Mohammed Naseehu Ali
On the day of Mr Rafique's manhood test, he woke up at half past three in the morning - an hour earlier than his normal rousing time. He had barely slept the night before, haunted by images of a market scene at Kumasi's central, where a group of old women hawked phalluses of every size, shape, and color. He remained lying on the hard-foamed couch in the sitting room, where he had slept for the past week. He pressed his limp penis gently - the way doctors press blood pressure bulbs - hoping it would become fully erect, something he had not seen for three whole weeks.
He came alert on hearing the loud crows of roosters in the courtyard, and was suddenly overpowered by the crippling fear that had tormented him since the day about a week ago when his wife had accused him of unmanliness at the chief palace on
The test was scheduled for this afternoon, and the mere thought of even attempting to sleep with his wife again made Mr Rafique's entire body numb. He brushed the fingers of his left hand around the edge of his penis. "Why are you treating me so?" he whispered to himself "Eh, tell me! Why are you treating me so?" He lifted his head from the pillow to look at his crotch, as though he had expected the penis to answer. "What am I going to do, ya' Allah!" he said, his voice now just above a whisper "What am I going to do if I fail?"
Mr Rafique lifted his arms and silently began to pray in the most distant region of his heart, where no one - not even the two angels said to be guarding each mortal day and night - could hear him. He prayed for a miracle to turn his limp phallus into a bouncing, fully erect one; he begged Allah to steer his destiny clear of the imminent humiliation that threatened to put him and his family to shame.
He remained on the couch for another hour or so, his half-erect penis cupped in his left hand. He heard the muezzin's incantations, "Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar" (God is Great! God is Great!), calling the faithful to the first of their five daily worships to the Creator. He gently rubbed his penis and listened:
"Assala't hairi minal-naum! Assalat hairi minal-naum!" (Worship is better than sleep! Worship is better than sleep!)
The mellifluous, melancholy, yet commanding voice of the crier soothed Mr Rafique's heart into total submission to Allah. For a moment he forgot about the impending test and the agony it had brought him. His eyes were dry and itchy from lack of sleep; his mind fatigued by the phalluses he had seen in his nightmares; his body tired from sleeping on the couch for the past week or so.
Suddenly his mind drifted back to his inability. The fears in his heart drowned out the muezzin's cries. He sat upright and began to pray: "Let my enemies be disappointed and ashamed of their enemy today, ya' Allah!" He lifted his arms in the air, with a face full of self-pity. "And to those who doubt my manliness, ya' Allah," he continued, "prove to them that all power comes from you. Equip me with the strength to perform this test, to which I am maliciously being subjected!"
He closed the prayer by reciting Ayatul-Kursiyyu, the second most powerful verse in the Koran, one that is supposed to work wonders in solving all kinds of problems. Finally he raised his arms in the air, spat on his open palms, and rubbed them gently on his face. He murmured, "Amin," lay back on the couch, and resumed caressing his penis.
Before long, Mr Rafique was so lost in this activity that he forgot it was almost time for the a'suba' worship. The muezzin's voice, distant, echoing, roused him from his fantasies.
"Ash-hadu al'a'ila'ha illalla'!" (I bear witness there is no god besides Allah!) the voice was reciting.
As if motivated by the muezzin's invocations, Mr Rafique's penis began to harden.
A minute later, it was as erect and solid as an unripe green plantain - crooked and curved towards his right thigh. Never before in his thirty-eight years had his penis been this hard. He was bewil- dered. He moved his butt sideways and spread his legs apart, so as to make way for his bulging crotch. Filled with an inner joy, a sudden desire almost drove Mr Rafique to walk into the bedroom and thrust his way into his wife. But a second thought advised him against it; he decided to wait until the test, "before the eyes of that old la'firee and the entire street. Then I will prove to her (his wife) and all my enemies that I am a fall-grown man."
Then it dawned on him that the morning worship was about to begin. In one movement he sprang from the couch and got into his prayer-robe, which concealed the bulge in his loose slacks. He slipped his feet into rubber slippers and sprinted out of the room and into the breezy, dew- scented dawn. Outside, a handful of lazyboned roosters - that had just woken up - crowed. Mr Rafique ran all the way to the mosque, reciting dhikr under his breath.
