Tomi’s heart quickened as the taxi took the corner that led into the bubbling Adewale street where her parents lived. It’d been three years since she left home. How time flies.
She stared out the car window. A smile lit up her face revealing a gap tooth and dimples on her freckled cheeks.
Nothing had changed. Mama Barakat still had her shop beside the barbing salon. As small as that shop was, there was hardly anything you couldn’t find there. Opposite Mama Barakat’s shop was the loud-mouthed Fikayomi, the laziest tailor Tomi had ever met.
Then there was the bakery in an unpainted bungalow. Tomi remembered Wednesday mornings as a teenager. Bread and fried eggs was for breakfast and dressed in her school uniform, she’d rush to the bakery to purchase loaves of bread. One of the workers always looked out for her among the crowd of retailers who came to buy bread. He’d signal for her to meet him at the back door where hot fresh bread would be exchanged for money.
When the taxi moved slowly towards a block factory, Tomi saw dark men covered in sweat, arranging blocks into a jalopy. Two other men stood aside from the others, laughing and talking aloud. She knew all of them. Suberu. Gbenga. Olaiya. Gbadamosi.
Behind the factory was an open field. Tomi chuckled. Right on that field, Akin had kissed her. It’d been her first kiss. The sweet tingling feeling she always experienced after that night was gone. She was left only with vivid images of the incident.
She remembered that night clearly as if it had happened only a few days ago. Her mum had sent her on an errand to get cubes of maggi from Mama Barakat’s shop.
She’d been excited. It was an opportunity to see Akin. Their love life had only been fanned by letters passed through the hand of his brother who attended her school. They wanted more. She craved for something physical. Something that her friends at school did with their boyfriends.
When she got close to the shop, her excitement died. How would she get Akin out of the house. It was almost 8p.m and she didn’t have a phone to reach him.
Determined, she stood in front of his gate, thinking of every possible strategy.
‘I’ll ring the bell and if his father appears at the gate, I’ll tell him I need to get a textbook from Akin.’
Tomi laughed at how lame her plan was. Akin’s father would look her straight in the eye and say,
‘Tomi, what textbook is that? You are in Jss 3 and Akin is in SS2. Go home my friend and read your book!’ Before he shut the gate at her, he’d add, ‘Send my regards to your father.’
Discouraged, Tomi bought the cubes of maggi and set for home. She had just gone halfway when someone whispered her name. The voice was familiar.
She turned. He pulled her away from the light streaming through the block factory and led her towards the field. Her heart raced.
‘Oh Akin, I was praying I’d see you. I’ve missed you so much. I wanted-’
He kissed her passionately, knocking out the wind from her lungs. When he broke away, he caressed the back of her neck with his thumb.
‘I thought of you all day. I couldn’t even concentrate on my homework.’
Tomi’s body trembled from the effect of the kiss. ‘I love you so much Akin. We are meant to be together. I wish our parents can see the depth of love we have for each other. They need to loosen up.’
Akin laughed. ‘They’ll never understand. I’m sure when I get a job as a bank manager and introduce you as my future wife-’
‘I can’t wait to marry you! I wish we could do it now.’ Tomi folded her hands. ‘But how did you figure that I’ll be out at this time?’
‘Mum sent me to buy onions from Mama Barakat. I saw you leave her shop. I followed you. Here we are.’
He pulled her into his embrace. ‘Can’t we even spend more time together? This our parents ehn.’
They had kissed again, their mothers confident that their innocent children had simply gone on the errand sent them.
Tomi turned her gaze from the window. Where was Akin now? Was he married? Since his parents moved to Ghana, they had not kept in touch. So much for spending the rest of their lives together.
‘That’s the house.’ Tomi pointed to a two-storey building.
The taxi pulled up in front of a black gate. Tomi’s fifteen-year old brother, Seyi, was sitting on the veranda of the first floor reading a novel. He raised his head and saw her.
‘Sis Tomi is here!’ He shouted and ran down the stairs. She paid the fare and the security man carried her big box out of the boot. Seyi dashed out of the entrance and ran into his sister’s arm.
‘You are now taller than me. This is serious o.’ Tomi said, as they walked into the house.
