An African Sunset

Reads: 336  | Likes: 0  | Shelves: 1  | Comments: 0

More Details
Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 4 (v.1) - Chapter 4

Submitted: February 08, 2018

Reads: 19

A A A | A A A

Submitted: February 08, 2018

A A A

A A A

Sumayya returned to the Law Firm about a week later on a Friday. Mustapha came back to the office from the hearing of a case at the Upper Shari’ah Court. The case had dragged on from 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. It was a land dispute in a remote village in Sauna. The al-Qadi, his registrar, his clerks and the litigants and their Lawyers walked for half a kilometre in swampy rice fields to inspect it. He drove back to the office to pick up a case file before going home to clean the mud when he met her. She looked at the mud on his black trousers that had also coated his black shoes.

“Good evening,” he greeted.

“What happened, sir?” Na'ila asked.

“We visited a locus in quo in a swamp,” he answered.

He walked into the bathroom. He cleaned the mud and put on a T-shirt and three-quarter shorts which he wore during the weekends in the office. He put on a slipper and entered the office.

Sumayya was sitting on the clients’ chair. He noticed the faint amusement on her face as she studied the painting on the easel. Although unfinished, it was clearly a painting of her. She wasn’t amused at the painting but the baggy combat shorts he was wearing and a slight dimple appeared on her lower cheek.

“I visited the prison. They couldn’t find him and they advised me to come with my Lawyer or write to the Deputy Comptroller General,” she said when he sat down, “I think there’s now a good reason to open that file.”

“He’s not in prison anymore. He has been released,” he told her.

“I don’t understand. If he has been released, then where is he?”

“Right now, I have no idea. I went through his file and it turned out that his sentence included the three years he was remanded in prison custody before his conviction. That means, he has been released three years ago.”

“He is not at home. Is there any chance that they are still holding him? If you think anything happened to him or he died in custody you will tell me straight away, won’t you?”

“I would, but they won’t continue to hold him after his sentence,” he said.

 Sumayya’s face creased with consternation. Her brows drew closer and her lips pursed.

“There are some addresses mentioned in the case file, perhaps you may find them useful. Does the address 37k Suleiman Crescent ring a bell?”

“No. Where is that?” She asked.

“You don’t live here in Kano, do you?”

“No. I live in Abuja,” she replied.

“What about Jauro Farms in Bauchi State?”

“No, I don’t know any of these places, and what have they got to do with him?”

“I don’t know exactly  but Bauchi is a more likely place to find him. It seems he owns a farm house in a remote village close to Yankari Game Reserve, Zalboan.”

“I don’t know any of these places. Do you know Bauchi?” She asked.

“Yes, I served there for my National Youth Service,” he answered.

“Take me there,” she said.

Mustapha looked up at the Law Reports arranged on the top of the shelf and down at the rows of novels on the lower shelf. He stared at George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty Four and remembered when as a fourteen year old, he first read the novel in the school library. It was engrossing but he was disappointed at the ending. Living in a house with rules similar to a jail, he understood the characters’ sense of entrapment and despondency. He pondered for days why it was possible to have such an unsatisfactory ending for such a good book. He bought another copy from a bookshop to confirm whether all the copies have the same upsetting ending, then he resolved to write his own alternative ending to it. The book had spoken to him despite the strangeness of the society it created and the extra ordinary naivety of its characters. He had been raised in a family that was not his and he had endured the cruelty of a foster mother who quite successfully turned him into a domestic help and often times an emotional punch bag. He dreamt of a life of freedom, of travel and adventure, away from all people except a beautiful woman whose face kept changing. He dreamt of fantasies and of the stories that stuck up in his mind since his childhood.

