There was no chatting, no gisting, no words.
We understood the silence, that even though words did not pass between us, we were saving them for later, when they would flow in abundance.
The fuel scarcity had already ended, but unfortunately, the absence of one thing in Lagos, does not automatically mean the absence of others. Yes, there was petrol being sold at filling stations, but there was still a lot of traffic.
Eventually, we arrived at Masha bus-stop.
From the moment our feet touched the ground, Tokunbo pelted me with questions.
“What is going on, Enitan?”
That was the introductory question. On the heels of that one, came another. This other question was more pointed.
“Did somebody do something to you?”
And more questions still.
“What happened? Why aren’t you talking to me? Is it me? Did I do something wrong? Did I offend you?”
And on and on. Tokunbo asked me questions non-stop for one full minute. I did not answer him until we crossed the road to a less busy side, which was more pedestrian-friendly.
“It’s about you … us,” I finally responded, without looking at him. I could feel his shock, but I knew the worst was still coming. He didn’t and prodded me to continue.
“People think … people are talking about us,” I said, stepping out of the way of an okada, who had decided to turn our makeshift sidewalk to his own turf.
The air was damp, full of moisture, as heavy rain had fallen the day before, as well as that morning. As we walked, we tried to avoid numerous puddles. Before the rain, they were just cracks in the road, but now, they were filled with water.
At the same time, cars driving past were doing the same thing: trying to avoid bigger cracks in the road: potholes. They failed over and over again, because that road was riddled with potholes.
The only way to avoid them would have been to ride in some sort of hovercraft, which floated inches above the road, having no physical contact with the road. In the absence of hovercrafts, we had cars, SUVs, motorcycles, buses and the occasional 18-wheeler trailer, for which these roads were not constructed.
Those trailers, with their heavy, over-sized cargo, were partly responsible for the potholes which were as ubiquitous as road side hawkers selling roasted corn or boli.
“Enitan, please be direct,” Tokunbo pleaded as we skipped over yet another puddle. “Tell me exactly what is going on.”
It was not that I wanted to withhold the koko of the matter from him. Rather, I felt a certain measure of embarrassment about this particular issue that was eating away at me. How could I tell Tokunbo that people thought he had impregnated me and convinced me to get an abortion?
But Tokunbo’s persistent nagging did not allow me time to figure out how to properly package the issue.
Not like there was any need for packaging anyway.
“Tina said she heard that I got pregnant for you and aborted it,” I finally blurted out and waited for Tokunbo’s reaction.
We were standing near a group of fruit sellers with fruits that were in season laid out in organized piles on wooden tables. Pineapples that did not look sweet, green, sometimes yellow pawpaws, and of course oranges were stacked on top of each other.
A few of them were cut into consumer-friendly portions for immediate consumption.
The news I had just given Tokunbo made him stop abruptly. One of the women selling the fruits rose to her feet and asked in a cajoling manner if we wanted to buy pawpaw.
“No, Madam. Not today,” Tokunbo replied shaking his head and walking away quickly before she could convince him to try a slice of pineapple.
I followed him and was shocked to hear his reaction to the Tina gist.
I had expected rage, anger, foaming at the mouth or something similar.
Anything but laughter.
He burst into raucous laughter, and even stopped to hold his belly as if the laughter that was still stored in that pouch needed some encouragement to ease itself out.
“I knew it would be rubbish once you started with “Tina said.” Why do you even take that girl seriously?” said Tokunbo, looking like he was about to burst into another round of laughter if I added one more sentence to the bad gist Tina had been propagating.
How was this funny?
“What do you mean? Aren’t you even angry?” I questioned him, confused.
“Angry? At a blatant, flat out lie?! Enitan, shebi we both take Biology, abi?” said Tokunbo.
“Wouldn’t we have to actually have sex first before you get pregnant?”
“So, why are you crying over obvious lies?”
“Because I … We did nothing wrong, and my reputation … My rep is in the gutter,” I whined.
“Enitan, your rep is intact,” said Tokunbo, clasping his hands together in case I didn’t know what intact meant. “That’s the only reason why anyone would bother spreading bad gist like this about you. No one would waste time smearing the name of a person with bad rep.”
I looked at him quizzically and shook my head. I certainly didn’t agree with his logic and told him as much.
