Content Advisory: Some readers may find sections of this story disturbing.
Jumai strides languidly across the living room, her black chador fluttering, sweeping the polished ceramic floor. As she switches on the air-conditioning units, she wills her husband’s third wife, Ladi, to come over again for yet another long chat.
Plunging her svelte frame into the welcoming arms of the crimson couch in a big alcove, she feels the searing pains again, at two places in her inside. Yet she cannot place her finger on those places. One comes from somewhere around her genitalia, whilst the other comes from deep inside, perhaps at the bladder, perhaps at her baby sac. She prays inwardly that it is not at her baby sac. Her mother says the sac will happily carry all her pregnancies, provided she behaves herself by allowing her husband, Bala Sule, to freely reach out for her at night and do whatever he wishes with her body.
This minute, Jumai blames Bala for the pains; he handles her roughly at night, thrusting his phallus back and forth in an animal-like manner, even when she’s dry and whimpers that he’s hurting her. Next minute, she quickly shoves the blame away, remembering what her mother has taught her about absolute submissiveness. Perhaps, she reasons, that’s the way it ought to be—and she has to learn to accept it for the rest of her life. In any case, she concedes, she’ll learn to do as her mother has advised. There is nothing to fear about the pains, she thinks, believing that the family physician, Dr. Turaki, can fix it.
Jumai adjusts a bit in the couch in order to ease the pains and make herself more comfortable. The living room is very large, lavishly decorated with African art. Exotic couches and poufs.Fluffy throw-pillows. Huge bouquets of synthetic roses and hibiscuses and daffodils tucked with foliage into large oriental floor vases. Ruched blinds of finest silk that conceal French windows. Bric-a-brac of fine china. Photo gallery, a riot of gilt and colour. A burgundy shag carpet in the center . . .
Resting on a stool beside Jumai is a tray upon which stand a pack of orange juice and a tall glass cup. She exhales and begins to pour herself some juice, grateful to Johnson Clarke, the faithful housekeeper from Bonny who has served Bala Sule and his polygamous family for some eleven years now. (Clarke lives in the servants’ quarters with his burgeoning family.)
She takes a healthy swig, then hears a gentle tap at the door. Like she’s been waiting for it, she darts to the door. Of course, she knows it’s Ladi, because Ladi taps and never really knocks aloud, so that the day guards won’t hear.
Jumai, it’s me—open, Ladi whispers. Her voice, naturally like that of a man, is muffled.
Gingerly, Jumai unlocks the door. As she opens it a crack, she feels the full weight of the pains and grimaces. But she stoically refuses to yelp. As soon as Bala comes back, she decides, she’ll complain to him, damning his intimidating brusqueness, and he’ll drive her down to Dr. Turaki’s without delay.
As Ladi sneaks in, both of them giggle quietly like two schoolgirls at some mischief.
Do you bribe the guards or what? Jumai says, turning the key and dropping the latch back. The way you come and go at will, she says with raised eyebrows, surprises me—kind of.
Me? Ladi says, scowling. Bribe? Do I have the money for that? I give them burukutu, that fiery drink. Once they drink it, they sleep off, those two. Ladi is fair-skinned and too tall for a woman, like an Amazon. Her own chador is powder-blue. As they giggle again, her gold tooth glistens in the fluorescent light. Where has our husband, that rhinoceros, gone to again? she says.
He left this morning, very early, to heaven-knows-where, Jumai says. Senators, they say, are hardly in their homes. They like to sit more often than normal in order to collect as much sitting allowance as possible. I really don’t know how true that is.
Why should I care anyway? Ladi says, pouting. Even if he sleeps with his female counterparts in that so-called assembly house of theirs, or with prostitutes in Sabon-Gari, that’s his business.
(BalaSule has made it abundantly clear to his domestic guards that he forbids Ladi from leaving the harem, a block of flats behind his palatial house, except when he sends for her. Jumai, on the other hand, is forbidden from entering the harem or anywhere else, mainly because she’s a brand-new wife. Sule worries not about his first two wives—Safiya and Talatu; they don’t even have time for him, neither does he for them.)
Gritting her teeth, Jumai ambles to the mahogany hutch in the glittering dining room near the bar to fetch a glass for Ladi. She sighs as she thinks about what she’s up against in this forsaken polygamy. The earlier she takes her mind off the pains, she reckons, the easier it’ll be for her to bear them.
A few minutes later, both women are comfortably seated in the main living room, clutching their glasses of juice.
