Arms shoved deep in his pant pockets, Tobi frowned at the battered being through the rain pattered window. Yemi’s frequent visits were becoming something of a nuisance. He’d finally realized she’d never tire unless granted audience. She’d withstood the worst of harassments at Longe’s and Co., yet she’d stayed persistent.
The rain was pouring heavily now, Tobi noted and cursed under his breath at the woman striving to hold down her dress crazedly flapping in the wind as she dashed to a shed for cover. He’d see her today, he decided, lest he bore a dead woman at his doorstep.
Thunder pealed loudly as Tobi started to reach for his stick, followed by a bolt of lightning and then another resulting in a usual power failure. Peeved, Tobi traced his drawer with his fingers and dug out a flashlight. The light soon spilled in the room and again he returned his search out for Yemi but now she was nowhere to be found. He’d known the shed wouldn’t hold for long as the rain began to patter unmercifully.
With a final sweep of his office, Tobi let out of his office into the empty corridors, his torchlight illuminating the way as he made it past the floors, already dreading taking the stairs when power shot in again, the rows of overhead fluorescents blinked alive in successions. The generator had been turned on, he knew as he continued down the quiet hallway as he did most evenings, the soft click of his shoes against linoleum floors the only sound in the empty grounds. Tobi was deep in the habit of staying late at work, he, in fact, found it the most suitable time to sort out pending issues.
As he passed the door with the name tag Adejuyigbe D.B, Partner/ M.D he paused, momentarily, glaring at the inscribed name, especially the role ‘partner’ inscribed beneath it.
Five days had passed since Dimeji was last seen, three since he was last heard of, and it disturbed Tobi greatly. Surely he must have heard about the police’s visit to his home, Tobi winced at the memory of it. Perhaps he shouldn’t have allowed it, for now, it was beginning to seem like where he was supposed to bridge repair he was further breeding damage. Maybe he should call it off now when things could still be saved, except Tega wouldn’t have it that way. And going by past outcomes, where Tega was suspicious, there always appeared results.
Brushing off thoughts of Tega and the crime, Tobi climbed into the elevator, trying not to consider the scary state of things between him and Dimeji. Down at the ground floor, the elevator dinged open, and as expected, Wale was waiting for him an umbrella in hand. Tobi slipped underneath, uttering a brief appreciation as he was guided to his car by his driver. Settled in the back seat of his Range rover, Tobi’s first thoughts were about the woman out in the rain and as they pull out, he peered through the heavy torrents in search for her. And just when all hope of seeing her appeared lost, he caught her small almost unrecognizable frame cowering in the small shed and waved Wale his driver to a stop. He rolled down the window and yelled her name into the rain unmindful of the splatter of rain over his face.
Yemi jerked alert, squinting into the direction of the alien call of her name, and as recognition struck, she sprang into the rain unmindful of its merciless pour, until she was met halfway by Wale who led her the rest of the way with an umbrella.
He smelt the rain on her as she slid in beside him, her presence like a plague no matter how much he pretended to be unnerved by her. His only reaction to her presence was a small mutter to her greeting all the while, making sure to keep his eyes on the road ahead.
As Wale slammed the door shut, and buckled into his seat, Yemi found instinctively recoiling and egging as far away from Tobi to the door. Suddenly, she’d felt intimidated by the man’s presence, her fears further heightened by his cold eyes, hard crackjaw and tight features staring straight ahead.
Tobi felt her eyes. He was keenly aware of her studious glare and her fears, and he drew more confidence from it as her guilt and insecurities permeated the car like some terribly charged wave. He fought the temptation to turn her way himself, as all he’d had a chance of was a small glimpse of her when she’d climbed in.
Wale had begun driving again, an uncomfortable silence passing in the car. At some point, Tobi turned to her out of curiousity, his gaze quickly sweeping over her features glaring out of the window. He swallowed back the bud of pity as he took in her worn clothes with loose ends announcing just where they’d come from, now drenched and moulded to her small features further projecting all of her vulnerability. She was shivering he noted, and as if sensing his scrutiny, she turned to him their gazes clashing without as much as a warning. Even in the low light, Tobi felt slightly displaced by those signature eyes like his mother’s and sister’s, except now wedged in between sorrow and age struck face.
