School started two weeks later, living close to the university was really helpful to Maryam since her classes were in the evenings. During the first few days, Hajiya Kulthum accompanied her to the station and showed her how to get around and back home. 10 Maryam knew she needed to stay on her feet to ace her studies. Even though she had been trying to write for the past years, this was the first time she was seeing it from a formal perspective. She had gradually eased into her routine. But the onset of Ramadaan along with her evening classes was proving difficult for her. Despite that, she pushed through it because that was what she knew best in life. 4 She had terribly missed home and wanted to fly back. Even though she had no room to spare for other activities, Maryam tried to keep up with her Qur’an studies with Hajiya Kulthum and Wafiyya. 4 Most of the evenings they all had their iftaar here at the mansion, Sa’ima and Bilaal joined them too. 5 After their deal with Mubarak, Maryam had seen less and less of him, he was either working late always or travelling on the days they met, to take Hajiya’s suspicious eyes off their scheme, he played along with their plan. 12 A date had been fixed, the 26th of December. She would have two weeks head start, and they could be back in time for her fresh term. It was all working well. 18 Despite all their plans and their mindset about where they stood in each other’s life, Maryam disregarded her thoughts and used the month of Ramadan to her full advantage, she prayed for Allah’s guidance and hoped for the best thing in life.9 Hajiya Aisha would call her and seek her opinion on all that needed to be done before she returned home. 6 Sometimes it felt as if her mother had done nothing except plan her wedding since she was born. 24 “You have to open your mouth and talk, this thing will happen the moment you touched down, do you think we have time for all your I-don’t-knows? I am inviting important people, we can’t lose face, this is the first time I am marrying off my daughter, you have seen how other people’s weddings have turned out, yours won’t be any less.”19 “Mama, you have very keen eyes for design and I am happy with your choices, I’ve spoken with Surayya and she will choose my outfits for me, as for the other things, I leave the ball in your court.”2 “Alright, we shall start then. How are you doing with that Drama you are studying?”27 “Mama, it is not just drama, it has everything in it, and I love every bit of it. We get to write about so many things, there are interactive sessions, assessments, field trips. It is fun, even though I haven’t gone on one yet. And I think one day I’m going to write about you.”15 Hajiya Aisha scoffed, “Nonsense, what will you make me in your book? Your horror story?”30 Maryam tried to hold her laughter. “Something like that.”2 “Maryam!”2 Maryam burst out laughing, “I’m sorry, I will just make you Baba’s beautiful queen in it.”4 “Don’t forget to buy some of the things from the UK.” One development Maryam was glad about, was the upgrade from saying ‘Europe’ to the UK by her mother. After many weeks and months, she had finally relented. 22 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  “I’m looking,” Maryam said. “Don’t look, buy.”12 “Mama, that is my allowance, I can’t start buying my wedding things with it.”12 “Toh, who will buy it for you then? There is what is called management, manage well. Get your things, I’m not buying laces for you, I heard they are cheap there, buy it.”14 “But why should I?” “Are you going to start wearing their lefe immediately after the wedding? Of course not. You wear what you go with from your father’s house.”12 “So I am now ‘my father’s house’?” Maryam blurted her thought before she got a chance to filter it when she realized what she had said, it was too late.4 “Gidanku, if you like don’t buy.” The phone went dead. And that was the constant thing Maryam had to deal with as they planned an unwanted wedding from across the continent.10 *** “I can’t believe after all these years they had to make me do this, can you believe it? Even Umma was pushing it, It isn’t even the holidays!” Nafeesah sobbed into the phone.3 “Hey, calm down. Ah’an Feenah, please don’t be ungrateful, Abubakar has really tried, who would stay engaged to you for two years and remain waiting for your friend to get a suitor before they got married? Is that fair to him? That is outright crazy and you know it, but you were adamant. Yet, he waited, just because he is invested in this. And what are you even talking about? Have you forgotten that the date has been set? Now when you come as the bride’s maid you will be coming with two honours, as the chief adviser where you’ll talk in that not-too-well-experienced-but-trying-to-be-an-expert way the newlyweds talk to their unwedded friends. And the sister that you are to me.”9 “But you won’t be here when I get sent off. Who will give me my unwedded-friend support and be my go-getter?”1 “I will have plenty of time to hassle you from here, don’t worry.” “Please, when you will be flying off with your Bugaje husband where will I see or hear from you?”2 “I’ll tell him to leave me in Katsina, but then I have my school to come back to. I guess my phone will have to do. Now please promise me you are going to call Abubakar after we are through, make things right.”2 “I will, evil girl.”2 “Now tell me what all you’ll need, I have some killer lingerie, by the way. Sa’ima took me to a Lingerie store.”13 “Corrupted girl. Send me their pictures let me see.”4 “Nope, I won’t, hypocrite. What was that about corrupted minds?”4 “I will cut your hair, go away.” Maryam laughed, remembering how they used to joke about that years ago. After all the bullies at school had had their field game with her, Maryam would hide in the toilet and cry and Nafeesah would escort her home, following Maryam’s car if the driver came to pick them, or on foot via the shortcut when the driver was travelling with her father.4 There, in Maryam’s room, Nafeesah would say, “Let them all say what they want if we want we can just cut off all this long hair and they can call you Musa or Munkaila, is it their body? It is yours to do with as you please.”12 “And you’ll steal Uncle J’s Kaftan for me.”16 “They would die of envy.” Nafeesah would say and they would both laugh. 3 Now she sighed, as she swallowed some of the bitter memories. “My regards to Umma, let me see the asoebi before you start dispatching it.” “What? Heck no, I won’t have your colour blindness affect my asoebi.”2 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  “No lingerie for you, girl.”2 Nafeesah laughed, “You know I love you. I’m waiting for a bagful of those. And this is my begging voice in case you haven’t heard it well. I’m on my knees. Say hello to the King.”12 “Goodbye, Feenah blackmailer.” Maryam held her phone to her chest lying in her bed, she couldn’t believe after all these years, Nafeesah’s wedding would come a month before hers. But that was for the best. And they both knew it.2 Hajiya Aisha wouldn’t relent on her insistence of Maryam coming home early. But she had to brush it off, she wouldn’t miss school. She had work and assignment target to reach before she started thinking of the chaos her life was about to be.2 *** KATSINA, NIGERIA. 4 DECEMBER, 2007 5 It may be one of those days for Maryam, where all she wanted to do was to lie in and not move a muscle, she was that tired, after her flight from London to Abuja, Najma and her husband Mu’azzam had picked her up from the airport, where she had stayed with them for a day and they started out to Katsina where all the preparations for the wedding had started. 4 Hajiya Kulthum and Wafiyya would come in five days. Mubarak and the brothers would come the week of the wedding, that was what he told her a day before she took off. Sa’ima was heavy, and Hajiya Kulthum suggested she stayed back, with her Uncle’s house and the Siddiquis she would be fine before Bilaal returned after the wedding. 15 The wedding!9 Maryam jolted on her bed. It was odd, it seemed like ages since she lived here and rose from this very bed every morning of her growing up years. She knew where it creaked, she also knew when making her bed where not to stick the bedsheet too deep, to avoid the wood that poked beneath.11 “Subhanallah!” She said, Nafeesah would kill her. She had totally forgotten about her visit. It was well past eleven in the morning and she wasn’t even up. She was surprised the girls hadn’t woken her up. Her phone informed her how much trouble she had gotten in with Nafeesah. 