Nabila had been working on the beef one of the cowboys had dropped in the kitchen. The white apron she wore was now dirty brown and stained with blood and pieces of bones. Her attention was on the knife and the meat on the table smart. She cooked for everyone in the ranch and she enjoyed it.
Nabila paused and slipped into a short reverie. She dreamt of getting married to the master whom she had always been in love with, and becoming the mistress of the ranch. She would no longer be the cook, but she would appoint her best friend, Keerna to take the prestigious position.
The master was the perfect man for her, and this was the reason she had rejected all of her suitors. Many men had come for her hand. Many men had fallen in love with her great beauty, but her heart was for Abdul. And soon, they would be together.
She had served Fatma well, but Fatma wasn’t good enough for Abdul. When a deadly sickness had ravaged Fatma’s body, Nabila knew that Allah had sent her a sign. She was meant to be the only mistress of the ranch and her dreams would come to pass.
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It was well know in the ranch that Abdul was still grieving, and she was patient. He had loved Fatma greatly, so he needed time to heal. She had her plans ready. She would go closer to Abdul and seduce him. No man in Kanem Dazau could resist her body.
The devious smile on her lips faded as she heard footsteps behind. She dropped the knife and turned around. Just as she thought, Keerna had come to visit her in the kitchen.
“Why do you have that frown on your face? Get rid of it, it doesn’t suit you.” Nabila wondered why her friend was upset.
Keerna said nothing. If only Nabila knew what was about to befall them both, she wouldn’t tease her.
“What is wrong Keerna? Do you not want to assist me in today’s cooking?” Nabila had never seen her friend in this sort of mood. Keerna seldom got angry.
Keerna released the breath she held slowly, “the master has taken a new wife. Hazim told me of it this morning. She would be formally introduced to us later.”
A dry laugh poured out generously from Nabila’s lips.
“You make me laugh,” Nabila bit her lip and glared at her friend. What in the name of the devil had gotten into Keerna to crack such an expensive joke? Surely, Keerna knew of her plans to become mistress of the ranch, and she the cook.
Keerna knew her friend would disbelieve her.
“I laughed as you just did sister, but Hazim is right. A room has already been prepared for her. The master has moved on.”
Nabila spat on the rocky floor, “I will never let that happen. I have waited all these years to be his wife. I am the right woman for him!” Anger shot in her veins. It possessed her entire being, as she realized it wasn’t a joke.
Keerna shrugged, “what could we possibly do about it? We are only servants, besides Master never showed interest in you.”
Nabila scoffed, “he didn’t desire me because he was grieving. How could he betray me like this?”
Just as they were speaking, a unique flavor of roses and oranges wafted into the kitchen. It was the scent of someone new. Amina had left Abdul’s side because he had a visitor from the Royal House. She decided to check the ranch for herself.
From what she observed, Abdul was a wealthy man. Only few men could afford to build their house with stones and cement. The floors were designed with crystal stones and the walls glared with silvery light. If she didn’t know he was a rancher, she would mistake him for the Sultan of Kanem Dazau. Abdul was a powerful man, and it seemed luck had smiled on her, the day she had asked HajiyaBinta to match make her.
Amina had heard some screaming from the kitchen, and it had attracted her. Gingerly, she followed the screams and the aroma of garlic and onions, till she reached the kitchen, where she found two women. They seemed older than she was; and one was more beautiful than the other.
“Salam,” Amina gestured with her hands.
Nabila went mute at once. She and Keerna knew who had stepped into the kitchen without introduction.
They both bowed their heads and responded, “Walekum Salam.”
Nabila’s beauty was crushed in Amina’s perfection. Amina’s loveliness stood out, and there was no need for comparison. Nabila took in the foreign way she dressed, her raven black hair and her green eyes. Amina’s skin was the fairest she had ever seen. It reminded her of milk, and the color of the sun at morn.
A heavy feeling of jealousy weighed on Nabila’s shoulders, as she stared at this creature of quintessence. And she knew in that moment, that she had used her charms to seduce the master. From the fairness of her skin, Nabila could tell that Amina wasn’t from Kanem Dazau. She wasn’t Kanuri either. She was a Shuwa; a breed of Arabians that had taken over the Great Plain to the West. They shared a boundary with some Fulani communities; hence their fluency in many languages.
“Erhm, you have a nice place here and your kitchen smells nice.” Amina stuttered as she searched for the right words to speak. She could tell from the way the girls looked at her, that her presence or was it her beauty that intimidated them?
“Thank you mistress, you are highly welcome.” Keerna chipped in. She was stricken by the beauty of the mistress. And the innocence in Amina’s eyes drove away all the anger she bore in her heart against the master’s new wife. Amina was a golden butterfly, and anyone who would follow her would find treasure.
“Can you tell me your names?” Amina smiled, she noticed Keerna was warmer and more receptive.
Keerna was the first to speak, “I am Kerianazad, but people call me “Keerna,” for short.” She was excited to tell Amina her name.
Nabila pretended to be busy with the meat, she didn’t want Amina to learn of her name.
“That is all. I am happy to be in Kanem Dazau, I hope you would show me around some day.” Amina new Nabila didn’t like her for some reason, but she didn’t care. She smiled at Keerna one last time, before moving to other parts of the house.
Nabila tossed the knife angrily at the table and faced her friend.
“What were you trying to do? Why did you talk to her?”
Keerna shrugged, “and you think ignoring her was the good thing? You acted badly Nabila. I see kindness in the mistress’ eyes. We can still find favor before her, if we are good.”
Nabila couldn’t believe her ears.
“You traitor! You are already calling her mistress? She is your mistress and not mine.”
Keerna understood why her friend was annoyed. She had felt the same way when Hazim had broken the news. But her mind was changed now.
“Nabila, you have been blessed by Allah with prominent beauty. Why don’t you forget the master and marry one of those wealthy gold miners that have come for your hand? They are wealthier than master, and they would treat you kindly as well.”
Nabila could see already that Keerna had fallen in love with Amina. That Shuwa woman was taking away all the people she liked with her charms.
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“You are pathetic and weak. You are supposed to stand with me, so we could oust this woman out of the ranch. You betray me with your words.”
Keerna shook her head, “I do not betray you Nabila. I only speak the truth. We have seen the mistress for ourselves. She is a living goddess. She is perfect in all her ways and she has grace like mistress Fatma; bless her soul. The master would never look your way. That could only happen if the mistress is dead.”
Keerna adjusted her scarf one last time and hurried out of the kitchen; knowing that her conversation with Nabila was pointless. She had clothes to wash, and she needed to hurry to the stream, before the cowboys would take the herd there for some water.
An evil thought crept into Nabila’s mind.
“That could only happen if the mistress is dead.” Keerna’s last words continued to ring in her ears. She was obsessed with Abdul, and she would die if he refused to love her the way she loved him.
She had to find a way to destroy Amina. There was only one person that would help her out; her advisor.
To be continued…