Fatima rolled her eyes and rested her head against the pillow that was made of animal fur.
“Listen to me sister, I do not wish to marry any man. I am okay with the way I am.”
“Umar is a good man. He is pious. He fears God. He is hard working and extremely wealthy. Have you forgotten that his family own the gold mines in our little country? He has been blessed with a goldmine which was given to him by his father. You are making a mistake. There is no other man that could ever love you like Umar.”
Fatima licked her lips and chuckled.
“If I didn’t know you well, I would assume that you had feelings for him. This is entirely my decision and if I have made a mistake by rejecting him, I shall pay for it.”
She quickly added, “Alone.”
Laila could see that her sister was bent on rejecting her suitor. Perhaps telling Fatima the truth about the condition of the ranch could change her mind.
“The ranch isn’t doing very well. The animals are dying and we do not have enough money to treat them. The demand for meat is declining in the Southern country because they now prefer fish! You must consider other people than yourself. I and Faiza had made sacrifices to make you happy. It is your turn to sacrifice something for the greater good.”
Fatima’s heart skipped when she learned of the condition of the ranch. She found it difficult to believe. Well, her sister was right. Most times, Fatima was in the kitchen preparing what everyone would eat. If she wasn’t in the kitchen, she was in her special place of prayer.
Fatima was uneasy as she thought of living another life that she wasn’t used to. She had never experienced lack or hunger. She had been born into luxury.
“Is this why you were drinking at Tanko’s bar? Were you afraid of what would befall us?” She asked Laila.
The sister inhaled deeply before nodding.
“I must go and pray now. I should feel better after prayer.” Laila believed that she had been able to convince Fatima to accept Umar’s proposal. But she was in for a surprise.
Fatima also rose to her feet.
“I think you should put the ranch in prayer as well. If I am to marry a man, it will not be for financial security. This would make me equal with a whore. I, Fatima, is a noble woman. My decision is final; I shall not marry Umar to please anyone. You speak of sacrifice, but I am the one who has been doing all the cooking right from the moment I could stand on my own. Please sister, do not ever try to manipulate me. I do not like it.” With these words, Fatima strolled out of the room and moved towards the kitchen.
Laila couldn’t get rid of the shock that she felt.
“Her heart is made of stone. How could she be this selfish and heartless? Perhaps they may be another way to convince her.”
Fatima was boiling within as she headed for the kitchen. Tears blurred her vision, but she wouldn’t let them spill. She couldn’t get Laila’s words out of her mind. Were things really getting bad at the ranch? Or was Laila trying to manipulate her?
She pulled a silver cup from the stack of drinking vessels and moved towards the water pot.
“I refuse to change my mind. I am not like cattle. I cannot be bought with a price.” She continued to mumble these words until she believed it in her spirit. Fatima swallowed the cold water quickly and walked towards the large kitchen window.
She closed her eyes and relished the midnight wind that came to play with her hair. It was a beautiful night for a bad news. The moon was bright and beautiful, and she poured down her light generously upon the earth. Slowly, pieces of events that she had shared with Umar replayed in her mind.
She had first become friends with Umar on one moony night. She and her sisters had gone to the neighbouring town to check on their grandmother who had fallen from a hill. The old woman had broken an ankle, but she had been responding well to treatment. Due to some circumstances, they had returned late and gotten into trouble with some bandits.
Unluckily for the night thieves, Umar and his brother, Abdulmasad were around. Together, these men fought the thieves and reclaimed all that was stolen. It was after this occasion that Umar’s elder brother had been appointed as the town Chief protector. Although she refused to admit it, Umar had left a mark upon her heart that night. He had shown selflessness and courage; he had also risked his life for her and the rest.
A guttural sound broke the silence of the night. Fatima’s eyes snapped open at once. It was the crying of an animal; a horse. She recognized the animal’s voice at once.
Without wasting time, she dashed out of the kitchen towards the stable.

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Aisha continued to stroke the sleeping man with her slender fingers. She was overjoyed when her brother had told her more about the man whom she had shared a drink with. She couldn’t believe her luck.
Though she was new to town, spending some days with her brother had exposed her to a lot of happenings in town. The name, Umar Awal, had been spoken by the lips of many young women. From what she heard, he was a very comely man and wealthy too. He owned a goldmine. The only problem was that he was involved with one Fatima.
Aisha’s eyes lit up as she imagined what his goldmine would be like. All her life, she had dreamt of marrying a wealthy farmer or a rancher; but she had never considered a goldmine possessor. He was certainly the richest man in town and she was ready to do anything to make him hers.
“Aren’t you tired of doing that?” Tanko, her elder brother joined the table.
Many guests had retired, and those who hadn’t found their bed in the bar. The place was filled with rotten stench of alcohol, sweats and farts. The sound of varying snores trapped the silence of the night.
“Doing what?” Aisha moved her lips quietly.
Now, Aisha was a very beautiful woman. Although one couldn’t compare Aisha’s beauty to Fatima’s, Aisha had a seductive air about her. Her light brown skin was very attractive to look at; she had small eyes which were heavily veiled by long ashes. Her lips were full, reddish and plump. It took a man special grace to stare at her face and remain the same.
“Stroking him,” Tanko answered.
“Do you remember how poor we used to be?” Aisha decided to take him down memory lane.
They had lost their parents at a very tender age. They had lived with their Uncle and his cruel wife, who starved them on many occasions. She forced them to beg on the streets. Aisha had lost her virginity quite early in the process. But she had made sure that the men that had raped her, paid with their lives. It wasn’t long before their uncle died, and his wife had fallen ill as well.
“We used to beg for bread and coin. Thankfully, God saw our suffering and killed our uncle who didn’t have any son.” Tanko smiled as he recounted from his point of view.
Yes, it was true that Uncle Hayatudeen wasn’t blessed with a male child; it was imperative that everything he owned now belonged to Tanko, his only surviving male relative.
“Our fortune changed overnight, more than what we expected.” Tanko continued.
He had sold his uncle’s properties and used the money to start up this bar, which was just one of the many businesses owned by him. His little cousins were now his servants and he maltreated them just the way their mother had treated him and Aisha.
“It can still change for the better,” Aisha removed her hands from Umar’s hair. Her small eyes glowed like a pair of fireflies in the dark. She was serious now, and her brother sensed it.
She was about saying more, when Ralia, the cousin whom she lived with showed up with a tray.
“What do you want?!” Aisha screamed angrily. The scream was powerful enough to wake the whole town up.
“Take it easy on her, she is just a girl,” Tanko ran his eyes over Ralia.
“Did her mother think me a girl when she sent me out to beg?” Aisha rolled her eyes.
Ralia bowed her head and dropped the tray filled with dates. She walked away dejectedly.

To be continued…

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