Usman was two years older than him and had a different father. His father married his mother, Harira, a divorcee, and the marriage quickly ended after his birth. She soon went back to her former husband, Usman’s father and Mustapha remained the sole product of the marriage. She raised the two boys together and they grew to know they were brothers with two separate fathers. Whatever advantage Usman had over Mustapha, Mustapha overcame with vigour and superior health. Usman told him tales and ridiculous explanations of things that have stuck up in his mind up to his teenage years, long after Usman died. He told him what was at the farthest end of the world. At the end of the world is a great wall like the Kano City Wall fencing the world round. Mustapha wondered what was at the other side of the wall or why the wall was built and who built it. Perhaps God built it. Usman also told him of what will be done to them if they were caught in the police barracks where they went to steal mangos. The mangos, to Mustapha’s immense disappointment, were all green and unripe or perhaps the trees only produce small, acidic mangos. They would be buried alive by the police head first in a pit, Usman told him. Mustapha felt the gross injustice of been buried alive for filling one’s pockets with unripe mangos but the sense of mortal danger made the adventure more thrilling. Usman also told him what the people who clean out latrines do with the sewage they pack into big oil barrels and which they transport on rickety pickup vans. They buy loaves of bread, dip them into the sewage, and eat it, Usman told him. He believed him because of the truth and certitude on his face when he said it. Usman seemed to know everything. It barely took a lesson in Geography to know that what Usman told him was improbable. They were separated when Mustapha was taken to his grandmother in Jos and he had met teachers and pupils in Primary School that apparently knew better than Usman and Usman’s knowledge and authority gave way. It was the effect of the footmarks of the elephant on that of the camel when it steps on them. However, no amount of Geography lessons (or any other lessons for that matter) could have erased the odious tale of the latrine cleaners dipping loaves of bread in black nauseous sludge from his mind. Usman died at the age of eight, violently coughing out tremendous quantities of blood.

He has not been consistently unlucky in life. He has had moments of glory and triumph in school and the generous benefits of been a dependent of a middle class family. He has had several of such moments in life when the forces of fate and destiny seemed to align. He tried to remember and he remembered Asiya. It was a moment he would have hoped for, to spend time with her and to travel with her. He always found travelling inspiring. Travelling is freedom and rebellion from depressing routine. He longed for the wild greenery on the roadsides and he dreams of the mountainous terrain of the Jos Plateau and the houses built atop the mountains. When he travels round the winding roads and through the valleys between the mountains and across the plains of the savannah, boredom and depression peels off from around his head like a loosely worn turban.

“Help me find my father,” she said.

She watched him stare at the shelf for the brief moment he raised his head and may have mistaken that for reluctance.

“When do you want to go?” He asked.

“As soon as you are ready.”

“How about tomorrow, I’m only free during the weekends?

“That will be great. Should I come here tomorrow?”

“No, where do you stay?”

“At Tahir Guest Palace.”

“I will be there by eight,” he said.

He saw the enthusiasm in her eyes as she made to go. She was staying in a hotel room just a few yards away from her father’s family, without any idea that they exist or that they are close to her. Her father is a discreet polygamist. She might have even come across her step-sister at a supermarket or along a road without recognizing her. The fact that he was privy to that information gave him a feeling of importance. 

The next day, she walked out of the hotel reception wearing a golden gown that narrowed at her waist and clasped her at the breast and hips and opened in wreaths below. He watched her walk and she adjusted the silver coloured veil around her head and below her neck just enough to cover any possible cleavage. She glittered in the morning light. He has always detested glitter and the brightly coloured clothes that found their way into his wardrobe have remained unworn. Sumayya was able to reconcile the two glitteriest colours, gold and silver in her outfit and remain gorgeously alright. When she smiled, her missing tooth gave her a flattering femininity. The high-heeled shoes made her slightly taller and closer to his height. He stood by the reception quite stunned and he almost forgot to reply when she said ‘good morning’. He imagined her in his life and his dreams began to take form. She could be that girl he has been waiting for, who will heal his heart, remove his guilt and commute his sentence of penance, the mystery girl looking for her father and whose father was a convicted rapist.

She handed him the keys to her Mercedes Benz C-Class and goes round to sit in the front seat. The car itself was a solid symbol of affluence and its golden colour spoke either of its owners love for the gold colour or an unapologetic display of wealth. He drove them out of the quiet roads of Suleiman Crescent into the busier Yan-Kaba Expressway traffic. Her eyes darted from side to side looking out of her window at the sprawling metropolis and she asked him the names of the places they passed. He wore a white T-shirt and a blue jean trouser. With her in the front seat, he felt slightly underdressed. He will undoubtedly be mistaken for her driver by the police and the soldiers at the check-points.

“When you asked me to come with you, you sounded almost certain that I will say yes,” he said.

She looked at him and smiled and after a while she said, “do you always paint a picture of your clients?”

He smiled too and he put on an obvious effort on the steering going round the N.N.P.C. roundabout. He accelerated and sped-on on the Maiduguri road.

She turned to look at the bold structures under development that trails the City’s outskirts and  the filling stations with  modern glass glazed office blocks attached that are mostly unoccupied.

“I like Kano,” she said.

