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Silifat 1 2

s e a s o n s

An anthology of photographs, paintings, famous quotes and short stories. Also includes excerpts from orita-meta, Crossroads By Peju Alatise

cover page: “Beautiful women are like gazelles” 2006 © Peju Alatise

Silifat

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Dedication

May you live everyday of your life

For my father’s eldest daughter, for my mother’s eldest daughter For all who play the role of the eldest daughter You went through it so we didn’t have to I understand better

Jonathan Swift

Thank you for who you are.

Coral & Jade

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Silifat

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Prologue “A man is born, but a woman is born as many times over as necessary in one earth life.” Her mother’s words confused her. “Many say it is the birth from the womb that counts but I say it is one of many.” She still struggled to follow her words. “Okay, shall we call it the beginning? Unlike the male, the female has many beginnings.” Her mother opened up her fist to reveal what seemed like a dried up crumpled leaf, “do you know what this is?” the girl shook her head. “It is called a pupa, you see, inside is a dead maggot but in a few days out of this very pupa, the most magnificent of insects will emerge, glorious in its colorful, delicate cloak! This is a lesson that nature teaches mankind. Many call it a transition but I call it a new birth, okay, a new beginning. You my dear are at a new beginning, a little more time you will be a new woman.” They had eight months to prepare. Her ‘maa mi’, her mother’s elder sister examined her like a fowl considered for purchase. “We will grow her hair into long plaits; clear her skin of cuts and bruises from climbing trees and sorts. We will put meat on her bones. We will make a beautiful bride out of her. The family of the groom will agree that they are in for the most favorable treaty.” Her mother’s sisters, nineteen of them each took on their share of turning the scraggy looking adolescent into a noteworthy young woman. In Odua’ land every woman old enough to be your mother, most times related to you, is referred to as maa mi, my mother. It was never the responsibility of the nuclear family to raise a child, no, it took every elder. Neither are your mother’s daughters your only sisters. Maa mi Feyi would weave her bridal wrapper. Maa mi Simi would teach her to cook. Maa mi Sholape would teach her the antics of bargaining in the market. Maa mi Adunke would teach her how to clean herself every month with warm water and lime solution. She was also responsible for making sure the girl applied cocoa butter on her blemished dry skin. Maa mi Abosede visited every ‘ojo apa meta’, Saturdays, to plait and oil her hair with coconut extracts. From every personal hygiene lecture to etiquette, all the mothers had it covered. It would be unheard of that their family raised a baboon for a bride. In eight months she was taught how to clean her home, what tone of voice to use where, how to pleasure her husband and even the best positions for conception. 8

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The marriage was an arranged one but the young woman had nothing to fear. She trusted that her mothers investigated the groom’s background well enough. There was no questionable history in the groom’s genealogy. No thieves, no illnesses and no mental disorders that were considered to be hereditary. She had met him once under supervision. They were introduced and left to chat alone in a room with the door left wide open. She barely spoke but she thought him to be handsome. She held on to the thought till she was wedded and her feet were washed at the threshold of a house that would become her new home. A new home was complemented with new mothers. Some were likable and others were not. They were present in the first and third trimesters of her first pregnancy and also mid-wifed the birth. They were there to nurse her and the infant till there was little need for them. But is it little need that breeds complacency? This story, it is not hers. It is her mother’s story. She wondered how life for her could go so wide of the mark. Was it complacency that replaced comfort with indolence? Is there the possibility that when one goes to bed and closes their eyes to put to hold the occurrences of life, one could open those very eyes to a totally different life unfamiliar to yesterday? Yesterday was an old garment patched with a new cloth of today. Those that prayed to the north and those that prayed to the cross came with new ordinances; life as it is known is unacceptable to the new codes of conduct. Converts and believers where born. Her story is unlike her mother’s. The old became unacceptable and the traditional education of the becoming of a young woman was frowned upon as vulgar and faithless. Faith became more important than the understanding of one’s self. Her mother died during the reign of Oba elegusi, this made her probably ten years of age. She was no maami’s responsibility. This sister believed this faith and that sister believed another but every sister thought for as long as the other’s belief was contrary to hers, distance must be kept. ‘All for one and one for himself’ but naively believe ‘God for us all’. She was left by herself.

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2009

2010

2011

2012


From the end spring new beginnings

Birth stone: Rose Quartz

Quote: Pliny the elder

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble with none 14

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To thy own self be true

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January

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“Spring, New beginnings” 2008 © Peju Alatise


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“Red Lipstick” 2002 © Peju Alatise


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New beginning It all starts where all stories begin. This place of beginnings can only be seen in dreams. The place where the intellect is too limiting to describe what it cannot partake of, neither is the intellect mature enough to express in words the goings-on of this very place. In this beginning, she is given a garment to wear, “It will keep you warm. When you are judged by appearance, this shall make you familiar,” they say. “And in this,” they hand her a carrier bag made of intangible material, “you shall put all that you find of which you believe is of value to you.” With loving hands they push her on wishing her well. But one of them ran to her even after all was said and done, whispered in her ear, “choose those things that will remain with you for as long as you are, they will help you find your way home.” Her first step takes her to a peculiar world where all things are new to her. There are many like her, myriads of her type. Like her, all are searching. Many do not know what they are searching for, some know and some think that they know. There are those that search in pairs and in small groups and there are those that search alone. Some collect earthy materials inevitably perishable and some collect memories. Everything collected is stored in the bag and every bag acquires its weight. Some hoard and some share. Some carry their bags on their back and they appear hunched over and those that drag their bags behind them stretch their arms out of proportion. Very many carry their bags on their heads and they always appear to have stiff necks. But if you are fortunate to find a few who carry their bags with their heart, intuitively, you will know them. She had walked through many paths, she had acquired many good things and a few of them were bad but she carried all on her head and persisted in her journey despite her weary legs. One very good day she stopped for a drink of water offered to her by a butcher in the market. He beckoned her to stay and rest a while. He took the weight off of her and with him she found relief.

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She opened her bag and all that she had she shared with him. Together they collected new things and began a new journey. In this very journey of theirs a new life is born. Eight days after she was born, she was given the name Ajantola. Peculiar Ajantola. She is one of very few who search for nothing and if they indeed have bags they never utilize them. The universe was her bag but for some inexplicable reason she could not grasp it. She was a member of a small audience that watched on while majority of the people busied themselves performing on stage. She pursued nothing but expected top-notch choices. She gave nothing but deserved to own the finest. Ajantola, perpetually grumbling. But there is the remedy for her type; the world of material acquisition teaches you cannot own what you have not earned. But Ajantola became angry. This world cheated her of her mother who died too soon. She was not the most beautiful of her peers neither was she the wittiest. Ajantola the very average girl believes the world cheated her from having the best of everything. She married an average man who offered her an average home. The worst of all the frauds she accused the world of was the world gave her a firstborn female child! The midwife had placed the baby on her breasts. It was bitter for her to labor for so long to have a child with the wrong genitalia. Ajantola would always check to see if she was mistaken. She had hoped or maybe she imagined that by some wonderment her baby would grow new genitalia but after a month she reconciled with her disappointment. The world remained unfair and Ajantola kept her grudge. Then she heard a message! She learned there was a force bigger than the world and if she immersed herself in religious rites to this force, she just might get all that she thought she deserved. No, Ajantola is not a fanatic but she is very religious and if she prays hard and often enough she will find herself in lofty places. This is a new Ajantola, the mother of a girl child Silifat.

