Kyakkyawa she was called. But not many could see why, except the very few who had the misfortune of being charmed by her rare moments of unblemished beauty. I knew why she got that name. I was there when the morning sun glinted mildly in her innocent eyes; I carried her in her birth shawl. Yes, I was there at the beginning as every father should be. And I was there, too, at the end.
She was beautiful as a child. But as she grew, her beauty ebbed. It was consumed by her brazen attitude that fed fat on her good looks, her sweetness, her innocence. As a young woman she was always restless, tempestuous, like a seething volcano. She was, as they said, predacious, like an eagle primed to seize its quarry. Where there had been mildness in her nonage, in her prime there was fire. Her features were made sharper by aggression. Her tender, adoring look became a terrible scowl she wore like a mask. Her mother, who was from the Kebbi regions where dust storms are as inclement as my daughter, called her the whirlwind. And true, she seemed to ride on storms, this my daughter. Her beauty emerges, however, in her infrequent moments of sedateness – when her volatility was quelled by sleep or when she had just had her bath, with little droplets running down her supple skin. At such moments, she could pass for an angel. The few who had seen her had thought so. That was why I was always on the lookout for her, to peek into her room and catch her sleeping peacefully, surrounded by the fluffy white of her duvet, surrounded by an aura of calm.
But the devil that she was, Kyakkyawa seemed averse to sleep. She would wake up early in the morning, take her bath and dab her face with white powder. She would then draw ferocious lines on her eyebrows with eye pencils such that she looked like the famed witch of the meadows, whom, it is said, swallowed white cats alive. Kyakkyawa would then paint her lips a violent red, like a vampire done sucking blood from the neck of a hapless victim. She would spend minutes doing this; sucking in her lips and pursing them and crushing them against one another so the rouge would even out. She would then put on her school uniform and carry her bag.
“How many times have I told you not to paint your face like a prostitute,” her mother would snap at her. On days her belligerent spirits were tame, she would ignore her mother and kick a bucket, a stool or anything left out of place on her way out. When she wanted a fight, she would throw down her bag and rage. Often, her mother would come out of her room and slap her but the child would only laugh defiantly, daring her mother to slap her again. Her mother would end up beating her; not that she was stronger but because Kyakkyawa wanted it that way. She would take the beating stoically, never crying out or running away. That often left her mother annoyed because she wanted the girl to indicate that the beating was making an impact, a satisfaction her obstinate daughter would never give. But the truth was, her mother was no match for her. If she had ever decided to fight back, my wife would have been trounced by her daughter. She was ferocious in her battles and the scars on her from all the scratches she had received were testimonies. She did not stop at fighting her fellow girls, she was all too glad to take on boys as well. The few who managed to give her a beating had to flee because she would never give in. That was what my daughter was like; the Tigress of the Rocks.
Regardless, I still adored her, like a father should his loving daughter – perhaps a little more. I always looked forward to moments she would emerge from the bathroom, her slim frame wrapped in a flower blotched wrapper, her face sedate, her skin supple, her figure… well. She was attractive, my daughter was. And she would see me staring at her, looking at the rivulet trickling down her skin, disappearing between the mounds on her bosom under the flowered wrapper. She would know I wasn’t looking at her as a daughter but as a woman; as a man would look at a woman. She would smile and walk into her room.
Once she woke up to find me sitting on the edge of her bed, looking at her. She must have seen the fire in my eyes. She only smiled and looked back. I held her upper arms and I don’t know how but my face started leaning towards hers. Briefly, she closed her eyes, her lips parted. Then she put out her palm flat on my chest.
“Father,” she said with a laugh. She got out of bed and walked out laughing. I was ashamed. Eventually, I walked out of the room, shoulders slouched. Her mother was standing outside the door, broom in hand, looking at me. There was suspicion in her eyes. Kyakkyawa emerged from the bathroom and looked at us, locked in silent accusation. She laughed. Her mother hurled the broom at her and missed. The girl laughed more and the mother burst into tears and ran to her room.
The day she burnt down Buba’s shop, I was away on a trip. When I returned that evening, there was a crowd outside my house. There were policemen too. They said my daughter had been returning from school when Buba called her to his shop. He was a used cloths dealer in his middle age. He had three wives and children my daughter’s age. She went in and listened to him trying to seduce her. She only clicked her tongue when he told her what he wanted. He took her silence as consent and grabbed her breast, plucking, squeezing, savouring the sensation. She stunned him by slapping him. She grabbed his babban riga and wrestled him to the ground. She was ferocious and he wasn’t expecting it. People came in and rescued the man. She raged and swore that he would not venture to molest young girls’ breasts in that shop again. So she torched the place. Before people realised what was going on, the flame was almost beyond control. They managed to put out the inferno after considerable damage had been done. She swore to ruin him completely. So he called in the police to arrest her.
