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Miss Querah heard the low painful sobs emanating from the room. Her hands paused on the doorknob and listened for a while. She decided to give her some space and come back later.
In her own experience, crying had a lot of benefits. Deciding to make breakfast first, she went away to the kitchen. Bringing out the due overripe plantain from the cupboard, she shred them carefully preferring not to salt them. As she dipped each piece into the hot oil, she remembered her own experiences. Miss Querah couldn’t claim to understand what Aneesah was going through, but she could understand the hurt she felt. Having grown up with a father who abused their mother, she and her siblings were left to deal with the aftermath. The trauma her mother went through had been immense and every day it made her question why her mum insisted on staying.
But now at the age of fifty-four, a lot of things made sense. Miss Querah took a spatula and removed the now golden plantains and dipped another batch. She’d already cooked white rice and chicken stew for Aneesah. The plantain was just garnishing. No one who cried that much didn’t end up starving. She hoped Aneesah wouldn’t be an exception.
“Hello”. Aneesah’s quiet and tired voice made her turn back. Miss Querah duly noted her eyes which were red and bulging from crying.
“Aneesah, go to the dining, I’ll set the dishes now.” She turned and picked up a few lovely plates while Aneesah came forward to help. Together, they set the table and sat down quietly to eat lunch. Miss Querah was glad to see Aneesah eating wholeheartedly without reservations.
“I have a lot of questions Miss Querah”. Aneesah began after she felt a bit strong enough.
Miss Querah smiled before answering. “I know, and hopefully I have all the answers you want. But we’ll have plenty of time to talk”.
“No. I want to know right this moment. How did you know Faisal was hitting me? Why did you start leaving all those puzzles?”
Miss Querah took a deep breath. “Aneesah, you looked just like my mother. My mom was a victim of domestic violence and you had just the same look she had. There was a tension that dominated the house whenever I came to clean. Besides, there were a lot of things to give you away. You were not happy and I could see that. I put two and two together. Faisal also had a hostile demeanor so I’d figured out he was hitting you. That was when I decided to reach out and help you, but you didn’t seem like you wanted to be helped. You’re an ambitious, smart, and amazing lady. I just don’t want you to end up as my mother did.”
Aneesah was stunned. She had underestimated this woman.
“Who owns this house? Where are we?”
“It’s my house. You’ve been sleeping for over eight hours. And I drove us to Abuja. You know I’m from Togo, but then my mum is Nigerian. When my dad died, he left us a huge amount of money, that’s probably the only good thing he had ever done to us. I decided to come down to Nigeria and invest in real estate. I made a fortune and brought this house.”
The more she answered her questions, the more Aneesah was confused. If she had made so much money from real estate, then why did she work as a cleaner in Zaria? Subtly, like she could read her thoughts, Miss Querah chipped in.
“There’s another work I do in Zaria. However it involves doing just a little or practically nothing. That’s why I got the job as your live out cleaner, besides you pay well”. She ended off with a chuckle.
It was funny to Aneesah though, but then she was grateful to Miss Querah for coming for her at the hotel. Faisal would have killed her.
“How did Faisal know you were at that particular hotel, did you tell anyone your location?”. Miss Querah asked suddenly like she suddenly remembered.
“I was just about asking you that,” Aneesah replied as she faintly heard the chirping of insects outside. It was early in the morning and a bit cold. However the house was cozy, despite it being small, Aneesah was grateful for the security it now provided her. It was a little flat with three rooms, an adjoining bathroom, and a toilet. The kitchen was the most exquisite place in the house. It was large and spacious and contained expensive kitchen utensils. There was a huge oven just underneath the microwave.
“Aneesah everything will be okay, alright? You can stay here as long as you want before you figure things out”. Miss Querah placed a hand on Aneesah’s shoulders.
She was awed at the show of love. “I’m grateful Miss Querah for all you’ve done for me. I can’t thank you enough”.
“Don’t mention dear. There’s someone I would like you to meet Aneesah. You’ll be intrigued. Just let me know when you’re ready”. Miss Querah said with a smile on her lips.
“Now you sound just like your puzzle. I’m ready now.”
Miss Querah burst out laughing as she stood from the dining table. “Hold your horses. There’s a lot of time”.