Silifat

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Never get married in the morning; you never know who you might meet at night

True friends stab you in the front

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind

Let your religion be less a theory and more of a love affair

Birth stone: Amethyst

Quote: Gilbert K. Chesterton

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February

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“Sunset on Ajantola” 2005 © Peju Alatise


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“Convert of a jagged cross” 2008 © Peju Alatise


The Convert What quicker way is there to make a believer out of a man? A woman! It is in her stride, The way her hips sway with each step, It is in her eyes, Even when she never looked at him, It is in the bulge of her breasts, Although they are carefully disguised in layers of fabric, It is in her small delicate hands, The way she holds the loom and weaves beautifully patterned fabrics, It is in her laughter, That exposes the gap between her teeth, that makes her lisp when she speaks, It is her way with words, Every conversation confirmed her belief in one creator, It is the way she listens, She tilts her head slightly, what a graceful neck! Most of all, It is in her presence, That makes him lose his ability to speak, keeping him in awe of her. She was a Muslim and he was anything that could bring him profit. He approached her family to ask what was required of him to become husband to her. Three simple things they said. The first, he and his household which includes almost two wives must observe the Islamic faith, their daughter will not live among heathens; the second, he must pay a hefty sum in bride price; the third, he must remit the first two as quickly as possible. He was not the only to show interest in her. It all seemed easy. He was ready to convert and more than ready to sell off all he had even if it included his two daughters. He hissed when he remembered they were too young to be useful to him. He has almost two wives because his first wife left him with the daughter they shared for a rich widower when he decided to bring home a second wife. Now his second wife could be the only 34

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obstacle in his path. The thought of Ajantola clawing his eyes out in protest put reasonable fear in him. What is the easiest way to make a believer out of woman? He was not wise enough to know. He had told Ajantola that they would be attending the Friday prayers in the local mosque. Passive Ajantola trailed behind without asking a single question. As they approached the building, she saw many men outside, washing their hands, feet and behind their ears. It seemed odd to her. Her husband directed her to the women’s section. As she walked in, she realized why she had reluctantly left her slippers outside the door, the floors were swept clean. The room was tidy and everyone in it seemed clean and quiet. She joined them sitting on the praying mats. Some were counting beads and some were counting their fingers. A loud voice came in through the speakers, “Olorun o to bi!” and with a harmonized response, all exclaimed, “Allahuakbar!” With synchronized uniformity, they all stood on their feet. She joined them in standing, kneeling, bowing and sitting. She had never been a part of orderliness. The seemingly piety bowled her over. Ajantola attended the next Friday prayers with her daughter Silifat. What certain way is there to make a believer out of a woman? The reward for belief? The promise of good fortune? The healing of the womb? Peace in the afterlife? A home in the here and the beyond? The protection against evil and its doers? For Ajantola, it was all and the thought that it would keep her husband to herself. Silifat

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Never get married in the morning; you never know who you might meet at night

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind

Birth stone: Aquamarine

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Quote: Mohandas Gandhi

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March

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March 2009

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“Orange scarf” 2008 © Peju Alatise


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Television The first time Silifat saw a television, she was somewhat disappointed. “So this is the little box that brings pictures to life!” she thought to herself. “Where are the bleached-skinned, oyinbo people?” She had never seen a white person. “There is supposed to be a whole new world of miniature people inside of it, so where is it?” despite her doubt, she was still frightened to touch it. It was not plugged in yet. Ramata had talked big about the magic box. Ramata is the daughter of Alhaja Salihu. Alhaja Salihu is the first woman in the town to visit Mecca. The proof of her visit is the gold tooth in her mouth. Silifat

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Silifat’s mother has no respect for the likes of Alhaja Salihu. It is inappropriate for a woman to leave her husband to become a single parent, parading herself as a man would. Silifat’s mother is not alone in her criticism. Many women disliked Alhaja Salihu. Hardly would any woman have a worthy gossip session without Salihu’s name in the offing. She was always accused of flirting with some woman’s husband. She was also accused of looking too good and too expensive.This was all a ploy to hypnotize their husbands. According to them, Alhaja Salihu is simply immoral. When she made her trip to Mecca it seemed she had the last laugh. This is a journey the other women only dreamed about. If after she made her selfredeeming journey the other women still ridiculed her then they were welcome to knocking their heads on brick walls. Alhaja Salihu was not bothered the least. She was content with her gold enhanced smile. Never-the-less, she owned a successful business. She owned her own shops where she distributed merchandises of scarves and lace materials all shipped into Nigeria from China. Despite all the bias and prejudice, all the women owned scarves from Alhaja Salihu’s shop. It was infuriating for these women to realize she was somewhat indispensible. As though to add cold-sore to sensitive skin, Alhaja Salihu was the first to own a television! Ramata was not allowed to operate any electrical appliance. Silifat would have to return later in the day. Silifat left home quietly. She dressed up in her long veil and carried her Arabic books. Anyone seeing her would assume she was off to Arabic lessons without having to ask. Silifat did not want to have to lie about her whereabouts. She was not encouraged to befriend Ramata. “Ramata is a corrupt seed!” she was warned. It was seven o’clock in the evening and Ramata’s mother was home. She refused Silifat entry into her house. Silifat’s mother had been nothing but hostile towards her. She saw no reason why she had to entertain anyone from the holierthan-thou family. Ramata asked Silifat to sit by the window outside. There, she would definitely get a good view of the television. Alhaja Salihu began watching a video cassette movie called ‘snake and the monkey shadow’. Silifat was not the only one watching the television through the window. There were a

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couple of young men of whom Alhaja had complained that their unwashed bodied fouled her parlor. Other neighbors were there too to experience their first television movie. Even though the place was pin-drop-silent, Silifat, sitting by the edge of the window could not understand what was being said. She had never heard the type of English being spoken, Chinese. No one cared. They all watched in amazement. Who needed to comprehend the words when there was a lot of action, screaming, blood spilling and kung-fu fighting? Everyone was absorbed as though they were spellbound. This is why when Silifat’s veil caught on fire no one noticed and when they did, they hesitated. One of the young men standing beside Silifat forgot to put out his cigarette. Silifat’s plain grey polyester veil got torched. It was the smoke that Silifat smelled first. She could not take off the tightly knotted veil fast enough. The fire was put out with slippers and Arabic books slapping her head. Silifat got no sympathy when she got home. Her hair got burned, but not all of it. She sustained minor burns on her scalp and her mother thought it should have been a little worse. “That is what happens when you fraternize with the devil’s advocate!” Silifat missed school the following day. She sat on the verandah feeling sorry for herself. Alhaja Salihu dropped by to see how she was fairing. She said she was sorry for not letting her in. She gave Silifat three very pretty, colorful, floral-patterned veils. Silifat’s eyes lit up immediately! She treid on the bright orange scarf. Her hair was a small price to pay for such pretty scarves. She hugged Alhaja too eagerly. She had never owned anything so pretty. They were both happy. That same day, Silifat’s mother paid a return visit to Alhaja Salihu. She threw the folded scarves at Alhaja Salihu. She said she did not want any fancy things, speaking on behalf of herself and her daughter. “There is no place in heaven for adulteresses and their acquaintances,” she said. “Do not lead my child in the path of vanity!” She spat at Alhaja.

