She slowly crossed the road and joined the long queue ahead of her. Despite the considerable number of people in line, she displayed remarkable patience. She placed her hand on her chest and whispered, “Wow, God.”

She continued to move forward with a grace that suggested she wasn’t bothered by the scorching sun. To an observer, her unhurried pace might indicate that the day’s heat didn’t trouble her. Yet, underneath her modest attire – a long dress, a skirt, a flowing hijab, and a small crossbody bag – she was enduring the sweltering conditions.

Her journey was brief, and soon she reached the entrance of their modest home, located in a humble cluster of houses. Although the building was made of bricks, it lacked proper plastering and was only painted. She removed her crossbody bag, poised to enter the house. However, her gaze shifted downward to the staircase.

There, a young man stood waiting, clearly engaged in conversation with her sister. The way they were positioned and talking suggested they were close. She feigned ignorance and continued walking, as this behavior of hers tended to irritate all the children in the house.

She was about to pass them, as there was no other route, when she overheard the young man saying, “Welcome back to our abode.”

She replied politely, “Good morning,” without much enthusiasm, and entered the house.

Inside, she moved with a sense of urgency, her stride displaying determination as if she were preparing for battle.

Haruna, the young man, followed her inside and questioned, “Honestly, Haruna, must you always be so unfriendly? I’m just greeting your sister. You know she’s kind, knowledgeable, and calm.”

However, she remained impassive, brimming with a sense of suffering and sorrow.

Her sister, who had overheard the exchange, interjected, “Is Haruna going back to her room? In my presence, she only praises her mother, who lost her parents and her husband. What do you mean?”

Haruna seemed to ease up a bit, replying, “You see, when I greeted your sister, it suddenly became a crime. You know she’s modest, gentle, and pious.”

But the atmosphere remained heavy with sadness.

The young man, reassured that her temper had cooled, said with a chuckle, “Hello, my dear, you are the only woman in the world who could make me jealous, no matter where you go.”

Despite the earlier tension, the room seemed to relax. However, it was evident that her eyes had swollen from crying before she arrived and had reluctantly agreed to join them.

She said her goodbyes as usual, even though she knew no one would respond until her mother or Hindu returned home. Still, she didn’t want to appear rude. As she left, she could hear the children starting to gossip.

“Ah, Haruna, if you don’t want to listen, go complete your chores and return to your mother’s room. You’ll just sit there and watch.”

“What if they refuse to marry her off? They won’t tolerate being accused of neglecting their daughter. They’ll have to pay.”

“By God, your sister’s behavior has tarnished our reputation. Tomorrow, the shame will spread to this household – at the mosque, at the stream fetching water with a jar…”

They continued with their gossip, but there was no one to correct them. In the morning, she woke her mother for the noon prayer. She placed her bag and hijab on a chair, then went to the courtyard to perform ablution.

Her ablution was impeccable, and she wrapped her hijab around her head. As she headed towards their room, Isyaku, her mother’s son, ran towards her with a bowl of water. Unaware that her skirt had been tucked into her feet, she slowed down. She glanced at Isyaku, who was standing beside her.

“Why are you in such a rush, Isyaku? Can’t you walk more slowly?”

Isyaku twisted his mouth and glared at her. “Yes, must I be taught how to walk? I can’t stand it – get married and mind your own business. What do you care about the people in this house?”

Her heart ached as she realized that the boy she had raised for fifteen years was standing in front of her, suggesting that she get married and insinuating that he didn’t care about her. His raised fist remained suspended in the air as he spoke.

Before she could react, she heard Aunt Hadiza’s stern voice. “Don’t you dare touch her, boy! If you release your hand and touch her head, we’ll have you beaten. By the way…”

But she didn’t need to hear the rest. She accepted Isyaku’s rebuke, even though it was painful. In the morning, he had slapped her again. This time, as she looked at him in disbelief, he just laughed and laughed.

“Curse you, Father! By God, today you’ll see that tea is just water.”

Gadan Gadan, the water carrier, arrived at their door, which was also used as the entrance to Malam Mamuda’s house.

“Are you alright?”

“Madam, thank God you’re here. By God, we’re exhausted.”

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