Rakiya was jostled out of her thoughts as Ali thundered a slap across her cheek. She collapsed to the mud floor as her baby let out a cry. Rakiya had been lost in her thoughts- in her world, soliloquizing without an awareness of Ali’s presence. Ali is her husband. She was betrothed to him at the age of six when he visited her parents with some firewood and yam tubers. He was forty. She experienced menarche at the age of nine, and her father parceled her to her husband’s house the following day to prevent her from zina. Ali was forty-three. Rakiya had cursed her menarche. Ali broke her in roughly the same night and left her writhing in pains.
“What is happening to me?”
She had cried all night long. She cried every time Ali went out and returned home. It did not matter if she was sore or bleeding, Ali’s desires must be satisfied. It was either she submitted her body, or met a harsh fate of whips and lashes before the eventual rape. He owned her. He bought her. She must obey and yield. She will be blessed by doing so. None of it made sense to her, but she was told it is the way of Allah. Allah has a great deal of respect and love for women, and this is shown in the ordinances he had commanded to protect her. Rakiya would sometimes wonder if the Imams were lying about everything. Why did Allah speak to men alone? Why did his ordinances change concerning men? Do they not want him to greatly love and respect them as much as he does women? Rakiya felt the laws and commandments were too prejudiced in favour of men and said another prayer to bind and resist the rebellion that shaytan was planting in her heart against Allah’s will.
Ali was a zealot. More like a fanatic, a bigot. Whilst the men in her life gave away her life and childhood to prevent her from the wayward life, they somewhat endowed themselves with the religio-cultural liberty to have sexual relations with men, women, and beasts alike. Rakiya suffered recurrent sexually transmitted infections and miscarriages in the first two years of her marriage. On a certain night, she feared she might die like her mother and escaped the hut, trekking 5.7km to the Médecins Sans Frontieres outstation. It was a cold and windy harmattan night. With wobbly feet and quaky lips, she collapsed a few yards away from the clinic. The health workers took her in and contacted her father by procedure. Her father, Mallam Nasir abdicated responsibility to her husband, Ali, who stormed the clinic with his friends and harassed the doctors to discharge her. It was not cultural for two men to own a woman. You are either the property of your father or the property of your husband. Hence, since she got married, she had become the property and responsibility of her husband but unfortunately, the health workers were alien to the culture and called on her father instead of her husband. It was the ill-treatment from Ali that prompted her to trade some of her mother’s wrappers and jewellery for two hundred and twenty naira. She thought it wise to have some money to look after her own health and her baby’s health but the religious council ruled such a thought as rebellion against her husband and lack of submissiveness.
Another kick from Ali brought her back from her mind to the reality of the hut.
“Kai, ki tashi ki bani abinci, ki bar mafarkin hauka anan!” Ali commanded her once more to go get him his food and stop hallucinating.
The baby’s cry had reduced to barely audible whimpers. She should not have been born. Does Ali know that she wants the baby dead? That she is sorry for bringing the baby into this messy world? Is anybody aware that she has had a sprain in her wrists since she had the baby? Do they even care that she is not lactating? Rakiya had shriveled up to 22kg at 12years of age, lying by her baby- a tiny bag of bones, she wished Ali would kick her once more and crash the hut on her and the child. For the first time since she had the baby she had refused to name, tears rolled down her face as she shut her eyes and sojourned into the abyss. A cold stream of water rushed over her and she jerked back to consciousness, gasping for breath as she woke up to Ali cussing her. Ali threatened to deal with her and stormed into the room to get a whip. Rakiya looked across the room and beheld her poor baby, looking lifeless. A gush of maternal energy thrust through her childish bones and she picked her up and fled. Not knowing what to do, she pulled her hijab from her head and wrapped the emaciated lifeless child with it as she defied the gust of harmattan wind and dust as darkness enveloped the day. She ran through the dark, determined to make the 5.7km journey once more and submit the child at the feet of nurses, even if that was the last thing she did before dying. Rakiya struggled to breathe as she ran, but she had no will to stop. From a distance, she beheld the rays from the security halogen lamps of the facility and started breathing through her mouth to augment her oxygen needs. It was dry air and fine dust, leaving her throat parched and dry. But she kept running.
“Rakiya. Her name is Rakiya. Malnourished…Carpal Tunnel Syndrome…Baby is in shock…cyanosis…postpartum depression…page surgery for VVF!”
Rakiya struggled to accommodate the bright lights and commotion as orders were flying from one person to another. The Flying Doctors ambulance landed on the helipad of the Trauma Center at the National Hospital, Abuja.
“Stay with me, Rakiya. I’m Dr. Amina. Your baby will be fine. You will be fine.”
She had passed out enroute the clinic and the Medecins Sans Frontieres ambulance had picked her up by the roadside on a return trip from Maiduguri. At first, the paramedics thought she was a victim of a hit-and-run but when the emergency doctor examined her and the child, there was no such indication. The baby was in coma and the team proceeded to fight for the mother’s life. Air lifting them to Abuja after preliminary care was the general consensus of the team on call. Dr. Amina was in the air ambulance and closely monitored the vital signs every second. She had two children to look after- one was a mother, one was a baby; two children failed by the same country.
“Nagode sosei.” Rakiya whispered inaudibly as the gurney descended with the elevator. She remembered Dr. Amina from the village outstation. Her baby will be named Amina.
“Zan lura da ke, Rakiya. I will take care of you.” She clasped her hands in hers as she briefed the attending trauma surgeon.
Rakiya is a fictional character whose life is representative of the lives of children, especially girls, in many parts of the world, particularly the Northeastern part of Nigeria where many are not just impoverished and denied basic human rights, but are victims of local and global political and religious oppression just because of where they were born.
Forced into child marriages, poverty is further propagated as many have been displaced by the ongoing war between the government and terrorists. Homeless, many are further oppressed by the NGOs who use their faces to raise and misappropriate funds.
We should not be shy to have these conversations. Our world is not safe until the least privileged and most vulnerable is respected and dignified. From UNICEF to state assemblies, we should keep up the pressure to outlaw child marriage.
There is a Dr. Amina in every Rakiya if we care to nurture our children.