1 “Get your behind out of there, before I come over, I’m so not taking half a day’s visit.”4 “Answer your phone sleepy head.” “Do you wish to make him a pre-widower?” 12 Maryam laughed at that, they were about five messages all outbursts from Nafeesah. Maryam was about to drop her phone and head to the bathroom when she saw the last message, which meant it came earlier than Nafeesah’s. “I hope you had a safe trip. Send my regards. M.Bugaje.”45 Maryam stared at the message blankly, she couldn’t believe her eyes, this was the first time he was texting her, it came almost twenty-four hours after she had landed. Which meant he actually got her number after so much contemplation on his part. Did he have a battle of will before he sent the message? Did he regret it after sending? What happened to their no-contact rule? Was this an exception? So many questions, she found only one right thing to do.3 “Alhamdulillah, thank you. Maryam Maigoro.”24 *** Nafeesah’s squeal when she opened the door almost threw Maryam off, but that was before she realized she was shrilling too. 2 “Okay, we both need to calm down before the whole area come to check out the new lunatics on the block.”2 “Hey allow me to shrill. Look at you Maa sha Allah.” Nafeesah gasped, “Ya Rabbi Maryam! You wore yellow! Like you are in a buttercup yellow dress, with embroidery and studs, and the right size too.”14 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  “Okay announce to everyone that I’ve been a baggy-clothes-wearer before you let me see the house. And by the way, I hope Abubakar isn’t home this one that you’ve made us gone wild?”2 “Welcome, Hajiya Maryam.” A male voice said from one of the sofas in the living room. And Maryam felt a strong urge to just vanish. “Don’t mind her, just come in. She has kept you at the door.”5 “Yallabai ango, good afternoon.”2 “Visitors from the Queen’s land, how was your trip?”2 Maryam finally got the strength to move her legs. And she sat on one of the brown single sofas in the living room. “Alhamdulillah, sorry I missed your wedding. I pray Allah showers you with blessings and unite you two with loads of glad tidings. Congratulations.” “Ameen Ya Rabbi. You have the best prayers. We can’t thank you enough. Everyone represented you here quite well. You should also thank Baba.” Maryam smiled, Nafeesah had called her on the wedding day sobbing into the phone, saying Baba had bought a lot of foodstuff for her as her gara. 6 Nafeesah’s father had passed away about eight years ago. Their mother had worked and fended for all five of them, including Abba’s brother, Ja’afar, who was called Uncle J. Umma had raised him like her son, despite him being her husband’s stepbrother. When her husband had taken him in to stay with them, she didn’t use her husband’s demise to send him packing. He stayed until he finished his education as a medical doctor. 21 Now him and Nafeesah’s older brother Haroon had taken up most of their responsibilities. Even though Umma worked hard and they were still well off, Baba’s gesture meant a lot to them. “I’ll just see Inna and come, feel at home Maryam.” Abubakar said, perching his grey cap on his head. 3 “Ah, Man Abu I wouldn’t send you away from my first visit, this isn’t done. You don’t have to leave on my account.”7 “No problem, I actually wanted to leave earlier, but she was about to cry, saying you were not here yet I won’t go and leave her alone.”6 Maryam didn’t miss the soft look that passed between the newlyweds. 5 “Okay, then. You will be seeing a lot of me, and she will be going over there a lot, so I apologize in advance.” Abubakar laughed, and Maryam knew Nafeesah had gotten just the man she always wanted because the glow on her face increased as she watched her man laugh. So this was how the couple who were in love felt? Their reaction to each other was apparent even to people sitting next to them. 4 Something clenched in Maryam’s core when she realized she would never get to witness this type of connection. 23 It didn’t stop there, Nafeesah moved to him and escorted him to the door, talking with a voice Maryam had immediately captioned as a factory reset voice. This man was done for, he would be useless in a few short weeks if her friend went on at this pace. 32 Maryam could barely wait for the door to close before she slapped Nafeesah on her arm. 2 “Corruption at its peak. Kin bonu. So this is how you will do and finish him right? Wait, was that even your voice or did you use some sort of device to tone it down. I can’t wait for the day your real voice will pop, poor Malam Abu will be shocked to his wits.”27 “Evil girl, he has just heard me speaking to you, he knows both voices, the only difference is that he knows the other voice is only meant for him.”6 “Heyy I trust you. So, congratulations. Maa sha Allah you are already glowing.” “Thank you. Now enough about me, tell me what all you’ve set going?” STORY CONTINUES BELOW  “Uh… What do I have to do? I have done nothing. Mama is on top of everything, Surayya also said she has all my outfits covered. What’s there again?” Nafeesah smacked Maryam’s thigh. ” I swear man Abu won’t recognize you when he comes back, stop hitting me.” Maryam scratched her thigh.6 “Aren’t you inviting anyone?” “What are you talking about? I am not doing anything, the family is enough. Let’s just get this over with.” “What! Not under my watch, which is why I didn’t wait for you, I have sent some invitations to all your friends. At least we will sit with you for moral support.”2 Maryam gulped, still feeling guilty that she didn’t share the conditioned-marriage issue with her best friend.4 “Keep it simple, what would I do without you? Thank you.” “Okay, out with it. Where is my bag?”2 “Look at you, you have not even brought water for me, stingy bride. I am not giving you any bag.”2 “I will lock you here until your king comes to your rescue, speaking of which, how is he? When is he coming?” “Uh… next week? I don’t know, he didn’t have a specific date. But Hajiya is coming soon for the preparations and what not.” “Maxy! So he wants to surprise you, me likey.” Nafeesha wiggled her brows at Maryam.3 “What surprise.” Maryam laughed. “Okay, come and have a look.” And Nafeesah took her around the house for a tour, as they went through the decent two bedroom house with two sitting areas and a kitchen, Maryam admired the tastefully decorated home, she felt genuinely happy for her friend. They stopped at the kitchen where they both ate and continued planning all the things that needed to be done. “I brought my henna.” “Okay, I’ll just speak with the lady who did my wedding design.” “Oh my God, it’s really happening.” “Yes, it is. We’ve made it.”2 Maryam held her trembling lips between her teeth, nodding her head. “Yes, we have.” *** At night over a tray of tuwo and okra soup, Maryam felt fulfilled, just sitting there with her sisters after all these months.4 “I missed this,” Maryam said. “I missed you all.” “We missed you too. Yaya Mimie, tell us about London.” Fatima said. “Timtim I’ve been telling you about it on the phone and since I got here.” “I want to watch you while you tell us.”8 They all laughed at Fatima, she was still awestruck that her sister had been to places she’d only heard about. Maryam indulged her. They finished the first tray of food and started on another. Every time they sat like this eating together, Maryam was always taken to some memories that still haunted her. 13 Would it be different if she were here? She hated to think about it, about her. But her mother’s attitude towards her was not helping matters. 29 Hajiya Aisha had not sat with Maryam for more than an hour since her return, she was always out in the market or at some vendor’s house or a friend’s, putting things together, sometimes Maryam felt as if her mother was celebrating the wedding more than she was happy for her. Because she had not even sat with her and really hear her out. Hear her talk about the man she was about to release her daughter to, have some final moments with her. 17 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  A little voice in Maryam’s head even wondered if her mother was happy she was finally getting rid of the black sheep of the family. The daughter who went off to study drama and literature as she told her friends with not so much thrill as she announced her going to study Economics. She doubted if some even heard about a change of course. Maryam watched her mother as she went on with the motion. 