The clock tick-tocks persistently and the ticking grows steadily until it dominates the silence in the office. The sound of speeding cars rises as they approach and then recedes into the distance as they speed pass. The Air Conditioning revs back to life and blows a sudden waft of cold breeze towards the glazed mahogany desk and into his face. The early morning sun pours golden rays of light through the slants of the window blinds and the light falls on the painting on the wall. The picture is an oil painting of a serene rural scene, of huts huddled beneath black hills and birds soaring high in the sky illuminated by a red hued setting sun. The painting speaks of peace and quiet. The colours are a sober combination of modest and tranquil nature. The ascetic appeal of the painting merges in harmony with the solemn elegance of a Lawyer’s Office and in that lasting solitude; he dwells in the sanctuary of his thoughts.
He holds and examines a crumpled piece of paper in his hands like a cherished souvenir. He reminisces about all that have happened in the previous years past and all that have led and sometimes driven him to the present. He straightens the paper and examines the curious flourishes on the inelegant handwriting. If ever Furairah had a flaw, it is in her handwriting but because he has resolved firmly to stop placing her on a pedestal, he stops the thought.
He was born on the 1st of November in the year 1989 or 1990. He does not know which of the two years his true year of birth is. To his dismay, his father had used both on several occasions and on different documents as if both were equally true. When he was sixteen (or fifteen), he asked him which of the two years is his true year of birth. His father only stared vaguely at him as if it is natural for a boy to be born on two different dates. For the next few months, he choked with passionate fury whenever he thought about it because he felt, that of all the things an ordinary man ordinarily lacks, he lacked, in addition to most of the others, certainty on the year he was born. For a man to not know the year he came into existence in the world is to almost put to question his very existence in it. For how could a man look back into the past when he does not know when his past began or to look into the future, when he does not know how far he has gone in it? He favored the older date because the latter would have placed him remarkably younger than most of his friends. However, the latter date is more probable. He had found it written at the back of an old baby picture of his and inscribed together with the time of his birth: 7:15 a.m. in his father’s handwriting. Like most things that made him very angry, he soon found the vexing ambiguity unimportant and resigned himself to his ambiguous existence.
An easel stands beside the shelf and a sheet of canvas is pinned to it. Brushes of different sizes and shapes stick out from the brush holder. Oil paints in small tubes and watercolours in small colour-stained containers lie on the wooden frame near a piece of charcoal, which more than all the other painting tools, have a pronounced foreignness in the office. Colour stains of gray and lilac taints the easel’s board. He knows why he has not painted since Sumayya. The inspiration has slipped away with the ebb of his emotions.
Besides the easel, the mahogany and glass shelf introduces a formal air into the office to counterbalance the informality of paint and canvas. Rows of Nigerian Supreme Court Law Reports lined the shelves in fluent harmony. The bright yellow Nigerian Weekly Law Reports arranged in twelve rows look like the duplication of the same book, a boring manual-type of book. It introduces a vivacious vulgarity of colour into the office. He resents the yellow colour. A client once told him that he believed no one person will survive with his sanity after going through all of these similar-looking books and of possibly monotonous set of instructions.
The occupant of the office is a twenty-six year old Lawyer, of medium height with a dark handsome face. The face is almost ruined by a black beard that may have been last trimmed several months ago. The face is equally ruined because it settles into a frown when it is not doing anything else. He likes to watch, with mild amusement, the dilemma on some people’s faces as they try to place him among the several categories of bearded Hausa Men. He might be a religious fanatic except that he is a Lawyer and goes to work wearing a well-fitting black suit and speaks fluent unaccented English. He might be adjudged a religious zealot too (of the thou-art-damned-o-ye-sinners persuasion) except that he hardly speaks any Arabic, not even in the Shari’ah Courts and with people, he shows no judgment. Instead, in his eyes is all the indifference of one who knows it and probably lived it all. He might be an academic radical too, probably a neo-Marxist except that he is not a lecturer and he is too clean and too neat for that sort of radicalism. He sees the dilemma in the eyes of some of the Judges too. With their well shaven faces and ‘secular looks’, the Judges of the High Court are men who lived their youths in the 70s and 80s, an age of secular values when the newly independent nation is striving to live up to the fine details of the values of the Colonial Masters. He sometimes wonders if anyone contemplates the more obvious reason that he simply keeps a beard because he finds shaving as a daily routine tedious and unnecessary.
