It’s a new week! Yipee! Welcome to the last (full) week of February. Today, I will be sharing another episode of Falling in Love With My Best Friend, our contemporary Nigerian romance story, with you. In this episode, Enitan is accused of doing shakara. But is there a purpose to her shakara? You’ll have to read to find out. 🙂 [HINT: The title of this episode says Shakara with a Purpose] 😀
If you missed the previous episodes, you can start with Episode 1.
Enjoy, and have a blessed week!
Episode 14: Shakara With a Purpose
As I had feared, my decision to put a halt to any romantic relationship with Tokunbo changed many things. Surprisingly, it was me who manifested these changes.
In the days after our memorable conversation, my heart was in turmoil. Saying ‘No’ to Tokunbo was much easier than dealing with the conflicting emotions that overwhelmed me. Every time I saw him or thought of him, I was deeply conflicted and a war raged in my heart.
On one hand, I knew I had made a wise choice, but on the other hand, I felt like I had put a pause on something that was natural and was already happening. Exercising this painful restraint, forced my head to rule my heart.
And my heart was fighting back.
I began to have what I termed “Tokunbo Withdrawal Symptoms” or “TWS” for short. Not to be confused with dehydration from long bouts of trekking in the hot sun, no pure water seller in sight, or early signs of puberty, which thankfully, I had survived, TWS had four distinct characteristics:
1. Shortness of breath around the object of one’s affection, which in my case, was Tokunbo.
2. Long spans of staring into empty space (or “LoSSES”). In certain circles, this conditions is known by its more user-friendly name, Daydreaming.
3. Mistakenly calling close family members, “Tokunbo” instead of their proper names. Tayo and Yemi got the brunt of this. Remarkably, my parents never did.
4. Plucking flowers, petal by petal, sighing, “He loves me, he loves me not.
The fourth and last symptom manifested itself in other ways too. If I ate fruits that turned out to be sweet, it meant “he loved me.” But, if they were closer to the bitter side of the scale, it meant he was definitely vexing for me.
But all these things must have been worry-driven, because truthfully, Tokunbo’s attitude towards me never changed. On several occasions, I would catch him in these moments when it seemed, he desperately wanted to repeat his passionate request, but mastered by a great strength of will, he would let the moment pass and go back to being what he had always been: a friend.
A special friend.
Plus, there was no real reason to doubt Tokunbo’s love and affection for me. He had said so plainly himself, on paper and in person. But, I had said “No,” and still felt bad.
However, all these symptoms lasted only seven days, so I did not need to consult a doctor. What happened, however, was that the holidays ended, and the third and final term, which was also the most important, began. As we all know, nothing smacks a sharp dose of reality into the head of a daydreaming teenager like school.
Possibly, there was no greater reminder for me that some things had changed, than my post-school ritual. With JAMB completed, there was no need for JAMB lesson anymore. Rather, after school, I returned home, alone. Tokunbo was noticeably and painfully absent.
Later, he told me that he had decided to let his mother’s driver, Mr. Rufus, pick him up from school and take him home. In his words,
“Enitan, you were the only reason I took public transport in the first place.”
Because of the rigors of travelling by public transportation versus being chauffeured across Lagos in an air-conditioned car, I arrived much later than Tokunbo, and we barely saw each other on weekdays.
But weekends were different. We tried to hang out at Mallam Audu’s place every Saturday and Sunday for some minutes. Considering that in the previous term, we had spent hours in each other’s company almost every day, this was a drastic reduction, a major downgrade. And we both felt it.
Meanwhile, I made up, or rather, tried to make up for it in different ways. I made out time to listen to that tape every evening while I was in my room studying, reading, and loosening my braids before washing my hair and going to the salon to get it re-braided for the new school week. That tape was constantly playing in the background.
In the mornings, I would go to school practically drenched in Tokunbo’s perfume. My usage was strategic. I would use my Sure roll-on deodorant, the one with the white cover which smelt like liquid apples, before coming downstairs to eat breakfast. When I returned upstairs to fetch my school bag, I would douse liberal amounts of perfume on myself, and then rush off to school, being careful to avoid my mother before leaving the house.