5 Seven days before the wedding, Hajiya Kulthum sent her in-laws and her siblings with the lefe and the kayan na gani inaso to be delivered to Maryam’s house. 2 The clothes, cosmetics, and accessories that were given from the groom’s family to indicate their son’s interest in the daughter of the house, which had been delayed because Hajiya Kulthum had to come with the other things to place in the set of boxes. 2 The lefe was brought in a real designer trolley set to Hajiya Aisha’s delight, Maryam sent a silent prayer hoping her mother had not made a call making a special request on the type of packaging the gifts were to be brought in.23 She wouldn’t be surprised if that had happened. 4 Because her mother was hell-bent on impressing everyone attending the wedding. Surayya had informed her that she had invited most of the politicians’ wives and their former neighbours too. Now she was telling everyone that her daughter was getting married into the Bugaje family, they shouldn’t miss it.21 No one would miss it, some wouldn’t just to witness what the pomp was all about.2 “Mama, take it easy, everything will go as planned in sha Allah,” Maryam told her.1 Hajiya Aisha sat in a heap on her bed, she had just come home from the market for some last minute shopping. “I hope so, Bibatu will be here tomorrow, at least she will relieve me of some of the things. She had bought other things from Lagos and will come down with them.”4 Maryam could now see all the stress beneath her mother’s perfectly serene face. She was just good at masking it, just like she was good at ironing things to perfection. This must be really tasking on her, Maryam didn’t even stop to think how pulling off a wedding alone without even the help of the bride must have burdened her mother. Granted, some friends would help but her mother was exhausted. Her eyes softened when she went to sit next to her mother on the bed. 2 “Thank you, Mama, may Allah reward you abundantly.” “Ameen, have you checked out the storeroom?” “The storeroom?” “Yes, your furniture arrived last week.” “Mama, what furniture?” Maryam’s forehead creased. “Silly, you are the one getting married, you don’t even know a thing about your shopping, I should have left everything for you. You have not even shown me the things you’ve bought from London.”4 Maryam swallowed hard. “I left them there, I have so many luggage, I couldn’t come with them and go back with them again, so I left most there. And Mama why did you buy furniture? You could have used the money for something else.”2 “And make your father’s relatives insult us that we have not done anything for you? We have bought everything and you are taking them to your Katsina house. Some you take them to Abuja. I don’t care how you do it but I am not sending you there with anything short of their standards. You’ve been there and you’ve seen what those people are capable of.”8 “Mama, I know you want to save face and all, but have you considered Baba’s situation? After the dip, I think all these will be too much…”3 “Why are you stuck on your father’s words and supposed finances? You are the accountant you tell me. That man has money, let him stop fooling you. He has got so many donations and gifts for this wedding. If not, why would he start buying pickup-load of foodstuff and taking it to other people’s house on their wedding days? If he can spend on some stranger’s house, what would stop him from spending on his own daughter’s wedding?”26 “Mama! Abba was Baba’s friend, besides, Nafeesah is also like a daughter to you. What is the harm in giving a helping hand?”6 “Stop talking about those people, they have completely brain-washed you, you don’t know anything, you are still too naive.” Hajiya Aisha held the small tip of her ear. “Let me tell you something, you continue this naivety and you won’t last in people’s company, you better wise up to the real world.”22 Maryam knew it was time she dropped this conversation. Discussing Nafeesah’s family had always been a sour topic for her and her mother. Her mother believed had her father still had his way, (Which meant he still earned well), nothing would stop him from marrying Umma, Nafeesah’s mother, because according to her, he was showing too much kindness to that family since his friend’s demise. It was hypocritical. Though she had never openly cut ties with Ummah, she was not a fan of her. 34 And Umma guarded her dignity by not trying to salvage their old friendship. 1 It seemed her mother had it bad on the week of Nafeesah’s wedding. 3 Now Maryam had to bear the brunt. 9 **** Mubarak took a long breath when they pulled up in front of his grandparents’ house, taking it all in. The memories, the feelings, all of it.42 It hadn’t changed a bit, just like a forsaken land. The yellow painting of the house still looked faded in the same places as he remembered. The trees still had branches swaying in the same direction. The big tubeless tyre they played on when they were little kids was there beside the big neem tree where children still played in the evenings. Mubarak had forgotten the number of times he had fallen off the branches of the Mango tree beside the neem while trying to win the fruit-picking competition they played with Bilaal and their cousins. 30 Even after his grandfather’s passing, Hajiya Daada his only living wife had refused to allow a renovation of the house no matter how his father had insisted. 6 When she finally relented, she cautioned them not to touch the outer walls of the house, she said that was her husband’s memory. No one would bulldoze it.15 Hajiya Kulthum was her third child. After having two sons, Alhaji Muhammad And Alhaji Dahiru, having a daughter made them all doted on her. Although not to an extent that they lose sight of who she was or her rights upon them to make her a better person. 4 Hajiya Dada had a special place in Mubarak’s heart. She had been there in the most difficult days of their lives and he would always remember her words to him then. “You can do whatever you want with yourself. Just keep sight of a day when you will have no power to alter what you did.”21 Now as he stood in her enormous living room, his heart turned in his chest, the sight of her on her dark blue sofa gave him life. 2 But Hajiya Dada was frowning when her eyes landed on his, he knew he was in trouble. She was still incensed about the wedding incident.3 “I am your culprit, Hajiya Dada, but I am on my knees today, if possible may I be graced with that beautiful smile of the woman that rules my heart? Haba sarauniyar mata.”22 “Don’t give me all that sweetness, I may be Maryama but I am not your Maryam.” She said, in her Hausa filled with Fufulde accent.29 “Who wants another Maryam when the world has you?”14 Hajiya Dada swatted him, “Let Daaso hear you say that. Do you have to come this late to your wedding? I hope you are not planning on running away again.”25 Mubarak grimaced at his grandmother’s words. He knew what happened would always be etched into everyone’s memory, considering all the factors that would serve as a constant reminder. 2 “Dada, I will gist you all about it later, for now, I am here to sweep your namesake off her feet, and I wouldn’t even think of doing that without your blessings and approval, of course, Hajiya and Uncle Muhammad have done most of the things but your final say seals this. I am here to stay and I promise to take the best care of your Daaso, crazy as she is, I’ll always be there for her. It is a real promise, you trust me right?”19 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  “I wonder between you and Malam Kawu who has more sweet words.”8 “Ah, You can’t even compare me with that old man may Allah have mercy on him. I’ve always beat him in wordplay.” Mubarak sought her eyes, “But this isn’t a wordplay Dada, I mean everything I said to you. I am here to stay and Maryam will be well taken care of be rest assured, in sha Allah.”9 He gave her one of his charming smiles and age faded from Daada’s stubbornness as her face eased into a dreamy smile, that was the first genuine one Mubarak had seen since the last time he saw her. 4 “Allah moinu mo. I hope you do get your senses back someday. Now that you’ve made this promise to me, I hope for your sake you keep it. Because no one touches my namesake and stays well. I’m going to knock your head in if you dare hurt her. You know it, Maryam is very dear to me, I don’t have to iterate this to you.”55 Now that Mubarak was certain the danger of having her stick break his head had been eliminated, he moved closer and took her hands in his. 4 “Note taken, in sha Allah I will not fail you. So what have you stowed away for me?” “You are too big for all the things I keep in my room, maybe someday when you bring your kids I will have something to give them.”2 Mubarak cleared his voice, afraid to tell his grandmother there was a possibility that that would never happen what with his agreement with Maryam, that part had skipped his muddled brain.30 Allahul musta’an, he prayed. 