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“More than human” 2008 © Peju Alatise


To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it

Never get married in the morning; you never know who you might meet at night

Who hears music feels his solitude peopled at once

True friends stab you in the front Birth stone: Rock crystal

Quote: Oscar Wilde

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April

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“Like woman like fruit” 2008 © Peju Alatise


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Curse of the serpent She was way past that age. The age when children ask where babies come from. No one told her but she had it all figured out. The long-suffering, righteous and rich got babies from the hospital; given by whom? She had not thought it through. The cursed women had babies reaped and even ripped from their insides; these were women that had been touched by the opposite sex. It all started in the Garden of Eden. Eve was seduced by the serpent and sinned. Her curse was she would endure a monthly visitor from a certain part of her body and suffer severe pains to birth a child. This monthly visitor was what made her unclean. This fabrication she composed through piece-meal information acquired over the years from her own investigations, eavesdropping, unusual circumstances and of course her mother. When her half sister got pregnant at an early age, she heard this question Silifat

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asked over and over, “Who touched you?” She heard all the screaming and shouting for endless hours when the mid-wife came to birth the baby. Silifat’s mother warned her, “If you let any boy touch you, you will suffer worse!” and that put the fear of God in her.

laugh at their jokes. She even put her hand on a boy’s shoulder! They seemed to enjoy her company. Silifat refused to join in; they were not allowed to talk to boys. Her mother could have her head for this. Ramata was going to get pregnant for this atrocity.

When she was much younger she had been told her mother’s sister delivered her baby in the hospital. Her mother had said her aunt’s husband could pay for a hospital baby. She had always known her aunt to be as sweet as an angel. This was the best, god-given way to have a child. As for the story of Eve, this was her understanding of what was written in the holy books.

Lunch was over and the boys left. Silifat and Ramata went into the lavatory to change from their school uniforms into daywear. That was when Ramata realized her under-garment was soiled. Silifat did not think Ramata would get punished that promptly. They both panicked. An older woman in the lavatory calmed them down and said it was just the monthly visitor. She folded some tissue and showed Ramata how it should be worn. “Your mother has never told you about the monthly curse?” apparently not. She asked Ramata to go home, wash herself and use Dr. Brown towels. She gave her some coins. She said, “You are a woman now, so be careful with the boys.” The older woman smiled and hugged Ramata assuring her that she was going to be alright.

Silifat had been a good girl; a very good girl. She was most confused and frightened the day she was visited by the serpent’s curse. It was not supposed to happen to her. She was too good for this. She pondered how it could be that such a thing could happen to her. Then she remembered. It was not entirely her fault; it was Ramata! Ramata-the-black, very black and shiny! Her skin was so black it made her hair look brown. Ramata is an illustration that distinguishes blackness from darkness. The air about her is so light; when she walks it seems her feet barely touch the ground. Yes every woman can be likened to a fruit and Ramata is definitely a tropical fruit; Home grown with the sun. The tall and slender Ramata with obvious pink lips and beady eyes often made Silifat jealous. Everyone noticed Ramata first. Ramata wore pretty clothes and fancy slippers. She would speak English with Yoruba and this infuriated Silifat. Ramata visited Lagos quite often while Silifat had only made it as far as Abeokuta. The day Ramata wore new shoes to school, she could barely stay put. When school was over for the day, Ramata had convinced Silifat to have lunch with her in a cafeteria outside the school premise. Ramata would pay. The cafeteria was popular with the neighboring all boys grammar school. Before they went in, Ramata applied some shiny grease to her lips and offered some to Silifat. Silifat declined.

Silifat wondered how this woman could be so disregarding of the power of retribution. As far as she was concerned Ramata had it good. Better the monthly curse than having a baby ripped out from you-know-where. On their way home, all Silifat could say to Ramata was “serves you right!” “Silifat, it will happen to you too.” Ramata said crying. “It can’t and won’t. I am not the one flirting with boys. I should never have followed you,” Silifat replied. Praying quietly that Ramata was not contagious. She must have been contagious and Silifat was guilty of wrongful association. Eight months later Silifat was paying the price. Silifat bought herself some Dr. Brown, washed and went to bed. She cried quietly to herself.

Ramata was flirtatious but honestly all she did was sit with the boys and

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To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it

Never get married in the morning; you never know who you might meet at night

Birth stone: Agate

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Quote: Paul Hornung

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“Silifat, blue in the face” 2008 © Peju Alatise

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The present She never could pay attention in class. She worried about education. It all seemed so unnecessary. She wondered how adding all sides of a triangle would help keep a home. The entire math she required was in counting and exchanging money. But she will fulfill all righteousness. If the government made educating young girls free then she must partake in the patronage. She worried about her mother who was shamefully forced out of her husband’s house. Her very religious mother, her long suffering mother, her all endearing mother was being humiliated. She worried more about her sick father. Three times in three months, he got bitten by snakes. Three times he was taken to Silifat

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the general hospital. On the third count, there was no male resident doctor. Silifat’s father refused treatment from a female doctor who wore trousers like a man, with her head uncovered. “Where is your husband?” he asked her. “How can I be certain you are not menstruating?” If your husband cannot come here and confirm that you are not unclean, then you cannot touch me.” He would rather bear consequences of a snake bite and seek traditional mitigation. He was rushed to Alhaji Alfa Isah Bamise Faruk, the number one in the place of worship. Many attendees of the place referred to him as the healer. They claimed his prayers had an inexorable access to beyond. Amongst his special gifts was ability to see visions and premonitions. He was their messenger from above. Alhaji Faruk was considerably wealthy not from laborious work but from gifts. His followers made certain he lacked nothing. As a matter of fact they tried to outdo each other presenting the most outlandish gift. Silifat’s father was ushered into the house of Alhaji like a sack of potatoes. A sisal rope was tied tightly around and above his knee. The leg was swollen and shiny. Alhaji Faruk used a new alligator blade to make incisions like little elevens all round his ankle, where the fangs mark was. First thing to ooze out was the thin watery red blood then the thick black blood followed. When the blood did not flow quickly enough, Alhaji put his mouth on the bite mark and sucked and spat out the poisoned blood. The swelling reduced considerably. Some black powder was rubbed into the bite mark and the incisions. A black stone like coal was placed on the wound and bandaged to hold it in place. In time the color of the stone would change.