“They’ve been watching us, seeing us go home together, hanging out at lesson, that’s why,” I said. “There’s no smoke without fire.”
“So where’s the fire, Enitan? Show me, because I don’t see it. Besides, last time I checked, people didn’t get pregnant from handshakes and side hugs. That’s the most we’ve ever done.”
In that moment, I completely lost track of everything Tokunbo said after that and I zoomed in on the only word that mattered to me: we.
He might as well have said “us.”
So, there was an “us.” He just acknowledged it. But what were the terms of this friendship?
We were naïve to think that society would let us be “just friends” and leave us alone.
No, our friendship could not blossom in peace, not when everyone knows that two teenagers of the opposite sex cannot just be friends.
Because puberty is in full bloom and common sense has been discarded like used toilet paper, these two teenagers must constantly indulge in the nasty, use no protection because, of course, they’re young, reckless and complete knuckle heads, and unfailingly, the girl must get pregnant while the boy is free as a bird.
But that’s not where the story ends.
The boy, like fellow comrades of his gender who have found themselves in this sticky situation, must vehemently deny the pregnancy and call the girl a slut.
As if spirits father children …
“Enitan, did you hear me?”
That was Tokunbo. Apparently, he had been talking the entire time and I missed it.
“Sorry. Repeat yourself.”
“I said,” he began, “why do you care so much about your rep or what people think? Isn’t the truth all that matters?”
“And what is the truth, Tokunbo, because I just don’t know anymore. Is the truth what we know is true or what they say is true?” I asked realizing that more people would believe Tina’s fibs rather than our story.
“What d’you mean, Enitan? Stop over-thinking this thing!”
“But maybe that’s the problem. We’ve not been thinking hard enough about what we’re doing. Yes, we’re just friends, but you’re a guy and I’m a girl, so people will talk. We both know I haven’t been sleeping with you … or anyone else for that matter, but who’s going to tell them that? How does one purify a poisoned well?”
“Enitan, jo listen,” said Tokunbo, stopping suddenly. We stood facing each other on the side of a street where there was very little traffic, pedestrian or vehicular.
Placing his hand on my right shoulder, his left hand gesticulated as he spoke. Just having his hand there, on my shoulder, was strangely calming and made the words that followed more reassuring.
“Forget the well, and forget the poison. The fact is that whatever people are saying is a lie. Just ignore it and move on.”
For a moment, I believed him.
Then, he took his hand off my shoulder, and all those negative emotions came rushing back.
“No!” I spat. “That’s not a good answer. How can? Is this how you confront problems? Just turn your back on them and hope they disappear?”
“Who said anything about hope?” said Tokunbo in surprise. “They will disappear, Enitan. In fact, I’m tired of this yeye talk. The more we talk about it, the more we make a big deal out of nothing. Stop making a mountain out of a mole hill. Talking about these rumors only gives them more life, even if they areabout us.”
“Wasn’t it you that asked me to talk, ehn? I kept my mouth shut and was jejely suffering in silence when you came and pushed me to tell you what was wrong. Now, I’ve told you, and you’re saying we shouldn’t talk again,” I spoke out in frustration.
We walked for one full minute in complete silence. Then, it started to drizzle. We quickened our pace and Tokunbo spoke.
“What I don’t understand is why you’re so concerned with your rep?”
“Because I’m a girl. My rep is everything!” I cried. “And I can’t stand anyone, especially not that useless Tina, spoiling my rep all over the place.”
“You’re sure it’s Tina who started this gist?”
“Absolutely. There was something about the way she said it. This was her idea.”
I recalled how Tina had said “quack doctor.” She said it with so much conviction that one would assume that they were now handing out medical degrees and licenses to flappy-footed ducks in long, white coats, with stethoscopes perpetually hanging round their drooping necks.
“And maybe you’re saying this because you’re a guy. For a girl, getting pregnant ruins her life. But for you guys, your rep doesn’t suffer. In fact, you can go and boast to your friends about how you don’t shoot blanks and they’ll be hailing you, calling you Okunrin meta!”
“Me, Enitan?” asked Tokunbo, pointing to himself with his fingers touching his chest. “Is that the type of guy you think I am?”