Seventeen years back was when he’d last looked into that face now seemingly a stranger’s. By his count, Yemi was barely past fifty, fifty two to be precise. Yes, she’d lost her husband, and clearly, she’d lost more than that. She’d lost her beauty, her youthfulness, her womanliness, Tobi realized, shaken by the hardship lines deeply festering into a once flawless face. Even those almond-shaped eyes once impressive seemed almost unrecognizable, now sunken and almost disappearing into their socket. Not to mention the fear and despair in them; the face of one who had seen too much suffering.
“Please turn on the heater.” Tobi grumpily called to Wale, breaking gazes from Yemi and then returning back ahead as he tried to forget what he’d just seen.
The drive passed quietly, the only sounds resonating was the platter of rain against steel and the gentle wave of the wiper against the windscreen.
Tobi couldn’t be anymore peeved as on turning into the road, they slid into heavy traffic. He snorted, already disdaining having to spend an even longer time with Yemi as he realized he was yet to inquire about her destination.
“Where are you going?” Tobi started, directing at her.“Where do you live?” He charged gruffly, annoyed by his pity for her.
Her response was quick as she rendered description of her place at Ajegunle. Tobi tried to keep the disappointment and pain from his voice as he passed some instructions to Wale about it and settled back in his seat, wondering what had become of his aunt. From the corner of his eyes he watched, a cowering figure at his side. Where was her poise, her elegance and easy confidence she once oozed? Last he’d heard from her, she’d lived in a mansion in a high brow area with a super-rich husband. Now what had happened to all of that?
Yemi fought the urge to fidget with the hem of her clothes. She knew he was looking and worse, she need not look at him to guess his thoughts. Truthfully she deserved every mean reaction from him. In fact, his treatment towards her was even better than she’d envisaged. Of course she wasn’t deluded into thinking things would be the way they once were. Times when he’d loved and respected her, when they’d shared such bond almost like a mother to a son. But that was long gone, and whatever he extended from here on, she would take.
The rest of the trip to Ajegunle was slow. He could have given her some transport fare instead and saved himself of stress, Tobi knew, but for the strong curiousity to know her home in the popular ghetto region of the city.
It was dark when they got there, and when Yemi spoke again, it was to give descriptions to her street deeply embedded in the worst hub of the slum. Tobi wasn’t the least surprised by the area, but what he was surprised about was how Yemi had come about living there.
It had rained at Ajegunle too, the rain wrecking more catastrophe there than at other regions of the city where they’d left. Here, the drainages were filled beyond recognition, pouring flood into tarred roads now marred with potholes and ditches, Wale smartly knew only to tread in the center of the road as pedestrians plunged into murky water barefoot and unmindful of it as they chatted their way through, slippers in hand and laughing at the circumstance as though it were entirely normal, which in fact it was to them. Even in the shadowy darkness of the night, one could make out the terrible environment for what it was, and Tobi breathed mighty relief that they had driven the Range and not the Audi. The low sports car surely wouldn’t have fared well in the pool.
Rounding into another turning as directed by Yemi, they passed by a car dangerously tilted into a ditch which of course, there seemed no feasible rescue for him until the flood receded. The driver, however, wouldn’t give up, pleading help from thugs rounding the car whose interests obviously laid more on the sticks of cigarettes and bottle of cheap gin each steely sipped than the car which was a clear source of worry to the driver now taken with a frantic inspection of his car.
The Range as expected drew some attention, and the touts like wads of curtain parted granting passage. Though each’s expression could barely be seen in the low street light, Tobi felt their curious leer at the opulent ride treading the center of the road an intimidating stance. Tobi knew their thoughts and intents if given the chance, for he’d once lived in such a neighborhood. Wale wasn’t lost to it and gained a stealthy speed down the road; not too fast, but considerably fast enough not to get harassed by them. Tobi smiled fearlessly to himself. Wale could never understand his past, and peradventure if they were stopped, he could handle it. All he’d need to do was conjure the beast kept tamed all these years, the one who spoke street fluently. Street recognized its own, and in fact, the way things would turn, he’d be hailed a hero, considered a success, privileged to have risen out of the slums and worst scenario, but of course, he’d also be parting with some wads of cash and maybe even more. Tobi smiled at the direction of his thought, barely aware of his aunt’s studious gaze at him until an involuntary turn her way. Yemi turned guiltily as if caught in an act as Tobi looked on, wondering for the umpteenth time how Yemi had lost it all. For one, she’d never been a frivolous spender.
