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BN Prose: The Sweet Seller’s Daughter by Ese Iruobe



I still have a sweet tooth but that’s not why I visit Mallam Ahmed’s sweet ‘shop’. I graduated from Princeton University six days ago and couldn’t wait to get on a plane to Lagos. As soon as the car turned on my street, I saw Mallam’s shop. Nostalgia assaulted my heart with bittersweet memories. It was still the same old wooden box with chain link double doors; filled with sweets, chewing gum, locally made biscuits and sweet bread.

I remembered the smell of fresh bread early in the morning, the rustle of sweet wrappers in my dungarees pockets and Hafsatu’s off-white smile as she sneaked extra sweets in my bag the very first time. I was nine and she was eight but she was extremely fearless and feisty for an eight year old. I always begged her to stop sneaking me extra sweets. I was sure her father wouldn’t have been happy about her giving away his merchandise. But she would wrinkle her pierced nose at me and wave her bracelet clad hands dismissively. I found her multiple bracelet wearing peculiar. She wore about twenty multicolored bracelets on each hand and made a different one every week.

She was always making bracelets. I would sit and watch her thread those colored beads for hours. She also loved ball gowns. It was all she ever wore. More than half of the gowns Hafsy wore were hand me downs from all over the neighborhood, mine included. I was glad to give them away. I intentionally created holes in them so that mother would condemn them early. I hated them because they were ugly and made me itch in the harmattan heat.

When I turned ten, I finally won my battle with Mom over those hideous ball gowns. I ran down the street to Mallam’s shop and gleefully dumped my giant bag of ball gowns at Hafsatu’s feet. She broke into song and dance. We sat together on her mat looked at the gowns together. She analyzed every detail, pointing out gold linings, purple flowers, a pink button, a hidden pocket. I nodded in agreement but these gowns were of no interest to me. I only wore them to church on Sundays after battling with my mother. I’d never really noticed the intricacies of the gowns till Hafsatu pointed them out. I was in awe of her excitement and unquestionable joy. It radiated from her like an unending sunbeam. She left me on the mat while she ran into the house to show the clothes to her mother, Alhaja. A few minutes later, Alhaja came out and thanked me. Their excessive gratitude made me feel shy so I found an excuse to go.

I visited the sweet shop every day after school. The driver would park the car and wait for me to have my daily ten minutes at the sweet shop. Hafsy would be there like she’d been all day; sandy feet, bracelets, nearly bald head and all. She was extremely chatty in the afternoons; talking my ear off in broken English. I learned some local slang from her which I used in school. All my classmates found it thoroughly entertaining. Everyday Hafsatu proclaimed that she was happy she didn’t have to go to school. I’d always tell her school was great. She’d say she didn’t think so judging by the look on my face. We would laugh and she’d give me extra sweets and a bracelet she had just made. I’d overpay her for the extra sweets, she’d argue with me about accepting the money. She’d pretend to be angry and throw the money in the dry gutter in front of the shop. I’d ignore her, wave bye and run off home. She always picked up the money after I was gone. I would tell her about boys in my class, she would tell me how a mad man chased her down the road. I’d laugh till I cried.

One day Hafsatu came to my house. I was surprised because she had never done that before. My friends from school were there. The cook brought Hafsatu in while we were all seated around my kitchen table. She smelled of sweets and fresh bread. Her slippers were worn and sandy. She didn’t have her smile that day. Her eyes looked troubled. She said she wanted to speak with me alone but all I could think about was her ridiculous ball gown. Ugh. Why didn’t she just wear normal clothes like other fourteen year olds? After all, I had donated half of my closet to her family over the years. Hafsatu said that she wouldn’t stay long, that her visit will only take a minute. I pretended not to understand her broken English. My friends snickered and looked at us in amusement. My friend Tola asked Hafsatu if she wanted to play with her Game Boy Color. Hafsatu stared at the Game Boy in Tola’s outstretched hand in confusion. Hafsatu said she didn’t understand. Of course she didn’t know what a Game Boy was. Tola and the other girls started laughing. I remained silent. I was embarrassed. Hafsatu stood at the kitchen back door biting her nails nervously. I told her I’d see her the next day. But it was a Friday and my friends were sleeping over for the weekend. I knew I wouldn’t see her till Monday. She looked like she was going to burst into tears.