He looked and sounded hurt, and for the first time that afternoon, I regretted what I had said to Tokunbo.
“Listen, Enitan, we’re not all like that. It’s unfair to say that something only irresponsible guys do is what all guys do. What if I told you that I believed Tina, and that because of girls like her, all girls are gossips, slutty and–”
“Hey … Watch your language!” I cautioned, holding up my hand.
“You see! This is what I’m saying. Now, that I’m chooking my mouth in your matter, you can’t take it. But you just said I’d be the bad guy, boasting about this rubbish to his friends. That’s not me, Enitan, and if you don’t know me by now, I wonder why we still call ourselves friends.”
I saw the error of my ways and apologized immediately.
“I would feel a lot better if you pecked me, right …. here!” he said, tapping his cheek, and simultaneously lowering his face to my level, so that my lips were directly in front of his right cheek.
“Go away jo!” I shouted laughing and pushed him away gently.
He laughed and added:
“You’re just fronting. Stop all this shakara and do the needful, ehn! Fresh face like this, I’m giving you for free, you say you don’t want. You better take it now o, or else, it’s going, going … gone!”
I laughed, he laughed and we put all the bad blood behind us.
With every laugh, every giggle, every chuckle, the rumors Tina was spreading faded out of our minds.
By now, we were about ten minutes from home. But we had taken a short cut through a neighboring street. And we came face-to-face with a major problem.
A large pool of water stood in front of us. The road was tarred, but the drainage was clogged up and on that street, there was no way forward, without crossing that large expanse of water. And it was beginning to drizzle again.
We stood there looking at the water, perhaps wishing that like the Red Sea, we could lift the t-square from our Technical Drawing class, and the waters would part so that we could cross over on fairly dry land.
Unfortunately, neither of us had a t-square on hand and so we could not immediately test out that theory.
More importantly, Tokunbo was not Moses, and even though I had been grumbling and complaining, I did not consider myself to be an Israelite.
So, how would we cross this Red Sea?
“This water was not here yesterday,” I observed, as if talking about it would solve the problem.
“No, it wasn’t,” agreed Tokunbo. “But it’s been raining all night and throughout this morning. I’m surprised we didn’t even need an umbrella since.”
We didn’t because it was just drizzling. And it was intermittent, like a light spray from heaven every now and then. That definitely did not warrant an umbrella, which each of us carried in our bags.
But, the water stood between us and the final leg of our journey home. There was no sidewalk, no visible concrete island where we could plant our feet, between where we stood and where the water ended.
As we stood contemplating what to do, a middle-aged man came to where we stood, and joked about needing a canoe to cross this river.
But instead of constructing one from scratch, he simply bent down, rolled the hem of his trousers all the way up, past his knees and then, pulled off his black leather shoes.
Holding his shoes firmly in one hand, he stuck his bare feet into the cloudy water and began to walk slowly and carefully, until he got to the other side. Then, he wore his shoes and continued his journey.
While we stood there gawking, another person arrived.
This time, it was a woman with a baby tied to her back. She carried a large black nylon bag, probably full of groceries, as we could see a head of leafy green vegetables peeking from the top of the bag.
To make sure he was properly held in place, and to reinforce the wrapper was a thick, dark brown strip of aso oke, which was the oja. She tied it on top of the ankara so that the baby who kept wriggling, was firmly secured to her back.
The baby kept stretching out his little hands to touch the rain, which was just a drizzle, and when he couldn’t catch the water, he resorted to opening his mouth towards the heavens.
When water fell into his eyes and nose, in addition to his mouth, he would sputter and cough, and the woman would reach out her hand to the back of the oja and gently pat his bum.
And then, he would repeat the process all over again.
The woman took off her rubber slippers, held it in the same hand that held the bag, and with her free hand, lifted her green wrapper high enough to where it was above her knees before wading in the water, all the way to the other side.
When she reached the other side, she let go of the hem of her wrapper. It fell to its original level. After wearing her slippers, she continued on her way.
“Tokunbo, we can’t stand here watching people pass us like say na film show. Are we going to cross or find another way home?” I asked.
“You mean we should turn back and take that long route home?” asked Tokunbo, his face betraying the words that would spew out of his mouth next. “No way! We will cross this river!”