 She didn’t turn to look at him and he did not reply. She stretched herself on the front seat and relaxed into a sleeping position.

“When I was young, my father was a star in my life. He always told me that I was born to be great and I believed him. He told me he wanted me to be a Doctor and I became one. Now that I did and he is not here to see it I feel less happy about it. I do not understand why if he was released and well, he hasn’t come back home to us,”  she said.

“Do you know for what he was convicted?” He asked.

She turned her face away to the window and swallowed hard.

“Rape. He was sentenced for rape,” she said with some effort, “he was innocent. A woman blackmailed him,” she added.

The words came out with some bitterness in her voice. He asked her that to remind her and although he wanted to comfort her, he decided not to. He has seen Lady Judges impose inconsiderate sentences for rapists and he felt and understood their anger and he wondered how a lady feels knowing that her father has raped another woman.

“Have you considered the possibility that perhaps he wanted some time away from his family?” He asked.

“Fourteen years is more than enough time to be away from one’s family. And why would he want to do that?” She asked.

“I don’t know, but what do you say to your grown daughter or to your wife after fourteen years?” He said.

She sighed.

“The prison has a certain effect on some people. The person you may meet today may not be the same father you knew as a child,” he said.

As if to silence him, she pressed the button on the CD player and turned her head away to the window. Bruce Springsteen’ s Jersey Girl came through the speakers.

…You know she thrills me with all her charms

When I’m wrapped up in my baby’s arms

My little girl gives me everything

“This is my favourite song,” she said and asked, “what’s yours?”

“Eminem, anything that Eminem sings,” he replied.

“You call that singing? It’s just thugs talking gibberish. What do you relate to in all that, the tattoos, the jewellery or the women?”

“The anger,” he replied tersely.

She examined his expression and he looked back at her. He noticed a new seriousness in her stare but it went away.

“…and sometimes the women too,” he added with a smile.

She scoffed at him light-heartedly. The Mercedes made its way on the sun scorched tar through the towns and villages on the outskirts of Kano. The city leaves a trail of buildings away from the metropolis that gradually threatens the sleepy villages. Soon the villages began to appear in the horizon, shimmering spectacles of red mud and cement, thatch and zinc and grass and cattle. He stopped at Wudil and bought water. He turned round to the car and saw her looking at him. He went to her window and gave her a bottle of Faro. She took the bottle and opened it. He expected a thank you and he feared it. A thank you is a sign of unease for the average Northern woman. A sense of entitlement means she is at ease.

They travelled for a few hours through stretches of farmland and bush. Naked children plunge into shallow streams and muddy ponds. Boats rowed in the streams collecting fine sand and piling it by the side for sale. Tippers load the sand and totter their way up to the highways. More villages dot the savannah plains farther away from the road. Around Birnin-Kudu, the rock formations rose with old settlements huddling around the foot of the hills. At Babaldu, she asked him to stop and she bought fresh dates. Fulani settlements appeared still farther into the bush with lone huts and thatch-surrounded compounds in the grazing fields. Fulani nomads drove herds of cattle beside the roads and he slowed down to avoid colliding with the white bovines. Fulani women followed the herds, carrying domestic utensils on their heads and bigger ones on their donkeys. The elderly women wore only a wrapper tied around the chest and a scarf around the head. Some of the women rode on donkeys or pull the reins of one carrying a young child. Sumayya hurled greetings at the Fulani women in an ostentatious show of ethnic pride.

Jam na!

Jam koo dume!

Jabbama!

It was easy to see why she wanted to do that and why anyone may not want to be associated with the frugal nomads. On the nomad’s compass, green pasture is North. When the rains come and the grasses grow green, he stays in the expansive Sahel and Sudan Savannahs to graze his herd and when the rain retreats southwards, he drives his herd of white cattle and follows it for hundreds of miles to the guinea savannah and into the rainforests of the South. This leaves the nomad with little time for education or market or society. Through his perennial treks, he amasses great wealth in cattle and the nomadic culture has survived in the 21st century. The Fulani are a proud race who conquered the Hausa Kingdoms in the 19th century and many settled into sedentary life and adopted the Hausa culture and language. Mustapha wondered whether the nomads saw anything odd in the way the ‘settled Fulani’ woman in the car was waving at them or they understand too, that she was trying to impress a point to her driver by owning up to her nomadic country cousins.

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

Three hours and forty-five minutes into the journey they arrived at Bauchi.

“We can stay here tonight, right?” She asked and pointed at the high rise Zaranda Hotel.