My father, who usually gave me rides to school, had noticed this, but what he told my mother was,
“It seems Enitan prefers to go to school by herself. That girl wants to be independent.”
Since he saw this as a good thing, he didn’t inquire further. But my mother took note of my new habit, and approached me one Tuesday evening.
I was in my room, playing that tape and working on my English homework. My mother knocked on the door, quite unusually, and then let herself in, once I said, “Come in.”
“Enitan, suspend your homework, and come and sit here,” she said, patting a spot beside her on my bed. Had I known what was coming, I might have stayed put at my desk.
But when she said, “Closer,” I began to worry.
What could she possibly have to say to me that couldn’t be said from where she sat?
She was not carrying a cane, and even though she was wearing a colorful adire boubou, I didn’t think she had any flogging instrument hidden away from sight.
But, since when has that stopped any determined parent? A beating delivered by hand can be just as painful as any cane.
However, because of the air of tranquility that hovered around my mother like a halo, I obeyed and sat very close beside her.
Her first question shocked me, and almost sent me running to the door.
“Ta lo fun e ni perfume? (Who gave you perfume?)”
How did she … Who told her? Had Yemi snitched on me?
Somehow, I didn’t think Yemi had anything to do with this. My mother repeated her question. I finally responded with:
“Mummy, I didn’t–”
“Fem!” said my mother, before using two fingers to clamp her own lips shut.
She wants me to keep quiet? But, she just asked me a question.
“You just wait,” she added. Rising swiftly from the bed, my mother climbed on top of my desk, with the nimbleness of a fox, reached into the recess above my window, and felt her way until she found what she was looking for.
After climbing down carefully, she beamed triumphantly, and with a casual motion, she placed the bottle of perfume I thought I had squirreled away, on my desk. The bottle was only about three-quarters full. Needless to say, I had been busy spraying away mercilessly.
Once I saw my mother climb the desk, nobody needed to tell me what she was looking for. I knew the game was up. So, when her back was turned to me, I quietly got up from my bed, and stood beside my door, hand on the handle, ready to escape.
My mother, on returning from her mission above the window, with her feet planted again on solid ground, saw my new position and gave a deep chuckle.
Clapping her hands free from the dust that had accumulated in that recess, she spoke.
“If you know what is good for you, come back here, and sit down.”
“Mummy, please let me explain,” I pleaded.
“Oh, I know. I want you to explain, that’s why I’m asking you to sit down.”
I stood my ground.
“Enitan, I didn’t come here to beat you. Just sit down!” she ordered.
Oh, how reassuring! Why should I trust you now? You’ve only flogged me for what … 15 years of my life!
Those were the thoughts dancing in my head as I stared at my mother. Still, there was something in my mother’s voice that convinced me that she was serious about not flogging me.
So, I reluctantly obeyed.
Once I sat down, she wrapped an arm around me. I was terrified. Was she trying to get a good grip so she could sit on me and beat me? I had heard of mothers who did this: sat on their children so they couldn’t escape, while they flogged them mercilessly.
But, the grip my mother had on my shoulder did not suggest an upcoming beating.
Maybe she was right. No flogging today.
“You know I love you, right?” said my mother, concern written all over her face.
“And when I tell you not to do certain things, it’s just to protect you.”
“So, I’ve decided to try your daddy’s method. I won’t flog you. We’ll just talk, okay?”
I frowned. Since when did she change strategies? Was this a trick?
She laughed a very dry laugh.
“See your face? Don’t worry. I said I just want us to talk. After all, you’re my only daughter. You should be able to talk to me about anything, abi?”
“Okay, Mummy,” I replied uncertainly.
She nodded and continued.
Pointing with her free hand, the left one, at the perfume on the table, she said:
“You see that perfume over there? Tell me who gave it to you.”
“A friend, ma.”
“Okay, is this friend a boy or a girl?”
I paused. My mother already knew about Tokunbo and the piggy back ride. Had she made the connection between Tokunbo and this gift or was she just winding me up?
She charged on.