He’s hardly at home, Jumai says, referring to their husband. I like it to some extent, though . . . but it’s rather weird. I don’t believe his sitting with other senators in the assembly house has anything to do with it.
Tell me more about your family, Ladi says after a sip. You should not worry yourself about our husband, or you’ll lose your head someday and begin to wander about the streets of this town stark naked, like a mad woman.
Allah forbid! Jumai says, somewhat exasperated. Forcefully, she places her juice on the stool, and it lands with a thud on the polished wooden surface, almost spilling. I’m too young to go to that extent, she says. I just clocked Fourteen!
Aren’t you lucky you came in here at fourteen, Ladi says. I was brought into this prison yard at barely thirteen. My parents needed the money . . . As soon as my mother saw my first bleeding, she started praying for a rich man to come. And he did come, with a bag of money . . . How much did your own parents receive in return?
Frankly, Ladi, I don’t want to talk more about it now; there’s so much more to talk about my poor background. Like I told you early on, my family betrayed me, especially my parents, those gullible money-lovers. We’ll come back to that later, anyway. Meanwhile, shall we talk about some other issue, please?
A smile hovers on Ladi’s pouting lips. Who am I to force our husband’s newest and youngest wife to do or say what she doesn’t want?
I didn’t say I don’t want to talk more about the family I come from, Ladi. I said I don’t want to do that now . . . Let’s talk about something else.
Like the ruthless love-making from that beast they call Senator Sule? Ladi says with a laugh, putting down her juice.
(But the truth, which BalaSule will never tell Jumai and his other wives, is that he’s truly aroused, and derives the greatest satisfaction, when they cry, or whimper, in excruciating pain as he thrusts his phallus vigorously in and out.)
Don’t go there, Ladi. My stomach aches, and my heart turns sore, whenever I think of it . . . Let’s talk about Safiya’s fistula.
Mmmh . . . Safiya? Our husband’s second wife? She’s dying in silence. If I were in her shoes, the isolation alone, as a result of her fistula, would be enough to kill me. Our husband avoids her like a plague, and he’s the cause. I feel like slapping him hard on the face, that monster.
I earnestly pray not to fall victim to fistula, that horrible thing, Jumai says behind clenched teeth. I can’t stand the stigma. Safiya’s is a case worse than death, especially when it’s irreparable.
Ladi shakes her head. As a matter of fact, she says, it’s irreparable. Which hospital—home and abroad—didn’t our husband take Safiya to? My mother told me about a late friend of hers named Zahra. She got extremely dehydrated, this Zahra woman, because she limited her intake of water, or anything liquid, in an attempt to avoid the endless dripping of urine. This happened shortly after she got married.
Jumai turns to look at Ladi, her eyeballs seeming to pop out of their sockets. You mean, fistula killed her?
Both fistula and kidney failure, Ladi says. But why are you asking that kind of question like you don’t know fistula is capable of snuffing the life out of a woman?
But how?Jumai says, looking rather fraught.
The stigma alone, Ladi says, is strong enough to push a woman into the bottomless pit of suicide.
I’m afraid, Ladi.
Don’t be, otherwise you may end up like Safiya—or Zahra. What you fear comes to you, you know.
Aunty Talatu says Safiya’s fistula struck when Safiya was your age, barely a week into this marriage, this ditch they call polygamy. It sucks, Jumai . . . And you were brought in here from your parents’ house barely a week ago! You must pray harder—if you do pray at all.
Jumai cringes, and her juice spilt on her chador. She’s barely a week in this house. Allah, have mercy, she says, giving Ladi a surprised stare. What do you really mean, Ladi?
Ladi shrugs. Nothing really serious, she says. Just that you have to be bold, not as wimpy and soft as Safiya. Perhaps her timidity earned her that dreaded fistula. I’ve always asked Aunty Talatu if that could be so, and she says she thinks it could be.
Why do you call our husband’s first wife Aunty, anyway?
She’s the most senior, far older than me—and you, too. Roughly twice our age. And then she’s our husband’s first wife. You must learn to also call her Aunty. If you don’t, she’ll frustrate your life here. Even Safiya calls her Aunty, too . . . Aunty Talatu is more than five years older than she, I guess.
You’ve not told me anything about their children.
Because you’ve not asked.
Okay, tell me.
Safiya is childless, because our husband avoids her. He has not touched her again since after the fistula hit her. That was six or so years ago. The news of Safiya’s fistula spread like wildfire, so much so that no parents, for a long time, wanted to send their daughter to this house as third wife.
