Mona was three years younger than me. Like me she was born with Sickle Cell Anemia. She was really an ordinary child, never spoke much, never got into trouble, she was just an “on her own” kind of person, and she loved to read. Mona loved the few friends she had with all her might. I easily passed for her best friend. We shared our secrets and thoughts.
She looked far healthier than me, so many people never ever imagined that she would die before me. I fell ill more often than Mona, had to be admitted more often too. But the thing is, once she fell ill, she fell really ill; she would be totally down, she would lose weight, lose her appetite, and just not be fun at all. I was more fun when I fell ill, I am *wink*. Maama hated the Mona-session of illness. I was usually the calmest and she would tell Maama not to worry, Fatima will stay with her.
Mona got transfused before I did by a month. I don’t know what that story is, but I remember it was our daddy that donated blood for her. She was his baby. I remember him picking her up and saying ‘I would give you my heart to never seeyou this way again.” Our dad was hardly ever around so for him, that was probably the worst day of his life.
My older sister had given birth in June 2001, two months before Mona died (August 2001) and I had gained admission to Bayero University, Kano to study medicine (not my choice).This made us both in Kano, but our parents lived in Lagos, Mona had just concluded her first year of senior high in Nigerian Navy Secondary School, Ojo, Lagos. They therefore came to visit us in Kano.
The weather is terrible in the northern part of Nigeria. And Kano is no exception. They came during the rainy season so it wasn’t so bad, but I think the stressof the journey and a change of environment may have been the triggering factors. I don’t know and it really doesn’t make any difference now.
I had spent a couple of days with them and I was helping to relieve her of the pain and probably by the third or fourth day she was feeling better so I decided to go back to the hostel and Maama said she would leave on Monday.
It was a Saturday night, the last time I saw Mona. We were having our usual conference-for-two, laughing and just reliving the days when I was still with her in secondary school. She was saying “don’t worry, I will come and join you here” I started laughing and told her “every girl for herself.” It was a rainy night and as usual there was no power supply. She was complaining to me about her backsliding in her prayers since she arrived Kano and how very sad she was about it. She wanted to go back to Lagos. I don’t blame her; I wanted to run to the hostel myself, LOL! I didn’t need to go back to the hostel, but I still don’t get why I insisted I wanted to leave!
She kept on begging me to stay but I absolutely refused. She followed me round the house, wherever I went, she was right there, LOL! Finally I had to stop her but she said something to me, which I think, even if I forget all the words I have ever heard, I will never forget those words. She said “Fatima, please stay. You don’t know if this is the last time I will ever see you.” I gently shoved her aside and told her not to say such words. But I walked over to the window unseeing, asking myself why she was talking like an old woman about to die. It worried me. I would have stayed if my friend hadn’t called to confirm if I was coming or not. And I would have stayed if IK hadn’t come backwith the car and asked “Fatima, are you ready?” no I am not blaming either of them. It was meant to be. I hugged them all and promised to call them.
On Thursday 16th, August, I really wanted to speak with Mona, know how she was. I was missing her. I went round the whole of Old site looking for a working payphone, but nothing! So I came back feeling sad and just not proper.
Friday 17th August, I woke up feeling good and normal but determined to speak with Maama. After classes and Juma’a prayers, my friends and I went for some ‘memory time’. By the time we had finished, I was in quite a depressed state. I really need to talk with this people, since they left on Monday; I haven’t bothered to check on them. That was all I was thinking of. I went to Kofar Kabuga and even beyond there. No luck. What is the meaning of this? I was wondering to myself. I walked back to the hostel after an hour of fruitless search for pay phones.
When I got to my room, a friend/roommate was there so I told her what had happened and she was just saying “eyya, eyya. Toh, haka Allah Ya so” That’s Hausa for “it’s the will of God”. I didn’t even notice that she was being evasive, avoiding my eyes and any long discussion. Then she said casually, “One of your sisters-in-law was here, what’s her name again….Nana or Mama I really don’t remember. She said you should go home because you have an important message.” I was a bit startled, “important message?” Please even if I was sent millions of USD nobody would come to tell me. That was what I was thinking. And then I became worried.
So I asked my close friend, Hadiza to follow me home because it was already dark. We left immediately. On the way I just looked at her and said, “I think my father’s ship drowned and he died. Or maybe the plane crashed and he never made it to Japan. I think my father is dead.” I knew something was up, just couldn’tthink of anybody else dying or dead. And I couldn’t think of a more important message than death!
On getting home, my sister was in the kitchen, the babysitter was carrying the baby in the living room. I also noticed her husband was in town. I was super excited I forgot for a while what was bothering me. We greeted the nanny and my friend sat with her playing with Anisah, the baby. I ran to the kitchen and asked “Amina how far? How is daddy?” she replied “daddy is fine.” I heaved a sigh of relief then asked “what of mommy?” she said “mommy is fine too.” Then I turned to leave. As I climbed the 2 stair cases from the kitchen, I whirled round and asked “enhen, what of Mona? How is she?” she just smiled and said“Mona? Mona is fine!” I knew something was wrong, so I asked again if anything was wrong she said nothing and I should go perform my prayers.
So I went to the guest toilet and as I was coming out, I heard the nanny saying“kanwarta ta rasu”. You see there was a problem there, I wasn’t sure at thattime if it meant ‘her sister’ or ‘her friend’ has passed away. My Hausa was just beyond poor!
I sat on the closest chair and asked my friend what she meant, but Hadiza just pretended to be playing with Anisah. Then Amina came out of the kitchen and asked if I had prayed, I replied not yet. She asked me to quickly get to it because food was almost ready. When we went into the room, she held my hands and told me to sit on the bed beside her. She said “Fatima, Mona is gone!”