Thursday afternoon, Laila was in the grass by the fence, washing clothes under the Baobao tree shed, when Mr Hulai walked into the yard. He did not say anything to his wife, nor look at her. With his big belly leading, he walked into the house, looked at the dining table and saw that the table was empty. He recognized that his wife hadn’t prepared any food for him. He went into his bedroom and closed the door hard.
They lived in one of the villages in Alowa Kingdom named TaiA. Laila was from Bodok village, which is also part of Alowa Kingdom, but she lived in TaiA because it is a tradition that wives live in their husbands’ home. Both villages speak the same language, but in slightly different dialects. In Alowa Kingdom it is always summer; any time of the year all the leaves are green and the sun shines bright.
Hulai was still locked in his room. In a while, Laila paused her washing and went into the house, smiling. “Did you get the job, Hulai?” Laila asked.
Hulai worked at a farm and he wanted to find a different job as a carpenter. Hulai didn't respond because he had always found food on the table. Usually he would eat, then disappear. Hulai walked to the door, pushing his wife out of the way, into the wall, and slammed the door shut again. He grabbed his bicycle that was leaning on the outside wall of the house and rode away. He didn't bother to ask his wife why there wasn't any food to eat.
Laila got up from the floor, sat on her bed and leaned her head on the wall. Luckily, she had fallen where she kept all the clean clothes for the family, and not on the hard cement floor. Her tears slid down from her pretty brown eyes. She put her hand on her forehead and closed her eyes. Laila was thin and tall, with soft dark skin, and every man in Alowa had wanted to marry her. As she sat crying, she wondered if her life would have been different with another man.
Her twins, Hanifa and Haniful, walked inside the fence, coming home from school. Hanifa was carrying her shoes in one hand, and she was holding her long puffy dress with the other. Over her shoulder was the bag that she had knitted, filled with her books. Haniful was only carrying his regular backpack. Both of their legs were dirty with dust. Laila looked through the window and quickly wiped her tears so her children wouldn't see she was crying. Hanifa and Haniful dropped what they were carrying on the ground and chased each other to the swing that was tied on the Baobao tree.
When Hanifa saw her mother come out of the house, she left her brother on the swing. Hanifa picked her bag up and took out her math test. She had gotten a 94% and ran to her mother, smiling and proudly showing her work.
Laila quietly said, “That's wonderful,” looking down, trying to hide her face. She knew that Hanifa knew that her father made her mother cry. Sometimes because Laila didn't do something that Hulai expected to be done, he got angry with her. Laila pretended for Hanifa that everything was always going well. Laila hardly saw Hulai, but she believed she needed his help for the family. Even though Hanifa was eight years old, she understood her father's attitude, and she was beginning to learn what it was like to be a woman in Alowa Kingdom.
Hanifa went to pick her bag up again, and Laila departed from the yard. In a little while, Laila returned, holding kale and tomatoes on both hands. Laila made dinner and then lit the candle on the wooden table while the three of them ate. When Laila was putting the children in bed, Hanifa said, “Mama...., is it true that going to school is a waste of time for girls? And nobody here ever does anything with school?”
Suddenly Laila became uneasy, and she turned her head away.
“Mama, mama?” Hanifa asked.
“Huh?” Laila answered, lost in thought, thinking maybe things would be different. Then she said, “No don't listen to them, they don't know what they are saying.” Then Laila tucked in the children and gave them each a kiss goodnight.
Laila quietly picked the candle, then returned it to the dining table. She went into her kitchen and poured warm water into a bowl and brought it to the table. Then she returned to the kitchen and came back with a small plate of rice, tomatoes and kale. Laila sat down on one of the four chairs, waiting for her husband. She waited for a long time, but her husband never showed up, and she finally fell asleep at the table.
Atupele Machika ‘14