2 Later, Bilaal and Salis joined them in the living room and the house was soon filled with many of their cousins that came to attend the wedding. Mubarak had never felt loved like when he was amidst family. 2 Just a few houses away almost within the same compound was his uncle’s house. He had barely thought of that when it registered that Maryam was in that house too. He couldn’t help but wonder what she might be doing there with her friends and sisters.10 **** “What do you mean I have to go? Kamaal and the others will soon be here, you know that. I have to be there to receive them.”2 “Forget about that, you’re covered. You are getting married to her, of course, you should check up on her, find out if everything is good and what not. Have you ever given her a call since we landed?” His friend Garba had blocked his way into the car when Bilaal motioned to their uncle’s house indicating his fiancée lived there. He had to deal with Bilaal later, for now, he had his stubborn short friend to deal with. 14 “Garba, why are you this way?”2 Garba tapped Bilaal on his shoulder. “Your brother is sick, you know that, right?”6 “Ya Mubarak, seriously?” Bilaal turned to him, he rose both brows at him. “Okay, you want me to have a sit down with a girl they are taking to my house in two days?”8 Bilaal smirked, “Let’s just say you don’t want some floor violation.”4 “No, he will be benched.” Garba snickered. 2 “I’m not getting benched because I’m not even interested in the game. Besides she wouldn’t even care. Trust me, she doesn’t even notice my absence.”18 Garba and Bilaal exchanged a knowing look. They burst into laughter. “Good luck, bruh.”2 “Alright let’s go, but please don’t take us into all those small gatherings. Ya Allah, that house must be filled with so many women.”4 “Do you by any chance have cold feet?” Bilaal poked.8 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  “Are you nervous? Look who is scared of women gathering,” It was Garba’s turn and he was sure they were hell-bent on making him lose his mind.4 “You know, I can give Maryam a call I’m sure she will thaw you immediately,” Garba said, and Mubarak was sure someone would attend his wedding Fatiha, toothless.7 But he was out of options, if he didn’t do what they suggested, it would look odd even to Maryam’s parents.6 “Don’t chew my brains out. Can you lead the way Mr I-am-so-good-with-women-gathering?” He said, glaring at Bilaal.16 **** He was right, even from the front door, one could hear all the chatter coming from the house. The house was second after his grandfather’s, in the remotely packed area, Mubarak always loved the fact that he wouldn’t have to stress himself when visiting his mother’s relatives, they all lived in the same vicinity.2 His Uncle used to live in the GRA, but something went wrong along the line and he had to move back to his first house, making little renovations. Word on the street was that he sold his former house to set up a new capital for his sesame and soybeans farming. 59 Mubarak remembered his mother going incensed after she came to know that her brother had resorted to selling his house. It was scary how one moment you are ruling the world and the next you are humbled to your knees. That enough should show a man that there was an end to the world. 25 After Maryam’s sister Zubaida had informed Hajiya Aisha of their presence, she opened the front door for them, admitting them into an opulent sitting room, which was a stark contrast to the exterior of the modest four-bedroom house. 1 Everything was placed in a refined arrangement in the room, nothing was out of place. Mubarak often wondered if the knack for design came with the women in their family. His mother and Hajiya Aisha certainly could make a drab place look appealing, but unlike his mother’s design that flowed naturally, he could clearly see the effort carefully placed with this set-up.2 Speaking of set up, he had no idea how he was supposed to behave when Hajiya Aisha, three of her friends and another woman he recognized as Hajiya Aisha’s sister- because of their stark resemblance- walked into the living room. He often prided himself with the ease of his charm, but on this day he sat before them as a fraud. A man who came to take their daughter’s hand in marriage with the intention of doing it for title sake.2 Thinking of it all, Mubarak felt disgusted with himself. But being disgusted or not wouldn’t change his decision. He meant it when he told their daughter they needed time, and since she was on board with it, it lessened much of his guilt.1 “You are welcome. Mubarak, you have not touched anything, have some water, you’ll love the meatpie.” His soon to be mother-in-law’s voice took him out of his musings17 “Thank you, Aunty Aisha, we will soon be on our way, we just stopped by to pay our respects.” Bilaal said, acting as his mouthpiece.10 “Maa sha Allah, we really appreciate this, but I don’t want to hear a word more. Eat, have some juice. We will leave the parlour to you.” “Thank you. Aunty Aisha may we have a word with Maryam, please?” “Sure, I will send her in right away. My regards to Hajiya.” The other women along with hajiya Aisha all rose and headed for the door that led them to the other part of the house. He was sure they were off to speculate who the groom was, unless his mother-in-law cared to share the details, which he was almost certain she would.5 Mubarak looked up after the women had left. “Bilaal, what was that?”6 “That was me doing your job for you, don’t chicken out, we will be right outside.”16 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Mubarak glared at him, but he had no choice than to wait. Alone.11 Garba and Bilaal had just set him up.5 *** Maryam wasn’t expecting to see Mubarak, he hadn’t called to tell her he would be coming. So when her mother informed her that he was waiting for her in Baba’s living room she almost convulsed. 10 “You know, you eventually have to go out there Yaaya Mimie, he is alone. Ya Bilaal and his friend have left.” “Ya Rabbi, Sury I’m so nervous. Like, you won’t get it…”4 “I know, but you have to go, what would he think? It’s been twenty minutes now, you may numb his courage for coming here to see you. Who knows if he is a wrap of nerves himself?”2 “You are right. We have done this several times. I can do this.”2 “Of course you can, it is you, Maryam Muhammad Maigoro.”7 Maryam smiled. She adjusted her grey scarf in front of the long mirror. and straightened her olive green cape gown. She found him sitting on the two-seater sofa. Maryam was momentarily shocked. He was dressed in a coffee filtex kaftaan, his matching cap perched well on top of his head. The fairness of his skin golden in contrast to the soft mass of dark curly hair on his head and the smooth beard on his face. He raised his head at the sound of her Salam.18 “Fancy coming here, Mafia King?” She jested. 8 Mubarak’s lips tilted to the side. “Fancy seeing me here, Mairo?”4 “I must say it is a surprise, how was your trip?” “Exhausting, but you dragged me here. What can a man do?”8 Maryam gasped. “You should take that back. Why are you so… Why are you here? I don’t even care to see you, you can go back.” She rolled her eyes heavenwards, turning her face to the other side.13 “You may want to tell them that.” He motioned his head toward the front door. Maryam smiled, she could clearly see the unease in his taut shoulders. She sat on the sofa farthest from him. 2 “Maryam, I don’t bite.” He said, his face holding a smirk as he looked between the couch he was seated and the one she occupied.10 “Nah, I don’t trust you, this is good.”12 His eyes had a certain glint when he said. “We shall see about that.” She sensed the threat in his voice, and she vowed to prove him wrong. 