The thought that Tokunbo would get a secret admirer kept me going all afternoon, even up till early evening.
Around 7:36pm, my parents arrived from Ogbomosho with Tayo. They were all exhausted and not very chatty, not even my mother who could talk anyone’s ear off. In spite of his tiredness, my father lamented bitterly about bad roads and heavy traffic.
Then, he carried on regretfully about the timing of their trip to Ogbomosho, something he constantly complained about every term since Tayo started attending FGC Ogbomosho.
“We should’ve picked up this boy on Monday,” he said laying his car keys on the dining table.
“No way!” said my mother in a voice that betrayed her fast waning energy. “My son can’t be the last one to leave. People will think his parents have forgotten him or we’re having problems at home.”
The look on my father’s face said “Those people can pick him up next time!” but the appeal of a warm bath waiting for him, followed by the promise of a hot, steaming meal was far stronger than any desire to contradict his wife’s theory.
For me, Tayo’s arrival at home was bitter-sweet. While I was glad to have someone who would take charge in the absence of my parents, Tayo’s return meant more chores for me. It seemed like whatever horrors he had suffered at the hands of seniors and teachers in boarding school, he tried to make up for it by dumping every possible chore on my shoulders whenever he came home for holidays.
Thankfully, that evening, he was too tired to boss me or Yemi around. He soon fell asleep on the couch in front of the TV, after vowing to make up for lost time by binge-watching as much television as he could manage before school resumed in January. But his body’s desire for rest superseded any promise Tayo had made to himself.
We ate the meal I had cooked that afternoon, after which, each person migrated to various parts of the house. Then, I got busy with planning the all-important event that would take place the following day.
After practicing my speech and contemplating Tokunbo’s reactions and counter-reactions as well as how I would handle further questions, I went to bed with a smile on my face and simply counted down the hours to the moment when my plan would be executed. If everything went as planned, I would never have to worry about Tokunbo again.
If not … well, I didn’t let myself consider failure as an option.
When I woke up the next day, a Sunday, I went with my family to church. Although we all typically attended a Methodist church that was about forty minutes from our house, that Sunday, my parents decided that they did not want to make that drive. Instead, they chose to attend a nearby church.
As there were several churches in our neighborhood that could easily fit the description of “nearby,” I had no reason to suspect that my parents would pick the one church that had a connection to our neighbors. In fact, I did not know the exact church we would attend that day until my father pulled up to the Pentecostal church where, according to our former house help, Rosemary, Mrs. Williams was a member.
This was not part of my plan, but it seemed that fate had taken the reins on this Tokunbo matter and all I could do was sit back and watch.
Throughout the service, my eyes searched frantically all over the church auditorium, scanning faces to see if I could spot the Williams family. In particular, of course, I wanted to know if Tokunbo was in church that morning.
But, it was all in vain.
I felt sure that women like Mrs. Williams were never content to sit at the back of any place and would have pulled strings, made a fuss, or done just about anything to ensure that she and her family got front-row seats.
Although my analysis of her character was spot on, I could not seem to find her or her family anywhere. No matter how hard I searched, it seemed that Mrs. Williams and her children had either decided to sleep at home, or else, they, like us, were visiting another church that Sunday.
“Well, it doesn’t matter. I’ll just do what I’ve planned anyway,” I thought to myself.
My plan was to go and knock on their gate and ask to speak with Tokunbo. When he emerged, I would tell him he had a secret admirer who had written him a letter, shove it into his hand and take to my heels.
A simple plan, right? Nothing could possibly go wrong.
So I sat through the rest of the service, not allowing myself to worry about the matter any further.
Right after the service, when we had all said “The Grace,” and the service came to an end, I started to gather my belongings. My father had turned around to face the back of the auditorium, offering a fresh perspective.
Without any warning, my father jabbed my mother with his right elbow, and as he pointed ahead with his left hand, he said to her:
“Asake, isn’t that Tokunbo?”
My mother looked in the direction in which he was pointing. I did the same, even though my name wasn’t Asake.
The spot my father had commanded my mother to turn her gaze towards was just two rows behind us. In the rightmost corner of the auditorium, standing close the wall and waiting for the pedestrian traffic to thin down before exiting through the main doors, was a tall, brooding young man wearing a bottle green buba with matching trousers.
It was Tokunbo.
From that distance and judging him purely by the dignified way he looked, I found myself wondering if this was the same boy who had become a trouble-maker in school. He certainly did not look like it. In fact, you would think he was the head boy or even a school prefect.
Yes, he certainly looked like the responsible type.
But with the little I knew about Mrs. Williams, I knew she couldn’t be lying about her son’s problems. I decided to trust what I had heard from her rather than what my own casual observation suggested, because as we all know, things aren’t always what they seem.
Tokunbo’s hair had grown thick, just like my brother Tayo, which made me think that in addition to under-feeding them, judging from how skinny they always appeared on their arrival from school, male boarders were also denied access to skilled barbers.
My father called out to him, after my mother had confirmed that it was indeed Tokunbo standing a few yards away from us. His mother and sister were nowhere in sight.
“T-o-k-u-n-b-o! Come, come!” my father cried excitedly, motioning for him to come to where we stood.
The mountain must come to Mohammed.
In the few seconds it took Tokunbo to arrive at the place where we stood, my mother had hurriedly gathered her things and pretending she had seen someone she knew but hadn’t seen in ages, she walked away from us. My brother, Tayo and Yemi, stood beside my father and said “Hello” in turn to Tokunbo, right after he had semi-prostrated respectfully to my father, who promptly extended a hand towards him for a solid handshake.
“Good Morning, sir,” said Tokunbo, smiling and being careful to display only the minimum amount of white teeth.
“How are you? So you’re back from school ehn? Your mother told me you would be coming back this weekend,” said my father cheerfully.
“Yes, sir. I just got back yesterday.”
“Is that right? Ehn, my wife and I went to pick eh …Tayo–” said my father, reaching out and planting a firm hand on Tayo’s shoulder as if between him and Yemi, anyone could doubt that Tayo was the one in secondary school. But since Yemi was almost as tall as Tayo, just younger-looking, maybe my father was right to make it clear who was who.
“–Yesterday, too. But we didn’t get back until night time. Heavy traffic. It was as if the whole world was heading to Ogbomosho yesterday. But you don’t have that problem. Your school is just in Ijanikin over there,” said my father, throwing his hand casually in the direction of the main entrance of the church, as if one could step out of church and find himself at the gate of FGC Ijanikin, just like that.
Tokunbo smiled politely. I could tell that he did not really care for whatever my father was content to ramble on and on about, but he did not interrupt him for one moment.
Maybe Mrs. Williams was right after all.