“Enitan, obinrin o kin f’obinrin ni perfume. (Women don’t give other women perfume).”
Right there and then, I thought to myself:
“That can’t be right.”
I could think of at least two separate occasions when my mother had not only received perfumes as gifts from female friends, but had also given them to relatives as gifts.
I saw through her ruse: she was working to the answer.
At that point, I had two choices: admit the perfume came from a boy, or deny it and incur her wrath.
I wasn’t quite sure I liked the new and improved Asake Ladoja.
So, I studied her body language and face for a brief moment before making my decision.
Her body was tense, but her face was impassive. That poker face showed no signs of anger. Unsettling. I would have been a lot happier with the “hands on hips” pose. In that mode, if I aggravated her further, by adding another lie to the one that was hanging in the air, her right hand would swing, without warning, from its position and decorate my face with painful slaps. If her hands had been more relaxed, swinging from her sides, I might have had a fighting chance.
I decided to confess, even though my mother’s new approach qualified as “untested waters.”
I told her the perfume had come from a guy, careful not to mention a name.
Her reaction took me by surprise. She launched into a deep conversation.
“You see this nose–” my mother began, lightly touching her nose with her right forefinger, “–it wasn’t like this before. It used to be more pointed and fine, not squashed like a mound of amala that many fingers have attacked.”
I had never seen my mother’s nose in that light, but after the picture she painted, I knew I wouldn’t look at it the same way again.
“When I had Tayo, my nose was still fine, but when I got pregnant with you … Ay-ya-ya–” she said, shaking her head slowly and clicking her tongue, “–you can see it. Round like Olumo rock. It just started spreading, spreading like okra that has poured on the ground. With Yemi, it continued spreading. My point is this, Enitan: giving birth to you and your brothers changed my body dramatically. It hasn’t been the same since.”
With questioning eyes, I wondered where she was going with this.
“Mummy, I don’t understand.”
“Ah, don’t worry. You will understand!” she said sarcastically. “Wo, you will over-understand gan-an. Mo n bo (I’m coming).”
“How old are you now?” my mother asked all of a sudden.
“Fifteen, ma,” I replied. Had she forgotten I celebrated my birthday not too long ago?
“Good. And how old am I?”
“You’re going to be …. 43 this year, ma.”
“So, I’m 42 right now, abi?”
“Good. Do I look like a 42-year old to you?”
“You look very good for your age ma,” I replied chuckling.
“Omo dada! That’s what I wanted to hear,” she said, beaming with joy. All of a sudden, that pleasant expression vanished from her face, and a more serious look darkened her brow.
“Now, do you want to look like me at your age?” my mother asked.
“I said, do you want to look like a 40-something year old, at age 15?” she roared. I jumped up in fright.
“N-n-n-o-o-o, ma,” I stuttered.
“How many ears do you have?”
“Are you sure? Because from where I am sitting, I can only see one, and the way you’ve been behaving, it’s like you’re only using half an ear.”
“Sorry for yourself, so ti gbo? Hear me well.”
By now, she was on her feet. The veil masking her anger was torn so that it clearly showed in her eyes, and was pronounced in every word she spoke.
“Don’t bring any useless pregnancy to this house, you hear? I am not ready to be a grandmother. The boy who gave you this perfume, was he the one carrying you on his back?”
She clapped her hands together incredulously. “Eh-hen, I knew it! The same deception that thrives in the mother is already manifesting in the son. I am not surprised.”
I looked away. I didn’t like what she was insinuating especially since I, acting on my own accord, and without being coerced by either parent, had decided not to enter into a relationship with this same Tokunbo. Would that knowledge change my mother’s opinion of me? Of him?
“I’d just be wasting my time,” I thought to myself and kept mum. “Why volunteer personal information nobody asked for?”
Not a wise move at all.
My mother wasn’t done though.
