“Education — not marriage — is the best investment we can make in a girl’s future.” — Malala Yousafzai
Zainab and I were very close. We went to school together, played together, pretty much did everything together. Some of our classmates thought we were twins. Oh, we had so much fun fooling them.
One morning, Zainab told me her parents had withdrawn her from school. Things were tough, and they couldn’t afford her school fees anymore. They said at 13, she was old enough to start helping them out and one way she could help out was by marrying a rich husband. In fact, they’d already arranged her marriage to Chief Kimza, a wealthy trader in our hometown. I couldn’t believe it.
Zainab talked about running away – but to where? She would have lived with us, only my mum couldn’t afford it. Besides, Zainab didn’t want to go against her parents. Long story short, she had no choice but to go along with their decision.
After Zainab’s wedding, she kept up with her studies. She didn’t want to give up on her dream of becoming a research scientist. I shared lesson notes with her and lent her my textbooks. Then she had her first baby and there were serious complications. She could barely get out of bed.
Shortly after, my mum moved me to boarding school. She wanted me to focus on my finals. While I was away, Zainab recovered and got pregnant again. This time, she gave birth to twins. At this point, she’d stopped studying completely. Between caring for her kids and her home, she didn’t have time for anything else.
When I started studying accounting in university, Zainab opened a kiosk where she sold biscuits, soap and other little things. The day I dropped by, I noticed Zainab walking with a slight limp – due to those complications during her first childbirth. I tried to gist with her, but there was awkward silence mostly.
Now I’m doing my NYSC in a big accounting firm. When I went home for Christmas, I bumped into Zainab in the market. She looked leaner and paler, with dark rings under her eyes. We said a simple “hi” to each other, and then went our separate ways, like strangers.
How does it make you feel that Zainab and her cousin didn’t have the same opportunities? Let’s talk in the comments.