THE LOVE OF ABUBAKAR by Dami Lare
In death, there are no farewells,
Only distractions –
Yet, tucking of the lids,
And forfeit of will
How much pain can the body endure, at what point does it wish to die?
It’s simple: lumber after him towards the Audi lodged on a street notorious for harbouring men who lack the conviction to follow through on their death wishes, tug at his hastily knotted tie, a couple of flicks to smoothen the creases, watch him spell out the words of a witty retort; remind him of the exhibition at the Smithsonian later in the evening, to which he promises promptness, wrap your arms around him; sniff him, offer a smile, plant a kiss here and there; own him for insufficient seconds, then wave dutifully, hands plodding the air, as he thunders off, and wait for the morning to recede and the man to follow on its heels.
A soft knock precedes the night, overdue, diffident fumbling with the door knob, and trying the broken intercom with words that wouldn’t survive the rigours of faulty transmission. You peep. The outline is a man’s, defined by the translucent door, seen through the delicate finish of an Antoine cup, from which twirls the remains of what was Castillo de Linir. You ease from the makeshift stool slowly towards the door, reticent footsteps in tandem with palpitating heartbeat. Must be Abubakar. Anger collects. Anxiety recedes. A loud creak and fat fingers of moonshine announce a strange face and a pallid glare—demeanours that would upset things and, presently, clout the cup from your hands.
“Hello. Are you Mrs Buratai?” The man inquires.
“Yes,” you answer.
“I’m from the Central Hospital. I called earlier but got the voicemail. There’s been an accident.”
That’s all you need to unhinge, gradually, loosening your grip on the flute and watching it plummet and disintegrate as you howl and wail and quieten—here in the States, grief and its manifestations are subject to pollution laws. A flurry of activity ensues, none of which springs from clarity of thought. After a couple of calls you storm out of the house to the morgue to identify Abubakar, who’s broken in impossible places.
The room is icy and freezing; your ears are blue, but these are inconsequential. What isn’t: the startling rapidity of rigor mortis—a regressive course upon which you expend ire. Something must be held accountable. A few guesses fit into the prism fully formed in your mind: calling while driving, a wrong turn, a stray pedestrian, beating a traffic light. But all are excusable at this point, for presently, it is rigor mortis stealing him away.
Abubakar’s face is cocked at an impossible angle; fingers of blood paddle out of his nose and mouth, pausing to pool within a wide dent that has replaced his entire collar bone and trunk, before marching off nonchalantly onto the metal tray. His right hand, what is left of it, spreads out like frayed petals, tendrils protruding into one another, like bight into a basin, giving it the look of rotten vegetables. With a mottled face, tongue pushing against distended lips, and a rod jutting out of his abdomen, he is every other thing but Abubakar. Everything but that African you’d collided with, and had found strangely irresistible years ago at Chicago O’Hare Airport, when you’d had to bail your dad from driving home in a cab.
He had that innocence that never gets a mention in BBC or CNN, without patronizing undertones. An Ankara shirt coupled with denim trousers and a thick accent gave away his roots; and like most Northern Nigerians, apologizing after the fact was only second nature. He had spelt out his apologies unhurriedly, carefully, in verses and refrains, rhythms sequencing each other such that the entire Airport took on the feel of an orchestra, with footfalls and quibbles serving as string and woodwind, and the Air Marshalls, percussion players. The experience was exactly what your father cautioned against: transcendental, celestial, fantastic, and fraudulent.
But it never mattered: those beady full black eyes offered kinship and roots—all the things that were foreign. He asked for directions to the Oak Park, and coincidentally the route to his destination tallied with yours. Within a few minutes, you had exchange names and contacts and background details, telling him, in a whimsical manner that surprised you, he could holler if he needed assistance with settling in, or anything. Your father turned up about this time, and the meet was as you had anticipated: cold and passive for kinsmen from the same part of the same country. And even though he, your father, reiterated his warnings throughout the drive back home, with Abubakar serving as poster boy for his campaign, you kept in touch with him, secretly at first then openly. What other choice did you have? He was the access to the roots your father had sheared; the way to remain African without having been one—to be hard at the edges, yet soft within. And when, months later, after a series of late night calls, social faux passes that came off as cute and long evenings of awkward glances and hearty confessions, he proposed. Every fatherly misgiving about that boy-with-no-parents-and-one-sibling-he-calls-all-the-time spiralled into the background as extraneous.