Zulaildia, Mr Rafique's wife of eight months, was already at the chief's palace when Mr Rafique arrived at four. She was inside the alkali's office being briefed by the elder and the old woman picked to invigilate the test. The wife had been accompanied to the palace by two middle-aged women from her clan. They sat in the large, high-ceilinged lounge of the palace waiting for her. But long before the test day, Mr Rafique had made up his mind that all those who believed his wife's allegations were enemies of his; and knowing as a fact that the two women with Zulaikha not only believed her but also supported her petition for divorce, he ignored their presence.
"Hypocrites," he whispered. "That's what they are, all of them! They act as if they like you, when all they are after is your downfall!" He found an unoccupied bench in the comer and sat there to wait for his turn to see the alkali.
The meeting with the elder was very brief- it lasted no more than five minutes. As he walked through the foyer to the test room, Mr Rafique saw at least three dozen faces and more pair of eyes staring at him through the lounge's many windows. Not only were the people of
Now, as the test neared, the mental and emotional anguish that had plagued Mr Rafique fell away; he was determined to redeem himself in the eyes of his enemies, to "put all of them to shame, by Allah." Then, he suddenly realized that the presence of the lafiree would in fact be to his advantage, because Zulaikha - who would not want to be thought of as a whore - would "lie still as she received her husband," as expected of a married woman. That excited him even more. As he walked closer to the test room, Mr Rafique felt the blood surge through his half-erect penis.
The old lady and Zulaikha had walked directly to the test room, at the end of a long, narrow hallway in the guest section of the palace. The palace building was composed of three large rectangular houses, each with its own courtyard and rooms numbering up to twenty-four. The test room had only one window that faced the almost vacant courtyard. The interior of the room was brightly lit by a three-foot fluorescent tube. A double-sized kapok bed was tucked in the left corner of the room and a small table sat beside the bed. The invigilator's chair was placed facing the bed in a way that the old woman would be able to have a clear glimpse of what went on.
Mr Rafique paused on reaching the door. "Assalaamu-Alaikum!" he said and waited for a response. The door was momentarily opened by the old woman, who peeked outside. Despite the freckles all over her wrinkled face, the lafiree looked healthy for her age, sixty-eight. Her gra- cious smile, which exposed two gaps in her front teeth, seemed fake to Mr Rafique, who simply saw her as another of his enemies.
Responding to her warm, inviting smile, he grinned maliciously.
"Come inside," the lafiree said, though she was quite aware of his animosity. "Call me when you are ready to begin. I will be waiting outside." She smiled as she walked past him. Mr Rafique went into the test room. Meanwhile, a large crowd had gathered outside the palace. Groups of people had traded rumors about the test. A number of women -peanut, yam, and ginger-beer vendors - congregated near the palace gates. A garrulous woman who claimed to be the best friend of Zulaikha's mother stood among the food vendors; and even though she carried no food she captured the hawkers' full attention with her story.
"The girl's mother did confide in me that the spiritualist they visited told them that the man's thing had long been cooked and eaten by them witches, during one of their weekly feasts." The woman's small audience was rapt. "And would you believe it if I told you that it was no one but his mother who took the thing to the feast? Which only goes to show that she herself is one." The woman lowered her voice. "No wonder she has been lying in a grass bed for nine years! Don't tell anyone you heard this from me though, okay? It is a big secret!" She then went on to describe to the vendors (in full details) how Mr Rafique's penis had been cut, prepared, and eaten by the witches. The women gasped at what they heard and wondered how the garrulous woman came about the information. But none of them questioned her, afraid she might stop the story.
Gathered near the vendors was a group of young men from about the age of sixteen to twenty- three. They, too, speculated about the test. One of them swore that he saw Mr Rafique as he walked into the palace, and that "his prick looked as if it would tear itself right out of his trousers. I tell you, Man, that was how hard he was!" the young man said. Then he challenged his listeners to a bet of a hundred cedis each if they doubted his word that Mr Rafique would pass the test. None of his listeners showed interest in betting, though they all rooted for Mr Rafique, just as most of the women and girls on the street rooted for Zulaikha.
Zulaikha's eyes met her husband's as he entered the room. She had not seen him since he left for work that morning. She lowered her head and shifted uneasily towards the end of the bed. Mr Rafique stood there, without saying a word. She lifted her face, and their eyes met again. He shrugged his shoulders and moved his eye-brows up and down, gesturing - or rather signaling - for them to begin what they had come to do. Zulaikha felt like a whore, a very cheap one for that matter, given the entire city of
Hatred surged through her, though not directed toward Mr Rafique, but toward the streetfolks. Shyly she looked into her husband's sunken eyes, and suddenly felt an immense tenderness towards him. She blamed herself for all of Mr Rafique's misfortunes, and felt that she - her marriage to him at least - had brought only ruin to him. She was filled with sadness when she thought of "the disgrace that awaited him when the test was over. I wish I knew what to do to make him do well," she said to herself She considered telling the old woman that she had all the while been lying about her husband's manhood, but at the same time she also knew it was too late for her to alter what she had said - "the horses were already lined up before the open field, and the derby couldn't be canceled."
