By Halima Ahmad Matazu
This story was originally written in Hausa by Halima Ahmad Matazu and translated to English Language by Ibrahim Malumfashi, Jalaludeen Maradun and Halima Matazu. The Hausa version is published here.
5th June, 2000
Darkness enveloped everywhere; outside, the crowd waited in darkness; inside, the foggy nature of the hall signified stillness and uncertainty. The fuller murkiness inside the hall was in fact in the mind and eyes of two people; Mairo and Pamela, respectively. The gloomy temperament inside the choked hall aggravated as the lexis of the Judge vibrated around the hollow walls.
”Sentenced to death by hanging;” those were the last words she could still recollect hearing as the Judge passed his verdict. The dimness that was shadowy became opaque. She completely lost control of herself ever since the pronouncement. She slowly raised her head and gazed at Pamela who starred unbelievably at her, confusion written all over her face. She closed her eyes in an attempt to control the tears that were fighting hard to betray her, only to open her eyes again and stared into a void of emptiness, looking for an inspiration. Her eyes still tearful, thoughts spinning in her head. The pounding of her heartbeats echoed in her eardrums; her legs couldn’t carry her any more. She was still in distress; she couldn’t reminiscence anything that had happened in the courtroom, except those five tightfisted words. Darkness engulfed the courtroom once again.
Suddenly strange flashes of light illuminated her mind, as if in the clouds. She saw herself at a very young age; she was just ten then. Her grandmother Nana was still alive then. She rested her head on Nana’s laps. The tone of Nana’s voice was comforting as it played the most pleasant tune in Mairo’s ears. She heard the voice softly called her name, ”Maryama, believing in destiny plays a major role in bringing you peace of mind; you must learn to accept what life and fate offer you. Whenever you find yourself in any strange situation, always put trust in Allah, where is around, and he is all around with his help, nothing does harm. Allah is above all. Always be wise, Maryama, this will surely bring an end to your worries and replaces them with pleasures and equally guides you and even anyone who stands by you in all undertakings in life.”
She raised her head and looked at Nana in the eyes; those promising eyes were full of love and fondness. She gently smiled and looked at her face again; she was so excited that she slowly shut her eyes as she glued herself to Nana the more, sensing the warmth of her tendering body. Tears of affection began to cascade on her cheeks. Nana’s insightful counsels had always succeeded in making her strong; they had at all times helped in bringing her out of her stupor. She lightly smiled as she looked deep into Nana’s eyes again. Those eyes had gradually begun to transform into Pamela’s shadowy figure. She stretched out her hand to reach for Nana, but strange enough, she saw her already disappearing into the sky. As Mairo slowly opened her eyes, they stumbled upon Pamela, and not Nana. She immediately took a survey of the surrounding before she realized that she was lying in a hospital bed.
There is less darkness in her new environment and of course her head. She waltzed her eyes slowly to mark the adjusted sorrounding. She saw by the other side of the room a man and a lady, who, with no doubt was staff of the hospital, their apparel marked them out as that. She could as well picture a Police officer carrying a gun standing by the doorway. The police officer was there for her, she concluded.
Pamela smiled a bit, as she approached her on the bed. ”How are you feeling now?” Mairo shook her head and asked, ‘‘what are we doing here?” Pamela took a deep breath, and sighed, ‘‘Have you forgotten so soon?” She tried to remember, and the proceedings in the courtroom began to return to her agitated mind one after the other as she became absorbed in thoughts. She placed her hand on her forehead where she needed to pat so as to relieve an itch. That was exactly where was bandaged as a result of the injury she sustained when she collapsed in the courtroom. Mairo tried to recall the judge’s verdict which didn’t come to her by surprise knowing fully that her first lawyer was too negligent in handling the murder case labeled against her or he was also compromised.
As her mind settled to her inevitable fate, she felt at ease for the first time; to her greatest surprise, she now felt free of all fears, she felt as calm as silent water that drowned a man. Nothing seemed to interest her in life again, not even death that awaits her, now or later. She was in a kind of a trance when the doctor moved closer to her and examined her injured head and body. He explained so many things pertaining to her ill-health. She heard the words they were meaningless as she was completely absentminded.
