Sir. I want to covert some money. Yes, what currency is that “It is Dollar “. The man pointed to a door that was locked, knock before you open. He will attend to you. He went straight to the door. He knocked, waited for a little time belore he opened the door. “Young man can I help you? “I was directed to meet you”. Do you have a foreign currency Yes he replied.
He brought out the Dollar and gave it to the man. He placed it under a security light to check if it was genuine. He nodded his head and smiled at Okorie. Your exchange is One Hundred and Fifty Thousand Kudos. Young man you are rich, I will like you to Bank with us. and you will never regret it. “He brought out a piece of paper. wrote down some words handed the paper to him. Go to the cashier for your money”. He left the room with doubt and handed the note to the cashier. He counted the money brought out a black nylon bag and put the money and handed it over to Okorie. He held it strongly because it was heavy.
Is all these for me or for the community He did not know whether to go to his house or Alice’s house or remain in the Bank. Many thoughts rushed into his memory and he began to sweat profusely. He managed to stop a ..Bike”、”Where you dey go..? Igbouku village, Okay, Oya, enter. The man sped off.
He got home, paid the Bike man and went into his house. He kept the money behind the bag that Alice gave him and sat on the cushion. He had concluded in his mind that he will explain to Mercy the situation and promise that after the marriage Alice will travel back and they will continue to live their normal life. He had driven a vehicle for more than ten years and he had nothing to show for it.
His children were always sent home because of school fees. He had been living under stress. “I think God wants to raise me up. He remarked”. He had decided to give the family members twenty thousand out of the money before presenting his case. He will settle mercy with petty trading at the front of their house to take care of their children.
Alice had told him that he should settle every problem before she comes back from the city. She was going to return the Mercedes Benz that she bought. She had asked Okorie to come on Saturday morning.
Mercy came back and saw the bag and the black nylon. “Who brought those things in the house? I brought them, it is for a purpose. I will tell you everything tomorrow. Don’t ask any
further questions about it. But your countenance has changed. I hope nothing is wrong I will answer all your questions tomorrow morning Okay’ She went to the Kitchen, prepared food as usual and served the husband. Early in the morning. Okorie woke his wife and sat down. Please, I want to tell you something that has been bothering me since all these days. I hope you will see the reasons with me.
Darling, I am all ears. I can no longer hold it to myself. So, let me tell you, I told you before we married, ten years ago about Alice who had travelled and forgotten me. That same Alice is back and is requesting my hand in Marriage “Ma what?” she asked, wait a minute; I want us to reason together and see how we can use her wealth to better our conditions. After all, nobody will like to swim in abject poverty till death. Okay, tell me more.
If we get married, I will not leave you. I will remain with you, while she will go back to America. We will be riding the car and be spending the money on ourselves. Life will go on like that. “Lizard says that no matter how ugly he looks like, he does not eat a night. I am not interested in anybody’s wealth, I can struggle for myself and make a living I am not in support of any decision you may wish to take. But mind you that “those who ride on the Tigers Back will one day end their life in the Tiger’s Belly”.
I have opened my eyes to watch and pray. Have you forgotten what our father said on our wedding day? That what God had joined together let no man put asunder”. Okorie was looking at the wife like a hallucinated person. He could not open his mouth. He placed his left hand under his jaw: Okorie had made up his mind to go on with the proposed marriage.
He had seen a bright opportunity in life and he will never miss it Posterity will not forgive him if he fails to utilize this opportunity I know you will not understand” he said. I want to run away from poverty. Look at the money she gave to me Throughout my life as a driver I had never seen such an amount. You cannot even see much money in the whole village. So let’s reason together. I will not be a party to it.
Mercy remarked She left the sitting room and started weeping. Okorie went to his uncle’s house where he had summoned a meeting. They were all seated waiting for him. He greeted everybody and sat on a bench close to the door. Amechi cleared his throat and said. you ask me to summon this meeting. What have you to tell us? Before you begin, give them some money so that they can bring a bottle of local gin. “He brought out money handed it over and sat down Now, you can talk, the youngest among them was busy serving the kola nuts.
