Enemy Circles – Season Two, Episode 18

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This entry is part 4 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.

WALK OF FAME

<< Read the Previous episode here!

The main hall in the harem was a large, spacious open room, with a very large and intricate ornate fountain at the middle. Several jets of water shooting at different pressures formed a glassy canopy above the fountain. Instead of a single door, archways upon archways connected several entrances to the hall, making it more of a central courtyard than a hall. The high ceiling, in the form of a dome, allowed coloured rays of light to cast on the stems of the archways. The floor was covered with marbled tiles that were scrubbed to blinding glitter by the abundant slaves. Persian rugs sparsely covered some selected areas. Food and fruits in silver and gold plates were artistically arranged for easier serving of the ladies and their guests and most importantly, for the delight it created to the eyes. A late evening sun hanged at the lower horizon and enhances the Arabian Night allure that bespoke the grand hall.

Galah spotted Moalama busy, checking out the last details to satisfy his perfectionism. He too was a piece of art himself. Dressed in silk and velvet, his face obscenely powdered like a lifeless statue and wearing jewelled slippers that were the envy of princesses, made Moalama stood out in the scene. He was so drenched in Bakhoor essence he could knock a whole army out with the strength of the perfume. His golden teeth glittered as he smiled and barked orders. This was his job; he didn’t care if Maghreb was at war with Songhai, or even the whole world was on fire. This is what he lived to see happen.

Enemy Circles on Memorila
Enemy Circles on Memorila

“That is your friend, right?” Galah asked Najjah, who was trying too hard to the point of ridiculing irritation to appear important. She got a gown that is worth her house and all other possession she never had before and it made her feel like she indeed was an important guest.

Galah was not concerned with her dress that was neither flattering nor overly bland. She didn’t even knew what colour it was

“Yes, that is Moalama. If you like I can introduce you to him. As you can see he is a man of high taste and has the politics of this palace at his fingertips.”

He looks like my grandmother. “Really?” Galah said.

Where is the most likely place to begin digging about military facts by a seemingly gullible princess than the palace? Nobody will suspect any motives, she thought.

“And what would you tell him about me?”

Najjah plastered a grotesque grin on her face that was meant to be a nice aristocratic smile, and maladroitly bowed as a guest passed by, hoping to appear like a high society lady. Galah rolled her eyes upward and silently complained to God for making her suffer in the hands of the likes of Fatto and now Najjah – fake people.

“Have you been listening?”

“What?” Najjah startled as two people not far away heard the anger in Galah’s raised voice and turned to look.

“I said what would you tell your friend about me when you introduce us?” Galah repeated not caring to put her voice down.

“But really, girl, you don’t have to scream like that, it is very unladylike.

Galah rounded Najjah and faced her upfront.

“We are here because I wanted to come here. I paid every dinar for it, you are only an escort so you don’t tell me what to do or not do. Also, I had been meaning to tell you, stop calling me a girl, I don’t like it. Understood?”

Najjah nodded without comment, as she headed in Moalama’s direction with Galah following, in her mind confirming that Galah was no doubt possessed to act the way she did.

“Great Moalama, this is the princess I told you about, who came all the way from Agadez – the desert kingdom of the great Toureg people, to witness this event she only heard of from the caravan people that go deep into the desert. She also heard of your extraordinary talents and was bewitched. Women of her kingdom fantasised of your excellence in the art of beauty, fashion and grace. Now that she is here, nothing will please her more than meeting you.”

Galah wanted to knock the lying old woman flat as she went on singing one lie after another, without a tinge of guilt. Najjah continued her fabrications about Galah and the admiration she always had for Moalama. Moalama on the other side was taking her sweet words pleasantly. Smiles infested his overmade face.

“My lady, you are most welcome, I wished …..” He stopped trying to recall Najjah’s name.

“Najjah Nawal” she interjected quickly to supply the names.

“…yes Madame Najjah, I wished she told me earlier on about your visit, I would have arranged for you a nice staying place in the palace. A princess belongs to palace.” Moalama offered sincerely.

