26 MAY, 20156 LONDON, ENGLAND. Mubarak never thought his Saturday morning was going to look like this. Yet here he was standing in his boat shoes, a rumpled white button-up shirt and a pair of blue well-worn jeans outside his brother's door at 7 a.m. He had no idea why he was here in the first place.26 Or maybe he did.8 When he met Bilaal's eyes, he knew exactly why he was here, to escape. From all the unknowns that took his life by storm.2 Last night, he had to move out of his house and sleep in his room at the mansion. He wasn't ready to answer any of Hajiya Kulthum's question, as to why he was coming in with an overnight bag or why he was sleeping at the house for that matter.16 Bilaal raised a brow as if waiting for him to elaborate on why he was at his door at seven in the morning.4 He couldn't just lie and say he was running through the neighbourhood. First of all, Notting Hill and Westminster was a beast to run in between, second of all, he wasn't in his running gear.4 So he had to pretend that he was here for his brother, seeing that Bilaal too was tied up in a messy situation like his. Women problems!35 "Assalamu alaikum." "Wa alaikumussalam. Are you getting in or what?" "Oh... touchy already! So what's cooking?"2 "Just came back from a run. You want something?" He loved that his brother was not prying. Yet. As far as he knew Bilaal, it was only a matter of time before he pried. Since he was still safe, he could turn the table around and play therapist.21 "I see you are in pretty good shape this morning."2 Bilaal tossed him a look over his shoulder and darted into his kitchen, throwing open carboards and moving tins and pans around.4 "Care for some breakfast?" He called out. He didn't tell his brother he didn't eat early anymore, he waited in bed while Maryam tried to drag him out of bed and convince him to shower before he met her downstairs and they cook and eat together. On the days that he was being a lazy bum, he would come down to find a steaming hot plate of food waiting for his consumption. He didn't tell Bilaal that if this were any normal Saturday, he would've been sleeping-in at home, and Muhammad would have made his sleep miserable, then Maryam would have been by his side. They'd planned to go on a picnic this afternoon in a quiet meadow away from all the touristy areas. But this was not any normal Saturday...13 Mubarak cleared his voice. "Yes please, I'm ravenous." Mubarak was deep in thoughts when he heard Bilaal's yelp from the kitchen, he walked in and sat on one of the long breakfast stools in his brother's spacious kitchen. Bilaal had always been a neat freak, even though he stayed alone in his house and rarely received any visitors, his kitchen was always squeaky clean. But lately, he had become a little bit clumsy.9 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  This was the third time he was either touching the pot barehanded or spilling hot water on himself. He was supposed to be frying eggs though, Mubarak had no idea why there were so many pots and pans on the counter.6 Several minutes later, Bilaal pushed a plate of what looked like a rubber gonk to him, he wasn't sure he could eat that even if the queasiness from Maryam's behaviour wasn't messing with his guts already.18 "Fine, this is bad." Bilaal dumped it in the rubbish bin.2 "Why is it that we have our perfectly ordered lives and then when someone makes a guest appearance and leaves, everything turns into a mess as if some hurricane had descended in place of a perfectly-innocent-harmless-cute-human-being?" Bilaal whined and Mubarak almost said, Ditto!30 But instead, he tamped down his laughter. He had seen how miserable Bilaal had been that morning, but he wished he had any advice up his sleeves too, he would've used it himself. Maryam's words echoed in his head. "It's time." She'd said. He remembered feeling winded after her proclamation. "Time for what?" He had asked even though he knew. "Give me something to work with Maryam, you can't just say this when I've got no idea what I've done."6 "For you to move out." He didn't miss all the red flags from the rise and fall of her chest to the iciness in her eyes. As if she was holding on not to lose her temper with all her will, because by Allah after twelve hours, he still had no idea what he did wrong. If that wasn't odd he didn't know what was.6 After some moments of lying about in his room, he had gone after Maryam and confronted her again. This time more softly.3 "I think it would be better if you calm down and tell me what is going on, Shaaden. Everything was fine this morning... did something happen? Did someone call you?" His mind had raced to her mother in an instant, did she give her one of those upsetting calls? But the hard look in Maryam's eyes suggested that whatever it was, he was better off disarming her first before he asked further questions.5 "Okay, I understand that you are upset..."4 "We are leaving then..." She said, her eyes unflinching.6 He still shuddered from that parting statement she made. Mubarak knew he had to go because nothing would stop her from going through with her threat. She was like a woman possessed.9 Now he sighed and regarded his brooding brother. "Uh... I think that's because those innocent-harmless-cute-human-beings are called our better halves for a reason, they are no guests, so whenever something complete has to stay half, that would make them incomplete, I guess that's how it goes even by definition."23 Bilaal huffed out air along with a shudder, "Right, you have a point there." He finally plated up the perfectly fluffy scrambled eggs he had been aiming for, alongside some toasted whole wheat bread and a spread of peanut butter.4 Mubarak moved out to the living area, and called over his shoulder, "Seriously, are we talking about the guest-appearance 'thing' you were just rambling about?" Bilaal came after him with a tray carrying their 'breakfast' and kept it on the coffee table he swatted Mubarak's question away. "Nah forget that."2 He handed him a mug of hot blueberry and apple coffee and plopped on the soft pillowy-fabric sofa next to him. Bilaal closed his eyes for some moments, seeming calm, but Mubarak knew he was far from calm. He was at the peak of his test.2 "She's so stubborn." Bilaal pinched the gap between his eyes.16 Mubarak turned to him with his cuppa on his way to his lips. "Okay, does that mean I should 'un-forget that'?"9 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  When Bilal nodded, he took a sip from his mug, giving an appreciative hum, he set it down on the table and turned to his brother again. "That, she is. And I must say Bilaal, you've messed up bad."4 "Yes, I did. Do you think she'll ever take me back?"2 Mubarak shrugged, to be honest, he didn't know. And judging by his situation, he didn't think he was in the best position to dole out marital advice to anyone. But to assuage his brother's fears and deflect from his troubles he responded.4 "That depends." After a considerable silence between them and more sips of hot cuppa, Mubarak continued. "You know there is this amazing thing about married couples. There are these little things we keep doing in our lives, we always tend to take those little things for granted, only to find out it was those little things that drive us away from each other."11 His forehead pinched from reflection. Was that what happened with him and Maryam? The look in her eyes still haunted him. He had never seen her that livid. It was as if she had been possessed by something.5 "But I'm trying, I'm trying so hard. I don't know why she doesn't get me. I know getting her back as my wife is huge. But I want to get her back. I don't know if you get me."2 Mubarak felt Bilaal's eyes on him, he needed to snap out of his problems and help his brother out.3 "Help me here bro, don't go on drinking my cuppa on a breezy morning -which I made after burning myself thrice- and then just give me the 'I told you so' look. That thing is custom-made."27 "Well, since you said it, I might as well say, I told you so. I remember specifically telling you not to mess with her, she's real trouble." Mubarak cocked his brows.7 "Yeah, I already got that part, now can we please move on to the solution part?"6 "Consistency bro, consistency. And patience, well add variation and a whole bunch of other strategies, because seriously man, women are the most difficult creatures to understand. And winning them over is a whole lot different story." He finished with a shrug and a shudder.7 That got Bilaal squinting at him. That look was old. Oh boy! Busted. Bilaal was a tick, he wouldn't leave his back until he probed.5 "Now, would you care to tell me why on earth you are having morning cuppa on a weekend at my house?"21 Mubarak averted his gaze, trying to come up with a plausible explanation but came up with none. Why did his brain always fail him at times like these?4 "Oh no! Don't tell me you had a fallout?" Bilaal asked, eyes wide.6 He nodded in the affirmative.2 "Then why the heck did I burn myself three times making breakfast for you thinking you would help me out, not knowing that you have your share of "issues"." He shook his head and took a long sip of his now tepid coffee, "Subhanallah, what have you done this time?"29 Great! Now he had become a regular, after Maryam's escape to the farmhouse several years ago, Bilaal had been after his neck trying to figure out what happened then, he had managed to shut him out. Now this one... he wasn't sure how he could get out of this one.8 "She'd been acting worked up and all weird since I went home yesterday. So naturally, I'd want to know what was wrong with her. How was I supposed to know I was not supposed to ask?" Mubarak threw his free hand in the air.10 Bilal frowned at that, "I see no reason why you'll be in this state though." "Maybe you should explain that to her." Mubarak rubbed his forehead with his palm. "She kicked me out of the house last night." he mumbled.20 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Bilaal's gaze froze on him. Yeah, it was time for the show to begin. Bilaal could be merciless when it came to pulling his legs, to think that Maryam had kicked him out was still reeling in his mind too. But it was a pact they had agreed on, she wouldn't do the leaving, he would. And he had to honour his words, even though they were technically hers.4 "She said I should go back when I'm sensitive enough and remember what I did wrong. Can you imagine?" His forehead pinched with worry.42 Bilaal's face split into a grin, then he couldn't stop the laughter, he laughed hard and only sobered up when he saw the scowl on Mubarak's face.26 "Ehem. Sorry, man but that was, epic!"18 "That's why I'm here. I'm homeless and wifeless, I'm everything-less. So, I can't solve your troubles when I've got enough on my plate. Right now, I'm brain-locked."30 Bilaal was quiet for a while before he spoke. "No, you're not sticking here. Go and figure her out, brother."2 He had seen the stubborn set of his brother's jaw and he knew he wasn't letting go. "How am I supposed to do that? She won't talk to me. Or open the door, so..."2 Bilaal squinted at him, "Yeah they always don't want to talk , it's awful. Did you by any chance eat her yoghurt?" When Mubarak shook his head, Bilaal gave another try. "Maybe you've forgotten an anniversary or something."25 "Gosh! I wish I know, or if she would just tell me, what are lips and ears made for if not to communicate? I bet Baba didn't have it this bad."9 Bilaal shuddered, giving him the eye. "I beg to differ. Hajiya is something else I tell you, she might be this loyal pleasant-looking wife but have you ever considered why Baba did everything in his hat to avoid getting 'the look' from her?"26 They burst out laughing at that. Their father would rile up everyone and make chaos in the office or at home, with his workers and the children alike but he was always the gentleman and at his best when he was with Hajiya Kulthum, he once said she had a way of giving someone a look that made them behave.12 A smile tugged at Mubarak's lips "Whatever effect it has, I loved it. Hey, when was the last time we laughed this much?"7 Bilal sobered up, "I think I dragged everyone trying to save me into my gloom. Get up."3 Mubarak's eyes popped out. "You're not kicking me out, are you?" Bilaal almost laughed at his brother's expression but he quickly noted that this was also what