by Feyisayo Anjorin
Tobatele was not into tall voluptuous dark women, but he was into her that night. There was something about him that made Tosin curious; yes, she wanted to know him more, despite his annoying words and attitude. She just wasn’t prepared to know him that way…
A tall, thin man with a head that seemed like a burden on his neck – bald like a vulture too – was talking about the treasured son of the family who would be missed. Tobatele was a God-fearing man, a rare gem, an exemplary young man; selfless, passionate about the things of God. He was sure the young man would be receiving a celebratory welcome in heaven. Amen. A few of the solemn men and women gave quick nods when it was said.
A tall, thin woman who spoke after the bald man, standing beside him and looking like him – except for her head which was not too big for her neck – , spoke of Tobatele as a young boy. How he loved the Lord, how he would answer questions in the Children’s Bible Club. She even mentioned his worn-out hardcover bible; how, as a boy, he had sought the scriptures to know God until his bible, which was new not long ago, started falling apart.
“Do you remember that bible?” It was a question for Tobatele’s mother. She remembered it.
It would have been possible to think I was in the wrong house if a framed 30-by-50 picture of a smiling Tobatele with a black robe, white shirt, and lawyer’s wig was not sitting on the table beside the front door. I would not have guessed that the one I knew (or thought I knew) ever held a bible, ever owned a bible, let alone read it like it mattered.
I knew nothing could be worse than the way things had played out with Tobatele. I had waited for a week before visiting his parents. It wasn’t as if I had been there before; in fact, it was my first visit to Akure after my student days at FUTA. I wasn’t known or expected by anyone. I felt ambivalent about the whole thing – I mean the delayed visit or the whole idea of a visit.
The house in Akure’s government-owned estate was a duplex with red bricks and an aluminium roof; carefully decorated with yellow and red flowers, and lush green grasses that told of an outlandish appreciation of nature. A typical Nigerian millionaire would want the grounds of a residential compound thoroughly covered with concrete, and half a dozen new cars parked where they would be seen.
Typical was not a word that would go with Tobatele, so I was not surprised to see the compound as it was (like a botanical garden); with just two cars in the garage.
“We worked together when he was working on his PhD.” I lied when his mother asked if I was his friend.
I admit I had visited him twice in his flat, but those were not visits in the name of friendship. It was more like a clash of egos.
We were not really friends in the real sense of the word. I met him a month ago – that was the first time I ever saw him even though I was told he had been coming to Galaxy for over three years – and we had only talked on the phone once after then. Okay, I admit I had visited him twice in his flat, but those were not visits in the name of friendship. It was more like a clash of egos. And see how that turned out now.
The night we met at Galaxy, I had got a 70 cl bottle of white wine to the lower half, but I had been so sure a drive home would not be a burden. I walked – as carefully as I could – to the parking lot, got into my metallic grey Toyota – which I bought from an Indian man who had used it for seven years –, powered the engine, got my leg ready, shifted the gear stick to “R” to reverse the car, and crashed into a Lexus jeep that was about fifteen feet on the other side. Reality felt like a movie scene, in slow mo. I came out of my car, heart beating wildly in my chest, light-headed and light-footed. I could see a few curious people watching from a distance, I knew they would soon come for a better view. I walked slowly, for steadiness, to assess the damage I had done.
It was hopeless. I had been saving for a new car – not new as in fresh from the showroom, just something better than the one I had and hated –, my rent was due in two weeks, and there was this outstanding bill from the state water corporation. Tobatele came out with the curious crowd who must have heard the crashing sound. Some had their bottles and mugs and wine glasses with them when they came out. Some wanted to be sure their car was in one piece where they had left it in the parking lot. I could see phones up, their cameras on us, in anticipation of drama. The owner of the car walked casually past a couple of people to get closer to the wreck. I could tell he was the owner from the look on his face. He looked at the mass of ugly metal his car had become and chuckled. I avoided his eyes. The guilty and the powerful: sometimes the look says it all without preliminary remarks.
“Are you drunk?” he asked, as if I was a teenager overwhelmed by a first-time sip of old wine. I noticed his white Nike shoes. I told him I was.
“Next time don’t try to drive when you are drunk.” He had said, before leaving for the entrance of the club, the same casual walk, as if the Lexus I had just ruined was as easily replaceable as a torn piece of paper.
His mother sniffed and sighed. “When was the last time you saw him?”
“About three months ago.” Another lie. He was gone. Would it matter if I told the truth? If I was precise about times, and dates, and circumstances, would it matter? Would it change things for the family? Who would want the truth about this God-fearing son?