After she had gone, the cook gave me a blue bracelet. He said Hafsatu left it for me. It was the most elaborate bracelet yet. I felt momentarily guilty then I suddenly became annoyed. She could have just given it to me on Monday, she didn’t have to bother coming to my house uninvited, I thought. That Sunday on the way to church, we drove past the shop. Hafsatu was there with her parents. She was wearing my bright orange ball gown and her twenty bracelets. They vibrated vigorously as she wove both arms cheerily saying, “Bye! Bye!” as we drove past. I rolled my eyes and returned a feeble wave. I was still annoyed at Hafsatu, or maybe I was annoyed at myself.

Monday came. After school I ran to the sweet shop for guilt had nearly killed me. Hafsatu was not there. No one was there. The shop was closed for the first time ever. I knocked on the gate, the owners of the house said Mallam and his family were not home. I returned the next day to find Hafsatu’s parents, Mallam and Alhaja sitting on a mat. The sweet shop was open; it was business as usual. They said they had gone for a wedding.

“So Hafsatu is resting inside?” I asked.

“No, Hafsatu do wedding.” Alhaja said beaming. Mallam was quiet.

I repeated my question because I was sure I didn’t hear right. Alhaja repeated the answer excitedly. Mallam nodded and smiled. They looked so happy. They said Hafsatu had just married Alhaja’s 35 year-old third cousin in Borno State. “Hafsatu is only fourteen!”, I thought. And then I felt sick.

I ran back home and vomited. I hurried to tell Mom about it. Mom said it was part of ‘their’ life, laughed off my distress and sent the driver to buy me my favourite Blue Bunny ice cream. I ate two spoons of it and vomited again.

“I’m here eating ice cream while Hafsatu is terrified and alone,” I thought. She had never left our street before. I imagined her ‘husband’ forcing himself on her. I knew Hafsatu was not happy. I was ashamed. I was just like everyone else. I abandoned Hafsy when she needed me the most. I realized I was comfortable being her friend in secret; only at the sweet shop, only in small doses. I couldn’t acknowledge our friendship when it mattered, in the midst of my peers. I was a hypocrite.

I returned to the sweet shop to ask for her phone number. There was no phone number. Hafsatu’s husband didn’t allow her have a cell phone. I asked for the husband’s phone number. Mallam gave it to me and I called. It was brief. He didn’t understand half of what I was saying and I was told not to call again. I couldn’t eat for days.

Mom was sympathetic but told me to leave it alone. She said I’d get over it but I never did. I visited the sweet shop every day just to look at it, to replicate the warmth and joy Hafsatu’s presence brought. It was never the same but still I tried. I visited her parents and continued to ask of her. I gave Alhaja gifts for her but I knew she’d never receive them. I searched for Hafsatu in every Hausa woman’s face. I heard her laugh randomly in the voices of child hawkers on the street. Two years passed and I was off to Princeton. That same year I heard Hafsatu ran away from her husband and found her way back to Lagos. She was beaten and bruised but her parents could not keep her. Her husband came to Lagos to retrieve her and that was the last I’d heard of Hafsatu.

Now that I’ve returned to Lagos, I walk down the street to the sweet shop every day. It is still there, still looks the same. Alhaja sits there as usual. She looks older but still has not changed much. Whenever she smiles at me and I see Hafsatu in her face. There is a pain in my heart. It doubles when she tells me Mallam is dead. I ask of Hafsatu. Alhaja says she has six children – five boys and a girl.

As I walk back up the street to my house I’m in awe of life. We had lived barely 23 years on this earth but Hafsatu had already seen a lifetime.