Both women laughed. Aneesah had just been here for hours but it already felt like home. No judgments and hate, just pure love. She was indeed grateful.
Faisal was fuming with anger. Anger at himself, hot and passionate anger. He felt like hitting his body against the car door as punishment for his shameful behaviors. His blood boiled and he felt his temperature rise. He was a moron, a coward. How could two women pass through his slip without him been unable to stop them? What had his stupid house cleaner been doing there?
Aneesah had contacted her to get help. No, he couldn’t accept this. This was a slap to his ego. Now he had two women outran him. Faisal clenched his fist tightly till it hurt and couldn’t clench any further. His muscles vehemently protested causing him to slowly release his fingers.
He wouldn’t let anything desist him from getting to Aneesah. She was his property, his possession. He was her owner and she belonged to him solely. He maneuvered the car and parked roughly at Aneesah’s family house. He went in without knocking and met Aneesah’s mother sitting in the sitting room.
Once she saw his disheveled look, she quickly rose worried, scared that something had happened to her daughter. She’d tried to report to the police but once they learned her age, they dismissed it with a shrug. “She’ll come back,” they said.
“Faisal, have you found my daughter? Please tell me where is my daughter?” Her voice broke. Tears were already pooling in her eyes.
“I saw her in a hotel Mama, in a hotel. I don’t know what business Aneesah has that warrants her going to the hotel. Someone came and picked her up before I could get to her”.
The woman put her hands around her head and wailed loudly. “Oh Aneesah, when did you become like this? Please come home”. She proceeded to wipe her tears with the edge of her red veil.
“Mama, don’t worry I’ll ensure she comes home and she must pay for all these troubles she caused us, and when I’m done with her, no one will recognize her”.
Something in his tone made Aneesah’s mother pause and look at him.”What do you mean by that”?
Faisal continued heatedly. “Mama, Aneesah is my property. I’ll search for her till the ends of the earth, I must find her.”
A fear, a sudden realization dawned on her. She remembered what Aneesah had been trying to tell her all this while. “What do you mean Aneesah is your property?”
“I married her, she belongs to me and I’ll get her back”. He stormed out of the house without heeding her calls to come back.
Aneesah’s mum laid on the floor right there and cried bitterly for over thirty minutes. She had ignored her daughter’s worries with regards to Faisal and now she had pushed her daughter to marry a monster.
It had been four days since Aneesah came to Abuja, and it had been four days of bliss, love, and friendship. The house was situated in a busy part of Abuja, close to the main road. Aneesah took pleasure in waking up early and watching the early rush of people who trooped to work every morning. She enjoyed the horns and the noise, getting away was definitely what she needed.
Miss Querah had gone out to get some flour to make some pancakes, in the short while they’d been together, Aneesah quickly discovered Miss Querahs love for cooking, hence explaining the large kitchen. She held a cup of hot coffee in a white mug watching the children going to school with their parents. The coffee tasted really bitter in her mouth, with a strange taste she didn’t like. Even after adding more sugar, it still tasted off. Maybe Abuja coffee was different, she thought with a shrug.
But as she walked to the bathroom to relieve herself, she stopped at the mirror and took a good look at herself. Her bosom was definitely bigger and her forehead glistened. Instinctively, she gasped, putting a hand across her mouth.
“Dear God”. She muttered. She hoped it wasn’t what she was thinking. “No. It can’t be.”
She tried to remember the last time she’d made love with Faisal, and the last time she saw her period. Aneesah had been so caught in the chaos that she had missed not seeing her period.
“No. I can’t be pregnant”. She muttered quietly sitting down dejected. A baby would just make things more complicated for her. Why did life throw her things she couldn’t handle? Just when she thought things were about to get better. Aneesah sat with her hands on her chin, several thoughts ruminating through her head. If really she was pregnant, what would be her next line of action? She couldn’t go back to her mother’s, Faisal would get her there. Aneesah was grateful that she’d taken a leave from her work before all these started, at the most her job was secured. She heard the front door open. Miss Querah came back excited unaware of Aneesah’s state of mind.
