“Don’t you think you’re being too harsh on her? I have forgiven the others. I do not treat them like my servants anymore. If we want to take a closer look at things, it was their mother that offended us and not them. Ralia was still a baby at the time.” Tanko tried to make his sister see reason with him.
Aisha ignored him. She leaned forward and picked a date.
“These are very delicious. Did you get them from Iqran?” She smacked her lips. Iqran was a neighbouring town to the East. She was known for growing delicious fruits and crops.
Tanko nodded, “The dates have been mixed with honey.”
Aisha smiled and decided to fill her belly with the delicious fruits.
“So what did you want to tell me?” Tanko soon joined her.
Aisha pulled in a deep breath and ran her eyes over the sleeping men. She needed to be sure that no one was awake as what she was about to discuss was very private.
“We can make ourselves richer than we already are.” She started off in a very low tone. She wasn’t speaking Hausa now; she had switched to their local tongue so that the walls wouldn’t hear her.
Tanko said nothing. He was still listening.
“Is it really true that he owns a goldmine?” Aisha pointed at Umar.
Tanko nodded, but he didn’t see where she was going.
“Listen, I could make him love me. I could make him marry me. And then I take as much gold as I can from him…” she stopped talking, hoping that Tanko got her.
Tanko’s eyes lit up with understanding but he wasn’t too thrilled with the idea. His sister had been married four times, to four different men. And the marriages had always ended up in disaster.
“I do not encourage it. Besides, Umar has a love interest.”
“Who isn’t interested him, he told me everything,” Aisha whispered.
“You do not know that for sure. People say a lot of things when they are drunk.” Tanko didn’t share her view.
“A wise man once said that alcohol brings out the truth in people. Umar is heartbroken. There is no better time to get into his heart than now. You must support me, brother. I will make us richer than what we already are.”
Tanko rubbed his chin carefully. Laila was Fatima’s sister, and she had insulted him earlier. If Aisha got married to Umar, it would hurt Laila. Indirectly, he would be paying her back for insulting him.
“You will not harm him in anywhere.” Tanko warned. The life on the streets had made his sister violent. Aisha didn’t hesitate when it came to shedding blood.
Aisha nodded. The rose, was a proper description of his sister. Aisha was soft, tender and beautiful. But a closer look at her would reveal her thorny nature. Many men had bled to death, by her hands.
“I promise,” she smiled and stared down at her latest conquest.
While Aisha began to imagine life with her prospective husband, the sleeping man was lost in the world of dreams; dreams of the only woman he ever loved and would ever love. But Fatima had rejected him. She had tossed his love aside like he meant nothing.
The scenes of their ride; the rising and falling of her long hair and the disappointment that he had seen in her eyes all played back. It would take him a very long time to come to terms with what had taken place with Fatima. Thankfully, there was another woman ready to fill the void that was present in his heart. Her name was Aisha, and she would use all of her charms upon him.
Umar awoke with a jerk and an outpour of sweat on his forehead.
“Where am I?” He whispered.
Aisha leaned forward and dropped a kiss on her soft ears.
“You are right where you’re supposed to be. You are safe in my arms. I will not let anyone hurt you.”
Umar ran a tongue over his lips. His mouth felt bitter. He reeked of stale alcohol.
“God, I have sinned.” Quickly, he rose to his feet and moved towards the door. Aisha did not stop him. She simply watched him, while quietly planning her next move.
“I thought you wanted to marry this man. You are supposed to follow him home right away.” Tanko who had been a silent observer decided to share his thoughts with her.
Aisha laughed, “A smart woman is not quick to warm a man’s bed. Only foolish and valueless women do this. I do not intend for Umar to be just a lover. He is my husband and more, my goldmine.”
A devious fire was ignited in her eyes when she said this.
“My sister is a very intelligent,” Tanko showered her with praise.
“Yes, I need a bath and special time to think. I cannot lose this opportunity to enrich our family.”
Tanko affirmed his stance with a nod.
“I shall assist you in every possible way. What would you have me do?”
“I want you to find out everything about this Fatima. I need to know more about her. That will be the first step,” she answered.
When she was done dishing out instructions to her complacent brother, she yelled out for her servant, Ralia.
“Prepare my herbs and bathwater!”
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Tears stung her cheeks as she stared at the dead horse. Her favourite horse, Moonrider had just died from an attack; it was the plague that had killed the other animals on the ranch. It usually started like a fever, then it would spread to their hooves and attack their organs next.
“What kind of disease is this?” Fatima’s lips shivered as she stared at the carcass.
“I do not know for certain but from my little findings, it is a very expensive disease to treat. Word had already spread to the Southern lands, and this is why they avoid our meat.” Mallam Ahmad, one of the oldest men on ranch replied.
Fatima’s eyes continued to pour out tears. For the first time she had to agree with her older sister, Laila, about the ranch. It was falling. And they needed to find a way to restore its glory. In the little country of Israr, her father’s ranch had a great name. It is what gave them identity.
“I cannot allow this to happen. If a cure is not found, all the animals would fall and we will have nothing,” Fatima whispered. The old man could sense determination in her voice, but he didn’t offer any contribution. He knew that Fatima wasn’t aware about everything that had been taking place in the ranch. Since the death of her father, a lot of things had changed.
Fatima adjusted her scarf and rose to her feet.
“Have the boys bury her. I cannot stand to see her face,” she carefully instructed. The huge mare had been her friend and companion. Although it wasn’t possible for man and animal to relate, Fatima and the horse had developed a mutual understanding. Moonrider had been a difficult horse to raise, only Fatima could tame her.
Mallam Ahmad was surprised at her utterance, knowing how important this horse was to her.
“Are you sure about your decision Fatima? This is Moonrider we are talking about. Perhaps you should bury her yourself and grieve later. This horse was really important to you.” He tried to convince her. Fatima offered the man a weak smile. Mallam Ahmad had always been concerned about her since she was a child. He usually gave her special snacks and told her stories under the moonlight. But she was grown now and she knew what was best for her life.
Fatima pulled in a deep breath as she heard footsteps behind. They were lazy and sluggish; without turning around, Fatima knew it was her sister. Fatima was desperate to avoid Laila after their encounter the previous night.
“I am sorry about Moonrider, sister,” Laila began with an apology.
Fatima nodded in response. She didn’t have the voice to answer or start a conversation.
“I just heard news from Alhaji Hussein’s ranch. This same disease has been rumoured to affect his cows and sheep. But he has found a cure but it is very expensive.”
“What cure is that?” Fatima swiftly asked.
“Yes, tell us Laila!” Mallam Ahmad urged her on.
“There is no point of sharing when we cannot afford to pay the cowboys and wranglers upon this ranch. There is no need for that.” Laila gritted her teeth and moved to observe the dead animal.
Her action infuriated Fatima.
“What exactly is your problem? If you know what can save this ranch, you should share it!” Fatima snapped at her.
Laila scoffed and faced her, “Your pride will not let you see the light. The only person that can help us get this cure at a cheaper price or at no cost at all is Umar Awal. He is known to possess herbs that help animals. If you are really interested in saving this ranch, you should consider his marriage proposal.”
Fatima’s face heated. How could her sister be this insensitive?

To be continued…

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