Souls in Search of Healing: A Review of Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's Season of Crimson Blossoms
Aristotle pointed out in his The Poetics that an ideal tragedy should be about a good man brought to ruin and misfortune, I also think this should be so. Yet, I sit here today doubting Aristotle's words after meeting the character of Reza in Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's Season of Crimson Blossoms. Reza is bad, remains bad and dies bad but why do I feel such huge sympathy for him? Why do I wish he survives and escapes to Jeddah to his mother where he may get another shot at life? Just why...? Perhaps, as someone once said (I think it was Achebe), the greatest tragedy never happens in gigantic mansions amidst wealth and opulence, it happens most often at a dirty road side corner--the dwelling place of the common man and pauper.
However, Reza is not the protagonist of the novel, Hajia Binta is, but the character of Reza is quite poignant and pertinent in viewing how events evolve in the novel. I even think that the greatest attribute of the novel is in showing us a likable villain (Reza) for whom most readers cannot claim not to have felt even the smallest molecule of sympathy for. The author leads us into the humane side of the Reza, making us see that which is hidden, we come to see that inside that brute flesh of the ganja smoker lies hidden a disturbed but human aspect and I have learnt never to judge a man whose inner workings I cannot comprehend.
Hajia Binta has passed through much horrible tragedy at a younger age, her husband and older son have been victims of the incessant Jos religious riots. But all these were in the past and she now lives a peaceful existence in one of Abuja's slums, in a house rented for her by her now successful and only living son (Munkaila).
All Binta thinks she needs at this moment is to remain pious by observing her daily prayers and studying the Hadith and Holy Quran at the madrasa (Islamic school). Everything runs quite smoothly until a twenty-five-year-old burglar breaks into her apartment to pilfer her valuables; and not satiated; he returns later to steal from her again and this time it is her heart he comes for; emblazing a part of her she already considered dead!
Twenty five year old Reza is the kingpin of San Siro, a suburb known as the abode of ganja smokers, criminals and hoodlums, and which is close to Hajia Binta's house. The unpremeditated meeting of Reza and Hajia Binta sparks off memories deeply hidden within their hearts and from these memories would sprout the seed of an amorous relationship.
But Hajia Binta is a fifty-five-year-old woman whose second son is even older than Reza and as if this is not enough, their relationship buds in an Islamic society that is still highly conservative. More so, what respect is there in a relationship existing between a young political thug cum ganja smoker and a pious and well respected Hajia?
The relationship is bound to crumble, but not without bitter consequences. You just have to read the novel to know how it all played out.
The major characters in the novel are all distraught, their souls are wounded and they run around seeking healing balm. Binta was born into a culture that does not offer the opportunity to make choices in matters of love and marriage, a culture that forbids a woman calling her first child by name, thereby keeping her first seed emotionally distant from her. She also has lived through the tragedy of having her husband and son murdered in the infamous Jos religious riots (a common occurrence which happens with surprising frequency). That she now sees in Reza the son she could never get close to is therefore not surprising.
In Reza, Binta finds the much needed healing, she now lives the life which she never could live in the past but which she so yearned for. She could now get the sexual satiation which is almost impossible with her late husband and she is happy to have found love, at least this once. But she knows that it is wrong, her society (the one she lives in) would never accept such a relationship and it can only occur under the oath of secrecy which she makes Reza swear to. She also knows that the relationship is bound to end someday but what she rues the most is the fear of public discovery which unfortunately is soon manifested for as they say, "nothing is hidden under the sun;" at least not for too long anyway.
Built into the man of steel he now is, Reza has had his own share of misfortunes in life, he was born into a polygamous family that disliked him for the being a beloved of his father (who transferred the love he had for the mother to the son). His mother had been the daughter of his father's friend and had been married off at a young age to his father without her consent. After she bore Reza, she abandons her son to the other "she wolves" (wives) and absconds to Saudi Arabia (rumors say with a lover). Reza wishes his mother had remained to take care of him and when he realized she would never return home, he grew up despising her. Hence, Reza grows up without a mother and his first major challenge in life will be to overcome his father's wives and older brother who are always bullying him. He gets into a fight with his brother and cuts his brother hand with a razor carefully concealed in his palms, this is how he gets baptised from Hassan to 'Reza' by his father's wife. Reza runs away from home to San Siro after this event and soon takes over after eliminating the former capone (Two Guns). He kick starts a flourishing weed retail business and connects with a strong politician who employs him and his boys as political thugs, and also to carry out his dirty political businesses.
