Tobi finally broke off the embrace and pulled away, ignoring the angry glare I sent him. His lips formed into a soft playful smile, and then it broadened and lit up his face, highlighting his strong resemblance with the twins. At that instant, I could feel my anger at Tobi slowly ebb away. I forced my lips into a thin line, suppressing a smile; it took extra effort not to smile back. Why did forgiving my brother have to come so easily? My mind was betraying me.
‘’Let’s go home” he said.
“I mean to the boys. Like we intended,” he added quickly.
Steering me gently aside, Tobi opened the passenger seat, and waited for me to climb in, before shutting the door. My brother usually is not that nice; it was all part of his tactic to appease me. He turned back to Dimeji, had a quick short conversation with him, before climbing into the driver’s seat. Tobi is driving today; Sundays are his driver’s day off. Tobi buckled his seat belt, I did the same, and then he started the car. As we pulled out of Dimeji’s house, my gaze locked with Tomiwa’s for a moment. In those eyes were pain coupled with sadness, regret and longing. He waved at me. I waved back and looked away, feeling a little pang of guilt. Since my reunion with the family two years back, Tomiwa’s feelings for me had been pretty clear. Unashamedly, he had blown his horn, and declared his undying love for me to anyone who was interested in knowing. Like that could change my mind, and make me start to love him. Then he had walked up to me, and had asked to marry me. My blatant refusal had disappointed them all. I cannot forget the shock and hurt in Tomiwa’s eyes. Right there, the light had snuffed out of Tomiwa’s eyes, and it never had returned since then. It’s sad, knowing I am the cause for that. I hope he gets someone to bring back that light. Sadly, that person is not me! It would be nice if everyone understood that, and stopped letting sentiments cloud their judgments. First of which is our friendship with the Adegbeluoye’s since we were kids, or the silly childhood attraction I once had for Tomiwa which was long gone.
Over the years, our brothers have kept their friendship. How they have done that is still a wonder. It had all started out with them being primary school friends and classmates; it was only natural Tomiwa and I became friends being the younger siblings. In comparison with Dimeji, I had found relating with Tomiwa easy; he had only three years on me, unlike Tobi and Dimeji’s eight years start. I remember speaking to Dimeji only when absolutely necessary. The Adegbeluye brothers had been cute since time memorial; the major reason for my then-infatuation for Tomiwa.
Now, the wheels had changed. I had since shut out love, and everyone until recently, opening up to my brother, his wife and my nephews; Tolu, and Tayo, the two sweetest kids I had ever known, not excluding my only friend and protégé Eniola. This has of course triggered accusations of obstinacy, snobbery and even excessive pride but I disagree. I am simply strong willed; a crucial quality that had moulded me into what I am; a renowned journalist. Hardwork, determination, and efficiency has earned me that. Journalism was all I had, and ever wanted, it was only natural I gave it my best.
I took a glance at Tobi across the seat, he was quiet. His strong, chiseled face in a concentrated fix on the road ahead. I watched as he slowly maneuvered his way round a pothole. His brows furrowed in a frown, I could tell he was in deep thought. I wondered what was going through his mind, before returning my gaze out my window. Tobi slowed down as a molue stopped abruptly in front of us. Thanks to the rolled up window, we were shielded from the harsh, thick black fume erupting from the exhaust pipe. I watched passengers scurry into the already cramped bus as Tobi carefully maneuvered his way back into the road. Fela had not been exaggerating, when he sang about the stretch bus having sits enough to accommodate forty four passengers, and space enough for ninety nine standing passengers or even more. Molues are always cramped. I know this because at a point in my life, it was my preferred means of transport. The reason is not far-fetched. It was cheap! Also it had been a good opportunity for me to sell and advertise my wares, ranging from rodent poisons, to herbal drugs whose potency I cannot vouch for. Back then, to earn a living, I sold pretty much anything I could lay my hands on.