“Thank you, you are most kind.” Galah said. At least this old hag is useful for something.

“You are welcome my dear. Nonetheless anything you need just let me know if I could be of any help, you are my guest until you return back to your people.” Moalama looked at Galah more speculatively. “And my lady, I must say that you have an enchanting beauty.”

Galah, as usual, has no answer for such things as praise for her beauty, so they all stayed mute. Najjah wished she heard a psychic power to tell Galah that she was supposed to smile, be courteous and say some exaggerated thanks.

To everyone’s relief, but mostly Najjah’s, a flute’s note elevated, followed by other musical instrument in harmonious symphony – a signal to the arrival of either an important guest or a high concubine from the harem. As it turned out it was Djamila with her maids. All eyes including those of Moalama and his two interlocutors turned to that direction.

She was not wearing too many clothes so to speak. But what little she had worn, she wore it quite right. It was a flowing ankle-length, blood-red satin skirt, with black see-through top, bearing large golden embroidery that covered only her breast area, leaving her perfectly shaped navel to the scrutiny of the audience. She did her hair in a way that gave a full frontal view of lush raven curls adorned with gold coins made into a net. Similar art piece served also as a mouth cover. Her face was craftily made up with bright colours; quite highlighting eye shadows that made her eyes shimmer in the evening light. Glass high heeled shoes complimented her slender limbs, making her exaggerated gazelle strides amazing.

Moalama hissed disgustingly and turned back to what he was doing, apparently not impressed by Djamila, who he believed was doing all she could to achieve just that at all costs. He had more worrying thoughts since the beginning of the day, before he stopped to talk to this wonderful desert princess with exotic facial relief. Bonajo’s thoughts worried him. Ordinarily he didn’t have to worry about his choices of the women to be promoted to concubines but the black girl has been at the back of his mind lately. Now that the whole Marrakech and beyond must have learnt about it, he was sure the music evening was going to be all about seeing his foolish doings. That genuinely made him not to see the efforts Djamila made at all, and truly there weren’t anything to herald the world about.

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Galah joined the onlookers. Marvelled at what was entertainingly funny and quite bizarre. Who is this woman acting the way she did? She asked herself.

As the tempo of the music just began subsiding it yet took another energetic rise. Djamila’s smiles plummeted down inversely as the music seemed to be more welcoming to whoever is coming now. She cursed herself for making the first entrance. She was already going through a hard time not seeing enough cheers. There was no hype emotions registered on the faces of the onlookers when she entered, and to make things worse, she saw when Moalama turned back to some women, not bothering to contemplate her long enough, to know what was making the instrument players change tempo. Damn!

Djamila turned slowly, with the pretence of bowing to return non-existent greetings, to see who it was that seemed to be more likened by the musicians. She made a note in her mind that she would find out who was the flute player and deal with the hypocrite, for being the one to tell the whole gathering who to like and who not to.

Who else could it be? It was Agnes the European. Her blond hair cascading down her shoulders, looking like pale strands of bleached fire under the evening sun. Her perfectly tailored white roman silk dress, with silver jewelleries and accessories, accentuated every single curve of her body, allowing enough view of her perfect translucent limbs. Her skin seemed to reflect the fire light in the large ornate fireplace in the grand hall, as well as the setting rays of the sun escaping through the overhead dome.

The vampire bitch has such a beautiful skin, Djamila cursed Agnes silently. She was struggling with fortresses of efforts to keep her artificial smiles.

Even Moalama smiled and nodded in satisfaction in spite of the troubles bedevilling his mind. The fair lady, Agnes, smiled back at the bowing heads in appreciation of their courtesies. She held her head high looking like an angel. She headed straight to her corner, totally ignoring Djamila, with her unconcealed envy. Agnes felt satisfied with the day – Moalama was impressed with her, something she never doubted would happen, and the cunning Arab doll had lost and felt it seriously.

