A call from heaven
With a cup of cold tea in her trembling hands, Zaenab parked herself on the edge of the only upholstered piece of furniture in Bulabulim Ngarnam Police Station. Her whole body vibrated, though unusually hot-tempered was the Sun that day.
“Hi there, how are you doing?” a voice said. She ignored it.
“Whenever you are ready … please, we would like to know all that happened,” the same voice continued. It was Officer Danladi, the one she ran to for safety just an hour earlier. She must have been focusing so hard on trying to regain control of her body that she was unaware he had taken a seat beside her.
‘All that happened,’ she thought to herself and sighed.
Then, as though time had moonwalked a bit in reverse, she became overwhelmed with fear. And thoughts. And sounds. She smelt the odour of gasoline evenly distributed in the car. And she could feel her belly aching from the device tightly fixed upon it.
It was the beginning of the end, and the prospective end of two promising beginnings. Everything was set — the city, the girls, the belts. All seemed perfect, and Abu Jahal was pleased. He smiled proudly to himself. But just to be sure, he steered into the rear-view mirror to fix his gaze upon the two young girls at the backseat. For the umpteenth time, he reassures them.
“Like I said, you girls have nothing to worry about. All you have to do is walk into the market and wait for the call. Once the phone rings, do not hesitate to pick it. That is Prophet Muhammed inviting you to join him in heaven.
“Fatimah, you are lucky to be the first to enter into the gates of jannah. Zaenab would follow not long after.” There was silence. Then …
“Do you still have the dollar notes and jewelleries Mallam Yusuf gave to you?”
Lost in hazy thoughts, Zaenab was quiet.
“Na’am, we still do Abu,” Fatimah hurriedly replied, out of fear he might get upset again. There is no predicting what he would do if that happened.
“Allah be praised! Don’t forget you’ll need them once your soul ascends to the seventh heaven. With them, you can buy whatever you want — plenty of sweets, nice phones and beautiful cars, better than the one we are in now.”
Some minutes later, and suddenly too, the brakes screeched. They seemed to have possessed long fingers with which they scratched Zaenab’s heart. It skipped a beat or two, and then proceeded on a tap dance. Her mouth became bitter and her feet, cold. She did not exactly know why but she sensed danger. Or is paradise filled with danger? Is the road to it dangerous?
Once again, Abu Jahal reminded the girls of the plan. They alighted with their belts tightly fitted like a corset — almost to the point of great discomfort. He pointed in the direction of Baga, the largest fish market in the town of Konduga.
“Go now. We will meet again in no time. Our god will be proud,” he said, wearing a leer.
The girls obeyed.
While Zaenab stayed at a predetermined junction, Fatimah tottered a bit further.
Zaenab looked on. Her eyes were directed onwards, but she only saw backwards. Images of her childhood flooded her mind. How she used to sit between the warmth of her grandma’s thighs to be hennaed. How she used to cast secret glances upon Ibrahim, her crush, and she could feel his eyes too tiptoe across her garment. How her dad used to carry her on his shoulders to this office.
She remembered also, with her chest aching, how he was butchered by members of Boko Haram. The same ones who disturbed the peace of her virgin land, and took turns to penetrate her with the assurance that it was Allah’s desire. The same ones who now urged her on to the gates of jannah. She wondered if her dad was in jannah. If his jannah was different from that of the terrifying men in turban.
After a couple of minutes, she noticed Fatimah reach inside her pocket. She brought out the Nokia 7250i phone, looked enthusiastically to the sky, hesitated for a second or two, and then moved to pick. The only sound that followed was that of her skin breaking apart. Surely, not less than twenty others must have picked the call with her.
Everyone ran — except, of course, Zaenab. She was not meant to run. Even if she was, she was too terrified to.
The plan was for her to detonate her own bomb as soon as the crowd again converged to assist the injured and carry their dead ones. She expected for the phone to ring. She was not disappointed. She brought it out. It said incoming call from 2348144719399. Definitely, this was no different from what Nigerian mortals call one another with.
Questions began to rush through her like the strange feelings she had for Ibrahim. She recalled how Fatimah’s head soared towards the sky. And how it was rejected, only to return disappointed back to Earth. She looked at the faces surrounding hers — those of women crying, their voices drowned by her emotions; of kids nervous; of grown men agitated like a sandstorm. ‘Was this Allah’s wish too?’ she thought.
She gazed once again at the phone, but quickly looked away. A police van drove swiftly by, and halted close to the spot where Fatimah once stood — wholly.
“Zaenab. Zaenab, are you with me?” Danladi said, tapping her shoulder.
“Na’am,” she managed to mutter.
“So, my boys and I were wondering. You had an explosive strapped to you, and we guess you were supposed to detonate it…er, but why didn’t you?”
Zaenab wasn’t very fluent with the language of the English, but she had words good enough to flash at her thoughts. Mustering all the strength she had left, she mumbled, “the dollars … they … did not follow her.”