Distance Episode 4

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The following day, Tobi woke up still
full of hope. The day was pregnant
with the promise of great things, and
she basked in it. She savored that
warm, delightful feeling, which
envelopes a person rising from sweet
sleep, that sweet nothingness that
entices the waker to sleep back under
the covers and continue dreaming. But
a noise reached her ears, forcing her to
abandon any desire to go back to
sleep. It was the same noise that had
woken her up.
“Papa, please … please … I’m sorry. I
won’t do it again,” a voice pleaded.
“You said that last week, and the week
before. Why should I believe you?” a
male voice fired back in response.
Wham! Wham! Wham!
Tobi did not need a foreteller to tell her
what was going on. Someone was
getting a thorough beating, and she
knew it had to be one of her cousins.
What had they done this time?
She quietly went downstairs, and
walked into the sitting room to witness
the scene that was already playing. Her
uncle, was wearing a house robe,
which Tobi admitted, actually made
him look younger.
Gone was the kind-faced man she
called uncle, and in his stead was a
man keen on stamping out every form
of disobedience from his children. His
face portrayed this determination. In
his hand was a long thick cane, that
looked like it had been freshly plucked
from a tree because it still had a few
leaves attached to it.
One of her cousins, she could not tell
which, was half-kneeling, half-
prostrated on the floor of the sitting
room, wailing in a loud voice. Her
mother stood nearby, hands extending
outwards, dressed in a lace blouse and
wrapper and crowned with an
elaborate head tie. Tobi deduced that
this was Auntie Priscillia’s Sunday
wear. She did nothing to withhold her
husband from administering justice,
but instead encouraged him more,
yelling to her daughter that this was
what happened to children who
disobeyed their parents. Tobi walked
over to her Auntie’s side and asked her
what had happened.
“Can you imagine? This one–” and as
she said ‘this one,’ Auntie
Priscillia walked over and gave the girl
a knock on the head (Am sure you also
received this same knock when you
were young :D) It was when she raised
up her head in protest, that Tobi saw
that it was Mary, the older of her two
cousins.
“This one,” Auntie continued, rejoining
Tobi, “went off yesterday night, when
she thought we were all asleep,” and
did not come back until 6:00 a.m. this
morning. 6 am!” Auntie yelled, as she
made as if to attack the girl again, but
Chief who was closer to Mary gave her
another stroke of the cane on her back
side. Mary yellled out in pain and
pleaded again for mercy, but it fell on
deaf ears.
Tobi looked at the time. It was barely
6:15 am, and she wondered why her
Auntie was already dressed up so early
in the morning.
“I was getting ready to go for the 7 o’
clock service,” Auntie continued,
“when I remembered that Chikodi had
asked me for money to buy materials
for a Maths project. I came to their
room to give it to her, and saw Chikodi
sleeping in her room. When I asked
her where Amaka was, she started
stammering: ‘I-I-I don’t k-k-k-now,
Mama,’ “Auntie said, mimicking her
younger daughter’s voice and
mannerisms.
“These children think we were born
yesterday,” her husband interrupted,
still glaring at the offending child.
“Yes, Papa. They do. As if I was never
a teenager myself. I knew she was
trying to cover for her sister. So I went
and told their father, and we both
waited. Papa waited at the front door
and I waited at the back door. Within a
few minutes, I saw her creeping in
through the back door–“
“Dressed like a harlot! You see her?
My own daughter, wearing mini skirt
and brazier! Your bride price has
reduced,” Chief said his voice heavy
with anger. The mention of what
Mary was wearing earned her another
five strokes from her father, who beat
her as if he had just heard that she
stole a neighbor’s goat. The girl’s voice
was now cracked from shouting, and
Tobi felt sorry for her. But her parents
were not done.
“Foolish girl! So, it is when the news is
everywhere that the Aba rapist in now
in Asaba, that you decided to be going
for night parties and gallivanting all
over town, abi? She said she was in
Agbor for a party. What if a car had hit
you or the Aba rapist had finished
you–” Chief began, but his wife cut him
short.
“Tufiakwa! God forbid. My daughters
will never be raped or killed. I will not
mourn any of my children o. Papa, it’s
enough.” Auntie Priscillia switched
gears and began to plead with her
husband to forgive the naughty child.
At first, he vehemently refused, but
after a few minutes, he agreed. Mary
ran upstairs to her room still crying.