Djamila covered the remaining distance to her cushion in a hurry, which seemed unfairly too long from where she was standing. She sat down amidst her maids, her mind as furious as the redness of her skirts.

Agnes followed her trail, with an amused stare. It is about time you learn some truth, desert hag, she taught pleasantly.

“You’re amazing.”

Agnes turned to see Moalama standing a few inches away from her cushion.

“Thank you, Moalama” she said, trying not to appear excited.

“If I learnt one or two things from you I should be able to look presentable in a simple occasion such as this. I didn’t come to you to say hello personally because I saw you speaking with guests, I know you don’t want your beautifully organized event messed up.” Agnes flattered Moalama in the secret hope of gaining more ground with the eunuch.

It seemed to work.

“Thank you.”Moalama said with a sincere smile.

“In fact this event is getting more popular than I thought it possible. That woman you saw me speaking with came all the way from the desert kingdom of Agadez, Isn’t that spectacular?”

I don’t care, Agnes thought, but she smiled back further, searching for a subject in her favour to develop rapport with Moalama.

“Oh! Moalama that was wonderful. You have a magical touch on everything you set yourself to do. The fact a far away kingdom know about it is not surprising at all”

Moalama laughed sincerely.

“But help educate me, Is Djamila no longer a concubine, she does look like another maid amongst those surrounding her, don’t you think, Moalama?” Agnes hinted, as she leaned closer to Moalama, giving an impression to those that have their eyes on them, of two close friends sharing a secret.

Moalama laughed until his potbelly rocked. Agnes laughed too, slightly elevating her voice until she was sure that Djamila was aware of the happy merriment that was going on between her and the chief eunuch, though no such efforts was necessary, because the latter had been watching right from the time Moalama left his guests and approached Agnes.

Djamila snatched an apple from a fruit bowl sitting by her cushions and bit it painfully in the hope of compensating her anger. She had a bad feeling the evening was going to be at her cost.

The music once again signalled another arrival. This time it was the queen herself.

Queen Farah was not older than most of the concubines. In fact Djamila was older than her, but in her simple matronly gown that was not meant to flatter or accentuate any body parts, she could very well be thought of as their aunt. She carried enough air of royalty to sign up as a queen, though. She also looked pale and tired; she could very well be pregnant as the harem rumours carried. More so, there might just be a tinge of depression in her demeanour.

She seemed least interested in any other thing, including Moalama. In fact it was not the way she appeared that attracted attention, it was the unexpected apparition altogether that made everyone stopped and contemplated her entourage, which had no splendour at all. Everyone was trying to guess if it was a bulge they saw under the garb she wore. Or if it was dark circles around her eyes; indicators of a hard time. She went straight to the highest table and settled herself, as heads continued to bow at her wake.

Moalama went to Farah’s corner and bowed in greeting. ”May peace be with you, my queen. You do look adorable this evening.”

The queen smiled, knowing very well that he did not mean what he just said.

“Thank you Moalama, you look stunning yourself.” She said

Moalama smiled half-heartedly, sensing sarcasm in the complement. He bowed again without saying thanks.

“Is there anything my queen wants?” He asked with exaggerated courtesy.

“Nothing, not yet, let’s continue.” She answered, as her eyes roved the entire hall, looking for something.

Moalama knew why the queen suddenly decided to attend the evening event. The rumoured depression was boldly written all over her; that, should have kept her within her rooms. It was Bonajo’s talk that made her discarded how awful she looked and decided not to miss the show – this was what she seemed to regard this event: a comedy show.

She must have heard and wanted to see what absurdity this decision was going to cause. Moalama could see it in the way she totally ignored looking her best, and the way she seemed to regard the whole event; a clowning she came to enjoy. Moalama felt the insult. The event was the only thing he had been scheming for the last two weeks, but the queen didn’t even see it fit enough for her to apply the slightest powder on her cheeks. This was his battle. He felt he has to win this or lose everything, including the high regard he enjoyed in the harem. He had never found himself feeling unsecured like this. He put thirty years of hard work in the hand of a black girl from the savannah. What was he thinking? And the girl apparently had no enthusiasm for all he was putting at stake, look at how she was still not present, was she going to show up, ever?

