(taken from the start of Part Two)
BACK TO SOKOTO
Every time I stop to think that I have been happy these past few years in Sokoto, I kill the thought in my head because I am afraid that my being happy will jinx it. I have learned to tell lies to escape bad memories that come from telling my stories. It all started when I first came back. I did not say when Sheikh Jamal asked how my mother was, that when I held her hand and told her I was leaving she didn’t even look at me; that she preferred to look up at the sky or to the ground than give me her blessings or advise me to be good in Sokoto. I didn’t tell him that every time I have returned to Dogon Icce for the Sallah celebrations I have found Umma looking more sickly and pale, that her fingers are bruised and bloody from her chewing on them, that her hair has turned grey and her skin is wrinkled, that Khadija feeds her like a little baby because she never eats and that they have now had to chain her to the bed in the room because many times she has gone missing, found wandering aimlessly without a scarf or hijab in the village. I haven’t told him how Khadija suffers alone with her daughter and Umma because her husband has abandoned her and built a little hut nearby where he lives with his new wife – the last daughter of the village Imam. The girl has a son and is pregnant with another child. Every month, he sends Khadija some grains and once in a long while a little money, barely enough for a pot of soup. He has refused to divorce her and set her free, yet he does not want to keep her.
I just tell Sheikh, that all is well in the village and try all I can to take grains and soap when I go. Khadija thinks that Shuaibu married another wife because he was tired of her spending so much time taking care of Umma. She says that nothing will make her stop. I feel guilty and grateful all at the same time. She shouldn’t have to choose between Umma and her husband.
I found, when I returned, that Sheikh was not only the Imam but also a member of the committee that is in charge of running the mosque. The mosque committee is responsible for choosing the Imam and his deputy and raising funds. Sheikh is the Vice Chairman while Alhaji Usman, who is rarely around because he travels so much, is the Chairman. Alhaji Usman built the mosque and still sends food for sadaka many Fridays. The three very old men who always pray in front, Malam Yunusa, Malam Abduljalal, and Malam Hamza are on the committee too. Malam Hamza is often ill and hardly around. Malam Abdul-Nur is not on the committee. A lot of people pray at this mosque and I have heard some people talk of expanding it. The land to the right of the mosque was also donated by Alhaji Usman. I wonder how much money he has, because it is hard to tell from the way he dresses. He wears the same type of white caftans that Sheikh and Malam Abdul-Nur wear. He does not wear gold teeth to show he has been to Mecca even though I hear he has been there many times. He has even performed the Hajj on behalf of his sick parents who couldn’t travel.
Sometimes it is good to be invisible, to just go around the park doing my own thing and helping out in the mosque without anyone noticing me. Also I don’t have to share any stories that will put me in trouble. When one talks too much, one exposes oneself. I remember a boy who would not stop talking and told everyone about robbing and injuring a policeman whose cousin was one of the men listening. The boy is still in prison.
I don’t like sitting with the boys around the mosque or the motor park because all they do is talk about whose penis is big and whose penis is small and whose penis is curved like a fishing hook. And every time Abdulkareem is around everyone jokes about how he has to fold his penis three times before it can fit in his pants. I wondered how everyone knew what his penis looked like. Then someone told me that there was a time some boys wanted to see it when the rumours started going round. Abdulkareem refused to show them and they all planned and held him down, stripped him and stroked his penis until it became like a big fat sugar cane between his legs. Some people say it is a sickness to have such a big penis. I have never seen it. I do not want to see it.
Abdulkareem and Bilal, who, like me, used to sleep in the same little room behind the mosque, have both gone to Kebbi to work for Alhaji Usman’s brother who owns a large fish farm there. Somehow I think Sheikh was happy to let them go. I am glad they have gone. They talked very loud and played very rough, like little children. Abdulkareem was a tall fair boy with a lot of hair on his legs, hands and chest, whose father, mother and brothers had been killed in one of the riots in Jos. He had returned from the next village to find the burnt corpses of his family in front of the house. I am not sure of Bilal’s story because he used to tell a different story every time. First he told me he ran away from his home in Minna because his father was wicked and didn’t give him food. Then he said his father was fighting infidel Americans in Afghanistan, then he said Iraq, then both. His father has been both dead and alive, in Nigeria and out of Nigeria, a wicked man and a brave fighter. One of Bilal’s eyes is half shut and has a scar above it. He had many stories for that too. He said once that he was looking up at a plane when some object fell from it and hit him in the eye. Then he said he got the injury fighting off four armed policemen with his bare hands. He was going to be a soldier if not for his eye. Bilal spoke fast and even though most people knew he was lying, they enjoyed the stories so much that they indulged him. I found that it was useless to contradict Bilal. He would quickly create an excuse for any discrepancy and patch up his story.
Bilal and Abdulkareem were always coming out of corners or disappearing together. When they would reappear they would both be quiet for a long time and I would suspect they were up to no good. For a long time I tried to find out where they always went and what they were doing. At first I was sure that they were smoking something. So I would come very close to them to see if I could smell anything on their breath. I tried this a few times, but apart from the occasional mouth and body odour I would smell nothing. Sometimes one of them would smell like raw yams that had just been peeled.
If you’re eager for more, here’s a second extract!