Introversion he was told is not a good quality for an advocate, but Mustapha has found that to be untrue. His quiet countenance has earned him a reputation in the Courts. When he speaks, the most controversial Barristers at the Bar extend to him a rare courtesy of listening quietly. The young Barrister addressing the Court has to deal with the Judge’s sobriety and the distraction of senior colleagues who knew just too much to be quiet and have acquired an easy confidence and informality that comes with long familiarity appearing and conducting cases before the Judges. The ‘gown draggers’ will always distract a junior Lawyer with unsolicited suggestions when he stands to talk but despite the annoyance of having one’s gown tugged at when one is trying to make a point, he could remain focused while on his feet. When he speaks, his voice resembles the distant rumbling of a gathering thunderstorm. Many mistake that for his original voice when it’s just a voice in disuse. He is a passionate observer and can quite often carve out a person’s personality from little intricate details in his face and in his garb and appendages. When he rises to talk, the Judges listen and the senior Lawyers nod in agreement before their heads come together in superior counsel.
He likes to be alone to stay away from having to listen to extroverts. Extroverts do not acknowledge the validity of the idea of silence. They seem to think that no one keeps quiet without intending that as a slight to anyone. One has to talk or be given a default label of arrogance among new acquaintances. Among relatives, one is allowed to be quiet only when he is sick or excused when he is sad. His mother had offered a thousand apologies on his behalf for his refusal to engage in a discussion with a friendly neighbour or the child of a friendly neighbor or guest, and she does that with a look on her face as would the mother of an errant child. His grandmother, because while she lay groaning with arthritis and he was sleeping on an adjacent bed but offered no word of sympathy to her, decreed on her deathbed (he was told much later) that his name along with the names of his two unruly uncles is not to be given to any new baby born into the Galadima family. She also prophesised, without any disaffection for her eldest and only male grandson, that he will grow up to become a cold-hearted creature. He talked only when he had to and when he is alone, he tries to tame his own thoughts. He has always been withdrawn for as long as he can remember and the friends he made are those who understand that.
Na’ila hums in the reception and her voice resonates from behind her computers. He often listens while she attends to clients with her unaffected candidness. Non-Lawyers often cannot understand how a Lawyer can represent a side in a dispute and not be a part of the dispute but Na’ila does. He once overheard a client tell her at a point in their discussion that he needed the services of a Lawyer ‘to teach that imbecile a lesson’ and she replied: ‘Shall we discuss the fees?’
It had started with her a few years back. She entered his office one morning to inform him that a client is waiting.
“Sir, you have a client waiting,” She said.
Na’ila is a square faced woman, flat chested and with strong capable hands. She could easily have succeeded as a boxer. She is a hard worker and never makes mistakes. She sits on her desk, enduring the silence, reading a fashion magazine, trimming her nails or humming an incomprehensible tune all day, unaffected by the haunting feeling that bothers him sometimes, when he feels like he is a few minutes away from boredom. He has tried several times to describe and understand the fixed expression on her face. It could be gloom and despondency but it isn’t. It may be a resigned expression of coming to terms with the knowledge that one’s face, although far from repulsive, is by every analogy to the standards of the fashion and beauty magazines, ugly, just a little short of hideousness.
“Should I send her in, sir?” She asked.
“Yes, send her in please,” he replied.
