Nabila Mujahid was being released from hospital. It is safe to say it was not in the way she envisioned. Yes, her parents were around her, fussing with the arrangement of her kaftan and brushing her hair back. Her husband was pushing the wheelchair she sat on, her best friend holding her right hand. It is the scenario she saw her in her future. Four months into her future to be exact.
But with one major difference; in her arms she cradled not a baby. The cards on her lap did not read “Congratulations,” “To the New Mommy” and “It’s a Boy” instead they were words of condolence. As she was wheeled out of the maternity ward she had been admitted into; past rooms of wailing babies and nursing mothers, her loss sank sharp teeth into her flesh and bit hard. Nabila could feel the tears coming on.
This happened every time, every time she believed there were no more left to shed. That her eyes could produce no more; her heart defied her. Two fat salty drops rolled down her cheeks breaking the damn, a torrential flood followed, a sound escaped her lips. This was her baby, this child brought so much joy into her life yet it was taken away from her.
Pain questioned her faith in Allah. It no longer made sense the Holy Book insisted everything happened for a reason. The wheels on the chair stopped; everyone looked down at Nabila crying into the Kermit the Frog teddy. Her hands squeezed the webbed feet, her mouth open as she talked and cried into the defining symbol of her loss. Saliva and sweat dripped onto the green polyester fibre.
No one stopped her; no one had the heart to. What do you say? That it will all work out for the best? The pain will heal soon? Her mother turned into Baba’s shoulder and with her face away from everyone else silently joined her daughter in tears. Baba put an arm around his wife and averted his gaze also; he stared at the plasterwork on the ceiling. Amaka busied herself with rearranging the hem on Nabila’s gown, occasionally stroking her neck.
She did not cry, but the look on her face was far more reminiscent of pain. She sucked in her cheeks and craned her neck backwards then forwards, she closed her eyes for long moments on end before opening them up again. In the midst of this despair was Jamal. He released his grip on the handle and wiped his sticky palm on his thigh. Everyone had done nothing but question him for the three days Nabila was admitted. He had re-told the story, the miscarriage story; so many times it no longer felt it like a firsthand account.
Going through the motions of that fateful morning: finding Nabila in a fragile heap at his feet, the blood trickling down her leg, the red stain on his shirt as he carried her down the stairs, speeding through early morning traffic, the emergency room, Nabila on a stretcher and two hours later Dr. Mahdi’s solemn expression, as his lips quietly delivered the devastating news.
It felt unreal to Jamal. He didn’t know what “foetus in distress” and “tangled umbilical cord” meant. He merely nodded and walked in behind the doctor as they entered his wife’s room. It was when he saw her hooked up to the transfusion machine that it slowly began to dawn on him what had occurred. The large plastic bag with a pint of O+ blood dripped steadily into her veins.
Nabila became conscious and asked of the baby, Jamal watched Dr. Mahdi go through the process again: the quiet movement of his lips, his defeated stance, and shoulders down. He had after all lost a battle with Death; he could not save an unborn child. Even with the added risk of delivering the foetus via caesarean in the hope that it would survive its first premature weeks in an incubator, came to no avail. “I tried everything,” he said. He swore it. Nabila began to scream. It clawed from deep within, animalistic and raw. A lioness had lost her cub. She gripped her still swollen belly. “Give me back my child” her head spinning wildly as she became increasingly delirious, a mad woman. Eyes bulging out of her skull slightly yellowed in the irises from the blood loss. She tore at the sheets and pulled the tubes out of her veins.
Dr. Mahdi carefully approached her, urging her to lie down before she fainted. Nabila refused his help, slapping away at his hands, screaming and crying and calling out to her child. She spat at his feet, called him a thief- not a murderer- for she still believed her child to be alive. Not dead. She ran her long nails across her face breaking skin. Two nurses were called in and one forced her down while the other sedated with an injection to her forearm. Her unconscious body was caught mid-slump, lay on the bed and hooked up to the transfusion machines once again. Dr. Mahdi clearly relived, placed a hand on Jamal’s shoulder before exiting. Staring at his wife, Jamal finally got it.
The pity transformed his attitude, care he did not show in the six months she carried his child came oozing out of every pore. Jamal made the necessary phone calls to family and friends and spent the night in an uncomfortable chair by her bedside. When he awoke the next day with a stiff back it was to not-so-yellow eyes staring at him
“Is it true?” she whispered with a hoarse voice
“Yes” he said gently
“Which was it?” she asked
“A boy” Jamal replied
“Danjuma” tears rolled down her face. “Danjuma Mujahid”
Although curious he did not ask what she would have named the child had it been a girl.
