The Sunnis have the right idea. If it were in Tehran, 1999 could never have escalated the way it did. Even on holy days! Eid without peace of mind! Abdulrahman! Sani! Salami! Curse them! The empty magazine of an automatic assault rifle clicks and Hakeem jolts awake from his vengeful reverie.
Hakeem pulled his right forefinger away from the trigger of the gun, lowered it from the imaginary enemy it had been pointed at, and set it aside. As he stood from the sill of one of the many windows of the uncompleted stone-filled building, he redirected the frustration that moved his trigger finger to his feet and he forcefully kicked a crumpled emptied can of Star Radler lying beside his feet. He consciously and vehemently sought the deep places of his mind for fuel. He did not need to look far, or look for long. He woke with the thoughts every passing day since October 6, 1999, and with each new day, immobilizing shock became terror, terror became paralysing fear, and that too morphed into anger, and for a long time it circulated between stark fear and seething rage and nothing more, until he met Zamani. Zamani was an errand-boy for the one they called ‘The Parliamentarian’, which everyone Hakeem met knew was a way of stating that he was a prominent senator in Nigeria. Zamani had helped Hakeem out of Jos in 2011 with a mission. Today was its fulfilling. Twelve years of seeing his people mercilessly massacred had rendered him unrecognizable by his uncle who had sponsored him through college in Jos. He was disappointed in his uncle; an Imam who cared for infidels. With the fifth stomp of his feet on a weak pillar holding a part of the lintel of an entrance to the unfinished building, the pillar rods came off, and then he realized that it was foolishness letting it out on the building that has done no harm. By evening that Saturday, the real targets will feel the brunt of his ire. The sharp spears of justice and righteousness shall fall upon them. And as they desecrated many holy days with blood, he would march into their holy temples and defile them with blood as well.
Hakeem had left house as early as 4 am that Saturday, and without a second look at his sister or father, both of whom snored with careless abandon on the floor of the sitting room in odd positions, he left for the venue. It was his operation, so he needed to be mentally prepared for it. Everything he looked at on his way spoke to him of how well-justified the day’s agenda was. Growing up and schooling in a Muslim school that allowed non-Muslims and remembering the growing feeling of hate at the idea of such tolerance for these non-believers had cemented it in his mind that there was no one more suited to do this; and Jos – the unrepentant murder of his college friends, Abdulrahman, Sani and Salami – wiped every doubt that ever festered about his calling, about his purpose. The uncle that had trained him through school from cradle to college, whom he had first assumed would understand him became the one holy man he was ashamed of in spite of being the current Chief Imam of the Central Mosque in Minna, and over time, his father whom he hadn’t even trusted was devoted to Islam had become his guiding light. Rukayatu, Hakeem’s father, was excellent in speeches, and his many rhetoric motivated his son, through all the clandestine meetings with The Parliamentarian, and the secretive recruiting of willing soldiers, to the formation of a formidable structured force in Minna, and until he received inspiration for a name; titular words to remember and faze doubt away.
A name. It is more than that, Hakeem reminded himself. It is Jihad; his Jihad. His attention was taken away from the purple robe with Arabic scripting that ran long its length down to the floor by the entry of the first soldier. Mustapha, his lieutenant, dropped his long stick and rusting twine-like machete outside the building, stepped in, knelt, made a prayer, and then walked up to Hakeem sat beside a towering pile of arsenal provided by The Parliamentarian for the day. Mustapha smelled like the fifty cattle that walked the circlet of Downtown Minna everyday with him, and Hakeem took in that odour with the strongest sense of camaraderie, hugging him tightly, and pointing to the arsenal pile for him to select his choice weapon. Hakeem reminded himself that justice would always smell like nature, like the debased majority, like those thrown away by society who had refused to see their worth; like those most hurt by the malicious acts of the non-believers.
One by one, his army approached, all following the same pattern of entry, and there was enough passionate hugs and pistols or rifles or shotguns or grenades or knives or timed explosives for them all. Some came in cloaked because they worried that they would be discovered by their peers or families, others came in agape and bright as day; very few worried for their lives and then were assured by Hakeem of the nobleness of their commitment, while a majority of them were pumped for assignment; many miserly traders, or truck-pushers, or cattle shepherds, or beggars, or hawkers, and Hakeem took them all as brethren. They lined themselves up after saying the Asr, and Hakeem invoked his father’s spirit in him, and spoke his father’s everyday words to his acolytes. They were more this Saturday than they were last time they met, and he was happy. He noticed most of the new comers stood behind others in the five by seven matrix they stood in, and most of them were hooded. He began from behind, uncloaking them with his hands, and blessing them on their foreheads. He did this to all thirty-four of them, till he got to the thirty-fifth who was the only one left with a hood. Removing the hood, he was a combined feeling of awe-struck, severely sad, apologetic and concerned, but mostly startled, and he instinctively jumped back and drew everyone’s attention to him.
