Norther Prince Part 7 can be found below HERE
Rabi Bello stirred in her sleep as the mai-guard recited the adhan for Fajr prayers. Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! It was how she awoke every day. Trekking to the family mosque she cut through the gardens dewy from last night’s rain with the scent of carnations released in the air.
Kneeling on the soft carpet she greeted Mama and looking ahead, spied Baba through the wooden barriers that separated men from the women. Rabi sulked at the fact that after prayers she would not be going back to bed.
Morning shifts in the hospital were always the most difficult because it took a while to get her energy levels up. With no time to spare, Rabi had Oda make her a hefty turkey and scrambled egg baguette, poured strong coffee in a flask and rushed to her car. As always she was already late.
That night she lay in bed and forcibly visualised her life as Hajia Tukur. She imagined when he- Gidado - will surely mount her and perform his husbandly rights. Within this waking dream she imagined that he moved atop her, hairy and sweaty, grunting with age and effort. Rabi made herself walk through these scenarios, as a test run.
Because what she was doing was just. It was noble. Marrying this man so Nabila could have a chance at a happy home was her sacrificial act. Self inflicted punishment for the untold pain she must have put her sister through.
For insisting to Nabila, she had not heard from him, even as she stared at Jamal across the table in their restaurant. For long languorous lunches they shared. For listening to Nabila pour out her heart then kissing her cheeks with lips that still tasted of her husband. For the times she threw herself at Jamal with careless abandon, unzipped his trousers and took what was to be reserved only for his wife. For sexy text messages, foot massages, exchanged gifts, the last room on the 14th floor, outpourings of love and lust, undiluted happiness... For all of it. Wishing to turn back the hands of time and undo her wrongs sounds like the appropriate emotion to feel, but it is not what her heart sings. She will never love that child Nabila is carrying but she-Rabi Bello- will make sure to be unhappy all the days of her life. One day, her sister may forgive her.
She was at home, sitting in her room thinking, when Mama informed her Jamal and Nabila would be coming for dinner to congratulate her.
“What? Why?” she shrieked. The awful thought of all three of them at a table, her mind could not harbour the thought. It had only been a month, she wasn’t ready. Mama’s expression became worried so she turned down the air conditioning, Rabi had not realised she was shivering.
Nabila Mujahid took a deep breath as the black metal gates of her home opened up and Jamal eased the car in, up the swooping driveway and round the back to park at the garage. He looked at Nabila as she slowly unbuckled her seatbelt and placed a hand on her shoulder, she jumped. When she turned to face him there was fear in her eyes. Jamal did not bother to try to put her at ease, he did not want to be here and neither did she; at least not with his new found volatile temper in tow. He could not believe he was here after the ruckus he made when Nabila first suggested they come greet her parents and inform them of the grandchild on the way. Lucky for her then that his father-in-law summoned a family gathering; he would be stupid to refuse. Jamal and his wife sat in the car rehearsing their facial expressions before meeting her family.
“Why are we here?” he asked her
“I don’t know” Nabila answered. She was lying.
Did she report him? Jamal wondered. No, she wouldn’t dare. He was certain. Nabila loved him too much to bring him to disrepute in front of her family like this. She would sit and take his anger quietly, cowering in a corner, till it dissipated. Jamal liked the fear that muffled her once witty mouth. A sudden movement from him and she startled. It served her right. She wanted to play games ko? Well he would show her
“Nabsy” Mama shrieked
“Ina wuni Mama- Good afternoon Mama” the couple chorused with wide smiles getting out of the car
“Barka da zuwa- You’re welcome” Mama embraced them both. She blushed as Jamal complimented her outfit, his sweet tongue working his magic.
“Rommon kunne- flattery” she responded in her usual jibe for her son-in-law. “Your words are sweet like ear broth” she said to him, she pinched Nabila as if to say ‘you are a lucky woman.’
Nabila could feel her smile wavering so she gravitated to her father who had appeared without a word, and rushed to hug him. Baba, long and lanky chuckled in his soft voice and rested his head on hers. Her petite figure completely concealed against his frame, Nabila relaxed and leaned into the familiar smell of him, of home, she forgot her large billowy kaftan could only conceal so much. Baba felt her bump and retreated so he could look at her face. His medical degree had nothing to do with his observation; he simply knew his daughter was different. Her rounded cheeks swelled with the new portions she consumed, her neck was no longer scrawny, her hair shined with added gloss and her chest heaved with extra weight.
He pulled her back to him “Alhamdulillah” he whispered.
They proceeded to the garden where a table had been set under a parasol. The wicker chairs were adorned with bright cushions and the rattan oval table was laden with tuwo shinkafa da miyan kubewa (tuwo and okro), faten doya (yam porridge), couscous, danwake and masa. Jugs of zobo, skewers of suya on large trays, bowls filled with slices of chilled mangoes and melons. Nabila breathed in Oda’s cooking, the scent of wild flowers in the evening air and in spite of her troubles she smiled.
Rabi finally made an appearance, Nabila was the first to run and hug her.
“Forget everything I said about Alhaji Tukur, I will support you” Nabila reassured her
“I love you” Nabila said to her ear, squeezing tightly. If Rabi felt her baby bump she certainly did not act surprised.
“Jamal told you didn’t he?”Annoyed her surprise had been ruined. Rabi managed a nod.
