Cash or Credit 6 can be found HERE!
Friday evening, 44 Glover Road Ikoyi.
Halima Dansabe did not claim to know a lot of things but what she did know was hard facts.
She was beautiful and Kabir loved her.
These are the simple certainties that Halima wore atop her head like a crown. It morphed the steps she walked, formed the words her lips uttered as she bowed her head in prayer five times a day and ultimately dictated the rest of her life. She was in her early twenties and yet to discover her shortcomings. She didn’t have any, it was that simple. Schooling abroad she had encountered other girls, mostly non-Hausa and non-Muslim, who thought it weird that she hung on to beliefs and did not “experiment”. They harboured pre-conceived notions of northern girls and would stare at her half-expecting tears and tales of how subdued her lifestyle was. She never complained. What was there to complain about? She did not know “want”- never had. Her every wish was and always had been granted. She had also never felt inferior- to whom? Her father was the richest man in Northern Nigeria- she was royalty. Eventually she grew accustomed to the looks of envy she received from such girls. The looks they pretended to coat in pity. Hating the fact that she wore her long skirts and hair scarves with a confidence their skin tight dresses couldn’t give them. Girls who claimed to be sexually liberal but fucked around hoping to find the love Halima was handed as she walked late into her Math class at age 15 angering the head boy who turned to scold her but instead smiled and introduced himself as Kabir. Girls, who claimed to be adventurous- with clothes, hairstyles and face paint- tried in vain to coax fake hair down to shoulders, like hers naturally did. Girls who pierced or tattooed certain parts to enhance their appeal, Halima only adorned herself with colourful waist beads fragrant in sandalwood that jiggled when she hurried by. Girls who tried desperately to twist their tongues into a dialect foreign to their mouths in ridiculous “fone” barely speaking one or the other, Halima voiced in Hausa, Kanuri and Arabic. Her skin was kissed by northern sun, her features blessed by her mothers Kanuri heritage, and her irises sparkled like that of a woman who was properly loved by the man of her dreams. So, yes Halima Dansabe didn’t know a lot, but she knew that the most inner desires of a woman lay in beauty and love. She was beautiful and she was loved.
Lately, one of the two things she knew stopped seeming so certain. Kabir was different. She could not place it nor could she label the feeling as woman intuition for she never chanced upon an opportunity to develop that trait. She knew Kabir, trusted him and she loved him. There was never any need to doubt him. He was romantic, charming and devoted. She loved him. It was just that lately…
Some things had been missing of late from their relationship; they laughed less but kissed more. It shouldn’t seem weird for an engaged couple but she missed their conversations on Politics, Religion and Travel that lasted long into the night. On her return from Kano, he picked her up at the airport and as expected kissed her like a man possessed but there was something…
Last night as she lay in his arms, she pushed the thought aside. Stop being silly she scolded herself. Afterwards they watched for the new moon, having a late dinner on his lawn as they stared at the starry sky for the glimpse of the crescent moon that would indicate the start of the Holy month. The kissing began again in earnest when she brought up his lack of interest in the wedding plans, although he had already apologised profusely for his tone with her the other day over the phone. Her brain turned to mush and her tongue forgot what it was trying to articulate. “Anga wata” she finally managed to say winning the contest by being the first to spot the silvery outline behind rain clouds. With a kiss on his cheek she left his townhouse returning to the apartment she shared with her sister Jummai in Victoria Island.
That was the early hours of this morning but presently they sat on his carpet in his expanse of a living room staring at the television awaiting the first call of Maghrib that would signal the end of the working day and the end of the fast. Kabir had a far away look that Halima had seen once before. Halima had laid the rug for the Iftar meal and she stared at the food on show. Had she displeased him? There were bowls of dates and a glass of ice water to soothe his parched thirst. Two glass bowls held generous portions of fruit salad, a covered cooler housed kosai and the flask contained akamu. There was kunu and zobo in the fridge and she planned to heat up the tuwo shinkafi and kuka for later. How had all this upset him? By now they would be exchanging stories of temptation from the day. Friends and colleagues who mistakenly; or in Femi’s case knowingly; kept offering food and drink throughout the work day. There would be laughter…but instead the only sound was the drone of the TV as it displayed a large clock, ticking its way towards 7.20pm when the call to the evening prayer would be broadcast. She glanced at him once more in his sweats as he lay on his leather couch lost in thought. An awful gnawing in the pit of her stomach…now she knew something was wrong.
