Nafisat climbed onto the steps of the aeroplane at exactly 8.37am glad that the flight was to take off as scheduled. Although it was still morning, she wore her big dark Chanel shades because the sun was already blazing in the sky.
She wore a t-shirt with slim jeans and sandals, not bothering with heels for the first time in a long while. She was still exhausted from her aerobics session with Bayo last night. She had no luggage other than her black Hermes handbag as she had clothes in Abuja. Her phone had been switched off since last night but she knew she would have to call her boss soon to explain the hurried text she had sent to him last night asking for leave. Nafisat strapped on her seatbelt as more passengers boarded the flight, replaying the previous night over and over in head as she dozed off.
By the time she woke up, passengers were struggling with their luggage in the overhead lockers above her and making a racket. She rubbed her eyes tiredly wishing she had gotten some more sleep. She instinctively turned on her phone and saw a dozen messages which she ignored. She called her boss and explained that her mum was ill and she was just landing in Abuja, silently praying that God would not punish her. She had so many lies going on she feared she would lose track. Her boss instructed her to keep her phone with her and she sighed in obedience.
Nafisat frowned at the scorching Abuja heat as she stepped out of the domestic wing of Nnamdi Azikwe airport. She got into the first car hire that approached her and fell asleep again. She was awoken by the sound of horns blaring and the driver cursing other road users. Everywhere seemed unfamiliar because of the never ending road construction and diversions. She directed the driver to her house but noticed that it had been repainted a different colour. The taxi drove in through the huge congregated iron gates upwards to the house.
Everything seemed different even the interlocking on the ground. There was a supple garden surrounding the house in spite of the scorching heat. The driver looked around in awe, probably wondering how many people lived in such a grand house. She paid him his highly inflated fare and watched him shake his head in amazement as he drove away. The houseboy Adamu ran towards her clearly surprised at her arrival. She hardly stayed at the house, preferring to stay with Nuhu in his apartment, or at Farida’s.
She walked in through the tall double doors into the cool house. It smelt of Arabian incense and Jo Molone fragrances. Her mother was obsessed with scents. When she was growing up, before all the positions, her mother would make fragrances herself and store them in tiny coloured bottles that were blown out in Kano. She still did once in a while when she had some time to herself. The fragrances were concentrated and made from crushed flowers and incense leaves.
The living room was ostentatious with an incredibly high ceiling manned by tall white caste pillars. Gold damask curtains extended from the ceiling to the floor and there were large French gold rimmed mirrors which made the room look twice as big as it was. Her mum had seen the living room in a magazine and flown in a decorator from Sweden to replicate it. Everything sparkled from being barely used and polished every day. The stairs curved from opposite sides of the room and converged at the balcony that overlooked the space. She walked up the stairs and realised how little she missed this house. It was cold, physically and emotionally, and she had very little attachments to. There were huge pictures of her three older brothers and herself across the balcony along with various military recognitions awarded to her dad.
She walked into her room which had just been unlocked by Adamu and fell onto the bed. Her exhaustion was more mental than physical. Clutching one of the dozens of throw pillows on the four poster bed, Nafisat dozed off to the sound of construction next door.
She was awoken by the Adhan call to prayer outside. It had been so long since she heard it, as she spent most of her hours inside the office or on the road. It had also been a while since she said any prayers. Her eldest brother Bello was the only religious one in the family. He had quit the military and moved to Egypt to learn Arabic. He kept a beard and did not drink alcohol or engage in the long list of activities which he considered haram. Bello currently lived in Qatar and was supposed to be working for an oil company but spent most of his time studying to be a cleric.
Her dad had been trying to convince him to return to Nigeria where he hoped like his peers, the pursuit for money and power would distract him from his fanatics. Her mum had been trying to get him a wife, also hoping that this would bring him back home and back to his senses. Nafisat had not spoken to Bello in months as they had nothing in common. He did not approve of her dressing, lifestyle or her outspoken attitude and did not hesitate to tell her how each strand of her exposed hair would burn in hell. Nafisat was not one to be back down and the last time they had spoken she had told him his hell awaited in Guantanamo with his terrorist brothers.
She smiled at the realisation that Bello had not crossed her mind in months. Her family were not close, and their father was the glue that held them together. On the outside though, they appeared picture perfect because they were all good looking, rich, well spoken and educated. Few people really knew them beyond the picture perfect image they portrayed Few people knew for example, that her youngest brother Abubakar was currently in a private rehabilitation centre in Zurich being treated for drug addiction. Even Bello did not know this. She lay on her bed thinking about how much she missed him.