But now, with Abubakar stowed away in a freezer like perishable commodity, other things are pertinent. Like calls to distant relatives familiar only by names and through Facebook. How do you explain to these strangers you’re their son’s mata, and he’s dead? The explanations that must follow. The suspicion. Denials. Clarifications.
“They’d say you killed him, the American witch,” your friends blurt out the next day. “They would make you drink his blood!”
“I’m Nigerian-American. My father was Hausa; that really counts. Plus nobody really does that,” you counteract to convince yourself, knowing geography is no barrier to stereotypes.
The discussion is enough impetus so you dial and connect with Nigeria. “Ka kao shi gida,” Nigeria says—a raspy and doctrinaire voice asking he be brought home that week. Tough choice, but deporting the dead turns out to be as fast and simple as deporting the living. By the week’s end, after nights of internet surfing, you’re somewhere in Northern Nigeria, peering at Google drive, with Abubakar firmly secured in a Ziegler case, away from the wistfulness of homecoming.
Kaduna is familiar through your father’s tales—harsh winds that terrorize every orifice in your body, undulating terrains, extended dirt roads spiralling nowhere, rebellious hills made plain, infants running about, finding their reflections in passing cars entertaining, and short, exhausted hills seeking respite from either being too far from the sky or too close to the earth. It is also sour and inhospitable. The reception is minimalist and, for a wife, unapologetically accusative. The men, his dan uwaa, yank him away from the case and wrap him in a mat. They sling him across their shoulders, space themselves till he becomes rigid, manly, and plant him in a freshly dug grave.
There are a few surprised faces thawing into dropping jaws, but not a single acknowledgement. It must be the dark skin. Or the way you throw your head up in defiance. Perhaps they expected a white woman, you think. You are left to stumble behind the procession of howling women. You’d avoided mascara and jewellery for this possibility—your grief should be appropriate, homogeneous. Unlike in the States, here, in Africa, grief is a hermit’s journey—inclusive yet provincial, fluid but insular, monochromatic; in snatches, unhurried, unending, plagued by pause-and-play syndrome, and always snowballing into theatrical build-ups that are never fully realized. It is never total. To you this is not only foreign but, like every other thing visible, eccentric.
Consequently, loneliness grows fangs and rips apart your defiance. Tears trickle down your cheeks, and the decision to keep your friends back in the States becomes juvenile. You wish you hadn’t scheduled their arrival for tomorrow, telling them it would be better to meet his family alone at first.
There are turbaned men reciting prayers into the grave, hands spread out and over it as if to thwart Abubakar’s escape; women clustered in airless places, denominated by muffled sobs and hijabs; children dangling from their mother’s backs, sides, and legs, knocking one another down, contesting for exclusivity. There is a boy among them, the splitting image of Abubakar who keeps crashing into your vision. Same smile. Same egg-shaped head. In a spell of insecurity you scan the faces around you, tilt your chair towards a more receptive one, and inquire.
“Sorry, won na…ne ka…ni Abubakar?” you manage in Hausa, pointing to the boy and asking one of the women if the boy is Abubakar’s kid brother. So much resemblance, you say. She stares back, sullen-faced, and then collapses into a suppressed guffaw. Somehow, absent words, you take delivery of a confluence of things: pity, lie, truth.
Truth is Abubakar having a Nigerian family. Pity is you being his fortune cookie. Lie is your marriage being exclusive. A woman bullets out of the pocket of mourners and lounges at you. “You want to kill my son too? Why point at him? Kill him like Abubakar? You killed him, mayya. Mayya! You killed my Abubakar!” she screams. Introductions are needless: she’s the other woman, the Nigerian wife.