“What are you doing here?” Hakeem asked and barked at the same time, emotions and memories of family tragedies pouring through him and forcefully attempting to kick him out of his stoic resolve, to his distaste. “Who told you about us?” He asked again in Hausa. He wasn’t getting any response. The figure before him stood motionless, nearly-emotionless, face to the front, lips tightly bitten. His battered and sun-assaulted face, strong pungent smell of gutters and urine, worn front tooth biting the lip, roughly matted hair highlighting his rectangle-shaped head, thick eyebrows and lashes, and deep double tribal marks on both cheeks running from ear to nose made him unmistakeably recognizable as Hakeem’s cousin, Tawfiq. But yet, he could not be recognized because Hakeem had never ever seen him this poised before. Tawfiq was the family chicken; always running away from opportunities like his father, always taking the slacker’s way out, never committing, and summarizing his woes with a bad temper and many rueful excommunications. Tawfiq was no soldier.
“Salihu Tawfiq, answer me!” Hakeem continued, tears welling in his face, voice dropped so that he avoids exuding a lack of poise and confidence. “Everyone here has signed over their death warrants. They are ready to die for the cause. Do you even know our slogan? What do you think—Tawfiq, I can not let you do this…not after what my family has don—”
“All is forgiven, brother. This is my purpose.” Tawfiq stonily replies Hakeem in Nupe, their home tongue, and in a voice so steely and calm, and deep, that Hakeem would have sworn Tawfiq was being impersonated. His face was still forwards. Hakeem considers this for some silent moments, and then decides that he would not stop Allah’s chosen. He nodded to his cousin and turned away from him to render the finale of his motivational speech before they revisited the plans and set out. As he left Tawfiq’s side, Tawfiq coolly whispered, to Hakeem’s hearing, “Yad Allah Alyumnaa Lana,” and there and then, every doubt Hakeem had about his day not going as planned fizzled away. Tawfiq had instantly and inadvertently become his source of calm, Allah’s way of assuring him that he was guided.
He opened his mouth, facing his troops, about to start the last words when in bursts a woman, who from her garb was definitely a market woman. She crashed onto Hakeem’s feet, running incomprehensible words in a back and forth Nupe and Hausa. She spotted someone at the extreme right of the front line of the standing troops, and crashed onto his feet. Tawfiq’s steely resolve broke; Hakeem cursed the woman for stealing his divine reassurance from him, noting Tawfiq’s return to the cousin he remembered. Tawfiq dropped to his knees and, loudly bawling, begged his mother to return to the market.
The standing lines were loosening, someone had crouched even. Unrest and side hissing steadily rose. Hakeem needed to contain the situation. “Rufiyat.” Hakeem, remembering the new-found respect and honour he had for his father’s sister and her family through Tawfiq’s recent bravery, decided for the first time, to accord respect to his aunt when addressing her, “Aunt Rufiyat, it is pointless. Your son has made up his mind.” This pulled Rufiyat back to where he stood. She practically crawled on all fours, weighed down by the obvious discovery of what her son was about doing and what it implied. Hakeem was pissed Tawfiq would tell his mother, but then again, she was all he had. Rufiyat begged Hakeem to pull Tawfiq from his plans some more, and then begun chiding him on how misguided and counterintuitive his plans were when Hakeem wouldn’t do anything about Tawfiq. She warned him that the Christians would revenge. They would find out who did this and slaughter as well, and even if they don’t pinpoint who orchestrated it, they would still slaughter. This enraged Hakeem more and made his point for him instead. She warned Hakeem to not turn Minna into Jos, to not bring the chaos of the North East and Central to the North West that has been relatively peaceful for years.
“Qu’ran, 2, 208: O you who believe, enter absolutely into peace, into Islam. Do not follow in the footsteps of Satan. He is an outright enemy to you.”