Seyi laughed. ‘In which case, you have to start referring to me as Mr Seyi. Just so you know, things have changed around here. I’m no longer that small boy you scream at.’
Tomi slapped the back of his head playfully. He laughed and took the box from the security man. He followed Tomi into the room she shared with her sister and dropped the box.
‘It’s so good to be home.’ Tomi muttered.
Her mother entered, her loud voice filling the room. They hugged.
‘Mum, I’ve missed you.’
Tomi’s mother grinned. ‘Welcome home.’
Her father came in a moment later. She went to him. For the first time in months, Tomi was happy. She was far away from Lagos and the troubles it had brought her. She was home, to the only place she felt safe.
Tomi’s phone rang. She stopped unpacking and reached for it.
She hissed. ‘I’m not in the mood jare.’
She ignored the call and continued folding her clothes into the wardrobe. The phone stopped ringing and started again. Tomi made no attempt to take it.
‘Who left empty wraps of chocolate on the floor. Seyi!’
Tomi heard her sister’s voice and quickly hid behind the curtain.
‘I will beat somebody in this house. Does this place look like a refuse bin? Ehn! Where is this boy? Haba, what kind of nonsense is this?’
A tall, plumb lady in a black suit with matching heels entered the room, looking exhausted. She flung her shoes aside and pulled off her braided wig. She threw it on the bed but it landed on the floor. Grumbling, she bent down to pick it up. Tomi stepped out of her hiding place and tip-toed towards her. Her sister sensed movement behind her and turned sharply. Her eyes widened when she saw Tomi.
‘My sister is back o!’
Tomi hugged her. ‘Barrister Ayomide! Look at you.’
‘Why didn’t you tell me you were coming today.’
‘I love to give suprises, remember?’
‘I’m so happy. Girl, you’ve been away for three years. Please tell me you’ll be staying for a long time.’
‘Let’s just say I’m not leaving anytime soon.’
Ayo sat on the bed. The tiredness she felt some minute ago had disappeared. ‘I’m really happy you are back. At least I’ll come back from work to a gist partner.’
Tomi’s phone rang again. Ayo looked from the phone to her sister. When Tomi didn’t make any attempt to pick it, She glanced at the caller ID.
‘Babe, your guy is calling you.’
Tomi stood up to arrange her shoes in a shoe rack.
‘Tomi, pick your call. Even if you guys are having issues, at least hear what he has to say.’
Tomi rolled her eyes at her younger sister. ‘Yes, madam counsellor.’
The phone stopped ringing when Tomi got to it. ‘I’ll call him later.’ She faced her sister. ‘So, what have I missed?’
Ayo stretched her legs on the bed. ‘Nothing that you don’t already know. At least I’ve been updating you over the phone.’
‘How many updates. You that can form ‘I am tired’ when I call. Check your archives jare. Gist suppose dey.’
Ayo clicked her fingers. ‘I just remembered one gist.’
Tomi clapped her hand. ‘I talk am. No be my sister.’
Ayo laughed. ‘Sis Bisola married the head of Protocol. Can you imagine? We were so shocked. I mean, of all the fine brothers in Garden Assembly, that sister decided to settle for Pastor Damola. I’m sure there is a twenty year gap between them. The worst part, his kids returned from the U.S for the wedding and they didn’t look happy at all. Sharon said her father should still be mourning.’
Tomi was irritated. ‘Who prescribed the length of time a man should mourn his late wife. Pastor Damola’s wife died like five years ago.’
‘I’m sure if Sis Bisola had been a little closer to his age, they wouldn’t have felt that way.’
‘Babe don marry. There is nothing they can do about it. Na Bisola even fit Pastor Damola. That man needs to learn how to relax.’
‘Another news. Femi’s mother is dead.’
Tomi covered her mouth. ‘Oh no!’
‘I must confess, her death is a great relief to the church of God.’
Tomi frowned. ‘Ayo, that’s not a good thing to say. I know that woman stirred a lot of trouble in the church but we shouldn’t be happy about her death.’
Ayo shrugged and undressed. She reached for a towel hanging on window and tied it around her chest. ‘That woman was a witch. The Pastor had to excommunicate her from the church early this year. She helped Bro shola’s daughter with an abortion. That girl almost died.’
Tomi’s eyes widened. ‘Are you serious?’