“That boy that gave you this perfume, Tokunbo abi? In fact, I don’t care whether his name is Tokunbo o, or Tokewa o, or Torunwa. That’s not my concern. Shebi you people talk? Tell him that your mummy said if he doesn’t want to spend his next birthday, dancing with crutches, he better leave you alone. You’re just 15! What does a 15-year old girl have to offer any man? Nothing. You want guys to use you and throw you away like chewing gum? Let me tell you, if you let any useless boy yeye you, don’t come back to this house shedding crocodile tears. I won’t chase you up and down, monitoring your movements like alangba (lizard). But if I catch you talking to any boy ehn … You know me now. You know your mother. I’ve said my own!”
As she turned to leave, she added:
“A word is enough for the wise.”
I wanted to tell her that she must have churned out at least twenty words, not just “a word,” in her long speech, but that would’ve been risky behavior. More foolish than risky.
She left abruptly, with thinly veiled threats hanging in the air like a foul odor.
I stood there, ruminating on her words.
Then, she called my name. I didn’t hear her the first time, and so I didn’t answer. But when she called out the second time, I heard her and responded. She was furious.
“Why didn’t you answer when I called you the first time?” she asked when I went to join her in the dining room.
“I’m sorry, ma. I didn’t hear you,” I replied truthfully.
“How will you hear ehn? When you’re busy collecting gifts from boys. Go and bring that perfume,” she commanded.
“I’m seizing it. A 15-year old girl does not need perfume. Has your deodorant finished?”
“Good. That’s all you need.”
In the coming months, I would smell the fragrance of the “seized” perfume on my mother. But, I was comforted by the thought that I still had my music.
That night, she reported me to my father, who supported her decision. As Tokunbo later informed me, my father had decided to change the venue of their mentorship sessions to neutral places like the nearby church Tokunbo attended with his mother. Rarely did they meet in Mrs. Williams’ home.
My mother, predictably, frowned on my father’s visits to the Williams’ house, but piped down when she realized it meant it was all done out of her sight.
Out of sight, out of mind …
Meanwhile, the third term seemed to drag on. After my mother’s reprimand and perfume-related rant, I began to avoid Tokunbo. And even when I would see him, I was very brusque with him. I thought I was doing the right thing, finally obeying my parents.
After repeating this change of behavior a couple of times, Tokunbo accosted me one day, demanding an explanation.
“Enitan, I thought we agreed that we would continue to be friends,” he began, one Saturday afternoon at Mallam Audu’s stall.
“Shebi we’re talking right now. Abi, are we enemies?” I asked, looking away. I knew exactly what he meant, but I didn’t want to tell him about the persecution I had faced at home because of our friendship. Telling him about it, I felt, would make me seem weak in his eyes, and I couldn’t bear it.
“Ehn … Yes, we’re talking, but Enitan, something has changed. I can feel it,” Tokunbo insisted.
“I don’t know what you mean,” I said, refusing to look him in the eye, as I told a blatant lie.
Undeterred, Tokunbo launched into a specific account of what he meant when he referred to what had changed between us.
“Nowadays, you’re very late to our meetings, even though I know you’re not doing anything at home. Sometimes, I feel like you don’t want to be here, around me. Your mind wanders while we’re talking and I have to keep repeating myself because you’re not paying attention. You push me away when I try to hug you … Hug, Enitan! Ordinary side hug, you won’t let me. And you keep behaving like I’m disturbing you. Am I disturbing you, Enitan?”
“If I say yes, will you leave me alone?” I asked, a mean grittiness to my voice.
“No, I won’t. You won’t get rid of me so easily,” Tokunbo scoffed. “I know there’s a reason for all this shakara you’re doing. But I don’t understand why you won’t tell me what’s wrong,” he said, pain clouding his voice. “Isn’t that what friends do? Talk?”
Still looking away, and rolling my eyes, a sullen look on my face, I replied:
“Yes, we’re still friends.”
“That’s not what I asked you,” said Tokunbo, gently grabbing my shoulders and trying to turn my body to face him. I resisted.
“What is wrong, Enitan?” he asked.
Finally, I decided to speak up.
“Look, Tokunbo, I’m conflicted. My parents don’t want me talking to boys and–” I began.
“–You mean your mum, right?” said Tokunbo, cutting in.
“Yes. Her. And it’s becoming an issue.”