4 “How is everyone? Najma was here a while ago.” “Bonbon with the pomp, that girl loves weddings.”11 “Don’t blame her, she misses everything, weddings are all she has.” 2 “It was suggested to me to come here, and that you may need a hand, is that right?”31 Maryam’s brows almost hit her hairline. “You aren’t even going to pretend that you came here on your own?”25 Mubarak straightened his back puffing his chest with the gesture. “Pff, they practically dragged me here. I know you Maryam, and I respect you enough not to pretend with you. So I’m here, do you need anything? About the arrangement, any information, or funding?”10 Maryam was surprised to feel the sharp sting left in the wake of his words. “No, I’m good.” She said, but butter would not melt on her smile. 2 “Good. I’ll leave you then.”9 His eyes were still on her and for a moment there, she thought his gaze was bordered on affectionate. But she couldn’t help the churning feeling his words had given her. What did he mean? She had to wait for him to wave his funds in her face before she did something? Was this arrangement just another transaction for him?2 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  “Ya Mubarak.” “Yes?” “Next time, don’t mention any funding again. I can take care of myself, I don’t need your ‘funds’.”31 Mubarak was baffled for a moment. “I didn’t mean it that w… Wait a minute, you thought I was offering… No, Maryam, I will never do that to you. Now that you mentioned that, I want you to know that despite our arrangement when you become mine, I will take care of you, and I would want you to let me do that, do you understand? I will never leave you needy and you shouldn’t be shy of asking, what is mine is yours. There should be no barrier on that. What I meant was, if there is anything the groom is supposed to do, you shouldn’t hold back. Let me know about it.” 29 Maryam smiled, “Is this suppose to make me feel better?” she made an all-encompassing gesture about what he said.4 His frown deepened and she hated that those brows commandeered her attention.6 “Oh Mairo, you don’t need a man’s gingering to feel better, you already are spectacular. Now am I permitted to go? Garba will have a field game with me, as it is he thinks we are starry-eyed with love in here that is why I have spent 40 minutes locked up with you, not knowing that I’ve been… well- benched for more than thirty minutes. He’s sure going to have fun with that if he knows.”6 Maryam’s voice was filled with laughter when she said. “You just called me spectacular. I think a forty-mInute-sit-down is short of spectacular. It isn’t about the time spent but the quality of it.”5 Mubarak pushed his cap forward, its tip teasing his sleek eyebrows. They were full, thick and they seemed to go on forever, complementing the swift lashes… 7 Focus, Maryam.27 “Well live in the moment. Have a good night, Maryam.” He was up before she could say another word.2 “Thank you. I’ll let you know when I need some ‘information’.'”12 Mubarak nodded. “Can’t wait to bring you home, Wifey.” 42 “Let’s see you do that, King.” she challenged but she knew the look in his eyes was enough to defy her candour. 2 **** “You fatso, wake up. Everyone is up and you are still in bed, that is how you will be sleeping and becoming big like a fattened cow.”12 “Hajiya Babba! My head is aching, and please don’t call me a cow. I inherited my fat genes from you anyway,” Fatima said, moving her itching thigh away from the harsh sting of her grandmother’s praying beads.2 “Assalamu alaikum,” Maryam said, coming into the room with a tray holding a flask, a spoon and two mugs. “Hajiya, here is your pap, just like you want it, but I didn’t add sugar, where is your sugar?” Hajiya Babba glared at Maryam, “Am I going to die if I take sugar for one day? Do you want to finish all the sweet things in the world before I get to taste them? It is your wedding, let the doctor go and die. I want you to pack all the sweets and pastries for me. I have come with my plastic bucket, it is there in the storeroom outside, when the groom’s side brings your gifts, make sure you have put all my share in there.”99 Maryam shook her head, some things were never meant to change. It wouldn’t surprise her if Hajiya Babba asked her to share her wedding gifts with her. Sometimes Maryam didn’t blame her mother for some of the things she did. One couldn’t have Hajiya Babba as a mother and not inherit a strand of her genes in them.19 Hajiya Babba, with her fair skin and a body that carried Zani da riga well, was a woman of substance. Still tall and heavy in all the right places, with her round Fulani face, Hajiya Babba commanded beauty.2 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Hajiya Sa’adatu also known as Hajiya Babba was a force to reckon with, mother to ten children who were all married off still ruled her home. Years after her husband’s passing, everything her cowives did, everything that passed through the front door had to follow through Hajiya Babba, and whatever she had decided was set in stone. Eventually, when her stepchildren came of age, they learned to delineate her from their lives. Because with Hajiya Babba there was no pretence, if she liked you she made sure she showed it, if she hated you she did so fiercely, her children weren’t spared too.19 Age hierarchy was never sustained in her house. The person that earned most was always Hajiya Babba’s favourite. Until the market was not going too well or they had a problem at work. For the most unlucky ones if their wives took them away from her as she said.8 If Hajiya Aisha was tough, Hajiya Babba was made of steel.15 “What are you staring at? Go on and get dressed, it is your wedding you don’t want people to come and see you in your black rags. Get dressed and come back here, your mother and I have something to talk to you about.”12 Maryam’s frown deepened, she wasn’t in the mood to talk. She had no idea why her grandmother would pack and come to their house to stay for the wedding. She lived just minutes away from them, she could have come and gone. The space that could’ve been used for the guests was now occupied by her excellency Queen Hajiya Babba and her sidekicks aka Inno da Nana, her maids.14 Fatima and Zubaida now had no beds to sleep in as their own room had to be given to the guests that came from far. “Hajiya Babba, won’t you be having guests at your place?”9 “What place? Have you seen the way your father misers everything? He is not even sending the bags of rice and flour I have requested, what would I feed the guests, my teeth?”18 “It would have been more convenient,” Maryam muttered. “What did you say?”2 “Have your pap Hajiya Babba, let me make myself presentable before the guests arrive,” Maryam said under her breath. She walked out of the room, knowing it was going to be a long wedding.3 *** By 4 pm, the house had begun to fill up with people coming to congratulate her mother, women had filled the house. Most of them were strangers to Maryam’s eyes. Jollof rice and Moi-moi were being passed around in rubber plates with rubber spoons and nylon-filled zobo perched on the sides of the plates. For the special guests, a bottle of carbonated drink accompanied the meat-laden plates in place of the nylons. And the jollof rice was a bit redder in the food warmers going into her room. 28 Hajiya Aisha made sure that Alhaji Muhammad had spared no expense in catering for the event. Maryam wondered if the same chaos was going on at the Bugaje residence. Her mother’s excitement was palpable. Maryam thought her mother was reminiscing her own wedding day and adding all that she wished had happened on that day but it wasn’t part of the norm then.11 On Friday morning, Hajiya Aisha told Maryam she was holding a mother’s night with her friends, but Maryam put her feet down on that, they all knew how she hated attending those events even when her cousins would get married.6 Now that it was her wedding, her mother wanted to show her friends how elegant she still was. How perfect her gatherings used to be. 4 From the inflow of guests and their skyscraping headgears as the night approached, Maryam knew she was on the verge of losing this battle too. 6 Nafeesah’s arrival with some of Maryam’s former course mates took Maryam’s mind off her anxiety. 