he was going through, he wouldn't wish an enemy to be going through what he was.2 "You're going back home to your wife." "Why? Am I that bad a company to keep? I've not even been here for half a day!"6 "Because I know the kind of damage every second does, when you don't make the move towards your goal. And wallahi right now I know she is there breaking piece by piece that you don't even care enough to nag her."36 Mubarak reluctantly agreed, and they took the tube to Notting Hill. Once they were in front of the door, Bilaal pressed the doorbell. Some moments later, Maryam opened the door for Bilaal, only to find Mubarak standing beside him, her smile faded with effect.11 She turned around, Bilaal turned to his brother, "Are you sure you don't know what you did? This looks like category A pissed-off," he said in a hushed tone.27 Mubarak brushed past him into the house, leaving him to help himself in. When Muhammad saw Bilaal, he let go of his father and in a minute, was all over his uncle. And Nabeelah kept dancing in her mother's arms excited in her way too.2 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Hello, Bunnies," Bilaal said, offering to take the 10-months-old baby from her mother, Mubarak took that as his cue when he made eye contact with Maryam. She retreated to the study, once he saw that, he knew she was offering him some privacy.2 "What do you have to say?" "What... I... it's not..."5 "Have you finally figured it out?"5 Mubarak brushed a thumb over his brow. "No, Listen Shaaden..." "What were you thinking bringing your brother here? Is that going to change anything? I said it in clear terms when you know what you did you come home, I am seeing a whole new different thing here."9 "I know, I'm sorry, we're going to sort out everything later. But please let's not do this now, at least not when Bilaal is still here. I beg of you. Please..." His voice broke.2 "Okay, then. Fine!" She moved past him and yanked his drawer open. When she picked something up from the drawer, Mubarak felt his heart lurch in his chest. She stood a few feet away from him.2 "You better have a good explanation for this till then!" She slapped the thin paper on his chest. The powder blue shade first caught his eyes, then the size of the paper. It was the envelope! His eyes rounded with shock.26 And the letter slipped away between his fingers.2 "Shaaden... I can ..."2 "Oh save it. Besides we have a guest to attend to." She wiped away the tears that slipped from her eyes and walked to the door. Once there, she turned to him and smiled.17 "Come on, you're the actor, you should lead the way."29 Mubarak walked over to her like a zombie and took her hand in his.4 They both plastered a smile on their faces and came out of the study, to find Bilaal buried in the stack of puzzle mat playing with the kids.21 *** Bilaal left when he was certain that they wouldn't burn down the house or stab each other. It was a minefield thereafter. With Maryam avoiding Mubarak by all means and him thinking of plausible explanations to give for her discovery.2 So when he found Maryam's door unlocked, he said a silent prayer and walked in. Her spine stiffened at the sound of the door opening, she was standing in the middle of her walk-in. She had her nightdress clenched by her sides.8 Mubarak winced on its behalf, she looked like she was ready to shred the fabric apart. Or perhaps it was him she wished to shred.8 He walked closer, and when she didn't bolt, he did what he could do then. He took her into an embrace from behind and whispered into her ear.5 "I'm absolutely sorry, Shaaden. If there was a way I could undo this, I would. I'm rather sorry you found this, but I want you to know that it meant nothing. I swear it. It was years ago. Long before we met as..."22 His chest bore the brunt of her shove, she bolted out of his hold and out of the wardrobe. Her outburst took him off guard.2 Then she began to read out the letter. Which he knew all too well because he had read it an uncountable number of times when he wanted to tell her that he wasn't the man for her. He had read it when he told her he had work to do on their wedding night. He had read it weeks before then when his parents told him he was getting married to her.6 Maryam's hoarse voice sifted through his thoughts as she read out the letter. "I can't believe I'm writing this. But there is something you need to know. I have ended it. Well- not officially, I've only mentioned it once to Mimie and she freaked out, so I think if you come to Mama with this, she may let things go and overlook what she witnessed.4 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  I'm so sorry it happened that way, I feel so awful right now, but I don't want you to write our moment off as a mistake. It means the world to me. I can't wait to have you. I'm soo looking forward to it!2 I hope you had a nice trip, there is so much I want to tell you, yet so little time and space. Just know that there would be none like you for me.3 Love,2 Nabeelah Maigoro.193 "Love, Nabeelah Maigoro? This doesn't sound like 'nothing' to me. She was engaged, Ya Mubarak!"29 Mubarak clenched his eyes shut. "Yes, it was a mistake as she mentioned in the letter. You read it, Shaaden."5 Maryam's mouth went slack. She couldn't believe Mubarak was defending the obvious, he had an affair with her sister!31 "You had your hands on her! That wasn't a mistake. She was my... God! Ya Rabbi."17 She bit her knuckles to stop herself from making any verbal damages.11 "I can't believe Ya Nabeela..."2 "Don't talk about the d... her like that."3 Her hard glare met his words. "You mean the dead? Did I tell you I'm talking about the dead? Why don't you just let me do my talking and listen since that is the only thing I have left. And for the very final time Mubarak Umar Bugaje I'm not worried about what my dead sister did, I'm disturbed that my very living husband had conspired with my birth mother to hide an affair he had with my sister just before her marriage! That's what got me worried. Are you really this vile? After all these years, not once had you hinted that you used to be interested in my sister, or that she had a massive crush on you and she... chi!" She brought her hands to block her ears as if that would block the image the letter had just conjured.40 When she opened her eyes next, she looked at Mubarak square in the eyes. "So have you..."4 "No! Maryam, it was not like that. It was never like that!" He cupped her face in his palms trying to make her see through the eyes of reasoning.13 She shoved his hands away from her face but he remained firm with his hold. He needed her to see past everything.2 "Then tell me what exactly does 'our moment means the world to me? Can't wait to have you? What do they mean, Ya Mubarak?!"21 Mubarak remained calm, Maryam felt he was looking at her like she was the lost mad woman on the street, cautious of her, waiting for her to pounce.3 "Aunty Aisha found us in my car. Shaaden, I swear to Allah it was n..."28 "Don't you dare insult me again by calling it nothing! If it were nothing you wouldn't have kept it as a well-guarded secret in your basement garage, in a dinky shoebox!"17 The tears dripped down her face, he followed their motion with his thumbs, she was the one crying but he was the one breaking to pieces. He hated that he put these tears there. He knew this would happen if she knew, which- to his stupidity -was why he didn't tell her in the first place, hoping as time passed, her mother would have a semblance of sanity and stop blackmailing him with that mistake.32 Besides, Nabeelah was no more, he knew how Maryam held her sister in high regards, he had seen how she looked up to her, what was the use in rehashing old sins that he had already repented from and was still repenting for? His greatest mistake was holding on to the evidence of his mischief. Knowing they were there reminded him of what he used to be and what he never wanted to be again, never in a million years had he thought Maryam would find the shoebox.18 "I'm sorry you had to see it."7 Maryam's jaws hardened in time with the iciness that made her eyes bluer. "But you're not sorry you did it, you're not sorry you hid things from me." She turned her face away from his hold, this time he let her. His hands fell to his sides loosely. 73 38 Yeah we are still on that. 😂🔥9 *** Maryam's jaw hardened and her eyes became icy.10 "But you're not sorry you did it, you're not sorry you hid things from me." She turned her face away from him, this time he let her. His hands fell to his sides loosely. "Ya Rabbi! I hate these ladies magnets." She muttered.28 Maryam felt betrayed on behalf of herself and Uncle J, seeing that her sister had considered annulling their engagement because she thought she was in love with Mubarak. And she had let someone touch her.33 Maryam didn't want to go down that lane. It was so unexpected from her noble and shy sister that it still puzzled her, but it wasn't her place to judge, because she had no idea what sins of hers Allah had forgiven and what good deeds of hers He had accepted. Her sister's judgement had stood the day she died. May Allah forgive her.22 But Uncle J loved her with all his heart, he loved her so much it took years for him to set her love aside and love someone else after her.18 And why wasn't she surprised that Mubarak could make any girl fall for him? What, with his charming smiles, beguiling good looks, intelligence, forwardness and confidence. He even looked the good-husband-material type despite his bad-boy image. But Ya Nabeelah? She just couldn't wrap her head around it.22 Mubarak was just an expert in making innocent girls fall for him. What hurt most was when she reflected back to each time he had mentioned Nabeela's name, he had acted detached as if she were just someone Maryam had lost and he was helping her move past her pain. Once, he had even asked how close they were, perhaps so he could laugh at the fact that she didn't know that part of her sister's life despite claiming being close to her! She was such a fool for not getting this earlier.16 "Am I also her hand me down to you? Is this why it was so easy for you because I was just replacing her? I can't believe I fell for you!"24 Mubarak was still quiet and it infuriated her more. "So what, Mama saw you two and then what? Did she ask you to marry Nabeelah? Was that what this is? Where do I fit into the whole... Mubarak-Nabeelah equation? Was I suggested to you before or after you were caught? Was it after Sa'ima? When did I come in? Oh, it must be when all hell broke loose and then the family's charity case was sent to you!"59 Mubarak's eyes went shut for a few blinding moments. "You are not a hand me down Shaaden, you are worthy of everything I am and even more, in fact, you deserve more than me. And I do not regret taking you. Charity case be damned, I loved you Shaaden, I love you and I'll always love you. That is all that matters."57 "You expect me to believe anything that comes from your mouth?" She let out a harsh laugh. "I must be a greater fool than I give myself credit for then."13 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Fine! Then I'll tell you all of it, and I'll advise you to take a seat for this, you won't like anything I say for the next ten minutes."22 Maryam folded her arms across her midriff and refused to take the seat.13 Mubarak shook his head. "Nabeelah had always had a thing for me. We talked occasionally on the phone, and when I go visiting she sends stuff for me. I knew what she was getting at and I told her I wasn't ready for a commitment yet. The next time I went to Katsina I found out that she was engaged. I went to congratulate her. But things changed on that day. I must say, you are right in one aspect, I knew myself around women quite alright and it didn't take long before I convinced her that she could have what she wanted. But that was a lie it was only because... only because I had my selfish reasons for... letting her in."33 Mubarak's voice broke and he looked away from Maryam, who had sagged into the couch behind her.10 "...She gave in to my pursuits. We met the next day too as I would be leaving in a day, we were in the car when Mama returned home and caught us in the car. We did things Shaaden, but we did not cross the limit."120 He couldn't chance a look at Maryam, he wouldn't bear to see the broken look on her face.18 "So, naturally