“So I got some more eggs, I want the pancake to be fluffy you know”. Miss Querah paused when she noticed Aneesah’s lack of excitement. Quickly she kept the eggs on the kitchen counter and came to sit beside Aneesah.
“What’s wrong? Is everything okay?”
Like a cue, Aneesah burst out crying. “Miss Querah I think I’m pregnant”.
“Oh dear, come here.” Miss Querah hugged her tightly while consoling her. “It’s okay dear, we’ll go to a hospital to confirm the pregnancy. I think it’s time we take that trip. Pack your clothes we’ll leave in the evening”.
“Where are we going?”. Aneesah answered wiping her tears sniffing.
“I want you to meet my mother.”
Despite everything, Petra was happy to see the woman once again. Irrespective of her pushy attitude, Aneesah’s mother was actually a nice and welcoming woman.
It had been a year since she last saw her, she came to visit Aneesah at Zaria when she was newlywed. It had been full of smiles and hugs, unlike this visit that was tensed. Aneesah’s mother looked older, her eyes were fierce and red like she’d been crying the entire day. Maybe she had been crying. Petra didn’t know how it felt to not hear from one’s child for weeks but she knew it couldn’t be a pleasant experience. She had come to visit her and check how she was doing. Dave didn’t fail to show his blatant refusal to her idea, but Petra insisted.
This was the least she could do to her friend. She was in her ninth month and it wasn’t safe for her to travel, but Petra knew she would be fine.
“Petra I can’t explain to you how sorry I am. I know Aneesah would never forgive me, but I want you to let her know that I love her so much”. Her voice was hoarse from the crying.
Petra really felt sorry for her. “Aneesah hasn’t contacted me at all, but I know she’s fine. And don’t worry about her forgiving you, Aneesah is kind-hearted and simple, just like you”.
The woman continued like Petra hadn’t said a word. “I just pushed my daughter into a marriage she wasn’t ready for her. I refused to listen to her concerns and look at how things turned out. Faisal deceived me, he manipulated me and I couldn’t see him for who he really is.”
Petra came to sit closer to the bitter woman. “It’s okay Mama. I’m sorry. Just take it easy. Everything will be fine.” She placed a hand across her shoulders and rubbed it slowly at the same time saying comforting words to the woman before they all got lost in their thoughts.
Petra bade the woman goodbye and left, as she drove back to Zaria, she thought of her friend and how angry she was at her. Why didn’t Aneesah just call to say she was fine? She didn’t need her location, she just wanted to know if her friend was fine. She might be the only one in this friendship. Aneesah might have well forgotten about her. She pondered at the scenario that happened at the hotel. Aneesah’s mother had not told her much and just recounted what Faisal told her. Petra tried to figure out who was the mysterious person that came to Aneesah’s rescue at the hotel. She raked her brain but nothing came to her mind. Every morning, she went on her blog to see if Aneesah had done something new, but everywhere was quiet. All the people who had been asking about her were tired.
The questions weren’t dropping in anymore. Petra sincerely hoped her friend was fine. A call interrupted her train of thoughts, she saw it was Dave as she carefully parked the car by the roadside.
“Hey babe, how are you?” She called out carefully. Dave was mad she disobeyed him and drove to Katsina.
“I’m good. Are you on your way back?” He answered, his voice devoid of any affection.
“Yes baby, Dave are you still mad at me? I said I was sorry”.
“We both know you’re not sorry Petra. Only God’s knows what length you’re willing to go to your friend”. With that, he cut the call leaving Petra angry at herself. Here she was trying to ruin her marriage because of a friend who didn’t even care to tell her she was fine. She turned on the ignition and got back on the road.
Genuinely she hoped Aneesah was fine, but this was her limit.
Aneesah had to admit that Miss Querah was an excellent driver, the smooth sailing of the red Camry tempted to make her fall asleep, earnestly she resisted the urge. Her head was resting looking outside the car window taking note of all the cars that passed by them. She was simply troubled, they’d just left the clinic and it was confirmed that she was pregnant.
She, pregnant for Faisal’s child. She shook her head bitterly. Her desire to have a child was now at its weakest point. Deep down within her, however, she was already falling in love with this child. A human was growing in her, it was almost magical.