2 In less than twelve hours, her life would be completely taken over. She had not heard from Mubarak since he left the house the previous day and she didn’t bother calling him either. After their arrival two weeks ago, Mubarak had sent her that lone message asking of her trip, maybe that was to ‘acquaint her of his digits.’ Besides, what did they have to share over the phone? It wasn’t like they talked over the past months she had lived in their mansion. 4 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  He was always at work or travelling when she was home, and at nights, she went to school on some days when he got home. When she started to get worried about how things would turn out, their arrangement poked her mind, then she would be at peace for a while. She had decided she was going to go along with the flow. Then there was his abrupt visit that kept giving her mixed signals. She wouldn’t even fool herself, he had said it, it was suggested to him to come and see her. It wasn’t even his idea, suck it up Maryam. 4 “Why are you sulking?” Nafeesah asked. 4 “Later, when we are alone,” Maryam whispered. “I think all your guests are about to start speculating how much you plan on murdering the groom. Smile Maryam, tomorrow is your big day.”5 “Mama has a dinner planned in honour of the mothers, she had a headgear tied with a glittering clutch, she is going veilless by the way.”14 “She wants to celebrate your day.” “Yeah, she should have asked me how I want my day to be celebrated. I’m not going.”12 “What!” Nafeesah took Maryam’s hand and dragged her to the bathroom. Maryam looked over her shoulder. “What are you doing?” “You cannot not go,” Nafeesah said between clenched teeth. “She has invited so many people.”2 “Well, I can’t if I am sick. And right now I am so sick of everything. You can tell her that!” 6 Maryam stormed out of the bathroom leaving Nafeesah with her mouth hanging open. “This girl must be PMSing, she is so hot-headed.” Putting on a pleasant smile she came out of the bathroom and headed for Hajiya Aisha’s room, hopefully, she should be there. Here goes lie number n. I am so going to finish you Maryam Maigoro. Nafeesah mused. 8 “Uhm… Mama, can I talk to you please?” “What Nafeesah? Meet Aunty Biba please, I’m getting ready for the… Why are you not ready? Has Maryam gotten dressed?”2 “Uhm, actually, that is what I wanted to talk to you about.” Nafeesah’s eyes darted around the room, meeting four pairs of eyes waiting to hear what she had to say. “Maryam is sick, she’s been having cramps and vomiting, severely. She just came out from the toilet.” So going to finish you Daaso. Nafeesah mumbled.9 “What? Where is she now?” Hajiya Aisha held her wrapper together, not bothering to tie it at her back, she went out of the room. 2 “Maryam never falls sick.”8 “I think it is the stress, and the noise and the crowd. And she might be having her period.”3 Nafeesah had no idea she had all those lies stacked up, in her brain, but Maryam did seem about to explode, and that was the last thing they needed, not on this day. Scratch that, Maryam’s explosion was something nobody should ever get to witness in their lives. 19 Thankfully when they went to Maryam’s room, she was curled on the bed, behind their friends that had no idea Maryam was faking it all. Nafeesah mentally high-fived herself, seeing Maryam rolling there, she was proud they could think along the same line, she had no idea what she would have said had Hajiya Aisha came in to see Maryam holding her head instead of her abdomen. 16 “Maryam? Sannu ko? Have you taken something for the pain?” Maryam quickly nodded, “Okay take some rest, I will tell them the event will be delayed.”9 Nafeesah and Maryam both stopped breathing at once. “Mama, maybe we should cancel it, I mean, you need to see how hard she threw up earlier.” “Let her not eat anything, since there is nothing left to throw up, she will be good.”41 “Mama I’m not going.” Before Nafeesah could do any damage control Maryam had yanked the bed cover off her body. 2 “What? What is this Nafeesah?”2 “I think she is feeling better now. Maryam that was such a scare.” She widened her eyes silently rebuking Maryam. But she didn’t stop to listen to any of them, Maryam left the room and went away to her father’s bedroom, closing the door behind her. 5 She slid down the door and lay on the floor. She was so bogged down by everything happening she felt like she was losing herself. 4 There on the floor of her father’s room, Maryam slept for an hour, she had heard them bang the door, knock on it with persuasion, coming back with a promise of retribution and they finally relented. 13 She didn’t know what her mother told all the guests when she came out of her hiding around 9:30 pm almost all of the guests had left. She avoided her mother and sent a quick message to Nafeesah thanking her and another to her friends, apologising for falling sick on them. 5 She was aware of Hajiya Babba’s scolding waiting for her, she hadn’t gone for their talk after all. But she was drained and she had no energy for everything and everyone. 8 Her phone rang bringing her out of her thoughts and she froze when she looked at the screen. She knew she had to do something about the incessant ringing, so she pressed the green button. “Assalamu alaikum, Good evening Uncle J.”24 **** Assalamu alaikum, Good evening Uncle J.”2 “Wa alaikumussalam, sorry for calling this late, did I wake you?”2 “No, I was up.”2 “Can you meet me outside? I am at Baba’s door.”11 “Well… uhm. Okay. I will be right out.”2 Taking Surayya’s Hijab, Maryam didn’t mind the chatter still going on in the main living room, she took the narrow corridor that led to Baba’s living room, thankfully, no one was there yet. Some of the guests were still in the kitchen preparing the next day’s food. She opened the front door gently. The frosted glass and white iron door not getting the memo gave way with a grudging sound where it hooked on the cemented step.7 Outside, Ja’afar, aka Uncle J, had his back facing her, he was leaning on the short railing outside her father’s living room. Maryam didn’t need to look at his face to know what he was gazing at.8 “They grow so fast.” She said, standing next to him. He wasn’t startled, he didn’t even look around he kept gazing ahead.8 “Yeah, they do.”2 “You remember when we put it there, right? I was so happy that day. It feels like a lifetime ago.”6 The sound of Ja’afar’s smile leaped into the night. “Yes, you kept your hands dirty, bragging that you have planted your first tree.” He said, giving a short laugh.2 “Well, I wasn’t lying, it is now a tree.”5 Ja’afar turned to look at her, and her smile died on her lips. The lone orange bulb above them shone down on them, illuminating his dark looks, shadowed with so much bridled energy behind those eyes.4 His large eyes were probing, the wide lashes and heavy eyebrows so dark like the night sky. Concealing.8 It was a chilly night, with the breeze whispering into the darkness. Most people were clamoured indoors. But he didn’t seem to bother, even though his hands were safely tucked in his thick camel brown jacket. He wore it over a brown gingham shirt and a pair of blue denim jeans.4 Maryam cleared her voice, “Would you like to come in?”2 “No, I just came by to say hi. So everything is set? You ready to be a bride?” His thick brows rose and the tell-tale sign of his dimple showed, even when he wasn’t smiling his dimple showed.25 Maryam closed her eyes with her palms and looked away. “Uncle J! Are you here to harass me?” Maryam knew she would live to regret her statement the day she insisted she would never get married since all boys were mean. He told her she would and he would be there to remind her of her words. Now here they were, even though that event seemed ages ago.12 “What, don’t tell me I’ve suddenly become your in-law or something, come on open your face.”4 “No, you have not, you will always be Uncle J. Thank you for all the contributions. I’ve received your gift, you didn’t have to do that.”2 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Ja’afar glared at her, “It is my pleasure, so you are now okay with this… London-guy?”21 “Ya Mubarak?” He squinted his eyes at her, “You’ve got more than one? London is good for you then.”10 Maryam laughed. “Yes, I guess… we could say that I am.”4 “Good. It is good to hear that, I don’t want any hitches for you, Nafeesah has assured me that he treats you well. Be good, stay focused and trust Allah. Remember, marriage is not something you do for other people, it is for your creator first, then yourself and your spouse. Nothing should come between that.”19 Maryam nodded. “Thank you. I’ll always put that in mind.” She knew she was lying as she said it. He was referring to a real marriage, hers… she didn’t even know what to call it. 8 “Goodbye Maryam. I will leave you now. I know you must be exhausted.”4 “What? So soon? And why are you saying goodbye like I’m moving away forever?” 