she pounced on Nabeelah, but I told her it was my fault. Only Nabeelah shocked us both by saying she didn't want Ja'afar anymore. She wanted me instead. And we all knew I wasn't there yet. But Aunty Aisha turned to me and said, I should do what needed to be done. She wanted me to marry Nabeelah and she'd see to it that she annuled the engagement with Ja'afar."47 Maryam's eyes widened. That was why Nabeelah told her she felt like she wasn't getting married to Uncle J! Her eyes darted to Mubarak's.8 "I deftly refused. But Aunty Aisha insisted that if I didn't want Hajiya to know what she caught me doing with her daughter, I'd kindly introduce Nabeelah as the girl I wanted to marry. I left for London confused as to what to do. I couldn't tell anyone because then I'd have to say what that thing was."11 He cleared his voice. "I'd received several letters from Nabeela since then. This was one of them. I'd replied her once and told her to wait for me to come and we shall talk things through. I told her to hold off breaking it up with Ja'afar until I went to Katsina. But it never happened because... she passed away that month."14 "It must've been a relief for you then," Maryam whispered.31 Mubarak looked at her numb frame perched on her bedroom chaise. He knelt in front of her and went as close to her as he could go without touching her, she didn't look like she would accept the warmth of his touch.11 "It shook me too, Maryam, Nabeelah was my cousin, I've known her since her birth, things did take a ghastly turn at the end, but I still cared about her future and I would never have let her lead Ja'afar on, that was what I wanted us to discuss before the plane crash. I wanted her to stick to Ja'afar. Or tell him everything, there should never have been a room for me to come in. If she did love him, he didn't deserve to be strung along, even though I'd never met him. I wanted to tell her to consider me as the distraction that I was and marry the man that truly loved her."10 "What a saga! Then all of that didn't happen, you went scouting for more... victims?"18 Mubarak swallowed hard. "It would have been a scouting spree, but then I met Sa'imah. You know what happened thereafter. So imagine my shock when Hajiya told me that you were the girl they chose for me. I instantly knew it was either the greatest joke of the century or it was Aunty Aisha's doing."19 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "That was why you insisted it had to be Mama that brought about the idea of us. And that was how I foolishly thought that for once Mama had instigated something that brought good to me. The gift of you. Not knowing under all the suits and sinew was a very deceptive man."26 Mubarak winced as if she had physically slashed his heart.11 "I couldn't just walk up to you and tell you I had a fling with Nabeelah, I didn't know how to do that after knowing everything I knew about you. After I see the love you had for her. I didn't tell you all of that because Aunty Aisha... would still find a way to feed on it and hurt you further, Maryam."16 Her brows almost hit her hairline. "Now you don't say. So you care about me more than my mother? I think I'm just a pawn in your very elaborate scheme. So what other items are part of this... deal you had with your 'Aunty Aisha'? Is there a time stipulated for my release? Or is it a lifetime... purchase?"49 Mubarak gritted his teeth as he looked at the space above Maryam's shoulder. Then he slowly found her hand and held tight.7 "Please, Maryam. Wallahi I had your best interest at heart when I accepted the proposal, I had to have that to accept all the crazy conditions Aunty Aisha kept sending my way. But after the wedding, I saw how you looked up to Nabeelah, how much you loved her, each time I tried to tell you I felt that knowing it might break the image you have of her as you knew her. But she was a good girl caught up in a very messy situation. And I took advantage of that. I hate myself for that, but it was regrettably one of the many ills I can't undo."7 Maryam clenched her eyes shut. "Why the heck do you still have that one letter then? Why? Did it ever occur to you that I might find it? What it would do to me when I do? Oh, what a fool I am, of course you wouldn't care. Because it was all lies. Another free pass."15 "Ya Salam! Shaaden please stop saying that. I've always wanted to tell you. I have a really nasty habit of holding on to the past signs of my digressions. I almost told you everything when... when Muhammad was born but you were so happy that she was kind to you during her stay I couldn't snatch that from you. After we agreed that there was no looking back on any of our pasts, I thought it didn't matter even if things blew and everyone knew. I didn't care that she was exploiting me because of that.12 "If I didn't want to give in to her demands I'd have found several means to get her off my back. But I had to consider you, Shaaden. I had to let her think she has the upper hand. For you."3 Maryam remembered Omar's photograph. Also the prescription bottle... she sucked in her breath. "Are you still using?"15 A scowl appeared on his forehead. The scowl she used to find so darn attractive. The scowl, the white smile and the way he loved his mother. The three things that deceived her into thinking he was the man for her. 4 "What?" He asked still confused. "The bottle, I saw it in the box too. It had Ritalin in it, right?" Mubarak swallowed. "No. I'm not." His eyes faltered for a moment before he found her eyes again. "But after I quit, I... I used it once, before we got married. Nothing more than that, I've quit since then. I wouldn't do anything that would hurt you, intentionally. I had so much hope that when I find the courage to tell you everything, you'll stand by me, Shaaden. I still do."23 Maryam clenched her eyes shut which gave way to the tears that bloomed in the corners.2 "I also had hope in you, in us Ya Mubarak. But I... I don't know anymore..."13 She covered her sob with her arms. Mubarak nodded and took two steps backwards with his knees.2 "I want you to know how truly sorry I am that you've been caught up in the middle of all this. That I did that to Nabeela, that I did this to us. But my intention was never to hurt you, Shaaden. Please forgive me!"12 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Maryam sniffled. Her face felt hot from her cries. "I know. I am just a collateral damage, after all."59 Her words weakened all his resolve and made him want to dissolve to nothingness. Mubarak had never felt this trashy in all the days he had kept up with his bad boy avatar. He wondered if he should have shared this story with her on the first night when they shared secrets or if he should have told her when she first spoke about Nabeela or when she first read him the letters.14 Those damn letters he had no right reading when he was in the centre stage playing a crucial part of the events that followed without her ever knowing. He damned himself for not burning the letter or even trashing it like he did the rest. Now he saw how silly it was to hold on to all those inconsequential things. 20 How foolish of him!35 *** Maryam felt empty, she didn't know what upset her anymore. The revelation was so shocking she was out of people to blame for her problems. These were the people she trusted most in her life. Yet each had, in turn, manipulated her. Her mother had long resolved that she wasn't enough, she doubted if she saw the real her, she had been obsessed with trying to make her the person she wasn't. Maryam had always given her the benefit of the doubt, maybe just maybe Nabeela's death had affected her brain. That was the only logical explanation she could find for her mother's undoings. But it all began way before the plane crash.12 Now she didn't know if to wallow in this misery or if to sleep over it. She didn't even know who to be angry at? Mubarak that seduced her not-so-innocent-as-she thought sister. Or her dead sister who couldn't even defend herself? Or was it her mother who pushed all of this upon them? Really? Who should she let out all the pent up anger on? She said the isti'adha uncountable times, yet her heart still churned, she tried to rationalize every little thing Mubarak had told her, but none of that lessened the pain.10 When she said two raka'at of prayer she asked Allah to ease her pain and cool her heart, she asked Him to forgive her all her transgressions so that her tests would be easy on her. She was still folded in a fetal position on her prayer mat when it dawned on her this was not her way of doing things. Lying around and waiting for the pain to ebb was not her thing. No, she was proactive, either she found something to do about her pain or it plunged her down with it. Because in Maryam Muhammad Maigoro's world, she prayed and she vented!10 She scrambled on her weak knees and hurtled to her bedside drawer, she took out the little sparkling blue notebook and a pen. The notebook her mother had written Mubarak's portfolio because she had long known who he was. Now she knew the stuff Hajiya Aisha had made up about her taking her notes from Hajiya Kulthum was crap. And because he was involved with Nabeelah, who was well endowed, that was how her mother got the idea of number nine. Number nine her foot! Ha!29 LETTER NUMBER FORTY-FIVE12 Dear Ya Nabeelah,4 I THOUGHT I WOULD NEVER WRITE TO YOU AGAIN, but I have to do so now. How dare you?! How could you even think of doing what you did? Uncle J was everything to you, you were to get married to him. How could you even degrade yourself by proposing to Ya Mubarak first (Okay, maybe I'm also a tad guilty of that, but mine was a false one. You went all out!) and making out with him? That was not the Ya Nabeelah I know. The Ya Nabeelah I know doesn't like it when strangers' eyes lingered on her one bit. May Allah forgive you for that despite everything.14 So, what lured you to him? His raw male handsomeness? Was it the money or the charm? Or his marvellous use of words? Was it because he lives in 'Europe'? Tell me at least it was something with substance like say... the inner part of him. His compassion or generosity. Or was it purely 'Mama's doing?'13 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  You were engaged Ya Nabeela! I never expected that from you. He could hide it all he wants after all, we are the family of fools, with a mother who keeps pushing her kids to the highest bidder. Way to go girl! Would you have pulled it off had he said yes?2 You may be wondering how I know all of that about him. Well, guess what? He is now my husband, father to two of my beautiful kids. And he loves me so much you won't even stand a chance with him even with your flashy supple porcelain fairness of a beauty. So, back-off!139 But you have already done that, which is what sickens me most, I'd love to have you look at what has become after you. I really loved you so much Ya Beelah, and I refuse to hold you in this new image I found of you. Even though I'm super mad right now, I'll always pray for you because the stupid little girl in me will always love you. My youngest daughter is named after you, do you know that? I pray she has a beautiful heart like you but not a messy brain like yours.43 I'm pissed by the way.6 Mrs Bugaje.60 P.S Uncle J married Surayya, go sulk on it!137 *** "So, you've written another letter." Maryam fidgetted with her fingers and tapped her feet on the soft rug that spanned the room. She didn't want to look up, even though she knew she wouldn't find a disapproving look on Dr Francesca's non-judgemental face.8 What she did was so out of the blue and out of character, she felt ashamed of it. It wasn't just a letter, it was an angry-venting letter to her dead sister. She had to force herself the next day after she had written the letters to talk to Mubarak and take permission from him to go see her abled therapist.3 It took a lot of effort for her to share the same air as him, but she couldn't exactly leave the house without his permission so she had to do it. Plus one particular letter she wrote stole her sleep away. She knew she needed help.6 "I was irked. It wasn't like she did something good by the way." Maryam crossed one leg over the other and shifted in her seat. "Do you still let out your feelings through letter writing?" "Just this once." Dr Francesca smiled. "Have you shared your feelings about this with Mubarak?"6 