By Temitope Usman
“Who are you?” This question has been in existence since the time of our forefathers and as if the human race swore an oath to utter these words for as long as it continues to exist, it is usually the first question that comes out of most people’s mouth when they come face to face with an unknown person.
While growing up, my young mind had noticed that this question was usually asked out of curiosity and more curiosity. I have come to realize that it is one of man’s weaknesses. Hence, when Ahmed Ibrahim had roughly yanked his door open to glare down at me and ask this question one calm evening all those years ago, I had understood his burning desire to know the identity of the chubby young boy who dared to knock on his door.
However, before my understanding of this sophisticated question, I was just a naive little child who saw the world as a place of undeniable simplicities.
The first time someone spat these words to my face, my mind couldn’t comprehend its relevance and I found myself tongue-tied, wracking my brain for an answer.
My uncle, who had noticed the tenseness in my shoulders and the confusion written all over my face due to the sudden question, guffawed and explained to me that the relevance of the question is to know one’s name and personal details. Ever since that day, my mouth would be set in a proud smile and my eyes twinkle with amusement whenever someone asks me this question.
“My name is Muhammad Abdul-Quyyum Ridwan. I am the son of Muhammad Abubakar Mustapha and I am half Kanuri and half Maghi,” I would boast. My voice usually holds a tinge of excitement whenever I had to say these words in respect to the question I was asked. Why not? After all, the purpose of the question is to know one’s name, position, or achievements and I had perfectly given a reply to the best of my knowledge.
By the time I began to truly doubt the meaning of the three words and nine letters that sum up this complicated question, the world had already snatched every thing and everyone that mattered to me and I was left to discover my true identity.
Damboa, Maiduguri, Borno State is the only place I have ever called “home” as it was where I was born and nurtured. My mother, Fadhila Muhammad, bid the world farewell shortly after she gave me life. Thus, I was raised by my father, Muhammad Abubakar Mustapha, who never remarried due to the love he had for my mother.
Many people claimed that cow milk coupled with the grace of God were what helped me through the stages of breastfeeding while others claimed one of my father’s distant relative, who also gave birth shortly after my mother did, breastfed me. The truth, however, was never known to me because fear engulf me whenever I tried to approach my father to ask questions about my mother, her passing and how I survived as an infant.
Muhammad Mustapha was a no-nonsense and nice Kanuri man who spent most of his time working on his farm or selling his farm produce at The Damboa Township Market. On days he didn’t have much work to do at the farm, I would tag along to learn a few things about farming despite his protests. On our way back from the farm, we would bring back yams and other food crops which my aunt would prepare for the whole household.
The compound I grew up in was a large one which was owned by my father and uncle. One part of the compound held a large building occupied by my father and I, while the other part was occupied by my uncle and his family; his wife, Aminat, and their three children.
Whenever my father and uncle return with food crops, my uncle’s wife would prepare delicious meals of rice, millet and sorrel soup, or dandahu (meat, okra, and groundnut) and the whole household would feast on it. After our meal most nights, my father, cousins and I would sit on a mat under the night sky and he would tell us stories about wars or ask us to tell him about what we learnt during the day. These nights were one of the few nights when father let his childlike enthusiasm overwhelm him and he would play and laugh with us more as a peer and less as an adult.