I giggled at the word, “river.” This was more like a lake because as far as we could see, the water was not moving. It was just sitting there.
“Let me start removing my shoes,” I said, bending down to pull off my shoes and socks. But Tokunbo stopped me.
“You want to carry your leg and enter this dirty water?” he asked, eyebrows raised.
“No-o! I want to fly and land on top of our roof,” I replied sarcastically.
“You can’t, Enitan. Can’t you see how dirty this water is?”
The water certainly looked dirty, and murky, probably teeming with micro-organisms just waiting to latch themselves to a person’s feet.
But it wasn’t orange-colored or muddy. Just a large pool of rainy, stagnant water.
“Ehn, but we have to cross now. I will take a hot bath with Dettol when I get home,” I said.
“That’s not the point. Isn’t your leg still paining you?” he said, pointing at my foot. “You’ve been walking funny since you knocked your leg, abi?”
“Yes,” I replied, unsure why Tokunbo was just bringing this up. I had been walking with a slight limp since Tuesday due to a minor injury I had sustained on Monday night.
I went to bed around 10:00pm, but while I was asleep, Yemi, my younger brother, had decided that was the best time to re-arrange his room. He had pulled out an old wooden desk from the room he shared with Tayo, because one of the legs was faulty.
However, he had left it beside the entrance to the bathroom all three of us shared.
I had woken up in pitch darkness because NEPA had struck as usual, and as I was familiar with the house, even in darkness, I used my hands to feel my way to the bathroom.
Unfortunately, no one had warned me about the desk. My right foot collided with it and my big toe burst open, bleeding.
My parents who had woken up when I screamed loudly in pain, hurriedly lit candles and gave me cotton wool soaked in iodine, which increased my pain, but was necessary to disinfect the wound. Yemi was chastised by my parents.
My mother’s reprimand came with her own peculiar brand of commentary. She said:
“You better be careful with your sister’s leg. Don’t you know that is what she will use to dance into her husband’s home?”
I had covered the wound with a brown strip of plaster, and had been walking with a slight limp since then.
I didn’t even realize I was actively limping. I just knew, somewhere in my brain, that I didn’t want to put pressure on that toe.
With all the walking I had done since then, I had almost forgotten that underneath my white socks, an open wound wrapped in plaster was still in the process of healing.
Tokunbo had just presented me with one more reason why sticking my feet in dirty water was a very bad idea.
He bent down and started pulling off his black leather shoes, followed by navy blue socks.
As he stored this footwear ensemble in his bag, he explained to me:
“I will carry you on my back.”
“Ehn?! You and who? When I have two perfectly good legs? No, thank you!” I refused.
“Enitan, do I need to remind you that you have an open wound on your leg? You want to catch Tetanus or Guinea worm?”
“Ehn ehn! No be only guinea worm o! Na foot and mouth disease you for talk. Why didn’t you add sleeping sickness too, since I’m sure you’ve spotted a teh-seh, teh-seh fly flying around here?!”
“Is that what they call it in your village, ehn ehn, Enitan? It is tsetse fly. The “T” is silent.”
“Good. So, from now on, I will be calling you “Okunbo,” since the “T” is silent, abi? Oya, ‘Okunbo, cross ehn. Me too, I will cross. Don’t carry me.”
“You don’t have a choice, Enitan! Wait, is this about your rep again? See, it’s just from here to there,” he said, pointing first at the point where the water started to a distant point where we could see solid ground.
“What if someone sees us?” I wailed, seeing the sense in his proposal, but still unable to shake the feeling that something was wrong.
“On this street? Nobody knows us here. This is not our street.”
As if it mattered.
If only I had paid attention to the nagging feeling that something was off.
But to my detriment, I didn’t.
Maybe I confused it with my understandable reluctance to let a guy, or anybody for that matter, carry me on his back across even a short distance. Whatever it was, my resistance was thrust aside and I agreed.
“It’s just a short distance,” I reasoned inwardly.
Tokunbo had pulled off his school bag, and gave it to me to hold. So, I carried my own school bag on my back, and slung his bag on my shoulder. It was heavy, carrying two bags, but I couldn’t complain, as Tokunbo was bearing that heavy load and me on his back.