Maryam chuckled. "Oh, trust me he has had his share. I have written a letter for him as well."35 If Doctor Francesca was shocked, she didn't let it show on her face, that was good for the doctor, because she had written a ton of other letters too. Even Hadiza the nose picker had hers. She wrote three for Mama.39 She barely heard what Dr Francesca said, she caught her mid-sentence. "Alright, now why don't you reflect back to a memory of you- a happy memory- that doesn't involve Nabeela, Mama or Mubarak. Let's see how that comes up and we shall talk about it." Maryam's brows almost hit the roof. "But I wrote her another letter, don't you think I'm still stuck? Like what is the aim of all this if I'm going in a circle after all these years?"2 Dr Francesca leaned forward in her chair and tapped the tip of her pen on the side of her blush tinted lips. "You have a career, a promising one, you told me you've just completed a book and you are moments away from releasing it. You have a husband and two adorable kids, and you have come out of your shell. I'd say we have gone far from where we started."11 Maryam smirked, she opened her tote handbag and emptied the letters on her coffee table. All twenty-three of them. Each to anyone who had ever made her question her sanity or purpose in life.24 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "There! That's how far we've come." She dropped the bag with a thud. "Uh... okay, then. Let's start with the first letter." Dr Francesca smiled.4 *** Mubarak stepped away from the group's loud chatter in front of the TV in Tyler's state-of-the-art home theatre and lounger room, as they watched BBL championship where Leicester Riders were getting bashed by the Newcastle Eagles. Tyler had cracked a joke and they were all howling with laughter.5 But Mubarak's head was not in the game. Maryam hadn't called him like she said she would when she was done with the doctor, he was sure she was done by now. He had no idea what he was doing here when he needed to be mending his home. It had been two days since she started seeing Dr Francesca again. Three days of misery for him and four days since their world had come crumbling.9 Kamaal had his home set, Tyler would always be Tyler until they kicked some sense into him for good measure. Garba was well settled and the other three people present were friends from Tyler's work.3 He walked up to them in the main living room. "I'll call it a night. It's good catching up with you." "The game is still on." Tyler complained. "It's getting late, Ty." Tyler laughed. "Yeah, you've been a recluse for a while, Bugaje. It was good having you join us."4 "Baaji's call tops ours obviously, he needs to go running." Kamaal chimed in. "K.R! I see you've not mended your ways."2 "I swear I'm a new man, in fact, I'm coming with you." He ditched the remote control and skipped a throw pillow as he joined Mubarak near the lift door.2 The rest of the group laughed and said something about becoming a sissy after marriage.2 "Yeah deal with it, you all don't know what you are missing!" Kamaal called out.2 Mubarak waved them off and they left Tyler's penthouse. Once outside, Kamaal tapped Mubarak's shoulder.2 "Hey, man what's up?" Mubarak reared his head back. "What?" "Come on, don't give me that look. You've been off for months then you pop up all of a sudden and pull off an all-evening, that has not happened since the early days when you were still scared to go home lest you become love-struck, is there trouble with Baaji?"15 Mubarak groaned. Was he so openly miserable? He thought he had covered it well.6 He pinched the space between his eyes, and let out a sigh. "Don't worry, it's nothing I can't handle. In fact, I'm heading home now to set things right, in sha Allah."7 "Good, because I was about to tell you, you've taught me better. And Bugaje? Whenever you need to talk, don't hesitate. You've turned my life around and I'll always be grateful for that, even if it comes down to handing out half-baked marital advice."9 The corner of Mubarak's lips lifted into a half smile. "Nitwit, you've been married what, a month, two? And already you are an expert?"11 Kamaal brushed off his shoulder. "Tell me who gingered you to accept your feelings for Baaji?"3 Mubarak closed his eyes and let out a laugh. "Yeah, I thought so too. Anyway, send my regards. If it helps I can bring Sakeenah over to cheer her up, when it is okay, of course."5 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Mubarak did a quick inventory on Maryam's moods and his response was. "I'll give you a call. Jazakallahu khairan."2 Mubarak pressed the fob towards his new Jaguar XF, the rush he felt a few weeks ago when he approached his new vehicle was non-existent as his only thoughts were on his young gazelle. He intended to wipe off all the barrier that crept between them tonight, so help him, Ya Rabbi.16 *** Maryam was reviewing her notes from Dr Francesca when Mubarak came into the room. First, he studied her from the door, half of his body leaning on the doorknob. He took in her slim body draped in a peach and silver high-neck sleeveless evening dress. A pair of silver and peach-chiffon tassels earring dangled from her ears, her dark lips, a set of contours were enhanced by a subtle sheen of lip gloss, she covered her hair with a peach headscarf which covered part of her ears. 8 A brief glimpse of her on the first day he found her in the Bugaje kitchen flashed before his eyes. That night, Maryam looked crazy, intimidating as heck and simple. Now she looked simple, still intimidating as heck and irresistible. He knew he was gone a long time ago, but now he knew he was done for when her voice suffused the silence and his heart almost leapt out of his chest.2 "I don't bite. Or stab. Nabeelah is in the nursery. The... little Nabeelah." She said. 55 Mubarak saw the flash of angst that dashed through her eyes when she reiterated their daughter's name. They'd started talking today after he asked her if she wanted him to come and pick her from the clinic. She said she would give him a call breezily over her shoulders. But he knew she wouldn't, despite that, he held some hope that it would happen some day. He hoped after tonight. 2 "How did it go at the clinic?" Darn! That was the stupidest question to ask. But it was out and he couldn't take it back. Why did he always say dumb things like this when he was flustered? And oh, how Maryam flustered him. 9 "I'm still fit to live among fellow sane humans if that will help." She was still bowed down on her notebook. It still baffled him how she could slip right into her persona even when she was crazy angry. She always remained her witty-bubbly-self. 9 He braved a smile and walked towards the armchair opposite the chaise she occupied.2 "How are you, Maryam? How are you feeling today?" He asked the question he wanted to ask after taking his seat.8 She let out a sigh, "I'm breathing, I have my kids in the room next door, I ate dinner and I have a roof over my head and a family to look for me if I ever go missing again, thankfully. So, I'm pretty good, Alhamdulillah."34 Mubarak fixed her with his gaze and he saw the facade crumbling around her.2 He sucked in some air and leaned forward in his seat. Maryam threw her hands in defeat and kept her notepad poised as she pretended to scribble something on it.6 "Really, if you don't mind I want to complete a task here." She waved the pretty blue book in his direction. His eyes lingered on the book, and something twisted in his gut, he needed to get rid of that thing. But first things first. 4 "Alright, I'll leave you to it then." He rose from the chair and started to walk out, then he turned around. And headed towards her. "You know what? I don't want to leave you alone. Because it kills me each time I see the pain in your eyes, each time I think of how awful I've been to you or that I've betrayed your trust, it kills me. Nothing would cleanse me of what I did to you, but for the love of Allah I don't know what else to do with myself. I hate to see you like this, Shaaden. I'm even ashamed to seek for your forgiveness again. But I have no choice than to keep doing that for the rest of my life until you don't look at me like... like this." His voice broke off as the emotions within him roiled to a boil.18 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  When her heavy metallic eyes took on a shade, Mubarak didn't know if to call them blue or grey he knew she was fighting back her feelings, that much he came to know about her, after years of curbing so many storms together.6 He looked at the space beside her on the chaise lounge. Maryam pushed the notebook on the coffee table and let out a sigh, looking heavenwards to swallow what he knew were tears.3 He sat by her side on the chaise for what seemed like several hours, she didn't bolt, or shove him away or shower him with profanities. She was so still that he could hear the sound of her heartbeat if he listened hard enough. 3 Then out of the blue he felt the weight of her head press against his shoulder. He moved so that she could snake her arm into his. He inhaled her scent and the tropics came to mind, she smelled of watermelon and coconut and it cooled his heart. They sat there holding each other reeling in the turbulence of the storm that rocked their boat.34 "I don't want you to leave." She whispered99 Relief so fierce shot through Mubarak, clenching his heart in a fist. He turned ever so slowly as if afraid to break the rest of her. He gathered her into a wholesome hug melding their bodies together so that he didn't know where he began and where she ended. He didn't know if he was the one consuming her or if he was the one being consumed. All he knew was that Maryam's utterance that she needed him too, gave him life.32 He had been so scared of what this would do to their marriage he had kept it hidden for years. He should have known his gazelle was one with so pure a heart, so gentle a soul and would've understood him. Even though he didn't deserve any of that. She would have been with him in every step of the way to the last pier, she would have walked with him in his regret. In his guilt. In all of his flawed existence.14 "Shaaden..." the wetness from her eyes alerted him, and every last fibre of his being was ready to wipe off her sorrow.4 "Shhh..." she whispered on the ticking vein that gave him life on his neck.7 She then sniffled into the collar of his shirt.8 He smiled and his chest rumbled with laughter and tears stung behind his eye lids. She laughed with him and that was the most beautiful sound. Ever.39 "Go ahead and wipe all your tears on my favourite shirt, Shaaden."3 "You owe me a dozen shirts. Make that two dozen, actually." She mumbled against his chest.8 "As long as you keep clinging onto me like this, I'll give you the whole bloody wardrobe."33 His laughter eased down when their eyes met, he saw right through her. All of her unspoken requests.5 When he brushed the dark contours that captivated him since he walked into the room, he made her feel every fibre of him that breathed for her. When he kissed her, it was not for himself but for her to know that she had him right where she wanted. 