“You still do not understand our predicament do you? Even if you collect a loan from Umar, it will not be enough to clear all debts and start over. We need new breeds of animals. We need to rebuild every broken inch of this property. Think about this Fatima. And as you do, remember that time is running out.”
Fatima felt lost and helpless. If she had known about the situation earlier, maybe she would’ve considered Umar’s proposal. But thinking about it didn’t make it right.
“I will be heading to the Cattle Song Bar. You should come with me. You need to clear your head and loosen up a bit.” Laila suggested. She wanted her sister to take her time while making the right decision.
Laila’s sudden interest in the bar made Fatima curious. This was a perfect distraction for her. She wondered why Laila suddenly had interest in drinking which was forbidden for women in Israr.
“Is there something that you are not telling me?” Fatima winked.
“I have no secrets. I am attracted to Tanko. I must find a way to get him to notice me…” Laila trailed off before walking away, leaving her sister baffled. Fatima couldn’t believe that her sister had interest with someone that she had just met two days back. Sometimes throwing caution to the wind like Laila was perfect. If Laila had been in her shoes, she would’ve married Umar without thinking twice.
Fatima quickly returned to stirring her soup. She decided to join her sister to the bar later that night. At least, she would get to think about her decision. The thought of Umar being with the saucy and mysterious Aisha scared her. Could she ever be the same if Umar moved on with another woman?
“Ouch!” Fatima quickly pulled her hands away from the burning pot. She had been lost in thoughts about Umar and she had forgotten to take the soup down. She grabbed a rag and wrapped it against the pot handle. She swiftly dropped the pot on a wooden surface and scurried out of the kitchen.

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An idea had just dropped in her mind. There was no need of beating around the bush, she would only hurt herself by doing that. She loved Umar and wanted the bets for him; but a woman like Aisha wasn’t suitable. She was convinced that Aisha wasn’t a good woman, though she couldn’t prove it.
“Where are you headed in this darkness?” Mallam Ahmad called out to her as she rushed towards the stables where the horses were kept.
Fatima ignored the old man and continued to grope in mild darkness until she spotted the glow of a lamp.
“There you are!” Fatima hurried and rushed to fetch a horse. She would go to the bar alright. But she would do that after speaking with Umar. She needed to tell him the truth about the way she felt. She would tell him about the ranch as well and everything that went on. It was better to try and fail than not to try at all. She grabbed the rein of a horse and led it out into the dark. Luckily, the moon shed its light early upon the earth. The silver glimmer would light Fatima’s path as she would journey to Umar’s castle.
Mallam Ahmad stared in wonder until her shadow faded into the night. A few minutes later, Laila showed up behind him.
“Have you seen Fatima?” Laila asked. She had changed her mind about leaving late for the party. She had decided to go early, so she could spend enough time getting Tanko to notice her.
The old man explained Fatima’s sudden and odd movement out of the ranch.
“She never goes out of the ranch at night. I fear.”
The corners of Laila’s lips were raised as she gazed upon the moon’s face. The old man was right. Fatima never stepped into the dark. She was a chaste woman and everyone on the ranch knew this. The only place that Fatima could grace tonight was Umar’s house. It made perfect sense to Laila. Finally, her hot headed sister had come to terms with reality. It was time for her to settle down.
“Well, do not fear for me. I go out at night.” Laila leaned forward and dropped a kiss on the old man’s hair before leaving to fetch her own horse. She couldn’t wait to celebrate Fatima’s decision to love Umar tonight. She hummed a love song all the way, until she reached the perfect horse that would lead her into the night.
The road that led to Umar’s house was wide and lonely; the only things that kept her company were the shaky voices of crickets and the cries of night birds. The dance of the wind rustled her scarf and calmed her every fear. With each rise and fall from the ride, with each flap of her scarf against her back; Fatima knew deep down that she was doing the right thing. She needed to pour her heart out tonight to Umar. It wouldn’t cost her a thing. All she needed was to beg for his forgiveness. As for Aisha, he could easily get rid of her because he had just met her and there was nothing serious about them.
When the horse sighted the glowing castle, it increased its speed. Even the animal sensed how important this journey was to her. She couldn’t waste more time with her secret. She would spill it all out. When she arrived, Fatima got down from the horse and led it to a tree that was close to the castle. She patted it on the back and whispered some words.
“I shall be back Moonrider…” she bit her lip as she realized that she had called the horse by an old name. It was the name of the horse that she had just buried and once owned. She closed her eyes to stop the tears from spilling down her cheeks. It was time to set things straight. It was time.
Fatima felt her heartbeat increase as she pounded her knuckles against the huge bronze door. Once she walked into the house, there would be no going back. The door was pulled open at the third knock and Fatima stood face to face with Umar’s cousin. The little girl was usually excited to see her, but she stared back at Fatima with worried filled eyes.
“Aren’t you happy to see me Iman?” Fatima asked.
A closer look at her face, revealed a bruise and puffy eyes. The girl had been crying.
“Did something bad happen to you? Where is Umar? Did he beat you?” Fatima walked into the house and knelt close to her.
Iman shook her head.
“Cousin Umar isn’t at home. Someone else is and they are…” Iman bit her lip.
From where she stood, Fatima could hear voices. She pushed the little girl gently aside and proceeded towards Umar’s bedroom. The closer she walked, the more the moans of pleasure increased. If Iman hadn’t told her of Umar’s absence, she would have been hurt. People were making love, and she was determined to know who they were.
With one kick, the door to Umar’s bedroom flew wide open. Fatima’s eyes almost popped out of her eyes as the brightness from the candle light revealed the lovers. The man was Abdulmasid, Umar’s elder brother and the woman was Aisha, Tanko’s sister.
Fatima was glued to the spot. She couldn’t believe that Abdulmasid would behave this way. How could Aisha betray Umar like this?
“I knew you were a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Now that I have something against you, I will make sure that you never get close to Umar again!” Fatima yelled with all of her strength.
She grabbed Iman’s hands and rushed out of the house, leaving the lovers in shock and confusion.
Aisha was the first to climb out of bed. She had changed her mind about meeting with Umar at the bar. She had missed him greatly. On arriving Umar’s house, she had met his brother, Abdulmasid, who turned out to be one of her lovers when she had been a young girl.

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“I warned you about this! I told you to control your lust! That fool is going to report us.” Aisha cried but Abdul quickly pulled her into his arms.
“My brother is not important. You have me now. I am wealthy and I can take of you.”
Aisha knew that he was the chief protector of Israr and he was wealthy but she didn’t care about him. It was Umar that she wanted to end up with. He was far younger, handsome and polite. He was the kind of man that she could wriggle around her fingers.
“I do not want you as a husband Abdul. You must accept this. What we shared tonight is the first and the last. I must find a way to reach Umar before she does.”
With this, Aisha burrowed into her clothes and hurried out of the house. Once she sighted Umar, she would tell him about Fatima’s ranch and how broke they are. From that angle, she would make Umar understand that Fatima didn’t love him and only needed his assistance to get the ranch back to its glory. She couldn’t wait.

To be continued…

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