suffered numbness in parts of his limbs. Was this recovery because of Alhaji Faruk’s treatment or was the western science the cure? Only Silifat’s mother deliberated. Another visit was made to Alhaji Faruk and this time it was a spiritual consultation. Silifat’s father was told the snakes were sent to him on purpose. Someone wanted to harm him. In Alhaji Faruk’s visions, he saw Silifat’s mother. She had a scar on the back of her hand. He was certain of her guilt. Silifat’s mother was summoned and she indeed had a scar on her forearm. She sustained the injury a week earlier when she accidentally leaned against a cooking pot on fire. It did not matter were the burn was, what was most crucial was that Alhaji Faruk saw her. The numbness in his limbs eventually wore off. He thanked his stars that since the day he let go of his wife, his health had improved. Silifat’s father was grateful. To show his appreciation to Faruk, he must organize the most stupendous gift. Silifat was still in class worrying about one thing after another until classes were over. She walked out of the school premises and to her amazement, she saw her father sitting beside the school fence. He needed her assistance he explained. They went to the market and he bought new clothes. That same day Silifat’s father paid Alhaji Faruk a visit bearing a handsome gift of his daughter Silifat adorned in new clothes. Silifat-the-seventeenyear-old was handed over to Alhaji Bamise Faruk the-seventy-something-yearold. Silifat’s new room was shared with one of the maid-servants. Silifat sat by the window looking intently at nothing. She worried about her new home. She worried she will be made a servant girl. She thought herself too pretty to be a maid. She worried she was not pretty enough to be a wife. Silifat was made a concubine.

Silifat’s father still suffered a fever. Alhaji wrote Arabic inscriptions on a wooden tablet using a thick dark substance for ink. He washed the inscriptions off the board into a bowl. This solution he gave to Silifat’s father to ingest. Silifat’s father recovered but slowly. His wife had insisted he should still see a doctor. He eventually consulted a male doctor. He recovered but

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Love is life and if you miss love, you miss life ...

Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish man from beast?

Everything has beauty but not everyone can see it

To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it

Who hears music feels his solitude peopled at once

Birth stone: Pearl

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Quote: Robert Browning

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Never get married in the morning; you never know

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“Looking up” 2003 © Peju Alatise

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“With eyes closed” 2005 © Peju Alatise

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“Saturday Morning” 2008 © Peju Alatise


Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble with none

To thy own self be true

Love is life and if you miss love, you miss life ...

Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish man from beast?

Everything has beauty but not everyone can see it Birth stone: Cornelion

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To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it

Quote: Confucius

Who hears music feels his solitude peopled at once

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“Seki, the altar ego” 2008 © Peju Alatise

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Foreplay This is a Yoruba song. This is Silifat’s favorite song. If there was any spark however minute, in her fallow consciousness of being, this song could possibly set it alit. But soon enough the role play of the obedient self-righteous girl from Abule-Egba would drown the diminutive ignis fatuus to obscurity. • •

Romance? This is the foolish day dream of an unbeliever. Orgasm? This is a word coined by the infidel westerners with no literal translation in Silifat’s language. Its implications cannot be conceived by Silifat. Sex? This is a duty/offering a woman must submit to her husband to relieve the sacred itchiness in his groin. Silifat thought of it as dirty, otherwise why was she required to wash afterwards? Music? If it is not religious then it is the language of seduction of satan. Wife beating? This is a form of discipline and reformation acceptable for submission in communication. “If she does not listen then slap her face and she will understand.”

• •

These are lesson her mother taught her through the grace of telepathy. But when Silifat hears this song, she admits the quiet enjoyment of her imagination. This she shall openly enjoy in heaven as her reward. This perhaps is wishful thinking and contrary to her belief. Her heaven is a grandiosity of a harem, where she shall be made a virgin again and shall remain pure through all eternity. She must pray for forgiveness, her pitiable wandering thoughts. Maybe the heavens will permit her this one song, playing over and over in her head. It is not entirely her blame. Her cousin from Lagos city, whom she silently admires, has put a hole in her clouds. Seki wore paint on her lips and fingernails. Seki never wore a head scarf, far be it that she should veil her face. Seki had a loud unusually deep voice. She used all of her vocal cords to speak with little regard for whom might pick her words. When Seki listened to music, she danced gyrating her hips to imitate sexual intercourse. Seki always 86

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played Silifat’s favorite song. Seki had a boyfriend. Seki told Silifat that she had kissed him and allowed him fondle her breasts. She called it foreplay. In response to this, Silifat had promised to pray for Seki’s most definitely condemned soul. But they remained friends. Silifat always pinched herself when the thoughts of jealousy crept into her quiet place. She must not be jealous of frivolities. But could she be jealous of the freedom to choose her own life partner? She reminded herself of her reward in heaven. Seki spoke with such autonomy that made Silifat almost uncomfortable to be with her. Seki had her own opinion about, love, romance, sex and cooking. When Seki spoke, Silifat would whisper” God is merciful” under her breath. There must be a separate heaven for people like Seki. Silifat liked her too much to have her in hell. Talk of wife-beating, Seki would say, “If my husband or boyfriend should ever have the guts to hit me, I swear I would punish him, he would rather die!. I will grind the coca-cola bottle to fine powder and feed it to him with his meal!” This one she shamelessly concurred with. This is why she wept deeply to her marrows the day her supposed husband slapped her. He is her supposed husband because she was given to the old man as a gift. She consoled herself praying she deserved it for listening to that evil song. Her husband was too old to kiss and too impatient to fondle her. He never fooled around but aimed straight for the bull’s eye, even with clothes on. She had hoped this night would be different. She had imagined how to conjure foreplay from this man. She wanted to show off her ample, enviable bosoms, he never had the pleasure of groping. She laid the table and she served him his meal. She bent over so that he could see her bare breasts revealed through the wide neck buba. He got irritated; she must kneel to serve him. Bending over made her head higher than his, this was discourteous. As she poured his soup, she spilled some on her wrapper. This was intentional. The soup was hot so it burned through her wrapper. She had to take off her wrapper. This was also intentional. He was still irritated, she was clumsy. She dished more soup and gracefully poured some on his laps. In Silifat

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her amorphous preparations the concurrent response was to take off his pants. Could this not have been the relevant circumstances to initiating a sensual foreplay? She standing before him with her bare buttocks so close to his face. No! He slapped her. He called her good-for-nothing. He was a hungry man. Her mother had warned her about the hungry man. Seki was to blame. Music was a path to foolishness. Seki will always be her cousin, she will be forgiven, but this song, Silifat will never play.

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“Foreplay, how safe are you?” 2008 © Peju Alatise


From the end spring new beginnings

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble with none

To thy own self be true

Birth stone: Peridot

Quote: William Shakespeare

Love is life and if you miss love, you miss life ...

