Shaita sat there not daring to move. The devil himself must have been sitting a few feet away, smiling mockingly at the rivulet of tears that rode down her face unto the gloss of the Kodak she was staring at. Abdullai smiled back at her through the stains of her tears. She could trace the creases on his face above the raised patch formed by the tear which covered his entire face and meandered down his shoulders. She wiped the small, teary ditch away from the picture and looked back as he smiled more handsomely. The picture will definitely begin to ruin from that moment, she thought as she turned the back of the Kodak and read his scrawny handwriting.
From Paris, with love.
She turned the picture back again and stared blankly. Abdullai stood akimbo on a street curb, a telephone booth behind him. The telephone’s mouthpiece dangled carelessly from the dial slit and there were bold scribblings all over the glass of the booth. She couldn’t read any, probably because they were written in french–a language she neither spoke nor understood. He must have just finished using the phone before deciding to take the picture. He must have used the booth to call home. It must have been one of those afterwork occasions when he had the chance to speak not only with her, but also with Alhaja and his two kids.
She sighed and wept for him again. She wept even more for herself; a freshly-turned widow.
Her focus kept coming and going. She couldn’t hold her gaze on to anything for too long, so she folded the picture into two neat halves and carefully slid it into her clutch. She off-handedly tugged at the corner of her Jalabia and wiped off the tears from her cheeks. Most of her mascara came off too, turning the used portion of the white Jalabia into a murky brown.She had cried enough. She stood up, stretched her arms and smiled into the day’s azure sky.
Shaita knew she had to brace up. She had to stand for her kids–Keila and Ahmed. She had to stand for her aged mother-in-law, too. How would she do it? How would she raise her two kids alone now that their father was no more?How would she be able to console Alhaja over the loss of his first son. There were many tasks ahead.
First, she must sign an acknowledgment of receiving the package that contained her man from the French Consulate. She was so struck by the thought that Abdul, who used to walk with a nimble spring to his steps, now returned home in a box; like a common gift sent over courier. She would have to transport him from the MM Airport to Gombe; to his hometown in Kaltungo where he had fled from at the wake of the Boko Haram insurgency and bombings.
“I’ll not wait to be blown to bits by these illiterate Boko boys,” he had said tersely as she stood beside him while they waited for his flight at the Muritala Mohammed airport. “In future, if you ever get as apprehensive as I am, I’ll be on standby to ship you out–you and the kids,” he had concluded.
“No! thanks, darling. We will be safe here, Insh’Allah,” she had told him.
That was three years ago.
She reflected briefly on how many a times– since that conversation–she had seriously contemplated packing the kids up and flying abroad. She had stayed too long without the warmth of her man. Her bed had stayed cold for three long years. Her eyes misted over again as she realized that now she is permanently bereft of a bed-warmer. Then, she had begun to live with the hope that someday, either he would come home to her or she would go to him; now such hope was totally lost. Now, she had to arrange for his funeral, this man that was now in a box.
Shaita’s grief was interrupted by the loud shrills of her cell phone as it momentarily rang. It was Mukhtar, her husband’s kid brother. He was calling from Jos where he worked and lived. Mukhtar was crying too, over the phone. He kept babbling like a child about the loss and she could only hear him partly. He was saying something about Allah’s will. Shaita couldn’t listen anymore. If Abdul’s fate had anything to do with Allah, then Allah was wrong to will death to an innocent man. She ended the call and walked briskly towards the rented SUV.
“You’ve got to toughen up,” she told herself over and over again as she trotted on. A thin smile curved at the corners of her swollen lips as the chauffeur curtsied and opened the door for her.
Alhaja was slumped on the SUV’s backseat. Her face was swollen from grief, too. “Ma’am, you are stronger than death,” the chauffeur consoled.
She offered a grin.
“I’m stronger than death, Insh’Allah” she answered in faith. “It’s just the thoughts. It beats me how he left death here to die abroad,”she said. “How could Abdul run from here, from locally made Boko bombs to be killed by a bomb in Paris?” she asked, breaking into tears again. “This is the part that zaps my strength.”
Anny Justin, also called Poet Razon-Anny is a south-Nigerian poet, writer, spoken-word artiste and motivational speaker whose works have appeared in so many literary journals and review sites. He is a Food Process Engineer by training. He manages the southernibid blogs and tweets @Poet_Razon.