Ragadada walked past the crag of rocks, then through a bend in the narrow dirt road and reached the baobab tree that was a meeting place for the village witches. The tree stood alone in the middle of the narrow dirt road, its branches pointing in all directions. No one had seen anything happening under the tree, but when the third child of Haliru got missing, they said it must have been the witches of the Baobab Tree. Stories circulated about how the middle child was the most useful for a witch’s sacrifice. One story said the witches could turn a child into a chicken and use him for sacrifice, and because of that, Haliru wanted to burn the tree. The villagers said no; they didn’t want to starve. They said the witches could dry up all the wells or burn their farmlands, and so they saved the tree.
Haliru saw his son floating in the open well with his football in their family compound. It was a tragedy that was fresh in their minds. Everyone said he jumped to get the ball, and he fell into the deep well. The village had the well closed and Haliru’s family fetched water from the next compound.
Ragadada walked past the tree and met the Bori woman who called out, “Ragadada, how’re you and where are you going to at 12 noon?”
‘‘I’m going to the Atamfa market. I want to buy clothes before Zuhr,” Ragadada said. ‘‘It’s not good to be going out at noon, be careful of Jinn,’’ the Bori woman said.
Ragadada saw Rabi and Ladidi chatting and heading towards the Atamfa market. The Bori woman turned her head and started singing:
“I’m Wanan, a woman going to hell. I don’t want to go to heaven.”
She walked up to them, and they frowned at her in greeting. They watched her walk past them, and towards the narrow road leading to her hut on the outskirts of the village.
‘‘Why do you talk to that woman?’’ said Rabi. ‘‘She’s clearly evil’’
‘‘She’s not evil, she has lost her way,’’ said Ragadada.
‘‘What are you doing in the market now?’’ asked Ladidi. ‘‘The sun is not good for your complexion.’’
‘‘I came to buy a yard of material to sew clothes for a bride,’’ she said. ‘‘May you be the next person to get married,’’ said Rabi.
‘‘I’m saving money. I’ve decided that if I don’t get married before I’m thirty-five, I’ll move to the city and I’ll open a tailoring shop,’’ said Ragadada.
Rabi and Ladidi went off to buy food. Ragadada went to a tent that had different fabrics. She wanted to buy a blue fabric to add to the wedding blouse she was making. The material at home had blue and white flowers. She chose a fabric, brought it out, and stretched it towards the sun to catch the light. A flock of women entered the small shop where they surrounded her, chatting loudly like birds.
‘‘Ragadada, what are you going to do with the fabric?’’
‘‘I’m sewing clothes for a bride,’’ she said.
‘‘You’re always sewing clothes for someone’s wedding. When are you going to invite us to your wedding?” Laraba said.
Ragadada felt the muscles of her face pull together to form a frown. She smiled, but it didn’t reach her eyes. ‘‘Soon, soon,’’ she said, but she wanted to tell her to mind her business. She wanted to tell them that all their husbands asked her to marry them first. The men only proposed marriage to them after she rejected their suits. She kept it to herself, there were things you don’t tell people.
“What is the problem? You are the most beautiful woman in the village. You look like the wife of a king and when you smile, it seems like the sun has appeared from the clouds on the western horizon.”
Ragadada was tired of this conversation. In this village, it was only the Bori woman that never asked her about marriage. She didn’t get married because she didn’t like anyone she met. None of the men she met were worthy of the most beautiful girl in the village.
‘‘You’re too picky,’’ said Aliya. ‘‘You’re thirty-three and the only maiden left in this village, you must get married before it’s too late.’’
‘‘Aliya, how can you say such a thing,’’ said Lantana. ‘‘Tell Ragadada you’re sorry.’’
‘‘There is no need to worry about me,’’ said Ragadada as she paid for the fabric and left the shop. It was almost 12 noon. If she walked fast enough, she could say her Zuhr prayer on time. She was tired of listening to the marriage conversations. ‘‘God, please send me a husband even if he’s a Jinni,’’ she said.
When a shadow fell on her, she had not walked far. The shadow seemed to swallow her own as she looked at it. She shook her head, and saw it was taller than her shadow. Looking up, she saw the most handsome man she had ever seen in her life. He had beautiful eyes and short eyelashes. One eye had a black iris and the other, a brown iris. If only he had long eyelashes, he would have been perfect, she said out loud. Ragadada looked up again, and he had long, beautiful eyelashes. It amazed her how quickly they had grown. The sun was getting to her and she must have imagined the length of his eyelashes or he heard her talking to herself.
‘‘I’m Khaleel Yamin and I’m pleased to meet you,’’ he said.
The Bori woman passed, singing: ‘‘I’m a person of hell, ’I’m not scared of my fate and be careful of Jinns. They live with us.’’
‘‘Who is that woman?’’ Khaleel asked.
‘‘She’s a harmless Bori woman,’’ Ragadada said.
‘‘She said she’s a person for hell. How can she be sure?’’ he asked.
‘‘She moved to our village five years ago, and she has harmed no one,’’ Ragadada said. “It’s getting late for Zuhr, I must pray.”
‘‘I would like to escort you,’’ he said, and followed her to her shop at the village square. She gave him a praying mat and kettle, but he said he would pray in the congregation. He left to pray and said he’d return.
