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.