One day in the Zambesi Bush

The elephant was well and truly in the room or should i say bush!, there was no escaping, there was nowhere to hide, I couldn’t be a wall flower today, I had just found out that today was my day, the day I was to be signed over.

One of the older sisters had summoned me after Morning Prayer, she asked me to sit on a low stool and began to paint intricate designs in henna on my feet and hands, I asked her why, she smiled and said, knowingly. “Your time has come”.

“Time has come for what” I asked, “am I to be released, have I done something wrong or what?”

She smiled again and said “Abdul Rahman has chosen you, you are lucky”

And so it dawned on me, I was to be given to Abdul Rahman, a man child I had never met, I had heard the other women say he was one of the young mean ones, that he was assured martyrdom, he had no qualms about doing anything for the cause, he had tricked some of the girls into speaking in English and then got them punished, just for a laugh, as western education was banned, western languages were also banned.

In my defiance of this rule I thought in English, I prayed in English, I sung to myself in English, I counted each day in English, they could steal my freedom but not my thoughts.

And so I waited for my turn, I was told by one of the older girls that it was to be between Zuhr and Asr prayers – 2 and 4 o’clock, the hottest part of the day.

“It won’t be that bad” she said,

“Just think of past good times, at least you will belong to someone” she said and giggled,

I can’t imagine why she thought it was a good thing, may be the sun had got to her head, she’d been here too long or she was well and truly one of them.

The call to prayer for Zuhr went out and we washed and prayed… and then it started, I and ten other girls were ushered into a room, the youngest was about 13, I knew her, we lived on the same street, her parents were rich, they had the big house on the corner, they had running water and would open the gates between ten and twelve every day to let people fetch water for free, they were good people. Why hadn’t she and the rest of us been rescued, I prayed every day in the beginning and now I just recited the Quran as we had been taught, no-one was listening in this dark dank place, even the birds looked forlorn, the hyenas that used ‘laugh’ at us were disinterested, the chameleons were too hot to move and just stuck their tongues out to catch their prey, we were trapped like bush meat in snares and about to be signed over to the unknown. We were each given a clean hijab, a pair of new shoes and a gold bangle!, the older sisters rubbed our feet with a mixture of sandalwood, camwood and cheap perfume, the smell made me gag, throwing up might put the kunshi off for a day or two, but would also get me punished, this was the bridal shower from hell, the women cackled like old witches and made crude jokes about the men, I thought Muslim women were supposed to be pure.

The imam called my name – my new name which I often forgot – I had gone from Agnes Bakky to Munira, I repeated my name a few times every day so I wouldn’t forget, how could I forget my own name?

“A Muslim husband must look after his wife, she is his property and he is her property, she must do everything he says without question…”. The imam droned on and on for at least thirty minutes.

The men came out and we were handed over, I was led over to Abdul Rahman, he was dressed in white with a black skull cap, he didn’t look at me, his so called beard which all the men were encouraged to grow was a sparse as the hair on his head, he couldn’t be more than eighteen I doubt if he knew one end of a women from the other. The imam asked if he was happy with his choice, he said, yes. I was not asked for my opinion and that was it, he glanced at me and then I knew why he couldn’t look at me, I knew him.
“Be quiet, you will go home soon”

May be there was a light at the end of this dark tunnel, I might be going home soon, but I had a wedding night to contend with, God be with me and my newlywed sisters. Amen.

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