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Spoils of the Death Road by Sefi Atta

“How would you know?”


“Hassan told me.”


“But did the court have to sentence her? Was that just?”


“They just wanted to scare her. They only wanted her to serve as an example for other women who are unfaithful. They wouldn’t have followed through with the sentence. Hassan said the Americans blew it out of proportion. They do that to make themselves look superior.”




“But it’s true. They are infidels, the lot of them. They worship anyone. They have this black woman on television, Okra. All the housewives in America have fallen under her spell. She gives them gifts and they follow her commands. If she tells them to lose weight, they lose weight. If she tells them to leave their husbands, they will. When she asked them to write letters to protest against the sentence, they did.”


None of them knew exactly what they were protesting against, Hassan said, but they felt better for writing their letters, and in no time they were back to accepting expensive free gifts from her.


Haba,” Farouk says, “You’re a clever girl, but I’ve never thought what your family teaches is right. Look around and see for yourself who we follow around here, the Arabs or the Americans. I worry for us, really I do, the direction in which we are heading.”




At least I don’t think I know it all. The business about the Christian woman confused me to be honest, so did the stoning sentence, and I couldn’t understand when our sarki barraki announced that women could not attend Friday prayers. I once asked Baba, “What does our sarki barraki do?” Baba said, “He passes edicts.” “What are edicts?” I asked. “Edicts are what our sarki barraki passes,” he said. “Why?” I asked. “He passes edicts,” Baba yelled. “I’ve told you already. Why do you persist in asking what he passes edicts for?” Then Mama said, “That man confuses me with his edicts.”


I’m also a bit puzzled by Farouk. His boyfriend is our tailor, and yet our tailor is married. Who will eventually marry Farouk, and can our tailor be sentenced to death for being unfaithful to his wife? How will education help me to make sense of all this when education only made Binta more spiteful?


On the day I met my husband I was as pleasant as possible. I was grateful to be betrothed to him. He kept rubbing my shoulders. He even wanted to take me away right then and there, but Mama said he couldn’t until I had seen my period.


“I can never leave town,” I confess to Farouk. “I will miss my mother too much.”


“I know.”


“She’s kind and loving.”


“I know,” he says turning his mouth downward.


I forgot about his own mother. I change the topic to cheer him up.


“My ambition is to become a housewife.”


“But you are already a widow,” he says.


I forgot that too. My memory is terrible.


“Who will marry you now?” he asks.


“I don’t know.”


He strokes his smooth chin. “Will your father promise you to someone else?”


“I don’t know.”


“But you can’t stay a widow forever. Don’t you think it might be better to further your education?”




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Per Contra Fiction - Fall 2006