‘She is very manipulative and seductive. See how she almost scattered our family.’
‘Still I think we should have prayed more for her. If not for anything but for her kids. Look at Femi. He is nothing like her. Does he still attend our church?’
‘He stopped coming shortly after you left. The shame must have been too much for him to bear. His mother was just a thorn in everybody’s flesh.’
Tomi felt disturbed. Where was Femi now? They’d been close friends until the incident that almost tore her family apart.
‘I just hope he is fine.’ Tomi said quietly and climbed the bed. Her eyes were heavy. She decided to leave Daniel a message.
Hi dear, I’m sorry I didn’t return your calls. You know how it is when you are home after a long time. We’ll talk tomorrow please. I need to catch some rest now. Love you. Goodnight.
Tomi’s phone rang immediately.
‘Oh my God! Can’t this guy just understand that I’m not in the mood to talk to him.’ Tomi muttered to herself. She hesitated before answering the call.
‘Tomi baby! You won’t believe, I got that deal. Remember that contract with the Lagos state government I told you about?’
Tomi mouth opened. What kind of man was this? He couldn’t even ask how her journey had gone. He wasn’t even concerned about her welfare. Had she eaten? How were her parents and siblings? When would she be returning so they could see?
Did he even miss her?
It had always been about him. What he wanted. How he wanted things done. From the beginning of the relationship, she’d wondered why she had agreed to go into it in the first place.
‘Tomi, are you there? As I was saying, I won the contract. Big money mehn. That’s not all o. There is a Lebanese guy I met this morning. Another deal is coming. We have fixed a meeting for Wednesday. I can tell it’s going to be huge.’
Daniel kept talking. Tomi put the phone on speaker and left it on the bed. Ayo came out of the bathroom and chuckled at the scowl on her sister’s face.
‘Tomi, are you there?’ Daniel asked.
‘I met a commissioner’s wife this morning. I told her about you and how good a fashioner designer you are. She promised to call. But then you have to start thinking of moving to a bigger place. We need something classy. You remember-‘
Daniel didn’t stop talking. Seyi came into the room with a plate of spaghetti and fish sauce. Tomi took the plate from him and thanked him before settling into the chair by the window. Daniel’s voice filled the room. He was talking and laughing at the same time.
‘I’ll call you back dear. Another call just came in.’ The line went dead. Tomi sighed in relief.
Ayo looked at her sister. ‘You guys have been dating for about a year right? I still remember the night you called to share the news. No relationship is perfect Tomi. Both of you can iron out your differences.’
Tomi didn’t respond immediately. She was still pissed that Daniel hadn’t even ask how her journey had gone.
‘Ayo, I’ve tried. Daniel doesn’t listen. Before I complete a statement, he would interrupt and say like hundred other statements. You know how difficult it is for me to express myself. While I’m trying to find words to express how I feel, he shifts in his seat impatiently and starts looking at his phone. There were times I just wanted to unburden my heart, and before you know it, Daniel is dishing out plenty advice. I just wanted him to listen.’
Tomi stared at her meal. ‘I like his tenacity, I like that he is ambitious. I love the fact that I’ll never have any fear of Daniel neglecting his responsibility as a man in the home. His leadership ability is superb but..’ Tomi paused and looked at her sister. ‘I’m not sure I want to marry someone like him. I don’t want to feel like a visitor in my own home.’
Tomi picked her fork and plunged it into the spaghetti before lifting it to her mouth. ‘He is a child of God and I know he strongly upholds God’s Word, but I get angry at the end of every discussion we have. Sometimes I’m depressed. It’s one reason I came home.’
Ayo rubbed her sister’s back. ‘You’ll be fine. Just don’t make any hasty decision. Give this some time. You can even threaten to break up with him. If he loves you, he’ll be ready to listen.’
Tomi’s phone rang again. When she saw it was Daniel, she grabbed her plate. ‘I’m not picking this call. I’ll be in mummy’s room.’
Ayo laughed as her sister hurried out of the room.
Later that night, Femi crossed Tomi’s mind again. She pulled the blanket over her head, wondering why she couldn’t get him out of her head. Was this happening because of the news about his mother’s death?
God, wherever he is, I ask that you comfort his heart.