It is not as if I strangled him or smashed his head with a club. It wasn’t as if I poisoned him, or pushed him off the edge of a cliff. Did I shove him over the edge of a pond full of hungry crocodiles? Why would I suddenly call him my friend now that the police are on the lookout for a certain female friend?
That night, after the gesture of the man whose new car I had just ruined, I didn’t feel like going home anymore. The next day was a public holiday – one of those holidays that had to do with killing rams – and my life had been like the titanic after the idiot I had dated for six years changed his mind about me and our marriage plans. What exactly was in the home I was going to? I was not tired. I was not sleepy. I was not looking forward to anything special. I was back to my young and free self, and I must admit I was a bit curious about the owner of the Lexus. He could be high on something. Galaxy had men with shifty eyes who were ready with the plants, and the powders, and the pills to take any willing soul to places, for a fee. I didn’t want to dwell too much on the lack of drama. I wanted to settle things with him; I wanted to avoid a possible desperate search, and curses, once he eventually got over the things that could be messing with his brain.
Tobatele was on a red couch in the VIP section. A pretty-faced girl with afro curly hair, shaped like a mannequin, in a black sequinned gown, sat on his lap. She was drinking from a wine glass – red wine – and was giggling, showing her gleaming white teeth, shaking her slim legs to the music in the air or whatever was playing on in her head. They must have felt alone. It could be an ephemeral thing, it could be a real commitment; one would never be sure by merely looking.
I have felt what they were feeling; as I stood there, watching, consumed by jealousy, it all came back to me.
I have felt what they were feeling; as I stood there, watching, consumed by jealousy, it all came back to me. I had been in Galaxy with Dave like a dozen times, and that night I was noticing so many things and people for the first time. I tried to get as close as I could without being intrusive. I cleared my throat to get attention, but it seemed I would have to do better, so I did something different.
“Hi. Excuse me. Hello.” I waited a bit; stood like a statue. More like a ghost. My anger grew as I watched. Patience, I reminded myself.
Their lips locked before they gave me attention, like in the movies, because my eyes felt like a camera. It must have been intentional; they must have heard me the first time.
“Yea?” the man said. His partner pouted, her hazel eyes on me.
“I’m the girl that crashed your car.”
“So what now?” A snort and a chuckle. “You need a medal?”
Miss mannequin giggled again, sustained her pout, and ran her slim hands over her lover’s chest.
“I just want to be sure you are cool with me.”
“Cool with you?” He chuckled again. “What if I’m not cool with you? You want to buy me a new car?”
“No. I just…”
“Then why are you bothering me? You are free to go. If I wanted something from you, I would have made it clear. What else do you want?”
“I’m very sorry. I didn’t get that part clearly. I mean, I didn’t know you were letting me go freely.”
“Don’t worry about it,” he said, with a wave of hand.
“Thanks. I really appreciate this. I’m Tosin.”
I offered my hand and he shook it. His hand went to his breast pocket and a card came out. I was not even worthy of hearing his name from his lips.
His complimentary card: Tobatele Smith, Barrister at Law, Lowo, Wehinmi and Jide Chambers, 173AC Adeola Odeku Street, Victoria Island.
His mother wanted to know what should be offered, something to entertain the visitor. Did I care for some water, a soft drink, maybe something to eat? I said I was fine, I wouldn’t be long, and I had to be in a few other places before leaving town. Didn’t I come from Lagos? She wanted to know if I knew any of his friends or close associates; he had not brought any woman home as special, but do I know anyone who seemed close to his heart? Who seemed special?
I thought about the pretty-faced girl of that night; that girl who made him look like one of those pop stars in their musical videos; those who could make you feel love was all about magical feelings and kisses and clinging to your lover forever as if he would otherwise float away.
“I don’t really know him much outside the academic circle.” I lied. “When he was writing his thesis he needed access to a lot of women who use weaves and attachments, and I know a lot from my church; he needed data on two hundred women so I introduced him to some of them.”
Tobatele Smith studied law at the University of Ibadan, went to the Nigerian law school in Victoria Island, got a master’s degree from Harvard law school and another master’s degree from the institute of African studies at the University of Ibadan.
That must have been why he saw himself as an authority in fashion and style. I called him the night after the first meeting to thank him for the kind gesture and he called me the lady with the fake hair.
“Oh, is that the lady with the fake hair? Your name slipped my mind, can you please remind me?”
“Tosin.” I said, suppressing the urge to fire something harsh back at the rude fool.
“You actually have a very good telephone voice. I gave you a very good look that night and you were really not my type. But with this voice, I feel like changing my mind.”
“I just want to thank you. That’s all.”
“It’s okay. How about your car? It was in a really bad shape.”