10 There was a glint in his dark eyes when he said. “You are moving away forever Maryam. This, tomorrow is your forever.”7 “No, we don’t know that.”2 “Well, let’s hope that.”3 He was quiet for a while, only the whizz of the breeze filled their ears. He moved away from the white railing, “Does he know?”35 Maryam considered her response for a while. “No, it doesn’t matter.” She blew out some air, trying to supress her tears. But it was too late, her eyes teared up and she felt like something had just been wrenched off her chest, the reality of the things happening around her hit her with full force. She didn’t know what came to her, but she had a sudden urge to say what was true to herself for once. The words were there unspoken between them, but she knew none of them would dare speak them.25 They shared the same pain, they were going through it bit by bit. She could almost feel the pricks within him because they were the same within her. But it was an unspoken agreement between them. They didn’t speak about it. She felt like breaking that agreement, but she wasn’t as courageous as she thought.13 “I’ll miss you, Uncle J.” She said.7 He smiled, his dimple on full display, but her vision was too blurred to look through. “Good night, Maryam. Have a blessed life.”21 She stood there on her father’s verandah as she watched him walk away, he didn’t even bring his car, he walked. Maryam knew that he was worried for her, wondering if she had made the right decision.7 He was always worried.4 *** “Where were you?” Hajiya Aisha held Maryam’s arm when she stepped back into the living room, scaring the daylights out of Maryam.8 She gulped. “I just stepped out to see a friend.”2 “A friend? I am very sure I heard Ja’afar’s voice outside. Does he know you are getting married tomorrow?”14 Maryam looked away, then back at her mother. “Yes, Mama he knows, and he is here only to wish me luck.”2 “Let’s just hope it stops at that. Come with me, since you can now stand on your feet there are some things I need to give you. The guests will be crawling all over this place tomorrow and we may not have the time.”10 Maryam almost wept, now her mother scouted for time to squeeze their meeting, while all those years ago, they had the time, but she had no interest in any type of conversation with her.17 “Are you giving me the farewell speech now? I think they usually wait until the fatiha has been said.” She was still riled up that her mother would send her to this event thing despite her being ‘presumed’ sick.4 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  “Say what you want, you are leaving tomorrow, but before you begin, let me tell you one thing if you are having any second thought about this, now is not the time or the occasion. You better not let some people tell you otherwise.” Maryam knew by ‘some people’ her mother was referring to Uncle J.13 They now stood in her mother’s room. Hajiya Aisha’s sister, Aunty Biba lay on the bed talking with her friend who came from Kaduna for the wedding too, they were childhood friends and considering Aunty Biba was practically raised by Hajiya Aisha, Maryam’s wedding was like a sister’s wedding to her. She invited all her friends.5 Maryam’s attention went back to her mother, they now stood in front of her wall-mounted wardrobe.11 “Here take these, they are your liquid perfumes, make sure you keep using them once you get there, I didn’t pack them in the rest of your things for fear of them breaking, I’ve wrapped them in old clothes and newspapers to cushion them, this bag here, are some herbs I’ll tell you how to use them. But first, you have to promise me you are not going to dump them like you did the ones I gave you when you were leaving for the first time.”13 “I didn’t dump them,” Maryam said.3 “Well, have you used them?”6 Maryam clamped her lips down between her teeth, it wasn’t like she would be making some solo-gruel in people’s kitchen and when they ask her what she was making she would casually say it is for ‘large boobs.’ How comfy would that have been?58 And for the tabs, well she hated drugs, and she wasn’t about to start taking them for life since she knew she wouldn’t just start sprouting and increasing in size by popping pills. But right now Maryam knew the only way to get out of her mother’s radar after foiling her much-planned event was to accept whatever she was offering. She didn’t remember seeing Nanny cam at the Bugaje residence, even though it wouldn’t surprise her if there was one.15 “Okay, what am I to do with these?” That was when Maryam saw the bag her mother was holding, “Mama this is a bacco bag! Please tell me I’m not consuming all its content.”13 “Shut up, who asked you to go and stay there and only come a week to your wedding?”4 “Two weeks,” Maryam corrected.2 “You need these. You start taking some today.” Maryam was not naive, she knew her mother had just offered her some aphrodisiac, she wanted to scandalize her mother and inform her, her marriage wasn’t that kind of marriage. But she shut it right when Aunty Biba said. “Ah ah Mimie, ‘yar gatan Mama, all these for you? I will come and take some of the goodies.”12 She felt like facepalming.2 “Mama, do I have to go with this? What if my bag falls at the airport and he sees all these things, in front of his whole family, they are going to think I am some Juju girl.”36 Maryam peeked into the bag and brought out a tub of something dark with a red tinge in it.2 “Stay there don’t take it, here we are begging Mama to get some for us, an miki gata, but you are not ready. You will ask for it yourself later on.”16 “Allah sawwaka,” Maryam said, and they all started laughing, even Mama had a knowing smile on her face.4 “Oya, open this and drink, it is honey. This will stay in your…”5 “Mama! Please, I don’t want to hear it all. Ewww.”8 That statement placed her under the tutorship of the three adults in the room apparently she was an unborn baby when it came to the stuff they were bombarding her with. She couldn’t believe she was getting lessons on marital relations from her mother! That too on her wedding eve. She wanted to die right there and be forgotten.15 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  She didn’t know if her mother qualified to give her some marital education since as far as Maryam remembered, her mother hadn’t bothered with giving her an adolescent education. She didn’t know what was wrong with her or what to expect, she was so scared when she went to the toilet and saw blood, she came running to their father in his living room, telling him that she was bleeding in her panties.30 Maryam would never forget the mortification on her father’s face, and then his speechlessness that followed.6 When he recovered, he had tried speaking about four times before he was successful.8 “Go and meet your mother and tell her. She will tell you what to do.”13 When she went to her mother, she was on the telephone with her best friend Hajiya Rabi. She dismissed her. And Maryam was so scared, she went to her sister and informed her, but her sister had been too spooked to be useful, they both slipped through the back door and went to Nafeesah’s house, it was after they informed Nafeesah’s mother, did she tell her what to do and how to keep taking care of herself.38 Umma had given her her first sanitary pad and an admonition on how now she had her own book in which everything she did either good or bad would be recorded in it, carrying her name, she even told her she had passed the age of rough play and going close to boys.9 Maryam had been so scared, she refused to talk to any boy or man except her father. A teacher once reported her to her father that she wouldn’t look up in the classroom.28 Now, when her mother had missed that important aspect of her life, she wondered why she would meddle in it when she had no need for her meddling.9 