My copy of Ruwan Bagaja is littered with question marks largely in response to the relationship between Alhaji Imam and Malam Zurke. After essentially running him out of town with the reputation of being an incompetent man, Alhaji Imam quickly reconciles with Malam Zurke when they find themselves in jail together. The text simply says, “We then started to tell each other stories, and soon became friends” (14). Initially I dismissed this as merely tying together the narrative; that this relationship would not end up being significant to the plot. However, as we all know, Malam Zurke continuously appears in Alhaji’s quest to find the Ruwan Bagaja. The curious aspect of this is the repeated rotation of the two from enemies to friends, without any explanation as to why the dynamics of the relationship changed so suddenly.
After befriending in prison, the two cross paths again when Alhaji Imam goes blind and Malam Zurke anonymously takes on the role of guiding Alhaji through his daily activities. Was this out of kindness or a premeditated desire to enact revenge? Suddenly, “One day Malam Zurke decided to punish [Alhaji] for what [he] had done to him in the Town of Fools” (16). Alhaji ends up being cured of his blindness instead of drowning and upon learning that Malam Zurke was behind his near death, Alhaji was eventually “able to smile about it and [they] became good friends” (18). Except immediately afterwards Malam Zurke attempts to trick Alhaji, whose revenge leads to Malam Zurke being imprisoned again. Their paths cross next when Malam Zurke attempts to rob Alhaji, but upon realizing whom they were speaking to, “[they] were delighted to see each other, and spent the rest of the day in talk and laughter” (27). Did Malam Zurke feel no bitterness in the multiple imprisonments he suffered from because of the trickery of Alhaji? Malam Zurke does not take a particularly important role in Alhaji’s adventures after this point. The story concludes, “If I ever wish to see Malam Zurke, or any of my other friends in distant places, I can rub my ring and the spirit will take me there” (42).
From hostilities to friendship, the dynamics of Alhaji Imam and Malam Zurke’s relationship remain unexplained. Although this is not a central focus in the story, I found it particularly perplexing. Does this say something about the virtue of forgiveness? Does it portray the rapidly changing nature of relationships? Is it commenting on the power of shared experiences or story telling or laughter? Overall, what was the author’s intent in incorporating this ambiguous friendship?