Without feelings of respect, what is there to distinguish man from beas 90

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Everything has beauty but not everyone can see it

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“In it together” 2008 © Peju Alatise


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Silifat was seventeen when her father gave her away as a gift to his friend, Isha Faruk Bamise, The Imam was seventy-three years old with the ‘not more than four wives’ limit exhausted. Silifat remained as she was intended to be, a gift and not a wife. She performed wifely duties as a real wife would but was without the benefits of a real wife. Benefits such as inheritance for her and her four-year-old daughter she bore to the Imam at the time of the Imam’s expected death of natural cause. She was assisted with very little and was not expected to return to her father’s house. She sorted assistance from one of the late Imam’s affluent friends. She had visited this affluent friend, Alhaji, several times while her beneficiary was still alive. Silifat

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On her first visit with her daughter, Alhaji with his wife had welcomed her. That Saturday she was given plenty of food to eat. She divided the plate of food into two. One half, she and her daughter ate, the other half, she emptied into a plastic bag. She had enough for the weekend. Alhaji said the little girl reminded him so much of his late friend; he gave the little girl money. The money was little cash to him but to Silifat, it was the most cash she had ever held in her hands. She made her visits a monthly duty for several years. During desperate times, her monthly visits became weekly. Her daughter was old enough to start primary school education. Alhaji’s wife agreed to sponsor the young girl. Education had become a dire necessity. The girl did not perform well in school and the head teacher advised a home tutor to assist in the training of the girl. Her mother was of little help, education had changed dramatically and simple science home work revealed Silifat as illiterate as a plain sheet of paper. Alhaji’s wife suggested they moved in with her and she would see to the upbringing of the girl herself. To make Silifat useful, she sent her to a workshop to learn a trade. Her first day at the workshop, she saw other women, plenty of them, wearing blue aprons, getting busy; very busy. She was not accustomed to work. She had never made use of her hands and never bothered with things that jolted the brain. She felt awkward. The women did not cover up their calves and arms. To her horror, some had the audacity to wear trousers. Some of them had hair with chemicals. She had little desire to associate with these women because they were not Islamic. Her tuition had been paid for. She was handed over to a woman called Remilekun, who took her on a quick tour of the warehouse. She followed behind, trying to equal her steps with the other woman. With the humble clothes on her back and her broad nose in the air, she watched everyone. “Here you can learn to weave raffia,” she showed her products made from the material. “Here you can learn to make sleeping mats, brooms, baskets and here you can learn to make leather bags.” Remilekun called out to a woman who wore a different colour of apron, red, ”Aduni, we have a new ward.” She turned and spoke to Silifat quickly, “the teachers wear red aprons.”

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Aduni took over the rest of the tour and the room that fascinated Silifat the most was the dressmaking classroom. She said she would like to learn how to make dresses. She was enrolled quickly. Alhaji’s wife bought her a brand new sewing machine. The electronic machine terrified her so much she traded it in for a simple manual machine and some cash against the advice of her teacher. Alhaji’s wife need not know. Workshops began and she learned too slowly. She was dissatisfied and moved over to the ceramics workshop. Irritated with wet clay on her hands, she moved to the raffia class, it was the least demanding. Within a short while, she realised she was not cut out for work. She was made to be a kept woman. She had little interest in anything. What she desired was a husband. Alhaji’s wife was not helping her the right way. She asked Alhaji’s wife to permit her to work for her, send her on errands and she was willing to do domestic chores. Alhaji’s wife did not refuse. Once she settled in with her daughter, she sensed a severe treatment of her and her daughter by Alhaji’s wife and older children. But she had reassured herself that it would not happen for long. She was accused of raising a spoiled child. Alhaji’s wife was no-nonsense. She never spared the rod nor spoiled the child. Many times, Alhaji’s wife had caned the child for misdemeanours that made Silifat unhappy. There was this time the head teacher had sent a report home saying the little girl was fond of taking off her underpants in class and calling on other children to look into her privates. Alhaji’s wife was horrified at this allegation made against the girl. When asked if it was true, she smiled nodding her head. Silifat defended her daughter saying it was the bad neighbourhood they once lived in that influenced her. Another report was sent yet again. This time Alhaji’s wife called on the little girl. Alhaji’s wife asked to see her bum-bum the way she had shown the other children in class. Alhaji’s wife put a handful of dried pepper into the unsuspecting bum-bum. The girl screamed and ran about the place as her privates were on fire. Alhaji’s wife got a hold of her and thrashed her Silifat

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severely, warning her that the next time she got a bad report from her teacher, she would pour in a bag of pepper into that bum-bum of hers, showing her the big plastic bag. Alhaji’s wife said to Silifat, “little children are like goat spirits trapped inside a human body, you have to beat the goat out of them.” Silifat was more depressed. She had to look for a way out. A few occasions she had helped serve Alhaji his meals. A few opportunities came when no one was looking, when she served Alhaji his meal, she would flaunt her braless breast at him. Other times she would rob her buttocks in a way that Alhaji would notice. Alhaji would smile and wipe sweats of his face; his wife could be close by. The day she really got his attention, they were alone in the dining room; she had placed his dish before him and dropped her wrapper. She revealed her bare legs and black spongy overgrown triangle. She bent over to pick her fallen wrapper to reveal another part of her femininity, and Alhaji began to choke on his boiled yam. She left her wrapper to assist Alhaji with a glass of water and her daughter walked in. Silifat sent her daughter back to her room. Everything seemed okay. Alhaji gave her little extras and life was almost the same as it had been with her late Imam, if not better. Her daughter was a good girl. There were no reports from school. Alhaji’s wife would reward her with toys, pretty dresses and other things that made little girls happy. The big Islamic festival was close. Many people did shopping for the festival, big rams for atonement and fancy clothes for the joy fancy clothes bring. Alhaji’s wife bought lace for her household. Silifat and her daughter received theirs. When Alhaji’s wife handed them their lace, Silifat’s daughter said thank you, she said she had been good and Alhaji’s wife agreed with her. She said she deserved the lace but her mother did not. She said her mother always showed her bum-bum to Alhaji and should get a bag of pepper instead. Silifat and her daughter left Alhaji’s house that same day. With nowhere else to go to, she returned to the workshop place. Remilekun let her back in. She still had six months credit of tuition. She took her seat and learned to make raffia products. 100

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“Potrait of funke” 2007 © Peju Alatise


Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble with none

Birth stone: Lapis Lazuli

Quote: Confucius

Love is life and if you miss love, you miss life ...

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Clean wrapper Misery has come!

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“Aunty-mi-Risi!” Never has the sound of my name caused me so much anxiety as when it is called by Silifat. It is as though ‘Sopona’ (god of poxes) has inflicted me with his deadly skin disorder. The hairs on my forearms and ears uncurl and raise a thousand rashes. “Aunty-mi-Risi, it is me, Silifat.” I pretend not to see her. Silifat

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Money! Money!! Money!!! Burial money, school fees money, chop money, maintenance money, hospital money, money money. Which is it today? Always in need! Always giving her! When I give her money, she would fold it into the ear of her wrapper and then tie her wrapper across her breasts as though to keep the money close to her heart. Today, I am not sure I have much to spare. “Aunty-mi-Risi, good day.” I’m not so sure it is. Anytime I see Silifat it is not always a good day. She is never at loss with sad stories. She is in need if all her close relatives are not all dead yet, then one is about to die. “Aunty-mi-Risi how is work?” “Work is hectic but I will not complain.” It always irritates me to hear her call me Aunty-mi. Yes, it irritates me to hear her speak. I have learned to hear a scrambled noise like the noise a faulty transmission radio would make. But it manages to transmit the words ‘naira, kobo, money’ rather audibly. Silifat and I are about the same age but our culture obliges her to refer to me as senior. Silifat is my late father’s poor wife. Honestly the word wife is not entirely true. She is a gift given to my late father and I am ashamed to admit this. Even more embarrassing is the fact she must courtesy to speak with me. “So what brings you to the city?” I ask a stupid rhetorical question. Money?! “I was sent to bring some goods down to the market.” “Who sent you?” “My oga.” “Your oga?” so I am confused, “have you remarried?” “No o! Aunty-mi-Risi,” she is smiling. “My oga from our home town sent me.” She explains further, her oga, her boss asked her to accompany other women from the village to the city. They had some merchandise to distribute to the market women; merchandise of local handy craft. “I must not stay long. The vehicle will be leaving soon for the village. I just thought I must stop over to greet you.”