My elders’ brothers and everybody here present. I summoned this meeting because of what I want to do. I want to marry a second wife. You all know Alice. Okonji’s daughter. The one that came from the white man’s land? Yes he replied, we know her they echoed. she had brought everything for the marriage. I want to inform everybody so that you will not be surprised at my action·”You have spoken well”. Iweka said Presently I am married to three wives and all of us are living together in peace and harmony Only I will advise you not to abandon the old hole or cover it because you have seen a new one. I have to stop there.
Amechi, the eldest among them asked – are you not a Christian? Daddy, I am a Christian. How many times does a
Christian marry? Well am supposed to marry once but if palm wine tree changes its course of producing wine the drinkers will still change their mood of drinking it”. Okay is it a traditional marriage or you will carry us to the church again. Papa only time will tell Before he finished Iweka stood up and sand. Nnayin Amechi your question is too much. “It is the cloths that they bring to the River that the River has to wash”; it does not ask if there are other clothes at home. Our brother is not a boy: so let him do whatever that pleases him. Do you know why I was asking those questions, Ameachi continued Our people say that any person that asks questions does not miss his way, we have heard you.
Okoye was raising up his hand, let us hear Mazi Okoye, “he finished the local Gin in his hand and began.” Before our brother Okorie came here to give us this information, he knew fully well that he was a Christian so “if a man roasts a yam with deceit you will peel the yam with a deceitful knife”, I will not like to soil the mind of any person. We have heard from you.
“If any person that owns a cry begins to cry others will join him or her. I have personally supported the idea, Okorie brought out 5 bundles of money placed it on the table. This is for you people Share it among everybody that is present here; don’t give me”, Iweka stretched out his hand and shook Okorie, vehemently”. You are a man, “if a man excretes, he sharpens its edge”, I did not know you were as prepared as his. We have accepted your kola, even before you left your home, it will be well with you, and the ground on which we have eaten will not get spoilt. “One person did not talk throughout the meeting. His name was Okwurinka, he cleared his throat greeted everybody and said”. I was once a mass servant at our church here, I know that what my brother is about to do is wrong.
Falling in Love With my Best Friend 7
By the time my mother returned to the house later that evening, the Tokunbo issue had shifted from the forefront to the back burner of my mind.
However, Tokunbo’s name came up increasingly in conversations in our household over the next couple of weeks. The irony was that we spoke about Tokunbo more times than we spoke to him.
Before Tokunbo’s return from boarding school, and in fact, the day before he was due to come back home, I witnessed something strange happen next door.
My final exams finished early on Friday afternoon. Because of this impromptu change in schedule, I arrived home two hours earlier than usual.
As I approached our house, happily munching on a strawberry wafer, I noticed a man standing outside the Williams’ residence. He was banging on the gate with so much fury that I expected his knuckles to crack open and bleed before I reached our house. Between bouts of frantic pounding, he shouted:
“Open this gate! I said, Open this gate now!”
My shock was on two levels: first, the Williams, as I have already mentioned, had a dedicated gateman, a forty-something year old man whose visible duties included tending to the gate and providing basic security for the house. Mr. Felix, as he was known, was a no-nonsense person, rarely seen away from his duty post. So, where was he while this visitor was making such a loud racket?
Second, as I walked past this man, my nose caught a very strong smell. The first thought that came to mind was “this man is hiding stacks of kpomo under his shirt.” But when I considered that he must have been pounding at that gate for several minutes, I quickly shredded that idea. Any hidden kpomo would have broken free and dropped to the ground by now.
No, that smell of raw cow hide had to be leather. This was the only conclusion that made sense. And my nose agreed with me.
But there was still something my nose could not handle: the intensity of the smell of leather. It was not the typical smell that greeted your nose when you walked past a person wearing apparel and accessories made from genuine leather.
No, this smell was far more intense, as if this person was a leather tanner by profession. Or perhaps, he worked at a leather factory. Whatever it was, I could not tell by looking at him which of these possibilities, if any, was correct.
As I walked past him to the gate of our house, I drank in his appearance with my eyes: tall, too thin, surprisingly clean shaven with shabby clothes that looked like they had not been bought brand new, and had seen too many buckets of soapy water.
He wore brown leather sandals, and even from the distance where I stood, I could see the hand of more than one cobbler, where they had struggled to patch and re-patch these shoes.
