By Baba Galleh Jallow
As Nyinya walked home she kept laughing nervously to herself. She still felt some fear, but she was reassured by Alkatan’s words. She now had some hope that she would not, after all, be forced to marry Imam Sukuro. She giggled anytime she thought about the fact that Imam Sukuro couldn’t recognize her. At first she thought he was just pretending but now knew that the imam really thought she was an old lady he had never seen before! This strange fact made her hopeful and trust in Alkatan’s words. He had said the imam will not touch me, she thought as she entered their compound and went straight to her mother’s hut.
Natoma lay on her bed, feeling sad as she has been since her husband decided Nyinya must marry Imam Sukuro. She loved her daughter to death and her heart bled that her small baby will be forced to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather; that she will become the fifth wife of an old man and not the first wife of a young and vibrant man as she had always prayed. She was troubled that her prayers were not answered and that her baby’s life will be destroyed through a forced marriage. For how could a woman be happy if she does not lover her husband, of if she is forced to marry a man old enough to be her grandfather? When sometimes the tears flowed down her face onto the pillow, she turned to face the wall and pretended to be asleep when someone came in. Nyinya entered and called her.
Natoma turned, saw her daughter’s face and immediately sat up, adjusting her head tie and wondering what happened. The last time she saw Nyinya, the girl’s face was a thick wall of pain and her eyes were red and swollen from crying. Now Nyinya’s face glowed, her eyes sparkled and the girl was laughing. Natoma was scared.
“Eh Nyinya. You are happy,” she observed, at once puzzled and frightened at the look on her daughter’s face. “What happened?” she asked.
“Nna, I don’t think I will marry Imam Sukuro again,” Nyinya giggled as she sat next to her mother on the bed. A hesitant smile broke on Natoma’s lips.
“Eh, what happened? Did your father change his mind?” she asked. “Or did the imam say he no longer wants to marry you?”
“No, Nna,” Nyinya replied. “Alkatan said so. I went to him and told him and he took me to Imam Sukuro and asked him not to marry me. Sukuro did not agree but Alkatan said I should not worry, that Sukuro will never touch me!”
“Ah, I hear people say that Alkatan is not an ordinary person. But what will your father say? Only if Sukuro dies before tomorrow can I believe that he will not marry you Nyinya. These men? What they say is what they do.”
“But I believe in Alkatan Nna,” Nyinya said. “When we went to his compound Imam Sukuro did not recognize me. He kept calling me an old woman. He did not recognize me Nna!”
“He did not recognize you? He said you were an old woman? Is he gone mad?” Natoma could not understand what her daughter was saying as Nyinya explained how Imam Sukuro insisted that she was an old woman and not the girl he was about to marry. She told her mother Alkatan said that she should not worry, that she should agree to everything she was asked to do, and that Imam Sukuro will never touch her.
“Hmmn. That is strange,” Natoma said. “But people say Alkatan’s head is wide. If he could throw Degere in a wrestling match and convince Kiyanka to kill thirty cows and give them out as charity and never to take people’s goats again, then maybe he can help us make sure Imam Sukuro does not marry you.”
“He won’t Nna!” Nyinya said, giggling. “I believe what Alkatan said.”
After lunch, Afang Wolemu and other elders sat on mats under the big tree in the middle of his compound, chatting and waiting for Imam Sukuro’s delegation to arrive from the Borati clan. This was not the first time the Borati and Wolemu clans had intermarried. Afang Wolemu was particularly pleased that his daughter was getting married to Imam Sukuro.
“As for us, we should just thank God. Imam Sukuro is a man of blessings and will take good care of our daughter,” Afang Wolemu kept repeating, stopping short of mentioning how happy he was that the imam was well-off and would definitely help him once in a while. “Eh, what is important is that when a woman reaches the age of marriage, she should be married.”
“Ah, that is the truth,” some elders chorused. Someone observed that any woman who was married to Imam Sukuro was assured of heaven because the imam was a man of God and he had no chaakaan. “Imam Sukuro is a man of truth and seriousness,” another elder observed.
