Dear Mother (4)



Thursday, the 13th


Maryam is long gone now. She had rocked me till I had no more tears in my eyes. She made me dinner of roasted yam and palm oil and saw me to bed before taking her leave, promising to see me tomorrow. I lay my head to rest now, and allow myself take the painful trek down memory lane… for the last time again.

I had been married to Kamil for six years without a child. His family had cast aspersions time and time again calling me a witch amongst other horrible names. It was the normal practice for Hausas to marry as many wives as possible; but somehow with Kamil, that was not happening. I guess my luck shone so bright that out of a zillion girls, I found and married a man who promised to stick with me alone till death. Things had been going fine, despite threats from both our families to break ties with us. Our love kept us strong and together, until that Sunday…

It was sometime around 1:00am on that Sunday in Yelwa village near Shendam. The village was very much asleep when the riot began. At once, we knew they had come for us. The Herdsmen. Homes were invaded, women captured, men tied down, houses razed to ashes, and farmlands ripped to earth. Kamil and I took to the backyard to escape before they came any closer. He said he knew a path through the farmlands where only a few people trod. We were headed to Langtang for refuge. But fate was not smiling down on us that morning, as we were assailed by a gang of herders who had been stationed in the fields to watch out for any escapees. Kamil was tied up from mouth to feet and made to watch as the five men took turns to have sex with me. Kamil lay there in misery, protesting with muffled screams which earned him a hard knock from a herders rifle per time. I begged too, and went on to pray for death when they failed to heed. And it felt like I died for three hours or so… until my eyes flew open again to the reality of Kamil’s bruised and lifeless body and my own pain and shame. That was when I screamed. Why did God bring me back?

The days that followed are a full blur. But I returned to near- sanity some weeks after in a church, where the in-house doctors attending to myself and other survivors informed me of the growing child inside of me. I was stunned. Me? Child? I was at war with myself. I was happy that all that time with Kamil, I was not the problem; but uncertain I could embrace the truth surrounding a child as the one I carried. The pastors insisted it was an evil child that should be aborted, and that if I wanted to abhor evil within me, I should find some other place to live in. It was surprising but I couldn’t blame them, I guess they were afraid the child will grow to be like his father or fathers? My parents would not even hear of it. They swore to disown me if I kept the child. Kamil’s parents were the last people I would dare to visit… and so, it was just me against the cold world. Those were tough and lonely days when I chose rain and sun for shelter and the dirt- piled ground for bed, simply because I wanted to save and have a child whose only concern now seems to be of his father’s. Ah, where is God? Where has he been all this time? I have tried. I really have. And I don’t know how it is that I have kept it together until today.

I scream beside myself now, mourning my own truth afresh. It’s sad enough reliving the memory, talk less of sharing it with any other soul; and as I shut my tear- filled eyes eventually, in a bid to find sleep, I hope death visits before the day breaks.



© The Short Black Girl, 2015.


Dear Mother (3)



Thursday, the 13th.


The cock crows repeatedly announcing the birth of a new day. I open my eyes with indifference, as I have done every other day for the past couple of years. I guess it’s just how you learn to live when you live in a community where tomorrow is far from being certain. I raise my self from the half slice of foam that makes my bed, and get ready to go to the farm. There is a lot of weeding to be done in preparation for harvest. I am tempted to await Byenchit, my son, but it is needless. Who knows what tomorrow holds? Every now and then, a smile fleets across my face as I look forward to the weekend when Maryam is due home for her weekend visits, with a letter from my son. The smile keeps me hopeful, as I pluck up weed after weed with my matchete. Once I am done, I head back home. Clearing will have to wait till tomorrow.

I am surprised to meet Maryam at my frontyard. Quickly, weariness deserts my body as I hurry towards her with my best smile.

‘Eyyy! Sannu fa! How the journey? How Jos? How Byenchit, my son?’ She offers me a warm embrace despite my farm-fresh stink.

Sannu fa. Fine, fine, Aliamdulilah!’

‘Bhet I think weekend na. The other time, weekend. The other time again, weekend.’

‘Yes Saratu, the children are on break. No school today, that’s why.’

Yowa! Toor, Sannu fa. Siddon, let me Gaan bring Gote.’

‘No, no Saratu. I have a letter for you.’
My eye does not miss the unease in her. I become a little worried as I turn away from the entrance to sit beside her at the frontyard.