“Why? Since when has that ever stopped you?” he asked.
“They’re afraid I’ll get pregnant.”
Tokunbo laughed. “Is that all?”
“See, that’s why I didn’t want to tell you. You just treat these things like non-issues, but you’re not the one living in that house,” I hissed.
“Enitan, I laughed because I don’t see how us talking and hanging out can lead to you carrying belle. Did you tell your mum and dad that that’s all we do? Talk?”
“Which liver do I have to be explaining to them that the friendship they’ve said ‘No’ to is really harmless? Not everybody can be open like you … and your mum.”
“Leave my mum out of this,” Tokunbo snapped.
“You see! And yet, my own parents are up for discussion, ehn?” I smirked.
“Ehen, because they’re the opposition party now!” said Tokunbo scowling.
“So, you’re telling me now that your mother supports us?” I asked in disbelief.
“I haven’t said that. She’s just … not part of the opposition party,” said Tokunbo.
“Look, I’m tired of this back and forth thing we’re doing, and I’m tired of doubting myself, of having to choose between you and my parents,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.
“So, what are you saying?” Tokunbo asked.
“I think … for the sake of peace, let us just go our separate ways for now,” I said quietly.
Tokunbo got up and stood in front of me. Ignoring a customer who came to buy Tom-Tom, Tokunbo spoke up.
“First, you said ‘No for now’ when I asked you out. Now, you’re saying we should go our separate ways? I’ve put up with all this your shakara because I said, ‘Maybe she has a good explanation, a good reason.’ But who asked you to choose? Why would I ever tell you to choose between your parents and me? I have chosen you, and you alone. Always. And for me, the choice has always been clear. But it seems you need to make up your mind. So, I will give you space to r-e-a-l-l-y think about what you’re asking.”
He sighed deeply, and then continued in a much softer tone.
“My father told me this: you can’t cure a headache by chopping off a person’s head. A simple problem needs a simple solution. What you’re asking me, asking us to do is drastic. And for that reason, I hereby reject your proposal!”
“What?!” I managed to say. I was stunned.
“I said ‘Yes’ to waiting for you. No problem. But, I’m saying ‘No,’ a big fat ‘No’ to this going separate ways suggestion.”
This time I was speechless. I sat staring at him with eyes widened in surprise at what he had just said. For about two minutes, I said nothing. He stood there, looking at me, not saying a word either.
When I finally spoke, my voice was a stutter.
“Na by force?” I asked.
“No, Enitan. Friendship is not by force. And Enitan, you’re the last person I’d ever want to drag into anything. But I want you to make up your mind. I can’t stand this dilly-dallying. But … But, if there’s anything I’ve learned from my parents, it’s never to make rash decisions. That’s why I’m giving you time. If by this time next week, you stand by your ‘No to our friendship’ answer, then–” and here, his voice broke a little, “–then, I’ll leave you alone.”
“Yes. And now, let me leave with my dignity intact. When you’re ready, you know where to find me.”
And with this, he walked away, without uttering another word, or casting another look at me.
Mallam Audu gave me a judgmental stare, leaving me in no doubt as to whose side he was on.
One week to make a choice on my friendship with Tokunbo.
As I walked back home, I struggled with a myriad of emotions.
“I should’ve told him, ‘Who are you to give me an ultimatum?’ or ‘I’m not doing shakara; I’m just protecting myself’ or ‘If some guy was trying to date your own sister, Yele, you go gree?’ ” I thought to myself as my feet neared our house.
Even as I chided myself for not raising each of these potential retorts when Tokunbo stood before me, speaking his mind, I congratulated myself inwardly.
“Enitan, so even you, small you, who no guy ever approached … So you can stir up emotions like this in the heart of a man, abi boy, like this?”
But then, I remembered it was Tokunbo who was tortured by my so-called shakara and waves of regret and sadness washed over me.
“What if I lose him?”
That fearful thought made me stop abruptly on the road.
For a moment, I pictured a world where my friendship with Tokunbo did not exist. A world where we looked at each other with the eyes of strangers, no longer vested in celebrating significant milestones, the yardsticks of memory, marking the passage of time.