Photo Credit:
Ese Iruobe is a 4th year student studying Business Management and Accounting at Temple University in Philadelphia, USA. She is an aspiring fiction writer. Ese runs a blog that’s the diary of a bold fictional character, Imina. In 2 weeks, Ese’s blog had over a 1000 views. In a month, that has almost tripled. Check to see what the hype is about at {Reader’s Discretion Advised}

Hello! My name is Ese Iruobe, a 22 year old aspiring fiction author. I'm Nigerian, female and currently a senior at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, USA studying Business Management and Accounting. I am also pursuing an English minor and writing certificate form Temple’s College of Liberal Arts. I have always been interested in reading novels, writing articles, short stories and essays. My true passion is indeed fiction. I wrote several poems and notable essays throughout high school and received the Literature award during my valedictory ceremony. In college I was an opinion writer for TechNews-Illinois Institute of Technology’s college newspaper. I am currently writing several short stories and a book which I hope to publish. I also have a wordpress fiction blog/website ( It is about an unconventional Nigerian-American character called Imina. I usually share my new posts on Facebook and Twitter @mzsuwa. My other interests include learning musical instruments, humor, third world politics, women’s studies, dancing and listening to music (rock, indie, R & B, Naija, hip hop, house, electro). I am a realist and an idealist. I love making people laugh but I keep in mind that not everybody understands my humor. My main goal is to affect people with my stories by inspiring hope, anger, laughter, love and basically any and all possible human feeling. ENJOY!


  1. zeenie

    August 18, 2011 at 5:55 am

    beautiful piece… i really really really enjoyed it…

  2. chika

    August 18, 2011 at 6:05 am

    *WoW* that’s all I can say!!

  3. 9ja gal

    August 18, 2011 at 6:16 am

    Nice read, I enjoyed it! I was really hoping he saved her or something.

  4. Ty

    August 18, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Τhe impact of this story touches me deep inside…ao many needy ones av we ignored in an attempt to be “cool”? Don’t beat urself up-just live tomorrow better than today…thanks for this.

  5. Kemchi

    August 18, 2011 at 6:43 am

    Hmmmmm, ok now. No comment. BN na everything una dey publish?

  6. samsie

    August 18, 2011 at 6:47 am


  7. Tosin

    August 18, 2011 at 6:54 am

    Technical: Good writing.
    Storyline: I can relate.
    Promotion: Visiting your blog right now.

  8. Daisy

    August 18, 2011 at 7:18 am

    *siiiiggggghhhhh* This story is so blah 🙁 To think, this issue is a real one.

    BN quit holding out on us and gives the bad azz Prose u guys must have somewhere in there!!!! 🙁

  9. aibii

    August 18, 2011 at 7:40 am

    Nice one!!!!

  10. Rosie`

    August 18, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Bad girl!!! Selfish! Hafsat, my apologies. What a terrible world!

  11. Rosie`

    August 18, 2011 at 7:51 am

    Nice write-up, by the way.

  12. angel eyes

    August 18, 2011 at 8:11 am

    woowwwwww, well done ese, the story almost brought tears to my eyes…….so touching

  13. chic

    August 18, 2011 at 8:21 am

    Really touching

  14. Aibee

    August 18, 2011 at 8:30 am

    Hmmm. A nice try. I had an ‘Hafsatu’ too. Her name was Kantuma. Her father was a tailor who double as a gateman on my street. She had the longest hair I’d ever seen. She was married off when we were in primary 6. I was 10 years old. I imagine she was not much older than I am.

  15. loresimpson

    August 18, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Wow, really sad. I love this piece. Keep writing 🙂

  16. 'Mina

    August 18, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Touching story indeed! such is the lot of many of “our” young women..(sad face)

  17. titi

    August 18, 2011 at 8:47 am

    lovely story…reminds me of all the “hafsatus” I knew growing up too…safia,rahmatu..sigh.Life seems a lot simpler when u r younger

  18. bims

    August 18, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Wow…what a story! Not surprised Nigerians dont get concerned with these kind of events…but the lace that this or that wore…miplaced priorities but having graduated from princeton, i see an incredible difference. Sad story…hope she visits lagos again and u get to see her

  19. Pizzazz

    August 18, 2011 at 9:17 am

    We all have that simple pleasure we are ashamed off, but we never forgive ourselves if one day we lose it. Beautiful story

  20. Deiz

    August 18, 2011 at 9:18 am

    This is so painful, something should be done about girl child marriages in Nigeria…. To think of the fact that she was actually forced into it and made to endure the beating and harsh treatment.