10 And he was always a giver when it came to Maryam Maigoro, he gave as much as he received and then he gave some more until he had no more of himself to give. 55 *** When Maryam woke up the next morning, Mubarak was not in the room but she found something on her nightstand. It was a peach sparkling notebook, on the cover of the notebook were some words written in silver cursive.10 "She who leaves a trail of glitter is never forgotten."24 She smiled and held the book to her chest. Closing her eyes dreamily as the impact of the words hit her. The blue notebook her mother had given her had similar letterings on it.5 "Leave a little sparkle wherever you go."5 But Mubarak's gift meant she had already had a great impact in his life, an impact so profound that she would be forever imprinted in his mind.7 She knew some things were truly inexplicable and even though she would never wrap her head around some things, at least, Mubarak was brave enough to always accept his mistakes whenever she caught him gobsmacked in it. But one thing she made abundantly clear was that secrets were their doom and she was done taking secrets from him, even if it would kill her, she'd rather die an informed woman.26 She understood the need for him to protect what happened between him and Nabeelah because it was something he was ashamed of, he had repented from, and Nabaala was not here to defend herself, so whatever she had done when she was alive, there was no use digging up. She may be unfair in her judgement and hence she had decided to believe whatever Mubarak told her of what transpired.8 Even though some hurts would forever linger. She had forgiven him for his silence and this one indiscretion.18 Doing that had oddly liberated her. That was when she knew she had done the right thing. She closed her eyes and traced the glitters on the letterings of her new book thinking of all the ways they were going to make this right when she bolted out of bed.9 "Ya Rabbi, the kids! What time is it?" She asked no one in particular.32 This chapter has some spoilers from BBW.41 *** Maryam took a quick shower and slipped into a teal embroidered kurta with beige palazzo pants. She came downstairs to find Nabeela securely buckled in her high table and Muhammad struggling to fit a big spoon of cereal into his mouth. Mubarak sat between them on the breakfast table. He was dressed in a salmon pink dress shirt, the sleeves folded over his toned muscles, a bold check dark brown tie was knotted at his throat. She spotted the blue suit jacket that matched his trousers draped on one of the breakfast stools.26 Her heart slammed in her chest, not every man could pull off the colour pink and get away with it, yet each time Mubarak used any of the unnatural shades he exuded elegance and style in a room filled with people clad in expensive suits. Not that she had seen a lot, but she knew that much about her husband. No one wore a suit that fitted like him. Well, no one she had met.44 When Nabeelah broke into giggles at the sight of her, Maryam defrosted from her sly perusal of her husband.21 She suddenly felt guilty, she hadn't seen the kids at all since she checked them at Fajr. Yet here they were all washed up and primped having their breakfast.56 "You'll be late for work." She said as she stopped next to Mubarak near Nabeelah's table.3 Mubarak lowered his mug of coffee, "Good morning to you too, sleepy head." His eyes twinkled with mischief.15 Maryam shook her head and went to sit next to Nabeelah's chair. Her lips held a hint of a smile when she responded. "Good morning to you too."2 "Assalamu alaikum, Maama." Muhammad chimed in.29 Maryam's eyes widened over Nabeela's head and Mubarak shrugged with a brief rise of his brows, he covered his smile with his mug. Maryam smiled down at Muhammad. "Wa alaikumussalam Manga am, how are you?"21 He swirled his rice krispies around the bowl. "I'm fine." "What do you have there?" She asked regarding his bowl. "This is my breakfast. Paapi says you'll give me eggs when you wake up."5 Maryam threw Mubarak a look but he shrugged again. "What, Ya Mubarak he had his cereal!"2 "He wants eggs too, right Muhammad?" Muhammad nodded enthusiastically. And Maryam pursed her lips. "If this boy turns obese you are to be blamed."20 "He is just a kid, fatten him up. He is eating healthy, right Muhammad?"14 Muhammad gave his father a high five and covered a chuckle that escaped his lips. Then he straightened his back once he saw his mother's disapproving glare.18 Mubarak got up from his seat adjusting his sleeves, he shrugged into his suit jacket. His eyes twinkled when his gaze met hers. Her heart leapt with a mixture of guilt and thrill. Thrill that a look from Mubarak was enough to leave her dazzled and guilt for snatching that from him during the past few days.14 Mubarak always looked pleasant whenever they were in good terms and miserable if she so much as gave him the grumpy look. Her heart soared at the realization. She was indeed his happiness.19 "I'll give you a call once I speak with Baba about Bournemouth, in sha Allah." They'd spoken about their trip to Nigeria, but he mentioned some work he heard Alhaji Umar speaking about and he might have to travel to Bournemouth for it. If he was available by the end of the week they would arrange for the trip. As much as she wanted to get lost in Mubarak and their renewed love, she was also excited about going home and a bit apprehensive too. But that was for her to know and for him to never find out.24 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  So she rose from her seat and went to him. Instead of responding to his statement, she slid into his arms and held him tight. After a few moments of giving him her warmth, she released her hold on him.24 "Have a productive day ahead M.K. I'll be waiting for your call." She swore her voice sounded alien to her own ears. Now she didn't blame Nafeesah with her 'factory reset' voice, it came naturally when one was engulfed in certain unexplicable feelings. She wondered if their last fall out had bonded them even more than they were before. It was as if everything she felt was amplified. And she could tell it was the same with Mubarak, if the way he looked at her was any indication.64 Now he had a thoughtful look on his face as if he didn't believe her transformation. She was astonished by her morphed state too.4 "Also... Thank you for the gift. I love it." She whispered. Mubarak swallowed and nodded, words failing him. She loved taking the words out of him. He always liked a come back but on the days he didn't have any, she had always had a blast. But he had to rob her of her glee when his face split into a grin and he winked at her. "Now I'm sure my day will be pretty productive, in sha Allah."16 "Why?" "If any of those promises I see in your eyes are anything to go by, I know it's going to be a real interesting day."8 Maryam choked on her saliva, Nabeela's spoon dropped to the floor and she cleared her voice, stepping back from Mubarak to make herself busy with the spoon's retrieval. Thank God for spoons!31 Mubarak kissed the kids' foreheads and left for the day. Everything played like a motion picture in Maryam's head.2 The discovery, the explosion, losing it, breaking down, blocking him out and then like magic, it took just a single moment for her to let everything go and make up with him. Sometimes she didn't understand how it worked. But she prayed she never had to go through the hurt she went through last week.30 Now she sat and waited for Mubarak's call, she really couldn't wait to go home. *** ABUJA, NIGERIA. When Mubarak mentioned sharing some good news a few days ago while they were still in London, Maryam hadn't given it a thought when her world came crashing down. So, Mubarak decided to keep it to himself until he was back in her good graces before he told her. "I don't like the way you are looking at me, Papi."11 Mubarak chuckled, "What is wrong with the way I'm looking at you, dear Umm Muhammad? Next thing I know, you'd have a problem with the direction my carbon dioxide is coming out from."46 Maryam laughed hard rolling onto her back. "I'm no control freak, mister." Mubarak rolled his eyes. "Right, says the lady who sends her husband packing."9 "Argh! Are you going to let me outlive that?! Ya Rabbi!"10 "No! Now that I think of it, I had no idea you hate me this much, you didn't even care if I would go to the jungle and die. You didn't bat an eye!"13 "It is better to die in the jungle than to be killed by your wife's hands, don't you think?"21 "Okay, enough about the killing story and listen to this. First of all, what's my reward?" "What reward?" Maryam wiggled her toes in the air as she asked. 2 "I told you I come bearing good news, sure you aren't going to leave me with no token." She narrowed her eyes at him. "Whatever reasonable thing you want, I can give, If it's within my reach."2 "Okay, fair enough. But I'm not naming it now, I'll tell you what I want when I'm ready."10 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Maryam chuckled. "Right now, you are the last man I trust on earth."19 "Come on Shaaden, give me some credit here." "What, you can't blame me, you are shrewd like that and you can be very convincing. Never trust an attractive man with a knack for words. So I can't help but think you are going to harvest an organ from me whenever you are ready to collect."22 Mubarak threw his head back and laughed. "Okay, no excavations or harvesting, I promise. Are you ready?"2 "I'm going to scream if you don't say it."2 "Sa'ima has said yes to Bilaal."73 Maryam's eyes bulged out and for a moment, she forgot how to speak.7 When her speech returned, she shrieked. "AH! What?! Ya Salam! Yaaaay. AH! Tell me you are not joking. Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah! Alhamdulillah!" She took Mubarak into a choking hold then released him to read the expression on his face, but he was still grinning from ear to ear.18 "When did that happen?" "You know the wedding Fatiha took place about a month ago, but your friend had insisted she did it for Naja'ah and wasn't going back for him, so he had been trying to win her back. Apparently, he followed her to Potiskum today. He was almost certain she was going to say yes."24 Maryam looked at Mubarak discreetely. "Hence your timing for our return in a month?" "Nope, I had no idea this would happen now. Let's just say, we are going to witness their reunion."4 "You've got no idea how incredible this news is. I'll call Sa'ima right away..."17 Mubarak quickly took her phone out of reach. "Uhn Uhn not now, didn't you hear the part where I said he was still planning to win her back and the part where he was 'almost certain'? "11 "Oh! I'm going ahead of myself. I'm just so excited for them."2 "It's quite exhilarating I must say. So..." Maryam raised her brows in question. "So?" "About my reward..." he began as he moved on his side and brushed a thumb to smooth out her brow.1 "Not now, I must see it happen with my own eyes."5 Mubarak laughed. "Little chicken." The room echoed her laughter too. "Yes, I'm a good little chicken. I can live with that, now let me straighten my thoughts, because I have an inkling this week is going to be a busy week."6 "Your week starts now, darling."3 *** Now that the good news was out, their visit was in time for the reunion. And all of the Bugaje's had flown into Abuja to celebrate with Sa'ima and Bilaal. Maryam couldn't wait to corner Sa'ima with that.5 Oh, she was going to make her eat her words.13 According to Mubarak, Sa'imah had agreed to take Bilaal back after so many things were put to play. But Maryam knew, she was just saying that not to lose face, everyone knew she and Bilaal were soulmates. Hajiya Kulthum had organized a luncheon for them to celebrate the ceremony in their Abuja residence. It would be an intimate affair, no friends invited, just the immediate family.15 Lunch in the Bugaje residence was a grand affair. Everyone showed up, their family may be small and always together. But whenever there was a special occasion they dined in style.2 Maryam couldn't believe it was all happening. It had taken forever to come to this point, but seeing Bilaal and Sa'ima reuniting was worth everything.3 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  What bothered Maryam though was the strained look that kept passing between the two newlyweds. She didn't want to pry, she knew whatever it was they had seen the worse of it so she would sit back and watch.13 Najma and Wafiyya came back giggling from the kitchen- to the backyard where a Bohemian style table was set up for the Bugaje sons and their wives- they wouldn't tell Maryam what was so amusing, she placed it on herself to find out. Sa'imah needed to snap out of it and know that she was now Bilaal's wife and anything she did wrong would be recorded against her.5 Najma said "Uh... we can't go into the kitchen to get the drink but you can try Ya Mubarak."16 Mubarak beat Maryam to it, he was already striding towards the kitchen before she got up. But when Maryam saw mischief, she knew it right away. Who was the master of that if not her? She followed right behind him. When Mubarak stopped abruptly, she bumped into his side.17 "What?" She asked.1 He turned to her with a finger pressed to his lips. "Shhh."10 Maryam craned her neck to see what had made her husband amused but uptight.10 She gasped and went back to her hiding spot behind his burly frame. Her eyes went wide with shock, then laughter bubbled in her chest when she took a peep from above his arm.10 But instead of them to turn away and leave the new couple, Mubarak cleared his