 “No, we can stay at Dass if necessary. Zalboan is several miles away from Dass but I know a Judge there. I have an invitation to his house,” he said.

The rugged mountain terrain of Dass is part of the trail of the Jos Plateau. Dark brown and black mountains that vaguely resemble natural shapes of fists and genitalia at their peaks and covered at their bases with thorn bushes and resilient greenery rose into the clouds in an ancient fetish of the heavens and earth. The terrain brought to him memories of Jos, of vivid images of massacres, of burnt markets and rows of burnt houses. He remembered the gnawing emotional pains of his abused childhood, the comforting dreams of escape to freedom and of isolated solitude, and then the exhilarating memories of truancy in Federal Government College, Jos.

Jos city is surrounded by extensive black mountain ranges like a baby cuddled in its mother’s arms. Behind F.G.C. Jos is what is rumored to be the tallest mountain in Plateau State and at the summit across three successive mountains is a pillar of concrete and stone which the students named ‘The Temple’. It was built on a platform at the summit to mark the highest peak. Students often crawl out of the meshed wire fencing, surrounding some part of the school or scale the brick walls during the mid-term breaks and during the holidays and teacher’s industrial strikes when academic routine ceases and there is less censure around the school, to climb the mountains. The mountain, with its many boulders, foothills and no precipices was easy to sub mount and the small streams from the waterfalls are pleasant for swimming in the hot season. Rumors of mythological creatures and monkeys (which are actually seen) roaming across the mountains, secret cult meetings of blood-drinking cultists on the summit of the temple and the existence of small isolated villages between the mountains that are all named ‘Mango Island’ by students because of their abundance of mangos and guava waiting to be stolen, drove the interest of students to the peak. The Muslim Hausa boys constitute a significant part of the ‘outlaws’ in F.G.C. Jos and expeditions are hardly undertaken without their superintendence. The boys once found the molt of what could be a huge python and Ibro swore it increases virility. A few of the boys chewed it as Ibro instructed but Mustapha did not. He couldn’t see how it will be important to him just then.

The Jos Plateau was embroiled in communal ethno-religious crisis. He remembered the corpse of a boy he saw on a road. The boy was hardly older than thirteen years. He was half buried in a small heap of rubbish. He had almost stepped on the dead, distraught face when something made him look down, as if by some instinct, only to see his right foot coming down on the face of the dead boy. The face was turned to the heavens in a frozen plea against its brutal fate. He quickly raised his foot and avoided the face. He examined the body. The boy had worn a dirty T-shirt and a black torn trouser stained with spent engine oils and grease. He could have been an apprentice mechanic. He could have been a welder. What was certain was that he was in the wrong street when the ‘war’ began. He had suffered a fatal cut from a blunt machete that had perhaps long lain idle with the dreams of chasing off a bugler and had bled out somewhere because there was no drop of blood around where he lay. The boy had not been set on fire like most other victims of the lynching. Mustapha wished he was. There was a comforting animation in the charred remains of corpses. Burnt corpses have only a faint indication of their humanity, mostly in the shape of their limbs. One could always tell that they struggled for their lives and writhed and contorted in unimaginable pain. However, one is always spared the harrowing tales told by the expressions on their face. Their clothes get stuck to their charred bodies and the expression on their faces gets effaced by the uncompassionate fire. Their stories, their agonies, their last regrets are all disguised in an even blackness of roasted flesh and sooth.

Mustapha searched within himself for what he felt about the boy and he wasn’t sure how he felt. He was sorry that he almost stepped on the corpse’s face and he was grateful that he didn’t. Digging deeper he wished he felt sorry for the boy but he knew he didn’t. He wasn’t happy at the death either but he doesn’t know a word that can describe how he felt. He knew that that was how he felt when his grandmother died and a few years later when his uncle died. When he was told of his grandmother’s death, he pretended to cry because he did not see why he doesn’t feel like crying. He was supposed to cry, he knew. When he was admonished against crying for the dead, he suspected that his uncle might have seen how easily it was to get him to stop. He loved her and he was for several years her companion. She was kind to him as she was to everyone he knew. She told him proverbs that she rarely explained and she often let slip short unintelligible slogans that he doesn’t understand but which he knew are the motto with which she lived her life. When his friends consoled him upon hearing the news, he lied that he had dreamt of her the night before. They all believed it and consoled him some more. When his uncle died, the men washing the corpse started when he came out of the apartment where the women sat in mourning. After a quick counsel they decided, persuaded by the Imam, to let him watch his dead uncle been washed and prepared for funeral. It was supposed to increase his piety and perhaps to confront his developing mind with one of the inevitable facts of life. He stood there for a moment and he felt everyone else’s sorrow except his. He stood with the men for the funeral prayers and when the busses took the corpse and left without him, he ran after them to the cemetery because the corpse was his uncle. He didn’t feel any sense of loss or grief but the corpse to be buried was his uncle and he felt a sense of duty towards it to help bury it. People will die and that includes the two persons who are most fond of him.

