LIKE COMRADES, THEY MARCHED TOGETHER, melting into the night. And across every corner they walked, they left a fading chant—the very last wave of an infernal reverberation. Fa’izah saw them. And she heard the chant. But to her, they were just some usual night flow.
She pulled the curtains and sank into bed. Mother already told her to keep off the windows at night, lest she see evil and ravage her feeble mind. See no evil, speak no evil ….
Eid el-Kabir came later than usual this year. The previous feast had zipped in just a few weeks after Ramadan. Maybe this year’s promised to be special.
Fa’izah smiled as she stretched her limbs. She got out of bed and pulled the curtains wide. “Eid Mubarak to the world.”
A knock came on her door and she crept towards it, beaming. How much she loved days like this! A faint flash splashed her face as she opened it. “Eid Mubarak, our dear Fa’izah.”
Like it was all a surprise, she rushed into the wide arms of her parents. “Barka de Sallah, Diddi, Umma!” Every morning she saw them felt like a reunion—a renewed meeting. And for the millionth time, she kissed them both. “I love you.”
“We love you too, Fa’izah.”
“Ready for prayers?”
“Yes,” her mother replied. “Hurry and clean up, eh. There’ll be a party soon.”
“Huh?” Her eyes lit up at once. Will Sa’id be there?
She blinked rapidly. “Oh, how could I forget?” She grinned. “Of course … there has always been a party. I’ll join you both soon.”
She waved at them, closed the door, and hurried to her wardrobe, fingers trailing across a line of apparel. “Sa’id,” she whispered, still beaming. She set her eyes on a magenta Ankara-Lace gown. “Woah …” This would match her caramel complexion. She fished it out and pranced towards the mirror to admire it better.
A figure flashed across the window. Then another dashed past. Then another. Fa’izah knitted her brows and dragged towards it. What could that be?
But then …
“Barka de Salla,” came a throaty greeting. And a man shaded her view, poking head across the window panes.
Sa’id arrives just before the party starts, his tall, athletic frame easing into the living room. I try to get up to meet him, but—”Fool, sit!” I whisper to myself. We both know he doesn’t give a damn about me. Thinking someone must have heard me, I look around. Two greedy girls are seated with me, round my table, eyes glowing, smiles spreading across their lips and … desire darting through their eyes. I clench my teeth. These idiots—lusting after my Sa’id?
But Sa’id? He sits before a serving of drinks, his eyes flitting about, and lips compressed as if to repress some worry. What else could he be longing to see if not Fa’izah, that wench of a friend. No hates, though—you should know. But I can’t bear that men flock towards fair-skinned lasses. Is it a curse that I’m dark-skinned? “Ah!”
But … by the way, Fa’izah is taking more time than reasonable. Very very unusual. Wonder if she’s dolling herself up for Sa’id.
I glance at him. He’s still gazing up the stairway. But Fa’izah just wouldn’t come out.
Soon, he downs the wine, adjusts his cap, and walks out without a word. Unusual too, eh. He could have at least honoured his hosts, or waved at me. Gentlemen too can run out of patience.
No way Fa’izah would cram herself inside her room, dolling herself up for this long. What has happened to her strict sense of modesty? And … Sa’id has been here waiting for so long. I puff a deep sigh and nod at Alhaji, my husband. He nods in response. We need to go check on her.
But now, Sa’id downs the wine in the glass, and walks out without a word. I ease a worried glance at Alhaji, but he shrugs. I turn to the other guests, particularly to Zara. “Enjoy yourselves, okay? We’ll be right back.”
Alhaji is already on the stairs, his shoes crunching fast. I rush to meet him. “Don’t get angry, please.”
“Of course, Aishat, you know I can’t get angry at our Fa’izah. I’m only worried that something is wrong.”
“Just calm down, okay?” I press my ear to Fa’izah’s bedroom door. “Fa’izah!” No response. “Fa’izah!” Silence. “Did she fall asleep?”
“Well, that should be the case.”
“But she slept all night—”
“Maybe she couldn’t get a good sleep. You know children sleep late these days.”
“Fa’izah! It’s Dad. Open the door.”
