HABIBAH

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I looked out through the narrow window of our thatched mud house. The rain was heavy, cascading onto the sandy ground in a heavy downpour. It seeped into the soil, forming puddles of wet brown clay that flowed in no particular direction on our bare compound.

Across the streaks of rain that clouded my vision lay another thatched hut that held Habibah. I could barely hear her cries now; the rain that had begun swallowed her wails in pregnant drops and thunder growls, but Sumayyah was with her, and so was the village midwife.

I fell back onto the bamboo bed. My slender arms wrapped my legs and pulled them up to my chest. I pinned my chin down to my knees; they were ashy and bruised from climbing the village trees.

My father, who was sitting adjacent to me, was anxious. He tried to hide his worry by continuously dipping masa into the yaji set before him on his mat, but his nervousness glared, even as he chewed. We sat there in silence, waiting, with unspoken fear heavy between us.

I looked away from my father and back to the lean window. The rain outside was dying down to weak showers. As I stared out, my eyes caught the oil lamp in the distance, half-buried in the ground next to our maize farm. Heavy drops of rainwater were still tapping onto it; father would be so upset! I thought.

I wondered who left the precious oil lamp out in the rain and what our father would do when he found out. As these thoughts temporarily occupied my mind, my mother’s high-pitched scream rang through my ears.

I jumped to the window and held onto its wooden frame. The door to the hut was still shut, and all I could see from my window were the clay walls of her shed and the rainwater around its base. I was still holding onto the window’s frame when the cry of a baby, sharp and piercing, rang through into the compound. My father jolted to his feet and lifted his hands into the air, instantly praising the name of Allah.

Just then, Sumayyah stepped out of my mother’s hut. With her Jilbaab securely protecting her from the drizzles emptying themselves from the sky, she dropped her head and ran towards us. I jumped from the bed to hold the rickety door open for her, and my father followed behind me.

“Mai gida,” she regarded my father as she stood before us, “It’s a boy!” she announced.

My father beamed with joy and nodded in acknowledgment.

I smiled up at both adults, and they continued to converse over me. He inquired about my mother’s health, and when Sumayyah responded in the affirmative, he began to make his way after her towards the hut to see my mother and I hopped, giggly beside him.

We stepped into the shed. The village midwife, on sighting us, congratulated father and handed the newborn to him. My delighted father lowered his head down to the baby’s right ear, and in a voice only audible to the baby, he called the Adhan.

Father picked a dry date, and following the Tahneek, he softened it with his teeth, patted it onto his finger, then rubbed it on the palate of the newborn, starting from the left side of his mouth to the right.

My tired mother, Habibah, who was actually my father’s third wife, watched all these from her bed with a weak smile.

               

 The news of my brother’s birth spread quickly through the village, and as soon as the sun came out, casting slanted beams of light across the meadow, family relatives trooped in to greet Habibah.

On the seventh day after the baby’s birth, our father named him Gowon Ibrahim – because he was born on a rainy day.

The men who came in the morning witnessed our father performing the Aqeeqah for the newborn; two rams were slaughtered, and after that, the baby’s hair was shaved, and he was circumcised.

That evening, the women came in large numbers, adorned in colorful Abayas and Hijabs, carrying gifts of wrappers and varying personal items for Habibah. Her family came too with tubers of yam, cassava, jewelry, and household items packed in large baskets.

Everyone was happy, everyone but Habibah.

       ⌛

 My father married Habibah shortly after my mother’s passing – his second wife. As my mother’s third and last child, Habibah took a peculiar liking to me. She grew fond of me and groomed me like I was born of her.

Everywhere she went, she took me with her. I was always by her side, so it was hard to tell that I was not her son. Our father regarded all his wives and children with love and insisted upon unity. So while the first wife – Sumayyah, and the rest of my siblings lived cordially, I particularly enjoyed preferential treatment from Habibah.

She was eighteen when our father married her, and I was thirteen and the youngest of eight children, so perhaps it was only natural that she and I bonded so evenly.

Habibah was a lively woman; easy to please, quick to smile, and ever-ready to apologize. Her most often used word was ‘ba damuwa,’ meaning no problem. She would avoid trouble with everyone, was pleasant, and indeed loved by my father, so when her lively nature swayed and stayed withdrawn after the birth of Gowon, I was quick to sense it.

At first, I thought she was merely tired from the vigorous process of childbirth, especially as it was her first, but even as the days went by, sunrise after sunrise, market day after market day, she remained distant. Sumayyah took charge of Gowon as was natural in her position as the first and most experienced wife to do: she bathed him, clothed him, soothed him, and usually returned him to Habibah only when it was time for him to feed.

Yet in all these, Habibah would lie on the mat in her hut, completely wrapped in her Jilbaab. She refused to play with the family and often refused to eat, even when it was her favorite meal; Tuwo Shinkafa. Sumayyah noticed this new change in her behavior, and she soon reported it to our father.

One Friday during Jum’ah, as we all performed the Sajdah, my eyes caught Habibah crying while our heads were still pinned to the mat. I reported this to my father, and when he visited her hut after prayers, I was not there to pick up on their conversation, but Habibah did not get better. Sometimes it was almost as if she hated Gowon. 