The bus is not for the weak minded and feeble. You were either swift, or competitive, because, it involved rushing in to secure a sit, and rushing out, because it never really halted to let one out. It was an exercise of a kind. The first time I had boarded one, I remember suffering muscle cramps for days. Truly, the molue was an entirely different world, with passengers ranging from sweaty traders, hawkers, to wailing kids and nursing mothers, to preachers. Looking back at that, it still was a surprise how I became a success story.
We stopped by a line of cars at the traffic light. At every side, hawkers pressed, displaying their wares, ranging from edible to inanimate objects. I looked away, keeping my gaze fixed on the spread of cars before us. From the corner of my eyes, a little boy caught my attention. I turned to look out my window; the boy’s hollow eyes were staring at me in a silent inquiry, an extra-large bowl on his head, bottled water peeking out of it rested on a folded cloth preventing direct contact of the bowl with his head. I wondered how he could carry that much weight on his head. The boy’s long, brown, calf length, loose fitting shirt hung loosely down a shoulder. The shirt had definitely seen better days. At some point even, it might have been white. Blue shorts peeked underneath it. He sniffed and pulled the draping shirt up his shoulder with a free hand. His huge sunken, hungry eyes still widened in inquiry, as he mouthed something I could not hear. I am sure he was asking if I wanted to buy a bottle.
Tobi kicked the car to a start on the ‘ready’ sign, but it revved and went off. Without a thought, I rolled down my window, and handed the kid a one thousand naira note as he quickly reached for a bottle and handed it to me. His eyes grew wide with surprise and gratitude, when I told him to keep the change. Just then, the light blinked ‘go’ and on cue, the Lexus sputtered and coughed, jerking as it came on. We looked at each other in momentary confusion, and Tobi zoomed off. There was nothing to worry about; our drive was smooth again.
Through the side mirror, I could still see the kid wave at me, his form getting farther, until he disappeared. Tobi looked at me inquiringly, clearly wondering why I just did that. He would never understand. Like that famous crooner used to say, “You know what it is, but we know what it was”. I had once been in the same shoes. I remember what it felt like to get tips, what difference it would make on a daily sale.
The silence lapsed, and I intended to keep it that way. Tobi was unbelievable. I still cannot believe his deception. Picking me up for my Sunday visit with the kids, then stopping at Dimeji’s house for an inane chit chat intended on cajoling me into following on his appointment with father that afternoon. I wonder if Kamiye is in on the deception. If she is, this will surely leave a dent in my relationship with Tobi and his wife.
Sometimes, it is difficult to tell what side Tobi really belonged, father’s, or mine. At this juncture, I am sure that things would never go back to how it is used to be when Tobi and I were kids; before mother’s death, and father’s sentence. Our once tight knit family had long fallen apart. Starting with father’s company going bankrupt, and the ensuing violence up until mother’s death, father’s lock up afterwards, which had finally led to the even bigger separation between Tobi and I, when he ran off to the university, and I was left in Aunt Yemi’s ‘care’. Those years had been the darkest ones of my life. I had needed my brother the most. But he never came for me. His replies to my letters were seldom. My brother became a complete stranger, and I was alone. So tipped to the edge of frustration, I made one of the smartest choices ever; escaping after a gruesome four years at my aunt’s. Life on the streets was not easy but I survived anyway. The street honed the fighter in me.
For a really long time, I’d blamed myself for what happened at Aunt Yemi’s, blamed life, and at some point felt suicidal. I was so angry at life. A part of me probably still is.
Now, here is Tobi telling me about forgiving the man who had started my misery. At this point in my life, I would not hesitate in shaking off anyone who decides to bring back whatever ghosts and shadows I had taken years to bury; Tobi included. I was more than prepared to shut him back out like he was before returning into my life two years back. I lived the most part of my life alone. I can do it again if I have to.
“Pelumi, you’re quiet” Tobi finally said, throwing a quick look my way. I said nothing in response.
“I said I am sorry,” he said pleadingly.
“I heard you the first time,” I replied in a flat tone. Silence stretched again, but this time, it was brief.
“I promise you that’s the last of father you’re ever going to hear from me,” Tobi spoke reassuringly, and glanced at my still form. I wished I could believe him. We both know he would not give up on the forgiveness talk, maybe just for today though.
