“I cannot believe that you will tell me this now that my horse just died? Have you no heart, no empathy?” She scoffed and curled her fingers into a fist, as if to punch her sister.
Laila ignored her harsh words, “The truth has never tasted like honey, and it will never. You have no idea of what is going on with this ranch. Our father was heavily indebted to a lot of men just to keep our head above the water. But now he is dead, we had no hope of repaying…” Laila blinked the tears that had gathered in her eyes.
Fatima bit her lip. She had to prevent herself from screaming out loud like a mad woman. How come no one ever told her about this?
“You lie! Father would never take a loan. He had a strong aversion for debtors.” Fatima quickly countered her sister.

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Laila chuckled, “I do not blame you sister. You are still young and naïve. There comes a time in a man’s life that he must swallow his pride and survive. Our father was made humble by debts. He died not because his time was near, but because of fear. His debtors were many and they will take over the ranch soon.”
Fatima’s vision was blurred by tears. Everything that her sister said sounded very strange to her. This only meant that she had been living a lie all this time. It now made sense why Laila was particular about Umar’s marriage proposal.
“If what you are telling me is true…” Fatima sobbed.
“By God I do not lie.” Laila raised her hands into the air.
“If you are expecting me to marry Umar so that he can help with the ranch then you’re clearly joking. I will do no such thing! I am not commodity to be advertised and sold.” Fatima blasted her sister angrily.
Laila didn’t flinch.
“It is easy for you to say. When the hard times come, maybe you will have a rethink.” Without wasting time, she returned to the house.Fatima was about to chase after her so they could continue the brawl when Mallam Ahmad pulled her back.
“Let it go Fatima. You need to let this go.”
Fatima’s eyes landed on the man’s wrinkly hands, he pulled away from her wrists swiftly.
“Tell me, do you think my sister is right?” Fatima turned to him.
The old man wasn’t comfortable about sharing his opinion on this matter, but he was left with no choice. He admired Fatima because she reminded him of his daughter, Alya. They were about the same age, but Alya was married with three children and she was very happy in her home.
“Your silence isn’t comforting,” Fatima waited.
Mallam Ahmad pulled in a deep breath, “I have two answers for you. The first is that you must always follow your heart when taking an important life decision. Secondly, our hearts do fail us at times. Our hearts can mislead us. Not all decisions must be taken from the place of emotion, but from the place of reality.”
The man was tricky, Fatima knew this. Although he didn’t support Laila on the marriage matter, he was advising her to be realistic. Being realistic in this case was accepting Umar’s proposal which she could never do. Umar was a gracious man, but she didn’t want to marry him on the premise of financial troubles on her part.
“Tell the boys to bury the horse. I will go to town and search for a solution.” Fatima hurried back to the house. She needed to find out how much debt the ranch was in; she would take her decision from there.
When she stepped into the house, the delicious aroma of garlic, ginger and blue peppers saturated the atmosphere. In her grieve; she had forgotten to prepare breakfast.
“May Allah help me,” she slapped her forehead.
Her eyes lit up when she noticed her eldest sister serving breakfast. The pregnant Faiza had prepared a delicious meal of wheat bread and sheep sauce.
“My darling sister, come join us!” Faiza called to Fatima excitedly.
The table was rectangular and accompanied by sixteen chairs. Faiza’s husband was present, so was Umar’s brother, Abdulmasid. Fatima didn’t feel comfortable sharing a table with them. It would be awkward eating with Adulmasid knowing that she had rejected Umar’s proposal.
“I have no hunger in me. I am perfectly fine.” Fatima forced herself to smile.
“Nonsense, you must join us. I insist.” Faiza wouldn’t let her be.
Laila rolled her eyes and began to hum a song, but in a rather mischievous way. She deliberately sang it to spite Fatima for refusing to marry Umar.
“Laila!” Faiza called her with a stern voice.
“What? I am just singing,” Laila kept a straight face.
Fatima released the breath that she was holding and decided to ignore her sister. She pulled a chair close to Faiza and settled in.
“Good morning everyone, Allah’s blessings,” she murmured.
Abdulmasid laughed, “You rejected my brother, Fatima, but I bear no grudge against you. You made your choice and that shouldn’t affect my relationship with this family. Umar is doing very well. In fact, he moved on quite quickly with Tanko’s exquisite sister.”
Fatima had not expected this information and the manner with which she responded to it confused her. She was supposed to be glad that Umar was able to move on after what she had done to him. His happiness was supposed to be top on her list, but this wasn’t the case. She felt her heart jolt when Abdulmasid had made this announcement.
“That is very nice to hear,” she managed.
Fatima assumed that her pain on hearing the news was the result of her dead horse. She had no business with Umar’s love life. All she wanted was things to get better at the ranch, so she could continue with her life.
“I am happy for Umar. But why would he be with Tanko’s sister? Tanko is a fool and a brute.” Laila raised a silver cup to her lips. The bar owner had infuriated her the other day. Although she wasn’t supposed to be at a bar, she had been greatly distressed about the condition of the ranch.
Abdulmasid and Faiza’s husband quickly exchanged glances.
“What is it with you men and keeping secrets?” Faiza smacked her hands together and settled on a chair.
Umar’s brother, Abdulmasid cleared his throat and began.
“Most times she veils her face. But for those who have seen her, they speak of her great beauty. Aisha is extremely beautiful. God has blessed her with natural endowments. I am glad that my brother is happy again.”
Fatima almost bit her lip when she heard about the other woman. She didn’t go out much. She hardly left the house. She wasn’t comfortable about this talk of Umar having another lady. It infuriated her. How could a man behave that way?
“You don’t look excited for him,” Laila observed. She had been watching Fatima’s face the whole time.
Fatima pulled in a deep breath and pinned her sister down with an aggressive look.
“What honourable man moves on to another woman so quickly? I thought he loved me?” Without waste of time, Fatima pulled back her chair and hurried away from the gathering. Her siblings didn’t understand the position of her mind. This ranch meant so much to her, and she had just lost her horse as well.
Fatima decided to step out of the house today. She would ride to the lonely valleys of Israr, where no one would judge her to the decisions that she had taken. She had to find a way to help the ranch get back on its feet. She couldn’t bring herself to ask Umar for help. What different would she be from other women who threw themselves at his feet?
“Laila!” Faiza snapped. She didn’t like the way her younger sister had spoken to Fatima.
“What? I am just stating the obvious.” Laila flashed her teeth mischievously.
“No, you were only being mean and inconsiderate. Umar and Fatima are meant to be together. Fatima may not realize it, but she would soon.” Faiza returned to drinking the water in her silver cup.
Abdulmasid who had been listening to the ladies decided to chip something.
“I just hope that she doesn’t realize his love for her when it is too late.”

To be continued…

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