For the first time since we began talking, I looked at her. Silifat’s head tie is usually wrapped and knotted depressingly to the back but not today. She pushed her head tie forward to rest above her eyebrows; like a sisi would do. Lady! Silifat is wearing a brassier! She is wearing a wrapper I had not given her. Her wrapper is clean, tied smartly around her waist. So I confess she looks better than I have ever seen her look in a long time. So Silifat has a job! I realize I have not heard a word about money. This is a first. I watch Silifat turn and walk way. She even walks differently. Her slippers do not slap on her heels and raise dust. She does not pretend to walk with the purpose of arousing pity. This is amazing and I run after her. She is just about boarding the bus with the word ‘Alternative’ printed on the back. How is your daughter?” I ask. “She is fine,” even more change. She always refers to her child as ‘your daughter’ when talking to me. This is to remind me ‘your daughter’ is my responsibility. The bus starts to move and she waves to me with a big smile on her face. I wave back and all the women in the bus wave to me. The bus gains speed and I watch the white bus with the green print ‘Alternative’, disappear. I hug my purse, feeling relief. Shame on me, I am happy for Silifat.

We exchange pleasantries and Silifat is ready to go.

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Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble with none

Love is life and if you miss love, you miss life ...

Everything has beauty but not everyone can see it

Birth stone: Tourmaline

Quote: Confucius

To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it

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“Eniyan ni aso mi” 2008 © Peju Alatise


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One thing I always look forward to when visiting my hometown is to weave my hair the traditional style that the city hairdressers could not do. In the city, hair is woven in the outward-cornrow style but in my hometown the weaving is matted inwards. This style is fast going out of fashion. But I like it anyway. Not the hairdo per say, which never last for more than a week but the whole process that makes my often home-sick heart feel really at home again. There is a place dedicated to women hairstylist not far from the market place. This place has the cool shade of the agbalumo and fruit trees. I hear, many generations of women have worked here, and the place never changes. What makes this place interesting is even though the old-woman-hairstylist who sits on a stool while you getting your hair Silifat

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plaited, crouching on the raffia mat with your head pushed between her legs to hold your head in place as you take in whole breaths of foul odour, you look forward to listening to these women talk. What makes their conversations interesting whether you participate or not, is you would never hear so much information anywhere else. They talk so much sense and so much nonsense. This is a place where affluent women and less fortunate women are the same. Here, they are unified and I feel I belong with them. It is the connectivity that I can never get from anywhere in the city. This day, I wanted to do the ‘ipako elede’, a hairstyle which is named after the scull of a pig because of it’s resemblance to a pig’s hairdo, a little to the front and a little to the back as opposed to my regular hair style ‘koroba’, which has hair plaits woven from the middle of the head down to all sides like a bowl. This day was windy and ripe agbalumos fell from the trees, hitting me on my back. A woman called Aduni was also there getting her hair plaited. “Which man do you know,” she asked whoever was listening, “would give his woman wings to fly?” She was not expecting any immediate reply. “Men refer to us as birds and chicks. Do you know if ever they caught a bird, they would either clip its wings or keep it caged?” “Yes oh, my sister,” one woman responded, “I agree with you. When I was much younger, I wanted to be a big secretary otherwise why did I go to school? Before I married my husband, he agreed to allow me pursue my work and training but na lie. It was belle after belle, pikin after pikin. Seven children, I have to forget career.” “If any man was ever so nice and generous, he would give you wings made of gold. Of what use is that if the gold weighs you down? The whole idea is to suppress you. Se you know?” “I don’t mind being suppressed with gold.” Another woman replied. “My dear, you sell your soul,” Aduni said. “Yes oh! For gold!” other women agreed.

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“You lot prefer gold to freedom?” “Freedom is relative. My boyfriend allows me to work, he does not complain,” a young girl said. “So he can spend your money. Do you think he will marry you?” “My husband is different,” a middle-aged woman said. “I refer to them as destroyers of the universe,” another woman said disregarding the middle-aged woman. “My husband is a wonderful man.” “Monkey no fine...” “Him wife go like am!” they chorused. “Honestly my husband loves me,” this one insisted. “I asked my husband once if he loves me, he got upset and said he is an African man, African men don’t love.” She continued, “He said that I am a chicken complaining it has no teeth to chew with but it’s getting fat and still feeding. Please ask me, what has love got to do with chickens?” “Honestly, you women that want nice things from your husbands, do you support your men in return?” A man dared to ask. “See you, I pay my children’s fees!” “I feed my house without his help and even when his greedy mouth should ask for cat-fish, I give him. But does he give me feeding allowance? No!” “By the way, who allowed you here? You no fear?” Men never ventured into this area unless they were hawking products women were generally interested in. Collectively, they rained insults on him, calling him woman-wrapper, stoning him with agbalumo and other small objects. Things had settled down again, “My husband, after chasing me away seventeen years ago, wants me back.” Aduni clapped her hands three times and hissed. “His mother is dead now, he has no one to care for him.” “Leave him let him suffer.” Some said and one other said, “My friend, there are not many men alive here. Keep him if he will be useful.” “I wonder if it is not because of my money he wants me back, after all I hear he has other women.” Some of the other women where there and they said little. I asked Aduni what she did for a living and she asked me to look into my bag. Silifat

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“Orita Meta” 2008 © Peju Alatise


I did. She asked me to read the name on the label and it read ‘Alternative’. In the city, we like ‘Alternative’ products but knew little of the producers. She said she made it. She and her colleagues teach other women how to make different exportable items. They had a workshop

metamorphosis of the spiritual mind, like the maggots become the flies and like the caterpillar becomes a butterfly. You become accountable and the past is lightly considered in judgment. Being born a slave is not enough excuse to remain a slave.”

She invited me to her workshop. I did not think that plaiting my hair would lead me to such a place.

It was the last day of my visit. I walked into the classrooms at the back of their warehouse and Aduni began to show me the new designs being worked on and I heard a so familiar voice, “Aunty mi Risi!” Silifat embraced me. I stepped back to look at her. She wore a red apron on a blouse and a pair of trousers. My eyes got fixed on her bottom half and Silifat replied, “They are most convenient to wear for workshop.” She said her daughter was in school preparing for her senior secondary school examinations and if I was in no hurry I could see her in the evening.

