Distance Episode 11

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Tobi went to bed very early that day,
but sleep evaded her. At about 2:00
a.m. on Tuesday morning, when the
whole house was asleep, she went
downstairs and searched for Monday’s
paper.
Her uncle usually kept the newspapers
for the entire week in a magazine
stand in the sitting room, and only
threw them away on Sundays. He
usually went through the newspapers
a second time on Sunday afternoons
to decide which articles he would
keep. The ones he retained typically
had some important information on
the furniture industry, especially as it
related to the Southern part of
Nigeria.
Tobi was grateful for her uncle’s
peculiar habit because if he destroyed
the papers immediately after reading
them, she would have had to go to one
of the newspaper vendors hoping they
still retained the copy she needed.
Thankfully, she could conduct her own
hassle-free research within the
confines of the house.
As she predicted, her uncle had
destroyed the newspapers for Monday,
Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday of
the previous week. So, the only ones
she found were bits and pieces of the
newspapers for Thursday, Saturday,
Sunday and the entire newspaper for
Monday, which was the day before.
She started out with the newspaper for
Monday, scouring it for any kind of
news or information on the Aba
rapist. Nothing. Then, she looked at
the cut out articles for the other days.
She was just about to give up her
search, when she saw on the back of
an article, which talked about a new
furniture company that had opened in
Asaba a month ago, the sketch of a
man’s face. It was just an amateur
pencil-drawn sketch from the top of
the man’s head to his upper chest, but
the details in that drawing were
enough to freeze the blood in her
veins.
From the large eyes to the broad nose
to the thick lips and even down to the
Adam’s apple, the face in the picture
closely resembled Dimeji’s face. Even
the piercings in both ears were
present. However, some features were
missing. The man in the sketch did
not have the dimples, which showed
whenever Dimeji’s face contracted
into a smile.
Furthermore, this person had laugh
lines near the outer corners of his
eyes, and Tobi strained her mind to
remember if she had ever seen similar
lines on Dimeji’s face. She grabbed
her phone and quickly looked at
Dimeji’s pictures. No laugh lines.
“Phew! Thank God!” she said.
But now that she had his pictures to
compare with the sketch, her
temporary relief dissipated, and was
replaced instead by worry. Dimeji
bore an uncanny resemblance to the
man in the sketch.
Not knowing what to do next,
Tobi read the little article that
followed the picture. It basically said
that some of the victims had described
the man who raped them and an artist
had pieced together their descriptions
to produce the drawing. People were
asked to contact their local police
station if they had any information
about the identity or whereabouts of
the man in the picture.
“If Brother James was so sure that
Dimeji was the man in the picture, he
would have alerted the police. Why
didn’t he do so? It can’t be because of
any sympathy he feels for Dimeji,
that’s for sure. So what could be the
reason?”
As she sat there deliberating, the
answer came to her: he
was not completely sure. And to tell
the truth, Tobi herself was not sure.
She certainly hoped that it was not
true, but Brother James had succeeded
in planting the seed of doubt in her
heart. There was a chance that he was
wrong. Brother James was not the only
person who had seen the sketch in that
paper: the whole of Asaba and its
environs had seen it too. They
probably knew people who fit that
description, apart from Dimeji.
“Of the 2 million people in Asaba, why
must the Aba rapist look like my own
boyfriend?” Tobi groaned.
She decided there and then to let the
police investigation run its course.
But from that point forward, she
would watch Dimeji closely. She went
to bed but did not fall asleep until it
was almost 5:00 am. She did not wake
up until around 2:00 pm on Tuesday
afternoon, spending the rest of the
day indoors. Time seemed to crawl by
slowly, but eventually, Wednesday
arrived.
Tobi and Dimeji had agreed to meet at
about 5:00 p.m. that day. He arrived
from Calabar just before 3:00 pm, but
had to attend to some pressing matters
at the new branch before finally
making it to Tobi’s house around 4:30
pm.
When Tobi saw Dimeji, she struggled
with mixed feelings. There was a part
of her that wanted to embrace him,
but another part distrusted him.
Dimeji could tell just by looking at her
that something was wrong. He walked
up to her and hugged her, but she did
not respond. Her body was stiff and
cold like a tree trunk. Dimeji was
alarmed.
“Tobi, what’s wrong? Tell me. I’m
here now. What’s going on?” a
worried Dimeji asked her.
“Let’s go to your house,”
Tobi responded.
The house where Dimeji lived actually
belonged to his close friend who lived
in the United States. Apart
from Dimeji, the only other people
who lived there were the caretaker
and his wife. They both stayed in the
boys’ quarters, and they saw to the
upkeep of the house in the absence of
the owner. Dimeji’s friend had agreed
to let him stay there whenever he was
in Asaba.
As the house was Dimeji’s temporary
residence, it was the one of the few
places where they could talk with some
measure of privacy. Normally,
Tobi avoided going alone to Dimeji’s
house out of concern for her
reputation in the neighborhood. She
did not want anyone peddling rumors
to her uncle and aunt, so she usually
went to his house in the company of
her cousins.
That day, however, she did not care.
She needed answers and that was all
that mattered to her. They walked in
silence to Dimeji’s house, and he led
her to the sitting room. There was no
one else in the house.
“Okay now, will you tell me what’s
going on?” said Dimeji, sitting beside
Tobi on a leather sofa. He tried to
take her hand, but she pushed him
away.
“I saw Brother James at the bus-stop
on Monday,” Tobi started.
“For real? Is Brother James the reason
why you’re boning for me?”
Dimeji asked in surprise.
“Let me finish.”
“Okay o, Madam. Carry go.”
Tobi launched into a detailed account
of her conversation with Brother
James. As she narrated Brother James’
pathetic attempt at toasting her,
Dimeji burst into laughter. But as
soon as he caught the no-nonsense
look on Tobi’s face, he cleared his
throat, and assumed a serious look.
“…And he said you were a criminal,
and even named you as the Aba
rapist,” Tobi said, looking straight at
Dimeji.
Dimeji jumped to his feet boiling with
anger.
“And you believed him? What a joke!
My goodness! Tobi, are you that
gullible?! Please tell me you don’t
believe that nonsense?”
Tobi took note of his reaction and
continued swiftly with the second
allegation.
“He also said that … that you had a
son. Is that also a lie?” Tobi asked in
an icy tone, looking directly into
Dimeji’s eyes. At the mention of the
word ‘son,’ Dimeji tore his gaze away
from Tobi and turned his back to her.
In that moment, Tobi’s worst fears
were confirmed.
– to be continued –