But perhaps, the most striking feature from my cursory inspection of this person, was his skin: smooth, dark and glistening with health in spite of his leanness, he had an even complexion from head to toe, a rich shade of dark chocolate that made his white teeth stand out and appear brighter.
Unfortunately, I could also smell fresh sweat mixed in there with the powerful scent of leather.
Nobody came to the gate and there was no answer from inside the house. I knew for a fact that the gateman and house help were indoors. So, why were they ignoring this man?
“They have to be acting on Mrs. Williams’ instructions,” I concluded.
When I got to our gate, I was going to pull out my key and let myself in, until I heard him say:
“Excuse me, do you live here?”
All this while, I had observed him sideways and from behind. But as I whipped around to respond to him, for the first time, I came face-to-face with this man. As soon as my eyes fell on him, a gasp escaped from my mouth. I held a hand over my mouth to hide my surprise, but my eyes betrayed me nonetheless.
My question was a whisper because my hand still covered my mouth. The man laughed as he wiped his brow with the back of his hand, shutting his eyes briefly. For a moment, I caught a glimpse of how he would look asleep. I couldn’t help thinking that this was how Tokunbo would look when he was sleeping. When he opened his eyes again, his lips parted and a soothing voice said:
“People say we look alike, but no, I’m not Tokunbo. I am Mr. Oladipupo Williams, Tokunbo’s father.”
That explained it!
I heaved a sigh of relief, breathing a little easier. Thank God this man spoke because I couldn’t imagine how Tokunbo could’ve aged 30-something years overnight. Granted, Mr. Williams did not have any wrinkles, but his age was written as plain as day on his face.
“So, Tokunbo’s father is back from wherever he travelled to,” I thought.
But the man who stood before me did not look like someone who had travelled and returned. In fact, he looked like a typical Lagosian, and his intonation did not suggest that he had spent a protracted period of time outside Lagos.
What was he doing here on a Friday afternoon? I had no idea, but I certainly wanted to know.
Seeing that my mind had wandered again, Mr. Williams repeated his question.
“Do you live here?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied. “Isn’t there anyone at home?”
“I was just about to ask you the same question. Don’t they have a meyguard or house help? Why is nobody answering?” he said, before hopping nimbly back to the spot he had occupied for minutes before I arrived. Thankfully, he did not resume his noisy knocking. Instead, using his hand as a shade, he peered into the spacious compound through the narrow space between the concrete fence and the metal gate.
No sign of life.
“I’ve been standing here for almost 20 minutes and nobody has answered. But I can see cars parked inside,” he lamented.
“Don’t you have their phone number, sir? Maybe you can try calling them,” I offered.
“No, I don’t have it. Do you?” he said looking at me hopefully.
“No, sir,” I lied.
Of course, I had the Williams’ house phone number stored in my memory. I had memorized it the day my father asked me to write it down in his address book. That day pre-dated Mrs. Williams’ recent visit to our home.
But, I could foresee getting scolded for giving a complete stranger the phone number of our cantankerous neighbor. And also, I only had it on his word that he was Tokunbo’s father. I still had no proof beyond his testimony and the uncanny physical resemblance that he was indeed the father of my neighbor.
“Okay. I see,” he said, before pulling out a multi-colored stack of sticky notes from the back pocket of his trousers. A pen followed, extracted from the shirt pocket of his faded, cream-colored shirt. Having assembled his writing implements, he quickly scribbled a short note.
I waited, thinking he would hand it over when he had finished. But he didn’t. He just stuck the note which he had written on a bright green sticky note onto the gray gate of the Williams’ residence. I wondered if the wind would snatch it and carry it away, but that did not happen.
After completing this task, he came back quickly to where I stood and pulled out a crumpled brown envelope from the side pocket of his once black trousers. Now, they looked closer to dark gray.
It seemed odd to me that a man who looked like he struggled to eat three square meals a day was gallivanting all over Lagos with his pockets filled with stacks of colorful self-adhesive paper. He even had a pen to go with it, even if it was one of those Eleganza pens that often left ink stains on clothes.
Falling in Love With My Best Friend 6
Eventually, my father succeeded in convincing her to take her seat and calm down.
