Pulka, Borno State, Nigeria.
The loudspeaker from the village mosque blared the call for the maghrib, summoning faithfuls for the sunset prayer. Men often went to the mosque to pray, while the women stayed back at home. Islam has strict rules against women praying in the same place as men; the village ustaz taught them that this was to protect the women because even if they provided a demarcation, anything can still happen and fingers will be pointed at the victims. Proving impropriety exposes the woman to social ridicule. Proving impropriety is a long tortuous, almost futile journey. Hence, religious leaders agreed that prevention is indeed better than cure.
Rakiya was still as footsteps of male faithfuls raised the dust beside her wooden window. Couched in a corner of her hut, lost in a world in her mind; somewhere faraway, she wondered what life truly meant. She pulled herself up and prepared to perform her prayers. Her devotion was to Allah. Regardless of how her life had turned out, He created her and ordained her to go through life as His servant. She picked her sleeping baby from the mat, strapped her to her back, and went to the back yard to prepare dinner. It was important for her that dinner was ready before Isha prayer time to prevent heavy-handed punishment from her husband.
Rakiya hurried to the backyard to sort out the firewood from the storage, and that was when she painfully realised that the corrugated iron sheet laid upon the logs of wood to protect them from rain had been blown off by tropical winds; the logs were drenched. She hurried to the Mallam’s, shop down the corner and purchased some coal with all she had.
It was twenty naira.
She had been saving up for six months to start her business. She sold some of her late mother’s belongings and made two hundred and twenty naira in proceeds. Her husband had beaten her and dragged her before the family head. It was adjudicated that she was rebellious and not submissive as Islam has commanded wives to be; thus, she was forbidden from any venture or business but instructed to always obey her husband to merit the full rewards of Allah. Unknown to the panel, she lied when she told them she only made two hundred naira from the sales. She reserved twenty naira for herself. Rakiya fanned the coal cubes to a bright red glow and dinner was underway. She gathered her vessels and proceeded to the community reservoir to fetch some water for her family. The sun was on its way home but the evening was still warm. The earth was well baked from the day’s heat and the radiation was everywhere, the water was warm. However, evenings are refreshing. Farmers returning home and calling out greetings to one another, children playing in the streets, traders returning from the market and recounting the day’s gossip, Rakiya enjoyed the buzz before darkness blankets the village. The buzz this particular evening had a peculiar spring to it; she overheard a conversation between two okada riders and could gather that the Minister of Petroleum Resources, Hon. Mustapha Goje might visit the community for the Jumat prayers on Friday. She once saw his wife, Senator Halima Goje at the polls,her Ankara glistened with bright stones; market women gossiped that the attire was nothing less than 250,000 naira- a sum Rakiya could never comprehend, but associated with affluence. The women had mentioned Lagos and America in the gossip. Rakiya once saw a beautiful picture of Lagos on the television as she stretched her neck into the only barber’s shop the village boasted of while she hawked masa for her step-mother. It was forbidden to be seen with boys or be associated in gatherings with men, so she dared not step in. Lagos looked beautiful from her glance, at least busy. She often wondered what life was, behind the hills of Pulka. She grew up with aspirations to be a big woman, own a big shop, and export Ankara fabrics to America. Inspired by the rich wives of politicians, she knew she could make it in trade if she sold what they needed. Her aspirations grew when she heard from Okada men at the park that a black man became the President of America.
“America? What is America like?”
Rakiya had such unanswered questions locked in her mind. She could not approach the men, and the women had no answers. America sounded big, bigger than how Lagos sounded and everyone seemed to know America.
“Could America be the gateway to Al-jana?” She built towering imaginations in her mind and cherished them. However, she also learnt that America was an enemy- an enemy of her people. She had no understanding, but she overheard the boys say that America is against the will of Allah. America in Rakiya’s mind was a land of possibilities and horror in conflicting but equal proportions. She had encouraged herself that if she harnessed the values her mother taught her, she could work hard and be like the city woman, Sen. Halima, and someday showcase her culture and business to the wife of the American President – her Ankara fabric, her big henna shop.
“Can a woman even be president in America?” Rakiya wondered. She wondered where the thought came from having been taught by religion and culture that men are natural leaders and women are natural supporters. Has she ever seen a woman speak up in the mosque before? Why was she thinking in rebellion? Rakiya closed her eyes and quietly asked for forgiveness because she had allowed shaytan whisper sin to her mind.
“Young woman! Get me my food and stop hallucinating. You’re running insane! A woman can never lead men.”