Distance Episode 6

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Tobi shook her head and rolled her
eyes. This guy was just jumping to
conclusions, but she was enjoying his
company. They continued talking as
they ate their lunch.
Tobi told Dimeji that she was in Asaba
job-hunting. He told her that he was in
a joint venture with his best friend,
Chuka in Lagos. Their company sold
electronics and was considering
opening a branch in Asaba. He had
come to do the groundwork to prepare
for the new branch, which they
planned to launch before the end of
the year.
“You’re lucky you have an uncle who is
willing to help you secure a job. At
least, you studied a sensible course:
Business Admin. As for
me, na Geography I read o, so I knew I
was on my own.”
“My friend, don’t talk like that! You
know that even those who graduate
with a degree in Yoruba work in
banks,” said Tobi.
“Yes, but they need serious connections
to cut that deal. I didn’t have that. I’m
happy with the path I chose though.
Entrepreneurship, I mean. More like it
chose me. Even if I worked at a bank,
for example, I could not possibly work
there forever. I was going to be an
entrepreneur eventually. It has
brought fulfillment in a lot of ways.”
“I wonder if your girlfriend, Tiff,
agrees,” Tobi said, a mischievous
twinkle in her eye.
“Haba! Don’t tell me we’re back to this
non-existent girlfriend? Did that bobo
hurt you so much?”
“How did you know?”
“That was the only logical explanation
for your refusal to let go of my
presumed infidelity.”
“Or you took a wild guess and got
lucky?” Tobi queried.
“That too … Look Tobi, I understand. I
really do. I have been there.”
There was something genuine and
sincere about the way Dimeji said the
words ‘I have been there’ that was
heart-stirring. Tobi wondered what his
story was.
“So, Mr. I-have-been-there, what
happened between you and her?”
“You know, it is not good to discuss
exes on our first date,” Dimeji said, a
naughty grin on his face.
“Say what?! Which date? Don’t get it
twisted. I’m just here as–” Tobi said,
clearly flustered.
“Sister Tobi, cool down for Jesus! I was
just kidding … for now,” Dimeji said.
That mischievous twinkle re-appeared
so often during their conversation that
by the time Dimeji dropped her off at
home, she concluded that he was born
that way.
Later that evening, she spoke with her
mother who called to find out how she
was settling down in Asaba. She gave
her mother a condensed version of her
experiences, including this neighbor
who had taken her out to lunch.
“Keep an open mind, Tobi. You don’t
know what God has in store for you in
Asaba.”
Those were her mother’s words, and
that became the mantra she recited to
herself every morning. It helped her
through the disappointments she faced
over the next four months, where she
attended job interviews that were
unsuccessful. Her uncle’s connections
helped her get a foot in the door in
some companies, but that was only for
the application process. It seemed like
the same ill luck that she had tried to
escape from in Lagos had followed her
to Asaba, and she battled
discouragement daily.
In the midst of all this,
Dimeji remained at her side, being the
listening ear she needed and occasional
shoulder to cry on. Tobi had thought
that her cousins would have played
that role, but they were both
disconnected from Tobi’s reality. They
had not tasted the pain of
disappointment that came from having
doors shut in one’s face in places
where open doors were expected,
promised even. Dimeji, who had
walked in Tobi’s shoes a few years
back, having gone through the same
process, knew exactly what she was
going through, and it seemed also, how
to comfort her.
He was usually out during the day,
busy with the demands of opening a
new branch office. However, in the
evenings, he made himself available,
coming to visit her at home and taking
long walks down the quiet streets in
their neighborhood. Occasionally, they
visited local attractions like the Mongo
Park Building, FSP Children’s Park and
Otu-Ogwu Beach, but it was those long
walks that Tobi loved the most because
they got to enjoy each other’s company
and talk for hours. What better way is
there to get to know a person than
talking to him?
In four months, Tobi knew more about
Dimeji than she had known about
Mayowa in five years. She knew that
he had two younger brothers who were
still in the university, that his parents
had divorced when he was just five,
and had learnt to speak Hausa fluently
while he attended primary school in
Kaduna, where his mother lived.
Because his parents felt that the schools
in Lagos were better than the ones in
Kaduna, he had moved to Lagos after
finishing primary school, to attend a
private secondary school. He studied
Geography at Olabisi Onabanjo
University, in Ogun State, formerly
known as Ogun State University (OSU).
Youth service was at Kogi state, and
that was the last time he had been in a
relationship.
He was reluctant to tell Tobi about this
past relationship, but Tobi was not one
to be ignored. She cornered him one
Friday evening, during one of their
numerous leisurely strolls, and asked
him point blank to tell her about his
ex-girlfriend.
“Talking is therapeutic, Dimeji. You of
all people should know that. It’s what
you’ve been drumming into my head
almost every day since we met,”
Tobi said, grabbing his chin and forcing
him to look at her face. “Oya talk.”
“Why now? You’re ruining the mood.