So, I climbed on his back. Slipping my hands below his arm pits, I knotted my hands across his chest. He got a firm grip grabbing my knees for balance, and I wrapped my legs round his torso.
“Hold me tight o! Don’t fall in water!” he warned and I voiced my comprehension.
In retrospect, falling into a pool of dirty, stagnant water, would have been better than what was about to happen.
But, of course, youth lack foresight. It’s the preserve of the aged, more experienced of humans.
And so, we both carried out this foolish plan, me hanging onto Tokunbo for dear life, and he wading carefully through what started out as ankle-deep water, but reached up to Tokunbo’s calves mid-way.
We saw a few tadpoles swim right in front us, but as long as it wasn’t a deadly reptile, I was fine.
Besides, it wasn’t my feet in that water. I was getting a first-class piggy back ride, ferried across a “river” aboard The Tokunbo. I wondered what Air Tokunbo would be like.
It was not as romantic as it sounds, and it was a very bumpy ride, but I was touched. This guy cared about me enough to worry about exposing me to the risk of catching diseases, and chose to take that upon himself instead.
And apart from the micro-organisms which formed part of the biological and health hazard of crossing this dirty water barefooted, there were physical and material risks as well: broken pieces of glass, sharp stones, uneven surfaces with jagged edges.
And did I mention tadpoles?
These were all risks, and Tokunbo bore them with little grumbling.
In fact, the grumbling was partly my fault.
I had started counting silently each step Tokunbo took from the moment he stepped into the water, to take my mind off what was happening. This stretch of road was in the middle of a residential neighborhood, with no signs of commerce, or places where people converged to take shelter from the rain.
I had been counting aloud, “One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight–” until Tokunbo, panting, begged me, “Enitan, please … in your mind. Let me concentrate.”
I continued to count in my mind.
Tokunbo had just taken Step 59, and was about to take maybe twelve more steps, which would bring us to a waterless stretch of road, when we heard the labored hum of an approaching vehicle from behind us.
Our immediate concern was to avoid getting mowed down by the car as we were in the middle of the road. Tokunbo had made that tactical decision because he was worried that the stagnant water was hiding open gutters on either side of the road.
“I don’t want to be Aluwe and jabo sinu gutter,” he had explained with a chuckle, before setting out. And I saw the sense in the decision then.
But now, with an oncoming vehicle, drawing closer, it suddenly dawned on us that even if this was a river, or large lake, it was one that was usually traversed by noisy cars, not boats or canoes. And definitely not teenagers giving or receiving piggy back rides.
Cars are the kings of Lagos roads, and we had to make way for this king.
As Tokunbo began to move towards the left, we could hear the car slowing down and driving closer behind us. I turned my head to get a good look at it and saw a silver Toyota sedan. Wasn’t the driver concerned that water could seep into the engine?
Just as Tokunbo was about three steps from solid ground, the dark tinted windows on the driver’s side rolled down. I heard her voice before I saw her face.
“Omo Mrs. Ladoja! Abi, isn’t this Asake’s daughter?” she asked in Yoruba.
I was still on Tokunbo’s back, but when I heard her voice, I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. It wasn’t just that this woman knew me. It was who she was.
It was Mrs. Ishola, the woman my mother privately referred to as Iya Insurance. A meddlesome poke noser, Mrs. Ishola was one of those women my mother tolerated, but behind her back, wondered aloud why she had suffered the misfortune of meeting this woman.
Mrs. Ishola, and my mother had met while they were working at the Ministry of Education more than a decade before. That was in the early days after Tayo was born, but before I was born. By the time I arrived, Mrs. Ishola was a part of our lives, especially since she lived in the same neighborhood.
But when things got better, she and her family moved to the house her husband had built in Iyana Ipaja. And we saw less of Iya Insurance.
And in fact, we had seen very little of her that year, until that fateful day, when she showed up with me on Tokunbo’s back.
Fate had just given me a nasty kick in the derriere.
Why, of all the people on the planet, did it have to be Mrs. Ishola, who turned up that afternoon? I was convinced that I was being punished for something I had done in my past.
As soon as I saw her, I hurried Tokunbo up to reach solid ground, and quickly jumped off his back. His school bag slipped down my arm and landed with a thud on the floor.