  21. FAITH

    August 18, 2011 at 9:18 am

    OMG!!!dis is so touching…am crying…still crying….

  22. Damsel

    August 18, 2011 at 9:24 am

    You actually made me cry,so touching.I really wish u an see Hafsatu again.

  23. Della

    August 18, 2011 at 9:26 am

    I cried. I know its fiction, but its moving nonetheless.
    Keep up the good work, Ese

  24. Missy

    August 18, 2011 at 10:27 am


  25. fisayo thompson

    August 18, 2011 at 10:37 am

    beautiful,captivating.makes me appreciate my background irrespective of flaws and all.

  26. Shelly

    August 18, 2011 at 10:40 am

    Aww…i’m tearing up…really touching. ..

  27. love-me-jeje

    August 18, 2011 at 10:43 am

    My colleague(Ahmed, 27)married a girl of 12yrs and kept her with her elder sister cos she have not started menstruating. she eventually started at almost 14 after many attempt to induce it. the day she visited him in the office i read pain in her eyes. May God heal our land!

    • storm

      August 18, 2011 at 2:47 pm

      colleague ke? what exactly, is his job description? cos i want to believe he is educated/enlightened, and that no educated/enlightened human would do that in this day and age.

  28. Kayma

    August 18, 2011 at 10:44 am

    Is it that no one is reading between the lines here and seeing the message in this write up?? Child marriages is a vice we have to fight eradicate in our country….

  29. uzor

    August 18, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Nice piece, there are still many girls who go through this degrading act everyday, and i wonder what this so called NGO” s are doing. God help us and more strength to your elbow ESE……

    • Hey

      August 18, 2011 at 11:15 am

      “…………and i wonder what this so called NGO” s are doing. God help us and more strength to your elbow ESE……”

      You Uzor, are quite daft!! What ARE YOU doing? Why cant YOU set up an NGO to DO SOMETHING? Yes, change begins with YOU! You think saying God help us and more strength to your elbow ESE…… is enough? God will not come down from Heaven and help us when we sit back…Its comments like these that really get me irked!

      Get off your high horse and YOU DO SOMETHING!!

    • Z

      August 19, 2011 at 10:16 am

      Ditto!! Seriously! If you see a problem, why don’t you try to help eradicate the problem? Ridiculous. I can’t even believe she said that. smh.
      You see countries that are more developed than ours, and you assume it just happened just at a snap of their fingers? We have so many problems that are currently been faced head on in Nigeria…but with very few backings. People like you are the reason why moving forward is so difficult. You expect others or divine intervention before things start happening…99% of us who just read this story feel saddened and angered by the injustice of it all. But a minuscule percentage of us would google organizations that are already working against it. While a large percentage would hee and haw about how horrible it is, with the memory of what was just read would simply be a sad memory of what happens everyday in Nigeria. It would have been a perfect finish to the story if links of several organizations fighting against this was list. For those interested, here’s google search page to check and you can do your own part of helping our country.,or.r_gc.r_pw.&fp=aa73e01ecda6d4ed&biw=1161&bih=637

  30. cute cub

    August 18, 2011 at 11:06 am

    Nice story especially the chronology.
    It saddens me when I hear about teenage marriages especially the risks they are being put through. I hope the enlightenment reaching northern Nigeria will help in affecting issues like this positively.


    August 18, 2011 at 11:14 am


    • Mary007

      August 18, 2011 at 11:03 pm

      I had to laugh

  32. Ms M

    August 18, 2011 at 11:29 am

    Very well written and thought provoking too! You captured all the details and nuances that define the “poor Hausa girl child” in the big city.

    I wonder what happened to the Child’s Rights Act in Nigeria and its ratification by the Northern states. Gone with the wind as usual. I really hope there’s a book on the way; hopefully it’ll help reawaken the debate on child marriage vs. religious freedom in the 21st century.