Yaya gajia?’

Ba gajia Saratu. I just want to read the letter to you first.’

Toor.’ I watch her fish the letter from her bag, and take a minute before reading. I assume he has written it in English, and she is trying to see how best to read it in a language I can understand. I appreciate her kindness.

Dear Mother,

I want this letter to be perfect, so I have asked Mrs Maryam to write it for me.

How are you? How is the maize farm? And my beloved community? Mama, I have missed you terribly, and I hope you are missing me too. Are you getting enough rest too, since I am not there to help you or stress you? Mama, I hope you still find reasons to smile? I hope nobody is troubling you?

I am very happy about my new school but mama, I insist staying back home with you would have been better for both of us. My teachers are very friendly, and the students are nice too. Infact mama, I have made a lot of new friends, most of whom I play football with in preparation for the state competition. Mama, my coach and team mates think I will make a fine striker in the nearest future.

Mama, there is more to this letter than the usual ones I would send you every week through your friend, Mrs Maryam. I am writing this letter to you because I failed at a classwork where I was told to write to my father about school. Mama, I have asked you about him severally, but you have been hesitant about it. What was he like? How did you meet him? Did you love him? Did you marry him? Is he alive, or did the herdsmen kill him? Was he a hunter, or a blacksmith? Did he marry more wives to show his might as a great Tarok man?

Mama, these questions and more plague my mind and the older I grow, the more they haunt me. Mama, I am no longer a child in my eyes; but if you insist I am still a child, I feel I deserve to know the truth nonetheless. Mama, my social studies teacher taught me that knowledge of my origin is what truly makes me a man; and I fear that if I grow to maturity without this knowledge, I will lack identity for the rest of my life. Mama, each time I ask about him, you promise to tell me in the near tomorrow; but mama, I fear that if the herdsmen kill you today, I may never get to know the truth.

Mama, I love you so much. Despite the times when you hit me so hard, I felt you were punishing me for a past I had nothing to do with, I love you. I love that you save your smile for my return after every school term. I love that you love me so much that you have sent me to a faraway land so the herdsmen don’t harm me on one of their surprise attacks on the village… but mama, I need to know.

I am confused about how to feel towards him. Love, or hate? Let me know him, so maybe I may understand you better.

With love,
Your son Suleiman.

Misery is me right now. I hold my head between my hands as I break into sobs I have tried to hold back in all these years. He has asked me that question over and over in the past, and each time he did, I would beat him without mercy. I thought I had beaten the thought out of his senses, but I guess not now. He doesn’t deserve to be haunted by the tale of what went down many many years ago. He should be happy he has me, or have I not been enough?

Maryam holds me to her chest now, rocking me back and forth. This feels good. At least, for the very first time since 16 years ago, I find someone willing to share my pain with me. But I can’t tell her the story, neither can I tell Byenchit. Everyone who knew the story back then walked out on me. Maybe it was fear, maybe the knowledge was too great a burden to bear,  I don’t know. But how do I know they won’t do same too?


Sannu fa- hello
Aliamdulilah- we thank God
Yaya Gajia- any problem?
Ba Gajia- No problem
Yowa/Toor- Okay


© The Short Black Girl, 2015.

Dear Mother (2)


Ms Maryam,

Thursday, the 13th.


I have come across a lot of children in my course of teaching, but none strikes me like Byenchit Suleiman. To the ordinary eyes, and maybe to his mum even, he is just a lanky fifteen year old Tarok boy; but to me, he is the definition of light. I took interest in him from the day Binwai, my younger brother, had brought him home from football practice because he feared his mother might beat him if he went home in his bruised state. The sound of that gnawed at my heart. How would a mother beat her child because he sustained injuries, rather than see to easing his pain? I decided at once that I will go home with him, and the sight that met mine was disturbing. There was Suleiman’s mother seated at the front yard with a horsewhip in her hand. The instant she set eyes on him, she launched attack. What had he done wrong? Quickly, I pulled him out of her reach, and once our eyes met, her anger softened to misery. One could tell she was trying so hard to keep it together.

‘What happen?’ she had questioned, willing me to explain my unwarranted interference. ‘He come home late, I beat him. I have tell him not to be going and playing with his friend like that. Have I not tell you?’ she turned to Suleiman now, aiming the horsewhip at him again, but failing terribly on my account.

