Nabila Mujahid tapped her foot and awaited her husband’s arrival outside their home in the leafy suburbs of Wuse II. She hissed whenever the sound of an engine drove by the gate. He was late again. He thought he could play her for a fool ko? There is no reason why he should not be home an hour after work hours ended, unless he was cheating on her, looking for a new wife, one that could bear his seed. She would not stand for it; Jamal would have to kill her first before he disgraced her like this. The blare of the horn alerted the mai-guard to wheel open the gates, he did this slowly wondering how he could alert his boss that Hajia was gearing up for a fight, he considered slowly shaking his head as a sign of danger but decided to mind his business.
“Sannu Alhaji” he greeted Jamal as he opened his car door and took his briefcase. That was all Jamal heard before Nabila descended on him with the wrath of Jahannam (hell).
“Sannu mai-gida” She gave him a round of applause. “Finally you come home to your wife. Nagode fa- thank you,” she curtseyed before giving a long hiss. At least today you remembered you have a house.” Jamal calmly walked past her towards the door, “eh eh where do you think you are going?” She grabbed his briefcase from the mai-guard and flung it on the floor marginally missing the left side mirror of his Mercedes. “You will tell me where you are coming from because it is not from work. When I called Zainab said you had already left. Yes, I called your office so don’t even try to lie to me”
Jamal signalled that the mai-guard shut the gates and make himself scarce before turning to face his wife, she bounced on and off her right foot with a smirk on her face, finally after weeks of taking her punishment he had provided her with something to spin into an actual fight.
“Don’t call my name. I know my name. What I want to know is the name of my kinshia (mate). The cheap whore that you wish to replace me with should make herself known now or peace will not reign. Wallahi”
“I went to Gwagwalada for a meeting”
“Kariya- lies!” she hit her hand against her mouth taunting him
“It’s the truth.” Jamal’s voice rose. Remain calm his head reasoned. You are the sane one here. “I was with the Minister of the FCT call his wife and ask her. Go on call Maryam to check”
Nabila eyed him and dialled a number on her phone, once Maryam asked if Jamal had relayed her greeting Nabila found an excuse to hang up... Jamal slowly walked past his wife and lifted up his briefcase, dusting the black leather that was now scratched in places from the impact on the gravel. He would live to fight another day.
“You are still a useless excuse of a man. Kaman kare (like a dog) running around Abuja with your tongue out. You think anyone takes you seriously? Let me just tell you. Jamal Mujahid in this town you are nothing but a joke” she wagged her finger at him and made a rude noise, whistling at him the way one ordered a dog to heel. Jamal’s head began to pound; the heat, the unprofitable deal and now to return home to this, knowing it will last through dinner and she would scream it outside his door tonight, it will be uttered at breakfast. It will never end.
He turned to her with his hand on the door knob and relayed back her favourite insult.
“Nabila you are not a woman. You are a pathetic shadow of one and everybody feels sorry for you.”
Nabila stopped her tirade of insults and stood with her mouth open. She placed her palms on her chest and began to pull her hair. Jamal did not have time for her theatrics, and it would only get worse once they were inside the house. Making a quick u-turn he walked towards his car, shaking off the hand she placed around his ankle he got into his driver seat, the gate was wheeled open and Jamal sped away leaving dust in his awake. He heard Nabila cough it out.
For the first time in his life Jamal walked into a bar and ordered alcohol. He stared at the brown liquid in his large glass and sipped past the foamy head. He tried to like the bitter taste, it was horrid. So he was not a beer man. Jamal tried again with the Spirits; vodka, gin, whiskey nor brandy proved to be his poison of choice. It seemed like corporal punishment and upset that he could not even find a decent means to escape his problems Jamal sat dejected in the corner of the seedy shack he drove into. The Elephant Bar at the Sheraton, the Capital Bar in the Hilton were his usual hang outs, which meant they were the usual hang outs for colleagues and acquaintances he did not wish to see. He ran no risk of running into someone he knew in the off the road dive. The lighting was provided by naked bulbs it was hard to make out the rest of the occupants anyway.