It was a week later that Tomi would bump into Femi.
She had scheduled a weekend hangout with Becky and Peju. They were close friends long before she left for Lagos. Up until Becky’s parents left Garden Assembly for another Pentecostal church, the three ladies always hooked up at the end of the service. There was always something to talk about.
That Saturday morning, as they munched on burger and ice-cream, they talked about the men in their lives. Their goals. Peju’s new apartment, Becky’s wedding plans.
Becky stood up. ‘Let’s go to my place so I can show you my wedding gown.’
Tomi objected. ‘Another time Becky. I told you a friend from Lagos is sending my sewing machines. I have to go to IRT transport office to pick them up.’
Peju clapped her hands. ‘At least I will rest from all these radarada fashion designers. When should I bring my Ankara? I have like ten different materials in my box.’
‘As you are coming, just bring your money along.’
Peju threw the last piece of burger into her mouth. ‘Haba, what are friends for? I will give you something.’
Tomi eyed her friend. ‘You will give me something. Does my fashion business look like a charity organization to you? See, when I was in Lagos, the least amount I charged for a simple Ankara gown was 7k.’
The two girls burst into laughter. Peju shook her head and leaned towards Tomi.
‘You better go back to Lagos. So if I want to make one correct dress, I’ll now pay like ten thousand naira. How much I take buy the material?’
They left the restaurant to the place Becky parked her car. Becky pretended to be annoyed as she rolled her eyes at Tomi.
‘Please, let’s go to my place. I promise I won’t take your time. I’ll even drive you down to pick the machines. After all you’ll need a car to carry them.’ She held Tomi’s waist. ‘I’ve missed you. I want to spend every moment with you.’
Peju grinned. ‘See scooping abeg.’
Becky slapped her back playfully. ‘Instead of you to help me convince her. Sometimes, I don’t even know your usefulness in my life.’
Peju opened the door of the car. ‘Whether you like it or not, you are stuck with me for life.’
The three ladies got into the car and drove to Becky’s house. Giggling like excited children, they walked towards the duplex and it was then Tomi noticed a man cleaning a black jeep. He wore a grey t-shirt over a pair of shorts. When he raised his head, she saw his face clearly.
The napkin Femi was holding dropped to the floor. He stared at Tomi who was now running towards him.
Tomi is back to Ekiti? Femi mouthed.
She gave him a quick hug and stepped back to look into his face. ‘It’s so good to see you again.’
Femi couldn’t take his eyes away from her. His heart pounded. Was he dreaming? ‘It’s been three years. How are you?’
She held his hand. ‘I’m good. You’ve been on my mind since I heard about your mother’s death. Please accept my condolence.’
Femi let out a deep breath. The feel of her skin against his resurrected buried feelings. If his mother had not caused a rift between the two families. If it hadn’t been difficult to get a job after bagging a second class upper, if…
Oh God, I still love her so much.
‘Thank you Tomi. I’m happy to see you again.’
‘I want my friend back. We have to stay in touch this time.’
Femi smiled. ‘Yes ma’am.’
Tomi ran up the stairs to Becky’s room.
‘Becky, why is Femi washing your father’s car?’ Tomi asked as soon as she stepped into the room.
‘He is my father’s personal driver. He started shortly after his mother was admitted to the hospital. My father likes him a lot.’
Peju looked upset. She faced Tomi. ‘You surprised me. After what that guy’s mother did to your family, you could still be friendly with him like that.’
‘Where in the new covenant is a mother’s sin passed on to her son. Femi is different. He is a believer and you know it.’
‘If I were in shoes, I won’t even go close to him.’
Tomi hissed. ‘This guy just lost his mother. Am I supposed to just walk past him like that?’
‘I didn’t say you should not greet him. But the way you were jumping and shouting, ‘Femi!’ How will your mother feel if-‘
Becky stood between the two ladies. ‘Ladies! Will you just stop. See how both of you are bickering like teenagers. Can we just see my wedding dress and talk about some other important things.’
An hour later, as Tomi left the house with her friends, she looked around for Femi. She didn’t see him. If she had taken a few steps towards the back of the building, she’d have seen him sitting on the floor with his knees pulled up to his chin and his head bowed.
Next. Episode 2. On Monday.