I’ve always enjoyed Big Mummy’s company. When I still lived in her house, we’d stay up all night talking about everything. After I got married, I looked forward to her visits and enjoyed them immensely. Strange that Big Mummy was currently visiting, and the only thing I’ve been looking forward to was her departure. I was thrilled when she arrived yesterday but after taking one look at me; her eagle eyes no doubt noticing the dark circles underneath my eyes and my gaunt appearance; she had said, in that manner-of-fact tone of hers:
“Hadiza, you don’t look good. Come, tell your Big Mummy what the problem is”
That’s when the hounding started.
Big Mummy can be very persistent. When she wanted something, she stopped at nothing to get it. Every excuse I gave fell on deaf ears. She’d incline her head to the side and give me a half-smile. I was used to that look- she gave me that look whenever she wanted to make a statement about her being the elder and I was just a child.
“Remember, you met me in this world, Hadiza.”
And the cross-examination continued. I answered questions ranging from whether I was suffering from morning sickness to whether I had been diagnosed with a terminal illness- cancer of the brain to be precise.
It proved to be a herculean task, but I managed to evade Big Mummy’s fishing net… until Basheer arrived home from work. Not even I could mask the tension palpable between us, and Big Mummy caught on 100%. Who wouldn’t? After all, we barely spoke to each other.
At bed-time Big Mummy had knocked on our bedroom door to ask me for some extra blankets for the guest room she was sleeping in. Basheer had chosen that moment to walk past her, duvet and pillow in tow, on his way to sleep in the other guest room downstairs.
At that moment, I knew I couldn’t hide the situation from Big Mummy anymore. She had wanted to talk but I convinced her to wait because I needed a good cry. She had left me alone, but today, immediately Basheer left for the office, and Mas’ud was still asleep, she sent the maid on an errand to get groceries we didn’t need. She then dragged me downstairs and demanded a full explanation. I obliged. Talking about it to someone felt liberating. I gave her all the details, leaving nothing out. When I finished, Big Mummy wiped my tears and pulled me into her arms.
“How long have you been sleeping in separate rooms?”
“A little over a week ago.” I sniffed. “It’s like he’s punishing me in stages. First, he refused to speak to me, then he only picked at my meals, and now this.”
“That witch of a girl must be putting him up to all of this.”
I gasped, shocked “Big Mummy! Don’t call her that.”
“Wo e, look at you.” She pulled out of the embrace and rose from the couch we occupied. “Going by what you told me, that girl seems desperate. Very, very desperate. I wouldn’t put it past her”
I refused to believe that Basheer was being manipulated by a mere girl. He’s a grown man, not a puppet for God’s sake. “Big Mummy, can I ask you a question?”
“If a moth were attracted to a flame and eventually it gets incinerated, whom do we blame: the moth for its destructive desires or the flame for doing what it does best?”
It took a few seconds before Big Mummy answered. “Ehn I get your point, but Basheer is not a moth, he is a man and your husband at that. You should at least make the effort…”
“I don’t know, big Mummy. I’ve tried. I’ve confronted him, I’ve pleaded with him, Subhanallah I practically grovel nowadays. He just doesn’t care anymore!”
“Oko mi, my beloved child.” Big Mummy sat back down, this time at the edge of the couch and flicked fresh tears off my cheeks with her thumb. “Perhaps you’ve been confronting the wrong person.”
My head snapped up. What did she mean by the ‘wrong person’? Could it be she meant I should have confronted Shaakirah?.
“What do you mean by that Big Mummy?”
She threw me a knowing look. “You know exactly what I mean, Hadiza.”
I stood up so fast, Big Mummy almost fell off her perch. “Subhanallah! I would never stoop so low. My grievance is with my husband, not her.”
“Don’t talk like that. Listen we are only going to pay her a visit- you know, get a feel of who she is. Remember I am a pretty good judge of character. We won’t make any trouble I promise.”
I turned my face away from her, shaking my head as I did so. “No! I will NOT become one of those women who gets into a brawl over a man. Lailai.”
Big Mummy rose too. I could tell she was trying hard to control her temper. “What is the matter with you? I am only trying to help you save your marriage. Pay her a visit and get to know the elusive phantom, who’s trying to steal your husband- the father of your child!”
“I haven’t confirmed that yet, Big Mummy.”
“Then confirm. There’s no harm in that surely? You told me yourself, the situation’s affected Mas’ud as well. Would you rather the innocent boy become estranged from his father forever?”
“Of course not. But I-I don’t know if this is the right step to take.”
Big Mummy grabbed my shoulders and forced me to face her. Her tone was gentler now. “If you didn’t want to confront her, then why did you go through all the trouble of getting information about her? Because your ‘sophisticated method’ hasn’t yielded any results, that’s why! Your husband is obviously having an emotional affair with this woman, and he doesn’t even realise it. Hadiza, talk to her- if not for yourself, then do it for your son.”