Jumai shakes her head as she listens in rapt attention.
Aunty Talatu has a son, a sixteen-year-old ne’er-do-well, the only son. Our husband flew him to America last month, because he has become a big embarrassment to him. The scallywag just refuses to stay in school till the end, brewing trouble day-by-day all over town. Perhaps his father wants to know if Americans could succeed in stuffing commonsense into his stupid brain and stop him from bunking off school. His three younger sisters are in a boarding school in the UK. They’ll soon come back for holiday. One is fifteen, one is thirteen-plus, and one is eleven. After the last one was born, Aunty Talatu stopped bearing children—like she has reached menopause. And she told me she’s only twenty-nine!
Meaning she was thirteen when her parents married her off? Jumai says after a moment’s silence.
Exactly . . . So she told me.
And fistula did not hit her at all?
Never . . . Isn’t she the luckiest woman in the whole world? Pray to be like her, Jumai. I really want to be like her, so I’ve been doing my prayers—which I top up with fasting at times.
Jumai is deep in thought. The likelihood that she’s hovering on the verge of fistula, because of her pains, suddenly crosses her mind. As it crosses back, attempting to stay put, she mentally shoos it away like a bird flapping its wings about in the air, desperately wanting to perch on her head. Then she looks Ladi in the eye and says: I feel so sorry for Safiya.
Me too, Ladi says . . . You know what, at a point our husband bundled her back to her parents. Enraged, her parents bundled her back to him, calling him names. And then, like a starving lion, he went on the prowl again.
To look for what?
Ladi chuckles.To look for a third wife, of course. Then he found me, just like that.
Jumai shakes her head.
Ladi chuckles again. And my parents agreed and arranged the marriage behind me—after a huge amount of money was dangled before them. And since then I’ve been fingering my carbi, so that Allah will not allow fistula to hit me.
The juice now tastes like water to Jumai. You didn’t run away instead?
I wanted to, but later changed my mind; I didn’t want to go back to grinding poverty and squalor. I still don’t. It’s killing! Fine, our husband bullies me, hits me, beats me, slaps me, whips me, rapes me, claws at me, even tears my clothes if I refuse to undress before him.
Jumai’s jaw drops as she wonders what kind of stuff Ladi is made of. He does all these horrible things to you, she says, and you’re still here?
Yes . . . In fact, I feel better off here.
Whaaat?Jumai’s brows push together as she peers into Ladi’s eyes, wondering if there is something uncanny hidden behind the façade of those eyes. Well, she says, he does the same to me, but I don’t feel better off . . . I want to run away . . . but there’s nowhere to run to. My parents will certainly bring me back. My mother in particular believes that women are naturally meant to be manhandled by their husbands.
My mother believes so, too. My father does not spare her at all.
Jumai takes a heavy breath and looks up and down. Aren’t we too young for this, Ladi?
Too young? Have you asked your mother how young or old she was when your father married her?
Jumai turns her face away and grits her teeth again as the pains hit her once more. My mother was thirteen, she says. But time changes everything, Ladi.
Not in all cases, Jumai. If my mother was able to bear her marriage and tolerate my father, that tyrant, I should be able to bear mine, too. I’m even far much better off than my mother who has been languishing in abject poverty from the very beginning.
No, Ladi. You don’t feel better off. You can’t, and will never, be. Let’s begin to plan our escape.
Ladi shakes her head. I’ve also thought about running away, she says. But when I think of the good food, the luxury, the affluence, I feel a bit comforted. My mother never has all these, yet she chooses to remain in my father’s cluttered polygamy, taking all his shit, taking all the other wives’ insults . . . She’s the last wife, and she has just me. And she swore that I must marry a rich man. And she could not wait for that time to come. And when it eventually came, she jumped at it.
Jumai says not a word.
Ladi smiles, looking at Jumai. What about the way your head swells when you’re called senator’s wife? she says. What about all the respect, all the accolades, all the affectionate attention from his stooges and sycophants, like you’re a queen consort? Besides, Aunty Talatu gives me no trouble as long as I continue to fondly call her Aunty.
And then Safiya’s situation is like that of a person suffering from brain death; she’s precariously close to the edge of insanity, more or less a vegetable now, due to the depression that has long overwhelmed her. She doesn’t bother me for this or that, Ladi says. Johnson Clarke and his wife are always there to tend to her. I only have our hardnosed husband to contend with, that swine. He hardly sends for me these days, anyway.