His Mercedes drew too much attention in the open sand dune that was the parking space, customers- drunks and those getting there- marvelled at the shiny silver finish and double headlights. Jamal didn’t care if it was stolen he needed a new car anyway; never had he kept one for so long. It reminded him of Rabi. The hot afternoons they made love in the back seat, AC blasting and John Mayer on the stereo. Sometimes he parked on the deserted hill overlooking Jabi River where they used to picnic and inhaled the leather, summoning up her scent. He couldn’t do that clearly anymore because Nabila had bled all over it. He saw the miscarriage: the loss of a life that trapped him in his.
A prostitute with a flabby belly and too much perfume sidled up to him “Oga you want something?” she inquired smiling at him. This would be the best looking man she ever took to bed. Jamal considered it for a moment. Alcohol wasn’t his vice. Perhaps if he slept around, did exactly what Nabila accused him of... The lady began to rotate her breasts on his shoulder, stretching a hand dusted with dark hairs she grabbed his glass and downed his drink. She licked her lips “make we dey go,” taking his hand. Jamal stared at her and tried to guess her age, he could not but at that moment he felt for her. Reaching a hand into his pocket he brought out his wallet and emptied it. Soundlessly he slapped naira notes onto the wobbly table, as fast as he dropped them she quickly collected and stuffed into her worn purse. Both her palms could not contain the naira notes he repeatedly shoved into them. Her mouth was agape as she watched this man ‘display himself’ in a place where people would not hesitate to break bottle and rob him.
She pulled out a chair and sat on it shielding the view of his wallet from some particularly menacing looking thugs in the far corner. Was he trying to get them both killed? She wanted to tell him that this was quadruple her rate even for performing the most perverse of sexual acts. She had watched him try to drink himself unconscious but to no avail, well she could help him forget whatever it was that was too hard to remember. Besides she had not eaten in nearly two days, alcohol would at least be something. This man with the curly hair and un-rumpled suit that met her eyes so boldly did not belong here. As if hearing her thoughts he got up to leave. Could he read minds? She wondered. In answer to her question Jamal gave his plate of untouched peppered chicken and jollof rice to her.
Jamal Mujahid knocked on his mai-guard’s door, Dauda croak it open gripping his machete in case it was an unwelcome guest. At the sight of Alhaji all sleep cleared from his eyes and apologising he put on a shirt scrambling to open the gate.
“No, drive the car in slowly. I don’t want to wake anybody up” They both knew who he meant by ‘anybody’. With furious nodding Dauda complied driving the expensive car in without the aid of headlights and wondering how women could reduce men to nothing. This was precisely why you had to marry them young, so they grew to respect you.
There was a chill in the air as he walked into his dark house, it could be impending rain or Nabila’s breathe. He tried to pretend that he was not tip-toeing to avoid waking her. Slowly creeping up the stairs to the spare bedroom he paused. At first it sounded like snarling causing him to startle in surprise, now that he paid attention it was definitely sniffles. It seemed to be coming from the forbidden room- the nursery. Jamal wondered if the ghost of the baby was there, then realised he was probably tipsy. The minute sips out of each glass had managed to get him slightly drunk. Well, that settled the question of his alcohol tolerance. He was pushed by an unfamiliar sense of curiosity to find out what made that noise, he slowly made it to the door half-expecting to see a toddler with his father-in-law’s face wearing a bib with ‘I am Danjuma Mujahid’ clearly displayed across it. He carefully opened the door and saw a pregnant Nabila surrounded by stuffed animals talking to the wall paper. Jamal blinked once then twice, clearing his vision. Nabila’s bump was provided by a pillow stuffed under her blouse; she stroked it and spoke to it. He didn’t think she even realised she was crying.
“Nabila” he slurred. Wincing when he realised he had said her name out loud; he steeled himself against her retort. None came
“I’m not crazy” she defended herself. Jamal looked around the dusty forest that was the nursery, he noticed the rocking chair had been broken, destroyed beyond repair, its wooden splinters facing the ceiling, a hammer lay beside it.
“What happened to your rocking chair?”
“Don’t do that. Don’t pity me” she shook her head
Jamal walked in and sat on the opposite side of the room beside the crib. Dried petals crunched under his shoes, he remembered Nabila hung flowers on the crib most days so this room scented like her garden. He remembered she did a lot of things for this baby.