“Yes, it was. I don’t want to spend money on it as it is. I’m saving money to buy a new one.”
I felt bad for telling him much more than necessary. I should not be talking to him as if his insensitive words about my desirability had been acceptable, but it seemed the words were tumbling out of my mouth against my will.
“And how is that coming along?”
“In a month’s time, if things go as planned, I should take delivery.”
“Great. Indeed, I feel like inviting you for a drink or for dinner. I just don’t like this reputation of being Oniru’s baddest boy. I mean, I’ve heard people tell me to get married and settle down like a hundred times this month.”
“Wait a minute … you live in Oniru?”
He lived in Oniru. In fact, he lived four houses away from mine but I had never seen him before that night at Galaxy, neither had I ever seen his car. I lecture part-time at the University of Lagos and was on the editorial team of Sunday Splash, but I had been sure I knew my neighbourhood very well. I was usually at home before sunset on the days I went to work, and would be home all day on Wednesdays and on Sundays, even though I wasn’t friendly or well acquainted with anyone around.
The first time I visited him he cooked noodles and added some chicken and coleslaw he had got from Chicken Republic; he promised to cook something nice next time I visit. He had been too busy to go for shopping for the past few days. Next time, he assured me, he would cook a proper meal. He wanted to know what I had drunk that night that made me useless behind the steering.
“Don Simon,” I said, after swallowing a mouthful.
“You drank Don Simon and you were that wasted?”
He placed a bottle of California Red on the table; he had just one wine glass beside it.
“If you can’t drink Don Simon, then you can’t drink California Red.”
He would never drink beer, strictly wines and cocktails; that is why he had been able to keep his stomach flat. He was not into the soccer thing – all that bull about EPL, UEFA, and La Liga –, he had no time for it. He was all work and fun; work hard, play harder.
He produced an enormous, cigarette-like thing and a lighter. I knew what it was as soon as he used the lighter. From the smell, I knew for sure. I hated cigarettes, but what he was smoking wasn’t legal. It was a thing I loved and had missed, so I joined him.
He was thirty-two years old; I was three years older, even though I didn’t get to tell him my age or any detail about me. He had been going to court for the past eight years, he did his NYSC national service in Enugu, the Igbo girls couldn’t get enough of him, one of them begged him with tears to marry her, but he was not into tall, voluptuous, dark girls. I felt like he was reminding me I was not his type, but I was not offended. I had been offended to a greater extent. Our people say, if one is already slammed to the ground by great troubles, smaller ones would easily stand on the person. Indeed, what could be worse after Dave’s sudden realisation – a clarity that took six years to unfold – that what he felt for me was not love but some emotional wind?
I would have been bored listening to him if it wasn’t for the joint.
Tobatele was not into tall voluptuous dark women, but he was into me that night… There was something about him that made me curious; yes, I wanted to know him more… I just wasn’t prepared to know him that way.
Tobatele was not into tall voluptuous dark women, but he was into me that night. I didn’t imagine him going as far as he went. I would have stopped him if I had been prepared for his kind of preparation; it wasn’t as if I wanted him. I just couldn’t find the strength to resist him as soon as it was needed. There was something about him that made me curious; yes, I wanted to know him more, despite his annoying words and attitude. I just wasn’t prepared to know him that way. My first night in his house made me feel like a charmed teen. He didn’t even try to be nice; there was no hint of an expected resistance, as if removing my pants was a duty I had been aware of for a long time. As if all I had in my body was the slot between my legs.
The tall, thin man and the woman who looked like his twin sister (definitely his wife), were now on their feet, set to leave. They would not leave without a word of prayer. We had to join in. A word of prayer they called it, but we were on our feet with our heads bowed for about five minutes.
“In Jesus’ name”
“In the mighty name of Jesus.”
Thanks went to God for the gift of life, for our dear brother Tobatele Smith. Thanks went up above for the exemplary life the young man had lived, thanks to God for the grace He gave his parents to bring him up in the way of the Lord; Lord we don’t understand why you took this promising son from us at this time, but we surrender to your will. Prayers for his family, for the fortitude to bear the loss; prayers for restoration; and then prayers for the police, so that they would access wisdom from above to know the evil woman who had visited Tobatele, and had harmed him, and had poisoned him.
Two days after that first visit of food, drugs, and sex, I saw him driving out of his compound on his way to work as I was jogging down the gentle slope towards my flat. He was driving a black BMW; black suit, black tie, white shirt, with his wig beside him on the passenger side. He had this smile on his face that made me feel like I knew what he was going to say. I had felt very bad for the power I had cheaply given him; I had thought about the possibilities of our next meeting, I had played a few scenarios in my head, so I was prepared for him that morning.