Tokunbo started stretching and prostrated slightly, greeting her with:
“Good Afternoon, ma.”
“Will you shut up?!” shouted Mrs. Ishola, unconcealed rage dancing in her eyes, her face caked with brown powder, eyebrows drawn like windshield wipers. How did she manage to draw them like that? They looked like slanted exclamation marks without the dot underneath.
Addressing me, she charged on.
“And you? What do you think you’re doing? Climbing a boy’s back? Oniranu! Omo komo!” she said, before tacking on a long string of Yoruba words that had two things in common: they were not designed to boost my self-esteem in any way, and they accused me of lacking good home training.
Yes, she dragged my parents into it.
To finish off that tasteless round of abusing, she patted her hand over her mouth repeatedly, making this shameful, “Woo-woo-woo-woo!” sound.
“Sorry, ma. It’s not like that, ma,” I began, brows furrowed, clasping my hands together in agitation. “It’s my leg, ma. I can’t … I couldn’t–”
“Your leg? This same leg I’m seeing with my two koro koro eyes? The one you’re standing on?” spat Mrs. Ishola, pointing at my feet, as if perhaps she need to confirm that I didn’t have an extra pair of legs tucked away behind me.
“Yes, ma. I have–”
“Ehn, ehn!” she said, raising her hands abruptly to silence me. “Tell that to your parents. You’re lucky you’re not my daughter. I would’ve stripped you naked and beat you senseless. Just wait. I’m on my way to your house and I will report you to your mother. Nonsense!”
And with that threat ringing in my ears, she sped off.
Mrs. Ishola didn’t realize that it went both ways: I, too, was glad she was not my mother. Who wanted this meddlesome, busy body for a mother?
But her words had done their evil work, and I felt the cold grip of fear on my heart. She had seen us and I knew she wasn’t bluffing when she said she would report me to my parents.
Why on earth had I agreed to let Tokunbo ferry me across this water? Bad idea. Very bad idea.
“Oh, I’m in trouble!” I said, doing an exasperated dance, marching in one spot. “That woman is a troublemaker. She’ll tell my mummy what we did and … Oh, my mummy will finish me today!”
“Calm down, Enitan!” said Tokunbo. He remained incredibly calm, and at the time, I assumed it was because he was not in trouble. Just me.
But, that, as I found out, was not the case.
“What am I going to do?” I wailed over and over again, as we continued the journey home. My steps were shaky, powered by nervousness and fear.
“You … We did nothing wrong,” Tokunbo insisted, but I was having none of his rationalizing at that point.
“Of course we did! Why else would that … that woman have threatened to tell my parents? How many boys and girls do you see backing themselves in public? In school uniform for that matter?” I asked eyeing him accusingly. “And I said No. Why did I listen to you?”
Even if I never said that last bit aloud, Tokunbo must have known that thought plagued my mind.
“Just explain what happened,” suggested Tokunbo. “I’m sure they’ll understand.”
“Look, just stop talking!” I snapped. “You’re making it worse. Understand kini? If you want to help, abeg volunteer yourself to chop half … What am I saying sef? No … chop 90 percent of the cane my mummy is preparing for me at home,” I said caustically.
As we neared the house, I saw the same silver Toyota that had pulled up beside us earlier, parked in front of our gate. The sharp-tongued occupant who had accosted us earlier was noticeably absent. No doubt, she was inside the house, feeding my mother with her own version of events.
I slowed down my steps as we approached our gate.
“Do you want me to come with you?”
“Tokunbo, don’t make it worse, you hear? If it was my Daddy at home, I could’ve talked to him and explained myself. But my mother … Hmm, hmmm! There’s no judge you can appeal your case to. Just pray for me, ehn…”
“Good luck, Enitan,” said Tokunbo sadly. “I’m sorry about this.”
I just nodded and knocked on the gate. Yemi appeared dressed in mufti, and let me in.
“That woman, the one with the big, black mole on her nose, she’s here o,” he reported, a disgusted expression on his face. “And she has been telling Mummy things.” Yemi seemed to be more disgusted by Mrs. Ishola’s infamous mole, than whatever tale she was relaying to my mother.
“Mummy offered her that sweet chin-chin, and she finished it,” Yemi lamented.
I ignored that last part. My problems were much bigger than chin-chin or the lack of it.
