A SHORT STORY BY MANASSEH: Behind the veil

Mr. Ezekiel Oppong took a deep breath and lay panting like someone who had run a 100-metre race. It was the second time he had reached the very peak of that indescribable ecstasy that Sunday morning, and his fourteenth since he smuggled Aisha to this conference on Friday. Aisha was one of the three national service personnel posted to his department a month earlier. Beads of sweat dotted his flabby body, especially on his forehead and chest, as he lay beside her.

“I hope you enjoyed it,” he asked.

Aisha nodded absent-mindedly, reached for the sheets to cover herself and stared fixedly at the ceiling as if she was reading an encrypted code about life and death.

“What are you thinking about?” Mr. Oppong asked her.

“Nothing,” she said, fighting hard to conceal what appeared like a mixture of anxiety and regret.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes,” she nodded and quickly asked, “When are we getting to Accra?”

“We should be in Accra by midday,” Mr. Oppong said. “Why? Do you have an appointment with someone?”

“No!” she said. “I have to run some errands for my mother,” she lied. Today was the birthday of her boyfriend, Abu, and she had promised to take him out. It was a quarter past nine and she hadn’t called to wish him a happy birthday. She had spent the whole morning in bed with Mr. Oppong, except when she had to move to the bathroom when the waitress brought breakfast.

Since they checked into the hotel on Friday, she had spent the entire period in the room. She only saw Mr. Oppong in the evenings, and sometimes during coffee breaks, when he would sneak in for a bout or two. The conference ended late Saturday night and departure was Sunday morning, but Mr. Oppong said they should have a little more fun before they left. Aisha desperately wanted to get back to Accra.

Her phone had been off all morning because Mr. Oppong was present and she could not speak with Abu. If she did, Abu would notice the uneasiness in her voice and probe further. She couldn’t wait to go home. As she lay there, she was thinking of a good excuse to give to her boyfriend.

“We should be home by 1:00 pm. I have a disciplinary committee’s meeting at church at 2:00 pm,” Mr. Oppong said.

“Disciplinary committee? Have some young people had sex?” Aisha asked.

“How did you know?”

“I have friends who are Christians and when they talk about discipline in the church, it is almost always the case that some unmarried people have had sex,” she said.

Mr. Oppong was the Senior Presbyter of his church, the head of the elders of the church, and chairperson of the disciplinary committee. The case his committee was handling involved the youth president who had impregnated the praises team leader. They had admitted the offence, but what became contentious was when Gideon, for that was the youth president’s name, threatened to leave the church. He had proposed to marry the previous year but the church stopped the wedding, saying he needed to save enough to have a decent wedding instead of the court marriage and simple blessing he and his girlfriend wanted to have. The church had set a minimum standard for weddings and anyone who had not met the financial requirements was asked to hold on and get ready. But Elizabeth and Gideon could not wait to meet that requirement before they got themselves into trouble.

“But in this case, should the church not take the blame?” Aisha asked.

“You are right,” Mr. Oppong agreed. “We could have prevented this if the church had relaxed its standard for weddings, but as it stands, they must take the punishment,” Mr. Oppong said.

“So what’s their punishment?” Aisha asked, turning to face him for the first time.

“They will be called in front of the congregation on Sunday and their offence will be announced to the church. Their roles will be taken from them and they will be made to sit on a separate bench behind the congregation. They are not expected to partake in any activity during church service for at least two months. If the elders of the church are convinced that they have repented, they will be taken through counseling and helped to get back on their feet before they are re-admitted to the congregation.”

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“So within this period where will you sit in church?” Aisha asked, stroking his potbelly gently.

“Of course, in front of the church, where the elders sit. Because I am the senior presbyter, I sit next to the pastor,” Mr. Oppong said without thinking about what she was driving at. “Why do you ask?”

“I thought there was a special seat for married church elders who spend their Sunday morning in-between the thighs of girls young enough to be their daughters,” Aisha mocked.

“Who says you are young?” Mr. Oppong asked, fighting hard to divert the topic. “My wife does not know one-tenth of what you know,” he said and laughed.

“Are you sure?” Aisha asked.

“But on a more serious note, you have surprised me.”

“In what way?”

“I didn’t know a devout Muslim girl who is always in a veil could rock me like that. I was expecting to have a difficult time tearing through some hymen and soiling sheets with blood, but you nearly floored me,” he said.

Aisha was quiet for some time, not sure whether to take that as a compliment or an insult. After some time she asked thoughtfully, “What makes you think I am a devout Muslim?”