“Did you mean what you said?” She asked rubbing her un-natural bump
“I was angry”
Nabila shook her head as tears fell down “but its true isn’t it? I am pathetic”
“Nobody likes me. Since I lost Danju...it, no one cares”
“It is difficult for them to be around you”
“Them? Don’t you mean everyone? Don’t you mean you?”
“Not me. Not right now” Jamal shuffled across the dusty carpet till he was beside Nabila “To be on the safe side” he said picking up the hammer and tossing it out of her reach. She watched it land with a thud, raising dust. “You are a little unstable” he said, but it was said gently, almost with a smile. They were a few feet away from each other now
“You never wanted that child” Nabila said
“That is true” Jamal agreed “In the beginning, but then I understood being around you would be less intense if you had someone else to focus your attention on. I did not wish what happened to happen. No one did.”
“Intense” she repeated... “I smother you”
“It’s the only way you know how to love” he stared at her
“You know me so well” she wiped her running nose
“I have always understood you Nabila. I do not know how come”
“The reason I love you. I never had to apologise for being myself” she watched him shift uncomfortably “... but I know it’s also the reason you don’t love me. I am not versatile enough for you. People need to be complex to hold your interest.”
“You know me so well” he said
“Maybe when you realise that you will give me a chance to be your wife”
Jamal kept quiet. “I think we need to focus on your unresolved issues first Nabila”
“Like ignoring your garden, ignoring Amaka...”
“So?” her voice was defensive
“So those are the paramount things that made you happy. You were happy before you got pregnant too Nabila, do you remember?”
Her lips held the promise of a smile “If I close my eyes and pretend, you sound like you care”
“I wasn’t always like this” Jamal said hurt by her remarks. He knew he hadn’t been the best husband but there were times they got along. Gisting like old friends who have not spoken in years, “It hasn’t all been bad”
“Well the good was so long ago it’s hard to remember” Nabila corrected. Have they been in different marriages this past five years? “When was the last time you held my hand?” She asked “Or told me...” she was interrupted by warmth as his hand gripped hers reassuringly. She looked at their joint hands resting atop her belly, a minute later he let go
“There...the last time I held your hand was a minute ago. What else were you saying?”
“Err...ah...um...” she swallowed “or told me I looked nice”
“You look nice. Beautiful was the day you put the water feature in. You wore the gold shimmery thing with the tight skirt...that was really nice.”
“You didn’t know I was pregnant then”
“How did I not notice that?”
They both laughed. “You see we can get along” Jamal said
“Then kiss me” she suggested. Jamal stopped laughing, his smile disappeared.
“I guess it was worth the shot. I felt your skin against mine for the first time in two years and I‘m grateful. I really am” She spread her palm over a crocodile’s back, shifting undisturbed dust from the wallpaper, it rose in the dark causing her to sneeze
“We should get back to our rooms”
“I’ll stay here just a little while longer” Nabila said
Jamal got up and bid her goodnight, at the door he turned once more and realised the insane picture she struck with her fake bulge; an image that fled his mind once he sat down to talk to her. She looked crazy till you discovered that she was just hurt and looking for a way to hold on to what had been lost. She needed something for the pain. Jamal walked back to her, knelt by her side once more “I’ll wait with you” he said
“I would prefer to be alone”
“Well too bad” he said before he kissed her
Nabila was stunned. Her husband’s lips were on hers tasting faintly of alcohol. He put an arm around her waist and she forgot the dust and everything else. It felt so good to feel human again, to feel contact. She sighed and moaned as he reminded her why she couldn’t get enough of him when they began dating. His tongue was in the roof of her mouth then in her cheeks, at her throat. She sighed so loudly, the victory dance of a woman that had forgotten pleasure of the flesh. This wasn’t gardening nor the other simple pleasure of life, it was hot and hurried. Her heart thudded so fast she began to fear she would faint again and awake in a hospital. Hungrily her lips lapped up his kisses not knowing when next they would be offered.