Kabir sank to his plush dark purple carpet feeling more like a stranger than the man of the house. He caught her stare and made his muscles relax enough to smile; rubbing his belly and hoping that she would take his silence for hunger.
“Mai ka damun ka?” she asked with a concerned look.
“Nothing.” Kabir said “nothing is wrong”
“Kariya ne” Halima stated
“I am not lying” Kabir said slowly
“Kariya” she repeated. Kabir sighed she seemed ready for a fight. He reached out and stroked her face to soothe her. “Ba komai” he said with a strained smile. She turned into his touch and smiled into his palm and in that instant Kabir felt cheap. He felt his lips form the words before his brain had time to give permission.
“I’m not happy” he said.
Halima’s head jerked up. Kabir looked at her for a long time after that. So this is it he thought. He convinced himself that he could love her; he had done it for 8 years happily. After Jen became someone he did not understand, he told himself that Halima would always remain the same: beautiful and uncomplicated. She knew that he meant the best for her, even if he sometimes phrased it as a command rather than a suggestion, she would base his feelings for her in how he treated her and not how polite he was to people who weren’t involved in their relationship. She knew him. Explanations weren’t necessary because she understood his moods. Without raising her voice she made her point clear, not having to resort to name-calling, she would never jump out of the car in the middle of traffic. She was not Jen. Kabir sighed; that exactly was the problem: she was not Jen. Halima latched on to his fingers; she was still staring at him waiting for him to continue.
“D” she called him by his pet name “Abinchi ne?”
“No it’s not the food” Kabir assured her
“Then what?” she reverted to English
Kabir wanted to tell her that he did not want to be loved by her anymore. That he wished she wasn’t such a good person, that she didn’t look at him like her entire happiness rested on his shoulders. He wanted to tell her that he really honestly tried to get things back to the way they used to be. He swore he would make up for his infidelity and devote himself to her. So he kissed her every opportunity he had, became more involved in the wedding and was willing to marry her to make her happy because she deserved to be happy. He wanted to tell her that he told himself that his life would be directed by her dreams. Then he couldn’t think of what they were, all he came up with was her unwavering support for his. His aspirations and his goals, and he realised that he’d been a bad boyfriend because he couldn’t remember the last independent decision he allowed her to make. He didn’t remember if she was capable of a decision that didn’t involve him anymore. He wanted to tell her that in the dark of the night he realised that everything Jen said about him was true. He realised that he wasn’t the perfect catch he thought he was. He wanted to say that before this moment he was going to love her Halima like she deserved, but with the fast weakening his resolve he forgot to play the part of doting boyfriend, his body was adjusting to the first day of Ramadan, his stomach contracted and his throat sore from thirst and he forgot he was on a stage performing. Kabir wanted to say all this but he didn’t know how he would start.
Halima was still staring at him and Kabir could only voice “you know how I feel about you. How I’ve always felt”
“Yes” she whispered but Kabir couldn’t go on. He tried to get the words straight but everything he thought of sounded wrong. His wordsmith abilities escaped him and he was dumbfounded.
“Why don’t your eyes sparkle anymore?” Halima asked
“What?” Kabir stared at her
“Your eyes, the gold in them is gone”
“Err…” Kabir couldn’t speak, alas for all his acting, Halima wasn’t convinced
“What took it away?”
“Who took it away?” Halima’s voice shook. Kabir ran his fingers through her thick hair. Her scarf hung around her shoulders and her hair dark as ink fell in light waves to her shoulders. She was so beautiful and she loved him. What was he doing?
“Ba ke bane” he said close to her mouth
“I didn’t ask if I caused it. I asked who did” Halima replied sternly. Kabir didn’t answer. He met her gaze and it was friendship that made him speak, because she was his best friend and he wanted to be honest with her. A flurry of words came tumbling out and he didn’t pay attention to the fact that the series of events weren’t properly arranged or the fact that they didn’t make much sense, he just kept talking. Halima’s face went through a variety of expressions and Kabir lost count to how many times her eyes filled and spilled over. He hoped his disjointed words conveyed the fact that he loved her but he was no longer in love with her, he hoped the words expressed how much better than him she could do.
