Season of Crimson Blossoms is unfortunately not a book that can be pinned to one theme when one reads it critically. It is even easy to dismiss the book by the meandering way in which the story takes its path. This book is one that will demand your patience but will definitely hook you. What Adam Ibrahim does is to set his characters in a traditional setting and unleash their radicalism. The question then becomes how do these characters in this unchanging setting adapt or react? Hajiya Binta Zubairu, a fifty five year old woman who has a history of repressing her love and sexuality falls for a roguish mid-twenties boy who finds his mother in her and in whom she sees her son in. This twist is what this book is all about, but most importantly, it is about how Binta navigates through a society that keeps pushing her against her wishes, a society that keeps dictating what she should do and not do, either through the power of religion (madrasa classes) or the oppression of her gender.
Hajiya Binta Zubairu experiences a second birth when she is attacked in her house by a young man ‘in his mid-twenties . . . positioning himself behind her . . .’ With one of his hands on her mouth and the other crushing her breast, ‘she realised, even in the muted terror of the moment, that this was the closest she had been to any man since her husband’s death ten years before.’ But it is her reaction to these thoughts that introduces us discreetly to the culture she lives in and it is also what introduces us to the crux of this book, ‘‘Subhanallahi! Subhanallahi!’ she hoped her muttered appeal to God’s purity would cleanse her mind.’ The assailant goes ahead to pull off her hijab and leads her to the bedroom where he takes her jewellery and in the process of going to the bedroom, ‘his breath on her neck and the heat from his body made her knees weak. She almost buckled several times. He clasped her firmly so that they tottered like an unwieldy four-legged beast. The friction of her rear against his jeans made his crotch bulge and push hard against her.’
If sex is an act of revolution and rebellion, the hijab is its covering. Binta is a woman who has repressed her sexual life until this moment when after a decade she feels the touch of a man and a ‘seed of awakening’ is planted in her. Michel Foucault in his book The Will To Knowledge, The History of Sexuality: Volume One says, ‘if repression has indeed been the fundamental link between power, knowledge, and sexuality since the classical age, it stands to reason that we will not be able to free ourselves from it except at a considerable cost: nothing less than a transgression of laws, a lifting of prohibitions, an irruption of speech, a reinstating of pleasure within reality and a whole new economy in the mechanisms of power will be required.’
And Binta goes on to transgress these laws that exist in her society. Laws that if in a Sharia environment would have resulted to death by stoning. The prohibitions that hold her back from experiencing this new yearning that makes her ‘moist down there’ are gradually thrown. But before this new experience, ten years back Binta was still as daring sexually. When with her then husband Zubairu, ‘she knew he would nudge her with his knee and she would have to throw her legs open. He would lift her wrapper, spit into her crotch and mount her. . .’ (pg. 56) This was despite the fact that, ‘she wanted it to be different . . .’ but in such a conservative society, should a woman be that bold? Is it not the duty of the man to mount? ‘Zubairu was a practical man and fancied their intimacy as an exercise in conjugal frugality. It was something to be dispensed with promptly, without silly ceremonies,’ 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. ‘But he gave her the words that struck her like a blow, ‘what the hell are you doing?’ This sexual repression in her marriage is probably what led her to explore, this part of her that had been so subjugated, with a man the age of her son. Adam Ibrahim takes us beyond what the hijab and niqab cover, downright to the body of a woman in an Islamic society and what it means for such a woman to own her body. Does the body of a woman in an Islamic society belong to the man or to the society and why is everyone concerned about what a woman does with her body? This is probably what leads Binta to tell Reza, ‘no one must ever know about this.’ This is also what leads her to light sticks of incense to cleanse the sinful. Every act of sex with Reza, Binta sees as a sin, until it reaches that moment when sex demands its own form of freedom.
Adam Ibrahim has led us into a culture that is gradually being deconstructed amidst the modern times coming upon it. What makes this book more powerful is that Adam Ibrahim just shows us what happens and we get to judge and feel and position ourselves into the lives of these characters, and that’s what literature is all about; opening us to the concealed.