The weather on the Jos plateau is almost temperate in its coldest seasons. Since colonial times, communities of white people have found the climate an ideal settlement. They came for the tin, the tantalite and columbite mines. He found basketball matches between F.G.C. Jos and white High schools very entertaining. F.G.C. Jos always won the matches. The white coach was a frail figure, leaning on a strange walking stick that was fitted with a frame with four legs attached to it. It took six legs to keep the man from falling down and still he staggered and wobbled to correct his balance all the time as if he was on the deck of an old wooden ship in turbulent waters. Mustapha stared at the man as others watch the match. He had since then attributed frailty to all white men and wondered whether they are so because they lived for too long in the wrong climate. The Proprietress in his Primary School, Mrs Zainab Zang was one of such white people that had proved otherwise and was very energetic. He never understood her or her affections. She, unlike his Primary School teachers did not recognize him as an academic genius or any other student for that matter. She had no favourite. She was constantly coming up with random questions that only few could answer and outrageous mathematical equations that only few have seen before. Many of the students swore they will not forgive her for changing the school uniform from a lemon green shirt and blue knickers to a bright red shirt and ash trousers. Everyone agreed that she was weird.

They came across a small pond where Mustapha remembered several years back while serving in the National Youth Service Corps, he had seen police officers set up a road block and collect money from villagers like authorized tax collectors. Twenty Naira was paid for a goat and thirty for a sheep. When one of the policemen saw him in a suit and holding a Law Firm file, they suspended the operation to ‘let Barrister pass’. He remembered the vain feeling he felt that he was recognized and that was enough to put in check, albeit temporarily, the ruthlessly corrupt Police. Then, he felt despondent that in the face of wrongdoing he was helpless even if immune to it, he could do nothing about it and they soon continued the collection when he passed.

The arched gate of Jauro Farms appeared deep into the cultivated stretch of farmland. The farm was surrounded by meshed wire. The wire was covered by vines and shrubs. The bush path broadens into a desire path for cars and trucks to the gate. They were relieved that there was ongoing activity on the farm. Sumayya looked tense. He looked at her and he nudged at her with his eyes. A uniformed guard stepped out of the gate with a dane gun.

“What happened?” The guard asked rudely.

Mustapha was used to asking witnesses rude questions and sometimes receiving rude replies in court, Sumayya wasn’t. Before she talked, he quickly intervened. He knew a girl that will let the incivility pass and let the male next to her, whoever he is, reply as if uncivil exchanges were unbecoming of her majestic essence. He felt the crumpled note in his pocket.

“We want to see the owner,” he said.

“Why do you want to see him?” The guard asked.

“Business,” Mustapha replied.

He examined the car before opening the gate as if to tell whether by their car they are rich enough to do business with his employer, then he pointed to a three storey building at the Western flank of the farm. The farm was a great expanse of land, several acres across.

“Go and ask there,” he replied less rudely.

The driveway was graveled and the gravel shone in the afternoon light. Moringa trees lined the roads providing little shade for passing cars. At the Eastern flank of the farm was what appeared to be several warehouses or perhaps poultries and hatcheries. Close to it was an extensive shed for cattle and smaller animals. Rabbits and ostriches roamed around the farm freely. Birds flew around on the trees. To the south was a stretch of cultivated farmland, several acres wide. A water tank rested high on the south-western part and another close to a clutter of apartments housing the workers.  Farther to the south was a thick jungle of acacia trees interspersed with mango, guava and umbrella trees. The trees went as far as the mountain at the farthest borders of the farm.

A three storey whitewashed hotel block rose like an island of white rock in a sea of green. He drove towards the hotel. He barely parked when a man approached the car in a white kaftan.

“Salama alaikum,” the man said.

“Wa alaikha salam,” they answered.

They greeted and the man offered his hand to Mustapha. Sumayya watched them shook hands and she heaved with anxious respiration.

