Last month Malam Abdul-Nur stopped me at the
entrance of the mosque and asked me if there
was anything I wanted. First I was confused,
thinking that perhaps he wanted to scold me for
having done something wrong. But then his eyes
were relaxed and the lines of his forehead
weren’t so many and he wasn’t breathing hard
like he does when he is upset. Reluctantly I told
him I wanted a radio that has stations outside
Nigeria – something like the big one in Sheikh’s
office, but smaller, so that I can carry it around.
At some point it crossed my mind that perhaps
he wanted me to do something for him.
A few days after, he sent for me. He had just
moved into his own office at the back of the
mosque not far from where our rooms were.
The new office has white walls and tiles and a
small toilet inside. Since Sheikh has decided to
make Malam Abdul-Nur the headmaster of the
new school that is to be built on the land
adjacent to the mosque, the office will also be
the office of the headmaster. I wonder about
toilets that are built inside rooms. Will the
whole room not smell when someone uses the
The office has a ceiling fan and a standing fan.
The curtains in the office are not the normal
type hanging from a rope nailed into the wall.
They close and open when you pull a rope that
has tiny plastic balls like a small chasbi. Alhaji
Usman’s workmen built the office and they
finished the construction and painting in only
three weeks. The same men will build the
I chewed on my nails as Malam Abdul-Nur
picked up two small cartons from under his
table and made some notes in his exercise book.
I could not read what he wrote because it was
upside down from where I was sitting, but I
could see that he was writing in Arabic.
Malam Abdul-Nur did not raise his head from
his exercise book when he asked: “If Allah asks
you to do something, will you refuse?”
When I did not answer, he stopped writing,
dropped his pen slowly and massaged his
eyeballs. Then he looked at me.
“No,” I said, confused.
“Are you just saying it, or do you understand it,
what it means to do what Allah wants without
“I don’t understand.”
“Are you ready to do what Allah wants when He
wants it, without asking why?”
“Yes. I know you will.”
He pointed at the two cartons.
“Your radio is in the bigger carton. And because
of how well-behaved you have been since you
came here – I have been watching you; I see
everybody, those who are bad and those who
are good and those who are just here eating our
food – the smaller carton is also for you.”
“Thank you, Malam.”
“Will you be able to use the phone or do you
want me to show you how to set it up?”
“Let me try, Malam.”
“If you have any issues let me know.”
In my heart I should have been happy but I was
not. I have a funny feeling about Malam Abdul-
Nur, Allah forgive me. It is hard to describe. It is
a little bit of fear, a little bit of anger that he
doesn’t want Jibril to talk to me and a little bit of
confusion because I don’t know what is going on
in his mind. I cannot say that he is kind because
he slaps people when he is angry. I cannot say
that he is wicked because he also gives people
gifts. And Allah only judges what is inside a
I came back into the room and saw Jibril
opening a small carton just like mine. He got a
phone too. I watched how he opened it and put
the SIM card inside it. Then I did the same with
Tuning the radio to find stations, I find BBC
Hausa and BBC English. I like BBC Hausa.
Especially the news. It is surprising that I learn
new Hausa words from a foreign radio station.
Comparing the news on BBC English to that on
BBC Hausa is interesting. Sometimes I do not
know a word in English and I hear it in Hausa
and I understand. Other times there is a Hausa
phrase I have never heard before, like Majalisar
Dinkin Duniya, which BBC English calls United
Nations. If I had not heard the English, I would
have translated it to mean ‘Association of
Joining the World.’ But then if I had heard
United Nations I would have called it Dinkakun
Kasashe in Hausa. Words turn into something
else when they change from Hausa to English
*Born on a Tuesday is published by Cassava