They didn’t hear the call to prayer even with the surround sound so when Halima used shaky hands to raise a glass of water to her lips, Kabir did the same. They ate in silence, Kabir had no more to say and Halima had grown tired of asking “why?”
There was tension but they ate because they had too. They did not pick off each others plate for “ladah” they simply chewed and swallowed, tasting nothing.
“Barka da shan ruwa” Kabir greeted her on breaking her fast. She did not answer, he got up to take the dishes away and Halima continued to stare at the space between them. It was over.
Halima jumped up when he returned from the kitchen, he looked at her afraid of what she might do. Before him, Halima knelt down and begged him to love her. She had never knelt before anyone but her pride was broken and she needed him to know that she would beg, steal and serve for this love. Kabir pleaded with her to rise, but she couldn’t, her heart kept her there. “Tell me what to do” “Teach me how to better love you” she recited over and over again hopping between English and Hausa till her voice went hoarse. She wasn’t in denial, she could fix this…it had to work. It just had to. An hour later Kabir grew tired of trying to force Halima to her feet so instead sank to the floor and listened to her weep. Why does he keep hurting the people he loves? As exhaustion washed over her, Halima began to sway and Kabir caught her in time before she slumped to the floor. She had not eaten enough since she broke her fast and Kabir laid her on the couch as she slept. He did not know what to do; he also knew that when she awoke his face would be the last she’d want to see. He called Jummai to his house and on her arrival, he helped load Halima into her car; replying her every enquiry with “Your sister will tell you”. As he closed the passenger door of her BMW quietly, Jummai hugged him in the familiar manner whispering “Sai anjima” Kabir bid her farewell knowing that would be the last time she would ever speak to him that kindly.
The next morning Kabir was bombarded with insults from the Dansabe sisters: Jummai, Samira and youngest sibling Aisha. They called to speak to him and on realisation that he meant the break-up told him about himself. It appeared everybody thought he was a jerk, but Kabir knew it was early days yet. The family was yet to be informed; it was then that it would really hit the fan. By Monday, Kabir ached to see Halima, the friend in him wanted to console her, make sure she was alright but he knew he couldn’t dare approach within at least 50 yards of the house without fear of death. He planned his entry like an assassination, bribing the security guard at the entry gate, to alert him to Jummai’s departure. On reaching the apartment door later that night he opened the door with the spare key Halima had made for him a year ago and let himself in. The room was dark and unventilated and Kabir called her name silently, Halima appeared from under the covers on the couch and involuntarily smiled at him- remnants from couple dom- before adjusting to a scowl. He squatted besides her staring into her red swollen eyes and asked how she was. Had she eaten? What could he do? To each she replied what do you want? Why are you here if you don’t love me? Kabir told her she was his rock and not marrying her did not mean he no longer cared. She told him that his platonic love confused her, told him to get out and screamed until he did. Kabir returned the next day, and the next till Halima went from denying the break-up to hating him. She spewed words at him, the kind he had never seen. Every misdemeanour from their relationship was hacked and brought to light in the stillness of her apartment. Kabir hunched in a corner and said nothing. He deserved it and was not leaving till he had fully explained the situation to her, she needed to know and until she was strong enough to ask the question he would take her stabs.
It was in the second week of Ramadan that his mother called crying down the phone. Did he know what he had done to the family? She sobbed to him. All the years of familial relations down the drain. Old classmates, mutual friends and everybody else and their uncle called and visited to know if he was insane. To each enquiry of Halima’s misgivings Kabir replied “she is perfect. I just don’t love her the way I used to”. The two families back north pointed fingers and called names, ties were severed and allegiance retracted. Such a messy affair, after so long it was hard to remember what belonged to whom, drawing boundaries, building up walls and forever erasing traces of the Tijani-Dansabe association. It was civilised anarchy between their households and Kabir would have sold his soul to shoulder the blame alone. Halima hid from the brunt of shame in her flat, she had stopped going to work and spent her days fasting and praying. Praying to heal. Kabir did not end his visits and she was tired of trying to break him. Even with the added advantage of knowing where to hit, reminding him of his every falter and failure. He merely stared at her and apologised, told her how wonderful she was and how lucky he had been to have her for the time he did. He stuck the knife in himself mentioning short comings she had never seen in him and asking how she had put up with it. The arrogance and self-assurance in him was gone and Halima saw that the boy she fell in love with was no more. As he sat with hunched shoulders on the chair after a particular gruelling round of “I hate you” from her, Halima got tired.