“We come to see the owner of this farm,” Mustapha said as he stepped out of the car.

“Okay, but for example do you know the owner of the farm?” The man asked.

They stared at one another at the strange question.

“We are here to see Malam Jauro?” Mustapha said.

“But are you acquaintances with him, for example?”

“Yes, the lady in the car is his daughter,” Mustapha said.

The man bent down and looked at Sumayya through the window. He was clearly in charge around and he wanted her to know even if he was not the owner.

“Is he around?” Mustapha asked.

The man smiled at her.

“He was digging that pit over there in the morning but I don’t think he is still there but for example let’s go and see if he is still in there. I have told him to stop this digging but he won’t perhaps you two can prevail on him to stop for the sake of his health. His heart is weak and he is not made for toiling under this infernal sun, for example,” he said.

They walked across to the newly ploughed field where soya beans have begun to sprout. A mound of earth hides a newly dug manure pit.

“He is not here, so for example, he’s probably at the foot of the mountain over there,” he said and pointed at the trees, “he rests there in the afternoon. Go into the lobby and have a rest and I will send for him, for example.”

Mustapha noticed the impatience on Sumayya’s face and she spat out: “Call him.”

“We don’t have good network here, may you live long. For example, let me send someone to get him.”

He turned around and called: “Bala! Bala!”

“We can go and meet him there,” she said, and asked, “where is he?”

“Okay but for example it is a bit far, you will need horses. Can you ride, for example?”

Bala came out from behind the moringa trees where he was resting on the dried acacia leaves. His face glistened with sweat and his hands were coarse with manual labor. He was extremely displeased at been awoken from his sleep.”

“Go get two horses for them,” the man ordered.

Bala brought the horses, tied the reins and tightened the saddles on them.

“Ride towards the mountain, for example through the path between the trees and keep an eye under the umbrella trees. He will be there and for example our guards are all over the place.”

Mustapha wondered if he said the last statement to warn them not to run off with his horses and leave him with their car. The Hausas have an age long reputation for hospitality to guests and been trustful and trusting but the rise of urbanization has had a strain on it.

They climbed on the saddles and rode towards the mountain. Arabian camels grazed lazily close to the trees and colts and stallions galloped on the lush grass. Herds of cattle, sheep and goats also grazed near their sheds. Turkeys, peacocks and guinea fowls hobbled around pecking and scatter in fright at the approaching riders. They found him under the umbrella trees as the man said. Sumayya saw him first and she stopped. The umbrella trees grew to average heights and spread their branches and broad leaves screening much of the ground from the sunlight. The area around the trees was dark and a cool breeze blew below shifting the mass of fallen dried leaves. He sat under one of the trees and seemed unaware of their approach. He worked a needle into a yard of cotton cloth, making the intricate design of the zanna-bukar cap, a skill he must have learnt in prison. He wore a jampa and woven leather sandals. He raised his head to watch them approach. A beard covered most of his face. Even so, Mustapha saw that his lips trembled. Sumayya began to inhale deeply and her chest rose and fell with the motion.

Sumayya lunged forward towards her father then she stopped. She must have inherited her height from him and her high-heels brought them to equal heights. African parents care less about their children’s affection and more for their respect. A parent hugs a baby and a toddler and stops doing that soon after before the child understands that he is loved and takes advantage of it and get spoilt. He watched them stare and examine one another.

“Father,” she said.

“My daughter, you are married?” He asked her, glancing briefly at Mustapha.

“No, this is Mustapha. He is a Lawyer at the law firm that represented you. He brought me here,” she said.

Malam Jauro studied him, and then he turned his attention back to his daughter. The joy of seeing his daughter lightened his face and Mustapha saw the affection in their eyes. Suddenly Malam Jauro frowned again.

“My child has grown into a woman,” he exclaimed.

She smiled shyly and pouted like a pampered child. Mustapha saw the image of the spoilt daughter and how she may have been with him a decade ago. They rode back to the hotel. Inside, a receptionist greeted Malam Jauro first and then the two. Malam Jauro introduced them to Malam Rabi’u, his manager who sent them to meet him. Malam Rabi’u smiled harder now, happy at the honour of been the one who first welcomed them. He too asked if they are married and Malam Jauro answered on their behalf that they are not. Malam Rabi’u promptly ordered the receptionist to give them separate keys to separate rooms on separate floors and Malam Jauro gave them a complementing order to go and have a rest.