“Let no one come for me! Father, don’t come for me, I beg you!” she screamed as the police led her away. “Buba, I will kill you unless I die first!”
Hours later, the police came for me.
“Alhaji,” they said reverently, “please come bail your daughter O, please, please.”
They said the girl was causing unrest in the cells. She started fights in whichever cell she was moved to. They kept moving her from cell to cell, waiting for me to come bribe them to release her. I told them I had no money and would not go to the station. Eventually, they released her and pleaded with her to leave. On her way back, she stopped by Buba’s house to finish what they started, she said. The man was not around so she made trouble for his family. His sons were too ashamed of their father’s deeds to defend his honour. They slinked away, leaving their mothers to lock their doors and bow their heads in the darkness of their rooms.
The next morning, Alhaji Danladi came to plead with my daughter to let the matter rest. He was a respected elder. I told him I would talk to her but he insisted on speaking to her himself. I asked the mother to get the girl. The girl was bathing and when she came out, she made straight for the zaure where we were waiting. Alhaji Danladi, seeing her naked beauty, was astonished. He stammered so much I became embarrassed. The impish girl smiled mischievously, thanked him and went to apply her witch’s make up.
Two days later, my father called me. He informed me that Alhaji Danladi had asked him for the hand of my daughter in marriage and he had consented.
“How can you do that, father?” I protested.
“Subahanallahi!” my father blurted in shock. “So you can sit here and question my authority over your daughter? What has the world come to? Who are you to question my decision as it concerns your daughter?”
“That is not what I meant…”
“Oh shut your dirty mouth!” he thundered. “I never thought I would live to see this day when my son will question me over his daughter.”
“Father, the man is old and the girl is still very young.”
“How can I refuse him, a respected elder like that? He is my friend.”
I went home determined to defy my father. How can he have my teenage daughter marry her grandfather’s mate?
“Why not?” My wife countered. “That girl is a devil, she knows more about men than you can imagine. Have you not seen the way she was smiling when he was fooling around because of her?”
“Be reasonable, Asabe!”
“You should be reasonable before that devil-child brings shame to us all. How do you know she didn’t even seduce that idiotic Buba, the accursed?”
“What has that got to do with anything? This man is old, that’s what I’m saying,” I shouted.
“Who else would marry her and tame her if not someone like that. Do you want her to marry a small boy so they could collectively burn down their matrimonial home? Her continued stay in this house is not only disturbing but dangerous.”
My wife, I realised, was jealous of her daughter. She was afraid of me, of what she knew I was tempted to do, she was afraid of losing her husband to her daughter. And so it was that despite her passionate protestations, Kyakkyawa could not stop her wedding to a man who played with her grandfather in the sand and climbed guava trees with him as a child.
“I swear I’ll kill him,” she promised the night they came to convey her to her husband’s house.
Three nights later, she carved him open with a kitchen knife. I heard the story from some of Alhaji’s elderly wives. They said he had been trying to seduce her the two previous nights without success. On the third night, he was drunk with the desire of her, his groin was on fire. He crept into her room, in which I understand he had never slept since she occupied it. She was lying down on the bed, a kitchen knife concealed beneath her pillow. He touched her and she slashed at him and missed.
“Ha ha ha! Amarya,” he laughed, “what dangerous sport, this?”
“Sport, you say,” she returned, now really angry. “I will show you this is no sport.”
She jumped off the bed and attacked him. He was too stunned to get away in time. She was fierce; I know how she could be. She slashed his stomach open and stabbed him several times. His sons broke down the door and rescued him.
“Na sake ki, dan ubanki!” he shouted as they carried him, guts dangling. “Go, devil-child, you are divorced! Divorced! You hear, divorceeeeeeeeeeed!”
She was arrested by the police and held in custody. But when Alhaji became conscious, the first thing he asked is: “Where is my amarya?”
His family was disgusted. They told him he had divorced her and she was in police custody.
“No, no, no. Wallahi, I did not divorce her, I love her, she’s my wife, my bride!”
Disgusted, they packed their things and left.
He later told police he had fallen and injured himself and demanded they release his bride. When they did, she packed her things and came back home. Her husband was devastated when they told him his pronouncement had in fact nullified his marriage to her. He would not take it and desperately pushed buttons. But the matter was settled really.
The next morning, Kyakkyawa dressed up in her school uniform, painted her face in garish make-up, carried her bag and went to school as if nothing had happened.
The boy who would finally tame her came days later. He was my nephew, Audu, just sixteen. He came to live with my family and fell under the spell of his cousin, who was a year his senior. But she never acknowledged his existence. She never looked at him, never spoke to him and seemed to see through him. He was disturbed at first. He could not understand.
