I rewrote “Death Is The Cloth of Everybody”, trying to fit it into an 800-word limit. Check on it:
Twelve-year-old Hadiza screamed. It was foreign, the piercing sound of her voice. It shocked her even. She had never heard herself sound that way. She clenched her teeth, but the screams made their way out. She shut her eyes and tried to be somewhere else, tried to imagine that she was in a bad dream, and would soon wake from it, but his rapid thrusting, in and out, out and in, the searing pain of it all jolted her back into the present, made her open her eyes and in the dim light of the luxurious room, see him- his eyes closed, a look of desire spread across his face, his arms taut from supporting his body, his breathing laboured. Hadiza did not recognize Alhaji.
Alhaji fed her family, gave them a home, sponsored her and Aisha at school. He gave them gifts, and in Hadiza’s heart, Alhaji was a lord. Powerful, yet kind. But now, he smiled as she screamed. She realized she didn’t know him, the man who patted her back every time he saw her.
Hours after Alhaji had pulled the covers over himself, Hadiza crouched at the foot of the bed. She tried to fight off the emptiness that clawed at her heart. She heard mama’s words distinctly: Think of all of us, you will be protecting us, securing our lives. Think of your little sister, Aisha, do you want her to suffer? Do you want us to spend our old age in misery? This is the only thing, I ask of you, Hadiza, be a good wife to Alhaji, and do all he expects of you. You are not the first, you shall not be the last. Ya gane? Tomorrow morning, mama had told her, she would massage in between her legs. It would not hurt so much after the first time, she had assured her. Hadiza didn’t believe mama.
She fixed her eyes on the tasbih that peered at her from the bedside table. “Forgive me, Allah,” she whispered. The air-conditioner hummed, low and steady. Hadiza stayed awake, waiting for the night to pass away.
Her crisp hausa accent was unmistakable as she introduced herself that first day in class. She was very affable, conveniently leading the class from the rear, laughing at herself and her poor grades and making smiley faces out of her zeroes.
We were never really friends, Hadiza and I, but I waved to her each time I passed by her house- the mansion that towered above the other beautiful buildings that lined Caulcrick boulevard- the one in which her father was the gateman.
It was months after primary school that I saw Hadiza with a slight bulge in her stomach. Amidst tears that soiled her chador and fear gleaming in her eyes, she told me she was Alhaji’s new bride. “I can’t go to school again.”
Stunned, I held both her hands, “All will be well,” I said. We both knew it was not true. She nodded.
Six months later, I summoned courage and knocked on Alhaji’s gate. Hadiza’s father, robed in a faded babanriga opened the gate. “I’d like to see my friends, Hadiza and Aisha,” I said fearfully. He looked at me suspiciously, but allowed me in. Mama sat on a low stool, drawing patterns on Aisha’s feet with henna ink, frequently tossing the end of her scarf over her shoulder.
“What is it you want?” she asked softly after I greeted her.
“I came to visit my friend, Hadiza.”
Mama was silent, and I thought she probably hadn’t heard me. She cleaned her palms on the piece of cloth that lay on her laps, and turned to face me.
“My Hadiza is gone,” she began. “She died at childbirth. She was not strong enough to push. I knew…” Tears were beginning to gather in her eyes, “I knew she would fail me. She did not consider her aged father. Alhaji was very disappointed, but we have promised him Aisha,” she smiled warmly at Aisha.
“Aisha is a very strong girl. She will not disappoint me. No! She will not let me down. Ko za ka?” Aisha shook her head shyly.
“She will bear Alhaji twin sons and many other healthy children. Aisha will be Alhaji’s new bride in a few months.” Mama said beaming.
“I’m sorry about the loss of Hadiza,” I said sadly.
“Ahhhh, my daughter, it is the will of Allah. Mutuwa rigar kowa na.” Death is the cloth of everybody.
I bade them farewell, and began my walk home. I would never return to that mansion again.
As I walked through the gate of my house, I became aware of the tears that streamed down my face, and I wiped them with the back of my palm.
Which do you prefer? Let me know.