Jamal pulled back to catch his breath, “no” Nabila groaned as he pulled away. She wanted him, placing her forehead to his she begged for more, “Kiss me please. Just once more, kiss me.” Moved by his enormous ego and reassurance that someone was begging him to touch her Jamal held her hand and whispered words he never thought he would say ever again “let’s go to the bedroom.” Nabila’s eyes widened, just as they did the night he took her virginity, brimming with untapped desire.
“O-o-kay-y” Nabila stuttered
He pulled her up and led her to the master bedroom, a room he had not slept in for 7 months. He removed the pillow from underneath her blouse and tossed it aside, kissing her flat stomach. He unhooked her bra and chuckled when socks used to fill her maternity cups fell out displaying her once again humble breasts, in turn he sucked each nipple till her moans became fearfully loud. He placed her hand on his penis, “touch me here,” he instructed rumbling in his throat as she stroked the shaft, squeezing the engorged head.
Surprised at his wife Jamal threw her petite figure on the bed and parted her legs; he slid his fingers into her waterfall till he found her centre. Making a ‘come hither’ signal with his index he drove her wild, causing Nabila to trash about, clamping her things shut and shaking her head contradicting her cries begging him not to stop. He kissed her all over and freed his body up to her touch. Nabila roamed her fingers everywhere tasting, re-discovering. She kissed him till her tongue went numb and smelt him till she no longer felt oxygen but his presence in her lungs. Jamal lay atop and made love to his wife, lifting her tiny frame clear off the bed with each massive thrust, squeezing her buttocks and muffling her loud moans with kisses. Her body shivered and sweated till it released. Nabila lay suspended in white light, her body sore from the pounding it had received. She tried to rest her head in the crook of her husband’s shoulder but he turned away. What had changed in the mere seconds of orgasm till now??
“I am trying to sleep Nabila. I gave you what you wanted, let me rest now”
Nabila turned to face the wall and quietly she cried herself to sleep. In the recesses of her unconscious mind she heard drawers open and shut, these noises persisted till it broke through alerting her brain to wake up. Nabila opened her eyes to see Jamal taking shirts off the hanger, he was still naked
“What are you doing?” she asked her voice heavy with sleep
“Transferring more clothes to my room”
“The guest bedroom? I thought you were moving back here”
“We made love...” Jamal shook his head. “Yes we did. We did Jamal don’t lie to me, not now. The way you touched me, kissed me”
“I still don’t love you Nabila. That has not changed.”
“Jamal” Nabila felt tears fill her eyes
“Aren’t you tired of crying?” he asked. He was not about to pull another pity fuck out of the basket
“Yes I am.” her voice went whisper-quiet as an epiphany dawned on her, “I have nothing left to give to this marriage. Not a baby, or tears, sweat, blood, I am empty.”
“I can’t love you because I love someone else okay. There I said it” Jamal looked her directly in the face
“You have punished me more than that in the past two minutes” Nabila met his stare
“That’s not all. It’s Rabi”
“Rabi” Jamal repeated. Nabila’s eyes shut tightly as she absorbed this
After a two minute silence “She’s exactly your type” she finally said. Jamal stared as she continued to look at him.
“Nabila did you hear me?”
“Yes loud and clear.” She shrugged her shoulders “You have worn me down Jamal. I have no fight left in me”
“I’ll be gone in the morning” he reassured her
“I heard you Jamal.”
Amaka Nwafor opened her door at 7.00am, to find Nabila sitting out on the veranda. It was drizzling and the air was chilly, Amaka walked to her friend. The one that had come out of the hospital half the person she was.
“Why didn't you come in?”
“I didn’t want to wake the kids”
“It’s windy and cold out here”
“He is in love with Rabi”
Amaka wanted to be shocked but she remembered that night in the Hilton. The way they held hands, laughing as they walked to their cars. She had known, even as she fed herself that bullshit about giving everyone the benefit of doubt. Nabila was awaiting her shock and horror, Amaka decided to be honest
Nabila stared at her “you know! How long have you known?”
“I saw them in the parking lot at the Hilton months ago, but the next night you told me things were good and you two were starting a family, so I let it go. Nabila please don’t be upset with me, I didn’t see anything improper. I did not know for sure they were having an affair”
“Yes you did” Nabila got up to leave. Amaka held her hand. “We have barely spoken since you lost Danjuma.”
