A week after his fiancée left, Faruk’s car
treaded a steady seventy on Nigeria’s northeast highway, easing up only when he
paused to change gears. The sun bore down on the white Toyota so relentlessly
that every few minutes he cursed his not having fixed the air conditioner. He
sweated profusely, even with both windows wound down—the underarm and chest of
his crème cotton shirt was streaked with brown patches. It was just about 11
a.m. and he already felt lost in the featureless vegetation, fleeing as he was.
He drove past towns no larger than some
suburbs of his native city and often, mirage oasis shimmered at the far end of
his vision. Long stretches of road were poorly maintained, so every now and
then the highway broke up into vague stretches that threw up geysers of dust
the minute the tyres touched them. On both sides of the road, dry savannah bore
the intense heat without bursting into flames. Yet, there were nomads all along
the way in all the heat, herding more cattle than he had ever seen.
When he drove past herdsmen, Faruk
responded to their calls by tooting his horn and raising a fist through the
window. All he and the herdsmen had for company were numberless cattle egrets,
who were more interested in the cattle anyway. The mostly white cows, equally
uncommunicative, wandered about minding their own business—eating grass and
occasionally letting drop large blobs of dung. The muscles of his neck strained
and twitched as he battled his thoughts, which always returned to Rahila and
the flurry of his departure from Jos City.
“See, Faruk, be na son ka kuma. We have to
call it off. It cannot work anymore, please.”
“Ba ki so na? What the hell does that mean?
Face the issue and say what it is. Is it
you don’t love me anymore or that you are leaving me—which is it, Rahila Pam?”
Sudden anger sparked in her eyes as she
yanked her arm from his grip, shocking him with her force.
“It doesn’t matter. Let me go!”
“It does matter, and you know it. Both
things are not the same!”
But he had known. Her family. A foreign
influence. Like witchcraft.
Her words kept running loops in his mind,
broken only by Miles Davis’ 1959 ‘Kind of Blue’ album playing from the
speakers. But when the music no longer soothed him, he slipped into his
awareness of the heat and thoughts of Rahila—and the love she threw back at him
as if it were ash.
He glanced at the rear-view in time to
remember that on that particular stretch of road he was alone and had been for
quite a while—an hour since he’d passed a lorry laden with assorted farm
produce and rustic farmers hanging on to the tailboards of the old Bedford,
laughing and singing. They had saluted him noisily, making faces and raising
their fists. He had tooted his horn. He smiled at the memory, caught himself
looking at the mirror yet again, sighed, and resumed whistling to the modal
jazz. Rahila made him think of his mother Ummi al-Qassim, and her madness. She
made him think of many other things. Faruk smashed his fist half-heartedly into
the steering wheel, tilting his head back like a ram to be slaughtered, his
eyes leaving the road momentarily. Rahila—he hated her now, for leaving him,
and for leaving him confused.
But his thoughts of her led him to thoughts
of her mother, Eunice Pam, who even at that moment was seeking to have him
killed. Eunice’s meddling had already seen to the return of his engagement ring
and the end of his affair with her daughter. By the time he visited Hussena
Bukar, his mother’s closest friend until she died, he was anger-filled enough
The highway started up a sudden rise so he
downshifted his gears, his mind running over the events of the last days, along
with the wheels of his car as the Toyota laboured up the steep incline.
The first thing she said on his entering
the house was;
"My God, what is the problem? Your
face is as long as the Ka’aba’s door!"
And he did look drawn, sullen eyes beneath
finely arched brows, thin lips; a lithe young man, he had an ovoid face,
pleasant to see. Smooth dark complexioned skin. But only the mole just below
his left eye remained untroubled. Hussena Bukar had been at the far side of her
porch filled with potted plants, mulching compost with gloved hands unto the
roots of a rose bush. She led him to a sofa and shouted for the maid. An old
woman, soon sixty; grey hair peeked in neat cornrows from under her Dubaijin
headscarf. Her skin was as pale as his mother’s had been.
“Ga abinchi, it’s just a snack, eat up. .
Hussena Bukar always adopted the spirit of
a young girl with him. Smiling like a coquette, she listened to him. But it
seemed to Faruk that a film appeared over her eyes while he spoke of Rahila, as
if his words reminded her of something else. He did not know he was shovelling
dirt off an event buried for three decades. Déjà vu coursed through Hussena
Bukar’s mind as Faruk sat on her porch, telling her about his danger fraught
love for Rahila Pam. She had heard these words before—from his mother.
Thoughts like a swirl around a whirlpool
spun through Hussena Bukar’s mind.
