Book: An African Night’s Entertainment
Author: Cyprian Ekwensi
An old man narrates this story (An African Night’s Entertainment) to villagers:
“Put your money in this sheepskin and if by the time I finish my tale, there is only one of you awake, that man shall claim everything we have collected.”
So, the story begins.
Mallam Shehu had a dream. He was in a marketplace, saw a horse he liked and paid for it. This horse had already been paid for by a man, but Mallam Shehu paid extra to sway the sale in his favor.
The man who already bought the horse was offended and said “Mallam, why do you want to deprive me of my bargain?” He replied,
“Not so my friend. I want the horse, you want the horse. The seller wants money. To whom should he sell?”
Mallam Shehu paid for the horse and the horse grew beautifully. It gave birth to a foal. Mallam Shehu loved the foal as much as he loved the horse. As soon as the foal was ride-able, he mounted it, rode out into the fields, where he spurred it into a gallop. It stumbled. Mallam Shehu fell, breaking an arm and leg. He woke up from this dream, wet with sweat and consulted a seer who interpreted this dream. He told him the horse signified a woman.
Mallam Shehu had three wives but none bore children. As wealthy as he was, this was his only desire. He was told this “horse” (woman) would be the only one to bear him a son but he would suffer a great deal. The seer advised him not to chase after this woman nor child but Mallam Shehu replied. “Will Allah indeed let me see a son of my own? If so, I don’t care how much I suffer after that.”
One day Mallam Shehu’s servants came to his study and told him about a beautiful girl they had just seen, Mallam Audu’s daughter. The girl, Zainobe was betrothed to a man, Abu Bakir since she was an infant. They loved each other deeply. Zainobe was so beautiful that her mother doubted if Abu Bakir was worthy of her and his mother felt the same way. Mallam Audu didn’t let Zainobe go out, so she was barely seen by people. So unseen that Mallam Shehu never saw her till now. He sent Zainobe messages, asking her to visit him. She said ” Tell him I am not a man, I cannot come alone to see him. That is not proper.”
Mallam Shehu sent back word that he wanted to marry her. She told him she had a fiance and only Allah can separate them. Eventually, Abu Bakir found out about Mallam Shehu’s requests and became uncomfortable and said this to Zainobe:
” Women are like water and horses. Women are like water because you cross a stream in the dry season and when you return in the rains, the same stream will drown you. If you love a horse very much and you feed her, she’ll throw you down and break your backbone. So is a woman’s love. Dry today like the ebb tide, high tomorrow like a flood.”
– Abu Bakir
Zainobe assured him of her loyalty, “You speak of deep things Abu. But I’m not that kind of woman. Nothing will ever make me marry Mallam Shehu, unless he’s prepared to marry my dead body”.
When Mallam Shehu’s servant came with a message from Mallam Shehu, Abu Bakir beat him senseless. Mallam Shehu went back to the seer and asked for help to get Zainobe to love him. The seer again warned him against it but he ignored his counsel. The seer prepared a secret alluring love potion for him and sent his trusted servant to get it smeared on Zainobe’s body. The servant was successful.
All Fragrant with perfume, Zainobe lied to her mother that she was going to see Abu Bakir and went to Mallam Shehu’s house instead. Mallam Shehu had his servants take her to the seventh room in his house. After they spoke, Mallam Shehu gave her a scent as a gift. The charm of the scent changed Zainobe’s mood. When she got home, her mother asked her where she had been and she lied that she was at Abu Bakir’s. Abu Bakir had just left her house in anger. Her mother replied “That’s a lie! Abu has been here all the time, waiting for you to return.” Zainobe stamped her foot angrily, “So it has come to this, he now follows me around… I know Abu has been wanting an excuse to quarrel with me.”
Her mum smeared some of the scent (potion) given to her by Mallam Shehu and the charm took effect. She advised Zainobe to marry Mallam Shehu. Abu Bakir wasn’t worthy of her. Zainobe went over to Abu Bakir’s house and for the first time Zainobe was rude to him. She said,
“When a trader gets hold of some good cloth and has taken it to the market, at least 10 bidders will price it before he sells it to the highest bidder. A girl who has never been married is like a cloth in the marketplace.”
He was so angry that he threatened to flog her. In spite of his anger, he did not. Instead, he reported her to her father. When her mother tried to side her, her father flogged Zainobe and her mother mercilessly. Although her father was not in support, Zainobe went ahead to marry Mallam Shehu. It was the biggest wedding in the village. Mallam Audu refused to be a part of it. Mallam Shehu straightaway gave generously to Zainobe’s family, the King and others. In addition, Abu Bakir’s bride price deposit was returned. Mallam Audu refused the money sent to his family, his wife accepted it however. Abu Bakir rejected the returned bride price and promised he would have his vengeance in due time. Abu Bakir took his bow, arrow and a few pence and went on a quest for vengeance. He asked his brother to look after their mother.
