Jomo: Enemy Circles (Novel) – Season Two, Episode 16

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This entry is part 2 of 12 in the series Enemy Circles - Season Two

Jomo, a young nomadic man was betrothed to a fellow clan’s girl, Bonajo, and they were to be married during the merriment of reuniting at the designated reunion camp in mountains of central Africa. Unfortunately, a huge war campaign was to prevent that simple thing from happening until after more than three years.

THE TRAILING CONSEQUENCES

“When is the caravan leaving?”

Abu Saleh was still feeling the guilt of agreeing with Galah’s request to deal first hand with the business of seeking information concerning the deadly weapon in the Maghreb. But if there is one small girl in the whole world whose judgement he trusted completely, it was Galah. “Tomorrow, God willing” he answered, as he roped some package very tight.

Galah arrived in Marrakech with Abu Sale’s caravan two days ago. It was an onerous five days journey through the desert, but thankfully eventless. Abu Saleh intended to reach the coasts of Libya and Tunis to pick orders before he would make a detour around the troublesome Songhai, and head for the troublesome Hausa lands. In spite of the skirmishes in the Hausa lands, which happened like all the time, they were safer a thousand times than the core Songhai.

The once peaceful and cultured empire had been turned into an anarchist haven. Lawlessness and banditry followed the Maghreb invasion. Houses are destroyed, government buildings looted by the invaders first, and later by the people. No adventurous caravan would ever go there again.

Galah wanted to go to the Hausa lands. She knew the danger associated with that particular zone too, as she also gathered from Abu Saleh’s contact that the region was going through its own kind of turmoil. She soon gathered that Katsina invaded Kano, and was trying to move farther.

Enemy Circles on Memorila
Enemy Circles on Memorila

Hamani was the only person who knew where she was and what she was doing. It was the most difficult decision of his life, allowing her to discreetly follow Abu Saleh’s caravan to the Maghreb. Galah’s heart missed him instantly. He was one man who trusted her judgements more than anybody else in this whole world. She wished he was here in Marrakech with her. She prayed he was safe after the war.

Abu Saleh stopped at what he was doing and looked up at Galah, who was lost in some distant thoughts. She looked lonely and distressed from the arduous journey. Her small age evident, he blamed himself.

“But you can stay in this house with Najjah for as long as it takes. I will make sure that we return back without any unnecessary delay. The woman is a trusted friend.”

The story of secured accommodation didn’t excite her, the sombre look persisted.

Abu Sahel knew that the girl was not telling him everything she intended to do in Marrakech.

“And please tell me that you won’t do anything risky until I return and take you back to your people. I will never forgive myself if something bad happens to you.”

Galah softened her expression “Don’t worry Abu Saleh, I promise you that.”

Abu Saleh was relieved and called out loud for Najjah. The old woman entered with tiny cups of black tea and steamed dates in her hands.

“This girl, Najjah, is a trust in my hands which I want to entrust into yours as I go to Libya to buy some stuff. Give whatever assistance she needs from you. She needs to meet some few people here, make sure that you help her do that, and that she is not in any danger.” He started before she could keep her load down.

Galah knew that she didn’t need the old woman’s help; in fact she would rather not have somebody monitoring her all the time. To make things worse, she didn’t like the old woman, and she was sure she too would rather Abu Saleh takes her with him to Libya, or wherever he was heading for to buy stuff.

“When are you returning?” The old woman asked.

Abu Saleh didn’t respond to her until he dropped five Maghreb coins on her palm. Najjah’s eyes resembled the coins in awe. “It won’t take me more than three days I hope.” He said.

“That won’t be a problem at all.” Najjah’s shaky hands tucked away the money inside a mysterious pocket of her djellaba. “You really need not to pay for that. She is like a daughter to me.”

It is going to be a long day, Galah thought

 

 

***

“Are you sure this is not too transparent?”

Bonajo lifted the sea blue chiffon dress Jango suggested she should wear to the evening music event to take place at the harem main hall. She was not sure she knew when she got caught up in the excitement of the anticipation of the event. It was a huge event, she learnt, and that meant only perfection was accepted there.

The event was meant to break the monotony of the idle harem life. It gave the harem ladies and society ladies of the kingdom the chance to display their latest fashion styles, and as a competition arena for beauty and grace. Every harem woman looked forward to the event with fervour. They started preparing for the next event immediately the last one was completed. If it turned out excellent for a lady that she was able to put together quite attractive fashion pieces, and the likes of Moalama (the warheads of the event) and other fashion freaks declare it astonishing, she will be the talk of the kingdom’s noble women and beyond until the next event. And whatever outfit gave her that honour will be the next hot fashion piece. A fiasco, however, is like a death warrant to a lady’s social life, until some miracle turns in her favour to save her, most of the time it never did. It was not without reason that some of the women attending the music event could easily have miscarriages, at the mere mention of the event.