“Your cousin is the devil incarnate,” her mother told him. “Don’t bother about her.”
He would sit and watch her polishing her nails, decorating with henna, braiding her hair in the mirror, applying garish make up on her face, masking beauty with petulance. He watched her as much as I watched her. And her mother watched us watching her daughter. Perhaps he fell under the spell of her angelic side when he saw her for the first time emerging from the bath, a wrapper wrapped around her slim frame, her supple skin embellished by droplets and rivulets. I saw the fire light up in his eyes and I knew he had fallen in love with her. I began to resent him.
He began to sneak into her room to watch her sleep. If she had any objection to that, I never heard anything about it. He would quietly leave the room when she woke up. He grew from a lively boy to a zombie, obsessed with the worship of my daughter who must have had a little of witches and angels in her.
“Kai, what were you doing in there so early in the morning?” I challenged him as he emerged from her room one morning.
“Nothing, Sir,” he said meekly, head bowed as if I had caught him with his pants down standing over my daughter. The thought inflamed my resentment. I barely restrained myself from striking him. He must have felt the tension in my muscles because he recoiled in fear.
“Get out of my sight now!” I shouted. “Get out!”
He fled out of the compound.
“You,” I shouted at her as I barged into her room. She was clad in a scant pink night dress. It accentuated her figure, the curves of her hips; her cleavage, white. Inviting. I stared like an idiot. She stared back, looking into my eyes.
“Lock your door when you sleep,” I stuttered.
“Yes, father,” she said but I knew she wouldn’t.
I turned and walked out. Her mother was standing outside, broom in her hand, ready to sweep the compound. She looked at me and must have seen the fire in my eyes. She knew they were not burning for her. She threw down the broom and ran to her room, crying. I walked out of the house.
“Do you know how it feels when your daughter becomes your co-wife,” her mother said suddenly as I ate.
I choked and sputtered food from my mouth. “What do you mean?”
“Do you know how it feels when you look at your husband looking at your daughter as if he would slap her on the ground and just get it off with her? Do you have any idea what it feels like to see you lusting over her like that! Your own daughter?!”
“Keep your voice down,” I whispered.
“Wallahi someday, I will kill somebody!” she banged on the table. The plates jumped and landed roughly. They rattled jarringly.
I got up and left the room, disturbed by the ominous smell of murder in the air. It happened that night.
The lioness was in another fight. She shred the dress of one of her friends and threw the poor girl in a ditch. They were arguing and the girl had called her a divorced witch. She clawed the girl’s face and left her almost naked. The girl’s boy friend promised to lock her up. Kyakkyawa only laughed derisively.
“You think you are a witch, you don’t know the first thing about it,” the beaten girl shouted from behind her boyfriend. “I’ll show you potent witchery! I swear I’ll kill you!”
“Take away this…thing before I pulverize her pathetic bones into this dust, nonsense,” Kyakkyawa ordered, unfazed.
The girl’s boyfriend dragged her away while obscenities and threats poured from her mouth. Kyakkyawa’s mother came out with her broom.
“Cursed child, do you want to kill me?” she shouted. “Go to your room now before I beat the devil out of you.”
The girl obeyed.
That night in bed, her mother tossed and turned. Finally she said; “If you don’t do something about that girl, I will.” She turned to face the wall. “I’ve had enough of her, wallahi.” She pulled the sheet over head and lay quietly like a shrouded corpse.
The next morning, the house was quiet. Her mother refused to get out of bed and I didn’t want to go out so as not to provoke her jealousy. I was becoming worried over my feelings for my daughter. I was growing weaker, I knew.
“Let me talk to her,” I finally said to her mother. She balled up herself and again pulled the sheet over her head. Gingerly, I got out of bed. I made for my daughter’s room. The door was open as usual. When I went in I saw Audu sitting serenely by her bedside. She was still sleeping. Her face was almost white, peaceful, her features relaxed. She had pulled the sheet over her bosom but I could see the moulds of her breasts. She was beatific. Audu did not move, not even to acknowledge my presence. I cleared my throat. He remained unruffled.
“She is beautiful, uncle,” his husky voice said. “She is always beautiful when she sleeps. She should never wake up.”
I sensed something was wrong. She was not breathing. I rushed to her, pushing him aside and held her in my arms. She was cold and stiff already.
“No, no, no….” I screamed. “What have you done to her? What did you do?”
“She should never wake up, uncle. She is beautiful,” he said, standing like a zombie. He was looking at her. There was a vial on the floor that had contained the poison he had somehow put in her. My nephew had poisoned my daughter. Even in my pain, I knew he was right – she should never wake up, because she was beautiful.
But I just had to kill him too.