voice as he moved into the kitchen. No! Don't go in there, you can't cut into their moment! she wanted to say, but it was too late. She watched Bilaal and Mubarak's exchange trying her best to keep down her laughter.20 "Uh uhm." Mubarak's voice boomed in the kitchen. Breaking apart what Maryam thought was a sizzling moment between Bilaal and Sa'imah, tearing them apart abruptly. Bilaal tucked Sa'ima behind him, they looked so adorable Maryam could steal them. She cringed on their behalf though. She would die if someone caught her kissing Mubarak that way. Especially if that someone was Mubarak's older brother.58 "Ah, Ya Mubarak you're here," Bilaal said, desperately trying to cover the gruffness in his voice.31 Oh, Lord! Maryam wanted to die on their behalf.23 Mubarak strode into the kitchen and stopped next to the refrigerator which was where they'd taken support or cover or whatever it was the bedroom should serve as.4 "Yes, I am. And you're hogging up our supply of liquid in the fridge if you may excuse me, now."25 Bilaal moved away revealing a very dazed Sa'imah with clenched teeth and closed eyes. She miraculously lifted her legs and moved aside. Mubarak took the big jug from the cold compartment and made his way to the door. When there, Maryam finally began to breathe until he said, "You'll want to wipe away that red stain from your ah... mouth before you make an appearance."50 Maryam was sure she had fainted for a minute and came back.17 "What. Was. That?!"2 She was so embarrassed on Sa'ima's behalf. When Mubarak returned to her, he took her by the elbow his other hand holding the big jug of orange and carrot juice. Her eyes refused to return to their normal sizes, she stepped next to Mubarak. "Wow! That was... it's been a while, I don't blame them." She giggled.5 Mubarak's lips twitched with the beginning of a smile, "Shut up, Shaaden."2 She covered another snigger with her palm. "What shut up, why did you have to go in there you only made it more awkward."6 "Shaaden! Trust me, it was better I went in rather than Hajiya, don't you think? I just saved them from an embarrassing moment if you ask me."20 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "Yeah, you've got a point." There was a brief pause as they walked out to the patio. Then Maryam squinted her eyes. "Do you think they are still in there? Do you think they will get back to it?"59 Mubarak almost choked on the laughter he suppressed. "Shaaden, do you want some?"65 Maryam tugged her hand out of his hold. "M.K!"4 He chuckled, "What? Just asking."10 A few moments later, everyone gathered around the Bohemian style setting, to eat. Hajiya Kulthum and Alhaji Umar had their table set with the little kids. Whenever Maryam's eyes met Sa'ima's a giggle escaped her lips. God! That must be... Well, too embarrassing was a mild word to use.4 Salis bristled out from the back door to join them at the table but he slowed down when he saw them sitting quietly.2 "Ah, what did I miss?"2 Nobody spoke for a moment until Maryam darted her gaze around the table, with a spoon of pepper soup halfway to her mouth. "Uhh, nothing happened here actually, just back in the kitchen..."59 Mubarak nudged her thigh to shut her up. "Ouch, it's the truth now, we all saw it. And it's a good thing that Umm Naja'ah and Ya Bilaal are patching things up. We missed seeing their kind of love." She finished off winking at Sa'ima who froze next to her.21 Maryam couldn't be more contented, especially seeing the soft look that now passed between Bilaal and Sa'ima. She thanked God that some things may happen that saddened people not knowing that they led to even greater things.2 Like how Bilaal could tolerate being in the same room with Alhaji Umar Bugaje. That was the greatest takeaway. Who would have thought? By the time they had cleared the kitchen, it was almost time for asr salah, the men went to the masjid and the women all went to pray in the rooms. Sa'ima dragged Maryam aside. "I'm leaving." She whispered. "What? But we only..." Maryam began. "I know, I'll just go get some things from our apartment, can you just say I'm arranging the house or something?"20 A grin split on Maryam's face, she knew it! These two would've died had they not gotten back together.2 She nudged Sa'imah's shoulder. "It's allowed, nobody will say a thing, you're newly wedded, go on enjoy yourselves, after the kitchen incident, I think you'll both be insane if you don't arrange the apartment." Maryam wiggled her dark brows at Sa'ima.68 "Ya Allah!" Sa'ima shuddered. "Maryam may Allah guide you to the right path. Wallahi not a word of this, and I'm arranging my apartment!"19 Maryam let out an evil laugh, "We can help."10 "Shoo!" Sa'imah used the back door to slip out from the kitchen and went around to where their twin apartment was at the side of the main building.2 *** After all the excitement of having the family together within the week, the rush had ebbed and they all retreated into their respective flats. Maryam had just put Nabeelah to sleep when Mubarak came out to the living room dressed in a black T-shirt and white slacks. "Hajiya said they'll leave in four days. Do you think that is enough to round up everything? Considering the way everything happened impromptu." Mubarak circled her waist in his hold and held her for a few moments before he released her. "Why not? If she says we'll be ready then there won't be any need to drag behind. Besides we've left a lot of work behind." "Yeah about that... so when do we leave for Katsina? I've already started packing this evening." STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Mubarak took her hand in his and they sat on the living room couch. Maryam always felt like she was in an alien space when they came to their Abuja residence, it was the place they stayed the least from the several houses her husband's family owned. It still felt new to her. She sank into the plushness of what seemed like the combination of silk, wool and cotton couch when Mubarak's response came. "No, we aren't going to Katsina."15 Her smile trembled when she realized he was serious. "I don't understand M.K, Please stop joking." She said, a smile tugging her lips. "Shaaden, I said we aren't going..."15 Maryam reared her head back, she didn't know if it was the brazeness in his tone when he said she wouldn't visit her parents or the fierceness in which he barked the order that startled her, but whichever it was, Mubarak must be out of his mind to put her through that.10 "I haven't been to Katsina in almost five years, how exactly do you think I'll take this? I have my parents, living and longing for their daughter, why would you stop me from going? What's the essence of coming back then if I won't get what I want? You should've just imprisoned me that would've been much better." She folded her arms across her chest and sunk back into the couch.42 The vein in his temple ticked, he looked like he was going to explode with anger, but he didn't and he had no response for her. He walked away, and she let out a harsh laugh. "Really? You are just going to ignore this mad lady over here! Okay, suit yourself. I don't even want to go. So this is nothing to me. I'm not even mad right now."22 She plopped back against the sofa with defeat. *** "You'd think one might get used to this after years, but no. It is the same every time, can you believe he won't let me go? He hadn't for all the days we were here, he said I will come back soon, what soon? Am I guaranteed my next breath? They are my parents, just because he stays with his that won't make it okay if I don't see mine."14 It had been two days and she was still trying to wrap her head around Mubarak's refusal.7 Maryam had decided to leave the apartment after Mubarak had gone out, the kids were with Hajiya Kulthum and Najma in the main block of the Bugaje residence. So, Sa'imah was her only option and she had to bear with her as she bared her soul. "Sabr, Maryam, it happens that way, a lot of the time. They like to show us that they are in command, and we have no option than to do as they dimmed fit. And sometimes it is for our good."8 "But most of the time it's their stupid egoistic heritage speaking. Argh! You see why I told you I don't want to be away from home, and look this is me marrying from the family so that I wouldn't have to face this, but just..."5 Sa'ima smiled. "Maryam, have you tried making your point in some other ways?" "Try the bag of a hundred tricks, all there on the table since the day he said it but nothing had come out of it, here we are packing to leave in two days!" "Then show him you don't care, let it go, just ignore the issue."8 "You think he will notice I'm ignoring it?"1 "Trust me he will. It might not happen this time, but next time he will know when not to get onto the ignore list, they hate it on the ignore list."14 "No wonder, you have all of Ya Bilaal's buttons and leashes, so ignore aye? I like that."6 "Yeah, but I didn't say ignore the man himself dear Umm Muhammad, ignore 'the going home issue', and pamper him to bits as if you don't give a care in the world if Katsina state existed or not. It will eat him up. And no, there is no magic trick, your problem is unique to your home just like mine is uniquely mine. We just keep exploring and find what works best for us."18 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Maryam gave her a full watt smile, "May Allah keep B for you."4 Sa'imah turned pink from Maryam's statement. "Thank you, Ameen, I think I'm going to need that prayer soon," she muttered but it didn't escape Maryam's ears. "Hmm," Maryam stopped cleaning the kitchen counter and turned to look at Sa'ima, "Oh no, you are not thinking of leaving again, are you? You just got back together!"2 Sa'ima's eyes widened, "Lea.. no! Maryam, I'm not leaving. Gosh! I wonder what sort of thoughts go through your head sometimes, just that I've pulled something that I'm pretty sure is about to shake us up. But we are strong, we will bounce back in sha Allah, which was why I said I'm going to need that prayer you said about Allah keeping him for me. Because I need him."22 Maryam's hand went to clutch her chest, "Aww, Just like I'm sure he needs you too. Khair in sha Allah. So, you should also ignore that thing you've stirred up, let it pan out on its own, if you don't worry about it, it will go away, right?" Sa'ima gave her a cheeky laugh and Maryam doubted if it would work for her. "Right, but not always, some things need to be addressed."2 "Yes, and now we are back to marriage being complicated again. You should do this and that but not all the time, I need a manual for this thing. It keeps making me dizzy." Maryam rolled her eyes.12 "You don't need one when you have your heart with you, Ya Mubarak is doing a great job you know, just take your eyes away from the faults you will begin to see more of the goodness. I think that's what they do when it comes to us, to remain sane too. Believe me, we are a handful sometimes."7 "Yeah, I can agree to that. You know I once sent him away from the house." Maryam said and giggled at the memory. She couln't believe it was just a few weeks ago. "No, you didn't!"3 "Of course, I did. I needed to put a point across and I think it worked."2 "I don't think it will work for me though, Bilaal would flee to one of his sanctuaries and I'll never see him again." She pouted.12 "Yes, don't try that at home, we've seen how hot-headed that one could get."7 They both laughed at that.1 "Okay, sorry I have to go now, B and Naja'ah are about to come in anytime soon," Sa'ima said. "Thank you for the extra hand. Uhm hey, has Wafiyya spoken to you earlier?"5 "About?" "Ah! She hasn't then. Goodnight."6 *** Maryam didn't see Sa'ima's plan working with her, she ignored the K-talk even though it itched her, but Mubarak didn't seem to notice. He was busy relishing the good wife avatar she put up to convince him that it was all jolly. But it wasn't all jolly and she would soon do some damages if care was not taken.31 So she defied Sa'ima's second part of the advice and ignored the man himself. She had only spoken to him when it was necessary, other than that she was either busy with the kids or her face buried between the covers of her books.11 She had ignored him on their flight back too and the day after their arrival.6 A week after The Bugaje's had returned to London, Maryam met him in the living room. "I'm going to Baba's house today," she said. His eyes stopped on her unflinching. Maybe telling him she was going rather than seeking his permission with respect was what baffled him. Whatever had him stupefied like that was making her have a blast, so she didn't rectify her mistake.6 Mubarak turned away and pretended as if he hadn't heard her request. 