As we walked to the front door, I decided to gauge what had happened so far. So, I snuck into the house, and hid my school bag in the pantry near the kitchen. My mother was with Mrs. Ishola in the parlor, and from the tone of their voices, I could tell that one person was enjoying the conversation far more than the other.
I slipped out and carried the apoti to the side of the house, under the sitting room window, the exact same spot where I had sat when Iya Tokunbo asked my father to mentor her son.
It seemed like such a long time ago, but it had happened just the year before.
I could hear Mrs. Ishola crunching on the last bits of chin-chin from the batch we made that past weekend. She must have been sipping on something too: water or a soft drink, because she paused every now and then, and I heard a low slurp, followed by a deep gulp before she continued speaking.
She must have already reported me to my mother, who was saying:
“Ehn! You know how these children are. E ma worry. I’ll talk to her.”
“Talk ke?” asked Mrs. Ishola in a voice that suggested that she had just heard my mother promise to reward rather than punish me. “That is mild ke! If it had been my daughter, Adenike, I would’ve pulled her aside and beat her till she bled. Then, I would’ve put freshly ground pepper in her wounds. Oh yes! In her life, ehn, she’ll never forget it. When she sees boys like this, she’ll run!”
“Ah! You can’t be too harsh with these children. You still want them to be able to approach you and share things with you,” said my mother with a chuckle.
“I prefer for my children to fear me,” said Mrs. Ishola firmly. “I am not their friend.”
Then, Mrs. Ishola took a sip from her drink, and my mother excused herself to check on something in the kitchen.
That chuckle. It was unsettling.
I knew my mother well. That particular chuckle, light, airy and deceptively carefree was just a thin gloss to mask the true intentions of her heart.
For some reason, she was acting the part of the cool, understanding and possibly over-indulgent mother. But, I knew her well and had picked up on that bite of anger in her voice, the thing she kept well-hidden.
I was in soup alright, but my mother refused to let Mrs. Ishola see her distress. As I listened, the reason for this emotional masking came to light.
It was Adenike, Mrs. Ishola’s only daughter. She had two other children, both boys, but Nike was her pride and joy.
Nike was very brilliant. Everyone knew this. She excelled in her academics, consistently clinching 1st, 2nd or 3rd place in each class. She was also on track to attend Medical School and become the first surgeon in her family.
All of this was public knowledge.
What most people, did not know, was that Nike had a thing for boys. Only a few people knew about her promiscuousness because it was all done “under G.”
She had a very clean, public image, but her private life, was another story. I knew about it because I was in the same class with her, and we participated in a few extracurricular activities together.
However, from Mrs. Ishola’s words and the way she spoke, I had a reasonable suspicion that she did not know this other aspect of her daughter’s life.
As usual, Mrs. Ishola had come to brag about her daughter to my mother, and when I heard the latest Nike-related news, I saw why my mother was playing it cool.
“Nike took first position in a science competition. She’ll be going to Abuja for the award ceremony next month,” Mrs. Ishola chirped.
“Oh, Congratulations! We’re all so proud of her accomplishments,” said my mother, offering plastic compliments to a woman she could barely stand.
“We thank God.”
And here Mrs. Ishola began to preach.
Maybe it dawned on her that she was a guest in our home and as such, she ought to watch her tongue. Or perhaps, the tiny shred of decency in her led her to opt for abstract speech.
“Parents should really keep an eye on their daughters. They shouldn’t let them be following boys up and down, all over the place. For those who don’t pay attention, ehn … Pregnancy and STDs are common nowadays.”
My mother got the message, but gave her a diplomatic answer.
“God will give us all wisdom to raise our children well.”
And then to preempt further unsought after advice, she added:
“Baba Tayo will soon be back. Let me go and finish preparing his meal.”
My mother must have risen to her feet because I heard Mrs. Ishola hurriedly gulp down the rest of her drink. Then, she thanked my mother for her hospitality and after promising to visit again, she left.
I forgot to retrieve my bag from the pantry and snuck to my room upstairs. But when my mother went there in search of beans, she must have seen my bag.
Next thing, I heard her call my name.
“Enitan! Come down now! Go to the sitting room and kneel down. Wait there for me.”
I was definitely in for it.