Narrator’s Name: Unknown, Still
I. Color of Blood
“How did this happen? I am drench in the blood of the future and the present. With each laborious breath, I fade away. It is difficult to catch my breath and fit it into being. Into me or at least what would be left of me after tonight. But I don’t think there would be an after because I can’t even tell what color the blood is. The darkness has stolen that truth too. The same way it has stolen the truth that had been with me for twenty-seven years. Now it’s gone. Now she’s gone. The blood is my sister’s – Safiyya’s. How will I tell Hafsa – Safiyya’s five-year-old? How will I tell our mother, umma? How will I tell my father, Abba? How will I tell my younger brother Umar…”
The moment Umar Ja’far read his name, he shut the book. He had read this paragraph more than a million times. Umar could feel every word wreath him out of consciousness. He still couldn’t understand how his older brother, Saleem was able to write a book about their eldest sister’s - Safiyya Ja’far – death. Oh, how I miss you, Safiyya! Umar thought. It has been ten months since her death.
Umar didn’t understand how Saleem found the courage to not only touch the words but also arrange the words that made up that night. That torturous night. Umar used to hate Saleem for that. Now, he didn’t know. That was the story of his life – full of ’I-don’t-know’s. All he knew was that he read the book almost all the time. And now, sitting in a commercial vehicle for the past one hour, he gravitated to his drug of choice. But like most times, he could not read some paragraphs.
After closing the book, he touched the title of the book with his index finger and felt the letters even though they weren’t embossed.
The letters: The Color of Blood by Saleem Ja’far. New York Times Best Seller.
Umar put the book in his bag. In between his folded trousers and shirt. He was on his way to Zaria from Kano and the horrible road made the car jiggle from time to time.
“This road, when are they going to finish it?” the man behind him said. It wasn’t a question, it was a topic. Put two Nigerians who know nothing about each other in a room I promise you they will have a lot to talk about when it comes to the problems of Nigeria. Given that this was a car full of Nigerians who are expected to sit for at least two hours, you just know they’ve got plenty to talk about. Umar, on the other hand, had plenty to think about.
And just then he received the first message from an unknown number. The first of many, that will change his life forever.
R: Welcome back home, U.J.
I know what you thinking. Who is this? You can call me R.
I thought you weren’t coming back. I thought you’re too weak. Anyways, we have a lot of work to do.
Here’s something to keep you motivated about the work we are going to be doing: I KNOW WHERE YOU’VE BEEN FOR THE PAST TEN MONTHS. AND I KNOW ABOUT THE GUN.
Umar read and reread the message almost as if rereading it will change the information it contained and somehow stop it from ever existing. Naturally, he was scared. He tried to call the number but it didn’t get through. Welcome back home, U.J, he read; very few people address him with his initials. And none of them would send such a message to him. Nobody knew about the gun except him – that much he was sure of. Not even his closest friends. Not even his past or anyone from it. And his past ended when Safiyya died and nothing began after that. Big black nothing was what time counted.
And the ten months was also a secret. Only his family knew where he had been for the past ten months. Who’s this? he thought. The only person who called him U.J and knew about the gun was his late sister Safiyya and there was just simply no way that it was her.
Because dead tell no tale.
He deleted the message and decided to go on with his life as if nothing happened. What a fool!
Where are my manners? I haven’t properly introduced myself to you. Two people will narrate a story of time. The second person is Umar’s best friend Jameel Shatima. I am the first narrator and for reasons known only to me, I remain Unknown. Call me Unknown. Still, Unknown. A pleasure to meet you.
And don’t think for one second this a love story. How I wish it were. That way, this would be easier maybe even bearable. This is what you see when you open the window in your room, watching the hours and every event it carries – if you have time for that. Or, if you are like me, you won’t watch, you would be a part of those events – shaping them to the form you like. And this is what you don’t see when the window is closed. Or maybe when you blink your eyes or when the sun is blind. But no matter, no one, and nothing is safe from the touch of time. Because this, as I said, isn’t child’s play. But you’ll see for yourself. Or if you are like me, you’ll see yourself.
But don’t bother too much about that. Just pay attention to all the story told. All the risk is in the telling.