By Yeipyeng Kwa
I sit with my knees hugged to my chest and with my wrapper tucked in between my legs, the sun’s rays filtering from between tall trees, dancing through their shadows in a bid to have a taste of my rich brown skin. I try not to get distracted by the sound of the rustling leaves or the rushing stream, tossing rocks as I chant the words from my favorite poem over and over again…
“… Your fingers bleed
Bruising from the hardness of the rocks you toil
Your deep red blood glistens
Reflecting the golden rays of the midday su…”
“Ahah, so you’re here” a familiar voice breaks through my soliloquy —my best friend, Yusuf’s voice. I lift up my eyes to find him, a fake smile tugging the corners of my lips and a genuine one spreading across his face, as he strides towards me. He takes his place besides me and begins to say,
“I thought you weren’t at school this past week because you were ill. After school today, I visited your family compound to see you but on getting there, your mother told me to find you by the stream”
I listen in silence, casting my eyes on the rushing water, the feeling of inferiority never allowing me to look into his eyes as he speaks or even afterwards.
He finishes talking and even after some time there’s no response from me, he reaches his hand for my face, tries to lift up my eyes to meet his gaze but I resist.
“What’s happening?” he asks clearly shocked by my resistance towards him. A sniffle escapes my nostril, betraying me of my emotions. Alerted, he pulls closer to hold the hand I am lifting to cover my face and begins to ask
“You’re crying! Why are you crying? Salamatu, Tell me why you are crying”
He embraces me and I succumb, breaking into a fit of tears. I whisper into his ears in-between sobs
“Your best… best friend… is… is being married off… ff tomorrow to Yohanna, the… ta..tanner”.
“What?” He exclaims loosening his embrace to look at me, probably due to the shock of the moment.
One look at my face must have told him I needed an even tighter embrace And he responds by engulfing me in one
“But why?” he asks in a very unfamiliar tone, his voice changing probably out of the sympathy he now felt for me.
“Father… father says, he… can’t aff… afford to pay for the… the rest of my… my education” I whisper again into his ears..
After a brief moment, I pull out of his embrace remembering that by tomorrow, I’d be some man’s wife not to be seen hanging around and embracing the village boys. I begin to dab at my tear streaked face with a corner of my wrapper.
“He says the load on him would be too much if I had to stay back in school and so I have to dropout so Bashiru and Ahmed can go, as they’re the only two sons in the family” I say.
“But you’re the eldest”, he says and I catch the furrow of his brow from the corner of my eye. “It really doesn’t matter. Moreover, he says the bride price would go a long way in aiding him pay their school expenses for some terms” I reply wiping my tear soaked palms on my wrapper.
“Then what happens to Sa’adatu?” he asks after my younger sister, the youngest child in my family.
“Whatever is happening now really does not affect her. She may be able to get an education after they’re done, if she decides or she might just be married off just as I would be by tomorrow”, I say beginning to lift myself off of the ground.
“We had better started heading back to the village before my mother begins to worry” I say.
“You can convince her to try to talk him out of this thing”, he says stubbornly, with his buttocks still fixed to the ground.
“No Yusuf, it’s really no use. Father’s mind is made and you know very well that when he comes to a resolve, no one dares to object. Not even mother! It’s getting late, we should leave now. I only came to fetch a pot of water and I’ve stayed longer than I should have stayed” I say bending to lift up my pot of water over my head.
After sitting and watching me intently for seconds, he finally lifts his body off the ground, rising to his feet to join me; we walk side by side as we head back through the tiny foot path leading back to the village.
And as we walk between the trees, he tries cheering me up with chatter, but my mind keeps drifting away, replaying memories from the days that we spent dreaming. The days I used to talk about growing to become a well-known writer, to one day head out into the city and marry a man whose knowledge unlike ours, was sharpened by civilization and modernity. A chuckle escapes my lips when I remember how I’d told Yusuf off, with this dream when we were younger.
“Salamatu, I’d marry you one day” he’d said that day as we walked back home from school. “No way! You won’t” I’d snapped.
And with my chin stuck up in the air I’d said “I’ll become a prominent writer someday and I’d marry a well-educated man, who’s English has no blemishes. I’d never marry someone like you with the thick accent!”
I was almost sure because he’d always been second best to me when it came to academic performances at school. We’d laughed about it then, but now the irony that I’ll be married off to somebody much worse than him sends a shudder through my bones.
And as we approach the entrance leading into the village, with the last rays from the sun kissing our dark chocolate tinted skins, I come to terms with the fact my dreams would never come to be. I listen absentmindedly to his chatter as I prepare my mind for tomorrow, the day my ambitions would be thrown in the dump, to be replaced by the false luxuries of a cheap marriage bed.