Leila stopped halfway into the compound, struggling with her wrapper that was about to fall, it was a Saturday and there was no school.
Her mother Baba Ladidi was sick, and she'd gone to the chemist earlier to get drugs for her. Halfway to their room, she met Abba, her father, listening to the radio and washing his motorcycle.
“Abba, ina yini” (Good afternoon father) she greets prostrating, whether he answered or not, she didn't care, but she'd carried out her role.
He tilted his head, acknowledging her a little, and in a swift moment, assessed her from head to toe, Leila felt goosebumps and was confused, then he murmured a reply but his mind was long gone somewhere.
She trotted slowly from his sight, afraid to do something that will drag his attention, more, afraid that the leather safely hidden between her thighs should make a sound.
She salamed as she stooped low to enter their room, once that door could easily accommodate her, but now, if she wasn't careful, she'd get a bump anytime she didn't crouch.
Baba Ladidi was sprawled on the floor, her once beautiful white eyes now a colour Leila could not decipher, it wasn't just the illness, it was Abba, and Abba was the worst type of sickness she ever knew.
“Ummi tashi ki Sha magani, na kawo miki har da kosai” ( Mother get up and take your medicine, I brought some food along)
she said removing the polythene from its safe place, Baba Ladidi sat up, blessing Leila for all the things she was doing to her.
“bari na debo miki ruwa” (let me fetch you some water)
she got up to fetch water from the black bucket at the other end of the room, then comes back to meet Baba Ladidi who was already halfway through her meal.
She coaxed Leila to eat a little, “Ummi ni ai na koshi, sai da na tsaya bayan layi na gama cin nawa, sannan na kawo miki” (I have eaten my share mother, before bringing yours) she lied.
She had actually intended to buy more and eat hers at bayan layi, but the drugs had cost more, and her own money for the share had been spent.
If Baba Ladidi sniffed her lie, she didn't show it, just nodded and raised her hand for the drugs which Leila had already sorted out.
She explained how Baba Ladidi was supposed to take them, and was adamant that she took them now in her presence.
When she was done, Leila took the plates away and then proceeded to boil the groundnut she was going to sell, Adamu Mai Gona had loaned it to her, and she was using the same money to pay him, the rest that was remaining was hers to keep.
She had started selling things at the junction two years ago when Abba lost his job, she knew he did something really bad, but nobody told her much. After he lost his job, he completely changed, sold off his old car because he couldn't manage it, and drew back into his little shell. Leaving his two wives, Baba Ladidi and Baba Dije the task of the children. She was the only child to her mother, but Baba Dije had four children. And they weren't the best of friends, the two wives, each kept a reasonable distance from each other.
They had to pack out of their house, even if not so rich, was comfortable, to a house that would match their new status.
And suddenly life wasn't always the same to Leila, there were days she'd come back from school to meet Baba Ladidi all bloodied up and sobbing, she'd always suspected Abba, who else?
Baba Ladidi was not literate, even in the good old days, she was just a store owner, but she wasn't foolish and she loved being a wife, mother and just a store owner. Baba Dije was worse, she didn't do anything, except perhaps sell the foodstuffs Abba always brought.
She wasn't literate too, but on a whole different level, the woman didn't have sense at all.
It was obvious to Leila that her father loved illiterate women, perhaps he didn't want to feel threatened by an educated wife. But she and her three sisters attended school, much to the persuasion of her mother.
Leila was starting to wonder if it wasn't due time she dropped out of school, Baba Ladidi's business was failing, and Abba had stopped paying her school fees long ago.
She was brought out of her reverie by the sound of a blaring horn, someone screamed ‘mai gyada”, (Groundnut seller), and gestured towards a car.
Leila stood up, whispering a silent prayer that they'd buy much.
“ina wuni, na nawa ake so” (Good afternoon, how much do you want) she asked, the man flustered, and Leila noticed for the first time he probably didn't understand Hausa, so she tried pidgin.
He bought #200 naira worth of groundnut and Leila couldn't stop thanking him, he added a tip to that.
Immediately she sat down, another car parked and signalled her over, all these running up and down, Leila liked to think she was at the gym working out.
