Hanat never wanted love but, as most stories go, love happened to her when she did not expect it. She had not planned bumping into Mohammed on the entrance of the mosque; she had simply bumped into him. She had not planned being in the same special elective class as he; she just was. And she had definitely not intended to shower that many compliments on him after eating from the food her roommate brought to the room, food that she later learned, to her consternation, was cooked by Mohammed, who—in the way it happened in movies—happened to be her roommate’s bestie.
“Ours was love at first taste,” Mohammed liked to say in the following weeks. Weeks of “bumping” into each other across lecture theatres and making mutual plans hooking up at a restaurant later in the evening. Weeks of reading together in the faculty basement in preparations for exams still far away. Weeks of eating onion-laced suya in oily paper wrappings, and drinking C-Way bought from the buttery upstairs, where they sometimes sat to watch DSTV in the adjoining viewing room.
It was into this viewing room that Mohammed’s friend, Abideen, came one afternoon as they sat sipping C-Way through straws and criticizing a Nollywood film where the officers’ guns spurted blood rather than fire.
“Abi the Man!” Mohammed hailed, rising to pump his friend’s hand and slap his shoulder playfully.
They laughed. He turned towards Hanat, bowed a little, and cast a bemused look at Mohammed.
“Oh pardon me,” Mohammed said. “This is Hanat. A real Muslima. Very devoted and religious. Look at her hijab! I want Allah to bless our relationship.”
Abideen laughed. He was tall, gracefully tall, and had a skin as dark as night, so that his teeth seemed extra-white when he smiled. Hanat wished both of them were not Muslims, so he could shake her hand, so she could feel the smoothness of his flawless skin, so she could measure the strength of those long, long fingers.
He bowed again and said to her, “Asalam aleikum.”
“Ma aleikum masalam,” she replied, and wished the sinking feeling in her belly as he waved goodbye and walked away was not there.
Throughout the rest of the day, as Mohammed took her from place to place and showered sweeties on her, she thought of Abideen. Tall, graceful, dark Abideen.
“Hey, wake up.”
She started. Mohammed was leaning across, peering at her. She gathered her senses quickly. They were in a lecture hall, reading. Mohammed’s laptop was open. The Coco-Pops packets they had emptied were crumpled on the long desk. Other people were reading, or watching stuff on their PCs. She remembered why she had faded into her own head. Abideen had just been leaving when she and Mohammed walked into the hall, and he had bowed to her again, slickly, his smile full of things that meant other things.
“Sorry, Mohammed,” she said, pulling the laptop close and opening some random windows. “I was wondering if your friend will ever stop bumping into us.”
“Why does he even call you ‘Sheikh’?”
Mohammed’s voice was low as he replied, “He is deluded. He has convinced himself I was a Sheikh in my first life.”
It happened. Of course, they knew it had to happen. They both knew it was only a matter of when. There were enough words in Abideen’s eyes, in his smile, in his bow, each time they came across him. Enough to tell of what was to come.
And so, it didn’t feel strange when Abideen came to her room to see a classmate and, in the wildness of surprise, she exchanged phone numbers with him, and they began chatting on whatsapp, exchanging flirtatious lines, until they decided to meet at the deserted agric department one evening and get it over with. After she arched her back and let out a sharp cry and rolled off Abideen, both of them panting and avoiding each other’s eyes, it didn’t feel strange at all. It only felt surreal. As if she couldn’t decide yet whether she had really wanted it or not. And perhaps this was why — her confusion of her desire — she told Mohammed.
“I slept with your friend.”
He was lying on his bed, the upper bunk, and she was sitting, her legs dangling over the lower bunk. No other soul was in the room.
“You are joking.”
And then it dawned on her. There was a kind of fear spreading across his eyes, but it was not the fear of the unknown, it was the fear of what was known. He knew she was not joking. He knew all along that something like that would happen. Perhaps he didn’t trust his friend. She almost breathed in relief.
“I am not.”