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The music event coincidently or rather, intentionally matched the end of the thirty days of Banajo’s beauty sessions. Nobody had seen her since that day Moalama talked to her by the fountain, but the story of what happened during the talk had been the hottest gossip in the harem. It caused sand dunes of jealousy by the harem women, and the job of disseminating same kept the maids busy, as was expected. Most of the time, the truth is blown out of proportion to unrecognizable monstrosity. After trading the distorted gossips for thirty days, the expectations intensified, and Bonajo was expected to show herself at the music event.

Added to that was the queen’s pregnancy rumour. As she was expected to attend the ceremony, people wanted to know how pregnant she was or if the notion that she was depressed had been true. These twin palace scandals had spilled into the city and beyond. No doubt this time the music event would not be all about fashion parade and competition of splendour; it would mean knowing for sure what was happening within the palace walls.

The event also allowed women picked information for their diplomatic husbands. The wives of the rich and influentials always welcome the opportunity to attend a music evening in the palace. Moalama was aware of this and wanted as many guests as possible. He always loved being the host of giant gatherings and he always achieved it with the music event.

“This is transparent, Jango.” Bonajo repeated again raising the turquoise chiffon from the newly arrived chest of materials that encased the likes of taffeta, silk, chiffon and what not. She became quite a spectacle thirty days after going through rigorous beauty sessions. Her dark brownish tone was perfectly uniform now. Her eyes looked brighter, wider and delicately glazed from healthy diet and lack of exposure to too much sun. Her hair while not silky and straight was richly black and wild over her shoulders. Above all, her feminine figures were very much pronounced with narrow waist and wider hips. She herself felt a sense of confidence about her looks. She knew now what her mother was talking about when she said that she had her looks. But she wouldn’t want to display herself in this transparent dress that by virtue of all truth wouldn’t be different from walking naked.

Jango told her more than a million times that she was beautiful, that she could compete with any woman in the world with her beauty. She heard him and never gave his words any attention at the beginning, but slowly his words rooted in her mind and bred the confidence she felt now. If she could have her ways she had an entirely different idea of exhibiting her beauty instead of the auctioning in the name of music event that was to be her only choice now.

Their idea of makingup was bizarre, back when she was with her clans’ people. She had no doubt that it would be regarded with ridicule here; even she could see how funny one will end up looking with too much talc and uncalculated kohl applied without precision as she used to do. The way a woman made up her face or had it made for her here was very exquisite and beautiful, she was seeing a different side of her beauty through her captors’ means of beautification and she loved it.

“Just hold the dress please let me find something.” Jango didn’t comment on her complains.

She held it frowning at the piece, knowing that it would be a miracle if Jango didn’t end up convincing her to wear it. Today was definitely a big day, both she and Jango were excited about it, and especially Jango, who was going to be judged based on how many eyes his artwork attracted. Jango was practically sweating. This was not an easy thing to predict. Moalama could easily blame him for failure.

Although Bonajo was truthfully beautiful, Jango’s anxiety could not have been baseless. Of course the Arabs might not identify with this sort of beauty, it could solely be by her and Jango’s standards. Black race was never given the credit of beauty in the Arab world. And there was always the racism thing of inferiority-superiority. This was the most uncertain situation for Jango. How could he not feel discouraged? Bonajo pitied the young man.

On her side, she did not care if she was considered unfit and confirmed ugly in the presence of all the ladies in Maghreb. In fact, that’s what she was praying for secretly. She had no sprit of competition at all. The only thing that kept the whole procedure going was the fact that she loved the adornment thing. This was one side of her that was not killed. She loved herself and felt pampering herself was the only way to show that love. And whatever scandal was about to unfold at the event will just suit her fine, though every now and then Jango’s nervousness got to her and she wished he just calm down and let things happen the way they are meant to.

“Of course it is not more transparent than it should be, my lady.” He said when he found what he was looking for and could attend to her whinge. “Now, will you do me the favour of putting this one then we can decide if it’s for sure too transparent.”

They came to become friends that she couldn’t hurt his feelings by not cooperating and openly not showing interest in his enthusiasm was at its peak. Another reason that made their thirty days of joint project hitchfree was that he listened to her even though he did not encourage her when she talked of freedom. But it was ok with Bonajo just to have some listening ear. She played along in the win-win game where she had the chance to beautify herself and have a company that is not Arab and scolding, as he does his job of preparing her for the competition – to him that was what this was all about. She too patiently listened to his anxious comments about how if he failed it would be a disaster. She had no idea what disaster that could be.

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Jango returned to the chest and brought a gold belt to go with the chiffon dress. He dug deeper into it to find other accessories to go with – all the time calculating, deciding and un-deciding, matching colours and comparing textures. He started feeling light-headed – afraid that his anxiety might end up contaminating his senses of judgement; he had to calm down.