Jamal Mujahid led Nabila into their home, setting her down gently on the blue sofa. They had finally departed from the rest of the group and with everyone scheduling their time for visits, Jamal felt confident he would be able to return to work without fearing harm would come to her.
“Ruwa-water?” he asked. She shook her head
“Nabila you have to be strong”
“Don’t tell me how to feel”
Her whole body tensed up when he spoke to her. Her hostility grew. Jamal began to fear she blamed him for the miscarriage. What else could cause such a reaction? He tried to talk to her about it- he was told talking helped- but she shouted him down. She screamed a lot now. It really brought to light how much her personality had changed whilst she was pregnant, for this was a side of Nabila he had not seen in a long time. Hours turned to days. Jamal found himself walking on egg shells around his wife, fearing he spoke too much or not enough. He returned from work praying she was at Amaka’s or pottering around in her garden. But the days turned to weeks the Cherokee never left the garage and the garden over grew.
Rose beds and chrysanthemums jumbled, suffocating one another. Clear pathways had become obstructed with prickly grass, thorns jutted out everywhere, and the hedges blocked the views from all windows. Climbing ivy spread over cement and once upon a time beautiful brickwork. Her water feature clogged by debris and twigs had long since stopped working. The work load surmounted and the area became hazardous but no one dared prune it. It was her garden. Nabila would get around to it soon. They hoped.
The rainy season came and watered the city, the weeds grew and so did Nabila’s anger. The cook and mai-guard ran scared of her, neighbours avoided the house and her phone stopped ringing as much. Seeing as she never answered, people stopped calling. All the sympathisers ceased to visit. The last two standing did their best- Ikenna dropped by a few times and Amaka whenever she could- but Nabila remained seething at whoever was brave enough to get close. Jamal in particular got the brunt of it. She cursed at him: for chewing loudly, walking too fast, breathing heavily, and generally being alive.
If he avoided her she sought him out; be it in the study or the guest bedroom.
“You think you are a man?” was a common line of hers.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” a close second.
Each passing day she resembled her pre-pregnant self erasing all trace she ever carried life, the more her stomach flattened the more bitterness seemed to seep out of her every orifice. Jamal’s empathy had long since emptied. The pity that filled his being at the hospital had been trampled upon by Nabila’s insults, poisoned by her venom. Jamal craved Rabi more than anything else in the world. He needed the balm that was her essence to soothe his pinching wounds, dull his ache. But she was lost to him, because of a child that no longer existed. Still Jamal prayed for a chance encounter.
One night when the rains were particularly ferocious, she was gifted to him. Placed right at his doorstep in a slightly wet t-shirt and snug jeans, her wet lips spread into a sincere smile. There might as well be an arrow with KISS ME blinking atop her dark hair.
Rabi Bello walked in accompanied by her father.
She had not been alone with Jamal or her sister since her engagement party in Kano. Rabi knew the phones will not be answered so she left voicemails. It was too difficult to bring herself to the hospital bed, so she did not. In some cosmic way she felt her ill will and lack of love and support hindered the growth of this child. There were extra shifts at work and she gladly took them on. Mama screamed at her to find time for her sister but it all fell on deaf ears. When the home visits began she trailed in behind someone: Oda, Kaka, Mama, Uncle Dauda, usually in the day time too, when Jamal would be at work. Avoiding him took planning.
Baba had her summoned and instructed she drive him to Nabila’s house. It was nearly 10pm and she had just returned from work no more than an hour ago plus there was an army of drivers at his beck and call. She was aghast but Rabi was wise enough not to argue and with a swift nod she rushed to get her car keys. Weeks of careful orchestration demolished in one swiftly barked order. Driving to his gate she felt underprepared and very uncomfortable. Pressing the doorbell with damp fingers and cowering under her blue umbrella in a tatty Kings of Leon shirt and stonewashed jeans that had seen better days. Hair held back with three rubber bands, smelling like the pungent disinfectants used in her ward. Jamal opened the door resembling the stuff dreams are made of; relaxed in a crew neck jumper and dark slacks. His hair as usual was beautiful and thick. He gave her a once over before greeting his father-in-law and letting them in. He did not utter the inconvenience of the time, he dare not
“Where is Nabila?” Baba asked in his quiet voice and immediately he took off in that direction.