It was then, that pain came.
But once I heard my mother’s voice in my head, issuing warnings and threats, thrown in with advice, I began to seriously consider the possibility of finally, saying ‘No’ to Tokunbo.
“If I do this, we’ll just be neighbors. The world won’t come to an end,” I reasoned.
As we entered a new week, I began to lean towards the ‘No’ answer. At least, I would no longer have to hide anything from my parents.
During that waiting period, whenever I ran into Tokunbo, we would stare at each other, no words passing between us, and like ships sailing past each other, continue our journey in opposite directions.
These brief encounters often left me shaken. I would feel the rush of blood to my face, heart thumping like a crazy drummer had been let loose in my chest. In Tokunbo’s eyes, I read desire. There was so much he wanted to say, but demonstrating a solid mastery over his emotions, he never uttered a word, and simply walked away. Even though only our eyes spoke, I deeply felt the burden of unspoken words.
It was during this period when he had asked me to make up my mind that two important events happened that had no connection to each other.
The first one came in the form of expected news wrapped in an envelope delivered by the postman. It was my father who read it first and announced the news to me: my JAMB results were out, and I didn’t score anywhere close to the cut-off mark for Law at the University of Lagos. I received this news with a mix of joy and regret. I was glad I didn’t pass because I didn’t have the requisite SSCE, NECO or GCE results to back a university application. But, I regretted going to JAMB lesson and putting in all the time, work and energy, only to emerge with a worthless result.
Was this a preview of my performance on the actual JAMB exam, the one I would have to take officially? I didn’t know. But, I was happy that even if JAMB hadn’t panned out, I had derived at least one benefit from those lessons: my friendship with Tokunbo had deepened considerably. And for that alone, I was grateful.
But, my parents were less impressed by my results. For them, it was a waste of money and time to attend a JAMB lesson and bring home results they felt I could’ve achieved through self-study.
Their decision was clear: there was no JAMB lesson in my future.
I wondered if Tokunbo’s results were better than mine. Although we picked different courses, he too must have received his results, and I wondered if he had fared better than me on the exam.
“It’ll be one more thing to ask when we meet again,” I mused.
The second, unrelated event, involved an errand. On Tuesday evening, NEPA struck around 7:10pm and unfortunately, we had no diesel in the generator, and were almost out of candles.
So, I was sent to the nearest store to buy the long, white candles we always used. My mother also wanted me to buy a green bar of Canoe soap to wash clothes, and a tin of Corned beef for breakfast. There was only one person who would have all these items on hand: Iya Kafilat.
I walked to her shop, which unlike most houses on the street, was not shrouded in darkness. A small portable petrol-powered generator stood outside supplying her shop with enough power for the fridge, freezer and a few other appliances.
But, I wasn’t the only one who had decided to make a pit stop at the convenience store that evening. There were five people ahead of me, so I had to wait.
Meanwhile, two girls in front of me, who I recognized from our neighborhood, were engrossed in their conversation. As I unwittingly listened to snippets of their discussion, I realized they were talking about relationships.
Girl 1: You know her mother said ‘No’ to the guy sha.
Girl 2: You don’t mean it!
Girl 1: I’m telling you! So, they just ran away together, and got married. Now, they have twin boys, and the same mother who said over her dead body will he marry her daughter, is the one gallivanting all over the place, parading her grandchildren everywhere.
Girl 2: Imagine! See this woman! Men, fogerrit! Just live your life jare.
It was then that Iya Kafilat attended to them, so their conversation ended there.
I would have loved to hear more or even know the identity of the parties involved, but that was just wishful thinking. However, the last part struck me:
Live your life …
By the time I had purchased the required items and returned home, my heart was almost settled on what to do.
Friday rolled around, and I was ready to meet Tokunbo. But something had changed. I was in a different frame of mind then than I had been at our last encounter. This time around, I got there first, and even helped Mallam attend to some of his customers just to work off the nervousness that seemed to have followed me around all day long like a cloud.