“Banza- bastard” Nabila said with a little too much feeling. She smiled to soften it. “Baba already knows but I won’t say anything to Mama till we’re about to leave. This is your dinner.” Rabi had given up on listening.
“See I’m not a thunder thief unlike someone I know” Nabila carried on. Rabi did not laugh, or smile. Her chest did not move almost like she was holding her breath, literally. Nabila released her sister from their embrace and followed her gaze to the roof. There was nothing remarkable there. Wedding nerves were obviously getting the better of Rabi.
“A ci abinci lafiya- enjoy your meal” Mama announced
Servants shooed away from serving. It was late evening and those who did not reside in the vast compound began to make their way home. Paper lanterns strung on the branches of the trees were switched on, bathing the dinner table in pastel colours. Mama could contain her excitement no more and announced the good news, with dramatic effect. Nabila applauded and reached for her sister’s hand, Rabi would not give it, she did not look up from her plate.
“What is the matter?” Baba asked
“Nothing” Jamal responded staring at the stain on his shirt. His fork lay on the floor; it had slipped from his fingers. Refilling his glass, he gulped down kunu, and calmly refilled it again. “Nothing at all” he said with regained composure
“Alhaji Tukur is a lucky man wallahi” Mama continued. Nabila noticed how with Jamal she was the lucky one but in Rabi’s case it was different.
“That is true” Jamal said with a scratchy throat “Allah Ya ba su zaman lafiya- Allah will let you live together happily”
There was a chorus of “Amin”
Mama talked wedding concepts all through the meal. Kaka- their grandmother, must be informed in person. So a trip to Kano was first on the agenda. They had not been in a while, might as well make it a family occasion by throwing an engagement weekend galore. An informal gathering to celebrate her beautiful daughter’s wedding. Before the ‘main’ ceremony of course, as that will take months to plan.
“Baba what do you think?” she asked when she stopped for air
“As long as it is what Rabi wants” was his reply
“It is what you want right?” Baba fixed his stare on her.
“Yes” Rabi nodded her head; it was her most animated behaviour of the night.
Rabi Bello leaned on the American style fridge in the kitchen, stealing a couple of gasps before she had to go back outside. She could not breathe with Nabila there, constant hugs and body contact, Mama’s enthusiasm.
“You bitch” Jamal stood at the door. He had an empty ice bucket in his hand. Bathed only by the dim glow of the outside lights, he was a mask of shadows.
“You fucking bitch” he growled. “After everything I’ve done for you”
“What have you done for me?” Rabi asked his shadow
“How dare you”
“You don’t own me. I will do as I see fit, Ba rin gaya maka- let me tell you”
He threw the ice bucket to the floor and it made a loud clattering noise. Rabi did not flinch, she stared down his shadow. In the darkness, it seemed to float to her.
Jamal tried to press his lips to hers but Rabi elbowed him in the stomach. Staggering back Jamal raised his hand and Rabi covered her face to hear it slam into the fridge. Jamal punched the walls and threw the dishes on the floor.
Each one sounded louder than the rest, echoing its destruction like a cry of help. He retreated into the dark and all Rabi could hear was the sound of his fist against metal, his voice was loathsome. Loathsome of her, and her decision,
“Fuck you”, he cursed again and again. The screen doors opened and the light was switched on. Nabila stood with a spare ice bucket and screamed at the sight of Jamal’s bloodied fist. She rushed to him and tried to stem the bleeding with both her palms. She was sobbing “no, no, no,” in her mind the blood was everywhere, seeping through her fingers, pooling on the floor.
“Help me Rabi” she begged. Rabi pressed a cloth napkin to his knuckles and ordered Nabila to get the First Aid kit from the store room. Nabila’s eyes were transfixed on her husband
“Nabila!” Rabi screamed
Nabila scurried away to the store room as Jamal held Rabi’s hand. “I will rather die...”
“Shut up. It is just a deep cut” Rabi rolled her eyes
“Rabi I can’t live without you. I will bleed everyday till you come back to me”
“I am going to get married Jamal.”
“I beg you. If you love me, if you love Nabila. I can’t make her happy. I need y-”
“You must” Rabi said sternly
“Don’t do this, please. I can’t...without you...”
“Ssssh. Nabila is coming back”
With the arrival of the first aid kit, came her parents. Mama gasped at the sight while Baba calmly bent down and took the lead. He stitched Jamal while Oda tried unsuccessfully to get Nabila to stand up from her husband’s feet where she had taken residence.
“He is okay.”
“I saw all that blood and I thought...”
“It is okay my dear. Get up now; there is so much broken glass around you”
“If anything had happened to him” Nabila stared at her husband with such worship
“Nothing happened” Oda hoisted her to her feet.
Emergency over, everyone, including Nabila who was now weeping with relief, retreated to the living room, leaving Oda to deal with the mess. Mama cursed whoever left the floor damp which according to Jamal was what caused him to ‘slip.’ The broken china, merely the dish rack he grabbed on to, to break his fall. Nobody spoke of the dent in the fridge; amidst all the drama no one noticed it. Rabi did not think it was possible to feel anymore guilty but she had been proven wrong. Oda stood at the cupboards separating the good china from what was damaged. Her hunch an indication of her age, how long she had served them. Rabi practiced her light hearted ‘Don’t mind Mama. Jamal is just clumsy’, but when Oda turned to face her, she knew it would be of no use.
“I fell asleep on the bench outside” Oda said staring at Rabi
The bench was adjacent to the kitchen door. How could Jamal not have seen her?