A white handkerchief mysteriously appeared from somewhere on Mrs. Williams’ person, and she began to dab furiously at her eyes. Then, she decided that maybe she should resume begging, but my father foresaw it and leaping to his feet, told her to stay seated.
At that point, I could tell my father was conflicted.
He would have wanted my mother to be there to support him, but she had already stated her position with respect to Mrs. Williams. This raw display of vulnerability and helplessness by Mrs. Williams completely disarmed my father, but it might not have had the same effect on my mother who was tougher to deal with than my father.
So, Mrs. Williams sat down and awaited my father’s verdict.
But not in silence. No.
She kept talking in spurts.
“Tokunbo … He has no father. I mean, his father left us. His uncles don’t care. They never liked me before I married their brother, Tokunbo’s father. And Tokunbo too … He doesn’t listen. Even if … e jo … Daddy, e ran mi lowo, sir! Look at your own sons. They listen to you.”
“Madam, it is by God’s special grace alone that me and my wife have raised these children. It’s not our doing.”
“Yes, sir. But you can help. Please don’t let my son lose his way. Don’t let this boy become a vagabond.”
Seeing that these words were the likely precursor to a fresh round of pleading coupled with heavy sobbing, my father preempted the emotional landslide by holding up his hands and telling her to calm down before saying:
“Alright, Madam. So, how do I help?”
That was all she had been waiting for. Her tearful voice suddenly became sharp and even retained some of the grit we had come to associate with Mrs. Williams.
“Yes, sir … I was wondering if maybe you could … could mentor him, sir.”
“Mentor? How? We’re not even related and how are you sure that’s all he needs?”
“He listens to you sir. Right now, that is plenty. And you live right next door to us.”
“But isn’t Tokunbo in Ijanikin? How will I mentor or advise him from here?”
“Emmm … You see, sir, this will be Tokunbo’s last term at Ijanikin. I have made arrangements to transfer him to a private school nearby.”
“Oh, so he won’t be in boarding house again?”
“No, sir. He’ll be a day student, going to school from home so that at least, I can keep an eye on him.”
“I see …. I see,” said my father. I could tell that he was weighing the options and processing what Mrs. Williams had just told him.
A long silence followed, punctuated every now and then with Mrs. Williams’ dry sniffles. Even if she was still dabbing at her eyes with that handkerchief, there were no more tears now.
“Okay, Madam. Here’s what we’ll do. I will need to discuss this with my wife–”
“O-Okay, sir,” said Mrs. Williams. I could hear more than a hint of glee in her voice.
“–And we’ll let you know our decision. I know it’s me you have asked to help, but I’m sure you know I can’t take this decision without my wife’s support. So, don’t worry,” said my father, exhaling as he rose to his feet. I suppose she took the hint and did the same, as she thanked my father profusely, showering blessings on him and my mother.
“No problem, Madam. Ma a ranse si yin. I’ll let you know before the middle of the week. Set your mind at ease, okay?”
“Daddy, e se gan-an o. God will continue to empower you and strengthen you, sir. You won’t use your eyes to shed tears over your children. God will continue to give you more and more wisdom, sir,” Mrs. Williams chirped sweetly. My father responded with “Amin,” at the end of each prayer.
As he walked her to the gate, he inquired after her daughter, Yele.
I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but I heard her say,
“–You know girls are easier. She tells me everything.”
And even then, I knew that couldn’t be true. No girl tells her mother everything especially girls of her age.
Still, Yele had gone through a lot of trouble to give her mother that impression.
However, I wasn’t concerned with Yele.
Tokunbo and the troubling news his mother had brought to us were foremost on my mind that afternoon.
Who would’ve thought? Quiet, supposedly shy Tokunbo was a terror in school.
“Looks can be deceiving,” I concluded.
After Mrs. Williams left, my father returned to his room, and the minute I heard the air-conditioner in their room come on, I knew he had started giving my mother the load-down of the Tokunbo-inspired gist.
Turning on the A/C was something my parents did whenever they wanted to have a truly private discussion in their room. The hum of the 2nd hand, Tokunbo A/C was usually effective at drowning their voices, especially since they had to shut the windows of their room for the cool air to circulate.
It did not occur to me to listen to my parents’ conversation. I knew what my father was going to tell my mother, anyway.
I sat downstairs, pretending to read a novel, waiting patiently for my mother’s reaction.