She shook her head, placing her still
supple thin-fingered palms behind her neck. Her thoughts flit to the face of
General Hassan Abba, her friend. Hassan Abba had helped her make the most of
it—when the twin eclipses of the love mad Arab and the fanatic Usman Waziri had
come to destroy her friend. Bolewa! Now, the bloody Bolewa past demanded
sacrifice. It wanted Faruk!
Hussena Bukar realized she could not just
tell Faruk what had happened at Bolewa. She thought:
‘He needs to travel; he must discover what
Faruk looked up at her. She smiled—then
took in a deep breath.
"Faruk, my love, this is indeed very
“And there is so much you do not know of
what has happened before. Just as there is plenty I don’t know of what is
happening now with this Rahila and her mother,” she said, slowly ticking off
her fingers, shaking her head. ”Faruk, everything that happens has a
background. In knowing the background of what is going on, lies clarity and
"I don’t understand."
"I know, my love, I know you don’t.
But what is happening to you now has happened before. I’m thinking what I can
do, so that the result won’t be the same as last time. I think we will pull
this thing apart and then try to put all the pieces together again, hopefully
better,” she said, turning out her palms to heaven. “But you can’t remain here.
It will start with you leaving . . . then you will come back knowing. That is
how to understand the past, my son. Come, my love, I have some of your mother’s
things, her diaries, I think it’s time you had them."
Hussena Bukar led him into the familiar
house past the living room to her quarters, a small room with large windows and
a gold and green Oriental rug. He fiddled around with a paperweight, uncertain
why she wished to give him his mother’s diaries just after telling her about
his troubles. What did that have to do with foreknowledge, what was all her
talk about the ‘past’? How did it all tie up?
The elderly woman straightened up and
placed herself beside him on the ottoman, putting a large brown wooden box in
Two days later, Faruk went to the
Employment Directorate and was informed of a placement for a teacher in the
Northeast, if he was interested—a six-month stint while the substantive teacher
was on sabbatical.
Federal Government College, Bolewa.
He remembered what Hussena Bukar always
said, that something coming was on its way all ways. Or, had she manipulated it
all? It did not matter, for Faruk trusted Hussena as much as he did his father.
He was whistling when he left the Directorate. Yet, within hours of that, his
assault on Rahila’s brother had given Eunice Pam the bloody excuse she needed
to come after him openly—the protection of her daughters’ love was already
stripped off him. Faruk become, in one week, merely the expendable son of a
The day before his journey, Faruk sat in
his father’s office for awhile before the secretary came in with a Thermos
flask and coffee things.
“The Colonel will be here shortly, Faruk.
Meantime, why not have some coffee?”
Faruk, embarrassed he had forgotten her
“Did my father go far?”
“No. He is in the business district; he
called to say you were to wait. Do you want it black?”
“Yes, black. Thank you. I’ll add the
His father, Ibrahim Dibarama, arrived just
as he finished the cup of coffee, smiled at him and went around the large desk;
“Make me a cup,” the older man said, “I see you’ve already imbibed.”
It had been four weeks since they last saw
each other and an hour passed before Faruk brought himself to state why he had
come, and for that hour his father restrained himself. Each knew the great love
they bore the other yet each felt the need for an unexplainable caution.
Ibrahim Dibarama’s caution came mostly from pride, of having raised a strong
and independent son alone.
“Father, I shall be leaving Jos tomorrow.”
The older man did not reply.
“I shall be going to Bolewa,” Faruk stated.
At the mention of that word, his father’s eyes came alive with a malevolent
thunder. Just as quickly, Faruk saw the rage suppressed with a simple,
superhuman will. The older man looked his son straight in the eye.
“You refuse to tell me about my mother. I
intend to find out for myself.”
“Viper-of-a-son!” Ibrahim spat out, “is
there anything I’ve not done for you? I have told you all there is to know
about your mother, Allah rest her soul, what more do you want for God’s sake?”
His voice rose with each question. The secretary, in her office fifteen meters
away, felt the tension as one feels the heat of fighting lions even from the
confines of a touring vehicle. Faruk, for his part, felt like a young lion
caught between the passions of his mounting anger and his respect for his
father. He stared back at his father for less than half a minute, opening his
mouth to say the first thing that came to his mind. But prudence overcame all
and he sipped from his coffee which was now so cold it tasted salty. He steeled
“Father. Is it wrong for a son to want to
know all about his mother, to visit the land of his parent’s youth?”