Shortly after he left, Mairo struggled to sit up but her form was too frail that Pamela had to give her a helping hand. It must be dusk; she thought as she looked through the window. Moment in time is not of essence to her anymore, it is just the ticking of the seconds that tells her she is still a living soul.
Pamela, who was then trying to prepare a cup of tea for her, stole a glance at her. ”It seems Nana has paid us another visit today, you mentioned her name so many times in your sleep.” Mairo didn’t bother to respond to Pamela. She collected the cup of tea and thanked her. ”Be careful!” Pamela cajoled. Mairo looked at her, with her eyes traveling slowly from her face to her full-sized tummy which she thought Pamela was gaping at. Now she was shy, whilst she became aware of how the unborn baby was kicking. Could it be the baby too was starving? She couldn’t figure it out. After she gulped the usual drugs meant for pregnant women that Pamela handed over to her, her eyes abruptly stumbled on a Newspaper kept on a table. The front page of the Newspaper was carrying her photo as it had been with Newspapers in these few days. Pamela moved her seat from where she was seated now closer to Mairo, she picked up the Newspaper and handed it over to her and said. ”I have good news for you; we have filed an appeal. The first hearing will be in three weeks time.” She adjusted her seating and added, “Do you know the most interesting part of it? There is now uproar in the media about your case and already a Civil Rights Organization in America have condemned the judgment passed on you, and many other Women’s Rights Organizations along with various Youth Organizations are all against the court’s ruling.” She smile at Mairo as she continued, ‘as I speak to you now, there is a grand plan by amalgamated Youths Group to step up a peaceful protest as regards this decision.” Pamela paused for a moment before she shook Mairo’s shoulder to bring her out of her trance, when she realized that she was paying little or no heed to all that she was saying. Mairo now let go the long braid of her plats that she was playing with and gazed at Pamela, ”I’m listening, are you not talking about the appeal case?”
Pamela frowned and said, ”Mairo, I can understand that you are not interested in all I have been saying, as if it is of no use to you. Mairo, if I understand you any better for the period of time I have been struggling to fight for your freedom, I may say you seem to have lost all hope in life. I have been telling you that if you keep on like this, you are not fair dealing yourself; you are equally not being fair to me and thousands of people out there in support of you. Your failure to cooperate to the success of this case is a great threat to my endeavor. Mairo, I’m not in any way forcing you to believe that I can succeed in this case or that I must succeed, and if you think I’m only wasting my time, then I trust you are not wishing the baby you are carrying in your womb well and happiness from the clutches of injustice. Do you want history to repeat itself? Mairo, I believe the baby you are about to deliver will be proud of you as a mother, a heroine, that brave woman we read in history books who would never take her freedom for granted but fight to gain it at all cost. Mairo, even from your last resting place, wouldn’t you wish to leave a legacy behind, and your case to be made a thing of reference with which it could reshape the thinking of many vulnerable people who may tread a similar path in the future? In my own opinion, if you don’t fight for your freedom now, you are not been fair to yourself and your supporters, and even God Almighty may not forgive you.” Mairo was only listening as Pamela talked, but she refused to make any sense in all these rigmarole. She understood perfectly well that was why she was not happy with Pamela and even pitied her. In reality, Mairo never came across a woman who was as adamant and loquacious as Pamela, where she concluded that she was as good as her job description. Pamela was a lawyer who worked for an Non Government Organization protecting the rights of women and children. Pamela stumbled upon Mairo’s case from nowhere and she felt the need to engage her organization when she noticed that justice was not taking its rightful route. Pamela was a principled woman. She never lost a case, but this time around Mairo’s case was trying to break the records if serious action was not taken. Even though she knew that Pamela was committed to winning her case in court, she felt it won’t work. The case is totally against her, despite her innocence.
Pamela had tried all she could by presenting the available evidence before the court mainly to distance Mairo from the murder case labeled against her, but the judge kicked against all the evidences Pamela presented and went ahead to pronounce the death sentence on her.