It came swiftly.
“Ki le wi?! Mentor tani? Nibo? Not in this house! Baba Yemi, I said not in this house!” she thundered.
I could hear my mother’s voice firing angry words at my father, blaming him, scolding him for even giving that woman audience.
“You should’ve driven her away with a stick! That’s how people drive away wild animals!”
“But Asake, aren’t you a mother? How can you talk like that?”
“Baba Yemi, yes, I am a mother. Abiyamo ni mi. But this woman is up to something. This is just a cover up for something else. Don’t you see it?”
“See what? You’re over-reacting, blowing things wayyy out of proportion, as usual. Thank God you stayed here.”
“What does that mean? Ehn, Baba Yemi? Or are you in cohorts with her? Are you planning to take a second wife? Abi, is that your plan? Like father, like son.”
“Asake, I’m not going to argue with you over this. I am tired of telling you that I’m nothing like my father.”
“So what is in this for you? Why don’t you just let her be? Doesn’t she have relatives who can mentor her own son? Don’t tell me she doesn’t have brothers or uncles or cousins or even pastors who can help her. Anyone else but you. Why must it be you, her neighbor?”
“There’s nothing in this for me. I have the opportunity to help re-direct and reform the life of a troubled young man and I will do it. You know me well, Asake. I will do it.”
“E pele o, Mr. Reform and Re-direct! Have you finished training your own sons?”
“Wo, Asake, leave this matter. I’m hungry. What are we going to eat this afternoon?”
“Food? With the matter on ground you still want to eat? See this man! Go and meet Mama Tokunbo to feed you, se gbo mi?” said my mother.
I heard the jingle of keys and the stomp of angry feet.
“Where are you going?” my father demanded.
“Oh, don’t you know? I’m going to the market, of course! I will go and buy a B-I-G sign board that says “Boys’ Reformatory Home” ehn … Then on my way back, I will call Rasaki, that useless carpenter who is a disgrace to his profession, to come and … Gbo! Gbo! Gbo!” said my mother imitating the sound of a hammer hitting a nail on wood, “–place the sign above our gate. And in a few days, that sign post will collapse like that rickety dining table Rasaki made for us. May it fall on your head and Iya Tokunbo’s head! Nonsense! E ka re o! Baba Reformatory.”
Then, she hissed and walked out.
As she neared the bottom of the stairs, she called my name and I responded. Glaring at me, she said:
“Oya you, come and open the gate for me. Do quick!”
I obeyed and watched her car disappear down the street in a fury of screeching wheels.
“E-n-i-t-a-n!” my father called.
“Sir!” I replied.
“Put water for eba on the fire for me. That efo your mother made three days ago, is it still remaining?” he called out from the top of the stairs.
“Warm it up for me, kia kia. Nobody will starve me in my own house.”
As I hurried to the kitchen to put my father’s meal together, there was only one person on my mind: Tokunbo.
Falling in Love With My Best Friend 5
But I didn’t.
“And I’ve been managing all these years with these children. I’m not complaining o, after all, they’re my own children. God gave them to me.”
“Right …” said my father, who had taken a seat opposite her, an observation I had made before taking my seat on the apoti.
“But you know Tokunbo is growing up … he’s growing fast and he’s a boy. He needs someone to … someone to look up to,” said Mrs. Williams, slowing down a bit, and choosing her words with added care. “He doesn’t have a father, but … You see, I thought of you–”
“How do you mean?” said my father, a ring of alarm in his voice.
I could have asked the same question. What was this woman driving at? What did my father have to do with Tokunbo’s upbringing?
“Yes, sir. I mean … When he came home for mid-term, Yele … She’s my daughter … She went with him to Iya Kafilat’s place and told me … I hope you don’t mind, sir–”
“No, no. Go on.”
“Okay, she told me that she saw you advising Tokunbo to stay away from the bad boys, those delinquents in this neighborhood. You know them, sir,” said Mrs. Williams, making as if she was about to start reeling off their names and vital statistics one by one.
But my father stopped her and said he remembered the day.
I had no idea of this meeting between my father and Tokunbo, but I made a mental note to somehow extract more details from him in a way that would not expose the fact that I had even overheard this conversation.