Na’ila went out and came back in with Sumayya. She dropped a new file in front of him and told the client to sit. The lady sat down on one of two clients’ chairs. He had kept the chairs as close together as possible. He likes to keep two disputants on the two seats and watch as they try to avoid eye contact or as they try to form an accurate expression of disgust on their faces that will convey to the other person just how they feel about them. He enjoys the knowledge of the flimsiness of human barriers and likes to watch them crumble. Few disputants could sit face to face for several minutes, not talking and not erupting. Some may initiate or take the cue for a civil discussion, carefully avoiding the subject matter of the dispute. He has found that those are the hardest to reconcile. He had reconciled a man and wife (yes, for so much is made of the ill virtues of Lawyers that few care to know the role Lawyers play in reconciling turbulent homes), two business partners and a Landlord and tenant, and from that he concluded that it is only a thin line between love and hatred. The more formidable barriers to reconciliation are what come in between: indifference and nonchalance.
And love! That idea for which a thousand verses have been scribbled by the illumination of candlelight and in the still of cold nights and remote places yet it had remained over the centuries largely incomprehensible. No one concept in the world has enjoyed such indulgence. It has been for the most part the genesis of human creation so that the crude act of human copulation came to be named after it. It has inspired passion too, such a tempestuous passion and have therefore (perhaps not intending to) led to war and disaster. Like most other things the common man cannot grasp and examine, or roast over a fire for supper, it has inspired much controversy from so many who think they know what it is. Many pious and well-meaning persons have placed standards of purity and truth in it, chipping away at lust and desire and seeking to reduce love to an unselfish charity of the heart. Just how selfish and detrimental will that be to the valid desires of man and who is to say where adoration ends and desire begins? Desires persist and adoration often fades. It is beautiful and priceless the passionate yearnings of a lover removed, yet he’d rather (as he will probably say) abandon his noble quest and return to the object of his love.
“My name is Mustapha,” he said.
“I am Sumayya,” she returned.
‘Do not get involved with clients’ was the first advice his Principal Partner, A.H. Azare gave to him. It was also the only advice he had ever given to him with a serious look on his face. Perhaps he had had some distasteful experience getting involved with clients. It may be the reason that keeps him away from the courts and not his political ambitions. Azare will laugh at anything from the death of a client who died before ‘perfecting his brief’(a euphemism for not paying the firm its fees) to the testimonies of witnesses in court giving evidence to the offence of rape, yet that one advice he gave with a serious countenance.
Her face was an oval shape with a prominent and almost aquiline nose, a small retreating mouth and chin with small lips and a dark beauty spot below her lower lip. When she spoke or smiled, she revealed a gap between her incisors in her lower jaw that the Hausa consider a mark of beauty. Her eyes were dark and disproportionately big for her face. She adjusted her veil and he looked away. Some unwritten law of propriety requires a man to turn his gaze away when a Hausa lady adjusts her veil or when she (often without ceremony) begins to breastfeed her baby or is about to step down from a motorcycle. Sumayya was probably a Fulani woman but the two cultures are almost indistinguishable.
“My father was your client. I came to see his file,” she said and when she did she gave him a tentative look and continued. “It was fourteen years ago. He was sentenced fourteen years ago. He is set to be released two days from now.”
He knows the look. He was in his early twenties then and twelve when her father was sentenced.
“There is a problem with that request,” he said, “first, there is this thing called Attorney-Client privilege which means anything on that file is confidential. You are not allowed to see it. Secondly, if the case ended fourteen years ago, then it must have been handled by my Principal and in which case; he should do this for you, if he thinks it okay.”
“Alright, can I see him now?”
“He’s currently not in town but come back some other time. By the way, why did you pay for a file if this is all you wanted?” He asked.
She smiled a small smile which was supposed to politely end the conversation so she can avoid giving an answer. He knew why she would do that. She is the kind of person that pays for things to avoid the discomfort of been thought of as wanting it for free. He is like that too.
“Take the file back to her and take back your money,” he said.