“Your veil,” said Mr. Oppong. “Not many Muslim girls wear the veil but I have never seen you without a veil.”

“Well, that’s how we get it wrong with religion. We care more about being religious than being godly so we spend time emphasizing what is easy to fake but ignoring the core values of purity and integrity, which our religions teach. Anybody can wear the veil if only one is prepared to endure the blistering heat that sometimes burns the face and shoulders on some occasions,” she said.

Aisha’s voice was getting steady. She was now speaking to Mr. Oppong like a colleague of hers. When Mr. Oppong picked her up for the conference, one of the first things he told her was to stop addressing him as “Sir.” Mr. Oppong had been nice to her since she started her national service. Every Friday, he gave her some money and on two occasions when she worked late, he offered her a lift. When he first told her to prepare so that they attend a workshop that weekend, she thought it was an official assignment. He then told her not to tell any of her office colleagues because they might feel jealous about it.

“Not many people get that opportunity,” he told her.

Aisha only realised the full import of what she was getting herself into when he asked her to wait alone at a particular spot to be picked. She knew he was married, but she was still prepared to do whatever he asked her to do. He had told her that he would ensure that she was employed after her national service. In a country where getting a job after school was more difficult that swimming across the Atlantic Ocean with a 50-kilogram rock tied around one’s neck, offering to retain a fresh graduate in a ministry was enticing enough to break a resistance.

It took them very little time to break the ice, and for the past two nights, they got on very well. Now she spoke passionately about religious hypocrisy. That was her nature of making her point when she believed in something. Back in the university, she was one of the most outspoken students in the  Philosophy and Political Science class.

“I think we are a very religious but godless nation,” she said. “Religion is just a veil we use to cover our wrongdoing in this country.”

“You are right, Aisha,” Mr. Oppong agreed with her. “For instance, corruption is sinking our country but Christians and Muslims together form over ninety percent of our population. I am yet to see or hear any leader or public officer holder in Ghana who swears by a deity.”

“I always say those corrupt politicians and civil servants are a reflection of us,” Aisha said.

Besides his infidelity, Mr. Ezekiel Oppong, was well-noted for his corrupt practices. He was the finance director of his ministry and would delay the issuance of cheques unless there was a kick-back for her. When Aisha talked about corruption among politicians and civil servants, he felt attacked but he did not think the young woman had been in the ministry long enough to know anything about his deals. That notwithstanding, he regretted talking about corruption and felt the urge to deflect the blame.

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“Why do you people always leave out the private sector? Politicians and civil servants are not the only devils in this country. I can tell you the most corrupt person in Ghana today is neither a politician nor a civil servant,” he said.

“Who is he?”

“He is a businessman.”

“But how can a businessman dip his hands into the public purse? How is that possible?”

“Of course, he has collaborators who are the politicians and civil servants. But what I want you to understand is that the blame must not stop with politicians and public servants. This crook I am talking about is able to bribe his way through any deal. He is able to buy ministers, parliamentarians, presidents, journalists, civil society and of course the civil servants. Whoever attempts to stand in his way may be fired. So let’s stop blaming only only politicians and civil servants,” he said.

“I see,” Aisha said thoughtfully. “And I am sure he is either a Muslim or Christian.”

“He is a Christian, who is held highly by his church. Such ill-gotten wealth cannot be explained so they often say it is the blessing of God. And as long as they pay fat tithes and take good care of their pastors, they will always get a front seat in the church.”

“May Allah have mercy on us because we are all guilty,” Aisha said. She was in her blunt elements. “The young woman who sleeps with a married man is as guilty as the married man who sleeps with other women.” She turned to look at Mr. Oppong and saw disapproval on his face. He was not enthused about her comment, but she did not care.

“You have to learn to respect. The fact that I have done this with you doesn’t mean you can talk with me anyhow,” Mr. Oppong said, his voice faltering.

“I’m sorry, but what I have said is the fact.” She paused for a brief moment and continued, “Sir, I want to tell you that this is the last time I have done this thing with you. I have a boyfriend, whom I intend to marry in three months. Besides, I think it is not good to be sleeping with someone’s husband. I am sorry it happened, but it won’t happen again.”

Mr. Oppong had wanted another bout before checking out of the hotel, but that was not going to be. Aisha’s words had filled him with guilt, which in turn dispossessed him of his manly prowess.

“I have heard you, but I hope whatever has happened here will stay here,” he said. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Are you threatening me?”

“I’m not threatening you. I’m reminding you to be careful in case you are one of those girls who think they have nothing to lose,” he said.

