My mother took to mumbling something else, and eventually took her partly mended blouse to her bedroom to finish her sewing there.
Meanwhile, my father dismissed Tayo and once again, we were alone in the sitting room. I then ventured to explain what had really happened that afternoon in my own words.
“Why didn’t you say so since?! You just kept quiet while I was busy blaming your brother? Don’t do that again, Enitan. It’s not good. Silence is just as bad as opening your mouth to tell lies when the truth needs to be spoken.”
I apologized to my father, and he accepted my apology.
“What was it you wanted to ask me again?” he asked as he settled into his favorite chair.
“Daddy, that boy next door, he told me that his father has travelled and he doesn’t know when he is coming back. Why?”
My father sighed deeply. It was the sort of sigh that was a speech in itself, pregnant with meaning.
“I’m sure that’s what his mother told him. But she knows where he is. She does.”
“So why did she tell him that?”
“Because sometimes the truth is bitter. Too bitter. When that boy gets older, he will know the truth. And you know what?”
“He may actually prefer the lie to the truth.”
That last sentence threw me into further confusion. How could a person prefer a lie to the truth?
Unfortunately for me, my father had reached his question-and-answer quota for the day. He said so in plain terms when I tried to initiate another round of questions.
“That’s enough for today, Enitan. I’m going to my room. Good night.”
I decided to file that question under “Things Mummy and Daddy Cannot Tell Me,” and retired to my room too. As I walked past their bedroom, I heard my parents talking about how Rosemary the househelp had to leave because she had robbed my mother of her jewelry. They resolved never to hire another househelp again.
That day was the first time I spoke to Tokunbo. Or was it the first time he spoke to me?
I continued to run into him on our street, running errands for his mother. But on these occasions, just like before, he never spoke to me. Likewise, I pretended not to know him.
A few months later, I heard from my parents that Tokunbo had been accepted at Federal Government College, Ijanikin, right there in Lagos.
The day he left for Ijanikin, I saw him through the window of one of the bedrooms upstairs. I saw him and the gateman load a bucket, broom, hoe, cutlass, portmanteau and a few other curious-looking items into his mother’s Pajero. With all the farming implements that followed him to school, I imagined Ijanikin was a breeding ground for farmers.
Regardless of what I thought, I will never forget the bereft look on Tokunbo’s face as he dragged his feet into the back seat of his mother’s car.
Just before he got in, I saw his sister, Yele wearing a pink dress with blue roses, crying and hanging onto her mother’s expensive-looking lace wrapper, and saying:
“I don’t want him to go! Who will play with me? When will I see him again?”
“Don’t worry. Mummy will bring you for visiting day. Stop crying, you hear?” said Tokunbo, rubbing her head in a soothing manner.
Then, he got into the car, and was gone.
That was not the last time I would see Tokunbo Williams.
I saw him on and off over the next few years, whenever he was home for the holidays. It seemed like every time I laid eyes on him, he had grown a few inches taller and his head kept shrinking until it did not seem so disproportionate to the rest of his body.
Even my parents who saw him would comment on how they didn’t know what Tokunbo was eating because he just kept growing tall like an Iroko tree.
What else could they compare him to? As tall as a mango tree? No. It had to be the Iroko.
Unlike the other times before he went to boarding school, he started to say “Hello,” and sometimes, “Hi,” to me whenever we passed each other on our street. Every now and then, he would even throw in a smile with his brief greeting.
But sighting Tokunbo was so rare in the first place that these chance meetings did not seem important.
But one day, everything changed.
On a Sunday afternoon, someone came knocking at our gate.
Unlike Tokunbo’s mum who had a full-time gateman on duty at her house, the duties of answering the gate were shared between me and Yemi, my younger brother, since Tayo had gone to boarding school at Federal Government College, Ogbomosho.
I was attending a secondary school in Lagos as a day student, and Yemi was just finishing up primary school.
That day, I answered the gate and was shocked to see who was standing in front of me. It was Mrs. Williams, Tokunbo’s mother.