Maryam closed her eyes briefly, tucking away that awful memory, “How am I suppose to know all this crash course you are giving me now? My head hurts a lot. And I think this stuff will just kill me, it has no dosage, have you looked at my size? Taking all of this will make me take a permanent residence in the toilet, and that will be my end. Aunty Biba, please use it.” She rose from the carpet she had resorted to sitting since the lecture had taken longer than she’d expected.6 “Ke, come back here, are we your mates?” Aunty Biba asked.6 “I’m sorry, my head is spinning, can we take a break? Please?”2 She turned to see her mother seething, with tight jaws and red face, so red Maryam thought she was about to explode.6 “Go ahead. We shall finish in the morning.” She finally said.1 Maryam let out a huge sigh. “Thank you, good night.”2 Once she was outside the room, her breath returned to her lungs. Days like this made Maryam miss some part of her old life, yet it was because of those moments and the events of her old life she was determined to embrace this new life.2 Now she only needed to hold on tight to see what this new dawn held for her.5 **** The next morning, Maryam got up early, she was bathed and dressed before the breakfast was done. Zubaida and Fatima were busy packing off what was left of her belongings, she felt like her farewell was really happening, except that was really what was going on, in a few hours she would leave only to come visiting.4 Maryam knocked on her father’s door and her mother responded.1 “Come in.” She carefully opened the door. But her father was already up and ready to go, “They have occupied the house, I will be at Hajiya Dada’s house, the fatiha is taking place there.”5 “An tashi lafiya, Baba?” Maryam said, avoiding the talk, he was dressed in a white babbar riga, it had pure white embroidery on it, his cap almost sparkled with whiteness. His tired skin glowed with joy today.4 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  “Lafiya Daaso, amarya.” He jested making Maryam cover her face with both palms.2 “Good morning mama,” Maryam greeted,2 “Good morning Maryam. Let me see to your father’s breakfast. Bring down that black box from the wardrobe before I come.”2 Maryam nodded. But didn’t move.4 “Baba, you are leaving already?”2 “Daa…”2 “Don’t leave, please.”2 “You will be okay in sha Allah, remember what I told you? You are strong. You can do this in sha Allah. May Allah bless your home for you. I’ll be back after the Fatiha to see you off.”4 “Baba please, when you do. Don’t give me a farewell speech, I can’t take it.” Tears were already blurring her eyes.2 “Okay, I won’t. Now put on your brightest smile, today is your day.”4 “Thank you, Baba,” She said, as he left to have his breakfast in his sitting room.2 Her mother was back shortly after.2 *** “Look at me, Maryam. What are you trying to prove? Are you going to be this difficult even now? I have everything planned out, now you won’t foil it by your stupid ideology about Bidi’a and what not. This event is a women-only event, you made me postpone it yesterday, how can I tell people it has been cancelled?”7 Maryam took in a deep breath, “Mama I’m not trying to argue about this, but I just want to tell you any meal served at such events is considered an extravagance, such extravagance that even throwing food away in the trash is not worse than it. We are seeking blessing in this, there will be unlawful music there and whatever blessing we seek from it will leave right before it even starts. That’s not how I plan to start my life as a married woman.”7 “And you know all this from that little islamiyya you attended? Weddings are done once in a lifetime, you will regret not having pictures to show as your wedding pictures. And by the way half of your sins will be forgiven once the fatiha has been conducted, what sins are you even talking about?”17 “I understand, I don’t care about the pictures, you can have someone come into the house after the wedding Fatiha, and I promise to pose for a few shots with you all, I will even snap with Ya Mubarak, you can keep history with that. Will that be enough? I will snap a few with the guests too, but I don’t want big copies made, just something to be stowed away in the drawers.”6 Hajiya Aisha rubbed her forehead with her dainty fingers and let out a sigh. “Ustadha Maryam, what will I do since you don’t want it? I just have to bear all the loss for hiring all those people and inviting all those guests. What is my word against yours?”7 “In sha Allah, Mama Allah will bless you in other ways you’ve not even expected, for shunning things that would have brought His wrath upon us.”4 Hajiya Aisha shuddered, “Okay. Let me give you this.”4 There was a knock at the door, and Surayya’s face popped in, “Mama, Aunty Saliha wants to see you she is leaving.”2 “Alright Surayya, tell her I will be right with her, also tell Aunty Rabi she should see to her souvenirs, let me give Maryam her clothes.” The keys to the storeroom were with Hajiya Aisha’s best friend, as they called every friend of their mother’s ‘Aunty’. Aunty Rabi’s duty was to ensure that every guest leaving, went home with an armload of favours from the wedding.4 Hajiya Aisha moved to Baba’s bed, where Maryam had placed the black box on it, she opened the top zipper and brought out a red box. it was a jewellery container.2 “Here take this, it is your gold set. I wanted to amend the design but the date was set so close, and there were so many things to do, I couldn’t get it done.”4 Maryam’s hands shook as she unlatched the little spindle lock at the front of the box. She did that without even looking because the box was still so familiar to her.4 Maryam didn’t want to open it and shatter her heart, lest it confirmed her fear, but the sooner she did it the better.5 She did, and staring back at her was a gold jewellery with a choker design and a monogram that was encrusted in the v-dipping of the base.4 “This is… this is hers, right?”45 Her mother wouldn’t look at her eyes when she spoke. “Not anymore, it is now yours, I used your dowry to buy it from the inheritance.”6 Maryam nodded absentmindedly, pushing away her mother’s statement about the dowry from her mind- the dowry that was given to her yesterday placed in her mother’s safe keeping. A fat tear escaped her left eye, but before Maryam’s hand wiped the tear that slipped, her mother had turned to her with a very familiar bridal gown, a deep red gown.4 And she remembered them bringing it home for the first time from the seamstress four years ago.12 Maryam shook her head vigorously. “No Mama, not this please.”4 “Why? The colour will be lovely on you. I even made Lukman Tailor alter it to your size. Don’t you love the details on it? Look there is an inbuilt…”4 Maryam flung the jewellery box from her lap and it landed on Baba’s bed. “No, Mama. I am not using her dress! You should at least respect that.”16 “Maryam!” Hajiya Aisha scolded.4 Maryam held her head between her palms, and landed on the bed with a thud, she let out a heart-wrenching sob, her mother let her cry. But that was not enough for Maryam, she wanted to cry blood, but still, it wouldn’t be enough, for what she felt then was consuming, destructive, she wished she could just vanish.6 “Maryam, you need to get ready, you don’t even have an alternative, soon the groom’s family will be here for the conveyance.”4 “Mama please, just on this day. Please, can I ask for once, to be Maryam? I don’t want to wear anyone’s favourite colour, I don’t want to wear what could have looked good on someone, that is all I ask of you. Give me this one day of my life. I have something good to wear, I promise I won’t wear black, or a jilbaab, but please not this dress. I can’t. I will die.”35 Hajiya Aisha remained still; she felt a lump in her throat, swallowing it she nodded at Maryam. With a tight smile, she said, “It is your day, have fun. I’m going to see the guests. And… uhm, Maryam, no one is dying.” Her mother’s gaze chilled her to her bones.11 She nodded.5 When Hajiya Aisha left the room, Maryam traced the letter ‘N’ that was engraved on the thick plate of the gold neckless. She looked up and sniffed, wiping the tears that came out of her eyes.4 “I miss you so much, So much. May Allah keep you under His shade. I wish I hadn’t lied. I am so sorry.” She sobbed into her clenched fists.

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