At these words, his father drew back,
knowing there was nothing he could do to stop Faruk from this journey. Ibrahim
Dibarama knew that not even a fight would sway this boy, his true son—it upset
him to be on the receiving end of an obstinacy he himself had instilled.
Ibrahim Dibarama’s eyes still held anger, but his mind was far from where they
were—his mind on his last days at Bolewa; guns going off everywhere, the
shattering windscreen of his car, his wife’s scream, the corpses and the
billowing smoke. Bolewa. City of memories, a town of death; a town that had
unhinged his life and taken his wife from him slowly, as a virus eats a memory
chip. Bolewa. How could he protect Faruk from the legacy of Bolewa?
“You are not going to Bolewa!”
“I am, father. I ask only for your
Ibrahim shook his head sadly. He had feared
this argument for a decade now and the reasons he had feared it were still the
same. His eyes settled briefly on his only child. Faruk sat still in his chair,
unsure if his father would try to force him to change his decision again,
wondering by what means—if he would. Faruk knew he would not be forced, no
Just then the grey intercom on the table
beeped and was hastily picked up.
“Yes. . ? Who? Okay,” at this the older man
nodded an apology to his son before saying, “Okay, put him on. . ,” proceeding
to converse with the person on the other end of the line. Faruk poured himself
another cup of coffee and finished it to find his father still speaking.
Another glance passed between them.
While he answered the phone, Ibrahim
Dibarama’s thoughts were on the situation before him. What was he to do? All
over the country, unexplainable fanaticisms were breaking out and he and his
friends realized that the existence of the Nigerian State was at stake. But,
what were they to do about it? And now, his own son wished to leave him and go
to Bolewa, that den of fanatics, he thought, that fortress of loss.
Viper-of-a-son! Ah, but he could not say he had not expected this day. It was
at this point the disturbing thought of his son’s liaison with Eunice Pam’s
daughter first crossed his mind. He ended the call and dropped the handset
carefully into its cradle.
“You want to go to Bolewa?”
“Are you telling me everything?”
“Yes I am,” Faruk lied without losing his
“Fine then, Faruk, you are a man. You have
Surprised but glad at his fathers words,
Faruk wanted to tell his father he loved him.
But he did not.
The music stopped but Faruk did not play it
again nor place another CD in the tray. He drove on, his thoughts still far
away in Jos.
“It cannot work, Faruk. It’s all broken
down. I cannot marry you, I’m sorry.”
Rahila, her head bowed in tears, tried to
remove the ring then. Faruk, angry, held her hand.
“Why are you doing this?” he demanded.
But she did not answer.
“Here’s your ring.”
Rahila turned away and looked out the
window. He grabbed her by the forearm and turned her slowly so she could face
him. He wanted to play a game they used to play but his voice had grown husky.
“What are you?” he whispered.
She looked up at him. “I am the mountains;
“Breeze,” he said.
“We cannot be.”
“I am the sun,” he tried, desperately.
“But, you are not.”
“You are rain.”
“I am not. Not anymore,” she said sadly.
The waters between them broke at that
She tried, against the wall of his silence:
“Faruk, I am sorry, I hate to be, but I am, now. You are from the Northeast;
I’m from Central Nigeria, we are separated by a whole complication of history
and things. I thought it was possible, but I cannot, we cannot, be indifferent
to our distinct selves. I am my mother’s child; you are your father’s son.
Neither of us can undo that.”
He stayed silent awhile longer—then he bent
forward and pressed his lips on her cheek, feeling her shudder. His eyes were
closed. Rahila’s eyes were closed as well.
“You are breaking my heart,” he said.
Then he turned away, leaving her alone amid
the contradictory swirl of her emotions.
Thirty minutes later on the Northeast
Highway, Faruk came to a junction. Straight ahead was Maiduguri, 200 km away.
He took the road that led to Nguirama and then on to Maidunama and Bolewa. He
still had 300 kilometres before he could present himself to the native land
from which he had been for so long sequestered, unsure as he was if he was a
pilgrim to his mother’s story or a fugitive from the avenging mother of his
Richard Ali, was born in the early 80’s and has lived in Jos most of his life. He holds an LL.B from the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria and a BL degree from the Nigerian Law School and was duly called to the Nigerian Bar.
Ali has experience in both print and digital publishing, having been Editor of Sardauna Magazine, Kaduna [2004-2007] and being presently Editor-in-Chief of the Sentinel Nigeria Magazine [www.sentinelnigeria.org]. He is at present a member of the PEN Nigeria Translations Committee.
His poetry has been published internationally in reputable journals such as the African Writing Journal and the Prosopisia Journal.