‘I am sorry madam. My name is Ms Maryam. I was the one that made him late. Ya akuri mana.’

She eyed me viciously before addressing me again. ‘why you keep him? It is good? If you have child and I keep him, you will like it?’

My heart seemed to shred into pieces at that statement. That was my point exactly. I have no child, and I fail to understand why someone who has been blessed with one will not take good care of him.

I choked back a sob as I shook my head. ‘Please just don’t beat him, I beg you. He is a very good child.’ She nodded half- heartedly, and dismissed me by leaving me standing at the front yard after which she beckoned on Suleiman to get into the house.

After that day, I made sure to visit Saratu every weekend before going home to take care of my mother who lived in the same Magama village as Suleiman and his mother; it was more of a need to see Suleiman, than to make acquaintance with Saratu. But with time, her heart softened towards me, and I was able to achieve both. I told her of my childlessness and how my husband divorced me so she would reckon she isn’t the only one with problems in life. I had often wondered about her and why she always seemed too hesitant to share her problems despite the fact that they were obviously tearing her apart at the seams. I wondered why Suleiman bore no more semblance to her than the strikingly similar facial features; his gait, laughter, smile, eagerness to learn and love for life did wonders to conceal the abuse he faced in the hands of his mother whose love seemed to border on the lines of hate and regret. And I began to wonder maybe his positivity had a little to do with his father’s personality?

I started to give Suleiman lessons at his home every weekend and after a while, with his mother’s consent, I enrolled him at the school where I teach and promised Saratu I will take very good care of him. She was very much hesitant, I could tell; but hearing her say ‘thank you’ to me for the very first time in about three years made all the difference in the world, and at once, I knew I had gained the complete trust of a broken woman. It gladdened my heart.

Today, I make my way to Magama, hoping that news of the fresh attack by the fulani men spared my people from its gore. I know Saratu and mama are not expecting me until weekend, but the midterm break at the Government Secondary School has afforded me the opportunity to travel home earlier. I am hoping I meet everyone well, and I am sure Saratu will be glad to see me because she knows I must have a letter from her son. But more than that, the letter worries me. I am afraid of how she will react to it…

Ya akuri mana- please don’t be angry.


© The Short Black Girl, 2015.

Dear Mother (1)



Wednesday, the 12th.

It is barely 7pm but the evening sun is long gone, now replaced by a mass of black cloud. It looks like rain. I sit in my room before this flickering candlelight, because it is a reflection of my own life. A small torch of light that illuminates the world but is so frail it may go off anytime.

A lot of thoughts are rummaging through my mind but the most distinct one appears to be of my mother. I miss Mama. I miss how she would spank me when I tease about the wrinkles round her eyes or when I fail to do the chores before going for soccer practice. I miss her Special delicacy- tuwo shinkafa and miyan kuka, my favourite memory of her. I miss her sad eyes, and forlorn smile. I wonder what she will be doing now. I am sure she will be missing me.

I am wishing she didn’t insist I go to the new government school in the distant city of Jos. Left to me, the lessons of the Langtang community are just enough to last me a lifetime. Events of yesterday morning now rush to my head. Mrs Maryam, the English teacher at my new school, had been teaching us letter writing for about a week, and decided to give us a small classwork on it. She had asked us to write a letter to our father, telling him about our new school.

There was so much to tell about school but the idea of writing to a father whose existence or non-existence I knew nothing about belaboured my heart. You see, I tried writing something down but the firmer my grip on the pen in my hand, the more insistent my heart became on telling of its sorrow through the tears in my eyes.

And I began to cry.

For a 15 year old, I am not ashamed to cry. It is my therapy; my only hope to sanity. Mrs Maryam had approached my table and read through the drops on my class note and she had been very much understanding as she awarded me an undeserving smile. Then, she moved to the front of the class, commended everyone’s efforts and made us take it home as mid term assignment so we could do even better and get more marks. There and then, our eyes locked and I knew she had done that because of me… I was flattered.

I wipe off a lone tear from my eye now. And pick up my pen to write a letter to mother. I want to ask how she is faring. I want to know if the vicious herdsmen have not been to destroy her farmlands or cause trouble for her. I want to know if she is missing me. I want her to know I miss her. But more importantly, I want her to tell me about father- What is his name? Where is he? What does he look like? Has he never asked of me?


© The Short Black Girl, 2015.