Look at the way the sun has colored
the sky as it is going to sleep. Isn’t God
amazing?” Dimeji said, making a last
minute attempt to change the subject.
Tobi did not fall for it, and insisted on
him speaking about her.
“Okay. Remember that day at Mr.
Biggs? I told you that I love deeply and
that people often take advantage of
that.”
“Yes, I remember.”
“Okay, that’s what happened. I loved
her too much and she knew it. It didn’t
work out. The end.”
“Oh no, sir. That summary is
unacceptable. You’ll have to do better
than that.”
“What do you want me to say, Tobi?”
Dimeji asked, in a frustrated voice.
“For starters, you could tell me her
name,” Tobi said, coolly.
“Her name. Hmmmm …. Her name was
… is Enitan Ibiwoye.”
“See, that wasn’t so hard now, was it?”
“No, it wasn’t. She was a fellow
corper. We were both posted to a
secondary school in Asaya, Kogi state.
She taught English, and I taught Health
Science. We spent a lot of time
together.”
“Was she fine? Or should I say
beautiful?”
“Yes, she was … on the outside. We
were inseparable.” And here,
Dimeji smiled as he remembered some
happier times he had shared with
this Enitan person.
“Go on. I’m listening.” Tobi began to
wonder if asking him to talk about his
ex-girlfriend was such a good idea.
“She had this … this face. How do I
describe her? When she braided her
hair, she looked just like a Malo chick.”
“ Malo what? What’s that?”
“Hausa girl. She looked like an Hausa
girl.”
“She was very athletic too. She
represented our platoon and won many
of those running competitions. Her
favorite meal was–“
“Abeg, abeg! I didn’t ask you for all the
details on her life. I just wanted to
know what went wrong.”
“Shebi you were the one asking about
my ex? Now, you’re tired of hearing
about her abi?” Dimeji asked in
surprise.
“Why did you people break up? Simple
question. Oya answer it,”
Tobi responded, arms folded across her
chest.
“I was not the only one who was
attracted to her. I mean … she was hot!
A lot of the other male corpers thought
so too. They were always toasting her,
flirting with her, and she did nothing to
discourage them. I confronted her with
this shortly after we started dating, and
she just brushed off my concerns. Said
I was too sensitive. And then the
rumors started … that she was seeing
other men.”
“ Sleeping with other men, you mean,”
Tobi said, a stern look on her face.
“Well … yes, that’s what they said.”
“Let me guess … You didn’t believe
them. You thought she was above all
that. Am I right?”
“Yes, yes, exactly. I told her that
people were talking, but that I didn’t
believe them. That I believed in us.”
“And what did she say?”
“The first time I confronted her with
the rumors, she threatened to break up
with me. That there were many people
who were jealous of her, especially
other female corpers, and they were
the ones spreading the rumors.”
“There’s no smoke without fire,”
Tobi muttered under her breath.
“What was that?” Dimeji asked.
“Nothing. Continue. I’m listening.”
“She denied it and said that I should
stop feeding my ears with gossip. So, I
took her advice and ignored the
rumors. I actually quarreled with some
of my friends over this issue. At some
point, some of them said I was jazzed.”
Tobi laughed. That was typical. An
African man’s unshakeable loyalty to a
woman could always be explained by
jazz or juju. It had to be a love charm
mixed liberally with some mouth-
watering meal she had cooked for him.
Love by itself, in its purest,
unadulterated form was not enough.
Dimeji paused, took a deep breath and
continued.
“The rumors increased and so did the
intensity of Enitan’s denials. At some
point, I thought I was hallucinating,
that I had imagined all these stories
about her and other guys. Eventually, I
got tired of self-therapy, and decided to
find out for myself. So, the very next
rumor that reached my ears, I took it to
heart and investigated.”
“And what did you find out?”
Tobi asked, even though she already
guessed the answer.
“That I had been a big fool. She wasn’t
only messing around with corpers but
with teachers and even the
headmaster.”
“Headmaster? Well, I have to hand it to
her. She didn’t aim low. She went
straight for the oga at the top … if you
can call the headmaster that,”
Tobi said. Dimeji did not find her joke
funny and told her immediately. She
apologized.
“After that, I broke up with her. The
funny thing is that I still loved her
though. If she hadn’t–“
“Do you still love her?” Tobi asked,
looking into Dimeji’s eyes. Without
hesitating, he replied:
“No. It took a while … years actually,
but I got over her.”
“And how do you know? I mean, how
do I know you’re telling the truth?”
“Because when she came–“
Dimeji’s phone rang at that minute,
interrupting their conversation. He
answered it before Tobi could stop him
and began to speak Hausa to someone
over the phone. Tobi could not make
head or tail of the conversation, but
she wanted Dimeji to conclude
his Enitan gist, so she waited for the
phone call to end. Five minutes turned
to ten minutes.
By this time, they had walked back to
Okpannam road and were standing in
front of Chief Fashola’s house. The
front gate opened, and Rita, the house
help came to call Tobi.
“Madam dey call you, Auntie,” she said
to Tobi.
– to be continued –