“This series and the characters in it are fictitious. Certain long-standing institutions, agencies, and public offices are mentioned, and the religious rites are authentic, but the characters involved are wholly imaginary. “
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Copyright © 2023 by Hadiza Bagudu.
Nana Aisha was miserable. She found herself trapped in an airport bus with her parents, en route to board a plane to Madinah, en route to Makkah, for the holy pilgrimage of Hajj. It wasn’t her decision, and she didn’t want to go. Her father was forcing her, and to make matters worse, he planned to marry her off to his friend as soon as they returned. The journey to Hajj was meant to soften the blow, a suggestion from her mother. She had promised Nana Aisha that they would stop in Dubai on their way back to Nigeria to shop for the wedding, and she would have a budget of twenty million Naira to spend on whatever her heart desired. Even that didn’t make her happy.
She shifted nervously in her seat, scanning her surroundings, hoping to find an escape route. Her father shot her a stern look, and her mother nudged her gently to stay still. She sighed in frustration and rolled her eyes. She contemplated making her escape while they were lining up to board the plane. Her father would be in the men’s line, and her mother would likely be occupied with identifying their luggage. It was then that she planned to make her move. Zakari would be waiting for her in his car, where they would escape together. She had stolen five hundred thousand Naira from her father’s room and some gold jewelry from her mother’s, securely hidden away for their getaway. That should sustain them until they find employment. One thing was certain: they would never return. The thought brought a slight smile to her face.
“Will you sit still?” Her mother snapped at her. Nana Aisha looked at her and pursed her lips in a sulk. The other pilgrims on the bus stared at her, and her father gave her a stern look, silently warning her. She knew it was her last chance to behave, so she sank back into her seat and adopted a meek demeanor, but her mind was racing with plots and calculations.
The bus held about 15 people, all sponsored by her father, dressed in modest attire. The men wore kaftans and caps, while the women donned jalabiyas and khimars. Her father, Alhaji Babangida Bello Kura, one of Kano’s wealthiest men, sat in the front. He was a highly successful clothes merchant, rice farmer, and exporter, and the CEO of Kura Cement Company and Kura Textiles. His net worth was estimated to be over seven billion Naira, and being one of his only three children, Nana Aisha stood to inherit at least one and a half billion someday. To her right was her elder brother, Nura. Her sister, Hauwa, was supposed to accompany them, but her husband fell ill at the last minute, forcing her to cancel her trip. Seated to Nura’s right was the General Manager of Kura Cement, Alhaji Ibrahim Hamzah Jigawa.
In the second row, Nana Aisha found herself wedged between her mother and Alhaji Ibrahim’s wife, a deliberate attempt to prevent her from escaping. Just behind them sat a man and a woman whom she didn’t know. They had three noisy children, all seemingly under the age of ten, with the youngest one crying every couple of minutes. In the last row sat an elderly man whose odor was noticeable even from her seat, a young, handsome man, and a middle-aged man, all of them unrecognizable to her.
The cheap material of her attire irritated her skin, and she found herself even more vexed by the presence of all these smelly and annoying strangers. The Kura family was accustomed to traveling by private jet or first class, accompanied by a fleet of expensive cars that would transport them directly to the aircraft’s doorstep. This way, they never had to interact with common folk. However, this journey was an exception. They were en route to Saudi Arabia for the holy pilgrimage, and the usual rules didn’t apply here. Her father had arranged for an airport bus to pick them up at his company along with other passengers.
“Your wealth or social status hold no significance here. In the eyes of Allah, everyone is equal, and the most honorable among people is the one who is most God-fearing,” her father had explained to her.
“So, that odorous old man may well be more significant than her father,” she thought.
Everyone was treated the same, with no distinction between first class and economy. It was literally the first time she had taken a bus, and she didn’t like it. “Maybe there’s some kind of lesson here,” she mused. She had hoped that Zakari would be waiting in the car with some drugs and a few sticks of heroin, as she was seriously craving a fix at that moment.
The bus came to a halt at the international wing of Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport. Through the large picture window in the departure terminal, she caught a glimpse of the huge and imposing Max Air Boeing 747, wondering if that was the plane they were about to board. They were directed to the Emirates desks, where their documents were checked, and their passports stamped. Their luggage was checked in, except for their carry-ons, which they would take with them onto the plane. Going through the customs procedures took over forty-five minutes, further worsening her plight.
Her mother firmly held her hand, not letting go until they were safely seated on the plane. It was as if she could read her mind. Nana Aisha protested gently and even begged to be allowed to go to the bathroom because her stomach was hurting, but her request was denied.
“You can use the plane’s bathroom now, ma’am,” a lovely female flight attendant informed her. The whole crew of the plane seemed too nice, which irritated her even more. It was almost as if they knew her plight and were mocking her.
“No thanks. I’m fine,” she replied.
“But you were pressed just before boarding.”
“I’m okay now.”
“It’s better you go now, ma’am, because you will be allowed to while we are taking off...”
“I said I’m okay!” Her mother eyed her sharply after she snapped at the now upset-looking flight attendant. “I’m sorry. But I’m okay now,” she apologized.
“Alright, ma’am. If you need anything, press this button,” the flight attendant said before leaving her alone.
“Ke! Be careful,” her mother warned. “Don’t think that I won’t discipline you just because we are among strangers. Don’t push me!”
Nana Aisha sulked some more and looked around the plane, embarrassed to see who might be looking at her after her mother had yelled at her. To her relief, everybody seemed busy with tasks such as finding seats and loading their luggage into overhead compartments. Her father and brother were seated all the way in the back of the plane, which was another thing she was happy about. She couldn’t handle all of them at once.
Suddenly, two of those little children she had seen on the bus ran past them, pushing people and squealing with glee. Their mother hurried after them, yelling for them to stop while trying to hold onto the little one and juggling two small bags. Her husband followed but didn’t help; instead, he glared at them. He was only holding a small case and could have assisted his wife with one of her kids or the bags at least, Nana Aisha thought. Some men are so insensitive. She shook her head. Was that what her father planned for her—a life of misery like that woman? Not only was it cruel to force her to marry someone she didn’t love, but the man was three decades older than her and had two other wives. Even though polygamy was widespread in Kano, she didn’t want to end up in one, especially not with someone she couldn’t even stand. She had to find a way out, but how? She couldn’t risk reporting her father to the police because she would bring shame to their powerful family. She knew the police wouldn’t have the courage to confront him if it came to that. It was a war she would never win, so there was no point in starting it.
While the stewardesses were busy with their pre-take-off routines, she looked back and noticed the handsome young man again. He was sitting three rows behind her, in between the old man and the middle-aged man, the same way they had been sitting on the bus. There was something about him that seemed to put her at ease. She couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but something about him felt right. She wished she could talk to him, but it seemed impossible at that moment.
She sank back into her seat, continuing to wallow in her misery, and by the time the plane took off, she had resigned herself to her fate.
[End of Chapter One]
I'm Hadiza Bagudu, a mom, blogger, poet, author, and podcaster. Join me each week as we embark on 'An Epic Journey of Faith!' A series about a group of pilgrims whose lives were transformed by the Hajj experience. Let's explore the power of faith, the beauty of human connection, and more captivating stories on love, family, and society. Come along, and let's dive into the world of literature together!