I press a palm over his mouth and point towards the living room. “Don’t shout. They might misunderstand.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
He fishes out his phone and dials Fa’izah’s phone. “She should respond when her phone rings.”
Handsome Sa’id rushes back into the house, panting, a palm pressed to his chest, other hand pointing towards the door. “Fa-Fa’izah—”
I jolt up my feet, tipping over a glass jar. “What’s wrong?”
“Alhaji. Where’s Alhaji?”
“Talk to me Sa’id,” I say, hurrying to him.
“Just answer me, Zara!”
I point up the stairs leading to Fa’izah’s room. “I … I think they went to check on her. But can’t you just calm down, Sa’id. Fa’izah didn’t disappear, did she?”
He glares at me and snorts. “Disappear? Would that not give you so much joy, bitch? Now you have it!”
What is he saying? I look around to meet the curious gazes of the other guests. These dumb folks will just get the wrong idea about me! “Just what is the problem, Sa—” He’s already off, climbing up the stairway. “Damn you, Sa’id!”
I follow after him.
Fa’izah’s parents are stuck right before her room, creases in their faces. Maman Fa’izah is pacing about and Alhaji is trying to reach Fa’izah’s phone. Why won’t Fa’izah come out?
“Alhaji!” Sa’id bellows, rushing towards them.
“Sa’id what’s the problem?” Alhaji replies.
“I thought you already left,” Maman Fa’izah says, frowning.
“Speak, young man!” Alhaji says.
“The … the window to Fa’izah’s room is completely removed. And there’s blood on the window frame. The room is empty too.”
Maman Fa’izah rushes against him, grabbing at his collar. “My Fa’izah? Where’s my daughter?” She pulls him over so that their faces are level.
At this moment, noises crack from the living room. I first gape at the three before me. They do the same to me, then to themselves. Not waiting for a prompt, I lead the race down the stairs.
In the living room, there’s no more party—not even a whiff. And there are no more guests. But the ones we have here … No way anyone invited them! Else, why are the real guests cowering under tables and chairs? Why are the intruders all masked and wielding guns and blades in a place of merry? And, oh … why did I come to this party!
Someone clears their throat. “Don’t be too surprised,” they say. It’s a man, for sure, and a very short one. He seems to be their leader, and his accent shows he’s from the Kanuri tribe. My mum is from there too.
The leader takes a short stride away from his band. “We, eh, don’t need your invitation before we visit you.” He waves at his masked fellows; they all are armed with some sort of big guns.
I flit glances at Fa’izah’s parents and at Sa’id whose nose is flared right now. Alhaji stands upright, seemingly unmoved, but his fingers are trembling. As for Maman Fa’izah—
“What is today?” The leader again.
He waves a long knife at me, and I shiver, my mouth hanging loose. “S-Sa …” I retreat a step. “Sallah.”
“Good!” he says with a snarl. “So, what—”
“Where’s my Fa’izah?!” Maman Fa’izah is getting crazy. Her eyes are prominent with wrath, even as she fumes hard. She makes to rush at the intruders, but Sa’id plucks her arm, pulling her back. “Calm down, Mama!”
“No, eh, just let her come over,” he says with a throaty giggle.
Sa’id waves a finger at him. “Just who are you people? What do you want from us?”
The leader throats another round of laughter. “We, eh, have been nice to you all this time so you think, eh, you can wag your tongue, ah!” He sticks a whistle between his lips and blows. That seems like an evil signal. And right away, two masked men push in a hooded person through the door. The victim drops weakly to the ground and gives off a weak moan. A female?
The leader nods at Sa’id. “You should know the face under the hood, young man. I saw you running around earlier, hehe.” He squats beside the hooded lady and clamps a hand to her nape. She squeals. She could be no one other than Fa’izah. At this moment, I can’t remember my childish resentments of her. I really don’t hate her; I just didn’t like that my Sa’id prefers her to me. Allah knows I’m only being jealous of her but mean no harm. I really will never forgive myself if she gets hurt. “Fa’izah?” I call, my heart throbbing against my chest.
A moan creaks from beneath the hood. The man grins at me as he pulls off the hood from Fa’izah’s head. She collapses on her side, onto the floor.