Tired of my brooding, Tobi gave an exasperated sigh “Pelumi, you better stop being so intractable. You’ll get married someday, and no man loves an unyielding woman.”
I glared at Tobi, although I am not surprised he could say that. It is very typical of African men to want their women submissive, docile, and weak.
“But you would prefer me subservient like mother?” I blurted in renewed anger.
When Tobi looked my way, there was ice in his eyes, and with the way his nostrils flared, I knew he was ticked. Not like I cared. That had merely been the truth. Plus, whoever said my ultimate goal was marriage.
“Don’t ever talk about mother that way,” he chided in a tone sure to have caused his subordinates to cringe.
I shrugged, unfazed “It’s the truth.”
Tobi’s chest heaved in an obvious sigh of frustration “but why do you find it so hard to forgive?” His voice had taken an edge.
Seriously, he was going to talk about this again? “Because I can’t!” I screamed in annoyance, hoping my decision sunk into his skull this time.
Tobi’s grip on the wheel tightened. He was vexed, and I cared less.
“Because when I close my eyes, what I see is how he’d beat mum at the slightest opportunity. How he’d lock her in the bedroom for days when they were quarrelling and how he murdered her!” I emphasized the last words like that would make Tobi understand the gravity of father’s crimes. “But then, you never knew all this. You were safe in boarding school, and never had to see everything I saw mother go through. She was weak Tobi, and I hate that about her. So stop shoving forgiveness down my throat, because it won’t happen.” I finished with a tone of finality.
Tobi’s eyes widened in disbelief, and then quickly returned to the road “Just listen to yourself, you sound like a bitter woman. Father has made peace with himself. You know who is suffering all this now?” his voice pitched a note higher “Not mother, not father, but you. You!” Tobi’s eyes flashed darker when he glared at me. We were both so mad at each other, neither of us noticed the car was now going faster.
I shut my eyes in anger, slowly counting one to ten to calm my raging nerves.
Tobi’s voice was blaring loud now, obviously pissed “I know he killed mother. I was there. Everyone makes mistakes, and he has been paying for his for the past eighteen years. Why won’t you just hear him out?”
The fire in my eyes matched his when I reopened them.“Good! Good!” I repeated “not even the next eighteen years would be enough penance for his wrongs. I hate him, Tobi!” I swore “and to hell with you, father, and everyone!” my scream died in my lips as we hit a pothole, and Tobi swerved, battling for control as we darted aimlessly though lanes.
“Tobi, what’s happening?” I screamed in panic.
The car gained momentum, and accelerated on the clear asphalt, Tobi pulled the gear. His frantic effort to stop the car futile.
“I don’t know; the brake is not responding!” He shouted. The chilling fear in Tobi’s voice crept up my spine, making me cry in hysteria.
“Oh my God! Stop the car, stop it!” my heart leapt to my throat. I screamed as the car jerked, and jumped out of Tobi’s control, heading for a car almost directly in front of us. I screamed even louder as we covered the distance. Tobi’s hands tightened on the wheel, his eyes grew wide with fear, and my piercing scream was mixed with his, as we smashed into the car.
Time froze, as we were hoisted up into the air. My vision blurred. From another plane, I could hear myself scream, as we tumbled over and over in midair. We are going to die. Ear deafening sounds of shattering glass crashed all around me as we touched down with a loud thud on the roof, faced upside down. Hurt and frightened, I started to whimper from the pain shooting like a million daggers through every part of my body. I felt numb, and dizzy, my head throbbed painfully. I tried opening my eyes, and called for Tobi. I could not hear myself. I tried even harder. My voice finally broke through in a whisper. He moaned in response. He was alive! Thank God. I need to get up, need to save my brother. If only I could pull out of that dizzy haze.
With a concentrated effort, I prised my eyes open, to be met by the sight and sound of an approaching vehicle. Helplessly, I watched with growing fear and terror as a black sedan drew closer, and closer. The last sound I heard before the pull into darkness was my strangled cry, and metal smashing into metal. The end had come, and I welcomed it, drifting into it, expecting to be caught by my mother.