I had barely sat down when Tokunbo’s shadow darkened the entrance to Mallam’s stall. He was at least thirty minutes late.
“Were you deliberately wasting my time?” I blurted out. The long speech I had prepared flew out of my head and my emotions took over again.
“You don’t like the taste of your own medicine, ehn?” he said with a smirk on his face. In spite of myself, I could see through his actions. The fact that we had to have a meeting at all to decide if we were still friends really hurt his feelings more than mine. If he didn’t say so, he didn’t have to. I read it in his demeanor.
I softened a bit and was more careful in my approach.
“Oya, I’m sorry. Sit down and let’s talk,” I said, resting a hand on his shoulder, which he promptly removed. “Kai, Tokunbo! I didn’t know you too were capable of so much shakara.”
He sat down stiffly, managing a reluctant smile at my teasing, but still kept quiet. Mallam interrupted us to tell us he had to go out in ten minutes, and would be locking up his stall at that time. That put our conversation on a time crunch. No time to ramble.
So, as soon as we were comfortably seated, I went straight to the point.
“Tokunbo, I have thought this thing through, and Yes, I still want us to be friends. I know my parents don’t approve, especially my mum, but I’ve decided that I’m entitled to my own happiness. Everyone is entitled to their own secrets.”
Tokunbo smiled and relaxed, but he kept looking straight ahead. I was puzzled. Wasn’t he listening to me?
I pressed on.
“You know, sometimes, you don’t realize how much you cherish something … Or someone, until they’re no longer there. I got a preview these past days, of how my life would be if our friendship was missing, and I didn’t like it. There’s an emptiness there. I don’t want to know that feeling again. Besides, passing each other in public and just staring is just plain creepy.”
“Yes … With a capital ‘C’,” said Tokunbo, turning to face me for the first time since I started talking. I smiled in relief as I saw the peace, the calm, the tranquility on the face of my friend.
“You know something, Enitan? We can call what we have a friendship from today till tomorrow, but as far as I’m concerned, we’re already in a relationship,” said Tokunbo.
“For you mind o, bros!” I said giggling.
Tokunbo chuckled, eyes sparkling.
“It’s not official, but it’s there,” he insisted.
“I shall deny it from now till Kingdom come,” I said, rising to my feet. I had spied Mallam putting items away in carton boxes and I knew he was already closing down his stall. Tokunbo also stood up.
“You and this shakara! Is this what I have to look forward to?” he teased.
“Shebi, you’re the one asking for friendship. Friends have baggage o! My own baggage might just be shakara.”
We both laughed and began to walk away from the stall after bidding Mallam farewell. Our laughter was light-hearted, refreshing, and full of relief. It was the laughter of friends.
On our way back home, I told Tokunbo about my JAMB results, and he told me he had scored higher than I did, but it was still not high enough to reach the cut-off mark for Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos.
I turned down Tokunbo’s offer to go and get ice-cream from a supermarket on Adelabu Street. But, I promised I would take him up on that offer soon.
In the months that passed, although we still saw less of each other on weekdays, there was a contentment we enjoyed in each other’s company. I could hardly believe that I had actually considered letting Tokunbo go.
The third term ended, and thankfully, we were both promoted to SS2. Then came the long holidays. Apart from a week-long visit to my cousins in Ibadan, and another two-week visit to my grandparents’ home in Ikorodu, I spent the majority of my long holidays at home doing what idle teenagers do best: eating and sleeping with long stretches of TV watching and staying up late thrown into the mix.
Tokunbo went with Omoyele and his mother to the UK, and brought a few items as gifts for me, including a disc man, which I promptly returned to him.
“My mum found the perfume and she’s been using it since. If you want to dash her a whole disc man, then you can give it to me,” I said to Tokunbo.
He saw the sense in my refusal, and held onto the disc man. I was content with the chocolates and candy he brought back. I didn’t share them with either Tayo or Yemi. Tayo was even more protective than Yemi, and Yemi was quite careless with things like snacks. A shiny purple wrapper was all my mother needed to see to start asking questions starting with “who,” “when” and “where.” Anything to avoid her close scrutiny, I did.
