The old man had sensed the urgency in Abdul’s voice. From the confused glint in the man’s eyes, Mallam Ahmed had a feeling that things weren’t right. But it was too late to chase after the chief protector. He wasn’t too sure of it, but his heartbeat increased anxiously. He hoped that Fatima was not in trouble. He sighed and moved towards the barn where some spotted sheep were kept. He began to hum a song to calm his nerves as he reached. The old man failed to see the sharp stone that lay before him, so his right toe rubbed against it and hardly. Blood gushed out from the open wound.
“What a bad omen!” He cursed under his breath. He was a very careful man and he had not sustained a wound from something as inconsequential as stone. The pain shot through his bones, travelled from his ankle and spread to his back. Quickly, he hopped to a nearby bucket and poured some water to stop the bleeding. When he regained his strength, he managed to straighten before walking towards the dining hall. His instincts had never failed him. Sadness washed over him as he recalled how his daughter and wife had died; he had the same feeling as at now.
When he neared the dining hall, he could hear a mixture of laughter pouring in from different lips and minds. He paused and rubbed his chin. Faiza was a pregnant woman and could become extremely worried; he didn’t want anything to happen to her baby. The only person that could handle the news was Laila, but she was far gone in conversation with Aisha to notice that her sister had taken too long in the bathroom.
It was Faiza who sensed that something wasn’t right. The eldest sister was not too comfortable with the presence of Aisha, but she couldn’t do much. She knew that Fatima would be hurt, but she couldn’t blame Umar. Umar had waited patiently for Fatima, hoping that someday his love would be returned, but that day never happened.
“Excuse me,” Faiza shifted uncomfortably in her seat. She raised a finger in the air and walked out of the dining hall. She had a feeling Fatima had locked herself up in her room and was probably crying. It was her time to soothe and comfort.
The heavy woman found Mallam Ahmed at the entrance of the dining hall. He seemed hesitant to enter the house.
“Greetings to you,” she raised a brow.
Mallam Ahmed quickly peeled himself from the entrance to allow her passage.
“Thank you Faiza.” He nodded.
“Are you looking for something?” Faiza searched his face.
The old man couldn’t tell her anything.
“I would love to speak to Laila, we have unfinished business.” He lied.
Faiza gestured with her hands, “Go inside then. You act like you are a stranger here. This is your home too.” She walked briskly towards the area where the rooms were erected. She couldn’t wait to hug Fatima and kiss her hair, just the way she had always done when they were kids.