Meanwhile, my father took over the discussion briefly and re-capped exactly what he had told Tokunbo that day.
“Iya Tokunbo, you see, I was just strolling down the street that evening just to, you know, get some fresh air, when I saw a group of those boys, smoking and drinking at Iya Kafilat’s shop.”
Iya Kafilat was the owner of the convenience store which was closest to us. Hers was not the only one on our street or in our neighborhood. Not by any means.
But it was her shop that was closest to our own end of the street. In short, she put the “C” in convenience, at least for those who valued it and had no intention of traveling over any long distance to buy regular household commodities like soap, bread, sugar and toilet paper. Apart from these items, Iya Kafilat also sold soft drinks.
However, against the wishes of a few people in the neighborhood, she also sold beer and other “hot drinks”, which according to these dissenters, attracted the wrong crowd of people, mostly men, to our street.
When she started her business, she put a single bench outside her store for occasional patrons who wanted to relax and enjoy their beverage of choice. But as business picked up, Iya Kafilat’s shop got a face lift as she expanded. She rented the empty plot of land beside her shop, got the owner to cement a portion, which was better than his original plan to just add gravel to the lot. Then, she bought several white plastic chairs and tables, along with complimentary yellow umbrellas. These improvements essentially transformed her shop from a mere convenience store to a local hangout.
Eventually, when she started selling beer and hot drinks for the sake of extra profits, there was a steady trickle of shady-looking people, drop-outs and ruffians, the sort of people who parents usually warned impressionable young people to stay away from.
It was one these shady characters who was calling Tokunbo by name, the day my father happened to be passing by.
“I called him when I saw him going towards them,” my father continued, “and pulled him aside. I know you raised Tokunbo well because he greeted me so-o-o well. He almost prostrated for me and I said to myself, that boy has good home training.”
“Ah, Daddy, e se o,” said Mrs. Williams in a cheery tone. I imagined she was smiling as she thanked my father. “I’m really trying my best,” she said.
“But I told him that those boys are glorified criminals, awon omo jaku jaku, and he should never answer them again, no matter what they ask him to do. Iya Tokunbo, can you believe he did not even interrupt me? All he kept saying anytime I paused was “Yes sir, yes sir.” Oh, Tokunbo is such a good boy!”
I noticed that while my father was praising Tokunbo this time around, his mother was unusually quiet.
Something was wrong, and the next words that sprung from her lips confirmed my suspicion.
“Hmm … Daddy, wahala wa o!” said Mrs. Williams bringing my father’s praise train to a grinding halt. “The Tokunbo you met that day is no longer the same Tokunbo o.”
“Ehn? What do you mean? Between mid-term and now, you’re telling me he has changed?” said my father, disbelief coloring his voice.
“He has been that way since the beginning of this term. I don’t know why. He won’t tell me anything. Mr. Ladoja, Tokunbo’s grades have dropped, he has been fighting in school and has gotten into so much trouble I’m afraid the school will soon ask him to withdraw.”
“O ti o! It can’t be!” my father shouted. “Which Tokunbo? The same Tokunbo who was so respectful? No, it cannot be.”
“Daddy, it’s true o. You don’t know the children of nowadays. They can be very cunning. I am scared, Daddy … I am so scared for this boy. That is why I have come to see you, sir. Please don’t let this boy spoil in my care–”
And here, I heard some movement. I could not tell what was going on, until I heard my father vehemently insisting in loud tones:
“No, no, no! Please get up! Get up! You don’t have to do that, ke. E dide! What is so terrible that you have to do that?”
I knew I could picture what was going on, but curiosity got the better of me. Risking getting caught, I rose to my feet and peeped through the window into the sitting room.
What I saw was exactly what I had imagined.
Mrs. Williams was on her knees, both hands fiercely latched onto my father’s ankles, shaking with sobs, begging him to help her.
Over and over again, she pleaded:
“Daddy …. e jo o! E ran mi lowo. He’s my only son. Please, Daddy! I don’t know who else to turn to.”
I couldn’t believe it.
This was the same Mrs. Williams who, it seemed, drank a potent brew of pride, liberally mixed with snobbery, every day, and yet here she was in our sitting room, begging my father for help with her troubled and apparently, wayward son.
On her knees too!
Wonders shall never end.