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Spoils of the Death Road by Sefi Atta

“Remember the Christian woman?” I ask Lubna.

 

She nods. Everyone remembers the Christian woman, even though we’d rather not talk about her.

 

“Binta’s seen a body burned before,” she says. “Her math teacher at Government College. He was an Indian man from Calcutta, and when he died, his family burned him to ashes on the school grounds and the senior prefects were allowed to watch.”

 

“Allah?”

 

“Allah.”

 

Binta is her elder sister by her father’s junior wife, major trouble if you ask me. She was supposed to be betrothed to my brother Hassan, the firstborn of my father’s senior wife. Our families agreed to the union but Binta refused. She said Hassan’s head was shaped like a cashew nut.  She was about our age when she ran off to Sokoto and stayed with a guardian there. After her secondary education at Government College, she escaped to a teachers training college in Zaria. Did Binta end up teaching? No, she got a job with a non-governmental in the capital that stops girls from marrying and gives them scholarships. A woman like her from a respectable family. It was a scandal.

 

“Here,” Lubna says. “She’s sent me another newspaper cutting.”

 

“Give me that,” I say snatching it from her. “Why didn’t you tell me before”

 

Allah, whenever Binta sends her newspaper cuttings I could screw them up and throw them as far away as possible, but my curiosity always gets the better of me. They are always about one so-called heroic Hausa girl or the other. This one is about a girl with polio who walked eight miles to Binta’s non-governmental to escape from her husband. She almost collapsed from thirst along the way. Now she is posing for a photograph, standing there with her little leg and holding up a certificate. She has such huge teeth. I have to smile at the sight of her. Twit, I think. Why did she have to walk all that way? Why couldn’t she just hitch a ride?

 

“They gave this one a scholarship?”  I ask handing the newspaper cutting back to Lubna.

 

“She will be going to secondary school next year.”

 

“Well I am disgusted.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because I am.”

 

“But why?”

 

“Because it’s not right.”

 

Doesn’t she know? What further education does a woman need? Can education push a baby out? When Binta is crying out from labor pains how perfect will her English be?

 

The muezzin begins to call men and boys to afternoon prayers. They are like a herd of cattle walking into the mosque. Their heads are bowed and their feet scrape the ground. Lubna slaps sand flies away from her legs. They always suck on her blood because hers is sweet. They keep well away from mine because I have a bad temper and my blood is sour.

 

“Binta’s going to arrange for them to give me a scholarship,” she says.

 

What is she talking about? She is not even yet betrothed. She won’t be until she sees her period. How can she qualify for a scholarship?

 

“On what basis?”

 

“My school work. Binta says they will take that into consideration.”

 

I sniff. “I’m sure they will, since they can give a scholarship to a girl who ran away from her husband.”

 

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Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006