Nabila swung the net door open and walked into the cold rain, marching towards the gate and ignoring Amaka’s apologies. She wished she drove her jeep here but she did not trust herself to drive. Her eerie calmness was alien to her and she was certain that any moment she would explode. It seemed a safer idea to get into a taxi at that point, well obviously when she made the decision she was dry, unlike now. Nabila got into the main street and raised an arm for a taxi; a beat up Toyota painted green with black stripes slid to a stop nearly splashing the puddle in her path. Getting in the back seat Nabila gave the address of her parents’ home.
Baba was having breakfast in the library, surrounded by his books and the aroma of coffee. Nabila wanted more than anything for Mama to hear this but unfortunately she was out of town. She showed herself into the study ignoring the servant who tried to offer her breakfast.
“Baba” she swung the large doors open. Baba looked up from his journal, setting down his journal
“Jamal and Rabi” she said as carefully as she could.
Baba sighed. “Yes” was all he uttered. Nabila’s eyes stung from tears that would not fall. “You k-knew-w Baba how could...” there were disrespectful words begging to be said. She had to walk away. Turning around she started to shout Rabi’s name. There was no response
“She’s at work” Oda said emerging from the kitchen and as usual wiping her hands on her apron
“Tell me you did not know about this” Oda wanted to ask Nabila what she meant but Baba emerged and the question was rendered useless. She bowed her head instead
“EVERYBODY knew I was a laughing stock?”
“Nabila I was trying to...”
“I am your daughter Baba” Nabila interrupted her father. Without words his look seemed to say “and so is Rabi”
Nabila insisted that one of the drivers take her home, they all scrambled when they saw her approach the garage. It was Oga’s pikin and not the nice one sef. Was anything in her matrimonial home still sacred? For all she knew he and her sister had violated every single piece of furniture in her home. She tried to cry still no tears came, she was pretty certain that if she pierced herself she would not bleed either.
This marriage had drained her of all fluid; embryonic, tears, blood, sweat... At her gate she got out and marching past Dauda stormed into her home. Jamal was not here, Nabila rushed to pack her things, shoving anything and everything she could find into boxes. How did she accumulate all this stuff?
Each time she came across something precious such as a perfume bottle or an antique necklace she wondered if Rabi had worn the scent, adorned herself with the jewellery. She sat on the bed and wondered if last night was the first time she experienced what Rabi had been getting for free. She was his wife but she had to beg and plead to receive a portion of what had become Rabi’s property. That stung. Did her husband also take permission from his lover before he offered up a kind word? Nabila thought of the hostility her sister displayed after she got pregnant, she walked around in a bubble while everyone sniggered behind her back, knowing the truth. Her husband preferred her sister to her, because she wasn’t worth falling in love with.
Surrounded by clothes and suitcases she felt completely overwhelmed; she also had no idea where she was going to once she left what had been the home she created for herself, the one she wished to grow old in. Walking into the bathroom she saw a pair of scissors in the medicine cabinet, the sharp blades gleamed. Nabila held it up to the light coming from the window and snipped the air, the noise was crisp, with no beginning and no end just function. It was obvious what needed to be done. She held it up to her hair and snipped off the long braid down her back. Her hair clip clattered to the floor loudly and the ends of her hair stuck out. If this was her only resemblance to her sister Jamal could have it, she would be her own person without being criticised for falling short of her perfect sibling.
She took the scissors to her hair again and snipped, tuft by tuft of curly hair dropped into the sink and onto the Italian floor tiles. She snipped till she hit flesh, scraping her scalp clean she severed it all, her bald head red in parts that flesh had been taken out along with hair, and other patches retained stubble like prickly strands. Coating her wounds in baby oil she tied a Hermes silk scarf on her head watching as the blood soaked through the material. The oil reminded her of something...She knew where to go. Walking out of the bathroom Nabila opened up a new bag and dropped in: Kermit teddy, a nightgown, toothbrush and underwear, zipping up the Louis Vuitton carrier she walked away from the rest of her belongings strewn about the room, open jewellery boxes and diamond earrings and silk scarves. She threw her phone in the toilet. Four hours later her flight touched down in Kano and she ran into Kaka’s arms.