Mairo raised her head in annoyance and looked deep into Pamela’s blue eyes, ”Freedom! Freedom! Don’t you have anything to say other than this? Let me ask you this, Pamela, do I look like some one who needs your help, don’t you think you are too late?” Pamela scowled her face, ”What do you mean by we are too late, I didn’t get that?” Mairo smirked as she took a deep breath, ”Certainly, you will not understand because it’s already late. Pamela. I trust there are many people out there who need the kind of help you are trying to offer me. What keeps surprising is why you are wasting your time on me. Where were you when I underwent hard times; when the whole world turned its back on me; Where you and your people?” She continued, “Pamela, I lost my freedom ever since I was a toddler who couldn’t even differentiate between right and wrong, when I was misled to tread on the wrong path of life. Why didn’t you come to my rescue then? Do you know that I had slept under the watchful eyes of stars at night in very cold season with not even a piece of clothe to cover my body, all in an attempt to bump into frosts and perhaps die and end my agonies in life? Pamela, I had spent days of starvation, I even shared the same plate of food with our dog. Look at my back, Pamela.” Mairo took her shirt off and showed Pamela her back which was embellished with scars of beatings she received as a minor. ”Where were you when my body was bleeding then? Do you know that I was treated like a doll by my uncle in a dark corner of a room in my father’s house; he played on my innocence and nearly raped me? I cried helplessly the, but you didn’t come to my aid, nor your group! I lost all hope in life, nobody to give me my future. I was treated like a slave in my husband’s house. And to cap it all, I was married off without my consent, and that husband was always beating me like a drummer would do drums. Who came to save me? Pamela where were you, where were your kinds who chant protecting human rights? What is left of me or of others still in shackles the entire place?”
Mairo grinned at her frail figure and went ahead with her sermon; ”oh, sorry, I know why you are doing what you are doing; you have gone through my life, everything about me in my diary. I don’t need any freedom now; I have lost my freedom long ago, which neither you nor anybody in this world can restore it back to me.” Mairo turned her face towards the window; she didn’t want Pamela to see the tears flowing on her cheeks. And then she wiped the tears with the back of her hand as she forced a smile on her face. ”About the baby I’m carrying, I trust it is not going to be the only orphan to have existed on this planet. Many orphans have survived in life. I know that there are still good people in the society, somebody some where will surely volunteer to train the baby to a full-grown up and hopefully it will become a blessing to humanity. You must understand that either with me or without me, what God wills, no frost can kill. Pamela, whatever help you think you can offer me will remain futile. Don’t get me wrong, I swear to Allah you are a kindhearted woman. But I urge you, don’t waste your time on me when you know that you don’t have any concrete evidence to present before the court.” Mairo said pleadingly. Pamela shook her head and conveyed a light grin which exposed her beautiful teeth that silently veiled the worries on her face, ”you are right; I don’t have any concrete evidence that can lead to our victory because the problem lies in you Mairo! I’m doing all the best I can to gather necessary information from you but you proves difficult, you are not cooperating.” She squat on the bed close to Mairo and continued ‘no doubt about it, our enemies have already gone far with their machination beyond our expectation. Most of the people are too materialistic that their eyes see nothing but vainglory. They have completely become so blind and money-oriented. It’s quite unfortunate that our leaders who hold the torchlight to guide our sights now mislead us; they are now in the forefront in destroying the system beyond repairs. But I still want you to understand one thing Mairo; do you think there is anybody who can deny the truth when revealed by God? Don’t even think that they have succeeded, the battle is still on. Mairo, I know that life was not fair to you; you encountered numerous life challenges you shouldn’t have bumped into at your young age. But you should know that there are many teenagers whom you are far better than in life. At least you can be proud that you went to school. Have you thought of the young sales kids who sale bread or pure water on highways? What about the young ladies who stand on streets waiting for customers, and those youth who hide under bridges to smoke Indian hemp and take all sorts of drugs and become political thugs in the end? Mairo, remember the countries engaged in war and other atrocities, and the over 200,000 African children swayed into warfare having being trained to handle riffles instead of pens. Mairo, most of these victims are youngsters like you. I’m afraid; they don’t even understand the language of freedom from childhood through teen ship. I know I didn’t come to your aid when you needed it the most, perhaps, you wouldn’t have found yourself in this mess. Though we practice different religions, I have learned a lot of beautiful things about Islam through my husband. Mairo, I know that everyone has his own destiny; that which God Almighty writes on thy forehead, thou wilt come to it. God allows us to penetrate into faith combat so we can see His deliverance and victory over our adversaries; He tests us so we can be victorious. Mairo, you should remember that even in your holy book, God has affirmed that belief in destiny either the good or the bad of it is an essential part of beliefs. It’s obvious that one’s faith is not complete unless he believes that whatever befalls him couldn’t have missed him; and whatever misses him couldn’t have befallen him. Everything is subject to the will and decree of God and those who are patient enough will surely have boundless rewards. I quite know that nobody can restore you what you have lost. But you should know that if only you can truly be strong and bury all that happened in the past and then embrace a new life, you can bring back your lost freedom. The reason is, yesterday is gone and no amount of grief can relive it, you only have today to hope for the future; tomorrow is only a mystery.” Pamela heaved a sigh as she glanced at the watch on her wrist on hearing the voice of the Muezzin of the nearby mosque publicizing the time for the sunset prayer. ”Mairo, I guess you must be a life lesson to add a strong sense of balance to the lives of many. Anyone who lives another chance to be this famed after experiencing the kind of life you lived, that person must live longer than expected to enjoy the blessings in life. Do you think that God would allow you set off unrewarded?”