Maman Fa’izah screams and struggles to rush towards her daughter, but Sa’id holds her back again. “Maman Fa’izah!”
Alhaji remains immobile, but his fingers are balled up beneath his wide Agbada sleeve. And now he seems unable to endure this. “What are you going to do?! Release my daughter this instant!—”
“We’ve decided to make you represent our Prophet Ibrahim for this year” the leader says, wiping a hankie across his knife. “The Father of all nations. Peace be upon him.”
Now what could be more absurd!
Alhaji frowns; he seems to be out of it. “Wh-what are you saying? I’m asking you to release my daughter!”
The leader turns to me, waving that knife seriously. “What did you say today is?”
“Erm … Sa-Sallah …” I can’t bear to waste a moment any longer.
He claps. “You see, eh, Allah told the Prophet to sacrifice his only son, Isiaka, and he did. Now till the end of the world we will never forget his great work of faith.” He turns to Alhaji. “Don’t you agree?”
“What does that have to do with my daughter?”
“Don’t get too angry, eh. But use your anger to please Allah.”
“You infidel!” Alhaji spits, cords prominent about his neck.
“Would you disregard the spirit of Salah? Is it, eh, so difficult to follow in the footsteps of our prophets?” The leader spits on Alhaji’s robe. “You’re worse than an infidel!” He wields his knife and turns to Fa’izah who’s now lying sprawled out. “Do I have to do this myself? Or can you show Allah you can give everything for him by killing your only child?”
“Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!” the gunmen behind him chant.
I shoot Sa’id a glance. He seems to understand. We all are only children to our respective parents. Sa’id, I, Fa’izah. If these deluded men discover we are all the same, then wouldn’t we be—
“You!” He points at Sa’id. “Can your father sacrifice you?”
Sa’id takes a step backwards, but maintains a strong face. “Why can’t you do it yourself? Kill me. Leave the women alone and don’t distress our parents”
That’s my Sa’id! Fighting for us, and at the same time, courting death. And we all know it. Now I have to lend in my voice too, to save Sa’id, to save Fa’izah. I move a step forward and sneer at the man. “Salah is not a day to repeat such sacrifices. Moreover, Allah didn’t even allow Prophet Ibrahim to kill Isiaka.” I heave a deep sigh. “So just what are you trying to achieve?”
The leader shakes his head, revealing a feral grin. “You, eh … leave me with no choice.”
“Wait!” Sa’id cries.
Afraid he might do something rash, I draw near him. “Sa’id!”
“Get back!” His face is a painting of rage.
A figure zips off my side, lurching against the predators. I make a sharp turn, my mouth hanging loose. “Maman Fa—” A gunshot gashes the tense air at this moment, accompanied by a weak groan, and bloody gasps. Maman Fa’izah stops abruptly, staggers forward and drops to the ground, eyes bulging. The shot had come from an unbelievable source. As the blood dampens her nape, she drags her dying self towards Fa’izah’s unconscious body, her fingers twitching hard to make a grip.
The villain heaves a sigh and raises a hand. “He’s sacrificed his only wife. It’s still acceptable, eh. Allahu Akbar!” His minions raise their weapons in response, chanting, “Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!!”
My legs go wobbly beneath me, and I crash to the ground. At this moment, what happens to anyone else isn’t much within my view; I’m only bothered about getting over this peripeteia. But I can see the villains marching out of the room, still chanting. I can see two or three guests poking their heads from beneath a table.
And I can see Sa’id rushing over to Fa’izah, shaking her furiously as if she had died. And yet, as my vision blurs off, I see Alhaji pointing a gun to his own head.
“Would you like to be like Prophet Isiaka, and your father like Prophet Ibrahim?”
“No! Go away!”
“But, eh, we have to make you become like them.”
“No! I said, no!”
“Hey, girl, it’s not your decision to make …”
The moment they broke through the window and carted me away, I knew my family would no longer host a Sallah party in this lifetime.
See no evil. Speak no evil. Hear no evil.
Just … What the hell does that mean?
Photo by Alexandre Boucey on Unsplash (modified)