Salute mes amies. So I’m officially done reading Season of Crimson Blossoms, and in the words of Veronique Tadjo the author of As the Crow flies, it is “A haunting story of forbidden love trying to survive in the midst of social and political violence; of obligation versus personal freedom: of desire and death.
I first saw the cover of Season of Crimson Blossoms on my social media timeline, and was intrigued when I learnt it was about a 55-year old Muslim woman in conservative Northern Nigeria who begins an illicit affair with a 25 year old weed dealer.
Book Title: Season of Crimson Blossoms
Author’s Name: Abubakar Adam Ibrahim
Year of Publication:2015
Published by: Parrèsia Publishers Ltd
Number of pages: 346
In conservative Northern Nigeria, 55-year old widow, Hajiya Binta Zubairu is living out her days in grace as a mother and grandmother of five when a political thug and weed dealer known as Hassan ‘Reza’ scales her fence and changes the course of their lives.
The illicit relationship that develops between these two unlikely lovers goes beyond sexual gratification and explores the deprivation that characterised Binta’s marriage and the lingering pains of loosing her first son, for which she blames herself. While for Reza, Lord of San Siro, the urban cesspit that is home to a gang of misfits and thugs, it fills up the spaces in his life that he never acknowledges, not least his estrangement from his mother.
But as the relationship grows, it draws the disgust of the community they find themselves in and the outrage of Binta’s children, who are all older than her lover.
Things come to a head when the two worlds they inhabit collide with disastrous consequences.
This story of love and longing, bubbling with some of the most exciting characters in contemporary literature, unfurls gently, revealing layers of emotion that defy age, class and religion.
Did you know that there is a flowering plant that only blooms after 30 years? And then when it finally blooms, it withers after a couple of days.
Oh, you didn’t?
Amorphophallus titanum, also known as titan arum blooms after 30 years. And only for a few days.
Due to the strong odour it emits while it is in bloom, which is like the smell of a rotting corpse or carcass, the titan arum is characterized as a Carrion flower and is also called the Corpse flower.
Just imagine. After waiting for 30 long years, the flower blooms only for it to smell like a rotting corpse.
This is the story of Hajiya Binta Zubairu, the protangonist of Season of Crimson Blossoms.
Binta sighed again. ‘My daughter was saying something earlier today, about some stupid flower that waits a lifetime to bloom. Thirty years, she said. And when it does, after all those years, it smells like a corpse.’
‘Ha ha! What sort of flower is that?’
‘I was just thinking how much like that flower I am. I have waited my whole life to feel…. as I do when I’m with you, you know. I shouldn’t be telling you such things but I just need to get it off my chest, you know. No one has ever made me feel this way. But like that flower,after all those years of waiting, when I bloom, it doesn’t feel right. I don’t know if you understand me.
Life can be pretty unpredictable at times. Now, picture this.
One day, a thief breaks into a woman’s house, carting off her DVD, handset, gold and some of her money. The woman is Hajiya Binta, a fifty five year old mother, mother-in-law and grandmother.
The thief is Reza, the twenty-five year old Lord of San Siro, Weed dealer, smoker, gangleader, political thug and kidnapper among other things.
What are the chances of these two having an amorous affair? Pretty slim, right?
Hajiya Binta, who lost her late husband Zubairu about 12 years earlier in a religious crisis in Jos is living a seemingly happy retirement life sponsored by her son – Munkaila, somewhere on the outskirts of Abuja. Living with her are Ummi, the child of Hureira her second daughter, and Fa’iza her niece.
All seems to be well in her world, until one fateful day, when the thief breaks into her home. It doesn’t take her long to realize what she has been missing all those years of celibacy, and it also doesn’t help that Zubairu never excited her sexually. All her attempts to spice up their love life were rebuffed.