Meeting the older Binta when he went to rob her house, he comes to see the image of the mother he never had in her and pursued by a feeling of guilt, he returns the valuables he had stolen from her and declares her house a protected and no-go-area for all the petty thieves of San Siro. This was the initiation of an amorous relationship between older Binta and a much more younger Reza.
Reza's case is a different category of Oedipus complex which might be worth a study and we would all agree that Reza's soul, as that of Binta's, is troubled and wants healing, a healing which he finds in Binta.
Faiza, Binta's niece, had also been a victim of the volatile Jos Riots and memories of her father and brother being butchered by well known Christian neighbours right before her very eyes (even as her mother cried and pleaded for clemency) remains quite disturbing and continues to plague her. It is the cause of her abhorrence for meat and blood and it is why she is introverted and acts grotesque.
Healing for Faiza lies in escape, she buries herself in the world of Soyaya novellas, sharing close affinity with that world is the Kannywood world of Ali Nuhu (a popular Hausa actor) which she also escapes into and her only ties to reality, remains perhaps, her ardent mental conjuration and attempt at never forgetting what her younger brother's face looks like. But as much as she tries to reconstruct her brother's face in her mind and on her canvass, she discovers that she is losing grasp of what her brother's face looks like before he was killed and this keeps her tormented till Binta furnishes her with an old photograph with her brother captured in it.
Healing for Faiza is in keeping the memories of her beloveds alive, the code is: "never to forget".
However, it seems as if the major characters were not the only ones whose souls wanted healing, it appears the country described in the novel could make do with some healing also. Abubakar Adam Ibrahim cleverly parallels the lives of his major characters with that of a country in tumultuous times; elections are fast approaching and it seems the country's populace is no more in synchrony with the present government administration and has began canvassing for a change in government and governance.
What Adam Abubakar Ibrahim shows us is a country wrecked by the incessant bombing and female child kidnaps of Boko Haram terrorist group, a country easily flared by religious cum ethnic riots, it is a country run by devilish politicians who direct youths towards violent and evil activities while their own children go on globetrotting sprees; wandering aimlessly like Fulani cattle. It is a country where policemen thrive in the business of bribe eating to perpetrate crime and permit them, a perfect dystopia. Hence, even the country wants healing.
The termination of Munkaila's life through Reza in the novel is, perhaps, the most rueful and painful aspect of the novel for me, it reminds me of Obierika and Ezeulu in Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God. Binta, against all odds, might have chosen to continue living her life after losing a son; and then a lover; but I doubt if she will not soon lapse into madness. Reza's death also is, perhaps, like one of those quiet tragedies one never gets to hear about, or which can only matter to a select few for like many others of his kind, he is one of the expendables of life—deserving only a brief mention on the evening news.
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's Season of Crimson Blossoms is worth every praise it has received and even more. With the writer and the novel have I found linguistic freshness (especially with the proverbial knots kick-starting every chapter) as I am reintroduced into the northern Nigeria ontology and the English equivalent of certain articles or items. I find the use of the Hausa language by his characters to reflect verisimilitude and local colour quite enticing and I think the writer's fingers are quite magical at characterisation for his characters are well painted and believable.
Aside from these, the novel is also an important commentary on the issue of child marriage and the role played by women in northern Nigeria societies. It also provides profound insight and valuable information on the cultural values of northern Nigeria, which is perhaps a microcosm of most Islamic African societies.
Abubakar Adam Ibrahim's Season of Crimson Blossoms is a novel I shall most definitely be caught reading again, at a different time from now. And to the writer of this great work, I can only say bravo, bravo, and bravo!
© Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2018