Fatima couldn’t believe what had just happened, It had happened so fast, it was just like a bad dream, and she had failed to wake up from it. The wind dried her tears as she rode as fast as she could. Fatima didn’t want Umar to catch up with her; she didn’t even want him close to her.
Today was just a terrible day, first it was Laila’s drunkenness and now it was Umar; two important people in her life had hurt her.
Soon she was back at the ranch. Fatima sighed and got off the horse the moment she reached the stables. She hurried the horse into her stable and rushed back to the house where no one would see her.
How could Umar even say something like that to her? Knowing how much she cared about their friendship. Fatima wanted nothing more from him as she was comfortable with being just friends. The fact that being friends only wasn’t enough for Umar saddened her.
Fatima rushed into her room and quickly shut the door. She couldn’t stop herself from sobbing loudly, from fighting with the pain that threatened to tear her apart.
Fatima wept bitterly. She wept that her relationship with Umar would never be the same. She thought of breakfast, lunch and dinner and how awkward it was going to be between them from then onwards.
‘He ruined everything…’ Her lips trembled.
‘Fatima? Are you alright?’
There was a loud rapping on her door; Faiza was calling out to her.
‘Yes I am…’ Fatima stammered. She couldn’t let them see her this way. She was so hurt and vulnerable.
‘No you are not and we are coming in!’ Laila pushed the door open and trudged in.
Fatima could see the look of surprise on the faces of my sisters, the last time they’d seen her in this mood was when their father had died.
‘Fatima? What’s going on with you?’ Laila joined her on the bed while Faiza continued to stare at her with confusion in her eyes.
Fatima said nothing. She chose to remain silent.
‘Please tell us what the problem is, I can’t bear to see you this way.’ Faiza took the other side of the bed while Fatima was pushed to the middle.
‘Umar told me that he has feelings for…’ She pulled in a deep breath to calm herself.
‘And that’s something I never wanted, I don’t think it is right for two friends to fall in love or be together, what if it doesn’t work? It would be a terrible disaster.’
‘He did? That’s surprising, I am really sorry about the way you feel Fatima. Just pull yourself together…’ Faiza curled her arms round Fatima’s neck and pulled her in for a hug.
Fresh pools of tears had gathered in her eyes and she began to cry again.
‘Come on Fatima, it’s alright.’
In all this, Fatima observed that her other sister, Laila, was very quiet. She seemed not to care about her sister’s grief. Instead, Fatima thought she had spotted a look of anger in her eyes. Fatima could sense that Laila was up to something but she was too hurt to ask any question.
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Even though he was in the boisterous Cattle Song bar, he felt lost amidst the laughter that poured into the night; the yelling of men who were arguing and the sultry music that hummed in the background.
Umar was empty and was equally broken and the only thing that could fill him up now was liquor.
‘Three more please…’ he grumbled to Tanko. He had come to drown himself with drink.
He wanted to forget this pain; He wanted to drown the memory of her rejection with inebriation. He wished things could go back to normal, he wished that he had never taken that bold step. Now, Umar was at the losing end, because he knew their friendship was never going to be the same again.
‘More?’ Tanko’s eyes were filled with wonder and concern, Tanko had never seen me this way. He was about to say something but shrugged, ‘Whatever it is, I know you’re capable of handling it. I trust in you.’ He tapped Umar’s shoulder lightly before leaving to serve others.
‘Yes,’ Umar nodded.
But immediately Tanko walked away, Umar felt inadequate, could he really handle this? Could he really survive without the promise of her love and the gift of her company? He had always been in love with Fatima. He had seen people wretch and weep like their lives would never be the same again, once they were heartbroken, but he’d never understood that sort of pain.
The pain of heartbreak was multifaceted. It was numbness. It was rejection. It was everything evil wrapped in a box and given to you. It was bitterness, humiliation, suffering, death.
Umar snapped out of his thoughts when he felt something on his back, it was the fingers of a very skinny woman with a very sweet scent.
Umar quickly turned his head and found his eyes looking into the eyes of a very beautiful woman.
She felt uneasy after the encounter with Umar while riding. Fatima was confused, and greatly distressed. At this point in her life, she didn’t know what she truly wanted. She had a family that loved and cherished her; and in return, she cooked them delicious meals and took care of the household-but what this enough? Was this all she could get from life?
“Is this enough for me?” Her lips moved as she stared outside the midnight sky. Time was passing, and evening was slowly turning to midnight. Fatima had lost count of time; she was lost in thinking. Umar was a good man and had been a good family friend all these while. But she didn’t want to ruin their friendship by accepting his marriage proposal.
It was the knock on the door that brought Fatima back to reality. She quickly peeled herself from the window and rushed towards the bamboo bed. She didn’t want anyone to know what had taken place between her and Umar. Her sisters, Faiza and Laila loved Umar. At a point, Faiza and Laila had assumed they were in a relationship.
“Walahi, you two look perfect for each other!” Faiza would always exclaim. Even old Mallam Ahmad thought the same.
“We may be best of friends, but he may not be a good husband,” Fatima silently countered.
“Fatima?” A soft and sweet voice called out to her.
At once she recognized the voice. It was Laila’s. Laila was her immediate older sister and they shared a powerful resemblance. While they had been younger, most people had considered them twins.
“Good evening sister,” Fatima straightened on the bed. She pretended to stifle a yawn so that her sister wouldn’t know that she had been up for quite a long time.
Laila’s smile was strong and contagious. She seemed to be happy about something.
“Are you alright?” Fatima’s thick brows came together.
Laila shrugged, “I should be asking you that.” She paused and sat at the edge of the bed.
Laila considered her beautiful sister with a calm stare. She had expected Fatima to break the news to them; to be excited but Fatima was neutral.
“I do not understand you, and why do you still have your Abaya on?” Fatima was surprised that her sister still veiled herself at night.
Laila pulled in a deep breath, “I disgraced myself by taking alcohol. I have been fasting for Allah’s mercy and forgiveness. It is a thing of luck that our community is lenient on matters such as alcohol.”
Fatima felt bad for asking that. She hadn’t planned to make her sister feel bad or remember how drunk she had gotten the other time.
“You still haven’t told me why you went to Tanko’s bar. It is no place for noble women. Something must have troubled you, kwo?” Fatima asked.
When she asked this, Laila avoided her eyes.
“I do not want to talk about it yet. I came to talk to you about Umar…”
“And what about Umar?” Fatima raised a brow.
“Um, you two rode together today. Did he ask any question?”
In that moment, Fatima realized that Umar had already told his sisters that he would propose to her. How could he do something like that? They had all been pretending with her all along.
“You knew about the proposal? Why didn’t you tell me? At least I would’ve found a better way to reject it!” Fatima exclaimed.
Laila scoffed and shifted on the bed, “Maybe I didn’t hear you well.”
“Yes you did. I do not love Umar the way you all expect me to. I see him as a friend and brother. You must all drop your expectations of marriage between us. Some of us aren’t meant to marry or fall in love. We are content with the life that Allah has blessed us with.”
Laila couldn’t believe her ears. She bit her lip so she wouldn’t say something that she would regret later.
“How could you reject a man like Umar?”
“How could I not? Umar isn’t so special.” Fatima quickly countered.
This proved what their father had always said about his last daughter. Fatima was the sweetest person on earth. She was very loving and emotional. But her goodness walked hand in hand with stubbornness and pride.
“Just listen to yourself. Do you think you are better than he is because we own an enormous ranch that father left for us? Don’t be a fool Fatima. Do not throw this opportunity away! You must reconsider Umar for marriage.”
To be continued…