I hated Mondays. Not because it was the beginning of another hectic week but for the fact that I had to endure sitting through GNS 212. A boring philosophy course taught by an equally boring set of lecturers. Frankly, I didn’t care for Aristotle or the fallacy of hasty generalisation and I imagined the several hundred others that filled the lecture hall didn’t either. The school authorities had decided that every student had to pass the course before they could be graduated. It was a second-year course, so that meant every student at higher levels who hadn’t taken it previously were required to register for and pass it. I was one of those.
So, there I sat, in a room that buzzed like an orchestra of bumblebees was performing. Everyone was restless as the lecturer had not yet arrived. To block out the noise, I picked up the novel I was currently reading and opened it. I began to read, effectively drowning out the noise. Reading had been my means of escape since I was a child. When my mind could longer accommodate the despair and rage and hopelessness, I would pick up a book and read. Getting lost in the spectacular worlds the authors projected made me forget about the hell I called my life.
“Good morning students.” Said a voice filled with authority.
Everyone scrambled to find seats and the room gradually quieted down. I closed my book and looked up at the stage. Dread settled in my heart when I spied the man standing there. Although his back was turned to me because he was writing on the whiteboard, I could recognise him anywhere. When he faced the class, my fears were confirmed. I sank deeper into my seat, wishing for the ground to open and swallow me.
“Listen up everyone. As you all know, the course is divided into two parts: Philosophy and Logic. My colleague took you through the first part and I am here to do justice to the second part. This is just an introductory class, so I won’t be staying long. What I need you to do is read the logic section of your handouts in preparation for the next class. Now, I will entertain any questions you may have and if there aren’t any, I’ll see you next Monday.”
A few hands shot up. He gave permission for one of the students to speak.
“Sir, what’s your name?”
Professor Jaiye Majekodunmi. His name was seared into my memory. So was the horrible experience I had endured.
He pointed behind him. “It’s written on the board young man. Next!”
I was no longer listening. Why did I always have to get so unlucky? Out of all the lecturers in the GNS department, it had to be him to take the rest of this course? Before registering, I had made enquiries and found out he was on Sabbatical leave. Obviously, that information was false because here he was in the flesh and, as real as could be.
I desperately thought of ways out of the dilemma I found myself in. Stabbing class was out of the question- I couldn’t afford to miss out on 25% of the overall course. Even if I could pull off making myself invisible during the classes, there was no way he wouldn’t notice my name during grading. Except if he wouldn’t be handling that himself; which was unlikely to happen.
I could see no way out. My nemesis was back to haunt me and this time I wasn’t sure I could defeat him.
Studying for a PhD was hard work. Gruelling, depressing, and sometimes frustrating work. But I loved it. Ever since I was a child, I had always dreamed of working in academia, just like my father. He was a recently retired Civil Engineering Professor and I believe I inherited my love for all things literary from him. Where my friends played hide and seek, I hid away with my nose in a book. I guessed it helped because by Allah’s will I had memorised the Qur’an and several books of Ahadith by age 10. By age 23 I graduated with a First-Class bachelor’s degree in Architecture. I also graduated from a renowned school of Arabic and Islamic Studies, which I attended parttime. Now six years later, armed with three masters’ degrees, and several professional qualifications, I was on a PhD scholarship at the University of PortHarcourt. I was one step closer to achieving my dream – which was to make a mark both in the academic and religious space.
Until I met Muslimah.
Then my dream started to include getting married, having children, and every other thing that came with it.
Muslimah was a final year student in the Department of International Relations. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like her. Reserved, hardworking, modest. I had met her for the first time at the library when some students had been making fun of her hijaab and taunting her about being a repeater or something like that. I didn’t understand the last bit at the time, but I understood when a sister was being mocked for her modesty. So, I stood up for her. Not that she needed my help; she had been handling the matter well enough, but I still felt better when I stepped in. She thanked me, the bullies left, and the matter was forgotten.
Except I couldn’t get Muslimah out of my mind.
I thought about her at every waking moment and at night she occupied my dreams. I tried everything to forget her- immersing myself in more work, increasing the number of hours I volunteered at the mosque; but nothing worked. My brother called it love and I believed him. For what could make a man’s heart yearn for another with such ferocity? I had never felt that way about any woman in my life.
I decided to do something about my feelings for Muslimah. I went to the Amir of the school mosque and announced my intentions. He set up a meeting with her and every word she spoke that day hit me like an arrow:
“Bro Kamaal, I won’t mince words with you. I am not interested. Before you ask why I will tell you. This Muslim woman you see here is tainted and imperfect and she is simply not good enough for you. You deserve someone better so please find her.”
Till today, I wonder what those words meant. No one in this world is perfect, right? I certainly wasn’t and I wasn’t looking for perfection either. Her words only served to further pique my interest in her and biidhnillah I fell more in love with her. My ongoing investigations about her intensified and the more I learned, the more determined I was to unravel the enigma that was Muslimah Sideeq.
“Subhanallah, she really did all that?”
I ground my teeth, while I watched my friend enjoy himself at my expense. He was laughing so loud that a few other diners looked our way. No doubt wondering if he was going crazy.
“Are you quite finished? Gaskia, you are attracting attention to us.”
He stopped laughing, but mirth still danced in his eyes. “Hakuri. Afwan. I am sorry. It’s just too funny.”
I couldn’t help feeling a little annoyed by his disposition to my news. But then that was how Na’eem rolled- he never took things seriously. He had this ever-present positive aura about him. Nothing could make him sad. Since the beginning of our friendship, to date, I think I had only seen Na’eem sad on two occasions; once when he lost his mum during our first year at Uni, the second when the woman he wanted got married to another. It was why I loved being around him. For that singular reason, I brushed my anger aside. Besides Jemima was the real reason why I was so angry and frustrated, so it would be unfair to transfer my aggression on Na’eem. Not that I wanted to anyway.
“Tell me everything now. What happened after she ‘poisoned’ the food?”
“The meal was Tuwo and Miyan kuka and thankfully she only spiked the salt in the soup. So, I basically ate the tuwo without.”
Na’eem scratched his head. “Has she tried it again or maybe done something worse?”
“I don’t even want to find out. Why do you think I have been eating here and buying some home too?” Na’eem nodded and I continued:
“That’s not all. She’s been denying me my rights… in the bedroom.”
Na’eem’s eyes widened in shock. “Subhanallah! Maybe she’s…” He gesticulated wildly “… flying the red flag?”
I sighed and said in a flat tone. “She’s pregnant Na’eem, remember?”
“Oh, that’s right. Sorry.” He let out a breath and leaned back into his seat. I was sure that if there weren’t other people around, Na’eem would have raised his legs and stretched them across the table.
“How long did you say this has been going on?”
“A little over a month now.”
Na’eem shook his head, his expression full of pity. He was probably thinking about how I had survived that long. I often wondered myself.
“Guy, I don’t want your pity. I am in a fix here and I need a solution…” I held one finger up. “…please don’t suggest divorce”
He scratched his chin and thought for a while. “Hmmm, let me see. There’s only one way out of this. I bet you she’ll change for the better if we manage to pull this off.”
I did a double-take. Jemima, change for the better? Now that would be the day. I was 100% down for anything that could achieve that. “How do we get her to change?”
Na’eem smiled. “Very simple. We make her.”
“Yes but how?”
He sat up straight in his chair and leaned forward, glancing around like he was about to divulge a top-secret. I followed suit. It felt like we were two spies, planning a coup to topple the government or something like that. Excitement coursed through my veins and I waited with bated breath for his next words.
“Here’s what you have to do…”
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