Jumai refuses to be swayed.
And then you know what, Ladi says, bending over to whisper to Jumai as if there is a third person in their midst: I’m pregnant. Three months. And, I believe, that’s why he hardly sends for me.
Jumai’s eyes widen. You’re pregnant? she says. What a pleasant surprise, Ladi. That’s really good news.
Ladi gives two nods, proudly stroking her tummy. My child, she says, must have the education I never had, and may never have. I want my kids to be like Talatu’s, to be flown oversees and see the world as it really is. I want money to be lavished on them. They’ll mostly give me joy, the joy that will endure. And I’m ready to pay the price—which, I believe, Aunty Talatu paid.
Oh, Ladi . . . You’re so incorrigible, so impossible. I want to run away. I don’t want to end up like Safiya. But when I remember what my mother told me to the contrary, I get confused.
Well, Ladi says, I’ll take root here. I’ll bud and blossom, and fill this house with fruit.
Jumai takes a heavy breath. The point is that I don’t want fistula to hit me, she says, looking wanly at Ladi.
Neither do I want you to die like Zahra, Ladi says, giving Jumai a sympathetic look. Just take your mind away from it. That’s what I did. You see, according to my mother, Zahra feared about it; she refused to take her mind off it, and she suffered terribly as a result of the kidney failure that ensued. The doctors explained that an extreme case of dehydration brought about the kidney failure.
Jumai begins to shake her head, cursing her parents in her heart, weighing the pros and cons of running away. It’s deep-seated in her mind, like lice in the skin of a shaggy dog. Then she fastens her eyes on Ladi’s and says: And your mother knew this and pushed you into the graying arms of that old man we call our husband?
It’s a gamble, Ladi says. Anyway, she told me not to behave like Zahra, never to think what she thought, never to fear what she feared. And here I am, hale and hearty. See, because of my pregnancy, my mother is happy that the gamble paid off, after all. I’m happy, too.
Jumai swallows her juice. Fistula is causing a lot of deaths in this part of the world, she says. I dread it. It’s like a shockwave, yet we’re bloody comfortable with it.
You’re right,Ladi says and takes yet another sip of her juice. Then she goes on to cite another fistula case in Jiname, a village in one of the districts, situated on the outskirts of the town. It’s a case of a group of young women, like the two of us, she says. They were pushed by their families to the brim of Jiname, abandoned in one of the haunted huts on the banks of the River Jiname to gradually rot to death. Their fistulas could not be repaired by the surgeons in the ill-equipped general hospital, and their respective families could no longer stand the horrible stench of urine hanging heavy in the air, day and night.
Jumai cringes, her eyes fastened on Ladi’s.
Precisely, Ladi says, these victims were a bevy of seven. Four threw themselves into the river and drowned. The remaining three wandered into the city and resorted to commercial sex work in order to survive, stoically accepting to suffer the fistulas for the rest of their lives.
Jumai cringes again and says: Safiya must be a very strong woman.
I agree with you, Ladi says. Perhaps without that bag that collects her urine, the poor woman would have also been suffering burn wounds on her thighs and legs as a result of the acid in the urine and the endless dripping.
Jumai sighs. It’s a case worse than death, Ladi. Seriously.
Ladi swallows her juice. Yes . . . In fact, I would not hesitate to commit suicide if I found myself in that horrible situation.
Jumai sighs again, and then begins to stare at the lush carpet, deep in thought. As soon as she raises her eyes and meets Ladi’s, she says, breaking the silence between them: Can I pay Safiya another visit?
A faint smile plays at the corners of Ladi’s mouth. Of course, she says, provided you can still stand the stench. Then she grimaces. I just cannot stand it anymore.
Jumai chuckles and breaks into a broad smile. Ladi has a way of making her forget her own anguish, she muses. Their husband has imprisoned her and turned her to a sex object. She has always told Ladi, anyway, that they must give emotional support to their husband’s second wife. You must come with me, Ladi, she says.
Why shouldn’t I if you insist? Ladi says—with ambivalence, though. But we have to be very careful because of the guards.
Jumai chuckles. Don’t worry, Ladi. I have some money in my purse. If they catch us, we bribe them. It’s as simple as that.
The concrete fence is high, crowned with spirals of razor wire. It’s a very large compound, bathed in searing sunlight, with bushes of vibrant coloured bougainvillea and jasmine and morning glory everywhere.