“I surely have a lot to lose. You don’t have to fear because I have a sense of shame. And I will surely overcome the circumstances that led me into this some day.”

“What circumstances led you into this?”

“It’s a long and personal story, but it is not about money,” she said cheekily.

At this point she had finished zipping her dress and placed her veil on her shoulder, too ashamed to wear it in the presence of Mr. Oppong. She would do that when she was near home.

The journey back to Accra was undertaken in silence. Mr. Oppong had sensed rebellion in Aisha and thought the warning he issued was a wrong step. He had slept with every young woman who worked in his department, except Senam, who resisted his every move. As expected, she did not celebrate her first anniversary in that department. She was fired for insubordination. To placate Aisha and open the door for a possible future affair, Mr. Oppong doubled the amount, which he intended to give her.

That was part of the money she used to sponsor Abu’s surprise birthday party at Golden Tulip Hotel that evening. When she got to Accra, she quickly called some of their mutual friends and arranged the party before calling Abu. His anger disappeared when he stepped into the far end of the restaurant and found his friends welcoming him with a song and shots that would later fill their Facebook and Instagram pages. After the party, Abu took Aisha to his single-room apartment in Accra New Town for a nice time before she went home.

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It was a long and eventful day Aisha would never forget. The most dramatic part of that day was immediately after she arrived from Koforidua with Mr. Oppong. Mr. Oppong had put her at safe distance and had given her money to hire a taxi home. The taxi could not get to her home because the houses in Mammobi were so tightly packed that some vehicle owners had to park hundreds of metres away from their homes.

Aisha had to pass by the mosque she often went for Quran recitals until she broke her virginity. At the shed by the mosque, she saw Mallam Aminu accosting her friend, Rabiatu, for not wearing a veil. He called Aisha and when she got there, he pointed at her and turned to Rabiatu:

“Look at her. She is a university graduate like you, but see how she’s well-covered. Look at her and look at yourself. You are a disgrace to the religion…”

“Rabi, don’t you have anything doing with your time?” Aisha snapped. “Why do you allow this hypocrite to waste your time?” Rabiatu was shocked. No one, especially a woman, dared speak to the spiritual leader like that. But Aisha was not done. She turned to Mallam Aminu with more venom.

“Do you know where I am coming from? And who are you to say someone is a disgrace to Islam, you stinking he-goat!” Aisha spat those words in Hausa and turned to go.

“Walahi, you will pay for this. Your father will know about what you have done. We will see if any family will allow their son to marry a disrespectful woman like you,” he swore. That statement stung Aisha like a scorpion and threw her back.

“If you misbehave, all of Nima, Mammobi and New Town will know how I lost my virginity. You idiot! All the young girls you have defiled will come out and we will see who is really disgracing Islam.”

Rabiatu was shocked to the marrow that Mallam Aminu could not react. He was about to move over and hit Aisha but when she dropped the bombshell, he stood there, shivering. Aisha was walking away and she taught she could hear a word from Mallam Aminu but he only looked to see if there was anybody around. When he recovered from the shock, he went into the mosque and did not come out until sunset.

Rabiatu ran after Aisha and asked what the matter was. Aisha was in tears.

“When I was growing up, I told myself that I would not sleep with any man until I got married,” she told Rabiatu in tears.

“That’s what I also told myself, too,” Rabiatu said. “It has not been easy but I am almost there. Alhassan and I are planning to get married when he returns from Spain next Eid.”

“Unfortunately, I could not keep my vow,” Aisha said, still weeping. “Just this morning, I slept with someone’s husband.”

“Allah forbid!” Rabiatu screamed.

Still in tears, Aisha told her friend how Mallam Aminu was one of the reasons she became a spoiled girl. When she completed junior high school, her father encouraged her to master Quran recitals and Mallam Aminu volunteered to help her. When she went to the Mallam’s house one afternoon, he defiled her. She was 15. When she went home and told his father, she was accused of being a bad girl given a sound beating and warned never to mention it to anyone. Since that day, whenever her father spoke to her sisters and her against pre-marital sex, she rebelled and vowed in her mind to do the exact opposite. Abu was the seventh man she was dating. In bed, she was more than a porn star.

“They care more about the veil than the purity and welfare of the girl behind the veil,” she concluded her narration.

“I’m very sorry my sister,” Rabiatu said, fighting hard to control the tears that had blurred her vision. “Unfortunately, these are the same demons who sit in judgment of the rest of us. May Allah have mercy on us all!”

This is a work of fiction. The writer, Manasseh Azure Awuni, is a journalist with the Multimedia Group. His email address is azureachebe2@yahoo.com

 

 

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