Her sister, Chikodi who had watched
quietly from the top of the stairs, had
also disappeared into their room. She
had made herself scarce during the
entire session knowing that seeing her
might make her parents transfer some
of the beating meant for Mary to her as
well.
Tobi tried to go after Mary, but she
locked the door of the room behind
her, putting an end to any consolation
from her cousin. Tobi, who was now
living in one of the spare rooms
upstairs, retired to her room briefly.
As she began to meditate on what just
happened, she recalled that she had
seen the Sunday newspaper lying on
the dining table. Her
uncle’s brief reference to the Aba
rapist had stirred up her curiosity and
she went in search of the paper.
After retrieving it, she went back to her
room and looked for an update on the
ongoing investigation. There was a
short article mentioning the cities that
the rapist had struck, and they
included Agbor, Onitsha and finally
Aba. Some of the victims had provided
the police with brief descriptions, and
the paper reported that the man they
were looking for wore two studs in his
ears, and smelt like fish.
The other descriptions they gave were
common place and from what
Tobi could see, they might as well have
been describing any man who lived in
that region: medium height, thick lips,
beard, moustache, strong build.
“Good luck catching him,”
Tobi shrugged as she put the paper
down. The report also mentioned that
he had struck in Agbor the night
before. Tobi could now understand her
aunt and uncle’s fears for their
daughters, especially since Mary had
been in Agbor that night.
She got up and got ready to go to
church. She had no intention of going
to her aunt’s church, which was a
Baptist Church. Instead, she planned to
attend a popular Pentecostal church on
Ilukwu Ilah road, which was not too far
from the house. Being that it was a
Sunday, Godwin the driver was off
duty, and since Tobi could not drive,
she had to find her way to church
alone. She walked to a street corner
not far from the house and stopped an
okada, which took her to church.
When she got there, the service was in
full swing. She thought the service was
for 10am, but as it turned out, she was
an hour late. A well-dressed usher
shoved a bulletin into her hand, and
directed her to an empty seat in the
middle of a crowded row. She had
barely set down her bag, so she could
join in the praise and worship, when
someone on the right tapped her. She
turned to come face to face with her
neighbor, Dimeji Bakare. She could not
hide her surprise.
“Don’t look so shocked. I’m not an
infidel (un-believer)!” he yelled into
her ear, trying to make himself heard
above the noise of talented and
talentless vocalists alike, singing praises
to God.
Tobi thought of telling him that she did
not know him well enough to come to
such a conclusion, and that coming to
church did not mean he was a believer,
but decided against it. She just
smiled and shook the hand he
extended to her. Less than twenty
minutes later, when the woman on the
pulpit asked visitors to stand up for the
church to welcome them specially,
Tobi and Dimeji stood up at the same
time.
It was his first time too? Tobi was
shocked.
After the service, they went with other
visitors to the visitor’s parlor for
refreshments and to learn more about
the church. Dimeji attached himself to
her, and followed her everywhere like
a lost puppy. Tobi was amused.
When the meeting was over, Dimeji
asked if she had other plans for the rest
of the day, to which she responded in
the negative.
“Might I interest you in lunch at Mr.
Biggs?” he asked her.
“Why not? Which one?” Tobi replied.
“Is that a trick question? The only
one of course. The one on Nnebisi
road.”
“That was a trick question. I’m not
pleased that you didn’t fall for it.”
“Oh yeah? Don’t worry. I’ll pretend to
fall for the next one.”
They both laughed and Dimeji led the
way to his silver Toyota Camry, which
had been mercilessly roasted by the
sun.
“So do you always take your neighbors
to Mr. Biggs every Sunday?”
Tobi asked, as Dimeji drove them to
the restaurant.
“Of course. Haven’t you heard? Father
Christmas moved to Asaba, and he’s
not an old man.”
Tobi smiled and proceeded to ask him
where his red suit was, and why he
was delivering presents in August.
Dimeji did not have an answer for that,
but announced to her in a clear voice:
“If you hang around me long enough,
you’ll uncover even more secrets.”
Then, he winked. That wink. It spoke
of upcoming mischief and reminded
Tobi of someone she used to know in
primary school. The boy used to wink
at her anytime she saw him stealing
pencils from the store at the back of
the class, which was quite often.
Tobi wondered if Dimeji had ever
stolen anything before, and then
rebuked herself for thinking such evil
thoughts of a man who was treating
her to lunch.
– To Be Continued –