Hakeem turned away. Rufiyat was sounding like her brother, his uncle, Raheem. “Our religion literally means peace, Hakeem. Please don’t add to the Islamophobia the world has about us, please.” She said ‘Islamophobia’ in English. Tawfiq started getting up, refusing to look his comrades, or his mother, or his cousin in the face.
“Complete with each other in doing good; Surat al-Maída, thmanyt waárbaeun…tatanafas mae bedha albaed fi alqiam bieamal jayid, Hakeem,” and Hakeem released a cap on the wall beside his aunt in a terror-filled rage. He refused to listen to her truth. Tawfiq jumped towards his mother to save her in the heat of the conflict, but seeing that Hakeem had only intentionally missed, he gently withdrew back to his position. Rufiyat did not need a second gunshot; she got up, wiped her tears, turned to her son, lasted on him for a minute, and then calmly sobbed as she walked away from the meeting place.
At the market front, Rufiyat jumped a little when her name was called from a distance. All the way from her son back to the market had been a sluggish drift of aloofness. Emeka, her neighbour trader in onions at the market, who had become something of a second son slash friend to her was the one who called. She touched her face to ensure there weren’t any traces of tears on them. “It’s past three, Rufiyat. You missed our break. Where did you run off to? What did that woman say to you? I was worried. Rufiyat? Are you even listening to—why is your wrapper torn? Are you okay?” Emeka’s Igbo-doused Hausa was always pleasant to listen to and chuckle over. The fact that she was not chuckling and had not noticed the tear in her wrapper was inconveniencing. “Rufiyat?” Emeka called again, with every concern in his tone. She needed a comforter. Since the passing of Sefullahi her husband, Emeka had been it.
“Is Dirisu around?” Rufiyat asked Emeka.
“The coffin maker? I don’t know.” Emeka sat her down beside the broken gates of Kananan Zungeru. “What do you need him for? I can call Ali to call him for you.”
“There is no need for Ali. I’ll see him myself.”
They walked a little way back towards the market, Emeka supporting her tilted weight on his shoulder. She was definitely downcast, he noted. “What did you say you needed a coffin for again?”
“For Tawfiq,” she replied. Emeka sharply taken aback, quickly responded without considering. “Tawfiq died?”
“No. He will,” Rufiyat replied with a sigh and unclipped herself from Emeka. Emeka froze and she continued down to the location of Dirisu’s storefront on her own.
“What did that woman say to Rufiyat?” Emeka’s shock was tainted with a driving curiosity now. The same curiosity that had taken him off his seat in the middle of the market and had lead him to the market front gate where he had met Rufiyat. Something awry was afoot, and he itched to get to the bottom of it.
Emeka followed the route taken by a well-covered woman who had dressed like a hajia who had spoken with Rufiyat before she stormed off the market like a crazy person. Emeka was a good tracker and eventually spotted the woman from afar. He followed her, keeping a safe distance, until he got to GSW Street. A sight one does not see every day captured him instantly once on the street. It was a chase that seemed to have started a while ago, or maybe, had started, stopped, and resumed again, judging from the words of the chased.
A very fair-skinned lady with the darkest silkiest hair Emeka had ever seen, limping a little, cast what he noticed was her hijab behind her, targeting an older man that looked like her who trailed behind her. He was the chaser. “This morning’s madness was not enough for you, father? I’m heading to brother. What is all this!?” she screamed, at her father, apparently.
She spoke words and cursed curses that were tantamount to severe penance for a Muslim woman. Hypocrite. Pretender. Nothing is holy. All corruption. Uncouth bootlicking. And she went on and on, distracting Emeka from his tracking, and somehow, pulling Emeka to follow their madness, down a narrow street that burst out into a busy corner, and then through an old abandoned barely spacious stony alleyway that burst onto an abandoned building housing a number of men with their faces covered, except for their eyes, all lined up, save one in front of them. They were arranged like military, and they recited mantras in Arabic.
Emeka stopped following the moment the lady in front ran to the one commanding the rest screaming, “Ajiye ni, dan’uwana. Save me, brother.” The supposed brother pushed her away from him forcefully and smiled as their father majestically walked in. You would wonder if he ran at all in a chase the way he walked. He moved to his son and they had the warmest embrace. The sister backed away from the both of them as if she had seen a ghost, while the other men who lined up in front of them shouted together, “Yad Allah Alyumnaa Lana! Allahu Akbar!”
Emeka noticed very familiar eyes among the throng. He first questioned, “Rufiyat?” But no, it could not be. He then understood the need for a coffin. He had a phone call to make.