She stood for a quick while undecided. Her lips moved as if to say the money is not a problem but decided it’s easier to take the file from him. She took it and walked out of the office. He saw it, hidden under her cream coloured hijab, something that appears to be pregnancy when seen from the front, and a little baby strapped to the back when seen from the back. It was actually a supersized handbag that was then in vogue. He remembered that Kamal once joked that some of the bags were big enough to hide a medium size horse. As she walked out of the office, he knew she will remain in his thoughts for a long time. Whereas people say too much to repel him or reveal too much about themselves to make him lose interest in them, she had withheld from him. He hoped that she will come back again. She looked sad. If her father was jailed for fourteen years, he may have committed a felony. Robbery is unlikely as Sumayya had wellbeing written in her being. It was unlikely to be rape too. Rapists rarely get the maximum fourteen years sentence and Sumayya appeared to be a creature for a kingdom where rape does not exist.
He picked a brush and began to paint. He never allowed himself to think of what he’s painting before he starts. When he wants to, he picks a brush and dab on the canvas a random colour. He dabs a few more and then he realise what he wants to paint and give it form. The brush went into the creamy colour he mixed and he knew that he wanted to paint Sumayya.
“Na’ila,” he called.
“Yes, sir,” she answered and came into the office.
“I want you to search for a file for me. It will be an old file that was closed about fourteen years ago,” he instructed.
He then realised that she didn’t tell him her father’s name. How could she when they barely talked. On rare instances like that, he regrets why he talks very little.
“Did you write her name on the file?” He asked.
“Yes, I did,” she replied.
The file I want you to search should have her surname as an accused person in a criminal case. It should be among the felonies.
He felt an excitement so strange, strange because he didn’t expect to feel like that again after Furairah. When she comes back, he will have something to tell her about her father even if he had said she can’t see the file. The Attorney-Client privilege isn’t so important after all in a concluded criminal case. Trials are held publicly and there’s nothing in the file that has not been said in court, contested or affirmed. In addition, she is also the client’s daughter. He wondered how she’d feel growing up with a criminal for a father, a convicted rapist or a killer perhaps. He hoped that Na’ila will find the file because he knew he will go and check it himself if she couldn’t. Na’ila always does what he could in a few hours in a few minutes.
He reached for the note. It was mailed to him about three years ago. He had kept it closed in his locked drawer below the correspondence files. The feeling excited something deeper in him, something well suppressed to be almost forgotten and strong enough to rule his subconscious nonetheless. He opened and straightened the note that had been flattened by the weight of the papers. The writing was as bad as he remembered it. His heart was steady. It was with the same gravity with which he reads the obituary of an acquaintance in the papers or listened to his favourite Judge read out a lengthy judgment, condemning an armed robber or murderer to death. It read:
The humming birds have tarried to their nests
And the night has sent the weary folks to rest
So I wonder who sings my sleep away,
And drags me out of my nightmare
May the bright moonlight shine--like day,
And forever send to me a lighting ray
So that I may see and never again lose my way
We fell in love under a star-lit night
You broke my heart under the grey moonlight
You saw me faint yet you walked away
You left me to despair with each passing day
Because you walked away when you could have stayed
By the time he finished, his hand had begun to shake. It had only been a few years then. The first day he saw the handwriting was in the Law School Auditorium. She wrote something with her left hand during the class and passed the paper and pen to him. It was a game, she explained. George Agatu started it and the aim was to see how good one can write with his left hand (or right if one is a lefty). He tried it and it was obvious that his left hand was the clumsiest limb of the five students. Later in the day while the lecture was going on, she wrote on a piece of paper the words: ‘are you ok?’
The writing was so bad that he turned to her and asked: ‘Did you write this with your left hand too?’
She frowned. He didn’t intend that as a criticism but it was and he was happy not to take it back.