Rabi wished she had jumped in the shower instead of succumbing to exhaustion back in her room. She smelt horrible and given that the last time Jamal saw her she was decked to the nines in Chantilly lace and satin and silk, it made her feel even more ugly in her regular clothes
“I am getting married in two months” she had no idea why she blurted that out
“Yes Rabi I know” Jamal held up the invitation card in the silver tray by the door
“I am sorry I said it like that”
“Do you know what’s funny?” he asked with no humour in his voice “even if you had decided to wait for me, how do I leave...after the miscarriage.” He ran his hand through his brown curls. “It was better that you got on with your life. You were right”
Rabi stared at him as he breezily denounced all they shared. All they had been through, both together and apart
“So just like that, you no longer feel the same way”
Jamal altered his stance to mirror hers. “You almost sound disappointed”
“You know why I did it.” Rabi said. She did not have to use the word, he knew what she meant.
“So you can go to heaven?”
“Get married Rabi. I wish you all the best I really do”
“Wait wait, is this some sort of goodbye”
“I am stuck in my marriage for the unforeseeable future. That baby was supposed to be my ticket out instead it has locked me in. Worse of all, your sister is now crazy” Jamal suddenly went quiet like he had said more than he intended to. He never clamped up before. Not with her anyway, he told her everything.
“What you can’t talk to me anymore?”
“I shouldn’t be discussing this with you”
“Jamal I don’t think you are appreciating that this is tough on me too. My surname will change-but that is it. I am still the same person. It’s still me” Rabi looked at him like they were alone. The look she always wore in their room on the 14th floor.
Simultaneously they took off their armours. All they ever had was each other. To lose that connection would be to end existence. With a nervous gulp Jamal went first, parting his mouth he confessed
“I spend my days praying to see you then realising that if I do, it will only make my need to be with you worse”
“I’m sorry if I make being without you look easy. It’s not.” Rabi replied
“Rabi... I...I am... I’m drowning. If you would please just answer my phone calls once in a while or reply my texts...”
“We both know where that will eventually lead”
“That part doesn’t matter to me. How many times must I tell you that I lo-”
“Rabi” Baba barked as he emerged from the study. Rabi wondered if the electricity between her and Jamal seared her father’s skin. “Go to your sister,” it was not a request.
As Rabi departed Jamal focused all his attention on his father-in-law while trying to clear his thoughts of the one he wished to kiss. Baba walked by him and into the smaller lounge, Jamal sensed he was required to follow.
“Zube” Baba ordered
Jamal blinked. His hearing was obviously off, because there is no way he was just commanded to kneel in his own home
Baba did not repeat himself but instead confidently waited for Jamal to do as he was told.
“The only thing stopping me from having you dealt with is my daughter. You will kneel and you will do it now”
“What did I do?” Jamal asked in shock. A question he had not asked since teenage years
“Ask me that one more time” Baba threatened
Jamal opted for a squat; a fair compromise given the situation.
“I will talk and you will listen. At the end you will say yes and then get out of my sight”
Jamal did not bother with a reply this time. This old man was really crossing the line, and elderly or not this was unacceptable. His silence was taken as a “yes”
“Using one sister to ruin the other takes a higher level of wickedness than any other form of adultery. You disrespect your wife. Worse of all you do this by disrespecting her family as well.” Baba bunched his fingers into a tight fist when Jamal opened his mouth to speak. Wisely, Jamal changed his mind and stared at his toes.
“You have ruined my daughter. You will stay in this marriage and make it up to her. You will perform every task she requires of you.”
“If I ever see you around Rabi I will have you dealt with and I am sure Alhaji Tukur will insist on being a part of your punishment. You do not come into my home and drag my name through the mud. You do not play my wife and me for fools. You are not worthy to treat my daughters as your playthings.” Fist clenched, voice hardened. “Pray Nabila continues to love you because the minute she stops...” Baba did not need to complete the sentence. Jamal was shaking, unsteady on his toes. He feared to look up in case it pushed his threat over the edge. He wanted to say that his feelings for Rabi were serious and that given the opportunity he would marry her right here and now. He loved her that much. However the image of his body floating along some river undiscovered for days glued his mouth.......
“Yes Baba” Jamal replied before standing up and getting out of his father-in-law’s sight