There are two German Shepherds. Then there’s a Rottweiler. In the stifling heat, their furry bodies tingle all over with wellbeing. The German Shepherds usually wag their tails when Bala, their owner, is in sight. Strangely, these dogs, tucked away in their kennels, hardly bark. Anyway, there’s nothing to bark at, nothing to maul. No strange movements. No creepy shadows. No strange smells. No strange sounds. And hardly is there a sound at all, save the twittering of jolly birds in the surrounding foliage—and the rustling of trees. Hardly a stranger.Hardly a visitor. And there’s no one to play with them; Johnson Clarke hates dogs. So does his wife. And they don’t want their only child, a toddler, anywhere near the animals. Clarke only manages to give them the necessary canine care—as recommended by their vet, whilst the guards take them out on patrol daily and unchain them only at night.
Senator Sule’s residence, always quiet, is a lonely one, far away from town, far away from the drone of traffic.
As Jumai trots behind Ladi, looking around, a sudden realization overwhelms her: there’s practically no escape for her. The four walls of the fence are too high. And then the razor wire! Certainly, the guards will not cooperate with her, if she dares to ask. They don’t want to lose their jobs. They don’t want to betray their employer.They don’t want to miss the free lunch and the free shelter.
Those bulky dogs with big heads and strong black snouts and intimidating limpid eyes, Jumai concludes, are enough to thwart any possibility of escape. And they’ve been eyeing her with some sort of misgiving. As long as they’re concerned, this new wife of their owner is still a stranger. And if not for Ladi, whom they always see her with, they’d have barked and barked and barked. Ladi is right, Jumai reckons. This place is a prison yard through and through.
As Jumai continues to grit her teeth, half-way to the harem, trying to catch up with Ladi, something liquid begins to trickle from her genitalia—without warning. Maybe it’s blood, she thinks. No, she reasons, it’s not blood because her monthly bleeding is not due yet. She stops, bends over, and feels the liquid with her hand. It’s like water. Then she smells it again and again, wondering what it could be . . . Urine! Oh, my God! Urine! No! . . . No! Feeling a tight knot in the pit of her stomach, she dredges up enough will to hold the rest of the liquid from trickling down her legs. But the muscles of her bladder are numb, too numb to respond to her will; the strange liquid continues, obstinately, to flow slowly in thin streams . . .
Ladi! she whispers in utter alarm.
Ladi! she whispers again, looking around to make sure neither the guards nor Clarke, nor Clarke’s wife nor Talatu, was in sight. She turns to look at the dogs. They are staring at her in silence.
Ladi stops and swiftly turns around, only to see a horror-stricken Jumai, rooted to the spot, looking at her like she’s seen a ghost. Jumai’s chador, from her knees to her feet, has turned soggy. An audible gasp escapes Ladi and her hands flew up to her mouth, cupping it, her eyes widening in stark bewilderment. She simply cannot come to terms with the sudden realization that Jumai is standing in a pool of her own urine.
Nooooooo! Ladi yells, gaping at a flustered Jumai, wide-eyed, utterly overwhelmed with shock.
Immediately, the dogs explode into a loud ruckus, and the birds perching around the surrounding flora are startled. They fly away, frantically flapping their wings as they take cover. The guards, who have been snoring away, scamper out of their posts, clutching their batons, ready to blow the whistles that always hang around their necks. Bleary-eyed, as startled as the birds, they look at Jumai and turn to look at Ladi. One is thin, whilst the other is fat and pot-bellied. Their uniforms seem to cling to their bodies, and their boots are unpolished. They turn again to look at Jumai, looking utterly puzzled, wondering who among the two women made that kind of shrill sound, waiting for either Jumai or Ladi to utter a word to explain the ominous scream. They’re too flustered to recollect the instruction of the man who pays the cheque, or to consider it important at the moment if they recollect at all.
Then the next moment Clarke and his wife scuttled to the scene, followed by Talatu who is covering her tripping heart with both hands, lest it thumps right out of her busty chest.
Still rooted to the spot, Jumai is too shocked and mortified to utter a word, the devastating realization that fistula has hit her seeping into her jagged brain.
All of them can almost hear each other’s heart beating itself to death as they gawk at both Ladi and Jumai in total confusion.
What’s going on here, Ladi and . . . what’s her name again . . . Jumai? Talatu says, breaking the silence, looking at both women, one after the other, her eyes flashing like lightning. Being the first wife, and the eldest among all of them, she’s the first person their husband will ask questions before hearing from the day guards perhaps tomorrow.