Abu was her favourite sibling and had always been the smartest of them all growing up, achieving the best grades and participating in every school activity from sports to politics. As soon as Abu got to Switzerland to study French and Philosophy, he seemed to lose all focus, and after several years of changing courses, eventually dropped out. Her dad finally lost his patience and stopped sending him money. When no one heard from him for several months she decided to leave New York to search for him. She found him living in a volunteer shelter for a group called ‘Friends of the Earth’. He was planting trees, taking part in Green campaigns and making organic honey for sale. She thought he had finally lost it because he looked and smelt like a hobo, but he was still as brilliant as ever. He spent the whole time passionately explaining to her how CO2 emissions was eventually going to wipe out the planet. He did this entirely in Fulani, which was no easy feat, but he was intelligent like that. He had also picked up French and German living in Zurich and still spoke the best Hausa amongst them.
Farida made him stay with her at the hotel she was lodged in, and they stayed up all night talking about everything but the reason she had come. He showed her the best parts of Zurich and took her to the beautiful vineyards in the countryside which overlooked the whole city, enjoying the long summer days. They sat on the grass enjoying the long summer days, smoking cigarettes, weed and drinking locally made wine. It was here that Naffy pleaded with Abu to go back to school and get his life together. He listened attentively as she explained to him how he was wasting his life and potential. She even offered him the opportunity to come back to New York with her and start school again.
He simply smiled and said ‘Ba na so, I cannot come back'.
The thing all the members of her family had in common other than their towering height was a silent stubbornness. She knew that since he had made up his mind, there was not much she could do to persuade him.
Nafisat gave him some money and a phone and made him promise to call. She knew he would not because he was convinced that the waves in mobile phones had links to cancer. He promised to write to her. She thought this meant he would email her.
However to her surprise, she got a letter from him a week later. He wrote the letter in Fulani, and even though it took her a long time to decipher what he was saying but she cherished it. He wrote about his work, his protests, environmental research and how he was hoping to travel to a village in Bolivia that self sustained on recycled materials. There were some sentences in English because there simply were no such Fulani words. He wrote to her every couple of weeks but she could not write back because he left no forwarding address. Sometimes he would send her pictures and poetry. On her birthday he sent her a necklace made with coloured pebbles and a hand painted card with a Fulani poem in it. She kept every single thing he sent her.
This went on for over a year until all of a sudden the letters stopped. After two months without hearing from him, she got on another flight to Zurich.
This time Zurich was freezing and covered in snow. The city was nothing like she remembered and the people seemed just as icy. She headed straight to the Friends of the Earth hostel that he was in the last time and was told that he had moved out a few weeks ago into his girlfriend’s house. She sat at the hostel reception for hours, waiting patiently for someone who knew where Abu's girlfriend lived. She stared at the hobos coming in and out, in awe of their passion. A girl named Vanessa eventually came in with some information on Abu’s her. Her name was Marianna and she was a Colombian asylum seeker. Vanessa confessed that Marianna had gotten Abu into hard drugs and when the hostel had found out, they threatened to kick him out. He had moved into her house and no one had seen him since. She offered to take her on her Moped, but Nafisat insisted they take a taxi.
They arrived at a set of dejected high rise flats and walked up six flight of stairs to the apartment. She could not believe Abu, who had the opportunity to live a life of complete luxury, chose to live here. It was cold, damp and smelt of desperation and urine. Vanessa pounded the door of Flat 16A with all her fists to the surprise of Farida. After several minutes, a girl opened the door angrily. She had olive skin with a full head of curly locks and was extremely beautiful. Vanessa paid no mind to social grace and burst into her apartment yelling Abu’s name. They started arguing at the top of their voice in German, and Nafisat stood outside the door completely clueless. Eventually Nafisat had to interject to ask Vanessa what was going on. She walked out angrily and explained that Abu was in hospital admitted for overdosing on heroine. Nafisat’s heart stopped beating for what seemed like hours and she stood completely still. She knew Abu experimented with drugs but always believed he could take care of himself. Vanessa jerked her out of her state of panic and pulled her hand back towards the stairs. Her legs felt wobbly and she broke into a sweat despite the freezing temperatures. As the taxi raced to the hospital, she heard Vanessa’s voice in the background talking about how Marianna had introduced Abu to needles and was a terrible person who should be locked up. Nafisat was lost in thought of the last time she had seen him. It was at Zurich International Airport and he had bought her some organic chilli chocolates which he insisted were amazing. He teased her about how the cost of her Prada bag could build a classroom in Kano, and made her promise to spend less on material things. She smiled the whole time she shopped in duty free, knowing how badly he would disapprove. She felt Vanessa’s hand tug her back to reality as they exited the taxi and walked into the hospital.