Two nights later, when he was tossing and turning on the bed next to her, she knew he would nudge her with knee and she would have to throw her legs open. He would lift her wrapper, spit into her crotch and mount her. His calloused fingers would dig into the mounds on her chest and he would bite his lower lip to prevent any moan escaping. She would count slowly under her breath, her eyes closed, of course. And somewhere between sixty and seventy – always between sixty and seventy – he would grunt, empty himself and roll off her until he was ready to go again. Zubairu was a practical man and fancied their intimacy as an exercisein conjugal frugality. It was something to be dispensed with promptly, without silly ceremonies.
She wanted it to be different. She had always wanted it to be different. And so, when he nudged her that night, instead of rolling on to her back and throwing her legs apart, she rolled into him and reached for his groin. He instinctively moaned when she caressed his hardness and they both feared their first son, lying on a mattress across the room, would stir.
‘What the hell are you doing?’ The words, half-barked, half whispered, struck her like a blow. He pinned her down and without further rituals, lifted her wrapper. She turned her face to the wall and started counting. The tears slipped down the side of her closed eyes before she got to twenty.
She is drawn to Reza, who reminds her of her first son, Yaro, whom she is still grieving.
Reza on his own, is a complex and complicated character. For all that he is a political thug, drug dealer, thief and kidnapper, he is also loving, compassionate and kind hearted. I’d have been tempted to try and save him from himself too.
He finds himself drawn to Hajiya Binta, who reminds him of his estranged mother who abandoned him as a child.
Talk about full fledged Oedipus/Jocasta complex.
And so begins a dangerous, steamy affair which was bound to cause outrage once discovered.
Their affair brings Hajiya out of her Cocoon, meeting him in different places and performing all sorts of sexual acts which she never did with her husband. We see her slowly emerging from her shell, dabbing a bit of perfume behind her ears, applying some lipstick.
While her passionate affair brings her to life in a way she yearned for, she couldn’t go all in, because lives in a community that has double standards regarding male and female sexual freedom.
Like Zoe Wicomb, the author of October said; “The taboo subject of an older woman’s sexuality, portrayed with courage, skill and delicacy, is explored in the context of the criminal underworld and the corrupt politics that exploits it.”
The plot explores the trend in Nigerian politics where almost every powerful politician employs criminals all around to do their dirty work. Reza is the go-to criminal for a powerful Senator until he botches up a kidnap commissioned by the Senator.
Season of Crimson Blossoms becomes quite a chore to read midway, assuming a more tired and slower pace, but it is the characterization of many of the side characters that saved the day during some of its slowest parts.
Among these characters is Fa’iza, Binta’s niece who lives with her, after loosing her entire family to the Jos religious riots. She saw her brother’s head cut into half, and so the sight of blood or meat sends her into hysteria.
Fa’iza’s struggle to overcome this trauma, and her being classified as a possessed person by her aunt, Hureira is a major sub plot of Season of Crimson Blossoms.
Mallam Haruna (the man with the radio), Hajiya Binta’s sort of unwanted suitor is another character that stands out for me.
It is Mallam Haruna who first notices Binta and Reza’s trysts and it is the same man who goes to report his suspicion to Binta’s son.
I legit clapped when Binta shut him up after she had been repeatedly disgraced by the other women at the local Madraza due to the rumours spread by Mallam Haruna with the declaration – “Just allow me to whore myself to whomever I please”.
Another character I found fascinating was the larger-than-life Senator for whom Reza worked. His character provided some sort of insight into the world of the ruling elite who talk about the good of the people, while funding criminal violence.
One of the greatest strengths of Season of Crimson Blossoms is its portrayal of the Muslim Hausa society and culture. Through Binta, we are given an idea of what daily life is like for the women in a Hausa family.
Peppered with Hausa phrases and proverbs, this story of forbidden love and yearning set in a conservative Muslim community in Northern Nigeria provides a unique perspective into life and relationships in Northern Nigeria.
One thing I absolutely love about Season of Crimson Blossoms though, is it’s first paragraph.
“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”.
Overall, it is an okay read. I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it. You understand? *In Reza’s voice*😂😂
Have you read Season of Crimson Blossoms? What did you think of it? Do share your thoughts with me in the comment section.