I walked into Mumcy’s room and found Ummu Najatu behind the wardrobe door. Caught, and knowing well that she was, her hands shook as she closed the wardrobe with a slam, the keys rattling on. I watched her pick up the broom from the floor, her head bowed, and walk out of the room. I couldn’t speak and didn’t want to. Mumcy had often warned me about suspecting people too soon. Besides, Ummu Najatu wasn’t caught red-handed. After she left, I checked the wardrobe and saw clothes that used to be in heaps now neatly folded on every shelf.
Ummu Najatu with her children lived in her brother’s one room tenement along with his family. We were next door neighbours considering the fact that we shared a wall. It wasn’t difficult to know that times were hard for Ummu Najatu before she came to Lagos and even after she got here. The insurgence that shook the country especially the northeast had her people flee their once happy yet poor homes to as far away as the metropolis. Just like other families in Maiduguri, hers had also lost their breadwinner in the heat of the moment. That day when Mumcy and I had listened to her story, it took me just a blink to release the tears. Ummu Najatu had shook uncontrollably, crying from narrating the loss of her husband. She had narrated in Hausa, “That Thursday, I had gone to the market while my children went for Madrassah. Abu Najatu, my husband, didn’t go anywhere. He couldn’t-” she had stopped to wipe the tears that had already fallen “-because of his leg. There was a blast that took one of his leg, we were even happy that he didn’t lose his life like others did. Until that terrible Thursday.” Now the she let the tears cascade her cheeks without bothering to clean her face. “So, we left him at home. Then at the market while business went on suddenly, there were noises and people had begun to run. They left their goods and just ran in different directions. I couldn’t tell what the problem was so I too started running. I tried to pack some of my goods but someone shouted ‘They’re coming! They’re coming!’ So I left my yams and ran towards my house. When I got to my house, I didn’t believe what I was looking at. I first looked around to check whether I was in the right place. It was then that I saw my children, looking at me. Najatu was hugging Sumayyah and Hamza, their faces were not good. Kai!” At this point, Mumcy stood up to were Ummu Najatu sat and rubbed her back in circular motions. Then she said to her, in Hausa, “you don’t have to continue, if you can’t” But Ummu Najatu wasn’t ready to stop yet. So she continued, “after seeing the state of our house, now reduced to rubble, I searched for my husband. I rushed to my children and asked of him but Sumayyah, small as she was, only pointed towards the entrance of what used to be our concrete hut.” This time, she looked like she couldn’t go on again but Mumcy kept whispering to her, affirming the difficulties of losing someone. But Ummu Najatu couldn’t continue at that time. All she did was heave and gasp, surely in tears. We later found out that Abu Najatu was seen at the entrance of the house, amidst stones and rocks, without legs.
Mumcy invited Ummu Najatu over after finding her family asleep on the frontage of the mosque that stood before our house. Najatu’s mom had narrated her ordeals to us. Her touching story bagging her a job as our house cleaner. She’d come by every Monday and Thursday to groom the outdoors, lasting for a short while. Mumcy, who sought an excuse to increase her pay, promoted her to cleaning the indoors.
Later that day, when Mumcy returned from her clothes store, I hadn’t come to a conclusion about telling her what I had seen Ummu Najatu do. And I couldn’t even confirm whether anything was missing because Mumcy kept bric-a-brac in there.
I was in the kitchen when she called me. She had found out something was amiss and I didn’t know what to do. I couldn’t tell her Ummu Najatu did it because i felt sorry for the poor woman. She couldn’t afford to lose her job. Yet if I didn’t, who’d take the blame for the loss? Mr. Nobody also had too much on his plate, I wasn’t going to add to it. So when Mumcy said, surprisingly calmly, “I can’t find N15, 000 that I kept here, have you seen it?” I couldn’t stop myself from saying, “I took it. I needed it for something important. But I’d pay back as soon as I can”