The evening came slowly. The tractors on the farm came to life. He looked out through his window and watched the animals been herded into their sheds. From his window above, the farm looked like a picture on a children’s book. The peacocks chased off every other animal around the hotel that they can in feats of aggression that doesn’t agree with their gay plumage. There were very few workers on the farm, and he knew that from the silence. There were cooks in the kitchen and about three hotel staff. The labourers and butchers huddled around a barbecue stand where sticks of suya and shreds of kilishi roast over red hot charcoal. Several hunters armed with dane guns patrolled the farm. They two are obviously the only guests in the hotel apart from the owner of the farm for quite some time.

The G.S.M. network reception improved as he walked up the stairs. His room was on the third floor. A flood of text messages came in. Na’ila had tried to call to ask if they have arrived safely. Kamal will be in Kano a few week. Sa’id was getting married to the girl he had been dating on and off during their undergraduate program. Some colleagues notified him on ongoing cases and there was a reminder of the Nigerian Bar Association upcoming election. A short text from A.H. Azare read: ‘What are you doing in Bauchi? Call me!’

Azare can be overbearing with his Lawyers. He believed he has the right to decide not just what his employee does during the week but also what he shouldn’t do; whether they should contest the N.B.A election and whether they should vote or not and what they do with their time during the weekends. Mustapha knew what Azare’s idea about spending a weekend would be. He will probably want ‘his Lawyer’ to read an unreasonable number of law reports each weekend and be improved.

 Mustapha can feel the alarm in the text. Azare seldom writes a text. It is too demanding a task for him and not quite suitable for asking someone to do it. He will rather hold off the communication and berate the offending employee about the importance of communication for a Lawyer, and tell them how switching off their phones will make them fail in their careers.

“Barrister,” a voice said and an arm touched him on the shoulder.

 Malam Jauro had shaved off the beard, leaving a stash of moustache. The beard had concealed much of his face. He sat on the chair and rested his hand on the armrest.

“You weren’t working with Mr. Azare during my trial,” he said.

“No, I wasn’t,” he answered.

“How did you know I was here?”

“I went through the testimony of witnesses in the trial. I recognized Zalboan from when I was serving here in Bauchi State.”

He kept quiet for a while then asked:

“Are you in love with my daughter?”

Mustapha despised the abruptness of the question.

“We have not talked about that but I intend to talk to her about it if you’d allow it.”

“And you think you don’t care that her father was a rapist, right?”

“As a Lawyer I am taught to look beyond sentiments and even if you did commit the offence, it’s on you not her,” he answered.

“Do you think I did it, the rape?”

“I had only had enough time to go through the file for a clue on where to find you, Sir. As a rule Lawyers desist from giving judgments. I wouldn’t have or express an opinion on that.”

“Don’t you see that I served a sentence because you didn’t do your job well?”

“I’m sure Mr. Azare did the best he could for you.”

“Always loyal, you Lawyers. You are loyal to one another even when you are on opposite sides. When the trial took place you were a child, yet you believe he did his best. I admire loyalty. I was a soldier and that is how it was like in the army. Loyalty is rewarding but then you suffer for it too,” he said and continued:

“I was a Major in the army decades ago. This farm was given to me by the Military Administrator of Bauchi State. I built this hotel upon it and it became a palace of uninhibited debauchery. I appointed Rabi’u to watch over it and he proved to be the most capable man for the job. He was just a job applicant with a diploma in agriculture when I met him. He came to us looking for a job and I gave him this to take care of this stretch of wilderness like a joke. Now, see what he has accomplished of it. He ran the farm as his while I was away but still he did his best and he ran it. A bribe of a few miserable Naira could have had his name replace mine in my file in the land registry, but honest soul as he is (or timid idiot depending on how you see it), he just kept the farm. Now it’s such an irony that this farm is probably all that I have left,” he paused and continued:

“We were in power and soldiers violate the laws of God as much as they do the laws of peace. We come here with our women, prostitutes, girlfriends, personal secretaries and people’s wives. We all just mingled. The tribes that now seemed unable to stand one another simply blend in into one rolling mass of pleasure seekers. It seemed then like the party will never end. Coups were hatched here in this very place. Conspiracies were whispered by one officer to a drunken friend. I was a favourite for appointment as the Military Administrator of Kano State and the then incumbent was not happy about it. Soldiers have turned politicians and just like politicians we don’t play fair. I was blackmailed, betrayed by the woman I loved. I was a soldier but I couldn’t even get the dignity of a court martial.”

“Rapes are under the jurisdiction of the High Court.”