She thought of her Petra, almost feeling sad. Petra should be in her ninth month now, maybe she’d even had a baby and she couldn’t be there for her. Tears fell down her eyes, Faisal had indeed ruined her life. Aneesah sincerely hoped this trip will be worth it. Miss Querahs mum, Ladi lived on another side of Abuja, a thirty minutes ride from where they lived.
Miss Querah told her they’ll be there for just a few days. Aneesah craved closure and the opportunity to talk with someone who had been through what she was going through.
“We’re almost there”.
Aneesah looked up to see that they’d entered a large estate just like she lived in at Zaria. She began to feel nervous.
“Calm down Aneesah. My mum is the nicest woman you’ll ever meet. She has a good heart”.
Aneesah derived comfort from those words and watched as Miss Querah parked in one of the huge bungalows. They went to the car to pick the luggage they’d parked for the trip. The bungalow was huge and painted grey, it was homely. There was nothing glassy or ceramic. Everything was woody, a place completely safe to have children running the house.
An older version of Miss Querah stepped out from the kitchen. She appeared beautiful and strong.
“Oh hello, ladies come in”. She ushered them into the house, while Miss Querah took their clothes in.
“I’m Mrs. Ladi, you’re Aneesah. Querah told me you run the blog pride. I must say I’m impressed at what you’re doing”.
“Oh, thanks. I’m glad you’re a follower”.
Mrs. Ladi chuckled. “There are a lot of things we’ll need to talk about. Just go in and freshen up. Before you’re done, dinner will be ready. At this age, the only thing I enjoy doing is cooking”. She ended off with a laugh. Aneesah immediately fell in love with her warm-hearted laugh. She was sure going to enjoy this place. Thoughts of Faisal, her mother, Petra, and the baby all faded away.
Two hours later, the three women were sitting across the dining table digging into the fried rice and chicken in front of them. Aneesah was sure cooking ran in the genes of this family. The meal was sumptuous. She was grateful for the warmth and laughter that were shared at the table. Already, she was getting eager to know about Mrs. Ladi. She was a dark, tall woman with a pronounced dimple on her left cheek. Her teeth were sparkling white. She looked to be over seventy, but there were warmth and charm that graced her movements. After the meal, Mrs. Ladi spoke up.
“Aneesah let’s walk to the garden”. Together they walked behind the house. Aneesah was stunned at the beautiful environment that greeted the backyard. It seemed they had disappeared into a wild garden of flowers. The color was bright and the field smelt good.
“Wow Mrs. Ladi, this is beautiful”. Aneesah commented walking carefully to avoid stepping on the young flower beds.
“I know right, I studied horticulture a long time ago in the University. I’ve always loved flowers. You know, it’s amazing how long it takes someone to develop the courage to follow your passion.” As she talked, Aneesah had the feeling that her words contain a lot of meaning and substance.
“Querah tells me you run a blog called Pride right?” Her eyes were focused on Aneesah, eyes that seemed extremely all-knowing.
“Yes, I do. It focuses on the well-being of women and children. Helping women to find the voice and courage to leave and quit the abusive relationship. I do that by writing stories and articles and then videos too. My friend helps me too, she’s a doctor”.
“Oh that’s nice. Querah tells me about your progress too, she says you have your demons right?”.
There was a pause. The air smelled good. Aneesah could feel the whisper of the soft wind against her cheek. She was surprised she found it difficult to tell just one person about Faisal but had expected other women to open up to her.
“See Aneesah”, Mrs. Ladi began plucking a piece of pride of Barbados flower. “I’ve been where you are, and I know exactly what you’re thinking. But let me tell you something you already know, it’s never easy to leave or quit. You think and second, guess yourself anytime you want to decide to leave and that’s perfectly okay. Good decisions are never easy to make and in the long run, you’ll be glad you took it but the process isn’t nice”. She walked a bit further and tender a flower Aneesah didn’t recognize.
“Don’t blame yourself Aneesah for all that happened to you. Don’t blame the decisions you took, you only did what you thought was best at that time. Turn your hurt, anger, and aggression to building yourself and turning your hurts into a passion. You’re already doing great for yourself. You’re helping women. It’s time to help yourself”.