It was a privilege I must confess, I was beyond doubt proud to be in the midst of these women, several of them. They represent a committee called ‘The Alternative’ for women who need an alternative to an undignified vocation. It is unbelievable the strength each woman has to bear the burdens of their communities but Remilekun, the founder of this committee of more than a hundred women, corrects me that it is not ‘the burdens’ but ‘the life’. “Where we come from hunger, prostitution, slavery and such are not a burden but they are life, sad life.” I had the opportunity to spend time with them for three days before heading back to the city; it was enlightenment for me in my myopic world. It took a lot of courage for me to look into their eyes, as I spoke one-on-one to each of them. Their eyes were like the eyes of spirits, hallow, women with aging experiences and wisdom but most certainly child-like hearts. They are child-like because of their simplistic approach to existence, the choice to be or not to be and the choice to do or not to do. This is the philosophy of The Alternative; it gives the women an opportunity to make choices. They are taught the art of making exportable crafts.

I could say nothing. My eyes betrayed my thoughts but Silifat remained smiling. Silifat was not different, no, she was new. Aduni, Aduni, very talkative but every word pierced my insides. She said every one must be useful and The Alternative made them so. I listen to her and I am sober. I ask myself, how useful am I to humanity? Neither self-abasement nor self-gratification dared to suffice in my answer to myself. We can all do a little more.

Every door on their premise had a signage saying “omo eniyan ni o tun ara re bi” and I read it out like a question. Aduni explained, “I believe that in everyone’s life, there is a time for a second birth. Before a boy becomes a man and a girl becomes a woman of purpose they must give birth to themselves. The Yoruba’s say “omo eniyan ni o tun ara re bi” it is a part of man’s journey when he looses the baggage of the past and recreates himself. It should be the

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Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble with none

Love is life and if you miss love, you miss life ...

Birth stone: Citrine

Quote: Leo Buscaglia

Everything has beauty but not everyone can see it

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Next page: “Just one night” 2008 © Peju Alatise

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Sugarcane Remilekun:

Everything seems to amuse Silifat. It is as though the wind tickles her, even in its stillness.

Aduni:

Always smiling to herself.

Labake:

She speaks her words in a sing-song manner.

Aduni:

She walks as if she is in a dance procession. She must be hearing music inaudible to all others.

Remilekun: I s it not obvious to you? Labake:

Remilekun, Aduni and Labake: Silifat is in love! Silifat:

Remilekun: My dear, there is love and there is love. The issue is no one would agree on another name to differentiate one from the other.

what should be so obvious?

Remilekun: what is the one thing that makes a woman’s eyes comparable to polished glass, even eyes that have seen the worst of predicaments? Labake:

It must be the same thing that makes a woman exudes satisfaction.

Aduni:

Ha! SUGARCANE!! How can I be so slow? Silifat! Please come. Make me happy. You must tell me so I can also be affected with amusement.

Silifat:

Tell you what?

Aduni:

Do not pretend. We know you are harvesting plantain.

Silifat:

Aduni, you speak in parables.

Silifat:

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Aunty Remi, there is more to drinking But you are right, it concerns a man. have never known I am capable of. It light, it flutters, yet it is so full am yet to understand my body.

than quenching ones thirst. Aduni, I have feelings I is as though my heart is so I think it might burst. I

So tell me, which type of love is this?

Remilekun: There is the love that brings you relief and there is the love that brings you trouble. Silifat:

How do I know I am not in trouble?

Labake:

I know about trouble but for me it was worth it.

Aduni:

Being a married woman loving a man that was not your husband, for you, Labake it would be worth it since you were the cheat frolick ing with the forbidden. What trouble did you see when you had the pleasure and your husband the pain?

Labake:

Aunty Aduni, what makes you think that the burden of guilt is easier than the pain from betrayal? What makes you think that guilt is less punitive than any other pain? I tell you, in infidelity, the punishment often comes with the eating and afterwards. Aunty Aduni have you not been with a husband that was not yours?

Aduni:

I have also been with a cheating husband. I’ll tell you I would rather feel guilty.

Remilekun: There are no children here, Silifat I know it is only a man that can make a woman act drunk on a glass of water. And you my dear have been thirsty for a long time. Silifat:

and it feels so good. No man has made me feel this way. He holds my hands and not my breasts. He cups my face in his hands and not my buttocks. I have never met a man that respects my body so. This is new to me. I have been handled and dealt with but none has touched me as this man. And when I first loosed my wrapper for him, he said to me, “Silifat there is no hurry.” I ask myself could this be the love that sister mi Remi warned me about?

Remilekun:

Silifat, forget them, tell me how this all begun. Silifat

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Silifat:

For me, it all started at the waterfall

Labake:

Which Adamu? Is it the trader?

Labake:

At Erin-Ijesha? Has that place not been the start of many love affairs?

Silifat:

Yes

Aduni:

Adamu the albino?

Silifat:

Yes

Labake:

Adamu, Subomi’s husband?

Silfat:

Yes

Silifat:

Ten years I have lived here in Erin-Ijesha and only last month I first climbed up the seven levels of the waterfall. He lead and I followed. To my amazement the top of the waterfall was a flat ground with many trees and nothing else but open skies with silver clouds. I thought the water came from an oracle of some sort bellowing out words that turned to rain and if it were to be less dramatic than that at least I expected a river cut in half. He said tiny drops of water are collected by leaves and stones from cloud dews. The droplets fall to the ground and find each other and together trickle through dirt, mud, rocks and tree roots. They gather continuously and form great movement and energy. Only from being spread out do they gather and return to the sky clean and clear. He said this is like the journey of woman on earth. He said a woman visits the earth white from pure heights. He said her very first steps upon touching the earth brought color to the flowers and fruit to the trees. She brought humanity to man and salt to earth. “But it is not all glorious for her,” he said. Like the droplets she too will lose herself and will not remain white. Her journey will be laborious. She must lose herself only to find herself. He said to me, “Silifat please let me walk with you. Let me be with you as you find yourself. I can only but become with you.” I tell you, I have never heard such words or known such a man! You tell me, am I in trouble?

Aduni, Remilekun and Labake: You are in trouble!

Remilekun: He seems to be a knowing man. I do not know him but he has won me over. Such words could get me drunk in abstinence. He cannot be from around here. Silifat please who is this man? Silifat:

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You have all met him before. It is Adamu. Silifat

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Love is life and if you miss love, you miss life ...

Everything has beauty but not everyone can see it

To be wronged is nothing unless you continue to remember it

Birth stone: Turquoise

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Quote: Confucius

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Never get married in the morning; you never know who you might meet at night


