Halima kicked a pebble on the sidewalk and watched it roll down across the street. She felt a mild throbbing on her toe caused by the impact of the stone on her toes but was too engrossed it her thoughts to pay it any mind as she walked down the street leading to her house. She thought over the words of the lady who was one of the visitors that came to visit her government school today. She couldn’t remember the name of their organization but they had clearly stated that they were the government’s voice for the children. They had said quite a number of things, but one statement kept replaying in her head
“Every girl deserves education. No child should be forced to get married at such a young age” she lady had said with pain evidently heard in her voice. Halima assumed the lady was in her mid-twenties or so, seeing as she looked young, yet old enough to be her aunt. She adjusted the strap of her worn out bag over her shoulders and looked down at her equally worn out brown sandals she had been wearing for the past two years since she resumed school. She let her mind drift to the conversation she happened to eavesdrop on between her parents the previous night. She had gone to drink water and was on her way back to her room when she heard their conversation going on as it was her mother’s turn to be with her father the night before, being the second wife of the family.
“I wonder why you still let Halima go to that school. She’s old enough to be married already, letting her go to school is just a waste of time” her father had said in their language
“There’s no husband yet, and it isn’t a waste of money at least. The education is free and she enjoys going there. It gives me time to myself for a bit” her mother had responded also in their language
“Who told you there was no husband for her?” her father had sounded angry
“But…” her mother wanted to object but was abruptly cut short by her father
“Danladi is coming in tomorrow for his official duties, get her prepared” her father had sounded final
“Why is he in a haste? She’s barely fourteen!” her mother had sounded desperate. Poor woman, she didn’t want her baby to be sold off in child marriage. But even as she protested, Halima knew her mother also understood that her father’s word was law and there was nothing she was going to do to change it.
“She’s fourteen but old enough to start wasting her time with these small boys. She’s ready, let her do whatever she wants when she’s married. He can send her to school if he wants to.” her father had replied with his voice void of emotion
“But he is almost thirty years older than she is! Can’t he wait till she’s sixteen at least? He has two wives already” her mother tried, but her voice was filled with despair.
“Stop it woman! Do as you’re told and don’t be stubborn. Wait till she’s sixteen and becomes as stubborn as you are? No. let her get married. Danladi would be here tomorrow by five, I don’t want stories” her dad spoke in full blown anger and she had scurried back to her room as soon as she heard him heading towards the door. He wasn’t going to be spending the night with her mum anymore. That she was certain of.
“Halima!!” she was jerked back to reality by the voice of her younger sister screaming her name. She didn’t even realize she had gotten home already. She hugged her sister and gave her the candy that she got for her from school. When she got into her room, she checked the time on her wristwatch. 3:30pm. Her husband was going to arrive in less than two hours. She slipped her hands into her pinafore pocket and brought out a piece of paper carefully folded into a perfect square. She unfolded it and read it for the tenth time that day. Clearly written were the lady’s details; address and phone number”. Halima knew something was up when the lady kept on staring at her while she was addressing the class and so wasn’t surprised when she had slipped something into Halima’s pocket while she was giving a good show of holding her in a tight embrace. “Call me” the aunty had whispered. Halima wasn’t stupid, she knew what it meant and had felt a weird sense of security in those words whispered.
Now, she held the same piece of paper, folded back into its perfect square and thought over her options; she could stay home and meet her new husband, or call the aunty and pray fate smiles on her.
“Halima!” she heard her father’s richly accented voice call her name
“Nam!” she replied, quickly slipping the paper back into her pocket as she hurriedly went to meet her father at the door
“Get prepared, we are having visitors soon. Your mother went to the market to get necessary items and would be back soon. So clean up and await her return” he instructed her in their language, unable to hide the disgust on his face as he looked at her tattered pinafore before turning back towards the corridor, leaving their apartment.
She shuddered at his voice and at the implication of the given instructions. She looked around her room ashamed of its poor condition; she didn’t want her children to end up like her, she didn’t want to end up like this. She enjoyed school and learning. She wanted to be like the aunty that was willing to help. She made her decision.
She quickly pulled her uniforms and changed into something more casual. Tearing a sheet of paper from her note, she quickly scribbled something down and folded it. She opened her wardrobe, brought out a big polythene bag, threw in her undies, a few clothes including the uniforms she just pulled off, a few notes, her school results and her toothbrush. She picked a scarf, wrapped it round her head and headed out.
“Hadiza!” she called for her younger sister, who came running to meet her
“What’s it?” her sister replied, short of breath
“Mother sent me to get some things for the visitors we are expecting. Tell that to Father if he asks. Give this to mum too, she asked me to hold it for her and give you to return it in case she comes home before I do” she handed the folded note she had written earlier to her sister.
“Okay. Come back on time, I think father is upset” her sister said, already running back to her friends
“I would!” she shouted back but knew she wasn’t going to be coming back anytime soon. She held the polythene bag firmly in her hands, brought out the note containing the details, reading it once more. She knew she could find her way around. She looked around to make sure her father wasn’t watching, and walked away to freedom.
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