Czech & Speake

The skincare therapist tells me stories as she works on my body, as she makes my skin glitter and beautifies me to be ready for my husband. The stories are of course sad as with everything about the woman. She has sad eyes and a sorrowful disposition. Her face has the aura of a melancholic painting, beautiful but broken, the sort that makes one break into tears. At first, when I was accompanied by some of my cousins or my bridesmaids, she silently worked as we chatted loudly and planned the wedding. Now though, they have gotten busy with the wedding which was to hold in two weeks’ time and so I was left to come alone. The skincare therapist begins telling me stories in her very poor Hausa.  

I don’t know her name. We call her Shuwa Arab or Maman Fuad. I’ve not thought much of this woman. She was recommended by Saudat, my maid of honour. To me she is just another woman from war-ravaged Maiduguri, hustling in Kano. We patronise these Kanuri or Shuwa women for their incense and perfumes or for their skin care services to brides-to-be. Not until she begins telling me stories, deeply personal stories.

She starts with her husband.

‘You are so excited about your marriage, huh.’

I smile, not shy with her, and nod.

‘He loves you?’

‘Yes,’ I say.

‘You love him too.’

I laugh first before nodding. She stares at me as she scrubs my leg with the Halawa. It hurts because of the hairs on my legs. I had told her from the onset that I didn’t want the Halawa waxing on my pubic regions. She shrugs and continues telling me how to diet for the skincare period.

We are alone in the house. Her only child, a noisy boy of four is in school. Her cramped bedroom which serves as her spa smells of the incense which she makes. The bottles of perfumes and other aromatic oils she sells are arranged in her old wardrobe without doors, in the absence of a shelf.

‘I don’t love my husband at all,’ she says.

I stare at her. A beautiful woman, she’s so fair, with dark lips. She has bags under her eyes. That is the cause of her sadness, I think. A husband she doesn’t love.

I don’t know what to say to her. 

‘Is there another man?’

‘No. I don’t like men.’

That is weird, I think.

Then her stories take me to Borno, her home state.

She tells me how she was passed from one relative to another after her parent’s death. The last uncle she was taken to had said she should be married off. She belonged only to her husband’s house. But she’d said no, she wanted to become a dietician. Her uncle said she was stupid, so spoilt by her father that she didn’t even know a decent career to dream of. A nurse or journalist at least but a dietician? She ran from him and with nowhere to go, fled to a refugee camp.

She stayed for months in the refugee camp before tragedy struck yet again and she lost someone dear to her.

Now she was left with no choice but to leave Maiduguri. She agreed to marry a man that had been chasing her on the condition that he took her somewhere far away from the troubled region. They left for Kano after their marriage.

She pauses the story here and a lull sets in as she continues the dilka. After that, she burns some ancient stuff and places them under a chair that has a hole. I sit on the chair, basking in the fragrant smoke. It warms me.

She is done by now. Ahad comes here to take me home every day and I usually waste his time by staying to apply light makeup on my face and tie my veil well. But today, the Shuwa Arab woman’s story leaves me all moody so I tie my veil loosely. I wash the stickiness off my face without powdering it.

Ahad is nodding to Justin Bieber’s Peaches in the car. I know it is deliberate; he knows I’m crazy over Selena Gomez and is embittered about her breakup with Justin. I change the song to Wolves. He smiles and looks at me with eyes filled with adoration. He is so handsome with his full beard and dreamy eyes.

He has brought the fresh milk I’m required to drink after the therapy sessions. That’s something I admire a lot about him. He does whatever he thinks I’d need without failing. A husband material of the full 40 yards. I suddenly remember the therapist and my mood changes.


Another day in the spa, as I strip to my pants, she says to me, ‘you have the most perfect black skin.’

I want to say, not minding the immodesty, that I always knew my caramel was flawless and that was why I emphasized that she didn’t add any lightening substance in the Dilka she made for me.

‘Your skin is just like Asabe. She’s Hausa like you. You can tell from her name. It means born on a Saturday right?’


She tells me that Asabe was her friend from the refugee camp. She was an orphan like herself. She had nowhere to go because all her relatives were in Katsina. She bonded so well with my therapist as they shared the same tent.

‘I’ve never seen someone so scarred, so broken like Asabe’, she says as she wipes a tear from her eyes.

Asabe was not only an orphan but was abducted by terrorists. She told her of the horrible things that had happened to her in their hands. When she was finally set free, she went searching for her husband. She found him working and living decently as a relief worker in one of the camps. But he sent her away. He rejected his wife as some other husbands did to their abducted wives because they had been raped by terrorists. 

She thought Asabe was going to heal when they were together. They told each other how so much they loved each other. Just when she thought Asabe was learning to smile again, to love again, she ran one morning and jumped into the old well in the camp.

The therapist cries against my body and I hold her.


On the last day, I am naked as the day I was born. She massages some cream and perfume over my body. My skin feels supple. I’m glowing. I can’t wait for the few days when Ahad’s hands would do the same for me. My nipples begin to harden so I try to take my mind off him.

I feel her hands linger on my breast. I am taken unawares; from the tender touch, she squeezes my nipple and then her mouth is in my own mouth. She moans, ‘Asabe, my love. Asabe.’

I should have known. I should have known when she told me she didn’t like men and that the love she and Asabe shared was beyond friendship.

I throw her off my body. I pick up my clothes from the floor. I quickly wear them. She keeps muttering ‘yi hakuri’ but I am not sorry. I walk out and leave her behind, sobbing.

Mujahid Ameen Lilo writes in English and Hausa. He majors in English Language at Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria. His works have appeared in The Lagos Review, The Nigeria Review, Ebedi Review, Kalahari Review, Daily Trust, and others. He won The Wole Soyinka Essay Competition in 2019. He was also shortlisted for the Aminiya Trust Hausa Short Story Competition 2021 and the Nigeria Prize for Teen Authors 2020. Lilo is the recipient of the 2021 HIASFEST National Star Prize for the most progressive teen author in Nigeria awarded by the Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation.