This happened back when we all coexisted peacefully, and our gender, tribe, or religion was not an issue. It was the days when a child was raised not by the parents alone but by the community. Those were the good old days.
Back then, we lived in the northern part of Nigeria. I never knew my mother because she died while having me. My father was a successful trader. He owned the most significant, most prominent textile shop in the whole of Kano at the time.
Our neighbor was Aljaji Alhaji Bature. He had two wives (Hajia and Iyawo) and six children. They were an amazing, fantastic family. Dad and Alhaji got along very well. One would think they were related. Their favourite spot was under the mango tree in front of our building, where they sat down almost every other night to discuss every topic under the sun.
I stayed with the Bature’s each time Dad embarked on his business trips. Unfortunately, he went on one of such trips and never returned.
Phones were not standards back then, so it was difficult to get details about what happened to him until the police traced his badly burnt car to a ditch. We were only able to identify his vehicle from the charred plate number.
None of his relatives came for me after his death. This didn’t come as a surprise because most of Dad’s family members didn’t think girls were important. They asked him to get a wife that would give him sons, but he disregarded them. His reason was that he had not found a good wife material.
Alhaji did not hesitate to adopt me after my father’s death. He treated me like his own child. There was no discrimination between his children and me. He treated us equally. He fought hard with those contending for Dad’s business and made sure nothing happened to the shops. He got someone to run the company, and every single kobo made from it was kept in a trust fund for me. People that didn’t know my story thought I was Alhaji’s first child, and we never bothered to explain anything to anyone.
After graduating from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, my adopted dad sent me to UCLA for my Masters’s degree program. On my return, I got a regular 9 to 5 job while running the textile business on the side. I had a good life because of Alhaji. He was my hero.
By this time, I was living on my own, and my siblings were always in my house, all six of them. They shuttled between my house and the family house, but Fathia preferred to live with me. I was surprised when she told me that she wanted to get married. It broke my heart that she had dyslexia and had to leave school, but I believed more could do with herself than rush into an early marriage.
Fathia believed that education was not for her and spoke that she was better off as a wife and a mother. Hajia and Iyawo did their best to talk to her but to no avail. I talked to her too, but her mind was made. We couldn’t do anything to convince her otherwise. Alhaji was forced to give his consent for the wedding. This was good in the light of the circumstances. Besides, the groom, Farouk, was from a good family, and he seemed pretty responsible.
Imagine my shock when Fathia ran to my house in the middle of the night, barely six weeks after her wedding. She had cuts and bruises all over her body. The beatings started on her wedding night, and she couldn’t tell anyone. My baby sister was married to a mad man. Farouk came the following day crying and begging and blaming the devil for his actions. I warned him sternly, and he promised never to touch her again. We all thought it would be good to keep what happened away from Alhaji to avoid further escalating the matter.
Farouk kept his promise, and he didn’t beat Fathia again. Everything seemed all right, or so I thought, but I was worried that Fathia had become distant. She hardly called or visited, and whenever I asked her, she would say she was trying to grow her business, so she was busy.
I was more surprised when Farouk showed up at the family house for the Sallah celebration and came without his wife. Fathia loved ram meat; she loved the special sauce that Iyawo usually makes with ram meat, and she would never miss it for anything. When queried about Fathia’s absence, Farouk said she was ill, and Alhaji ddancedas assumed she was pregnant. I had a feeling that Farouk was lying, and I was going to find out.
After the Sallah break, I took time off work to visit my sister, and I was appalled at the sight of her. She had a black eye and a torn lip. She walked with a limp, and she was in much pain. I thought of a thousand things I could do to Farouk, and one particular thought stood out. I was going to handle this matter in my way. Farouk had messed with the wrong female.
Fathia told me how Farouk had turned her into a punching bag. She had lost two pregnancies as a result of his beatings. He had weird sexual fantasies, and he forced her to do things that she could not bring herself to say. He got her a shop but would not let her go there; instead, he got a sales boy that was fast running the business aground.
When Farouk came home that evening, he nearly ran out when he saw me, but I was calm. I had a plan. No man can mess with my baby sister and get away with it. I calmly told him that I was moving in with them to nurse my sister back to health. I asked if he had a problem with it, and he said no. Before leaving the house that night, Farouk dashed off to his room and returned with some drugs, which he hurriedly popped into his mouth. I asked if he was sick, and Fathia responded that they were prescription drugs for palpitations and high blood pressure. Rather than taking care of himself, the idiot was busy bashing my sister. He didn’t consider his health as he beat her. What if he slumped or something?
I moved into their home the next day. I went in a large suitcase ‘cos I had no idea how long I would be staying. There were two extra rooms, so I took one and made myself comfortable. I did not ask Farouk anything; I went on as if I was blind and didn’t see his handwork, he tried to explain what happened with lots of apologies, but I wasn’t interested.
It was stressful navigating from their home to work every day, but I was a woman on a mission. Three weeks into my stay, I was happy with my sister’s progress, but I wasn’t ready to leave just yet. I noticed that she didn’t want me to go too. That bastard had damaged my sister’s self-confidence, and I knew I had to do damage control and get back what was left of it.
Two months later, Farouk had become a nervous wreck. I still didn’t ask him why he mishit my sister. I knew that my presence was torture for him, and I enjoyed it. Well, my mission in their home was accomplished. My sister was going to be all right. It was time for me to leave. That morning, I picked up my suitcase and made my way to my car. Farouk also picked up his tea flask and car keys and headed out to work.
That night, I was at the family house when the call came that Farouk had died of a heart attack. He had collapsed at work earlier in the day and was taken to the hospital, but he gave up the ghost eventually.
Everyone felt sorry for Fathia, “she’s too young to be a widow,,”
“The pain of losing her husband has made her numb that’s why she’s not crying so much”…these were their submissions, but I knew that those were tears of relief. She wasn’t numb; she was adjusting to freedom.
After the burial rites were concluded, Fathia moved in with me; it was better than staying at the family house. It was time to pick up the pieces of her life and move on.
One evening, as Fathia and I chatted away, she looked questioningly at me as I carefully picked up a beautiful plant that I kept at a corner in my room and trashed it in a bin bag before securing the lid tightly. She was curious to know why I was doing that because the plant was essential to me since I had it with me while at her house.
I told her that the plant is called ‘Aconite’ and I no longer required it. I further explained that it was a poisonous plant, and if its leaf is dropped in a person’s tea or drink, it releases a poison that induces a heart attack. This poison can never be traced in the bloodstream.
Fathia’s eyes widened, and her jaw dropped in shock as I picked up the bin bag and walked away… leaving her to her thoughts.