He leaped up and jumped down from the bunk. She watched him walk to the back where the room occupants cooked meals on hot plates. She watched him pick a pot and bang it around. She twisted the end of her hijab, placed on her chest, and wondered what he was doing. She watched him walk in again. She wondered if she should say something, something more, something else, but then she decided against it. She waited for him.
He finally came to her. Stood right in front of her, his head close to her knees. “How, Hanat? How could this have happened? We are so good together. We have great plans to be one someday. So why?”
She looked down at him. There was an earnestness in his eyes, open and unshielded, that made her want to hug him close. She loved the gushingness of his feeling, his choice to still enshrine what they shared in the confines of relevance through the use of present tense. We are so good together. We have great plans to be one someday. Those words struck at her.
“I am sorry,” she said.
“No no no!” he cried. “It’s not about you! It’s about Abideen. How could he do this to you? How could he do this to me? Just how?” He sank into the single bed facing the bunk and dropped his face into his hands.
A flash of annoyance seized her throat. She quickly corrected him. “No, Mohammed. Abideen did not have sex with himself. He did not do this to you. We did this to you, both of us. Not he alone.”
His eyes distended in disbelief. “What are you talking about! The guy took advantage of your innocence!”
Her annoyance flared sharply into a raging flame. “I am not innocent! Mohammed, I am not innocent. Abideen never took advantage. I did not just give him what he wanted, I also took what I wanted from him. It was stupid of us, and I regret it. But it is the truth.”
“Please keep your voice down,” he said, glancing through the window to see if anybody was passing by.
There was silence.
“No wonder he has been avoiding me during solat. He has not been picking my calls, too.”
Hanat pressed her palms to her face. “I am sorry,” she said. And for the first time in her life, she was sure of what she was apologizing for.
Mohammed looked away.
She came down from the bunk and adjusted her hijab. “Please tell me you will forgive Abideen.”
“Please don’t mention his name.”
He raised bloodshot eyes at her. The moments ticked by, like flaxen sand. He pointed to the door.
“Please leave. It will soon be time for ma’grib. Please, go.”
A heavy weight settled in her belly. It was almost like grief. Like losing a five-day-old child. It didn’t possess her; it didn’t leave her, either. She walked to the door, opened it and closed it behind her.
If the days of holding the secret of sleeping with Abideen had felt surreal, the days after telling Mohammed about it felt even more bizzare. He avoided her in class, stopped calling her to read together, sent her only good morning and good night texts, perfunctory pieces of how they used to be and what they used to do together. She watched him drift away with that weight increasing in her belly, and wondered if she would ever feel what she wanted to feel with him. Of course, she would be happy with any other man, but there was a huge question mark about whether she wanted to be happy with another man.
Perhaps this was love, realizing that no matter what you did, no matter how much you hurt your partner, you still couldn’t imagine being like that with another person. Perhaps love, then, was a necessary evil on its own.
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When Mohammed texted her on Whatsapp four months later with the words, “I have kept away from you for the past four months. What happened really drained my soul, but I’m surprised to find something still solid at the bottom. I can’t get you out of my head, Hanat. I don’t know whether I have forgiven you or not because I didn’t think there was anything to forgive after you had used your own mouth and told me what happened with Abideen. It will take longer for me to talk about my feelings towards Abideen but I can talk about you, about us, and say that I can’t imagine my days being what I want without you in them. I want to be with you no matter what. I want us to figure this out. And if you are unsure about if it will happen again or not, I want to be there with you, matching my uncertainty with yours, until we conquer the moment together. If we have weak moments, I want us to be weak together. And if we can be strong, I want us to be strong together. I am in love with you, I can’t stop what I did not start, and I want my life with you,” she simply knelt on her bed, in her night gown, hugged her phone to her chest, and wept.
—AKINSANYA AYOSOJUMI ADENIYI
Ayosojumi is passionate about unearthing buried truths with his pen, and about the expression of all humanity. He is an ardent lover of good literature, music and God.
He is also a young graduate of Obafemi Awolowo University.
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