Pamela moved closer to Mairo, she raised her head with her hand as tears cascaded like torrents on her face. In a very soft voice that sounded like Nana’s, she added, ”Mairo, I strongly accept as true that you are a special person blessed with a unique gift, ever since I started practicing law for twenty one years now, I have never come across a case that made me this restless as your own case. Your stance on this is rather shocking as well; I have never seen a person whose mind is completely evading a better life ahead until I met you, Mairo.” Pamela sighed while she folded her hands to her chest as she kept staring at Mairo. Mairo shook her head in disapproval even when she was certain that Pamela was right about most of the things she was saying, ”You may not understand, Pamela.” Pamela who was now bewildered for the first time, raised her eyebrow, as she asked; ‘‘Remember, I’m good at listening to people, I listen with rapt attention, what would stop you from putting me through, perhaps I may understand you?” Mairo looked at her again, ”For goodness sake, are you not tired of talking?” Pamela smiled, and then replied lightly, ”Have you forgotten that it is what I was taught and I’m proud of it?” Mairo smirked, ”But you were taught rubbish, how would one be taught on how to keep on talking and talking and still be proud of that?” Pamela shrunk her eye as she bent low to answer Mairo, ”Do you want to know?” Mairo became silent for a moment, ”Yes, I do love to know.” She replied. ”Alright, but it’s highly sensitive, now let us look at it this way; if you will agree of my proposal then we batter the agreement.” Mairo pushed out long her lips, ”How?” Pamela sat comfortably, ”I mean if you will agree to fully cooperate with me by giving me all the required information I need from you, and I shall undertake to take care of your schooling until you equally learn how to talk like me.” Mairo pressed out again long her lips the more and said, ”It seems they equally teach you how to be clever, right?” They both burst out laughing. ”Superb, do you see how beautiful this smile looks on your face?” Pamela enthused. Oh! Pamela’s sweet expressions have succeeded in reminding Mairo of the lovable words Bawuro had always showered on her many years ago. She couldn’t remember when last she laughed this beautiful.
It was partially dark in there also. She was all alone as it had become her tradition for some time now. Solitary! Turning to her left, Mairo realised the night was not less quiet as she presumed. She kept staring through the only miniature window in her prison cell. Moonlight reflected through the window as she watched clouds slowly waned. The night was silent now only the hooting sound of an Owl perched on top of an old tree, filled the atmosphere. Even the occasional footsteps of the wardress who kept a watch at night had ceased from the hallway. The moon couldn’t be any lonelier, just like her; the moon too was forlorn, she thought as she couldn’t spot on its confidant ‘Zahra’. But from all indications the moon floats freerer than her self.
Mairo sat up as the baby in her womb kicked so hard, placing both hands on her tummy. A smile carved on her face as she gently massaged her tummy as if trying to lullaby the baby back to sleep. Perhars it was trying to remind her that she wasn’t alone. Murmuring a silent wish; she looked up at the moon as it sailed through the clouds, its light poured on the bars of her tiny cell window, and ‘‘certainly you are lonlier than I am,” she itoned at the receeding moon.