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Where the hell is she?

Moalama’s mind resumed its turmoil, sweats flooding his plump Arabic armpits. Even his face, under the heavy powder, was glistening with perspiration in spite of the cool evening breeze from the sea. What have I done wrong?

“Moalama, is everything OK? You look like you are heavy at heart.” Farah asked the eunuch, enjoying every bit of the conversation.

Moalama smiled, knowing well that he made a mistake displaying his weakness in front of the queen. She hates him more than any concubine would. There was no one on earth who would rejoice at his downfall more than her. He would give her more reasons to hate him, he vowed.

So help me Allah, he prayed silently.

“When you are fat like I am, my lady, quite funny things happen to the body sometimes.” He told the queen with all efforts to sound as natural as he could.

Queen Farah’s smile dissipated. How dare he insinuate that she will become fat like him? Disgusting!

The music fluttered and died out hesitantly, as Farah searched for words to counter Moalama’s insults. Laughter and hush hush in the hall followed suit. The result was a nervous silence that was without doubt a preliminary signal to a scandal. Moalama felt his innings tighten; he could guess what was happening without turning in the direction of the entrance. This’s it – the moment of truth. He, instead of turning, looked into the transfixed stare of Farah, hoping to see what she was seeing like a clairvoyant glass.

Moalama, at last, turned losing all pretence when he couldn’t guess the statue-like stare the queen was projecting, wanting nothing in the whole world but to see what caused the same world to come to a standstill.

La ilaha illah!

Moalama put his two palms on his heart, like he was under a serious heart attack.

***

Bonajo’s slow strides carried an air of defiance and contempt for the women in the event and the whole Maghreb. She believed that it was her chance to get back at them for the misery they made her go through, and for all the insults she endured from them, whether that meant being accepted as beautiful or not. She felt she got nothing to lose; if they thought she is ugly – which was what’s most likely to happen, then so be it. This moment the whole world stopped for her, was everything she ever needed and she will make the most of it.

She moved like a cat in a calabash dancing. Bitter memories started flooding her mind. She remembered how the guys will dance around them with a stick over their shoulders, poking them merrily. How she could give anything to have that simple merriment instead of this pretence of an event again.

A surge of anger runs through her like the booming of the weapons that killed her mother in that fateful market on that fateful day. She popped her chest out to let out the trapped air of anguish inside her lungs, shooting her chin higher, in utter display of disdain of the people around her. The flaps of her chiffon robe flew with the cool sea breeze, revealing her smooth ebony legs, with gold accessories reflecting candlelight, casting powerful rays of liquid fire light. She looked like a something out of a fairy tale.

Slow music started building up with raw energy until it reached a crescendo that matched Bonajo’s graceful walk and transfused life into the audience, which was like a group of statues moments ago.

Jango’s sparkling white teeth flashed in all directions as he led Bonajo to her cushion. Since she had no personal maids, it meant she won’t have anybody to talk to, except Jango – he was her maid.

“My lady we did it!” Jango enthused, as he helped her settle gracefully in to her chair.

“Have you seen yourself? You totally took me off guard with the way you walked. It was more than I have seen you practice. It was mesmerising. You walked unbelievably fantastic!”

Bonajo was still feeling the heat of anger in her chest and decided she won’t talk back to Jango. If she was to be asked to describe the hall and its inhabitants, it would be a one million dinar question for her because she wasn’t seeing anything or anybody. Only anger and blind hatred were running through her veins, and created flashes of revenge. The images of her destroyed family and land within her brain was evident in her face.

“Relax my lady. Look, everyone is looking at you.” Jango told Bonajo, seeing the fiery anger in her eyes.

“Jango.”

Moalama’s voice startled Jango. “Yes, sir.”  Jango said, bowing in greeting.

