Title: Season of Crimson Blossoms
Author: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Publisher: Speaking Tiger
Price: Rs 499
It is raw. It is edgy. This debut novel of author Abubakar Adam Ibrahim, Season of Crimson Blossoms, is plucked straight from the tree of life. The tree in question – Nigeria, Abubakar’s homeland. Within that country, the action takes place mainly in the Northern part of the country, on the outskirts of its capital, Abuja.
The story revolves around a devout 55-year old widow Hajiya Binta Zubairu; and Hassan ‘Reza’ Babale, a 25-year-old weed-smoking delinquent, and indulger in petty crime. What, one would think, do they have in common? But they do. Loss and longing. Passion unfulfilled. An awakening. The season of crimson blossoms.
While Binta has lost her husband and first born son in the bloody fabric of social and political disquiet that has rocked the country from time to time; Reza’s mother abandoned him as a child, when she left her husband. It seems she has taken to prostitution in Jeddah. When at the age of 10, his father takes Reza to meet his mother, he pleads to remain with her. But, disentangling the little clutching fingers, she walks away, dissolving like a desirable shimmering dream, without a backward glance.
It would seem that Binta is content to lead her even-paced life. She looks after a niece, 15-year-old Fa’iza, whose entire family has been violently decimated before her eyes. As a result, she is intensely disturbed and suffers recurring nightmares. She also has a granddaughter, little Ummi, living with her. Binta attends the madarsa and carries on a trade of dressmaking; though she is looked after by her son Munkaila, who is an up and coming businessman of means.
Reza, his nickname derived from “razor”, has slashed his step brother when he was only a young boy, is a school dropout. He lives in an abandoned building, occupied by other vagrants, sells weed, robs houses. And, finally, Reza, who operates under the seemingly benevolent umbrella of a very wealthy businessman and senator, is also hired by the senator, along with his gang for political rallies and other illegal activities.
The two would have continued on their respective paths, never destined to meet – but for a twist of fate. One day, Reza enters Binta’s house to rob it. And thereby hangs this tale.
That the author is a consummate wielder of words, is evident from the opening sentence itself: “Hajiya Binta Zubairu was finally born at fifty-five when a dark-lipped rogue with short, spiky hair, like a field of miniscule anthills, scaled her fence and landed, boots and all, in the puddle that was her heart. She had woken up that morning assailed by the pungent smell of roaches and sensed that something inauspicious was about to happen.”
So what happens the day that Binta smells the roaches? She encounters Reza. But that is not all. With a knife point at her throat, he presses into her to keep her quiet. Thus, igniting in them both, a forbidden passion. Frowned upon, no doubt, due all the differences between them: of age, of their respective natures and personalities, and social standing. But, forbidden because in their heart of hearts, both are drawn to each other for almost incestuous reasons. While she is reminded of her son Yaro, and seeks him in Reza’s eyes; he has yearnings he cannot understand, and longs for his mother’s touch. But the book is nowhere as sordid as it would seem with this underlying thread between them. This is only a nuance.
A particularly delightful device is the use of sayings at the beginning of each chapter: they are both pithy and profound. One marvels, too, of at the similarity in cultures so geographically distant from one another. Indian readers will find the book echoes the social realities within its own boundaries.
The book itself is too rich in texture, exploring the society of Nigeria and exposing its underbelly, with a sensitive eye and a practised flair, for it to be anything but significant. The story eddying around Binta and Reza has many currents and draws in a vast cast into its ripples. Each character is well-etched and adds something to the picture. The picture of this particular tree of life, which is Nigeria.