Mairo gazed at her tummy again which by the time she was discharged from the hospital, the doctor said was seven months old. She began to weave dreams – how joyous it would be to be a mother and cuddle her own baby in her own arms. She had wished that she would personally train her child and offer it the right upbringing; tender care and filial love every loving mother could provide to her child without any constraint.
Now she had begun to strongly believe that Pamela was undeniably right about all she was saying. She wouldn’t love to see her child growing up among his kinsmen even though she had forgiven his father for being unfaithful and wicked to her before he departed this life. She still hated to relate in one way with any of her late husband’s family members. She concluded they were heartless and cruel. She wouldn’t want history to repeat itself.
It was about time she entrust everything in the hands of God and pray to him for devine intervention. It would be fine if she buried her past and began a new life. Mairo had lost all hope in life; she had given up. Now she hoped to be freed from the bondage of life once again, most especially since she knew nothing about the crime she was suffering for.
Mairo couldn’t wait for Pamela to revisit this time around, she was now determined to cooperate with her and ready to give her all the required information she considered necessary. She was not wishing anybody, particularly a woman to find herself in a similar situation she found herself in.
She always said those words and come back to regret and ask Allah for forgiveness. Was it because Allah created her a woman that made some cruel people to keep treating her like a second class citizen? As soon as she was unchained of this bondage, she swore to be commited to advocating the rights of the vulnerable until the world heard her cry for freedom. She now considered this as a duty and an effort to serve humanity.
It’s been a week since Pamela visited Mairo. She took a tour to Balma town ever since she left her at the hospital, but she was always missing Mairo knowing fully that she was all Mairo had; she was the only one Mairo could listen to with the exception of one dumpy wardress called Deborah. Deborah is devoted to her work, she never smiled, and she was always frowning. Deborah never sympathised with her even though Mairo never cared to be sympathised with. Was Deborah this aloof because of the nature of her job? That was exactly Mairo’s thought.
A week had gone by, it was the second week now, and still Pamela was not in sight. Mairo was disturbed more than ever; it was strange that Pamela who usually visited after every two days, now she had not shown up for two weeks and she hoped that nothing bad had happened to Pamela. An immense number of thought crowded Mairo’s mind. She remembered how Bawuro left her and he never returned… and now Pamela who said she would be spending only three days. Inside her was a growing turbulence of fears that hightened the wave of despair that followed the non appearance of Pamela for two weeks. Her train of thought was interrupted by the sudden knock on her door. Why? Who could that be? It was neither lunch time nor break time. She used to go out of her prison cell on break for some time. The doctor had recommended that she shouldn’t engage in any hard labour until she put to bed considering her condition. Mairo stood still as she watched the door ajar before Pamela entered. She managed to take a few quick steps towards Pamela and hugged her. She was very excited to see Pamela. Mairo unhugged Pamela when she let out a yell. She closely stared at Pamela whose face looked crushed and swollen. Pamela must have had an accident, she contemplated. The spots above the bridge of her nose were showing.
Pamela was light-skinned; a half cast. Her mother was of French decent and her father a Fulani from Song in Northern Nigeria. Mairo completely lost her voice, she couldn’t utter a word. Pamela held Mairo’s hand to the bed and sat her down as she smilingly said, ”see how you conduct yourself as if you encountered a ghost, you have lost control of yourself. Well, do you regularly eat your food and take your drugs as expected?” Pamela was never traumatized. ”You had an accident?” Mairo asked starlingly. Pamela moved her chair closer, ”nothing much, I thank God for protecting me… How is the baby?”
Mairo was utterly befuddled, she maintained that Pamela must tell her the truth of what had happened to her as regards the thugs who beat her up and threatened to do even worse if she refused to withdraw from the case she was handling. Before she left Mairo’s place, Pamela had assured her that her husband had taken precautionary measures to protect her and he had even assigned security men to guard her all the times.
Pamela was very pleased to notice the change in Mairo that she even developed the courage to tell Mairo about one Alhaji Abu who dialed her and requested they get together secretly…. But will she? Will any man appeal to Mairo again even if she regains her freedom?