She was constantly in a foul mood, irritated and restless, too; I doubted if she got any sleep at night. There was an apparent disconnection between her and the baby, and by the time Gowon clocked three months in age, Habibah had lost considerable weight.

Father was worried; we all were. Father called the Imam, who came to pray for Habibah and encourage her heart. But even soon after that, she did not get better. I, who was once a favorite of hers, was now treated like a stranger. 

I went about with my childish ways, playing in the sand with my brothers and sisters and getting into trouble around the village, but no matter how far off into the village I wandered or how long I was gone, I returned home to meet Habiba in the same hollow state.

The time came for me to return to secondary school, which was in a neighboring town, so I bade my family goodbye and went off to school.

While in school, news came from home that Habibah had tried to drown herself in the village stream. I was wounded to hear this; images haunted my head, and I racked my mind as to what the source of her sorrow could be. Father loved her; Sumayyah was kind to her, so where was the problem coming from?

I was so distracted with worry that my Biology teacher, master Ibrahim, noticed and invited me into his shared office building.

I sat across from him with his high rustic wooden desk between us. The office, an open space with arranged desks and attached wooden chairs for each teacher, smelled of old books and was full of activity. Teachers came in and went out. Chairs dragged across the cemented floor. Three students on their knees with hands up in the air had eyes that pleaded for mercy.

Exhausted voices of teachers rented the air, hearty laughter could be heard above some hushed conversations, and my eyes regarded my legs, covered with white knee-high socks with brown patches and holes at the feet, but those were concealed in my rubber sandals.

“I am worried about my mother,” I finally responded to master Ibrahim. His mellow yet worried voice had convinced me to tell him why unlike me, I was at a loss during his class, “There is problem at home…”

He folded his hands on the desk and leaned forward, “Tell me, what is the problem?”

With my eyes still fixated on my feet, avoiding his face as a sign of respect, I told him about Habibah’s troubles since the arrival of Gowon.

“Sounds like a PPD,” he commented, and my head sprung up to behold his gaze.

PPD, I didn’t know what it meant, but it sounded like hope to my ears.

“Many people focus on the newborn child without paying adequate attention to the mother’s emotional state after a child’s birth. From all you’ve said it’s likely a postpartum depression,” he concluded.

My eyes blinked in awe – there was a term for it.

“In worst instances, some mothers commit suicide but that is in worst instances,” he emphasized with a shrug. “I suggest she sees a medical doctor, one should be able to help her.”

I was at a loss for what to say, yet, excited to hear that there was a solution to Habibah’s problem.

“I have a doctor friend in the city, in Lafia, he can counsel her and even prescribe some medications.”

I felt like jumping to embrace master Ibrahim, but I didn’t do that; instead, I thanked him and felt a massive relief in my heart.

 

I sent news home to our father as quickly as possible about what master Ibrahim had said. Our father, a local herdsman with no education, believed in the power of schooling. He insisted that all his sons go to school. So when the news reached him, he listened to master Ibrahim’s counsel and arranged for a journey to Lafia with him and Habibah.

News reached me that father and Habibah met with the doctor in Lafia and that Habibah had started receiving treatment.

                            ⌛

 Over a month later, when my school called for a break, I traveled home to our village.

The first sight that greeted my eyes as I strode into my father’s compound was Habibah, chuckling in her flowing dress and matching hijab as she chased an energetic Gowon, who was crawling away from her in the sand as fast as he could.

“Barka da Gida!” she heartily greeted upon sighting me. I hastened to them, scooped Gowon from the ground, and threw him cheerfully in the air; he had grown so much. My brothers and sisters all ran out to form a circle around me, each embracing me at once.

I looked above them at Habibah’s smiling face. She looked happy, renewed even.

“Yaya kike?” I asked her, above the noise and chatter of my siblings hovering around me.

“Ina lafiya,” she laughed, then added, “Ba damuwa.”

 

 

THE END.

 

 Hausa words & English meanings:

Mai Gida – Master.

Jilbaab – A long and loose-fit garment worn by Muslim women.

Hijab – head covering worn in public by some Muslim women.

Masa, yaji – A traditional delicious Hausa meal.

Adhan – Islamic call to prayer.

Jum’ah – Islamic Friday prayer.

Sajdah – prostration to God.

Barka da Gida – Welcome Home

Yaya Kike – How are you.

Ina lafiya – I am fine.

13 thoughts on “HABIBAH”

  1. Excellent story, thank you for using this to create awareness for Ppd, kinda have a first-hand experience of Ppd. Well done, more grace.

  2. I read it again and read it again…and sure will read again

  3. I read it again and read it again…a reoccurring events in the North.

  4. This is absolutely a brilliant written piece – with so much information and thought into it.
    Well done girl!

  5. This story is excellent in postpartum depression awearness, because our Society today are often carried away in excitement with the presence of a newborn, and most times ignores a mother’s psychological wellbeing. this is so educative.

  6. Never heard of this, guess i learned something today, the way you tell your stories makes it pleasant to read. It was a good read.

    1. 🙂 Thank you so much Fidelis, I’m glad you enjoyed the story and learned something new.

  7. I like Habibah. It’s a good story for ppd awareness, I didn’t even know it could get as bad as leading to suicide. The message was conveyed well.Well done

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