For some reason, even the stars seem to have retired. Like they were taking the night off, curling away in the cloudy skies where the rains poured angrily some hours ago. She could hear an echo of her footsteps and a choir of frogs singing a call and response chorus in the stream which continues to encroach on the small settlement.
When she moved in with her husband, Kabir, six months ago, there was a poor family who lived dangerously close to the water. Their mud house was on the lip of the water, so much she had asked her husband how they coped on cold nights.
One morning in August, there was a horrendous downpour and the unkind water evicted them and rendered them homelessness. Since then Fatima always shrugged when someone emptied a sachet of cold water in the muddy street where her husband sells beans and millets, sighs and goes on to say “water is life.”
She begins to hear footsteps behind her as she approached the stream. Her mother lived on the other side of it. She hoped it was not Kabir. He had left with his prayer bead to the small mosque in the residence of the Imam who announced the call for prayers every morning at the central mosque. She was supposed to go with him, perform her ablution side by side with him and pray in the segment of the mosque where women prayed.
But she pretended to be fast asleep. Her baby bump rising and falling as she breathes and feigns snores. The day was quite uneventful, from the morning sickness to backaches, which got capped with Kabir’s hot slap.
She was cooking beans for dinner and it was nearly done, when she reached out for the palm oil jar from the squeaky wooden stool she was sitting on and found that it was empty. She rushed out to Aisha’s shop to get half a bottle of palm oil.
As she hurried back, she met Kabir at the door. He had just returned. She greeted him and could barely wait for a reply before proceeding to the kitchen to finish up the cooking. He trailed her and landed a slap across her back.
The sharp pain together with the shock made the bottle of oil drop and the pieces of broken bottle, together with palm oil flew across the kitchen.
“So you now walk around naked?
“How?” She rubbed her back as tears gathered in her eyes.
Where is your hijab? Who are you trying to seduce?”
The whole scene kept replaying in her mind as the approaching footsteps made her take longer strides. She didn’t bother with an explanation about how in her haste to get palm oil, she did not remember to wear her hijab, because she knew explanations infuriated him the more. The evening passed silently and Kabir did not apologize.
The quick steps behind her frightened her. It seemed the person was trying to catch up.
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