Jacques GabrielThe two women stood at opposite ends of the kitchen like military men at their duty post. The pot of water gurgling on the water was the only noise Zahra could hear.

As Mama walked to the cooker, Ummi walked towards the cabinet to pick up a small pot.

When seven year old Zahra raised her head from combing her doll’s hair, she saw the pot of water toppling to the floor and Mama screaming.

That was the last time Zahra saw Ummi. All she remembers hearing are sobbing and the thunderous sound of a banged closed door.

Twenty years later, she stood in front of another door. When it opened, Ummi was standing there. She did not look a day over forty. The cornrows on her head were sprinkled with silver. The smile on her face was still twenty-seven.

“Zahra” she said. ‘”You’ve grown into a beautiful young lady…Please have a seat.”

Zahra sat down on the single chair at the corner.

“Do you still love zobo drink?”

“I do. But I don’t want to drink anything,” Zara said, her hands tucked in the pockets of her long dress. She sat upright on the brown Sofa. It felt like baba’s sofa.

“Mama told me the truth about the incident twenty years ago. I’m so sorry.”

“Can we please not talk about it?” Ummi said. “I thought you came to see me after all this years.”

“Mama has cancer,” Zahra blurted out. “She is in pain and the doctors don’t know if she will make it.”

“I’m sorry, but I don’t want to see her. Did she tell you about how she poured hot water on her leg by mistake and then she said it was me?”

“She did and that is why she is asking to see you, to apologize.” Said Zahra.

“She doesn’t deserve forgiveness. She painted me out to be a bad person in front of your grandparents. She made me lonely. Your father died last year, and I didn’t get to say goodbye. She stole that from me. She stole my life.”

Zahra was shocked at the venom. “You could have remarried. You could have gotten another family.”

“You were too young to remember. I can’t have a child. That was the reason why your father married your mother. And after she lied to everyone in Kano heard about the wicked woman who poured a pot of hot water on her co-wife…”

“You could have gone to another town,” Zahra insisted.

“I lost the love of my life. I should give up my town also?” Said Ummi.

“Your mum did not tell you that I had asked her to say the truth. I was angry. Why could your father not trust me? Why did he believe her? I tried to forget everything. I even agreed to marry someone from Sokoto, but a day before the wedding, I called your mother and asked her to say the truth, tell everybody that it was an accident, that I wasn’t even near the cooker, but she refused.”

Ummi got up from her sit and picked up an album on the centre table. She showed me pictures of baba with afro hair, a beautiful smile, and Hipster pants.

“Your mother hurt me a lot.’ She said. “She was just too greedy.”

I stared at the old album and did not know what to say.

“You know what Zahra? The only reason I’am talking to you is because you have your father’s almond shaped eyes and his cheekbones.”

She asked to take my picture with her android phone.

I went to the hospital later that day.

“Mama, she doesn’t want to forgive. Why did you do it? She told me she can’t have children. How could you have been so heartless?”

“I had children, but your father did not really love me. I just wanted him to look at me like I was as beautiful as the moon. Ummi wasn’t even beautiful. She had beautiful big eyes, but they didn’t match her round face. Her nose was flat…not as long as mine. She had an odd set of lips—the upper one was smaller than the lower one. They were full, but mine were far more beautiful. Yet, in your father’s eyes, she was the most beautiful woman in the world.”

“Why do you keep talking about her as though she were dead?’

“That day,” she continued, ignoring me, “I was about to turn off the stove when I slipped and the water poured on my feet. I started screaming. Your father and granny came in. So much attention was showered on me. I didn’t know when I said it was Ummi that did everything.”

“Didn’t she call back a year later asking you to clear her name?”

“I just wanted to be the only wife, Zahra.”

“I don’t think she is going to forgive you.”

“She could have married someone else and lived happy life.”

“She told me she couldn’t have children.”

“Stubborn woman. She could have married a widower with children, but she refused to move on.”

“Mama, you’re wrong. First you lied and now you are blaming her?”

Zahra walked back home with her head bent. She felt like a ping pong ball played by Mama and Ummi. She went home and went to her father’s room. She wanted answers, so she checked his wardrobe and found an old diary.

She read through the pages and went back to Ummi’s house.

“You lied to me Ummi…You and baba secretly remarried 18 years ago.”

Ummi sat down on her seat.

“Look. I just wanted your mother to apologize for the lies she told.”

“So nobody knew you people were remarried.”

“Your father was the love of my life, so he decided to forgive me for a crime I did not do. He said we should put it behind us.”

“Apparently, your mum told him the truth before he died.”

“Your father and I met in the university,” she continued, “we liked the same books and shared a love for architecture. Your mother had no hobby. The only thing she had were her children, and she used to remind me that I could not have a child of my own every day.”

“I have a deal for you. If you forgive mama, I will come and visit you all the time,” Zahra said. ‘Think about it, you can tell me stories of Baba that I know nothing about.”

“Are you sure,” said Ummi, a tear coming down her left eye, which she brushed with her trembling right hand. “I miss your father a lot.”

“I know,” said Zahra. “I miss him too.”

**************

Post image by Jacques Gabriel via Manufactoriel

 

About the Author: 

Portrait - Hadiza MuhammadHadiza Mohammed is a member of Abuja Writers Forum. She has an eclectic taste in book. She loves storytelling, fairy tales, writing for children and researching Nigeria’s history. She has written her first picture book for children titled “My life As An Almajiri.”

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

One Response to “Zahra | by Hadiza Muhammad | An African Story” Subscribe

  1. Abubakar I. Mansur 2015/03/25 at 17:37 #

    Wow! So interesting story. I have just finished reading story regarding family issue. It was well-
    written and contained sound, practical advice. In fact, I have already benefited from your discussion jealousy. You pointed out several things that I will remember for years to come. I look forward to reading your next informative work. Thank you.

Leave a Reply

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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