The Virtuous Woman by Zaynab Alkali is a love story about the easy and principled life of a young beautiful woman named Nana Ai, as she discovers love at first sight and the strangeness that often accompanies such a feeling.
The village of Zuma has just been blessed with the news that two of their daughters, Laila and Hajjo have made it into the prestigious Her Majesty’s College at Birni Dala. Even though the two girls are not the first to enjoy this privilege (already a student there is Nana Ai, but now on a holiday), the entire village often takes the pride that one of their own is in the popular school. This is because Her Majesty’s College is the kind of school mostly attended by children born with a silver spoon in their mouths.
But the girls have got different reasons they are excited about attending the new school. For Hajjo, a sixteen-year-old girl, who lives with her grandmother, the admission is an escape from a life she believes she does not deserve. She is not only maltreated by the rest of the members of the family but she is also poorly fed and clothed. In her extended family home, she feels like an outcast. For this reason, she so longs for the journey. Laila, on the other hand, is a spoilt brat and a forward girl. She is loquacious and uncouth. She is Hajjo’s cousin. She longs for the journey to the new school so she could be free to do as she pleases.
But the two younger girls have already been placed under the care of a more mature and principled Nana. Time for the journey and the girls are accompanied to the bus park by Nana’s father, Baba Sani, who never stops reminding Nana never to relent in exhibiting all the good virtues he has taught him.
But as soon as the old man goes back home, Laila gets into her element. She goes into the nearby bush only to resurface with a painted face and lips, looking like a slut. She believes that is the only way they can get a free ride and gets to their destination on time. A car stops by but Nana will not allow them to take it because the man in the car does not look responsible.
When they get to the Secretariat the Secretary is not around. They meet the clerk-receptionist instead who is hostile to them. But of course, Laila enjoys the company of two boys, Abubakar and Bello. Bello is a rich boy while Abubakar is from a poor home. They are both students at King’s College. When the girls go back to check the secretary the next day they find out he is the man whose free ride they had rudely turned down the other day. The man is to give them the transport fare and an escort. As a way of punishing the girls, especially Nana for her rudeness, the secretary gives them Mallam Jauro, a seventy years old man as an escort.
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The journey is a long one and everybody on the bus has started to know one another. The driver is a very careful one, unlike those of other two buses speeding in front of them, Allah Kiyaye and Allah Seriki. When the rain begins, the two buses with the reckless drivers are now stuck in a little ditch, making it impossible for other vehicles including the one the girls are travelling in to pass. So together all the passengers in the three buses are stuck.
Now bound together by fate, all the passengers have to come to terms with how to survive their predicament. As they are in the middle of a forest with no dwelling on sight, they have to make themselves happy. To start with, they need to have something to eat. At first, nobody wants to volunteer to go to the nearby village to get food. However, Bello and Abubakar volunteer and each passenger contribute the money with him or her and the boys go with the teacher’s bicycle to get them food. When they return everybody eats and has enough and Musa Doggo treats everyone to nice music and entertains them with his jest. The man becomes a jester and a lively person to disguise his unfortunate situation about which Nana is told by the mother of the twins.
When the road is dry, the lorries are finally moved back on track and the journey resumes. As though what happened earlier was a warning, the two carelessly speeding Lorries are later to be found wrecked in a ghastly motor accident. Almost all the passengers in the two buses are dead, except for the drivers. Some other people sustain a very serious injury. Abubakar is dead but Bello is alive with an injury. The injured ones, including Bello, are taken to the hospital.
The girls are on the train to Birni Dala. While on the train, Nana and the two girls, Hajjo and Laila, sit in front of a sleeping boy who appeared to have sustained some injuries. Because he uses a newspaper to cover his face, none of the girls can recognise him. An army officer aboard the train relates well with the girls and invites them for lunch. The two girls consent except for Nana, who is bent on not collecting anything from a stranger. While the girls are gone with the officer, Nana recognises the sleeping man as Bello. Both get along well and have a hearty conversation, with each unable to conceal his or her affection towards the other, even though none of them mentions it directly. It is very clear now that Nana is in love with Bello but is very shy to express it. Both understand this and decide to communicate only telepathically. When the train arrives Birni Dala, Nana reads the letter sent them by the old man, Mallam Jauro, their escort. It also comes with some money. They are happy to know that at last, the man is still alive, despite all he had been through during the long journey.