His wife was not the kind of woman who forgave easily in the best of times, she remembered the names and offenses of people who’d wronged her even when she was three years old. As she grew older, she got better at it, she’d remember the day, time, place and even the clothes that the offender had worn.
He didn’t know that on the day they met in his mentor and senior colleague’s home, he only saw the beautiful girl who’d served him light refreshments and her demure manner that didn’t reek of pretence. Because his favourite movie was Dead poet’s society and his motto was the oft repeated refrain from the film, he decided that she’d be his wife and he immediately told her father of his intentions.
“Haba Ibrahim, you don’t even know my daughter. How can you see a girl this afternoon and want to marry her already?”
“But Qadi, it is in these times that people know who they are to marry before the marriage. You know how it was before, families made the connections and that is why those marriages lasted unlike our divorce prone entanglements of today” he replied in a resolute tone.
Her father, the judge grunted in reply and they continued their previous line of discussion until it was time for him to leave.
“maʿ al-salāmah Sir, please tell Nafisat that I want to marry her” he said when he rose to leave.
“Al wada, Ibrahim”
“If she agrees then I’ll come to ask for permission to court her”
“Ibrahim you are funny, you tell me you want to marry my daughter before even asking for permission to court her” Her father’s voice held a tinge of laughter.
“My intentions are honourable Sir, but forgive me if I put the cart before the horse”
Their Nikkai held in the state central mosque about three months after that day in the gazebo, he thought himself the luckiest man alive because he was marrying the most graceful woman on earth. That feeling did not last.
It started with the miscarriages, four in twelve months, it seemed like his wife’s body was rejecting his seed. The doctor had said that most miscarriages occurred because the foetus wasn’t viable, by the third miscarriage he had stopped handing out any theories. Nafisat was hopeful that Allah would give them a child that would stay, she prayed endlessly but he couldn’t join her in the prayers, his mouth couldn’t form the words. After the fifth miscarriage, he started sleeping in the guest room where he cried every night before he fell asleep.
The first time he visited Selma, he felt ashamed but he knew he’d visit her again. Selma spoke little and she didn’t touch him but there was something he felt with her that he hadn’t felt with Nafisat in a long time. It was Janice who confronted him, she told him that she’d noticed the new spring in his step and knew what caused it. Years of living with a cheating father had taught her the signs, she made him promise not to see Selma anymore, not to cause a rift in his home but his PA didn’t understand that being with Selma was the only thing that had kept him from slashing his wrists, he didn’t know how to tell her that Selma was his sanity and his oxygen.
Selma did have one thing in common with Nafisat, it was the stubbornness. She refused to stop taking other lovers, he pleaded with her incessantly to stop but she would shake her head and continue caressing his neck and chest. They argued about it sometimes, with Selma telling him that he met her a prostitute and he would leave her as one.
“One day, you’ll set tired of me and go back to your wife, what would happen to me then?” and he could never give her a reply because he knew it was the unvarnished truth. He couldn’t marry a harlot and even if he wanted to, he knew he couldn’t bring in another wife until his wife bore him a child.
Six months to the day he first met Selma, he found himself looking at white printout but his head couldn’t comprehend what the doctor had told him and what his eyes were trying to transmit to him.
“How can I be HIV positive, doctor? How? How? HOW?!”
“Please take it easy Barr Ibrahim, shouting will not change anything” Doctor Peju didn’t quite know how to soothe the visibly angry man who was now pacing the room, nobody had told him what to do in situations like this when he was in medical school.
“There’s a dedicated HIV/AIDS clinic, they have trained staff to handle cases like this. I will refer you there” he continued but Ibrahim was barely listening, he was thinking of Nafisat and the new pregnancy that had resulted from the night he’d comforted her after a nightmare, what if she was positive? Death would be pleasant escape if he’d given his wife and unborn child the virus.
As he drove home, the only thing on his mind was how to tell his wife of his condition and ask her to get tested. She was the one waiting for him, waving a printout in his face and making wild allegations. He blurted Janice’s name when his wife asked him how he’d gotten the virus, he couldn’t tell her that he’d gotten it from a thirty-five year old woman named Selma. He’d told her other things that he couldn’t even remember now but he knew in that instant that he was dead and it was going to be his wife whose hands would wield the knife or pull the trigger. Nafisat did not know what forgiveness was.
The commotion in the room brought him out of his reverie, he looked up to see the sharply dressed young man sobbing and saying Thank God. He was obviously negative, the lucky bastard.
“Nafisat Abdulrahman” the tall and fair pharmacist called his wife’s name and the look she shot him just before she left frightened him even though he already knew of her plans to make his life miserable before he died.
His friend Musa had seen Ummi sourcing for some terrible herbs and when he told Ibrahim of his wife’s cousin’s strange expedition, he immediately knew the concoction that they were trying to make and when his wife served him kunu that morning, he cried in his heart before he poured the drink into his coffee flask.
“I am done with them, do you have to see the doctor or can we go already” Nafisat’s terse words broke into his thoughts.
“Habiba please sit down, I want to tell you something”
“Dan Allah, don’t annoy me haba!”
“Please Nafi, sit down”
She sat down beside him, tapping her left foot in a ferocious rhythm and muttering under her breath.
“Can’t this wait until we get home Ibrahim?”
“No it cannot, not when you want to kill me” his voice broke
“I want to kill you?! Have you not killed me already? Haven’t you? You and your Janice! I will kill you both”
She was sobbing now and Ibrahim wanted the ground to swallow them both and keep them in a cocoon beneath the earth, faraway from miscarriages and pregnancies and HIV.
“Hab…” Nafisat’s look made his throat too dry to continue.
“Nafi, I’m sorry that we are here in this room with this problem. I know that my apology sounds trite and inadequate but I am really sorry, and I have a confession to make”
Nafisat cut in “What do you want to tell me that can be worse than what I am going through”
“Janice is not my lover, she never was. When you confronted me, I was so confused that I blurted out the first name that came into my head”
“You’re covering up for your lover right?”
“My lover’s name is Selma, she is…” he cleared his suddenly blocked throat.
“Selma the scarlet woman who lives in the red house near the market” she spat out the words.
“You know Selma?” he didn’t bother to hide the shock in his voice.
“Ibrahim I want a divorce and you will grant me one whether you want it or not”