Ladi simply points at the pool of urine.
No, it can’t be, Talatu says, shaking her head slowly with incredulity. It just can’t be.
But before she and Ladi could give a helping hand, Jumai slumps and passes out. As she lies sprawled in the pool, an alarmed Ladi begins to wail at the top of her lungs, her chador rustling in the morning breeze.
It’s long past twilight. The full moon is like a big egg yolk way up in the sky, casting shadows here and there.
BalaSule parks his Ford Explorer under an orange tree and heads for the door to his house without returning the greetings of the night guards. He whistles, dangling a bunch of keys, happy with the booze he just had with his friends and paramours. The dogs are quiet; they know their owner is back, willing him to come see their wagging tails.
He enters his living room and locks the door. Then he goes straight to the bar and pours himself a generous amount of brandy. He takes off his caftan and tosses it to another bar stool beside him. And then he takes the brandy in one gulp and, throwing caution to the wind, pours another glass. As he climbs the stairs that lead to his bedroom, clutching the glass of brandy, he knows he’s inebriated already but doesn’t bloody care.
Meeting his bedroom door ajar, he staggers a bit and yanks it open. He can’t wait to reprimand Jumai for not shutting it; he has warned her time and time again to always leave it shut.
Jumai! Jumai! Where—
He cringes as soon as he sees Jumai lying sprawled in a pool of urine, her chadorsodden. He cringes again upon seeing that she is extremely distraught, clutching hard at the hilt of a dagger. She has wept and wept and wept, and her eyes are now bloodshot, soaked with searing tears. (Talatu and Ladi have suggested taking her to Dr. Turaki but, with astonishing defiance, she has told them that their husband has to do it himself, because he’s the one who has brought the most dreaded fistula upon her.)
What’s the meaning of this? Bala says, staring at his new wife in utter perplexity, peering at the dagger in her grip, still clutching his brandy. What’s the meaning of this? he says again, grateful that the shining weapon is not the pistol he just bought and hid somewhere in this bedroom.
Jumai rises on her knees, brandishing the dagger, glaring at Bala. Don’t come any closer, she says, or I will kill you!
Bala does not even have any plan to make a move yet. First of all, he wants to really understand what is going on. Is that water or what? he says, staring hard at the pool like he has suddenly met a rivulet and is thinking of the best way to wade through.
You’ll find out sooner than later, Jumai says, her eyes snapping fire.
Then he attempts to make a move.
Dare it, she says, and I’ll either kill you or kill myself—now and here.
He looks her in the eye, still bewildered. What is that, Jumai? he says.
She sneers, twisting her mouth with ardent hatred and bitterness. It’s urine, she says. It’s my urine, you moron. It’s my own urine, not Safiyah’s . . . I decided to dredge up enough will to simply wait for you, no matter how long, so that you see for yourself what you’ve done to me.
He looks away and laughs a derisive laugh. Then he stops and begins to glower at her. Oh, I see! he says. Your urine? Don’t be ridiculous, Jumai. Your urine indeed . . . You’re not as intelligent as your husband. You’re only a kid, you—
She snickers at him, boldly looking him in the eye. Oh, she says, you just realized that I’m a kid? Are you not ashamed of yourself that you’ve been manhandling a kid? Are you not sorry that you’ve raped and beaten a kid again and again? And now you’ve finally destroyed the life of that kid! Her eyes begin to water again as she continues staring at him . . . Are you happy now? she says. You’ve wasted the life of your second wife. You’ve turned her to a laughingstock. Everybody in the city talks about what you did to her. Now, you’ve succeeded in doing the same to me!
Why don’t you look for someone else to fool, Jumai? You want me to believe you, so that I send you back to your parents’ house, huh? No, that’s not going to happen. He drops his brandy on the floor, darts forwards, and pounces on her. Now, give me that knife!
As they engage in a fight, she catches a strong whiff of booze. Mustering all the physical strength left in her, she wriggles free. But he’s succeeded in snatching the weapon after hitting her hard on the face and mangling her wrist.
Fighting a drunk is no use, she says with a glare, giving him a distance, catching her breath. Now that you’ve bathed yourself in my urine, can’t you smell it? She twists her mouth as a slow, caustic smile spreads across her weary features. No, you can’t, she says, because you’re too drunk to tell the difference between water and urine.