In her usual obedient tone that never ceased of greetings, she approached the car, it was a woman.
“Good afternoon ma, how much own you wan buy?” she asked in her crooked pidgin,
The woman signalled to her children, who obviously were the ones who wanted the groundnut, she didn't like to stare at people in cars, she didn't like to stare at people in general, but the ones in nice cars and clean-cut suits, make her remember a world she felt slightly related to before, one she had no hope for anymore.
“Leila Adam,” a familiar voice called, she looked up swiftly and then looked away. Wishing the Earth will just open up and swallow her.
“Mum she was my classmate...” he was telling his confused mother. He was from her former school, the one that belonged to the other world.
“Allah sarki duniya kenan!” (Wonders of God, what a world!) Faruq's mother exclaimed as she scrutinized Leila.
She bought all the groundnut, gave Leila extra money, and asked if she was always at the junction every day.
“I still go to school...” Leila said slowly, trying to hide the smile that was creeping up her face
“so I only come here during weekends, but not all the time”
“here you can have my number, do you have a phone, Leila?" the woman asked.
Leila shook her head ‘no’
“But I know someone who has, I could find one if the need arises”.
A very jubilant Leila rushed home, eager to tell Baba Ladidi all about the day.
She salamed and crouched into the room, coming face to face with a disoriented room and no Baba Ladidi in sight.
She hurried towards Mama's room, there was no activity going on, obviously, Mama was out.
“Vroom vroom vroom,” Jamilu, her stepbrother was imitating a vehicle.
“Kai zo nan” (you, come here) she snapped, stopping him mid posture, he straightened and ran towards her.
“ina mama?” (where is mother?) she asked
“sun fita, suje asibiti da Ummi”
and then he narrated all that happened to her. Ummi's zazzabi (fever) had worsened.
When she turned to go in search of Maryam, the more wiser of the three, to inquire about which hospital Abba mentioned.
Jamilu, with all the innocence of a concerned child asked “Leilei, Ummi zata mutu neh” (Leilei, is Ummi dying)
Leila stiffens, “a'a, yau In Shaa Allah zata dawo” (No, God's willing, she'll be back today).
On cue, Maryam entered, “Anty Leila, daman an ce in zo in duba ki ne, Ummi na neman ki” (Anty Leila, I was told to come and check for you, Ummi is asking of you).
She turned and Leila trotted after her, enquiring about Baba Ladidi's health which Maryam revealed little, they boarded a tricycle to the hospital.
The clouds gathered above, and Leila felt somewhat unsettled, her thoughts were clustered, and she couldn't shake the tight feeling in her stomach.
she kept telling herself everything was going to be fine, this wasn't the first time Ummi fell seriously sick, this feeling isn't new, she scolded herself.
The smell of the hospital sickened her, it smelt of strong antiseptic, and a little of unwashed wound, how will Ummi cope in here? She wondered.
Maryam stopped in front of a room, tried the handle and found it locked, so she knocked.
Mama was the one who opened the door and peeped, looked at Leila for a minute, then withdrew back inside.
Minutes later, Leila was ushered in by her, a supporting hand on her shoulder, Ummi was lying lifeless on a worn-out bed, her eyes closed, Leila checked to see if she was breathing, something she'd trained herself to do these days, sometimes she woke up at night and concentrated on Ummi's chest, checking every rhythm, any sign of life.
Only this time, she was failing, she blamed the fact that she was probably hungry, and tried again, but the truth stared at her, naked, Ummi wasn't breathing.
“No...” she whispered, reached out for Ummi's hand, it was cold and limp.
Then she lost it, she forgot every etiquette to observe upon the death of a loved one, she was down on her knees, begging, praying, sobbing.
she dared not meet Abba's eyes, for fear she'd do something stupid, her heart burned with accusations, that little knowledge that Ummi's sickness had worsened after Abba's last wrestling on her body was choking.
Someone reached out to help her up, and she collapsed completely on the person.
Ummi's body was washed, and shrouded, in her presence, upon her persistence.
That evening Ummi's body was taken to her final home, the house was extremely quiet, it was as if every animal in the compound knew that something was amiss.