She prayed, finished sewing the wedding clothes then, she went to the bride’s house and sat outside with the bride and her friends. They chatted about the preparations and drank zobo and ate dankwa.
He came and sat across from the group of women. He kept staring at her, making her blush prettily. The women praised him and said he was handsome. They said she should make sure that she marries this man.
‘‘I’ve met him for a few minutes and you’re all planning to marry us, Ragadada said. ‘‘I must know him first and find out if we suit each other.’’
‘‘You’re still talking, this is not the age to get to know a suitor,’’ said one woman.
“We won’t allow you to give up such an opportunity,” said another woman.
“Your children will be the most beautiful children in the world,” said another woman.
She got up to go home, and he got up too, saying he wanted to walk her home. He stayed outside and all the neighbors peeped out from their windows. Some curious people walked up and down the road to see the most beautiful couple in the world.
Ragadada tried to look disinterested, but she kept glancing at the gawking people from the corner of her eyes. She was glad Khaleel was beautiful to look at. She pretended to slip so she could brush her fingers against his fingers. She drew her hands away. His hands were as cold as death. ‘‘Sorry I slipped,’’ she said.
“No problem,” he smiled at her.
He rented a room at the back of a house that was three houses away from here. In the morning, her mother suggested that she give him a cup of koko and kosai. She went to his house to deliver the food and heard an awful noise, then she peeped through the keyhole and saw him eating the brains of a man. She ran home with a cup of koko and kosai. Because she didn’t want him to know she had discovered his secret, she asked everyone not to offer him food and not to tell him she had taken koko and kosai to his house.
She was shaking like a leaf and ran to the outskirts of the village to tell the Bori woman what she saw. The Bori woman told her he was a devil and she must not tell him what she had seen or tell anyone else. If she did, he was going to kill her. She should pretend to know nothing and refuse his marriage proposal.
Ragadada tried hard to stay away from him, but he was hard-headed. He followed her everywhere like her shadow. Everyone in the village asked her why she didn’t like him anymore. They said she was crazy to let a handsome man go. He asked her father for her hand in marriage, her parents, siblings and the villagers all agreed. Ragadada came out and refused. She didn’t want to marry him, and everyone thought she was crazy.
She heard the Bori woman singing in front of her house one day and she ran to talk to her.
“You’ve got to marry him or run away, but if you run, he will follow you to the end of the world,” the Bori woman said.
“What should I do?” asked Ragadada. “I can’t live like this anymore.”
The Bori woman told her in a sing-song voice, ‘‘If you’re marked by the devil, take him to the woods, and set a trap, and he will fall, then bury him.”
Ragadada wished she didn’t pray for a jinni for her husband. It was a careless remark that brought her to this moment. She could remember being tired of hearing conversations about her marriage, and it was a hot day, but now look at her. There was a hole that was used to catch large animals. Ragadada covered it with a patch of grass. She ran home and waited for Khaleel to visit her.
He came after 2 pm, and she stared at his clothes and hands. There was dirt under his fingers.
‘‘Khaleel, what were you doing? Your hands are dirty,’’ she said. She shuddered to think he must have buried the remains of the man he killed.
‘‘I went hunting for antelope,’’ he said.
‘‘Where’s my share of the meat?’’ she asked.
“I gave out the remaining meat,” he said.
She said she wanted to eat antelope stew, and she was going hunting. She picked a bow of arrows and an axe from the house, and he said he was going with her.
‘‘No need to follow me. You’ve eaten and I’m an excellent hunter,” she said.
He followed her to the bush. As she was shooting arrows at an antelope, she jumped the grass that covered her trap, he stepped on it and fell into her trap.
The Bori woman came out from behind a tree and covered the hole with stones, leaves and sand, then marked his grave with a stone.
“Thanks for helping me,” said Ragadada.
“No, Ragadada, thank you,” she said. She told Ragadada that he killed her husband and her child., A Jinni told her Khaleel was going to marry a maiden called Ragadada, and she came to this village to live close to her.
‘‘Ragadada, forgive me if you can,” the Bori woman said. “I wanted my revenge, and it scared me that if I told you about him, then you won’t talk to him and I won’t be able to take revenge on my family.
“Wanan, I thought you were helping me, but you were using me to kill your enemy,” Ragadada said. ‘‘You could have warned me on the first day we met.’’
‘‘I’m sorry,’’ said the Bori woman. ‘‘I’m going back to my village.”
Ragadada felt anger burn in her throat. She couldn’t believe Wanan would betray her. ‘‘I want my payment for killing your enemy. You owe me money.’’
“In this village, you were the only person who talked to me. If I have money, I will give it to you. Please forgive me,” the Bori woman said.
“I forgive you, but because I dislike your betrayal and the feeling of being used, I wish to never see you again,” said Ragadada.
They walked down two different paths. Ragadada went back to the village and the Bori woman. left the village and was never seen again.
About the Author:
Hadiza Mohammed has published her short fiction with Brittle Paper, Praxis Magazine. Her work appears in ‘The Different Shades of a Feminine Mind Anthology.” A medical laboratory scientist, she is the author of My Life as an Almajiri.
“Ragadada” is her spin on the folktale about the pretty woman who marries a devil.
Feature image by jplenio / Pixabay