Abiba sniffs deep into the end of the hijab as she walks against the wind: winds of the North, winds of her life. She opens the back door stealthily, with the ease of the village thief, and she walks out of the house that she was born into. She sneaks past all the memories, questions that she knows will never get answered—she walks away from all she has known to face a vast world of the unknown. The dryness of the early morning harmattan wind is blowing against her face; it screams in her ears: EVERYONE CAN SEE YOU. She holds her breath as she dashes past the house with tears in her eyes. Today, she is fourteen. In four weeks, she will be married.
Life was never the same for her since she found out all that she had unknowingly dreaded all her life. She had thought about it; when she saw the other girls change their drab, one-colour hijabs for the flowery ones, with those laali marks on their bodies. Nothing really changed but as she looked through their eyes, she saw the smile of the defeated. The smile betrayed their innocence; they knew that their ambitions would soon be wrapped into one ball and packed into a nylon bag and handed over to the highest bidder. That was their fate.
That is my fate. But she wanted to change that fate – it does not always have to be the same. The winds always break when a mightier force stands in its way; she was ready to walk against its overpowering gusts, running as fast as she could to find herself.
She saw them, heard them and knew all that they planned. She was to be married off to her father’s fifty-year-old, age-long friend. The man who sold suya and always paid for her kunu drink whenever she passed through the market on the way home from school. The one who would look her deep in the eyes as she played with the boys and scream suddenly like a wounded dog, stop talking to them and hold your hijab tight over your head, can’t you see they are beholding your virtue? And on certain nights, when her mother sent her to the night market he would grin at her and whisper into her ears, Yarinya, I will marry you someday. She would frown and tap her fingers making a semi-circle with them over her head, the way she has seen her best friend in school do while screaming in disgust when someone said something abominable to her. Tufiakwa. Nneka was one of the people that her parents called Kaferi, untouchable, supposed to be unheard but who could never go unnoticed. They owned the biggest shops in the city and the townspeople only endured the high prices of their products because they were the only sellers. Nneka told me proudly that she would go to the university and become the first Nigerian woman to fly an airplane—she would demonstrate with her hands raised high in the sky like an eagle. She was really an eagle: daunting, bold and fearless. I found in her the daring freedom I would never be allowed to know. I had to find my voice somewhere else, away from here, even in the West—the Wild Wild West of my dreams.
When she left she would no longer hear the buzzing voices in Papa’s room haggling over her bride price; even as his friend brought with him gifts she never received. She would be free from the piercing look of secret knowledge that peeled her clothes off her body every time he saw her at the market. No longer would she be held down by the stench that hung on his breath, the browning teeth that stank of gooro stalked between the teeth for days, those black fingers that had held countless cigarettes, grasping her tender hands. For once she would be free.
Free to pursue my dreams like the hawk that I always see in my dream swooping down to pick anything it desires for food—unaware of the stares of man—I will soar till I find myself. I don’t know what lies ahead of me, but I can decide what it will be, she said under her breath as she sprinted past the front of her betrothed’s stall under the heavy eyes of the dark night.