Then things took a rather unexpected, mysterious turn. Mr Rafique suddenly turned soft, not under his legs, as one might have expected, but up in his chest, in his heart. In a sudden spiritual awakening, he conceded that his inability was neither his or his wife's fault. He blamed it on the evil machinations of his enemies on the street and on the old witches who had long put it into their heads to destroy him, "though their wicked hearts shall never see that!"
His eyes met Zulaikha's again as these thoughts ran through his head. And in her soft eyes he saw all the qualities that had drawn him to her in the beginning: her individualism and unusual strength, which had caused her to do things quite unexpected of women on
Something inside Mr Rafique proclaimed to him that the only way he could maintain his love for Zulai for the rest of his life was to part from her, "to separate myself from the spell Love casts on people ... to love her spiritually, and thereby wholly." Instantly he renounced marriage and sex altogether, and decided to grant Zulaikha the divorce she was demanding. He waited for the old woman to walk in, so he could announce his decision to her.
Meanwhile, Mr Rafique searched the farthest corners of his mind and heart, hoping to find the cause of his change. It seemed to him that something that was part of his Being, though much larger than his Self, had guided him to make that decision. And even though he was never able to figure out what that something was, Mr Rafique lived the rest of his life in the happiness of the new path he had chosen. "This is the only way I can retain my dignity," he thought. Mr Rafique wished he could tell Zulai exactly what was on his mind. "She would be delighted, I swear," he told himself
"Are you two ready?" The voice of the old woman squeaked through the door.
"Yes," Mr Rafique answered calmly.
Zulaikha, looking confused, not knowing what to say or how to act, kept her eyes away from the door as the old woman entered. The lafiree - who had expected to see a lot more than what she saw - was taken aback, but she said nothing. She seemed disappointed that Mr Rafique was not on top of his wife.
"I have changed my mind," he said, avoiding Zulaikha's eyes.
"What are you talking about?" cried the old woman, grabbing his forearm.
"Myself, I don't know, but I won't do it even if you leave the room." He paused, glanced at his wife, and continued. "And I hereby grant her the divorce, three times, three times, three times!"
"Wait, Rafiku," the old woman said. "Why do you want to do this to yourself? You know what the Zongoleses will say, don't you?"
"Yes I do! But, for all I care, they can say whatever they want to say! My heart tells me I am doing a good thing. That's what matters to me, not what a Zongolese thinks."
The lafiree shuddered at Mr Rafique's pronouncements. And, Zulaikha, who might have been expected to rejoice, sat with eyes half-closed and tightly knit, as if she had just received mournful news. Mr Rafique took a step towards Zulaikha. He lowered his head, and with his left palm on his chest extended his right arm to her, in a gesture of love and respect. "Maassalam," he said politely and turned and began to walk out of the room. The women stared at each other and then at his back, still unable to make head or tail of what had taken place.
No sooner had Mr Rafique walked through the palace gates than rumor flew throughout the street that he had failed. By the next day, there were half a dozen new stories about the test, each one a slight variation, salted and spiced as it went from one mouth to the other. Some rumors claimed that Mr Rafique had actually passed the test, but had soon afterwards pronounced the divorce, as a means of revenge on his wife. One swore that Mr Rafique's "pen had run out of ink" in the middle of the test. Another maintained that he had failed miserably, that he "wasn't even able to get his thing up" to begin with; that he had never been a man, and Najim was someone else's son after all, a child forced on him by "his harlot-mother" because the real culprit had denied responsibility for the pregnancy.
The lafiree, who had apparently noticed the bulge in Mr Rafique's trousers when he entered the test room, defended him. She swore by her many years and the strength of her dead husband that "the young man Rafiku is a real man! I saw his trouser-front with my two eyes, and believe me I can tell a real man when I see one!"
So much for the old woman's attempt to tell the truth of what she saw. The street's rascals nicknamed her "Madam-real-manhood." And to the chagrin of the poor lady, that nickname followed her to her grave.
from Tribes Issue 8}