He ignored the information and continued:

“I don’t know whether that Judge was influenced by the powers that be or she was just acting in hostility against a soldier. She had me locked up and here I am, fourteen years later.”

He looked at Mustapha and asked: “Do you know the worst calamity that may befall a man?”

“Perhaps, the death of a loved one, the loss of power, money or prestige.”

“No, not really. It is to be unable to enjoy any of those or suffer from their loss. The worst calamity that may befall a man is to die while he is still alive.”

“How is that like?” Mustapha asked.

“It is the worst feeling that makes everything else a trifle thing. When you can’t feel anything anymore, then you have lost more than just wealth and prestige because you can’t enjoy anything anymore,” he said.

Sumayya walked into the room and the air was filled with the scent of her perfumes. She wore a black abaya with jewels adorning it and a small black veil. Inside the room, she sat next to her father and looked on at Mustapha standing by the window.

“You should come downstairs. They’ve served dinner,” she said.

Malam Jauro nodded at him and walked out of the room. She turned to look at him and smiled.  She turned around and followed her father.

The waiters served a feast. Kilishi and suya were arranged on trays, moringa salad and tuwon shinkafa were arranged across the table. Jars of drinks made of tiger nuts and dates and cucumber-flavored zobo gives the diner a savory aura of colours.

In the morning, the farm awoke lazily to the crowing of cocks and the grumbling sound of tractors. From his balcony, he admired the scenery again. He tried to form a mental note of the scene to paint it when he goes back to Kano. The mountainous edge of the savannah in Bauchi has long inspired him and he liked to watch the dark smoothened mass of igneous rocks and the smaller rocks on top set on top of one another in a precarious and delicate arrangement of nature. 

“Barrister, find her for me,” Malam Jauro said, standing by the car door.

“Who?” He asked.

“Ladi. Her name is Ladi, the woman who blackmailed me. Find her.”

“Why do you want me to do that,” he asked.

“She has something of mine and I want it back,” he replied.

“Do you have an address?”

“She would be in Kano today, tomorrow she’d be in the Holy land. I heard she is into trafficking of women to Jeddah. I’m sure a Lawyer can maneuver his way pass the red tape of civilian bureaucracy to find out what an old soldier can’t.”

“Why do you want to find her?” He asked again.

“She has something of mine like I said and we have some unfinished business,” he answered.

“If you don’t have an address, there’s probably nothing I can do.”

“I will send someone to you. He will contact you when you get back, and when you find her let me know as soon as possible.”

He slammed the door of the Toyota Discovery and stood back. It’s Hausa custom that a guest must be accompanied until he takes off. The car was to take him to Bauchi from where he will travel back to Kano. Bala started the engine. She did not come to see him go. He had told her yesterday night that he will be going back as they walk under the umbrella trees in the dark. She listened quietly and the silence lingered longer than he wished. He could have told her that he was in love with her but he knew he wasn’t and if he was then it was unlike any love he ever had before. He asked her when she will be going back to Abuja. Some of the guards had caught up with them and the two noisy fellows escorted them back to the hotel. There they met Malam Rabiu and he felt it was his duty to keep them company until they went to sleep. They listened to a lot of examples until Sumayya rose and excused herself. He had talked none stop for almost an hour and he still felt exhausted from the exchange. If he had his way and it will not occasion any detriment or awkwardness, he will like not to speak to anyone for the rest of the day and perhaps the next day too. He leant back on the front seat and tried to clear his mind. He wanted only to think of Sumayya but the image of Ladi came on. He could picture her with bleached skin ruined by decades of corrosive cosmetics and a pierced nose with an old golden nose stud. A woman of obscene manners that defines her life by her trade; a woman that has seen and lived off of the baser weaknesses of men and who has defied decades of judgment and social scorn and has learnt to take society for what it really is. He wouldn’t want to have to sue a woman like that.

Bala seemed quiet yesterday and Mustapha began to enjoy the quiet but just when he began to hope that Bala will not bother him, his lips moved undecidedly in what Mustapha knew was a tentative beginning to an unimportant discussion.

“You are not going back with your girlfriend?” Bala asked.

“No, I’m not.” he replied and closed his eyes slowly and pretended to fall asleep, and then he remembered something.

Malam Jauro, any message for your family at Suleiman Crescent?”

“What? No! In the name of God, no!” Malam Jauro replied in alarm.

***


© Copyright 2018 Elradico. All rights reserved.

Chapters