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The old man carefully went over his words. He would call Laila out and tell her about Fatima; she was brave enough to handle anything. He marched into the dining hall without fear. First, his eyes met with that of Aisha whom he thought was very beautiful. But he didn’t hold her eyes for long because they made him uneasy. Umar and Laila welcomed the man, but Aisha simply ran her eyes over his face. She didn’t like this old man. There was something about him that made her uncomfortable. What was he doing in the dining hall anyway?
“I would love to speak to you…privately.” He announced.
At first, Laila hadn’t wanted to abandon her conversation with her new friend. Aisha was a very interesting person to make conversation with. It made her wonder why Fatima was so much against her. Jealousy, that could be the only reason for her sister’s paranoia. She pushed the chair behind and rose to meet with the man. Together they strolled outside.
“So what do you think about them?” Umar leaned on Aisha’s shoulder, now that they had the whole room to themselves.
Aisha’s lips parted for a smile. She licked her spoon and went for another scoop of a sweetly delicious paste made of honey and dates. From her talk with Laila, she learned that Fatima was in charge of cooking. After tasting the special meal that Fatima had prepared, Aisha equally confessed that Fatima was an excellent cook. However, her culinary skills would go to waste…
“I like them. I think I prefer Laila to Fatima.” Aisha winked.
Umar chuckled, “Most people think Laila is the angel until she does or says something mischievous then they go running to Fatima.”
“You really think Fatima is an angel?” Aisha dropped the spoon and rubbed her hands together. She felt this was the right time to expose Fatima’s plan to marry him to save the ranch. This would buy her Umar’s complete devotion as no man would fancy the idea of being used.
Umar took the words lightly. Though his heart was with another, he would always respect Fatima and trust her above anyone else.
“I am sure of that.” He scooped from the dessert Fatima had prepared for them.
“My darling, may I confide in you?” Aisha shifted close and placed her fingers on Umar’s hair.
She sounded serious, like something was bothering her. He dropped his spoon and gave her full attention.
“I have been struggling with something. I have tried many times to tell you this truth, but I found it very difficult. You are a good man Umar, and you do not deserve to suffer.” She paused.
Umar remained quiet, wondering where she was headed.
“I love you with everything in me. And this love comes with a desire to protect you from those who would see you fall…”
Aisha was about to spill venom when Laila burst into the dining hall.
“Fatima may be in trouble!” Laila bellowed.
At once, Umar jumped to his feet. He completely forgot that he had been having a conversation with Aisha. He didn’t wait for details, but simply rushed towards the exit door. When he reached the door, he whirled round and asked Laila what had happened.
“Mallam Ahmed saw your brother climb a horse in pursuit. Fatima told us she was leaving for the bathroom, but she had spent too much time. We need to find her.”
Faiza who had gone to comfort her sister returned with puffy and reddish eyes.
“I haven’t seen Fatima.” She announced.
Laila and Umar exchanged glares. They rushed towards the stable and untied their horses; the ride was to rescue the woman they both loved. As Umar rode with the wind on his back, he prayed silently that his best friend wouldn’t be hurt. Laila gritted her teeth in frustration as she struggled with her slow horse. She would hate herself should anything happen to Fatima.
“Ride you slowpoke!” She kicked the animal fiercely.
Aisha had never felt so rejected and humiliated in her entire existence. This moment proved that her talons had not completely grasped Umar’s heart. There was still much work to do; thankfully that girl would be out of her way. Tears burned her eyes. Her neck to her face heated in rage. She felt like tearing down this whole ranch, she felt like throwing to the ground all the plates and cups they had drank from. How could Umar abandon her? How could he leave her side to chase another woman?
“Are you alright?” Faiza had walked in unnoticed. She had seen the rage on Aisha’s face.
Aisha sighed and pushed a smile that didn’t touch her eyes. Gently, she pushed the chair backwards and rose to her feet.
“I pray that your sister is out of danger. I would really hate if something happens to her, she is very important to Umar.” Aisha replied. Before Faiza could say anything, she bowed and sauntered out of the dining hall feeling ashamed. What Umar had just done to her was very unmanly. What kind of man took a woman for lunch and abandoned her for another? Her only consolation would be in Fatima’s death, which was inevitable.
Aisha failed to notice the items that fell from the purse as she marched angrily towards the stable. She cursed herself for falling in love with a spineless fool. Perhaps Abdul was right about Umar; perhaps they were not meant for each other. She quickly grabbed her house and mounted it.
“I will bring him to his knees!” She swore, before breaking the horse into a wild race.
Faiza had not been comfortable with Aisha’s presence. If anything bad happened to Fatima, she would have no choice but to blame Umar. It seemed absurd to blame him, but that was all she would do if such an event occurred. Her eyes strayed to the middle of the hall; it was at that point that she noticed a little portion of velum and strange looking plant.
Quickly, Faiza grabbed both items and glared thoughtfully at them. They were from Aisha! She rushed outside to see if she could catch up with the beautiful woman, but she was already far too gone. Faiza decided to keep the items safe until the chaos was cleared; she would hand them over to Laila for return.
Aisha’s rage distorted her features and made her look like a demon. She had ridden to Tanko’s bar to report the situation of things to him. Aisha realized that she and Tanko had drifted apart. Well, she was no longer interested in stealing from Umar as her heart yearned for true love; she knew that Umar wouldn’t accept this. So she has secretly come up with another plan. If Umar made her his wife, she could channel some of his wealth to her brother’s bar; that way everyone would be happy.
Her body boiled. Goose pimples spread over her delicate skin as she marched into the bar. The sun was still strong, so few people were in the bar. She noticed that Ralia was serving and it shocked her. What was that serving girl doing in Tanko’s bar? At the same time, Ralia’s fingers began to shiver as she realized that Aisha had caught her.
Aisha had left her at home with clear instructions, but she had decided to deliver information to Tanko as they had planned. Her throat felt scorched. Ralia’s lips trembled as she began to gather her thoughts. She needed to give Aisha a believable explanation else she would be in trouble. Aisha was extremely intelligent, she could read people easily, but it was difficult for people to read or predict her.
“What are you doing here?” Aisha’s brows knotted in wonder. Today she would spare the girl. She just wanted a drink, while waiting for the news of Fatima’s death. She couldn’t wait to hear it, to touch the dagger that would be her downfall. Aisha would be forever loyal to the order if they could grant this one wish. She was completely obsessed with Umar; her love ran deep and she couldn’t imagine living a future without him.
Ralia sighed. She needed to tell this lie as if it were accurate.
“Master Tanko summoned me. He asked me to take care of the bar while he was away.” Ralia explained. Aisha didn’t care to scrutinize her lie, but it was rare for her brother to leave the bar in the hands of someone else, someone like Ralia.
“Where did he go?” Aisha barked.
“He didn’t say.” Ralia bowed her head.
“Very well, give me something strong to drink. I have had a long day.”

To be continued…

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