The journey to the court and the judgment of death sentence as passed by the Judge began for Mairo way back in history. It was on a stormy Thursday night, in the year 1982 that Mairo was born. Most of her tales of woes were narrated to her by others, most especially her dear grand mother, Nana. Mairo happened to know the abject poverty that permeates their environment and how it impacted heavily on her only later in life. Nana had been her constant companion for many years before her death. Mairo still recollects Nana’s moving stories, sermons and her bridge building words that kept her alive all this while.
When ever the chance glued itself to her mind Mairo recants the stories of her father and that of his only love, her dead mother, Fatima. During those moments they always had together, Nana always seemed as if in trance, recollecting those moments with trepidation. She can still recall one of their exchanges as she whispered to her one night as she lay down by her side. ‘It was providence they said that we lost your Mother, your father’s companion and his other half.’ Yes it was destined to be, but your father always blamed the local bridge’s intransigence.’
It rained all night that day, and the only bridge linking the village with other side of the shallow river collapsed. And that incidence was the cause of death of Mairo’s Mother. That night, the river over flowed and hence Fatima, her Mother never made it to the neighboring village only hospital, which was miles away. Nobody wanted to say it publicly, they said in hushed tones. Mairo’s mother lost all her strength due to prolonged labor and excessive bleeding. She gave birth in the early hours of dawn, to her only live birth out of many and shortly thereafter she passed away, leaving a bundled up child inside tattered blood soaked wrapper.
For many years according to Nana, Mairo’s father never gets tired of playing the blaming game. To him it was the hand of fate, but aggravated by the swarm of thronging waters across the village. The bridge! The waters of the river to him are to blame for the death that tormented Mairo’s father through out his short stay on earth.
Despite that early life incidence Mairo was raised by a father, and a grandmother whom she loved like a god. Like any other child Mairo thought the world revolved around her, she was loved and cherished by a father because she reminded him of her dead mother. Dikko wouldn’t allow anything like discomfort come between Mairo and her happiness, thus he refused to take another wife. After her fifth birthday, Mairo being a self motivated child, always knew that something was missing in her life, a mother’s affection.
One day she can still recollect she was cuddled on her father’s lap, as she brought up the forbidden converse, she asked, ”the other day you said Mama is gone, and she is never coming back. Abule my friend has a mom, and I don’t, and I want one.” ‘‘But you’ve got Nana.” Dikko said. ” But Nana is old, besides I hear Yafendo say she is only my granny,” Mairo said. Dikko searched for the proper words but he couldn’t find them. Nana looked up from her chores and stared at Dikko, ” why don’t you give your daughter an answer, or are you still being clever, do you suppose by not having another woman in your life is a way to mock at life? You cannot be wise enough to change the course of destiny, you have to move on…” Mairo never knew what life had in store for her, if only she knew for certain her life would never be the same, she wouldn’t have asked for a replacement for dead mother; and it ended with the horrors of losing her father’s affection to Bulo, the woman her father later married from the neighboring village. Married off at a tender age.
Mairo lived with three other women as co-wives in the city who were desperate and wanted by all means to make her life unbearable. Through machinations and concocted allegations she was accused of murdering her husband, and lost her battle to regain her freedom in court. Pregnant and scared, Mairo lost all hopes, and then there was Pamela…
Halima Ahmad Matazu was born in Zaria, Kaduna state, on November 10, 1978, to Hausa-Fulani parents from Matazu district of Katsina State. Her family moved to Sokoto, in Sokoto Sate Nigeria in 1979, where she began her schooling at Darul Qur’an Islamiyah, and Elebester’s Nursery School, Sokoto. Later she attended Federal Goverment Collage Staff Primary School, Sokoto. In 1991, she was enrolled into Nana Girls Secondry School for her Jounior Secondry School certificate education. Her family finaly moved to Katsina State in 1993, where she continued her education at Goverment Girls Science Secondry School Sandamu and obtained her WAEC/GCE in 1996. She also received her BA degree in Hausa language in 2002 from the Usmanu Danfodiyo Universty Sokoto. She is married, and a mother of four
Halima is a bilingual writer of short stories and poems. Amon ‘Yanci is her first published work of fiction in Hausa, published in 2013.