This clarifies things: the hushed wedding absent relatives, even when you had suggested to pay travel fees, secret calls, impromptu travels, refusal to take you home. This is the repercussion—you being the mistress, unofficial American wife perhaps, but, surely, a home breaker and a covetous slut.
The elders throw themselves into the fray to separate you and quell further altercation, which results in a disparaging caveat masquerading as advice: “La, American woman, we’ve heard your story, but you’ve to give his family space, ko? We don’t know you, yet. But don’t worry, Insha Allah, after the burial we would sort things out.” You think to tell them your father was a Northerner, Kaduna man too, and you aren’t really a foreigner; but rage, followed by acrimony and grief, has usurped propriety. And all those are trifles in the face of blatant deceit. Slumped on a plastic chair that does little to bear the inexplicable grief of infidelity, and with a broken heart, you whip out your phone, thumb through flight schedules and book a return flight home.
“There is always an evening bus that commutes people to the airport. Or a hotel close to it, where you can spend the night,” the woman you had engaged earlier says, sensing your discomfiture. Sounds patronising and convenient, but what other choice is there? Best to forget Abubakar as fast as possible. You’ve stomached enough.
You teeter through a familiar path—familiar the way over-told plots are familiar. Dust and pebbles tender farewell, humans and stalls counsel continuity, light bulbs, scattered in space and hanging for dear life, steer your path toward the juncture where buses are wont to pass at night. The woman, who for some vague reason has escorted you, keeps her distance, pontificating at appropriate and inappropriate times. Her steps the average of yours; her presence bothersome but essential, like a puppeteer seeing his devices to a deserved end. A bus crawls to a stop, the woman recedes into obscurity; there are no farewells.
Laments are inessential now, you just need to forget Nigeria: its vows and assurances, its lies that it isn’t like the others or a fraudster. You refuse to play the victim card despite pain hovering at the periphery of your mind, seeking admission. Night falls. Memory becomes anathema. This journey is slow, imbued with bile.
Suddenly the bus screeches, jerks a few times and halts. Dead silence. Flashes of light. Lone shot. More gunshots. Silence. Then barking orders. Everything happens within seconds. Everybody is descending. Screaming. Pushing to the rear. Being dragged out. You’re made to kneel on the cold, ruthless asphalt.
Jungle boots produce crunching noises as the assailants navigate the spaces between you, shouting in blabbers and knocking down people for good measure. But they don’t go for purses—these gun-toting, turbaned ones. America says Take out your jewellery. Offer cash. Don’t argue. But people start running. Why? Isn’t it about money? Stay still, you pray. Bloody Africans, you mumble. Then it dawns on you: Northern Nigeria, the bombings, the hash-tags, the victims, the video clips. Instinct take primacy, expunging dread. Perfunctorily, you leap up only to crumple into a gully, folded by bullets. It doesn’t sting at first. Then pain descends. Numbness descends. Darkness descends. All back-dropped by nonstop volleying, malevolent chants, and shrieks violently lacerating the night.
Bleeding through the cold night, folded like a foetus inside a roadside drainage choke-full with stagnant slime, is so much hell that dawn creeps into view with pain and misery and longing for death. In life some things remain shrouded from understanding till the point of death. One of them is why your father had left Nigeria and wouldn’t return or allow you to before his death. Another is why he’d stood against the love of Abubakar—of Nigeria. He had called her a blood-sucking leech that snatched your mother, and ruins dreams.
But all that is inconsequential now, even Abubakar’s betrayal. At the point of death regrets are only distractions. And should you add pain and agony, death becomes sanctified—a blessed means to salvation, something to be earnestly entreated and fervently coveted. Something to be prayed for. Something only occasioned by the love of Abubakar.
Dami Lare is a thinker. Humanist. Realist. Theist. And Independent Editor. A graduate of a school of his choosing. Writes from somewhere in Western Nigeria, with works previously published nowhere but can now be found in various places (online and print). A co-founding editor of Lunaris Review, a journal of art and the literary.