Bonajo slipped on the chiffon dress then cinched her waist with the wide gold belt Jango decided had the right width, colour and texture. Bonajo was careful not to interrupt Jango’s decisionmaking knowing how important this was to him and seeing how stressed he was as he bent over the chest, determined to find something like it was the sure piece that would certainly nail his success.

The dress was indeed transparent but only at appropriate places. It was made so that the material folded over three times from the breast area to mid thighs to make it thick and opaque underneath a light bodice. It opened at the sides and had long flying sleeves. There wasn’t much seaming on the dress, it was more of tied-together at different places rather than sewn. Asides the separate bodice with matching colour the remaining of the dress was left drabbing like a generous curtain around the statue of a goddess. At the chest area, the material was tied to make a bra atop the bodice while at the shoulders, a simple seam hold the light material together in form of slim straps. With the aid of the belt the dress was snugly fitted against Bonajo’s upper body, which perfectly moulded with her contours and left a flowing length of the breezy material to sweep on the floor.

Now that Bonajo had the dress on, she could see the beauty of its making. Jango wanted her to wear something out of Arabic fashion, she agreed with him on that. Also she did object to his choice of this particular one because it was put together from Jango’s talent inspired by pictures of Greek goddesses he claimed he once saw in a picture. The seamstress did a good job putting Jango’s description into what is Bonajo’s evening dress.

“I can’t find that gold holder; it’s the only one that can match.” Jango continued fretting with the chest not succeeding to calm his galloping nerves. “Thank God! Here it is. It will match with the colour of that material, don’t you…”

Jango lost words at the spectacle he met as he turned around to show Bonajo the gold hair holder he found.

Ya Salam!” He exclaimed when he could find his words again. “My lady, you truly give me hope now like you never did.”

Bonajo just smiled. “Ok, now how do we put that holder?” She said apparently happy with herself. She felt good in the dress and so was Jango. Soon he will be making many such dresses to high society ladies, she hoped.

Jango found new reserve of energy. He pulled himself together, sucked in and moved to Bonajo’s side. He gathered her wild hair, passed it through the conical holder and used the gold pin to hold it there. He used a smooth brush to pull her hair back, several times readjusting the holder until the hair was perfectly smooth on her head and tussled out at the other end of the holder. He applied the necessary powders and eye shadows where need be. Gold bangles and earrings, neck collars and ankle chains complemented the attire.

Jango stood back and looked at his art work. For the first time in thirty days he felt sure he might have achieved something.

“Now, my lady you look terrific!” Jango was genuinely awed.

“Thank you, Jango, now let me see if I master those high heels of yours.”

“Yes, yes I almost forgot.” Jango returned back to a different chest digging for the heels.

They were pointy and dangerously slim. Bonajo took the pairs, put them on and stood up. She had been rehearsing walking on them ever since, and each time she saw them she lost faith. She was terrified when she first saw those, not believing a human woman could even stand in them let alone walk.

“This is very important my lady. This occasion is all about making an entrance.”Jango said. “We get all the score we deserve at the moment when you enter the hall that is why it is very important that you walk like I taught you. Grace and poise is what makes a lady, beauty is a strong asset though and dressing up is a huge complement. If a lady has these all, she will have both men and the women doing her biddings.” Jango cleared the space for Bonajo to walk.

“Except I am not a lady…” Bonajo teased. “You are lucky I love this part. It reminds me of the calabash dance in a way. Except, in this case I dictate my move not the music – I wish there would be the right music. And these sinful heels make everything dangerous and hence call for caution.”

One hand on the hip, Bonajo began walking from the extreme end of the room. Her body flowing with every step she took like a trapped liquid, she clicked her tongue against the walls of her mouth creating a music that flowed with her movement. Chiffon drapes of her dress airily flew in the air and a good one meter sweeps the flow like a coloured river.

“Good, good!” was all Jango could say.

 

***

“Are you going too?” Galah asked for the sake of saying something

It had been five days since Abu Saleh’s departure. Galah was worried he wasn’t supposed to stay that long according what he told her. She was also constantly thinking about Hamani, their relationship and the love she had for him that she couldn’t realize before.  Her bigger worry though, was the fact she hadn’t learnt anything as she hoped.  If Abu Saleh had returned by now she would still not be ready to go. She had all this and more matters twirling in her head when suddenly Najjah started blabbing about a party in the palace.

She wanted to know more about this music event Najjah was talking about. Since Abu Saleh left she didn’t know where to start looking for any information, or even who to contact. She didn’t trust the old woman with eyes only on money. Staying in the house was boring to death. The old hag complained all her life, she talked tons of nonsense even she knew not of, but always pretended to be sage as she addressed the younger woman. Once she went with her to the market square where they listened to a story teller told a very interesting story of a brave princess that saved her kingdom from the enchantment of a wicked witch. Later, Najjah claimed the story was not told right. She claimed if she was to tell the story the audience will be moved to heavy tears at the end of it.

