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Abubakar Adam Ibrahim: Season of Crimson Blossoms

Hajiya Binta Zubairu, called Hajiya by some (it is a title, meaning someone who has been to Mecca) and Binta by others, is fifty-five when the book starts. Indeed, the book says that she was finally born at this time, as the result of someone entering her house, attacking and robbing her. She had woken up that day, feeling that something auspicious was to happen. It had happened before, such as the day her father announced that she was to marry Zubairu, the day Zubairu was killed by a mob ten years ago, the day her son, Yaro, was shot by the police or the day her daughter came home, saying that her husband had divorced her.

On this occasion, she returned home, found the door open and was attacked from behind when she entered the house. He had already taken some things and wanted her money, her mobile phone and her jewellery. However, when she went to get the jewellery and he saw her from the front, he hesitated, apologised and ran off. Two days later, most of the stolen items were placed on the doorstep. He then appeared, apologising profusely and saying he would pay back the money he had taken and get her mobile phone back. Though her family knew about the robbery, they thought someone just broke in and took the items while she was away. She does not tell them about the attack or the assailant.

She lives with Fa’iza, her niece, who does not want to live with her mother, Binta’s younger sister, Asabe. Asabe had remarried and Fa’iza does not like her stepfather. Her father was brutally murdered in front of her during the Jos religious riots, which not surprisingly gives her frequent nightmares and a fear of blood. Fa’iza is obsessed with films and romantic novels. Ummi, Binta’s granddaughter, also lives with them. Apart from Yaro, Binta has three other children. Her son Munkaila is well off and helps his mother. Indeed, he is building a house, where there will be a place for her. She also has a daughter Khadija, known as Hadiza and a daughter, Hureira, who has divorced one man and is about to divorce a second, to her mother’s chagrin. Binta has not had a particularly happy life. Hr marriage was not happy. She used to time her sexual encounters with her husband and they usually lasted between sixty and seventy seconds. There was no affection, despite her efforts. One son was still-born and she still mourns Yaro, who was shot by the police in a raid.

However, the focus is also on Reza, her assailant. There is an unfinished shopping centre, near where Binta lives, abandoned because the developer ran out of money. It is called San Siro (after the Milan football stadium). It is now the home of drug dealers and users, one of which is Reza. Reza’s mother, Maimuna, left the family early on, as she had been forced to marry Reza’s father, Babale, when she was seventeen and caught a flight to Jeddah, for purposes other than hajj. When she was deported from Jeddah, Babale took Reza to see her. She refused to take the young boy (then called Hassan) but when she returned some years later, he rejected her. Binta reminded Reza of Maimuna, which was why he abandoned the robbery and returned the stolen items.

Reza goes back to Binta, having recovered his phone from the person he sold it to, and returns it to her. One thing leads to another and soon they are in bed and starting an affair. Though he reminds her of his son and she reminds him of his mother, they still decide that sex is the best way to recover what they have lost. Meanwhile, we follow Reza as he works for a rich senator, helping to rig elections, while Binta gets a proposal from another man, which Munkaila urges her to accept. Naturally, she does not. Reza is in charge of the gang at San Siro and they will do anything for money, including subverting the elections in any way the senator wants, which, in this case, involves kidnapping the son of a key rival. However, things start going wrong. The kidnapping does not work out as planned and Reza’s affair with Binta is becoming known, not only to the women at the madrasa and the neighbours but also to her family.

Interestingly, both men in Binta’s life have a history of violence. Zubairu was fired from his job for beating up his boss, while Reza was expelled from school for beating up a teacher and we know he has killed at least one man and will kill at least one more during the course of the book. The background to this book is the political situation in Nigeria, where corruption, violence and religious intolerance are strong. Elections are subverted, bribes paid and the normal process of law does not exist. Ibrahim does not hold back on the violence, giving us gruesome descriptions of the deaths of various people, both individual deaths and those killed in the religious riots in Jos. We also hear of the rise of Boko Haram.

However, what makes this novel interesting is the improbable quasi-incestuous relationship between Reza and Binta. He is looking for his mother in Binta and she is looking for her son in Reza and yet their relationship is anything but maternal-filial. Binta has not had any relationship with a man since her husband’s death (and he was the first and only one) and is quite prudish, criticising her daughter for her second marital failure and continually remarking to the younger generation how things were done differently when she was younger. Yet somehow, the relationship overrides Binta’s prudery and her family problems, Reza’s violence and the problems he faces with his gang and their activities, the obvious Oedipal situation and the general political upheaval. Can love, even quasi-Oedipal love, override the problems of the real world?

Publishing history

First published 2015 by Parrésia