They found Abu in a ward filled with different types of addicts. The ward smelt of disinfectant and felt very cold. There were electronic beeps coming from each bedside and lights flashing from various machines. It was very quiet except for the intermittent ramblings from a patient at the end of the Bay.
Abu was fast asleep with a drip attached to his arm. He looked so handsome. He was tall and lanky with thick dark curly hair. His eyelashes were long and dark and covered his big brown eyes. He was darker than she was but had her distinctive North African features. His long legs stretched out of the small bed and he was wearing a blue hospital gown that was worn-out from being over washed.
Tears rolled down her eyes as she saw his arms bruised with needles and how much weight he had lost. His face was sunken and his skin looked pasty and dry. His pink lips were parched and dark from smoke. She was scared to touch him because he looked so fragile. Vanessa held her in a tight hug and she was glad for the company of this stranger who seemed to share her pain.
She stayed with him for a week and nursed him back to health. He rarely said anything and replied any questions with one word. He slept for hours on end and stared into space when he awoke. Nafisat decided to call her dad when she realised that this was beyond what she could handle alone. Her dad flew in the following day and they checked him into a private Rehab centre. That was about six months ago and had been the last time she had seen him. They spoke regularly on the phone and he seemed to be making progress. She decided she would give him a call in the evening to catch up.
Nafisat suddenly felt painful pangs of hunger; she never had the suya last night. She rang for the chef to bring up some lunch while she had a shower and changed her clothes. Before she heard her mum come in, she smelt her beautiful fragrance envelope the room. She turned to see her mum, dressed from head to toe in baby pink smiling at her.
‘Naffy, sanu de zua. I am surprised to see you since you haven’t returned any of my calls.’She embraced her mum awkwardly, longing for the mother daughter relationship they never had. Her mum was clearly taken aback by her uncharacteristic show of emotion and seemed uncomfortable. Naffy’s mum was small compared to all her tall children. She was from Niger and had the characteristic long nose and long jet black hair with hazel eyes which Naffy had inherited. She was fulani from Niger and had the characteristic long nose and long jet black afro hair with hazel eyes which Naffy had inherited. She had tribal mark on both sides of her mouth in intrinsic dots that formed a distinct
‘Are you ok? You've lost weight. You haven’t been eating properly have you?’ asked her mum examining her at arm’s length
‘I was just about to have some lunch’ she replied feeling like a piece of chicken being examined at a market
triangle.She once was as slim as Naffy but had put on weight in the right places with the birth of her children. Despite her age, she was still extremely beautiful and put in a lot of work to stay that way, with weekly spas, facials and aerobics.
‘You need to take better care of yourself Naffy. You have gotten so dark as well. Have you been using the lotions I got you from Morocco?’
Nafisat chucked at her mum and said ‘Yes mum, I have. How have you been? How are your various organisations?’
‘Toh Alhamdullilahi’ You know how it is, never ending’ she replied ‘Governor Ahmed’s daughter’s wedding dinner is tonight so I came back to get ready for that. Will you come with me?’ she asked sweetly, already knowing the answer.
Naffy would normally roll her eyes in reply, but her mum’s pleading voice made her feel bad. ‘I can’t mum, I have plans’ she replied gently
‘Let me guess, some all important oil contract will fall to pieces if you do not type up some papers?’ said her mum condescendingly
Naffy sighed heavily, remembering instantly why one must never feel bad for her mother.
‘Actually, I am going to see Nuhu’ she replied
‘Oh, that’s nice. How is he? I was with his mum the other day and she really wants to pick a date because......’
Nafisat tuned out instantly. Just 10 minutes with her mum and she had exhausted all the patience that Bayo had taught to use her when dealing with parents.
‘Ok then. So where’s the stash? I smell something new on you and I want it’ said Naffy with a cheeky smile, totally ignoring her question. She opened her door walked briskly along the corridor towards her mum’s room.