Na’ila entered the office with the file a few short minutes after. She had made obvious efforts to clean off the dust from the file but there are too many layers of it to give way so easily. ’The State vs. Bello Jauro’ was written on the green file. Below it was outlined and dated the case history. He was arraigned on the 26th March, 2002. The case lasted three years and ended with his conviction. He opened the file and the musty smell of old papers invaded his nostrils. The smell sent him into nostalgia of his childhood when he ravaged through his grandmother’s old boxes. The boxes held his father’s and uncles’ school textbooks and some old and weird articles of sentimental value, silver rings with unreadable writings, colonial bowls and quaint knives with odd inscriptions. It was the nostalgic memory of Jos and books, very old books that he read several times and then drew pictures on them (and in the process ruined them) to illustrate the story to his taste. He remembered: Treasure Island, The prodigal son, Arms and the man and interesting stories that seem to have only the name of the author on the front page: James Hadley Chase.
Bello Jauro, the man who had to his credit brought together the two most popular Fulani names together in his name, was sentenced to fourteen years imprisonment for the rape of one Ladi Abdullahi. He read through the testimony of the nominal complainant who was also the victim and the story began to unfold before him. He was detained at the Gwauran-Dutse Federal Prison. He felt grateful for that piece of information. Judges do not have that luxury now. Prisons are overflowing with inmates and the Judges simply pronounce sentences. It is up to the Deputy Comptroller of Prisons to decide in which of five overcrowded prisons a convict will be detained. In a copy of the judgment, the judge, Her Lordship Aisha Ahmad Gwarzo signed her name below the judgment. The fourteen year maximum sentence now made better sense to him. Lady Judges are understandably very harsh on rapists. He closed the file and picked up his brush again. He tried to picture Sumayya’s face in his mind but the face blurred into Furairah’s and into another and that into another until it blurred away. He dropped the brush and sat down to dream.
The fifty feet high Kano City Wall encircles the ancient city of Kano since the 11th century. He first saw a romanticized version of the wall at the Jos Museum. He wondered what the ancient inhabitants were trying to fence out with red clay bricks. It may have been built to defend the city’s trade from roaming barbarians, most likely the Jukun who sacked the city in ancient times. The wall will not withstand a sustained battery by a determined invader, but as probably more economic than defensive, it will serve the emir’s tax collection on the trans-Saharan and Savanna-Rainforest trade in times past. Inside the city is a historical testament of centuries of urbanized people cramming up together and who consequently found the technology for one-storey buildings and staircases in an unregulated urban sprawl. The royal ‘ears’ on the buildings got coopted into mainstream architecture as merchants got richer, rich enough to limit the power of the nobility and challenge their monopolies in trade. Modern buildings rise intermittently between old clay houses. Most streets have more modern buildings as the old gradually makes way for the new. The paved streets get narrower as he winds through the city that has effectively become a huge market. Trade and commerce bustled on every street. Three big markets stretch into one another and form an endless stream of bazaars. He was always astonished at the riches of Singa market. World currencies are packed and carried in maize sacks from one ancient residential building to another. He felt proud of the sense of security in Kano. The bureau de change in Singa spills into the street, sitting on cars and motorcycles the operators called out for customers. They seemed to say that they understand that the residential houses on the narrow streets are too old to house their business but for some curious reason they just can’t leave the market or rebuild it. Dollars, Pound Sterling, CFA francs and some weird looking currencies with very bright colours got examined by traders that don’t appear to know the names of the countries where the currencies come from although they obviously know value and have a shrewd eye for business that has been inherited from centuries of commerce.
Much of Kano is now outside the ancient wall and the old continue to mingle with the new and sometimes outlives it. Cars raced past him. An influx of expatriates of mostly Lebanese and lately Chinese origin saw the increase in expensive sport utility vehicles. Hummers and Toyotas sped past in stately majesty. He adored the Range Rover and he dreamt of driving one. There was something about the car that speaks to him. It is unambiguously masculine and solid and its features are even. It has a combination of the dexterity of a land rover and the measured and austere beauty of a BMW.
He drove past the Dala hill into the township. Gwauran-Dutse is the only other rock within the walls. It’s aptly named the lonely rock. The Gwauran-Dutse prison houses hundreds of prisoners and several hundred more Awaiting-Trial-Persons. The prison officials call them ATMs perhaps because they are always coming out of the jail to court and back.