    Thanks Ese!

  33. Lola X

    August 18, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Aaawww, I remember ever so fondly the smell of fresh bread too! Day old bread just wouldn’t do. And the trebor ginger orange…

    Lola x, London

  34. jumzyyy

    August 18, 2011 at 11:42 am

    Really touching! Nice piece!!!

  35. nwando

    August 18, 2011 at 11:46 am

    It felt so real! I have tears in my eyes as I write this. Great story

  36. eve

    August 18, 2011 at 11:54 am

    nice story. you got me crying. we should try to educate people about betrothing their their into early marriages

  37. RS

    August 18, 2011 at 12:00 pm

    Excellent story, very touching…..deeply touched

  38. Ngozi

    August 18, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    Wow…i also had a Hafsatu. She was the daughter of the Hausa lady who used to make my hair in primary school. I remember her as Sarimata, but i’m not even sure that was her real name or something i coined out of what her real name was. I wonder where she is….life!

  39. Eme

    August 18, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    This is just deep!

  40. dangeleyez

    August 18, 2011 at 12:54 pm

    “..We had lived barely 23 years on this earth but Hafsatu had already seen a lifetime.”
    touching story.. its so sad to know that this teenage marriage thing still happens and not just in Nigeria. what some people are forced go through ,its so sad.

  41. Efe

    August 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Thumbs up Ese! 😀

  42. lolleypop

    August 18, 2011 at 1:14 pm

    L.O.V.Ξ this!!! True presentation of Nigerian life!! Also love the pieces on your blog. Breathe of fresh air

  43. Atukpa

    August 18, 2011 at 1:24 pm

    Wow… this was deep and well written in my opinion.

  44. Scatter d Moroco

    August 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm


  45. Kunbi

    August 18, 2011 at 1:38 pm

    this is for aisha, this for kadija, this is for hauwa, this is for amina, this is for hafisa, this is for ameerah, this is for sameerah, this is for fatima this is for rukayat…. and so many young girls in nigeria – we as a country have failed you and we cannot begin to even understand your pain…

    And Senator Ahmad Sani Yerima why didnt our country go up in uproar and stand for something as basic as childrens right when despite tribe and religion we all know the importance of childhood… but as with everything in this country it quietens down after a few pieces of pie has been shared…. when will Nigerians get really angry? when? Nothing is valued in this country – The whole News of the world scandal happened because english people didnt care who rupert murdoch was, they felt they had crossed the line with the milly dowler phone hacking and did something….

    Nigeria Wake Up… wipe the sleep from your eyes

    there should be somethings that sharia law or whatever cannot override

  46. Kunbi

    August 18, 2011 at 1:39 pm

    Beautiful Piece by the way

  47. Onyx

    August 18, 2011 at 1:41 pm

    It causes us to pause and question what these young girls are being put through. To those of us who have the luxury of coming online and typing that they’re not impressed with the story, please take off your “Newyorker: Literary Review” hats for one minute and see past the fiction…

    • Adwoa

      September 20, 2011 at 10:32 pm

      Here, Here

  48. El Bee

    August 18, 2011 at 1:42 pm

    Awesome writing, almost made me tear up! 🙁

  49. Rekiya

    August 18, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Wowwwwwww,Ese you write so well.This was a fantastic piece,I just remembered my friend ‘Fadila Ahmed” am still seaching for her.

  50. Observer

    August 18, 2011 at 2:03 pm

    I remember when I was 10 years old, I was at the hair salon to get my first perm, and this young girl came in with other girls her age, she was all dressed up. They made a big fuss about the girl and as they were leaving, I asked my mom if it was the girl’s birthday. Come to find out it was her wedding day. I couldn’t believe it as she was just as little as I was.

  51. Minki

    August 18, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    Thought Provoking, Real and Very Personal… Keep Writting.

  52. Gloria Anthony

    August 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    Lovely piece, very touching and emotional you really made me cry, more grease to your elbow!