Even though he clearly registered the interest in the faces of people in the hall, he was not sure what expression it was on the chief eunuch’s face. But then Moalama could always hide his genuine impression behind the mask of his heavily powered face. Even to say that people were looking at Bonajo would be an understatement of the century. What kind of gaze was that? His judgment could be a mile different from that of the rest of the harem. Now that Moalama is standing before him he would know for real.

Moalama moved closer, looked at Bonajo to even say whose head was thrown in another direction, the chin high and immobile.

“Tell her I say Salam.” Moalama said.

“The chief eunuch is here. Please, Bonajo show some respect.”

Jango spoke with enough agitation and plea to let Bonajo know it is time she cut whatever game she was playing and returned to the norms.

Bonajo took a deep breath and started realizing her surroundings, which was not bad, she thought. She turned and cracked a hard smile at Moalama, bowing her head slightly forward.

“She is a natural.” Moalama said gleefully. “Jango I personally am… I don’t know… bewitched. And I think it is pure attraction.” He paused, looking at Bonajo, as if truly bewitched by a nightly sorceress, then continued. “Whatever this is, I like it. Jango you did great.”

Jango was already jumping with glee when Moalama take another position, and fixed a bewildered gaze on Bonajo, speculating her up, not wanting to let go of the exotic sight.

Bonajo continued scrutinizing the hall, on her side. She was bewitched herself by the décor and the aroma of both food and incense that increased three fold from the norm. Her eyes met Farah’s. This has to be the queen, she thought. What an ugly queen. With the second thought she cracked a sly smile.

The smile must have appeared deriding to the queen who was always looking at Bonajo, her faced screwed, she snatched her head away.

Bonajo let her gaze drifted to a cushion less privileged than the queen’s. She met Agnes’ eyes. Everybody seemed to be watching her. This woman that was looking at her was very beautiful. She was one of her fountain attackers, she remembered. Her skin and hair colour was different from the rest of the women in the harem. She always wondered what kind of tribe she was. She was a lovely being.

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Music signalled another important arrival. It was Torilla the Portuguese. Besides the music nothing changed in the hall. Nobody looked at her more than once. In fact she too soon joined in, marvelling at the spectacle that everyone seemed to be contemplating. She was visibly awestroked and was not hypocritical to hide it. She made sure that Bonajo appeared first before her. It could be a strategy of being the last wonder, which apparently didn’t work for her.

Djamila at her corner was suffering an untold torture, not believing how Bonajo could create such an effect. She also believed that this season the society ladies would be wearing a lot of Bonajo’s black magic style. So far nothing about the event was as satisfying for her, not even the queen’s sorry condition – which was something good, as seeing Torilla surprised at Bonajo. She felt some triumph, and got the energy to walk and meet her formidable friend-foe.

“Torilla. You seemed surprised.” She sang with theatrics. “When I was telling you the danger ahead you didn’t seem to be as interested.”

Torilla knew that Djamila would make sure she makes a point. She decided she would make hers clear too, after all she was not the only victim here.

“Of course Djamila I am surprised. Who would ever presume that the black girl from the far away barbaric tribe stands a chance to make an Arab beauty like you appear like a lowly maid in a music evening in the famous Arab Marrakech palace? I am surprised, yes, and you can say that again.”

Torilla knew that she scraped a raw nerve; she could see a smouldering fire of anger in Djamila’s eyes. For the first time the Arab actress was at a loss of words. Torilla moved to her cushion very happy with herself. In a disaster like today’s, a little victory is all one hoped for.

Djamila, filled with fury, returned to her cushion, passing in front of Bonajo with a strong wind at her wake. Bonajo followed her with a stare, wondering why the woman was so angry. This woman always looked mean. She was the first to attack her at the fountain. Whatever was bothering the woman, she wished it multiplied tenfold.

Agnes knew what was happening, and so was Farah. Little victories on their sides too; nobody liked Djamila that much.

Agnes’ gaze met Bonajo’s for God knew how many times, and for no apparent reason she smiled at her. Bonajo decided not to smile back. These women are not real; one can’t predict what they were up to.