“Barrister,” a young warden hailed him.
The warden shook his hand and opened the gate. Inside, he dropped his keys and handset in the reception and entered his name on the Attorneys Register. He followed a taller warden into the prison complex. A superior officer signed the register and he got allowed in. The office of the Welfare officer is always crowded with inmates meeting their Lawyers and relatives. The men will walk into the hall and squat before their Lawyers or a relative like an obedient child and sometimes they sit on a low stool. The wardens stood guard to stop unlawful exchange but with professional deference towards the Lawyers which the inmate’s relatives mostly don’t get. He wrote the name on a paper and handed it to the warden.
“Abubakar,” the warden called.
A short stocky prisoner came forward and took the paper. Ten minutes later, two inmates were presented to him. One was named Bello, the other was Jauro. Neither of the two was older than twenty one. The warden sent Abubakar to search again and he came back with the paper.
“There is no Bello Jauro in this house,” he said.
The expression on his face implored Mustapha to take the paper and correct the name. Mustapha muttered a silent prayer. The Bauchi State Federal Prison had more than a modest supply of Jauros and Bellos at all times, mostly young nomadic Fulani men coming to terms with the rules of sedentary society and some of whom are victims of the Police who may have sought unsuccessfully to extort money from them or their relatives as the nomadic Fulani are widely believed to be very rich with their great herds of cattle. In Bauchi, he would have had to wait for more than a few hours, sorting through an endless stream of Jauros and Bellos.
“I doubt if he is one of ours,” the warden said, “the name is not familiar.”
The welfare officer took the paper and examined it like he would a small pretty bird. He gave up and wore his glasses and looked again.
“Is he an ATM, Barrister?” He asked.
“No, he’s a convict, an old one. He is serving fourteen years. He’s set for release in two days’ time I believe,” he answered.
“The only Bello Jauro that was ever here was released about three years ago.”
“Was he serving for rape?”
“Yes, he was,” he answered as recognition downed on him.
The warden turned to the welfare officer.
“Who is Bello Jauro, sir?”
“You remember Alhaji that was released at the same time with Guy Terror?”
“Yes. He’s been long released. Barrister he’s long gone,” he said turning to Mustapha.
He looked at Mustapha with curiosity hoping that he will tell him what he wants with the man and perhaps continue the conversation.
“Thank you,” he said instead and walked out of the hall.
For six days he waited for her to come back. He dreamt of her walking into the office and sitting on the clients’ chair, her lips parting but not saying a word, swallowing the words he told her with her eyes. She didn’t come. He resisted the urge to ask Na’ila if someone had come to see him while he was in Court. Na’ila with her keen intelligence may sense that something is off with him and if anyone did come she would have told him before he asked anyway. He searched for the file himself and found in it the address of Malam Bello Jauro. The address sent a sensation through his spine as if he had found a piece of treasure. If Kamal was there, he would know that he had been smitten and he would have told him. Since no one was there to tell him, he refused to believe it.
The house, 37k is an enormous mansion. It had been expanded perhaps to make room for a growing family. He parked under the trees and knocked on the gate. A maid came to the door and opened it. Her shoulders sagged from immense exhaustion. Her face was distorted with all kinds of emotion but mostly disgust. She held a broom on her left hand and a mop on the other. If only she was holding a hammer and a sickle, she will be a fit enough piece of communist propaganda, Mustapha thought.