‘Naffy don’t you dare touch any of my bottles....’ said her mum as she followed in tight pursuit with no smiles at all.
Nafisat watched the make-up artist tie her mum’s head gear, playing with the jewellery laid out on the bed and lethargic from the big meal of tuwo and miyan kuka she just had. Her mum’s jewellery collection was scattered in banks all over the world and was worth a considerable fortune. Although her mum’s lifestyle appeared extravagant, she was extremely prudent and was the sole reason they were so wealthy. It came partly from growing up in an extremely poor village outside Niamey and learning how to survive on the bare minimum. There was also the fact that her dad’s extreme generosity had to be kerbed to prevent them from going to bankrupt. He was the type of man that would give the shirt off his back for a total stranger. Her mum believed in helping out her immediate family alone, and this was the main thing her parents argued about. She often overheard her dad’s family call her mother a selfish bitch, but her mum did not care. She had a thick skin and the only person’s opinion she cared about was her husband’s. She wore the pants in their relationship despite the fact that her father was a well decorated Field Marshall, the highest rank in the Army.
Although Nafisat could not say she loved her mum, she had undying admiration and respect for her. She was one tough cookie. She stared at her as she applied her red lipstick and wondered what made her this way. Her mother never spoke about her childhood, her parents, or her life before she met her father. She had told them that her family were all dead and they were never allowed to bring it up.
Her mother walked into her shoe closet which had every single colour and style imaginable. Naffy decided to ask the now idle make-up artist for a make-over. It had been a while since she had seen Nuhu so she might as well make an effort.
The make-up artist worked her magic with different brushes and wands and she instantly felt prettier. She then started on her hair and she instantly smiled. The artist pulled it out of her characteristic tight bun and proceeded to give her a lecture on how pulling your hair so tightly stunts growth from certain parts of the scalp. Naffy half listened, happy that someone was playing with her hair. When she was younger, he dad would play with her hair until she fell asleep. She thought about Bayo again, for the 576th time that day. The artist used a curling iron to give her full wavy curls. When she stared at herself fully made up, she decided to change into a nicer dress. She put on a figure hugging floor length floral dress and chose some heels from her mum’s closet which she had no plans of returning. She felt beautiful and more confident and hoped that Nuhu would be home when she arrived.
She caught up with her mum and one of her aunts who were getting into the car. She decided hitch a ride with them as she knew Nuhu would drop her off the next morning. They drove through the Government Ministries in Central Area, the brightly lit roads empty. Driving in Abuja was a much saner experience to Lagos, but she was a city girl and preferred the chaos. The architecture, like the people, had no history or character and felt lifeless. Abuja reminded her of Washington, full of boring civil servants. They arrived at the brightly lit International Conference Centre which was already full of cars. The military plate numbers and escorts meant the gates were opened for them without question and her mother was dropped off at the entrance with last minute pleas for Nafisat to join them.
Nafisat knew like her, Nuhu did not like surprises, and contemplated calling him but decided against it. The driver sped through the motorways at 140km/hr towards Apo legislative quarters where Nuhu stayed in a dream bachelor dream pad. As they drove up the heavily manned gates she got reminded of how much easier things were with her father’s car and aides. She spotted his white Lexus parked at the front of his flat, and smiled at her luck. She walked to the door of the terraced house and knocked gently, adjusting her scarf over her voluminous hair. The door opened slowly and Ifiok the houseboy opened the door with a surprised look on his face.
She walked in confidently, pushing him aside as he stood by the door way like an idiot. She had little patience for his sluggish behaviour. The house was engulfed in the smell of delicious home cooking and the TV was on to the highest volume. Nuhu liked to be engulfed in his surround sound. The flat was impeccable because he was, like her, very meticulous.
She walked into the living room to see Nuhu slouched on the sofa in an old t-shirt and shorts. His feet were crossed on the glass centre table and he was laughing at the TV, holding his extremely complicated remote control that looked like an Ipad. She stood for a couple of seconds observing him before saying
Nuhu looked up at her with a completely blank expression on his face. She walked towards him and planted a kiss on his cheek sitting next to him on the sofa. She knew he was still upset at her over their last argument and resolved to make it up to him.
She pulled his face towards her and said ‘Yaya de’. He opened his mouth to reply but was tuned out by someone saying, ‘Dinner’s ready babe’
She looked up at the voice coming from the door, the exact way that Nuhu had looked up at her, and met Farida’s beautiful smiling eyes.