  53. crys

    August 18, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    awww,really nice and touching.but i tink d message was almost lost in the beauty of this piece.i almost got carried away in the beauty of it all.but the truth of the matter is that child marriage is still practised ,every1 says its bad,but that hasnt stopped it.i think this goes beyond illiteracy,sometyms its due to sad!!!mschew.well written.

  54. Nobody

    August 18, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    Overall good story, i love the fact that it has a moral to it. Gets you thinking..
    I must say its a bit exaggerated in some areas ” I ran back home and vomited.” really?!?.. didn’t seem genuine.
    You have a long way to go in terms of style but your definitely going somewhere, just keep at it.
    PS: Try to write as though you were Imina, it sounds a bit too intellectual making it lose its ish in some areas.

  55. younglady

    August 18, 2011 at 4:08 pm

    excellent piece…kip up d good work…

  56. ieetoro Effiong

    August 18, 2011 at 4:10 pm

    Ese, you’re a beautiful writer,i’m thoroughly impressed!!

  57. msprice

    August 18, 2011 at 6:12 pm

    ….excellent piece…

  58. auntie

    August 18, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    i really enjoyed this!

  59. Effect

    August 18, 2011 at 7:27 pm

    Deep and very well written. As a part northerner myself, I have seen a lot of this over the years. Most times, people sympathise but they cannot help. Typical answer, its their way of life but no little girl wants to be married off. We need to stand up to this dehumanisation. We need to stop turning the other eye to such things.

  60. Truth be told

    August 18, 2011 at 8:00 pm

    Ese, you’re a good writer. I clearly get the message of this as I also write on this issue myself. But truth is, this is the way of life of these people and it will only take God to stop them. look at what is happening with boko haram. they do not want western education talkless of you coming to tell them what to do or not to do. we are really living in fantasyland if we think we can stop it. Yes, maybe individual families who are enlightened enough may. But the general community may not. If that governor could get away with it, then what are we talking about. But don’t get me wrong, we still need to keep speaking out..

  61. Mary007

    August 18, 2011 at 8:48 pm

    Liked reading a good story

  62. Godlovesme4me

    August 18, 2011 at 9:17 pm

    I like the story and there’s a lesson or two to learn from it as we continue to live our lives. Thanks Ese, nice writing…def. going to visit your blog.

    For all the peeps beefing the writing…ki lo de na, if u no fit write y d bad belle for the person wey dey do am, abeg all of una go sidon somewhere jor *eyes rolling*

  63. Cynthia

    August 19, 2011 at 2:28 am

    excellent piece! i can really feel the emotions

  64. Myne Whitman

    August 19, 2011 at 10:50 am

    Nice writing, but some fact checking may be in order.

  65. Zaza

    August 19, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    Ese, this is simply a beautifully written story about a distractingly disturbing subject; such complexity is what makes your writing exciting to read and what separates you from other aspiring authors. Keep it up–you know I’m you’re #1 fan!

  66. JOYFUL

    August 19, 2011 at 11:30 pm

    This was a beautiful piece! Thumbs up Ese!

  67. OderaIfy

    August 21, 2011 at 2:20 pm

    Yaay Ese! I love this. Saw your posts on Jowiee’s fb wall and now I am hooked! Great job with this story and others on your blog. They are so relatable and captivating! Nne, more grease to your elbows and I am waiting for that book release! Temple University in the building, go TU!! 😀

  68. Oye

    August 22, 2011 at 11:21 am

    Very Poignant!!! The dilemma of the child bride…:( Well written piece/build up, too…

  69. Nwanneka

    August 22, 2011 at 11:38 am

    Well done Ese!! Your stories always suck me in! I kept hoping for a happy ending but at the same time, realized it wouldn’t come. Such a waste. You did a good job painting the picture especially with the girl having made her way from Borno to Lagos, bruised and beaten, and still her parents couldn’t protect her! SMH

  70. sofy

    September 20, 2011 at 10:22 am

    nyc one,but saad

  71. Adwoa

    September 20, 2011 at 10:05 pm

    This was very touching and to think that what happened to the shop girl is a regular occurrence all over the world…..God have Mercy on us…

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