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“Maybe, maybe not!” Najjah answered. “Sometimes I would rather not enter that palace. A lot of things have changed from when it used to be fun, when I was about your age and have admirers all over the place.”

Galah knew the sounds of a lie. It wasn’t her concern if Najjah was the most beautiful damsel in the Maghreb forty years ago. She hoped to have achieved something badly now. Talking to Najjah was only infuriating her more, reminding her of the hopelessness of her situation and how she was stuck with this lying old lady.

Najjah was not helping matters. Apparently she misunderstood Abu Saleh’s demand of taking care of her as guarding her day and night, chaperoning, lecturing and teaching woman virtues and how to take care of her husband if she didn’t want him to go for a second wife. She wanted to scream some senses into the old woman’s ancient tattooed ear, but it was of no use since she didn’t even know what to do next. So she waited, helped the old woman with her chores, went to market together and listen to endless bullshit; even doing all these opened doors to Najjah’s criticism on her lack of home management skills.

“It must be very interesting.” Galah went on.

“You never heard of it? Which village did you say you come from?” Najjah disliked the girl’s strange behaviours. Even her Arabic sounds terrible. She wished Abu Saleh would come back and cart her away to wherever the heck he dug her. Though, he gave her enough gold to keep more than five people for more than a month on her behalf, she wished it was someone else not the girl – even six people would do just fine. She thought the girl looked dumb, dressed funny and didn’t even know what to do as a woman. If she was not mistaken sometimes she appeared like she was in a trance or something. What if she is possessed?

Galah said nothing, just looked back at the scorning woman.

“It is when the high society ladies gather and do their thing, at the king’s palace.” Najjah said sagely. On second thought she added. “I am not surprised you’ve never heard of it.”

Galah’s magnetic mind caught one word with high affinity, ‘King’s palace!’ She registered none of Najjah’s ridiculing. Her interest was roused within.

“Did you say at the palace?”

“Yes, at the palace not in the market where we can attend, at the palace where we can’t.”

“What if I want to go?” Galah knew at once that she had to attend this party or whatever it was where the high society ladies do their thing.

Najjah laughed until her myopic eyes were filled up with kohl washed tears. “What if I told you that besides you being too poor to afford nice clothes that could get you entry, you are not even a lady or an extraordinarily beautiful woman to begin with to qualify you as a guest, hence you don’t want to go, heh?” She continued laughing.

“What if I told you that I have more gold than your ancient eyes have ever seen and that if you are willing to play by my rules you get as much as you want? How would that sound to you, huh?”

Najjah stopped laughing at first, scornful at the insult then seeing Galah’s young face set with gravity of seriousness she could only expect on an aristocratic face. She was suddenly conscious that maybe she was an important person that is why Abu Saleh paid lavishly for her upkeep. “You are kidding right?”

“I am not.” Najjah saw from the sternness of her eyes and knew that she wasn’t.

***

Najjah found out later that Galah was not joking for real. She was indeed in possession of heavy gold and even most surprising revelation was that this dowdy girl was a princess of a kingdom deep inside the desert. Galah didn’t bother to give her much detail, what she told and showed her was enough to make the old woman prostrate apologizing for what she did to her.

“Ok enough.”Galah said sternly, seeing that she put Najjah in her place now. “We have too many things to do before it’s too late. Where do I get a dress that will qualify me entrance? As a princess I am entitled to attend the party but you will have to go and clear me for an official invitation. I am sure there are people in the palace that still remember the gorgeous Najjah of the olden days.”

Najjah rose from her prostration, embarrassed and ashamed. “I can do that my lady. I know the chief eunuch, the organizer of all harems’ affair. I use to supply him with beads that Abu Saleh sometimes brought from Misra. That part will be quite easy. As for the dress, that too won’t be a problem with your money you can have any kind that please you at Jolah’s.”

“Who’s that?”

“The best dressmaker in Marrakech! He makes only one dress for a client and swears on his grandmother’s grave to never repeat it again. Most of the attendees of the event will have their dresses made by him.”

“Then take me to him and you can be on your way to the palace from there.” Galah was happy things were no longer dormant. In a way she had a strong feeling that she was heading in the right direction.

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Series Navigation<< Jomo: Enemy Circles (Novel) – Season Two, Episode 15Jomo: Enemy Circles (Novel) – Season Two, Episode 17 >>

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Bashir Kabir

Born, raised and studied in Kano State, Bashir Kabir has a degree in Physics and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Physics, all in Bayero University, Kano. He is married with a kid and currently works at Kano State Public Complaint and Anti-Corruption Kano.

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