“Come in,” she said with a voice that matched her looks, tired and irritated. The house outside is a white two-storey building, glazed with brown glass and beautified with manicured greenery that extends into a garden behind the house. Inside, however, is a graphic representation of a situation where money has been losing a long battle to contain chaos. The house was rocking on its foundations with noise. Dirty children run disorderly races up and down the stairs and into the hall knocking down things in the process, things that were probably restored back to their place not long ago after having been knocked down. Most of the children were of the same height. It was easy to tell that most of them are grandchildren to whoever was the owner of the house. Some were making siren noises while others seemed to bang a metal on every other metal that could make a noise in the house. From the noise, he reckoned that they may be up to twenty at least. A somber woman in her fifties came out of the bedroom, appearing from the shadows like a tired ghost. She looked like the human version of a worn out manufacturing machine. She held two babies who looked like a twin. Heavy gold earrings pulled down her ears and made them turn into a mango shape. Her face revealed a haughty beauty long buried by stress and age.
“Come in,” she said.
She led him into the sitting room. The room was adorned with rags and unwashed clothes that the children may have thrown and scattered around. She stood back at the sight of the mess and angrily called the maid in an obvious effort to let him know it’s the maid’s duty to clean things up which she didn’t. A small child with a big boxy head came running by, and using Mustapha’s buttocks as a brake, stopped abruptly. Quick as quicksilver, he dipped his little hand into the pocket and ran away as quickly as he came. He stopped at the foot of the stairs to examine his loot and seeing that it’s a pen, he flung it back at Mustapha and resumed his race. His mother hissed and moaned a tired excuse.
“I’m sorry, these children are like that.”
On the wall of the sitting room was what was supposed to be an expensive painting. It’s now a proper eyesore with the outline of little fingers in dirt and pencil. Close to the painting was another painting of Malam Bello Jauro that had been ruined with crayons and lipstick (applied abundantly on his lips). His children had added whiskers and tribal marks to his face, including the Yoruba tribal mark that scarify the face from both edges of the mouth in several slashes up to the cheek. She sat him at the dining table.
“My name is Mustafa, from the Law firm of A.H. Azare & Co. We were your husband’s attorneys some years ago,” he said.
“Welcome,” she said and tried to smile.
“Some days back, his daughter came to us to ask for his file but she couldn’t get it.”
Her face contorted in confusion.
“I didn’t send any of my daughters to you. Maryam is in school and Amira…,” she stopped and shouted, “Amira!”
A teenager entered the room with earpieces in her ear and her eyes glued to a handset. She wore an ash T-shirt and a tight jean that she probably only wears at home. She hummed along to the song playing.
“Did you go to the Barrister’s office for anything?” Her mother asked.
The confusion on her face said she doesn’t know what was been talked about and her mother turned back to him.
“Barrister, which of my daughters are you talking about. They only other daughter he has is a fifteen year old.”
“Perhaps it must be a mistake. It may be some other person. I’m sorry to bother you. What about him, is he around?”
“What are you talking about, Barrister. You know he is in prison,” she said.
“He is not. He has been released three years ago,” he said.
“What? He has been released? I thought the jail term ends in a few months,” she said.
“Sometimes sentences are passed to include the time one has already spent in jail while awaiting trial. I suspect that that was what happened. The sentence started when he was remanded not when he was sentenced.”
“But that can’t be. If he has been released then why is he not here?” She asked.
He saw the accumulated anxiety of fourteen years rose to her tired face. She squint her eyes to make sense of the situation. The only response she could offer was that of disbelief. She was tired and looked like she has been so for fourteen years.
A girl of about seven years brought him food. She came to the table carefully as if afraid not to spill it. She avoided the little human jets whizzing past her and laid the tray of food on the table before him. Inside the heap of yam porridge was the clear outline of four little fingers and a small empty space that was supposed to hold a piece of fried meat.
“Are you sure he’s not there in prison? Have you checked all the prisons?” She asked.
“He’s not there. I was at the prison on Tuesday. The wardens confirmed that he was released,” he said.
“Is there any chance they transferred him elsewhere?” She asked and her voice cracked.
“No, he was released and thank you very much, I have to go. If there’s anything we can do to help please let us know,” he said as he rose up to go.
She sat on her chair unmoving and perplexed. Her face aged further with grief and anger. He walked out of the house and more than ever determined to find Sumayya.