4 Damn, ignore.4 "Ya Mubarak please, will you let me go see my aunt? I don't want people to think I've fallen off the face of the earth, and I don't want you to spend the rest of your life in prison for my murder." She gritted out. 22 A scowl dipped his forehead, his brows shot up as he listened to her ramble on. When she stopped to take a breath, he smirked. He did his one-sided half smile-slash-smug smile, she wanted to wipe that look off his face, but she would be patient because she knew the night won't fall without him granting her request. If he held the reign over her, someone else held the rein over him too. Ha!12 "I'll take you after zuhr," he said.4 No! She wanted to go alone, if he went with her there was every chance he wouldn't leave her side long enough for her to do what she gotta do. But if she went against him, he might guess she was up to something. So she did what she would normally do when he gladdened her heart.4 She threw her arms around his neck and hugged him. "Thank you so much. I'm sorry about the murder thing I said earlier. I didn't mean any of it." It was a lie, she meant half of it. She was that mad. But she smiled, placed a big kiss on his lips and left.42 Let him stew on that! 21 *** *** 14 This is a sweet chapter. 47 Trust me.10 Hihihihi. 22 *** Maryam had gone mute the whole time they were in the Bugaje residence. She dared not speak too much lest she spilled her guts. She couldn't exactly do that with Mubarak's shadow hovering over her. She had even tried talking when they were about to eat. But Mubarak sat and ate with them.36 She let out a whoosh of air when the adhaan was called. Mubarak, Baba and Salis eventually had to leave for the masjid, that was when Maryam had her window.15 "Hajiya, I wanted to talk to you about something." She said once they said their maghrib salah.8 Hajiya Kulthum kept her adhkaar book aside and turned to face Maryam. Now that she had her attention, she suddenly didn't know where to begin. She had rarely come running home with her problems, either they were intercepted or she tried to deal with them herself. Now that she was about to initiate it, it felt like she was putting Mubarak under the bus. And what was she thinking? Hajiya Kulthum may get mad at Mubarak and it may affect him in some way, she didn't want that for him all she wanted was for him to let her go see her parents.11 "Daaso?" Maryam started when her aunt used the name only her father and grandmother called her with, she realized Hajiya Kulthum had been waiting for her to voice out why she wanted to talk.6 "Uh... it's okay. I think I..."1 "Maryam." Hajiya Kulthum said, a little bit more firmly. "What is wrong? Remember, I told you to always come to me, if you have any problem, right? Why are you holding back?"6 "Uh... Hajiya..." "What has he done?"37 Maryam's eyes stung, damn these tears, they'd decided to feature in the show now. All these days she had battled on her own they didn't come until now that she was talking to Hajiya Kulthum. Hajiya would think it was something awful. But it was awful, what man refused his wife to visit her parents?22 Hajiya Kulthum was baffled when Maryam's eyes moistened with tears. This was the first time Maryam complained to her willingly about Mubarak, whatever it was, it must be pretty serious.13 "Hajiya, he isn't letting me go home. Both times we went to Nigeria he made sure we only stopped in Abuja, whenever I spoke to him, he always gave an excuse that he had work to attend to."16 Hajiya Kulthum clapped her hands in astonishment, "Mubarak! Why would he do that? But he said..." Hajiya Kulthum paused, "Where have you been before you met us in Abuja?"12 Maryam looked at her in confusion.8 "You left three days earlier than us from here, you mean he didn't take you home back then?"17 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Maryam's mouth went slack, they weren't in Nigeria...6 "We went to Bournemouth first before leaving for Abuja."6 Maryam's head remained downcast, all the tears she'd been holding back came out with full force. Did Mubarak lie to Hajiya Kulthum about taking her to Katsina? Why would he? Wait... The work at Bournemouth, it must not be that important if Baba Bugaje had no idea he would be there for three days, with his family!21 "Ah'aha! Maryam please be patient. Stop crying, I'll talk to him right away, he can't do this to you. It is totally unacceptable. Where has he ever seen such a thing? If a man marries a woman, he doesn't cut her off from her relatives, rather he strengthens the bond between them."25 Cut off... That must be it. Mubarak must be doing this because he knew her going home may result in something big. Especially after she had found out that Mama had manipulated her into getting married to him. What was he afraid of? That she would make them annul the marriage or that her mother would do something she hadn't already done?39 What was worse than seeing her daughter having an affair and covering it up by breaking her engagement to set her up with the man that was crass enough to corrupt her in the first place? Was that not enough that she had to push her to Mubarak and force him to accept her proposal if he didn't want her to expose his affair with her dead daughter?14 Ya Rabbi! She didn't know how low her mother was willing to go in her schemes but this was the height of it!21 She wasn't going to Katsina for her, she wanted to see Surayya and her son, she wanted to see Daada, Nafeesah, Zuby and Tim-Tim. She had missed the crazy Hajiya Babba too, even though she was part of the reason her mother was the woman she turned out to be. But she didn't hold a grudge against her because Mama was an adult that could make her own choices and she chose evil.9 Mubarak had no right to stop her from visiting them all. Even if it was to protect her!13 Vaguely she heard Hajiya Kulthum's voice talking on the phone, she was no doubt calling Mubarak.4 Thereafter, she tapped her phone for a while, drafting a message before she looked up at Maryam. "It's okay, I'll handle this in sha Allah."2 A few minutes later, Mubarak said the salaam at the bedroom door and Maryam's heart lurched in her chest. Now he would know she had thrown him under the bus, after all.31 Once he was seated on the soft rug that covered his mother's bedroom floor, he greeted his mother.4 Hajiya Kulthum's gaze stopped on him, but didn't respond to his greetings.8 "I've confirmed a flight for next week. You should take a break from work and take Maryam home."49 Okaay... that was not smooth. At all. And Mubarak was going to eat her alive, judging from the tightness of his jaw when she chanced a glance at his direction.10 "Hajiya, I have more work to round up."22 Maryam saw a flash of irritation in Hajiya Kulthum's eyes right before she read out a text message that pinged in her phone. She then looked up at Mubarak.4 "Aha, this was Gordon, he has cleared your schedule for two weeks from that date, so you will be free to go. If anything comes up, you can return and leave Maryam in Katsina."57 When he didn't respond, Hajiya Kulthum kept her phone aside. "Is there any problem, Abu Muhammad?" God! Maryam loved Hajiya Kulthum, she was a force to be reckoned with.68 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  Mubarak swallowed hard and shook his head gently. The directness of Hajiya Kulthum's voice hadn't left any room for him to argue.13 Maryam's head was ducked low all through the little exchange, only sneaking a few glimpses to see how he was reacting.30 Mubarak left the room thereafter. He didn't show up for dinner and when it was time to leave they drove in silence. Only the kids' chatter boomed in the car. Before they reached home, Muhammad was fast asleep.4 It was when he had his cuppa and tucked the kids in that Maryam found him in his study.4 She wrung her hands in each other trying to think of something to say to ease the tension around them. She may be desperate to go home, but she wasn't going to do that at the expense of his happiness. She knew there was nothing he cherished like his privacy and he hated it when a third party got involved in their scuffle. And there she was knocking on Hajiya Kulthum's doors lamenting about his attitude. But what was she supposed to do? He pushed her to do that. Plus he had wrapped her eyes around some facts concerning their trip. She would try not to think of that when she did what she was here to do.17 "M.K, I'm sorry I had to speak to Hajiya about the trip..."11 Mubarak didn't even flinch away from his laptop, he had a stack of drafts to his right as he typed something on the keyboard and printed more documents on the printer next to him.9 "Please say something." She went down on her knees next to him, "I shouldn't have told her, but you weren't ready to listen to me. I really want to go home."31 "It's okay. You did what you have to do." He said his voice firm and cold.20 "I can wait until you are ready." She quickly chimed in.30 He paused for a moment and turned to face her. "No, you won't. You shouldn't, it's good to have people to turn to. Go get ready for your trip."38 Something twisted in her chest and another landed in the pit of her stomach. Her skin heated from the onslaught of his words.6 "I don't even want to go anymore." She said, closing her eyes briefly.51 Mubarak laughed, but it was filled with steel. "No, you want to and you will. I just thought..." he winced, stopping midsentence.10 Maryam moved closer and planted her hands on his knees.2 "Please don't be mad at me, I have only always wanted to do the right thing, I didn't know doing this would make you angry, but I have a life- not separate from yours, but something that would make me have my purpose, I have other obligations... Should I just abandon them?"14 Mubarak inhaled sharply and released it. He turned his body towards her and covered her hands with his, enveloping them completely. He lowered his voice.8 "I don't want you to get hurt. And we both know that going there is akin to that happening. Things will happen and you would bring up Nabeeelah and it won't end well. I want you to uphold what little regard you still have for your mother. I know you might think she doesn't deserve it. But trust me everyone does, even if it seems otherwise. She is your mother, as much as I hate to admit this, I don't want you hurting each other."32 Maryam cupped the side of his face with her palm. "But you are already hurting me. And you think keeping us apart will work? For how long? We have to meet someday, eventually. We talk on the phone. Had it ever occurred to you that we may hurt each other over the phone? You've witnessed how often we do that. My point is, in sha Allah nothing of the sorts will happen, I'll mind my business and try to be respectful to her and I won't let her get to me."11 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  He mimicked her gesture and held her face in his hands.2 "That's it Shaaden, how long would you keep fielding her hate away? What sort of life is that? I can bring whoever wants to see you here, you don't need to see her."28 Maryam lifted her weight off her haunches to her knees and hugged him, seeping in his love, his warmth and his essence.6 "I'll be alright in sha Allah. Nothing will go wrong. But you need to let me breathe, you need to let me rise from my ashes. I need to do this on my own, you trust me to do that, right?"7 "Wallahi I trust you more than you'll ever know. I know you are capable of weathering any kind of storm. I just wanted you to wait this storm out. May Allah bless you more, Shaaden. You have no idea how truly blessed you are."32 She leaned back and held his gaze. "Oh, I know alright. I have you after all, what more would I want?"9 He smiled down at her, lifted her to his legs, and pulled her cheeks so subtly it felt like a brush of his thumbs, like he was testing the suppleness of her dark skin.23 "May Allah preserve you and build you a house in Jannah, Umm Muhammad."37 "Ameen." She whispered and went quiet for a moment. Only the sound of their heartbeats and the machines whirred in the room.7 "You