Perhaps Big Mummy had a point. Basheer seemed oblivious to his actions, and my efforts to make him see reason had all amounted to nought. In fact, I think my actions might have pushed him further away. Maybe if I had a civil conversation with Shaakirah, woman to woman, Muslimah to muslimah, she’d understand my pain and agree to cut all ties with my husband. Keep their relationship strictly professional. Then Basheer would have no choice but to fall back… and I’d be waiting to catch him. My son would have his father back and life could go on like before.
I smiled. A surge of hope filled my heart. This wasn’t such a bad idea after all. It could really work.
“Alright. Let’s do this.”
Big Mummy clapped. “Alhamdulillah. I’m glad you finally see things my way. It’ll work out, I promise you.”
“There’s just one problem though. Mas’ud. I don’t want him there with us. And I dislike leaving him alone with the maid.”
“We won’t take too long- one or two hours max. Her place isn’t far, right?” When I nodded, she spread her hands. “The matter is already settled. Leave Mas’ud at home with your maid. Nothing will happen in shaa Allah.”
An hour later, we were parked outside a one- storey apartment block a few streets away from Uniport gates. The building didn’t look familiar, as I had stayed off campus all through my four years in school. I would have recognised it. It was probably one of the new ones that were built after I graduated. The building itself sported a slate grey coat and the pillars gleamed pure white. A satellite dish was fixed to the roof, as well as three GP tanks for water. The name; Prince and Princess’ Hostel confirmed my thoughts. It was one of the highbrow student lodges, built exclusively for the elite students. I wondered if Basheer had paid her rent for a room here. I willed such thoughts away, choosing to focus on the task at hand. Just go in and out. Keep it civil. Ask questions. Get answers. Enact the new order if necessary. Leave. Big Mummy suggested I act with authority.
“We are here, Big Mummy.”
I got out and paid the bike man who had led us there. As I waited for Big Mummy to alight, I saw students file in and out of the hostel. It was Saturday so a lot of them milled around the whole area in general. We received a few stares, but nothing out of the ordinary. I imagined most of the residents entertained visitors with more exotic cars than my Ferrari.
“Oya, let’s go inside.” Big Mummy came to stand beside me.
We went through the gate into the building. It was as if we had stepped into an automobile showroom. Several different models of cars filled the vast parking space. I couldn’t help but wonder if Shaakirah owned one of them, and whether…
Big Mummy tapped me. “Look at those useless children, down there, on the Audi by that black BMW.” She hissed “Mtcheww. I have a mind to go slap some sense into them.”
I looked in the direction she was pointing. Sure enough, a couple were busy kissing and smooching, in broad daylight, without a care in the world. Indeed, the prophet’s prophecy had come to pass.
“Audhubillah minash-shaitaanir-Rajeem,” I said under my breath and averted my gaze. “Big Mummy stop pointing and don’t look.”
My sole aim in that hostel was merely to have a conversation not to get beat up. I tugged at Big Mummy’s sleeve and squeezed our way through to the main building, which was set far back. We walked into what looked like a common room. Leather couches, with about fifteen people, all of them male, sitting in them, were arranged in a half-moon shape. A plasma TV was fixed high up on the wall from which the guys were watching a football match. The idea of interrupting one of the guys to ask for directions to Shaakirah’s room didn’t seem appealing.
“Where’s her room?”
I rolled my eyes. How did Big Mummy expect me to know that? I was beginning to regret agreeing to this. I surveyed my surroundings. There looked to be about 16 rooms on the ground floor and perhaps the same on the first floor as well.
“I have no idea ma. Maybe we should start knocking on all the doors one by one.”
Big Mummy slapped my arm lightly and I chuckled.
“Perhaps we should ask one of them?” She pointed at one of the men.
I shook my head. Just then a sister in hijab descended the stairs and began walking towards the entrance. She kept her eyes fixed firmly to the ground as she did so. I stopped her when she reached us.
“Assalamu alaykum sister. Please do you know whether a sister Shaakirah is a resident here?”
The sister looked up at me. “Waalaykumsalam. Yes, she stays in the room next to mine.”
Big Mummy spoke before I did.
“Thank you, my daughter. We’re here to see her. Please take us to her room.”
The sister smiled. “Okay. Follow me.”
She led us back the way she came. On the landing, she turned right, then continued walking straight down the corridor. On we went, past several rows of rooms until we stopped in front of a room labelled ’22’.
“This is her room.” The sister was about to knock when Big Mummy stopped her.
“My dear don’t worry. We’ll take it from here.”
She shrugged. “If you say so.”
I watched the sister walk away, till she disappeared down the flight of stairs. Big Mummy did well by asking her to leave. Who knows if Shaakirah already knew who I was and decided to cause a scene as soon as she set eyes on us?
Big Mummy’s hand was already on the knocker. She looked at me, a determined glint in her eyes.
I nodded, anxiety causing my heart to hammer against my ribs.
Let’s do this.