“I am not going to make this easy for you” she stated. He didn’t look up.
“Coming here every evening and letting me tear into you will not make me forgive you” Still he said nothing.
“What do you want from me Kabir?” she asked “you will not be here if you didn’t want something”. Kabir still kept silent.
“Answer me” she ordered.
“I want you to get better” he whispered
“Better. BETTER” she shrieked. “I am not sick Kabir. You dumped me.” Does this- she pointed to the rumpled up tissues that littered the base of her couch- “look like medicine to you”
“No.” Kabir did not need to follow her gaze to see what she was referring to. At one point she had a nose bleed and her blood stained handkerchief was clutched in her palm.
“I love you and if hurting me makes you feel better…”
“You are no longer allowed to say those words to me. Ever” Halima warned. Kabir conceded and apologised
“When did you stop loving me?” she asked. Kabir looked up and saw the determination in her eyes. She had detached herself from the situation. She was gone past denial and through the anger, she had accepted it and now she could ask.
“Four months ago. It was a Thursday” Kabir replied truthfully,
“You know this for certain”
“It was the day I met Jennifer” Kabir said
“Jennifer?” Halima asked. She was sure he mentioned the name last Friday but she couldn’t recall the events that led to the loss of her marriage. “Tell me” she commanded and he did. Everything. Every single detail was explained, his every whereabouts’ accounted for and Halima cried into more tissues over the course of the three hour confession.
“And you love this Jennifer more than me” Halima slurred over the name causing the fire in his eyes to blaze for the first time in weeks; that was her reply. Kabir’s unconscious jump to the girl’s defence was Halima’s reply. Halima was silent for a while as she gathered her thoughts, then a bitter laugh sounded. Kabir looked at her like she was crazy
“Are you with her now?”
“Does she want to be with you?”
“Then why tell me? Why not return to me and spare me this humiliation and pain”
“I tried to but even on my best pretence you could tell something was wrong. I couldn’t carry it on forever”. They both fell silent again then Halima asked him to leave.
That night as she sat on her praying mat for taraweeh- a long recital of the Qur’an- she had an epiphany. Her eyes adjusted and she felt her heart stilled for a moment. Why was she here? In Lagos? Halima couldn’t recall ever wanting to venture south. Surely there must have been a reason… Oh she remembered…for him. That’s why she was here, for Love, because that’s what you did when you loved someone, you made sacrifices. She left behind her life. She left behind attending functions with her mother, lunching with her friends, tending to her fathers estate and debating politics with her uncles so he could apply for a job and embark on a new chapter. So she applied for employment in the same establishment and told herself she would love it.
She hadnt fallen in love with Lagos
She hated the crowds and the noise. Daily commute bombarded with sticky humidity. She missed the easy appreciative pace of the north, not this rush that was always abounding in Lagos especially the claustrophobic feel. She longed for the arid plains of her home, the acres of land that stretched out with cattle grazing on the soil. The cattle herders wore floppy hats and chewed on long blades of grass. Mallams speaking in her native tongue as they bid her good day, the call to prayers from Gidan Makama mosque echoed around the town. She longed for fresh fura bought from Fulani milk maids, danwake and proper masa and suya not the oily tough version sold over here. She missed the make-shift shops that sold woven baskets along with kuturn yaji, barkono, tonka and other kayan miya. She missed the open celebration of Eid, the horse men in Sallah Durbar festival. She missed gossiping with her cousins under shaded mango trees their palms darkened with henna and fingers sticky from Hwanke dipped in honey or smothered in Man shanu. She missed Kano.
When Kabir returned the next evening her sister gleefully told him Halima had left, that she was presently handing in her resignation at Holloway. Kabir raced to the office but missed her; Halima had left without warning and as suddenly as he had broken off their engagement. He was in no moral position to feel hurt but he did, he would have liked a chance to say goodbye. Ramadan ended five days later.