lied to me about Bournemouth." It wasn't a question and her eyes were on him waiting to hear him defend this too. But he didn't, his jaw clenched and he reared his head back to have an unobstructed view of her face.11 "Yes, I know. I had to and I'm not sorry I did." The fire that flashed in his dark eyes was unmistakable.6 "Tell me then, how do you expect me to trust you in such situations?"7 His eyes gleamed, softening instantly and his mouth lifted into a half-smile. Mubarak was the only person she knew who could be fire and ice in an instant. Now a different heat lit his gaze.8 "Because right now, Shaaden, you've trusted me not to let you fall. You're completely suspended on me. At. My. Mercy." He whispered the last three words and nuzzled her neck. Maryam tried not to laugh.4 "No future white lies." She settled.6 "I don't promise... you... that." He punctuated each word with a kiss.4 That was when Maryam surrendered. She kissed his jaw and lingered. He took it a notch further and engulfed her.30 *** JULY 2015 Maryam had never been enthused about travelling. Usually, when everyone was excited about road trips she was the one at the back who wished the car would fill up so she would stay behind. She could remember a few times though where she did the whole travelling for fun thing and they were all with Mubarak.13 And she was quite sure only a part of her trip to Katsina was going to be fun, the part where she met her sisters, Daada, her relatives and her friends. But the nerves that wound her up wouldn't let her get the thrill out of the journey.4 When they pulled into Alhaji Muhammad's compound. Maryam was certain now her father was back on his feet. It seemed as if each time she came home, she found great changes in her father's house. This time was no different. After five years, she could get lost if she came looking for their house because of the major facelift it was spotting.14 She hoped to God, it wasn't Mubarak's doing this time around because she wouldn't hesitate to do some damages. As it was, she was holding on by a thread, not to dare to think of things that had passed.11 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  When they found Alhaji Muhammad sitting outside his living room on his raised terazzor verandah, with a DailyTrust newspaper in his hands, Maryam felt her heart surge with happiness.5 His face lit up at the sight of his daughter and her family.6 Muhammad immediately recognized him and ran straight to him.6 "Maa sha Allah, Engineer man!" Baba lifted him off his feet. "Baban Maama!" Muhammad called back. They both chuckled.23 Alhaji Muhammad got up and proceeded into his living room and they followed him in. After all the pleasantries Maryam turned to her father. "Baba the house is so quiet. Where are the girls?"1 "Zubaida and Fatima have both gone with your mother to see your Aunt, Rakiya. She hasn't been feeling good." Aunty Rakiya was her mother's brother, Uncle Abdullah's wife, it must be pretty serious then since they all went together.4 "Subhanallah, may Allah grant her shifa'." "Mubarak, how is work?" "Alhamdulillah, Baba. We've been pushing our trip, but it's the peak of the season and I wouldn't get a break soon, so we decided to just come now even if it were for a few days."42 Maryam wanted to roll her eyes. We?22 "Baba, I'm going in to change Nabeela's diaper." She said and left the room for them to talk freely.2 She couldn't believe the relief that shot through her when she learned that Hajiya Aisha wasn't home, at least she didn't have to face her now.24 In part, she wanted them to leave early to avoid meeting Mama, but it was something that was inevitable and would happen sooner or later.4 She didn't trust herself not to say things to her mother. But she prayed to Allah to grant her the willpower to hold back. Because what she had in her mind for her mother would burn more than all the expletives in the whole wide world. That put her mind at ease. She used Zubaida's room and discarded any evidence of them being in the house.6 When she returned, she found Muhammad eating a banana, and a bunch was there on a plate. There was a carton of Mango juice and some biscuits on the tray. for a moment she wondered who brought all that. Then she turned to her father.2 "Baba! You shouldn't have bothered." "Ah'ah, this is for my amarya and my Engineer friend, he is building me an aircraft, you see. I didn't ask you to eat anything from this. Besides, Malam Kawu always served his guests by himself."14 Mubarak smiled up at her and she shook her head. How could she forget, it ran in the blood. The Maigoro blood always tended and cared for their families like no other. Some days she would go into her Uncle's house, Uncle Dahiru and she would find him removing the cobwebs in his house he would smile at her, answer her greetings and tell her to go inside and meet his wives then he would continue his cleaning.5 She would love to have spent a lot of time with Malam Kawu, her grandfather. But he passed away before she was wise enough to have lots of memories of him. The man who passed on this beautiful tradition to his children. No wonder Hajiya Kulthum raised her boys this way, it was the only way she knew how.10 She extended her hand to the bunch of bananas and said. "Okay, I have to eat now. Nima a samu ladana."4 They all laughed. After spending an hour gisting with her father. She announced that they were leaving.4 "We shall come back tomorrow," she said.4 "You can wait for her to come home. It's almost maghrib, I know they won't be long."2 STORY CONTINUES BELOW  "No problem Baba, we'll go see Hajiya Daada before she comes after us with her stick."5 "Gidanku," Baba said. "We shall see your old age, stop making fun of my mother."13 "I am the same as her, don't you see I even have her name?"2 Alhaji Muhammad chuckled. "Alright. You do that." Once out of the compound, Maryam released a heavy breath. Muhammad kept asking Mubarak random questions as they walked to their grandmother's house across the street.8 *** When they walked into the courtyard, they found Hajiya Daada sitting on her plush carpet which had been spread over a rubber mat. Her radio sat gingerly beside her, tuned to her favourite radio station.13 Hajiya Daada was immaculately dressed in her zani da riga, she had on her white veil draped over her shoulders.6 Maryam had rarely seen Hajiya Daada sit in her courtyard without a veil on. If one wanted to see the blouse she wore they had to catch her off guard after she had performed ablution in her en suite bathroom.5 Now she seemed frozen in her spot. When Mubarak repeated the salam, Maryam didn't give her the chance to go out of her shock, she sped right into the courtyard and fell into her arms, crushing her old legs.10 Hajiya Daada yelped. "Ke! Daaso!"4 She pinched the space between her eyes and called out to the lady that stayed with her. Her caretaker, Khadija. "Khadija, come and see, is it Daaso I'm seeing in this house?"5 Mubarak stepped onto the carpet then, keeping Nabeelah on one leg he extended his other hand to his grandmother who still looked frazzled.4 She looked from Maryam to Mubarak. And none of them could get a word out they were all smiling.7 Then she caught Maryam's hand in hers, and Mubarak's with the other. "Is this the time to come?" Her voice, spiked with anger and excitement, trembled.11 Her eyes glistened with tears, and Maryam felt her heart sway with it, she batted back her tears. "Did you plan on returning on my funeral or did you plan to skip that too?"27 "Daada, it's all him." Maryam laughed, pointing at Mubarak. She pulled her into a hug and held on tight, sniffing her scent, she had no idea she had missed her grandmother so much. She leaned back and peered at Daada's face. "Don't worry I won't miss your funeral for the world. I come bearing a gift of a foreign shroud."18 Hajiya Daada pushed Maryam's head with a finger. "Foreign or local we are all going to be draped in it alright. So stop talking about this topic and let me look at you."13 She smoothened a hand on Mubarak's cheeks then rubbed Nabeela's hair and turned to Muhammad who had been standing next to Maryam. Then her eyes returned to Mubarak.4 The courtyard was filled with four more people now, who were all grinning from ear to ear. Welcoming notes were freely passed around, but Hajiya Daada refused to let go of them.1 "Manga, anbo shuru a gaira ma nbo jallad'o 'e b'undu. (My dear, you went radio silent as if you've been thrown into a well.)"19 They all laughed at Hajiya Daada's statement. Maryam turned to look at Mubarak's expression, she couldn't wait to see the confusion there, following what Hajiya Daada said. But to her utter shock, Mubarak responded to Hajiya Daada. In fulfulde!3 "Joni kam ai haala timmi ga min e yeso mad'a. (Now that I'm here, it doesn't matter.)"10 Maryam's jaw dropped, she placed her hands to her chest dramatically. "This is the biggest scam of the century, Ya Mubarak you did not just speak fulfulde!"36 Mubarak gave her a subtle wink, had she been sitting three feet away from him she wouldn't have noticed it. But oh, she was captivated by him alright. How could he?4 "When I told you Malam Kawu was strict with us did you think he would ever let someone live under his roof and speak something else? Apart from the Ba sim mim lessons we got to learn other skills too. We used to go to the farm too."6 Hajiya Daada beamed at the mention of her late husband. She was filled with more energy when she rose to her feet and asked them to come inside with her.4 Hajiya Daada took Nabeelah from her father apologizing on how late she had been to see her great-granddaughter.6 "Maryam, you brought back yourself Ma sha Allah. This is your spitting image."6 Maryam almost combusted with laughter seeing the scowl that transformed Mubarak's face, after hearing Hajiya Daada's words.16 "1-1" she mouthed. And she wished she could retract her statement because of the way he looked at her then.7 O'o! This is not good. Within ten minutes, Hajiya Daada had almost filled her massive dining mat with a variety of snacks and dishes for them, she didn't even need to ask her maids to get the job done. In the meantime, she had held them more than a hundred times. In between, she shed some tears.14 She placed a hand around Maryam's shoulder. "Alhamdulillah for showing me this day." Muhammad's eyes followed Hajiya Daada on every movement she made, wondering perhaps why his parents were crying and laughing at the same time around this woman.10 "How are you Daada?" Mubarak asked. "Alhamdulillah, I'm good and now I feel much better knowing that both of you are good. Here I am seeing your children. If Allah takes my soul now I would die a fulfilled woman."13 "In sha Allah you will live longer, sweetheart," Mubarak said.4 She glared at him, "See the kind of husband that neglects his wife for years, I've released you from this marriage. No longer interested."14 Mubarak's eyes crinkled with laughter. "Haba, Sarauniyata?"12 She smiled and shook her head. "Will you ever change?" "Why do you look funny? You are all wrinkled." Muhammad said running a hand over Hajiya Daada's arms.75 Maryam said the shahada and caught Muhammad's hand. "Stop it, Muhammad!"1 "What, leave him." She turned to Muhammad "When you see your mother turn this way, you will know why."10 "My mother is smooth." he said.41 "Kaji sha'kiyin yaro. Okay, your grandfather will soon become wrinkly."12 Muhammad nodded reluctantly as if contemplating the idea.5 They all laughed and shook their heads. "If you take after your mother with your inquisitive mind you are going to be so intelligent," Daada said and Maryam closed her face with her palms.10 They didn't leave Daada's house until 10 pm. Two of her sons had come to see them while they were still there. Mubarak said they would visit their respective families too.2 Mubarak asked Maryam once they were out of Daada's house if she wanted to check on Mama.4 "No problem, we can come back tomorrow."1 Her mother didn't call her when she returned from her visitation. While Zubaida and Fatima had run to Daada's house to meet them there. They had stayed until 9 pm before they left. So, Maryam wasn't sure she was exactly ready to meet her mother. Yet.40 *** You see? Sweet ☺️35 But we all know what comes after sweet 🙊🌪💥48 This one is going to rock us all. It's the Kaboom! type💥18 Are we ready?

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