Distance Episode 7

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Tobi tapped Dimeji on the shoulder,
told him she was leaving and retired
indoors. She knew that she would have
another opportunity to ask more
questions the following day.
One of her father’s friends was
celebrating his 54th birthday in Agbor
that Saturday, and Dimeji had
volunteered to take her there. The man,
Mr. Johnson would not have bothered
celebrating 54. After all, most people
threw parties to celebrate major
milestones like 21, 30, 40, 50 and so on.
But Mr. Johnson had survived a major
boat accident earlier that year, and felt
that a party was in order.
Tobi’s father would not be in
attendance, but his daughter would
represent the family. Chief Fashola and
Auntie Priscillia would also be out of
town attending another function.
As soon as Tobi entered the house, she
went to the back of the house, where
Auntie Priscillia was sitting eating sugar
cane. Tobi greeted her, fetched her
own plate, and joined her aunt to
consume the sugar cane.
“Tobi,” Auntie Priscillia began, after
spitting out the chaff from the chewed-
up sugar cane, “That man you’re always
going about with, what’s his name?”
“Dimeji, Auntie. His name is Dimeji,”
Tobi replied, before throwing a piece of
sugar cane in her mouth. She was not
surprised. She had expected her aunt
to question her about her friendship
with Dimeji and was ready with
answers.
“So, what are the two of you doing
together, ehn? You’ve been spending
all this time with him, and you’ve been
gallivanting all around Asaba together.
Tobi, I know I am not your mother, but
I won’t open my eyes and keep quiet if I
see something wrong happening to
you.”
She paused. She did not expect a reply
from Tobi, but started coughing. Tobi
dived indoors for a glass of water.
After drinking and clearing her throat,
she continued.
“Now, this Dimeji, has he made his
intentions known to you? I mean, has
he asked for your hand in marriage?”
“Haba, Auntie! We’ve only known each
other for four months, and you’re
already talking about marriage. We are
just friends.”
“You children don’t know anything.
How long do you think it took before
your uncle married me? Just two
months. Marriage was his intention
from day one, and he made it clear. He
didn’t waste time at all. Tobi, I don’t
want this man to waste your time like
that other Mayowa fellow. If a man
wants you, he will make it clear.”
“Auntie, we are just friends. I’m not
his girlfriend or anything and–“
“You see, that’s the problem. Anybody
seeing the two of you together would
think you were in a committed
relationship, and you’re now telling me
he is just a friend. Tobi, it is a woman
who determines the pace of a
relationship, and she is the one who
sets the boundaries too. With your
mouth you’re saying you both share a
casual friendship, but your actions tell a
different story. Don’t let any man make
a fool of you. I know not every man is
upfront about his intentions like your
uncle. Some men need a little push to
make a commitment. This
Dimeji fellow must decide whether he
will commit himself to you or move on.
If he has not raised this issue with you,
then it is your duty to do so. Or else–“
And here, Auntie Priscillia’s voice
trailed off as she threw another piece of
sugar cane into her mouth and chewed
it with a rugged determination. It was
like the words that should have come
after “or else” were crushed with the
pulp of the sugar cane and promptly
discarded with the chaff.
Tobi knew that what her aunt had said
was true. She had thought about it
many times, but each time the thought
presented itself, she had pushed it
farther and farther away into the
recesses of her mind. It was something
she was not willing to deal with simply
because she was enjoying the steady
pace of her friendship with Dimeji.
They were getting to know each other
without the boyfriend-girlfriend tag,
which in Tobi’s opinion,
could ruin everything. Their friendship
was unhurried and she did not feel the
pressure she had felt with her
relationship with Mayowa. Until that
evening with Aunty Priscillia.
Why rock the boat ?
Tobi was sure that bringing up any talk
about relationships or commitment
with Dimeji would spoil the simple
friendship they already had. Besides,
wasn’t that his place? Why did she
have to do a man’s job for him? And
she did not want to repeat the same
mistake she had made with Paul with
any other man.
Certainly not with Dimeji.
Tobi was forward, outspoken
sometimes, and in the months after her
breakup with Mayowa, she felt a deep
sense of guilt for the way things had
panned out between them. A part of
her felt that her being too forward was
to blame, and she had consciously tried
to tone it down when she came to
Asaba.
Poor Tobi ! If only she knew that there
was no amount of ‘toning down’ her
character that could have saved her
relationship with Mayowa. They had
already drifted apart before he went to
Abuja, but she still held on to him like
a drowning man clutching at straw.
For Mayowa, the physical distance
between them was a manifestation of
what was already going on
emotionally. He had gone to Abuja
thinking of starting afresh. It just so
happened that it was Folake who had
walked into his life at a time when his
own heart was searching for someone
else. Tobi with all her letter writing,
phone calls and emails was fighting a
lost battle.
But our dear Tobi was not a mind
reader. She only knew what she could
see and understand. This revelation, of
course, came later.
That evening with Auntie Priscillia, she
realized that her attempts to suppress
her nature were failing. In fact, they
had failed. The longer she sat there
thinking about what her aunt had said,
the more she realized that she had been
the one deceiving herself.
There was nothing simple about her
friendship with Dimeji. They had
crossed the friend line a long time ago,
but they never made it
official. He never made it official.
“I’m not going to Agbor without a
formal commitment. In fact, I’m not
going anywhere without defining
this yeye friendship. What would I even
introduce him as? My friend? Let me
not disgrace myself. I will confront him
today.”
With her mind made up, Tobi thanked
her aunt for her advice and retired to
her room. Once she was within the
confines of her room, she sent Dimeji a
text with the four words men do not
like to hear:
We need to talk .
Tobi had expected that Dimeji would
reply with “Okay, we’ll discuss this
tomorrow.” But she got a big shock
when he replied with “Okay. Me too, I
have something to say. Meet me
outside your gate in five minutes.”
Five minutes? She had hoped for a
meeting the following day so she could
collect her thoughts and decide what to
say. But now, five minutes?
“Well, there goes my plan,” she
muttered to herself as she went to the
designated meeting place.
How did the discussion went?
– to be continued –