“I know”. Aneesah replied thinking about the child in her. “It’s just difficult to start all over again.”
“You’re young. You have your life ahead of you. It doesn’t matter how long it takes for a woman to decide to leave. In the end, what matters is that she did.” Mrs. Ladi shook her head sadly. She was now standing close to Aneesah. “I regret all the years I spent in my abusive marriage, but when I came out I was grateful because I know the true worth of leaving a happy life without domestic violence”.
“Do you know this flower”? Mrs. Ladi asked pointing at a purple flower that hung low and bloomed widely.
“Yes, I’ve seen it around, but I don’t know its name”.
“It’s called Orchid. It’s very common in Nigeria actually. It is said that an Orchid blooms a bit longer than other flowers. Do you notice the purple hue here?”. Mrs. Ladi stooped to point at the beautiful flowers.
“Yes”. Aneesah said squatting close to Mrs. Ladi, she couldn’t say she didn’t enjoy this conversation. The atmosphere calmed her nerves.
“I want you to remember this purple hue anytime you think it’s your fault. Purple is pride and dignity” and just with those words, Aneesah felt a surge of renewed strength in her. Wasn’t that the name of her blog? Pride? Yes, she could do this. She silently vowed to take care of herself and her baby. Faisal wouldn’t control her even from there. She would go anywhere she’ll like to go. Aneesah let out a deep sigh, grateful for this visit. All the toxicity in her life just seemed to vanish.
“I’ll give you something else that will become your symbol of strength and pride. But for now, I think we’ve disturbed the poor flowers a lot”. Mrs. Ladi ended with a chuckle. Aneesah smiled, charmed by the woman’s deep throaty laughter. She laughed with all her energy and passion.
“You see, I was married to an abusive husband for years, he would beat me and hurl insults at myself and the children. Every day when I woke up, I would say to myself “Today is the day you have to leave”. But the day passes by and I don’t have the strength to leave. This happened continuously Aneesah, till I realized that I was dead. Don’t get me wrong, I was alive but I wasn’t living. I couldn’t help my kids, and according to him, I wasn’t a good housewife. I got really tired of the bad words that no one had to tell me to pack my kids and leave. Not surprisingly he didn’t come after us, I heard that he died some years back. And not for once had he tried to look for me or the kids. It was then that I realized he’d never loved me. Not for once, he never did. I was just fooling myself trying to please someone who couldn’t be pleased.”
Her words were fast almost like a teenager. “Leaving an abusive marriage is not all talk, it’s action. It is the first step to healing.”
Mrs. Ladi brought out an old box from under the TV stand. She opened it and began to look for something. It seemed like a relic box. Carefully she brought out a deep purple ribbon.
“Can you remember where you’ve seen this from?”
Aneesah pondered for a while. It seemed familiar, but she couldn’t remember where or when she’d seen a purple ribbon.
“The card Querah gave you. Do you remember now?”.
Suddenly Aneesah’s face lit as she recalled. She realized the numbers and address weren’t the only thing family. There had been a small drawing of a purple ribbon. The NGO she was partnering with also used a purple ribbon. Could it be just a coincidence?
“The NGO you’re partnered with me, “Mrs. Ladi replied responding to her train of thoughts. “I run it. Querah drew my attention to your blog and the activities you were doing there. That’s when we decided to step in and help”.
Aneesah gasped. She had never cared to know who was behind the donations, but she was grateful for the help. It had been Mrs. Ladi and Miss Querah all this while. No matter how far you have gone, life never ceases to amaze you.
“Wow, I’m stunned. You’ve done a lot. I’m so grateful for the help”.
“It’s okay Aneesah. I am an old woman now with lots of money. This is the only good I can do. And then cook”. They burst out laughing, as she handed the purple ribbon to Aneesah. The material was slick and soft, obviously expensive. Aneesah was grateful for the gift.
“Thank you so much Mrs. Ladi. I’m grateful for all you’ve done and even for having me”.
“Enough of the thanks.” Mrs. Ladi replied putting back the box in its place. “We’ll now meet a few people”.
Next Episode (28th March)
What do you think about this episode? Did you enjoy the revelations? What do you think Aneesah will do with the pregnancy? Tell us in the comments below.