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To forgive May be twenty, may be more years of a burden-full-stomach of pain, fear, anger and hate but today, it is easy to forgive. May be twenty, may be more years but today, it all comes to a stop. Yes all things started have an ending. The day it started, the brokenness, was the day she cooked her first snack. She no longer remembers the year, but she was certain almost all her lost milk teeth had been replaced. There was this heavy aura about the home. No one could breathe easy. Silifat’s mother was Silifat’s father’s second wife but after six years and only one female child, Silifat’s father lost patience and consequently brought home a third wife. Silifat’s mother was bitter. She withdrew faster than the mimosa pudica, the humble plant when touched. She conjured up every bit of sensibility within her to make life miserable for everyone most especially her rival but excluding her husband. Silifat had watched her stepmother prepare kanjika, the steps where easy enough to follow. She grated the coconut and scraped her finger. She ground the corn with the grinding stone till she had blisters on her palms. She mixed the coconut milk and corn together and cooked but she did not get a smooth paste until the fourth try. She added too much sugar, it did not matter and her mother needed the sweetness. She turned the mixture onto a flat tray and drew on a face with big eyes, two dots for a nose and a big ‘u’ for a mouth. When the paste got cold, she cut out a circle around the face. She sprinkled her nutmeg and a prayer. The ‘u’ for the mouth was most infectious; everyone who saw it caught a smile. It was even more delightful when she placed hibiscus flower-petals around it and presented it to her mother. What Silifat got in response was a slap across the cheek. It was not the first. She was wasting food. Her father no longer gave her money for food and Silifat was wasteful. Everything was Silifat’s fault, even the day she was conceived as a female child, she was always wrong. The day her brokenness indulged in fear was the day her elder half-sister confirmed she was pregnant. She had been taken-advantage-of, being only fourteen and him, forty. No one cared; she made herself available in the wrong

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place at the wrong time. She was beaten and made an example of. Her sister’s labor was horrific and the screaming was endless. Twenty years and may be less, Silifat still heard her screaming. All Silifat wanted to do was say sorry. Silifat’s mother had warned her never to talk to her half sister. The day her brokenness and fear was first complemented with anger, Silifat remembered vividly. Anger was the easiest emotion to handle and she was thankful for it. Perhaps it gave her a new strength. She was sixteen. She woke up in the morning to find she had stained the couch she slept on. She got a bowl of water and soap. With the ear of her wrapper, Silifat tried washing the stain off. Her mother woke up earlier this day and caught Silifat with the blood stain on the couch and her sleeping garment. She thought it was Silifat’s first time. “You are slow in everything. Slow to think, slow to act, slow to react and even slow to develop.” These were Silifat’s mother’s words. The day her brokenness, fear and anger were overhauled with hate, her mother was absent. But that was it; her mother should have been there. She was given to an old man like a tip given to a government official for doing the work he was already paid to do. She had lived with Isah Faruk for sixty-eight days when he realized she could be useful. He asked her to wash herself and visit his room. She sat on his bed not sure what to expect. He pulled up her wrapper and drove tactlessly into her. Her experience she likened to a dry uncooked tuber meal swallowed whole. Her mother should have told her about this day. Her hatred brewed. But today, it is easy to forgive. Her friend Remilekun had once told her forgiveness comes easier when the one wronged is also guilty of the same wrong doing. Silifat made no secret of her anger towards her mother. The only guilty one was her mother. Remilekun had said that anger is like a moth eating at a woolen cloth kept away until it is needed. When the cold comes, you will be exposed. Silifat had replied, “It is cold every day!” Remilekun had said “Anger is like a slave master luring an idle workman with an opportunity to earn an income working the mines. He says, “Do not dig for me, No! Dig for yourself. The deeper, the wider and the stronger you become, the closer you will be.” Silifat

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“The closer to what?” the work man may ask. “Choose your gain.” The master says. The work man digs and he digs. If ever he stops to look about himself, he finds a dark place. In the depth and in the width, he has no strength, yet he is close to nothing. He no longer remembers when he began to dig. He is within a pit. He is never alone! He will hear familiar voices. They sound desperate because they are lost in the hole he has dug. “Silifat, the day you stop to dig, whose voice will you hear?” “When do I stop digging?” Silifat asked. “If ever you listen, you will hear the time.” Remi said. The proverbial writing on the wall had been before her face but for the first time she understood it. The vomiting, the abdominal pains and fever seemed natural once Silifat realized her own daughter was pregnant. Her daughter was sixteen. “Who touched you?” she wanted to ask the very same question she had known brought no relief. It did not matter. Her daughter was curled up in bed all covered as to hide her shame. Silifat sat beside her and she pulled at the bed covers. Silifat looked deeply within herself and deep within her being she found her mother. She had become the very embodiment of all that she blamed. She like her mother, had one female offspring, sacrificed everything for the approval of one man, any man that would have her, fed off bitterness and accused everyone else. In her quiet mind she indeed heard time. Silifat stopped digging and she heard her daughter’s voice.

ignorance that advised her to leave her daughter to the world, after all what you do not learn at home, the world will teach you. The world taught them both wrong. “When I was your age, I thought honestly to heavens, babies where cultivated somewhere mysteriously by doctors. I was foolishly naïve.” “Yes, you were.” They both laughed. She went on to talk about her first time. The tuber meal did not hurt to remember or to recount. She would not talk ill of her daughter’s father, it was needless. They talked even more. They talked the past into the future and it was a new focal point, the point to procure better things; a future which may include a new life. How could she not have realized that to forgive is not the opportunity to reconcile with a perpetrator? To forgive is the opportunity to break a cycle of hurt and it will not take a day. But at this very moment she tasted freedom from the burden of anger. She said she was sorry for the neglect. She said she would do better because she understood better. She wanted her daughter to have a better education than she did and the pregnancy would not be a deterrent. Her daughter was definitely cleverer than she and would be accepted into college. Her daughter had better choices and Silifat will not steal her right to choose. Every day, they would do better. They will talk better and love better. She would care better and watch better. They will learn better and strive better. They will live better. But they will forgive.

She had sworn to do better the day she birthed her child but her vow was soon forgotten when her expectations of life seemed illusive. Her daughter had become a little woman and she never noticed. She never talked about the monthly visitor, never told her where babies come from, never really laughed with her. She really does not know her daughter. When she had the opportunity to do so, she never knew what to say. She herself was still uncertain about the connection between the monthly visitor and babies. She thought to herself that she had probably raised an equally angry child. It was the fear of her

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Short note from the author A friend once asked, “Peju, why do you write?” This is a question that reminds me that I am responsible for every word I write and I must be careful not to mislead anyone. I have definitely spoken far more words than I have written. I have spoken many derogatory words from hurtful words to abusive words. I have spoken words in thoughtlessness and in ignorance. These do not bother me as much as the few words, irrespective of their meaning, I have written. I recognize there is permanence in words penned than words spoken. A word penned gives audience to everyone, anyone and someone and most of them I will never know. Many penned words have out-lived their authors but many uttered words have fallen to nothingness. I write so that I may be relevant to my generation. I accept the accountability for the messages in my writing. My messages will always concern women. I believe a change will come to any home, community or a nation that exercises the rights of Its women to choose. Yes to choose! It is simple but yet many a people are indolent to this. Give a woman her right to choose life, to choose health, to choose her home, to choose education, to choose love, to choose financial income, to choose financial independence. The right to choose is the right to access information. The right to choose reveals options. Options require reasoning. To reason is to develop self. The right to choose is a path to understanding. Numerous families, communities and even nations ignorantly steal these rights under the guise of protection and even piety. But if they could see beyond they would see themselves as they who shackled their ankles to millstones and plunged for the deep end of the sea but pulling defenseless people along with them. To these I say ‘ignorance is an insufferable excuse’. Do reason with me, the condition for humanity to thrive is free will. The free will is the ability to choose one’s own path. Do not be a hindrance to any. Do not be selfish. Silifat

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If you want a happy ending, that depends of course on where you stop your story

Orson Welles

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