Absent-mindedly, he tosses the dagger on his king-size four-poster bed and beckons on her. Come here, he says with a leer. You don’t have to kill yourself with—
Shut up, bastard! she shrieks and begins to convulse again in tears. This is not marriage, she says. It is imprisonment. You imprisoned me. You imprisoned the other women. And you’re the most callous of all jailers! Too bad . . . I have lost my will to live.
He says not another word. Instead he quickly takes off his singlet and darts forwards, truly aroused. As she attempts to duck, he swoops on her, catches hold of her hand and begins to mangle her wrist again, completely overpowering her.
You bastard! she says as he steers her towards the bed. Let go of me! You’re hurting me!
But the more she winces and screams in pain, the more aroused he gets. You’re not going to turn to a bitch under my roof! he says, his breath terribly reeking of alcohol. I won’t allow that. Do you hear me? He sweeps her up in his arms and roughly hurls her into the bed, and she lands with a thud. As she kicks and shouts epithets, he rips her chador, in dire need of her. Then he yanks her bra off.
Stop it, maigida! You’re hurting me! You have to stop—
She shuts her eyes. In her imagination, the fangs of the lion in him begin to grow bigger and longer. And, through her mind’s eye, she sees the panther manifesting. Please, maigida, you’re hurting—
He gives her yet another couple of hard slaps on the cheek. They sound like the clapping of thunder. If you dare to talk again, he says, his breathing now audibly fast, I will thrash the very breath out of you. When I hit you or slap you on the face, you take it! You hear me? Then he begins to loosen his belt, relishing the deep sexual satisfaction he derives from the brazen brutality. You’re not going to fool me, Jumai. Not even for once in this house. You hear me? he says, now pulling down his trousers.
She shudders at the eerie realization that the voice she now hears is not his. It sounds like that of a panting dog—or like that of an angry lion—or like that of a feisty wolf, she muses. In fact, she just cannot place it. As she attempts to wriggle free again, he raises an irate fist in the air and it lands on her face, so much so that she goes numb immediately, sustaining a bloody gash around her mouth.
She feels her blood trickling into her mouth, exacerbating her sense of devastation. She suddenly overcomes the numbness and winces with an agonizing groan.
Under the profound weight of his brutality, she shuts her eyes tight, so that she can absorb the growing pains. She opens her eyes and shuts them again. But it doesn’t work. You’re hurting me, she says, crying. Please . . . please, stop . . . Please, maigida, stop . . . you . . . are . . . hurting . . . me.
He turns a deaf ear. That pool on the floor is not your urine, he says. You hear me? Aren’t you too naïve and foolish to think I could be moved by that cheap ruse. It’s crap. You hear me? It’s crap . . . Well, as soon as I’m done with you, I’ll find out who among the other women put that trick into your head . . .
As he prattles on, thrusting without stopping, she winces and then turns her head. And as soon as she opens her blood-shot eyes, she finds herself staring at the dagger. It lies right beside her, at least at arm’s length, its blade glittering in the florescent light like that of the steak knife she uses to cut apples and oranges in the kitchen downstairs. The deadly weapon is inviting, drawing her to itself like a magnet draws a metal. Cautiously, she reaches out and grabs it fully by its hilt. She knows he’s too far gone, utterly lost in his own definition of ecstasy, to know what he’s now up against.
Enough, maigida! You’re hurting me! She says, her anguish rising to her throat, tearing her voice apart.
He still pays no attention. But now that she’s armed once again, she’s somewhat relieved. Mustering the little strength that is left inside her, she raises the lethal weapon as high as her hand can carry it in the air and stabs him in the back.
In flustering shock, he lets go of her immediately and leaps out of the bed. Reeling in deep pain, groaning like a wounded panther, he flutters his eyes at what she’s holding. The dagger again?he muses, wondering how she managed to get hold of it, and how long it’s been in her grip.
She looks on as he sets to charge at her like a bull, shocked to see that his phallus looks even harder, that the stab is not enough to snuff the life out of him. As his phallus juts out unflinchingly, it reminds her of the full length of a fresh banana. But before he pounces on her again, she shuts her eyes tight and quickly gives herself a lethal stab in the stomach.
He gasps and stillness falls over the bedroom, his eyeballs seeming to pop out of their sockets as he regards, in utter shock, the still body and the blood that has begun to ooze out. As he continues to gape, his phallus begins to shrink fast. In just a moment, it becomes like a deflated balloon hanging between his hairy thighs. He never imagined that Jumai was in the least serious about threatening to deal a death blow to herself with his dagger. And why didn’t it occur to him, in the first place, that he tossed the knife to the bed?