As they spoke they saw Imam Sukuro’s delegation enter the compound, with Imam Diyamu holding the bundle of colanuts to be offered, accepted and shared to formalize the marriage. Afang Wolemu and his relatives were a little surprised to see Imam Sukuro among the arrivals. It was unusual that the man who is begging for a wife is among those who came to beg and so the Wolemu elders could not help noticing Imam Sukuro’s strange presence among the Borati delegation. Greetings were exchanged and the delegation invited to sit down on the mats. As soon as Afang Wolemu finished repeating that the Borati elders were welcome, Imam Sukuro said he knew that he was not supposed to be there but he came with the delegation because he wanted to say something to Afang Wolemu before the marriage was tied.
“Yesterday that old man Alkatan came with an old woman to my compound to beg me not to marry your daughter,” Imam Sukuro continued. “They said you did not send them. Were you aware of this Afang Wolemu?”
“No I was not aware of that,” Afang Wolemu responded, looking surprised and a little confused. “Did you say they came to beg you not to marry my daughter?”
“Yes,” the imam said. “But what worries me is that Alkatan said the old woman was your daughter Nyinya. Eh, I don’t want to enter into darkness Afang. That’s why I came here now.”
“Eh, I don’t even know what you are talking about imam because I Wolemu did not send anyone to ask you not to marry my daughter,” Afang Wolemu replied, feeling perplexed. “And I know that my daughter will not dare to do that because both she and her mother will get out of my compound if she did. As for Alkatan, I did not send him to you.”
“Well our elders say you should not buy something you have not seen,” Imam Sukuro said. “You should only buy something when you lay eyes on it and you are satisfied that it is the thing you are buying and not something else. It is for that reason that I came. I want to see the girl for whom all of you elders are here today. I want to make sure that you are giving me your daughter and not an old woman whose origin I don’t know.”
Afang Wolemu and the elders were surprised by Imam Sukuro’s request but they agreed with him that no one should buy what they have not seen. And so Afang Wolemu called out Nyinya’s name and when she answered, asked her to come over. Nyinya came out of her mother’s hut and walked towards the elders. Nyinya arrived and bent her knees in greeting to the elders, and said, “I am here father.” Natoma stood at her door watching.
“Eh Imam, here is the one you want to see, my daughter Nyinya,” Afang Wolemu said, gesturing towards the girl.
“Where is she?” the imam asked. “I mean your daughter Nyinya, for whom I bring colanuts today.”
“Eh, Imam, here is my daughter Nyinya, standing right before you. She’s the only daughter I have and she’s the one you want to marry,” Afang Wolemu said, beginning to get irritated. “You said you wanted to see her; here she is.”
At that point Imam Sukuro lost his temper. He angrily sprang to his feet and shook his fist at Afang Wolemu. Some of the elders grabbed his legs while others stood up, ready to restrain him.
“So you Afang Wolemu think I am a mad man!” the imam angrily said. “So you were the one who sent Alkatan yesterday to ask me not to marry your daughter! If you don’t want to give me your daughter why didn’t you just tell me, ha? Was this not the same old woman who came with Alkatan to my compound yesterday?” he queried, pointing at Nyinya and glaring down at Afang Wolemu. A chorus of voices from the elders pleaded with the imam to take it easy and assured him that the woman standing there was indeed Nyinya. Afang Wolemu and the elders were bewildered and wondered whether the imam had gone mad.
“In fact, this talk is too much!” Imam Sukuro snapped angrily. “You take your daughter and give me back my cow and my colanuts!” With that Imam Sukuro bent down and grabbed the bundle of colanuts and instructed his disciples to go untie the cow tied to a stake nearby. He slipped his feet into his shoes and angrily marched out of Afang Wolemu’s compound. Not knowing what was really happening, the elders loudly wondered among themselves and gradually dispersed. “No one must ever come here to beg for my daughter’s hand in marriage to Sukuro! I will fight whoever dares to come here on behalf of Sukuro again!” Afang Wolemu angrily warned as the elders dispersed.
The next day Nyinya went to visit her best friend Sima at Imam Sukuro’s compound and the imam recognized her. He sat up in his pilyaan as the girl passed and said “Eh, is this not Nyinya? Where were you?”
“Salaam Imam, I’ve been here,” Nyinya responded and walked on.
“You’ve been here?” Imam Sukuro queried, putting his prayer beads into his pocket. He would wait until Nyinya was coming back that way.