“Too bad. Some of us have many other things to worry about apart from being a lady’s bed champion.”
“Good morning,” he said with a sly smile.
“Good morning. How are you? You seemed very tired and weak that night.”
“Tired and weak?”
“I was a bit disappointed.”
“Really? What was disappointing?”
I looked into his eyes. “You, in bed.”
I was delighted to see the look on his face; I didn’t know it would be so easy to make an impact. We didn’t even do it on a bed. We were on our feet, so I expected him to speak like a lawyer, instead of the wounded look. I decided to push the advantage as far as it could get.
I shrugged. “Don’t worry about it. Maybe the wine wasn’t good for you. Or the weed. And it could be my ex too. That guy is a machine. I’ve not been with a lot of men, but he spoils it for all the other men I’ve been intimate with.”
“Too bad. Some of us have many other things to worry about apart from being a lady’s bed champion.”
“I’m sorry for comparing you with someone else. I just kind of regret it when the sex is not memorable or mind-blowing.”
He glanced at his watch. Rolex. “Look, Tosin, I really have to go now. Since we are neighbours, I’m sure there would be ample time to talk more about this.”
The conversation of that morning led to my second visit; that fatal visit that revealed he had taken my words more seriously than I thought he would.
After the final amen – immediately after the prayer of the departing visitors –, my mobile phone rang and I had to hurry out of the sitting room to take the call outside the house. I knew the caller; naturally, the first thing I checked when I heard the sound and brought out the phone from my bag was the caller ID. The caller was not as important as I wanted things to appear; I knew Kola – one of the laziest of my students – was probably calling to give an excuse for a planned, late submission of an assignment, but I needed an exit strategy now that the couple who had engaged Tobatele’s mother in conversation were leaving. Mrs Smith could have more questions for me, and I couldn’t trust myself to keep the much I knew to myself, since it was the first time anyone would know that I knew him. There could be something of fate on his parents’ side to expose me. I didn’t feel guilty as a killer since I was not one, but I felt guilty. I felt guilty of something, something my mind has not been able to place or erase.
I was right about my guess when I saw the caller ID. Kola had indeed called to inform me of a slight fever that had kept him in hospital for the past two days. I knew he would have a doctor’s report – probably forged – to support this, but I played along and asked him to bring a doctor’s report to me as soon as possible, maintaining a grave look so that anyone looking at me from a distance would believe what I would soon say.
“I have to go now Ma,” I told his Mum and Dad when they came back from seeing their visitors to their car, which was parked outside the compound. “A colleague just called now to tell me of some very urgent official issues I have to attend to before leaving town. But I am very glad for the opportunity to visit.”
“Thank you very much. God bless you,” said the woman.
“Did you say you are his friend?” his father asked, with a quick glance at his wife, and I knew what was on his mind.
“We collaborated when he was working on his PhD,” I said.
“Thanks O, thanks for coming. God bless you. Are you going back to Lagos today? Safe journey.”
Before I stopped a taxi, his mother made my heart sink.
“Do you know you are the only woman that has visited from Lagos?”
I was not surprised, but I had to pretend I was. That is one thing I got to know from my brief association and limited conversation with Tobatele. No woman meant anything to him – at least, there is no reason to believe otherwise. He was a young, successful, and financially comfortable lawyer working and living in Lagos Island. He had gone to Harvard, he was from a rich family, he could choose from the many beautiful women that were on him like bees on nectar. He could be arrogant, and rude, and inconsiderate, and still be desperately sought by women who would make most men stop and stare.
Disposable; that is how he seemed to see women. I was nothing to him. On my last night with him, he wanted to have his way, this time in grand style; so that I would change my testimony and say how awesome he had been.
We had shared a joint before taking the party to the bedroom. He was great that night. He was great the first night too.
I don’t really know what else he might have taken, but I saw two cans of energy drinks in the bin in his kitchen, a bottle of Shomo Bitters stood beside another can of energy drink on the table by his bedside, and there was a white tablet in his pocket. We had shared a joint before taking the party to the bedroom. He was great that night. He was great the first night too. He would still be alive if he wasn’t so full of himself.
I had to be at work very early the following morning, so I woke up before dawn to wake him up. He was still naked. I shook him. Stiff. I put my clothes on and my slippers.
Feyisayo Anjorin was born in Akure in 1983. He trained as a filmmaker at AFDA Johannesburg. He is an actor who has worked on film and TV productions in the UK, South Africa, and Nigeria. His writing has appeared in Brittle Paper, Litro, Bella Naija, and African Writer.