“Please turn to the left.” Her voice broke again through the silence, and Wale obeyed, as he was directed into a a much darker path with even worse road and untarred, Tobi realized from the screech of his tyres against mud. The street was dark, and the only illuminating light was the headlight from the Range and a few dull flickers from sparsely dispersed homes.
Glaring into the far night in a place which seemed to be the end of the world, it was hard to imagine life in a place like this. Wale tried again until the tyres scrunched even deeper into the mud in fierce protest, Wale stopped the exact moment the instruction was commanded from Tobi and Yemi’s lips.
“Thanks, it’s fine. I’ll find my way from here.”
Tobi simply nodded in keen agreement. He’d never planned to sabotage his car for the comfort of another.
The tense in the air had doubled as each now gawked at the other in awkward silence. “How far is your place from here?” Tobi asked from a place of a concern than a mere need for utterance.
“Just there.” She pointed to an uncompleted building barely visible in the dark.
A quick glance at the road and the pool of muddy water, it was glaring there was just no other route. Tobi made to ask but stopped even before the first word made it out. The last thing he wanted was some wrong perception that he cared. For all he cared, she could swim or fly her way through, he mentally told himself. But that didn’t stop the frown that crept into his face when struck by the stark reality of Yemi’s neighbourhood. To think she lived in one of the buildings was almost unfathomable, and involuntarily he turned on her a questioning glare.
Yemi understood, he could tell from the wan shadowy smile framing her face in the low light seeping into the car. And then suddenly, from underneath her damp scarf, she dug into a bag he hadn’t known she’d possessed, and fished for a small envelope. Yemi’s hand shook uncontrollably as she held it out to the man barely attempting to receive it.
“What’s that?” Tobi growled eyeing it as if it were some contraband.
“It’s a letter. Can you please read it?” She posed more of a plea than an inquiry, and when Tobi still wouldn’t make to receive it, she slid it into the empty space between them.
“Please Oluwatobi, nitori olorun, jo ka.” she quietly implored, her voice breaking with every plea.
Unable to contain her vulnerability and her quiet pleas, Tobi turned away from her a picture of utter unfazed as he stared out the window angered and betrayed by his failing emotions.
“Please Tobi.” She pressed oblivious to the strength of her pleas and that long shriveled part of him she gradually awakened. “Please Tobi, just read it and then you can decide afterward whether to see me or not. Whatever decision you make, I promise I’ll respect it. I just need you to know the truth.” Her voice broke and Tobi winced, clutching at the door handle, now desperately containing the urge to yell her out of the car.
What truth?! Whatever even made her think he’d care about her version of the truth or any other version of it but Pelumi’s. The only truth was about Pelumi, and that she’d been brutally molested while her aunt sat back, turning a blind eye to it. That was all the truth that mattered, and that was all he ever wanted to know!
Tobi felt disdain for the woman and her ploy as it dawned on him her intent all along to give him the letter. She could have dropped it for the guards but she didn’t, because then, chances were that he’d never read it. Rather, she’d pushed seeing him, certainly remembering him as nothing more but the sentimental kid with the large forgiving heart, the softy whose emotion she’d hoped to take advantage of. Except she wouldn’t know he was different, like Pelumi marred with scars from a past he never spoke about. And when Tobi turned on her with a stern glare, all of his thoughts were made plain to her.
“Thank you for the drive.” Yemi stuttered visibly hurt by Tobi’s reaction as she hastily dashed out of the car, her legs making a small popping sound into the mud, the buzzing sounds of mosquitoes, crickets and other creatures of the night humming briefly before the door slammed shut and she disappeared into the night, certain her trip had been futile as Tobi would surely never read it or would he?
- ‘nitori olorun, jo ka’ in Yoruba means. ‘Please read it for God’s sake.’