Immediately, his instincts tell him that someone has been lurking around in the bedroom. He now suspects that the person is standing by the door at the moment, making effort to walk away by stealth. Swiftly, he looks over his broad shoulder with the hope of catching whoever it could be.
Ladi?he says in a nervous whisper.
Mai gida, Ladi says in a whisper. She’s standing at the door aghast. But it seems to him that she just got there. The horror in her misty eyes is obvious, and her face is drained of blood. Her jaw trembles as though she’s seen a ghost. This is the blackest night of her life—a dark, foreboding night, she muses.
What are you doing here? he says, squinting to make sure that the figure staring at his naked frame is Ladi’s, and that the voice is hers too. Yes, that’s Ladi, he concludes, and that voice, as masculine as always, belongs to her.
Ladi keeps mute, waiting for him to ask her how she managed to come in, waiting for him to ask her in the sternest terms why she should sneak into this house when he hasn’t sent for her.
You mean you’ve been inside this house? he says instead, his face betraying a nervousness he’s working hard to conceal. His chest is hairy, dotted with grey.
Ladi gives a couple of frightened nods.
Then that means you told her to pour that water on the floor? he says, his voice hardly audible now, maybe because it’s under the awful weight of guilt, but certainly because the animal in him has given way. You told her to pour that water on the floor? he says again.
There is an edgy silence.
You told her to pour the water on the floor?
Another edgy silence.
It’s clear to Ladi that he’s too mortified to bother about the standing order he gave the guards never to allow her into this house, unless he directs otherwise. She shakes her head.
Mai gida, she says, that’s not water. That’s urine. I think you’re drunk.
She purses her quivering lips, her eyes fastened on his, and his on hers. She’s nervous and too rooted to the spot to flee for her life, her heart smoldering with guilt as she feels Jumai’s death throes. Perhaps, she muses, the poor girl wouldn’t have died if she hadn’t wasted time. It’s too late, and there’s absolutely nothing she can do to bring Jumai back to life.
You killed her? she says, giving him a penetrating look with tremendous courage.
Bala grimaces at the pain at his back. She . . . she killed herself, he says like a stammerer, pointing at Jumai’s body, coming closer to Ladi who does not look convinced to him. “Please, don’t tell a soul about it.”
In the ensuing silence, Ladi steers her eyes to stare in stark horror at the hilt of the dagger; the sharp, pointed blade has gone deep down into Jumai’s body, so that the lethal knife stands upright. She shudders at the sight of the blood that’s still streaming down, soaking the bedspread. She shudders still as soon as her eyes fall on Jumai’s left hand which hangs limp from the edge of the bed. She shuts her eyes, opens them after a moment’s silence, and then steers them back to the dagger’s tilt. The fear of being battered, or even killed instantly, by this animal overwhelms her, causing her legs to wobble.
Is the door open? Did I leave it open? he says, his eyes glistening with mild panic.
No, you locked it, she says, her eyes still glistening with appalled tears. I hid when you entered.
As she waits for him to charge at her, they hear the earsplitting barking of the dogs and then, a few minutes later, a couple of sharp raps at the door downstairs, followed by the shrill sound of the doorbell.
That’s the police, maigida, Ladi says, looking at Bala with smothered disdain. I called them.
Police? he says, turning his nose up at Ladi like a naughty schoolboy. Come off it, Ladi. I didn’t hear their siren.
I told them to switch it off.
Ladi, did you call the police to arrest a senator? he says, standing at the door, now looking incredulously at Ladi as she descends the stairs. The thing between his legs is now utterly flaccid, having shrunken to the size of a new born baby’s fist.
As Ladi ambles past the staircase to go unlock the door and beckon the police in, she says not another word, seething with vengeance. There’s practically nothing else to say to Bala, that brute. Instead, she begins to howl in an overflowing profusion of tears—for Jumai, for all they’ve fondly shared, for their fledgling friendship which has come to an abrupt end . . . No, she’s not convinced that Jumai killed herself. That beast, she thinks, has stabbed her to death. He deserves no more answers from her—and no pity. His sins have finally found him out. And he must pay for them, provided his lawyer loses the battle in the litigation that will most certainly ensue.
ORIGINAL IMAGE: AMISOM Public Information via Flickr