Dedicated to my adda manga (big sister to non-fulfulde speakers) who was there through thick and thin.
Cue ‘of course she does’, ‘why wouldn’t she? You are so lovable’ and ‘so?’
Well, first of all, as you read my stories you will come to realise that I was a mass of contradiction as a child and not always so lovable. Secondly, it wasn’t always obvious to me that my sister loved me. Because as sisters do, we had our share of fights. More of that in the future. Finally, the so what. The realisation was beautiful and taught me a great life lesson…the people you love and who love you can be mean or make you cry sometimes but that doesn’t mean they don’t love you.
It all happened in the setting of Qur’anic school. I think I was 5 or 6 years old. My sister and I toddled off to Qur’anic school on this fateful Saturday morning, no doubt grumbling about having to wake up early on a Saturday after insisting on staying up because it was the weekend. Every weekend, we conveniently ‘forgot’ and grumbled afresh. My mama turned a deaf ear to all the moaning and off we went, generally the stragglers on the weekends.
The morning started out normal. Our Mallum (Fulfulde word for teacher) must have been called away for something important because she disappeared. We, the children, all continued to practise reading our Qur’anic passages but as the minutes ticked away, we grew restless and wooden slates were propped aside. Soon, none of us was studying anymore and a few even got up and started to play. Being the restless sort, up I popped. I was in a pretty white dress – I wonder why white looking back because I was always up to mischief. I needed the loo so I left the group to go to the back of the house. Traditional toilets in Northern Nigeria tend to be literally named ‘the back of the house or room’ in the many languages. In Hausa, it is called ‘bayan daki’ meaning back of the room. In Fulfulde, it is called ‘gada suudu’ also meaning back of the room.
I did my business into the pit (yes, it was old school) and instead of walking out like you’d expect, I decided to sprint out. Unfortunately, the door to the gada suudu made up of steel sheets stapled to a wooden frame had a bit of twisted ragged steel pointing out and in my haste, I didn’t see it. As I sprinted out, my knee was caught by this steel and it took a small chunk out of me. It didn’t hurt then but I knew it was bad because bright red blood started to stream down my leg. I put a hand over it and ran straight to my sister. She took one look, whipped off her headscarf and tied it around the gash as all the kids excitedly looked on. Without a word to anyone, she swept me onto her back and told me to hang on. Then she ran the 20 minute journey home, across the busy main street in Yola without pause. She didn’t stop until she found my mum and deposited me in her arms.
I remember my whole thinking was transformed. I looked at her worried face and how she ran around the whole day, not letting me move my dressed wounded knee. I was amazed at how she knew exactly what to do when I hadn’t a clue. Amazed by the stamina as she ran with me on her back all the way home. Amazed that she, who would always try to order me around, was running around doing things for me even after my mama took care of the wound and said I would be ok. I looked at my sister and I swear I saw a halo round her. She must be some sort of angel I thought. That is love! My eyes misted at this realisation and it still does today, 23 years later as I recall the day. Every time I look at the scar just above my knee, I think ‘my sister loves me’. And I can forgive her anything because she does.