I had no idea who she was when I walked down to the seat next to her and sat. In the crowded baggage reclaim room, where almost every face had a mask, it’s difficult to know who the people around you are.
So imagine my surprise when a familiar voice suddenly said to me:
‘Good afternoon Aunty Bint.’
‘Good afternoon, I replied looking back at her. She still had to slip down her face mask before I recognized her as my friend Samira’s younger sister, Ruqayyah.
‘Oh how are you Ruqayyah? You know I can hardly recognize anyone with this face mask. But you did well, I mean you knew who I was inspite of it.’ I said.
‘Yes, maybe because I saw you walking over here and recognized your physique.’ She answered before replacing her face mask.
‘Ma sha Allah, so how are you and the family?’ I asked.
‘We are fine, alhamdulillah.’ She responded but something about her voice told me that things aren’t fine. I looked into her eyes and couldn’t believe how bloodshot they looked. Then I noticed the phone in her hand and so asked:
‘Did you receive some bad news now? You seem to be crying.’
‘No Aunty Bint, I was just looking at this.’ She replied, showing me a photo of her brother and late sister-in-law on her phone screen.
‘Ayya, I’m sorry, You must be missing her very much. I mean it’s over a year since she died and you’re still crying over her loss.’ I remarked.
‘No she’s actually been dead over two years. And I wasn’t crying over her, though I really miss her a lot. However these tears are for my brother.’ Ruqayyah explained.
‘What happened to your brother?’ I asked in shock.
‘It’s not what you think. I mean he didn’t have an accident or something. But he got married three months ago.’ She announced.
‘Ma sha Allah, that’s great news. That should reduce the pain and loneliness of losing his first wife.’ I enthused.
‘Yes that’s what we thought too but it seemed like he landed the opposite. All his problems are compounded by taking this one step.’ Ruqayyah declared.
‘You mean he’s already complaining about her?’ I asked.
‘No, in fact we wish he’d complain, then at least we would know that all isn’t completely lost. But everything is going wrong around him and he refuses to say anything. He just acts in a confused or even frightened manner. He behaves like a child who can’t afford to say or do anything wrong for fear of being beaten or reprimanded. The situation is so bad we are all afraid to visit him now.’ She disclosed.
‘Are you sure this isn’t all a misunderstanding? I mean it could be him trying to adjust to having a new woman in his life, after all he was with late Atika for years wasn’t he?’ I enquired.
‘Yes, they were married for almost two decades. But this isn’t about adjustment Aunty Bint, it’s something else. I mean the moment she arrived she fired all domestic helps. And these were people who didn’t only live there for years but who also stood by the family for two years after Aunty Atika’s death. To the rest of us they are like family. Then she descended on the kids and put all kinds of rules in place. Now the poor orphans can’t even have easy access to their father, and he can’t see anything wrong with that. The new driver she brought treats them badly, with very little care about their safety. But they can’t even get the chance to complain to their father. It was last week when I called that the eldest daughter told me about their problems with the driver. So I went to see brother about it. Apparently his new wife had gone out.
While we were talking, she returned but I couldn’t tell because I had my back to the door. Suddenly I heard him saying “Ok you can go now no problem, you can go now.” I wondered why he should be dismissing me in the middle of a conversation but he kept urging me to go that I had no choice but to rise. That was when I saw her standing angrily by the door. Her arms akimbo. I greeted her briefly and left.’ Ruqayyah concluded.
‘Where did he meet her? I mean it would help to get her relatives to appeal to her to be more accommodating of the children. These are kids who need a mother and she sounds like someone who is only set to be the wicked stepmother,’ I observed.
‘Honestly we have no idea where he met her. He was so heartbroken after his wife died that we held a few family meetings to decide when to introduce him to someone, but he always resisted it, always saying that no one could take Atika’s place. Then out of the blues, he called us a few months ago and announced that he had found someone. We were so happy that he had decided to move on that we didn’t care that he made the choice all by himself. We just welcomed the fact that he was ready to live a normal life again and his kids will have a mother. Unfortunately we are wrong in on both counts. Our brother, who was normally a friendly person is now a gloomy soul. Even after Atika’s death he was able to regain a bit of his old self. But not anymore. Now he’s a quiet stranger who doesn’t invite anyone to his house and also doesn’t visit anyone. If you go invited, he seems uneasy and even eager to see you leave. His children are nowhere to be seen because they are confined to their rooms. Their once happy and crowded sitting room is now a ghost place, with only her brand-new house helps moving about.
In fact everything about my brother’s house will break your heart Aunty Bint. That’s why you saw me looking at this old photo of him and Aunty Atika and tearing up. I couldn’t help it.’ She admitted, sadly.
‘I think you should go beyond crying and do something more concrete. Call Samira and arrange a meeting with the family elders. Tell them what is happening and nominate those who will go and talk to this tumun-night of a wife. She must be made to understand that she wasn’t brought in to terrorise the family but rather to keep them happy and together. How can you marry a widower and then take him away from his children and other family members?’ I queried.
‘Tumun what did you call her?’ Ruqayyah asked, laughing inspite of her mood.
‘I called her tumun-night because it’s the way an old friend of mine uses the Hausa proverb ‘zaben tumun dare’ that is to choose and ear corn at night. You know you are likely to choose a bad one due to the darkness. So whenever someone picks something that turns out to be a bad choice, it’s said that he done a ‘zaben tumun dare’. But my anglicised friend decided on a bi-lingual rendition of the phrase and so calls it tumun night.’ I explained.
‘A tumun night is certainly what my brother chose, we hope your suggestion can help us deal with it. Thanks very much Aunty Bint.’ She said.
‘You are welcome Ruqayyah. And here comes our luggage.’ I announced, rising up on my feet.