Her face shone like a moon in the darkest night. She struggled to smile at Adamu’s joke as she stared up from The New Man by Femi Ademiluyi but Hassan was quick to catch a quick tear from the corner of her eyes even as she tried in vain to conceal it.
‘Leila, why don’t you stop reading that book if it will always make you cry.’
‘Oh Hassan, nothing get past you.’
‘Nothing that brings you pain will get past me.’
‘It is not making me cry anyways. It is empathy for Sade that made me shed the tears. The book is too emotional, walahi, and I cannot read past two pages without a tear. You should read it too.’
‘I have no patience to read and you know that.’
‘If I give you a summary, you would want to read it.’
‘Thank you, I am not interested. Just stop reading whenever I am here. I cannot stand those tears.’
‘And how long do you think you can continue to protect her big brother.’ Adamu teased Hassan.
‘As long as Allah keeps me alive. She deserves to be protected.’
Mukhtar whose concentration has been on the play station game paused and looked up which got his younger brother Danladi to hit him playfully.
‘I am sorry Danladi but right now I am officially jealous. Big brother gives Leila more attention than anyone else in this house.’
Hassan laughed heartily.
‘Your days of jealousy have just begun.’ He stood up and walked into the inner room. Adamu followed his friend in while Mukhtar and Danladi continued their video game.
Leila smiled as she silently said a gratitude prayer to Allah. No one would believe she is not a direct member of the family. She had lost her parent in an auto crash when she was 10. Being an only child, she had to move in with her father’s sister- Hassan mother- 3 years ago. She had been so scared when she joined the family; scared of been maltreated but Allah bless her aunt and uncle they had taken her in like the family’s last baby, given her the best of everything and it is hard to tell that she is not a child of the family as well. The boys were no exception- Hassan, 21, has been overly protective of her and calls her jariri (little child), Mukhtar, 18 refers to her as yarinyar (little girl), while Danladi, 15 the last boy of the house and also her playmate never stop teasing her as a little child who knows too much.
She is so intelligent and her teachers had advised her aunt to allow her skip some classes. She is the youngest in her class now. After her parents’ death, she had found succor in reading. During her first year with her cousins, she had done nothing but read until she had nothing more to read. She was glad when Hassan had gifted her with a mobile phone that can access the internet for her 12th birthday. She had made google her best friend, always reading up on topics she find challenging.
There was a time a girl in her class had brought up a case of Depression. She had kept mute throughout the discussion. The moment she got home she had searched that out, read all she can on it and the next day in class, she had dished out her opinion and even enlightened others who have no idea how cancerous depression can be.
All her teachers and classmates liked her a lot. She is gentle, humble and respectful. Despite the fact that she is young, she does not hesitate to share her opinion on issues. She is always quick to say, ‘In my opinion, I feel it is wrong when my thoughts do not count simply because I am a woman.’ She has a way of passing her message across in a very polite way that forces her audience to listen and agree with her.
‘I want to be a writer when I grow up’, she had announced during dinner one day.
‘That’s a beautiful ambition Leila. And what could have motivated you dear?’ Her uncle, Usman, inquired.
‘It is not beautiful please.’ Aunt Aisha quipped in. ‘You should aspire to be a lawyer or doctor and not some writer. How many people read these days?’
‘That is why people are ignorant, mom.’ She has come to learn how to refer to her aunt as mom. ‘People should make reading a habit. Although I agree that not everyone loves to read like Hassan but then reading makes you exposed. It makes you better than the next person who doesn’t. It equips your mind with new idea, knowledge and experience. Not everybody writes to appeal their reader but I intend to groom my writing skill so I can attract readers to learn from all aspect of life. I intend to use my career in writing to reach out to all and sundry, mom.’
Everyone was stunned. How can an 12year old speak so passionately about her future like this? How can she understand what it is she wants and even defend it so much? But then, this is Leila. You can’t put anything past her and you’ll always get amazed with every minute you spend with her.
Hassan broke the silence.
‘Leila, you should worry on today. Tomorrow will take care of itself.’
‘No Hassan, you shape your tomorrow, today. The decision you make today will determine how well or how bad you’ll progress tomorrow.’
‘Yarinyar, you’d be an amazing writer.’ Mukhtar teased.
♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠
Today, Leila clocked 13 and after all the beautiful celebration, she laid on bed to reflect the day’s activities. The school had celebrated it for her in the most unique way as she had just won her school a new plaque in the just concluded inter school talent hunt competition. She had won with a poem she recited on ‘Love’. She had used her parents as her subject matter and reflected on how much love she had been privileged enjoyed while growing up. And how the sudden death of her parents had created a gaping hole in her life until she had found love with her new family, one which had plunged her onto a journey of self-discovery. She had received a standing ovation at the end of her recitation which moved most of the audience to tears.
As a result of that, the entire school celebrated her and she had cried for joy all through the event. When she got home, her foster parents had showered her with food, gifts and praises. She still could not understand how she could be that blessed.
She had mused over today as she drifted away to sleep.
At first, it felt like dream. How could she be having such a nasty dream. She had learnt that you reflect what you feed your mind with. She has never thought of herself being intimate with uncle Usman, what then is he doing in her room, on her bed and struggling to get her pants down. She kicked violently as she opened her eyes to get more familiar with the darkness.
‘Haba uncle, what in Allah’s name are you trying to do?’
He refused to answer her. He ripped her light cotton lingerie apart and fondled her breast with evil intentions written all over his face.
‘I have waited for so long. And you will make this easy for me Leila. Just lie down quietly and you’ll soon beg me for more.’
‘Uncle Usman, please don’t do this. Don’t allow Satani…’
‘Just keep your mouth shut, Leila. This is what you are here for, this is what you are meant to do, and this is what we’d do going forward. And you dare not speak about it.’
Oh no! She thought, he was going to rape her. She won’t let this happen. She tried to scream but Usman was quick enough to cover her mouth with his hand. He tied the torn lingerie around her mouth despite her violent kicks and struggle. He held her down and pull down his pant. Leila eyes were filled with tears, terror, pain and shame even as he heaved in and out of her until he spilled. He stood up and left her with a smile of satisfaction.
The next morning, Leila was found dead in her room.