More guests continued pouring in, until the hall was a similitude to the Marrakech market on a busy day. Beautiful music was played, pretty girls and young eunuchs danced. Food was distributed and so were gossips –mostly about the black girl with exotic attraction. Those chinwags about Bonajo made Moalama felt satisfied that he had done a good job with her. Guest chiefeunuchs approved that they would kill to have a woman like her in their harems, and begged Moalama to allow them have details of her outfit concept. He was so pleased that he spent the remaining evening lavishing attention on her until Djamila decided she couldn’t take it no more and stormed out to her boudoir.

Farah too left amid activities. The event was not amusing to her; besides, she was beginning to appear the centre of the joke she hoped Bonajo and Moalama would be. Torilla was happy that Djamila would be ashamed to show her face for another good week, she was happy with the evening, even if Moalama didn’t even notice she was there.

Towards the end of the evening, Agnes stopped at Bonajo’s cushion and offered friendly greetings. Jango, always by his prized lady, translated the short conversation between the ladies. Soon Agnes’s sweet laughter caught Moalama’s attention.

Moalama, standing from afar across the hall, talking with an important guest, saw the two conversing. They made a strongly contrasting duo – Agnes looking like the ice queen and Bonajo looking like the queen of the night. It pleased him to be able to have the collection in his possession. Though he felt it was not right for Agnes to be friendly with Bonajo without ulterior motives, he thought the sight of the two was spectacular; apparently so also thought his interlocutor. If he knew Agnes well, she was up to something. He could deal with that later. It would even be good to have someone like that desert princess I spoke with earlier on, he ambitiously thought.

 

***

After the pleasant chat Galah and her ‘maid’ had with Moalama, before the event turned highly tense and Moalama couldn’t pay them another attention, she spent the remaining evening loitering around the vicinity of the hall and the harem, in the hope that she might sight something of interest. She noticed the palace’s form and lifestyle was very different from the one she was used to. It was a complicated piece of edifice, with too many people comprising guards and maids, and plenty of concubines, unlike the private setting of the Agadez palace.

She was interested in the guards. They didn’t look mean, like battle soldiers were expected to be, but they were threatening enough to keep the harem safe. She also didn’t see anyone of them carrying the legendry weapon she was in quest of finding more about. While she was doing all this, she was still thinking about the spectacle she left behind in the hall and was still finding the occurrence unusual.

Who was that woman? Maybe she was a dignitary from a forest kingdom or the Nubian kingdom; wherever she came from her land most be very rich and exotic. Galah felt like the unusual dignitary was in a way connected to her quest, but could not see how.

“May I help you?”

Galah was startled. A guard was standing a few meters away from her and she realized she was quite away from the event venue – she had no business being where she was.

“Are you lost, my lady? I can help you find your way.” He said when she couldn’t find her words to respond to him.

Galah remembered she was a dignitary by virtue of her presence at the party and she could perhaps use this opportunity to make progress in her espionage with the help of this guard.

“I am sorry to have burdened you, brave man.” She said trying to sound soft and seductive, she wasn’t sure it was working or even if she was doing it right.

The guard let out a broad smile on his wide face. “Not at all my lady, we are all here to make sure you have a good time during your stay at our palace. Besides, this place can be a little tricky to newcomers. It is one of the most intricate palaces in the world.”

Galah smiled, moving a bit closer to reduce the gap separating them. “Indeed, it is. I got suffocated from all that music and bakhoor and needed some fresh air. I ended up getting lost.”

“Ah! I can understand that my lady.” Then, hesitantly he asked. “May I show you around? But that is if my lady is still in need of that fresh air.”

Galah wanted to leap at him with joy. She was sure this free tour would lead her to the treasure of information she was dying to get. With calculated enthusiasm she said. “I would love that, brave man.”

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Series Navigation<< Jomo: Enemy Circles (Novel) – Season Two, Episode 17Enemy Circles – Season Two, Episode 19 >>

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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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