By mid-September, our holidays were over, and it was back to school again. This time we were SS2 students.
I would have been content to simply go to school and come home to study alone if not for the intervention of one of my father’s friends, Mr. Osagie.
Mr. Osagie owned and operated a private secondary school on the outskirts of Lagos. He informed my father that while JAMB was dicey, SSCE and NECO were not. According to him if I waited till SS3 to start studying for those critical exams, I would be severely shortchanging myself.
My father reasoned that since he could not help Tayo, who was already in SS3, study for those exams since he was all the way in Ogbomosho, he could help me.
Taking Mr. Osagie’s advice, my father enrolled me in after-school tutorials specifically geared towards SSCE and NECO. It was called Thompson Tutors and run by a certain Mr. Jide Thompson. Located in a quiet close off Adelabu Street, it was relatively near our house.
By the fourth week of school, once again, I had to attend lesson after school. This time around, I was the newcomer. I knew literally nobody there, even though it was in our neighborhood. As far as I was concerned, all these kids had been imported from other parts of town like Idi-Araba and Somolu to our lesson. But, that was far from the truth.
Unlike JAMB lesson, I didn’t go straight to Thompson Tutors straight from school. Rather, I had time to go home, take a shower and change my clothes into mufti before going to lesson, which started at 5:00pm. Most of the students who attended were around my age, give or take, one or two years older. Rarely did any student come to lesson dressed in school uniform.
Because of the unofficial dress code, for perhaps the first time in my life, I began to feel the pinch of having very few casual clothes. I kept repeating the same outfits to lesson: skirts, blouses, dresses. And eventually, people noticed and began to talk.
I took my complaints to Tokunbo, and his advice was simple and straightforward.
“Wear school uniform to lesson. It’s called ‘uniform’ for a reason.”
So, I took his advice, and started wearing my school uniform to lesson.
But, things got progressively worse.
Before the switch to school uniform, the boys at lesson had made comments about an ankle-length faded blue jeans skirt with a back slit, which I wore at least three times a week to lesson, saying:
“Pity these jeans na! Release it, let it go and fulfill its destiny as an akisa (a rag).”
At first, it was funny. But then, they started making jokes about my jeans skirt not being designer-brand. Instead, they started calling it “akisa jeans.”
When I switched back to school uniform, the girls decided to chime in.
“I’m sure she wears her uniform to sleep,” said one girl.
“–And to church sef,” said another.
“Binta, don’t invite her to your party o. It’s uniform she’ll wear.”
Not that I cared about parties, but constantly hearing those comments every time I went to lesson began to erode my self-esteem. I tried ignoring them, but the problem persisted with the army of teasers growing daily.
I began to hate going to lesson, and it showed. I felt like for ₦ 2,000 per month, I was just going there to collect insults.
The more I whined to Tokunbo, the more childish I sounded. Until one day, he asked:
“Can’t you just ignore them?”
“That’s what I’ve been doing since, and it’s beginning to get to me,” I wailed.
“Well, next time they start making fun of your clothes, tell them if they’re so concerned, they can buy plenty baffs and use it to do Christmas for you,” he said in an irritated voice.
That didn’t sound so bad. Until I pictured the girls and guys taunting me, and calling me “Desperado.”
“Have you told your folks?” asked Tokunbo.
“Of course! They said I already wasted their money on JAMB lesson, that I better bring better results for this WAEC and NECO.”
Around this time, Tokunbo and Omoyele had a private tutor who taught them for a couple of hours a day and got paid per hour.
One day, as I was about to tell Tokunbo about the drama at Thompson Tutors, he stopped me. Trembling with excitement, he announced:
“I’ve found the solution to this rubbish at your lesson.”
“Leave and never go back?” I suggested hopefully.
“No, Enitan. Sometimes, you have to fight and not run from people like this. But we won’t do it with fists,” he replied cheerfully.
“So, what do you suggest?” I asked puzzled.
With twinkling eyes, and a mischievous smile, Tokunbo replied:
“Enitan, we’ll give them something to really talk about.”
<<READ EPISODE 15>>