A year later, Zainobe gave birth to a son, Kyauta. He was handsome and had such great manners, everyone loved him. Mallam Shehu, without delay, built Kyauta a separate house within his compound, where all Kyauta friends visited him and play with him. Years passed and Abu Bakir did not give up on his quest for vengeance. He wandered until he was directed to a village of rejects. He met the head of the village, Tausayinka. Tausayinka, who was also a seer, knew why Abu Bakir had sought him. He told him,
“You are thinking of injuring Mallam Shehu for taking Zainobe from you. Your idea is that he has done so because he has more money than you. That idea is wrong. Mallam Shehu took the girl from you because he has looked for a son for 35 years in vain. One night he dreamed that if he married your betrothed, she will bear him a son. And now the prophesy has been fulfilled… If you set eyes on this child, you will not want to harm one hair on his head. Go and rest, Zainobe still loves you… Let Allah avenge you.”
Abu Bakir replied: “Can’t it be arranged that this same son should be the cause of his death?”
Tausayinka brought out the Koran and took an oath with Abu Bakir that the vengeance of Allah will be on Abu Bakir. Abu Bakir took the oath. Tausayinka sent Abu Bakir on a mission to get him a sap from a special tree in a forest, to prepare the charm.
Abu Bakir was robbed, lost an eye, his ear was cut off, he was jailed, starved, got blistered feet but didn’t give up. He was an honest man. He worked when he could, to raise money. Everyone advised him against his quest for vengeance. Abu Bakir, got the sap through an old witch’s help and returned years later. The charm was prepared. He was to rub in on Kyauta. Tausayinka gave him a talisman to help him get to Kyauta’s room unseen.
He returned to Galma, told his mother and brother to keep his return a secret and threatened to kill them if they didn’t. His brother showed him Kyauta. At night, he put on the talisman, rubbed the charm on Kyauta and visited Zainobe. He said to her,
“You have disgraced me. You have caused me untold suffering. It is written that you shall pay for all this in this world. Your present husband took you away from me because he wanted a son. That son shall be a curse to you.”
Zainobe jilted from sleep, engulfed with fear. She ran to Kyauta’s room to check on him. He looked peaceful in his sleep. She resolved that it was just a dream and went back to bed. Kyauta woke up that morning, a changed boy. He became a thief, a liar and a rude boy. He disgraced the family. Mallam Shehu had to pay for everything Kyauta stole. It became embarrassing for both Mallam Shehu and Zainobe. Mallam Shehu tried different punishments that almost seemed to work but Zainobe always intervened. Kyauta grew worse rapidly. He stole 100 pounds from his father, relocated to Kano, stole some more, got imprisoned many times.
Once, Kyauta came out of prison, got a job and was honest. He served the clerk faithfully and spurred him to start a business. His honesty was tested a few times and he passed. The clerk trusted him and built a shop in another town for him to manage. He didn’t remit funds for months. He was arrested and imprisoned. When the case was tried, his father came to his rescue and paid the clerk the 400 pounds he demanded for damages.
Kyauta rapidly became a high caliber thief. He slipped handcuffs off his wrist easily. He escaped from his father’s imprisonment and relocated to Lagos, where he met Dogo. Kyauta & Dogo went on raids together guided by Dogo’s principle
“If they catch you, go with them. You know when you are fed up with them. That’s the time to make your getaway.”
Mallam Shehu relocated, took a new identity as Mallam Usuman with his wife, Zainobe. One day, Kyauta and Dogo passed by a big house and scheduled a raid that night. At night, they robbed the house. As they did, a figure lurked in the shadows and Kyauta killed him in fear. As they bolted, he saw Zainobe at the door and ran into her arms. Upon inquiry, he learned he had just killed his father, who had relocated to this town and disguised himself as Mallam Usuman to hide from the shame he – Kyauta had brought them. The scales fell from his eyes. She cried as she told him Mallam Usuman was his father. She showed him a secret passage and he escaped.
Dogo was caught. He snitched on Kyauta but Kyauta was never caught. Zainobe told the King that Mallam Usuman’s son will arrive on a certain day. She planned with Kyauta and they agreed on that day. He came as planned and the King gave him a grand welcome. He looked so much like Mallam Usuman and at the sight of him, everyone felt sympathy.
Kyauta shared his father’s property between the king, the poor and M. Shehu’s wives. Zainobe remembered her dream about Abu Bakir and told Kyauta. It occurred to her that, it really was not a dream. Kyauta was back to his senses. They traveled back to Galma. Abu Bakir was old, frail and disfigured. Kyauta visited him and sliced his head from his body with a sharp sword. He fled for a year and came back to care for his mother.
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