Driving slowly towards the link road that leads to the airport, I’m trying hard to focus and calm my excited nerves. Tobi is coming home. I have dreamt of this day for months, wondering if it will ever happen. I doubt I’ll ever find the courage to tell her what I feel.
Tobi and I are as different as oil and water. I still wonder how we hit it off. Not only was she outgoing and I was not, she was rich and I was poor. Yes, I was poor. No point denying the obvious. I could hardly pay my fees back then. I had to borrow text books and bunk with my mates.
We met at a friend’s party, in second year. I sat at a corner, watching people have fun. That was me, always stuck on the sidelines, watching people live.
The party started without a hitch until trouble stirred. A legless dude had tried to wrestle her off her partner on the floor; she landed him a hot one on the cheek and all hell broke loose.
It wasn’t a pretty sight. What ensued could be better described as utter brouhaha. Drunken masters waved uncertain fists at angry dames; shoes flew in every direction, everyone screaming at the top of their lungs.
I headed for the door, unwilling to lose a tooth or worse still, an eye. Someone brushed past me, eager to get out. It was Tobi of the dreaded blow. She was still angry and unsettled. I went up to her and we talked some. Can’t really remember what I said but I made her laugh. She ended up driving me home in her car.
The next time I saw her was when she walked into my class one sunny afternoon, looking all pink, from her earring to her tank top and sandals. I tried not to gawk. She was so cute.
Prof. had started the class way before she walked in; he confronted her, of course.
“Young lady, may I help you?” he asked pushing his glasses further up his stiff nose, staring her down. She looked around puzzled, not expecting the confrontation.
“Sir, I…I’m taking CHE 304 as an elective sir” she rattled on, uncertain; she bent her knees thrice, in the traditional curtsey.
“Does that give you the right to enter my class late and unannounced?”
She stuttered as her next words tumbled out, in no particular order, “Sir, I’m sorry sir, em…. was I s…supposed to introduce myself?”
The whole class erupted into laughter at her display. Prof was discomfited; he waved her away and turned to the board again. She caught my eyes and winked, setting her books down with so much relish. I couldn’t believe it, she was acting! Crazy girl, I thought, smiling at her mischievousness.
It turned out she was no airhead. From then on we met often to study and talk. My pals would tease me about my secret girlfriend.
I really wanted to get to know Tobi better but I was afraid of being rejected. So I stuck to being friends. Not that it cured me of my growing attraction to her.
The first time she came to my hall, I could hardly believe it. I was coming out of the bathroom in towels, water dripping down every inch of me. I was about to turn into the corridor when I saw her leaning on the rails, her back to me. She was wearing lacy brown flats on a black legging. Her chocolate brown linen top was loose and comfy.
I mentally searched my wardrobe wondering what I would wear, if we decided to go out. Those blue jeans were way too old and I’d sworn off. I had a pair of black pants that could work but a smart shirt will be a problem.
She looked back before I could finish my mental scan.
“Hi” her smile was warm, sweet and all for me, I hoped.
“Wasup? Been here long?”
“Nah, 10 minutes tops. How are you?” she bent her right knee backwards, resting her foot on the railing. Her eyes scanned my face like she was looking for something. My mind raced.
“I’m good. Bright day huh?” I put down my bucket and moved to her side, still in my towel. I noticed she was looking at my arms. I flexed them a little, pretending to be stretching out a kink in my back.
“Yeah. Slow Saturday. I was on my way out. I’m heading into town.”
“Oh, business or pleasure?” I asked wishing whatever it was could include me.
She cocked her head “Depends. Remember the make-up lessons I told you about? Well, I’m seeing Femi, the instructor, today.”
“Ok, so… where’s the pleasure side of it?”
“Well, that could come if I change my mind about the make-up class.” She scrunched her nose.
“And why would you do that?” I asked innocently
“You tell me” was she teasing? Throwing the ball in my court?
I cleared my throat and looked around. “I was actually going to do a little tour of the north side of this architectural wonder” I swept my hands across the hall, referring to a larger portion of space than I was indicating. “I’m not sure how much fun it would be but you’re welcome to come along.”
I took her to my favourite place that day. The dirt road beside the mini mart led straight to the river. We took a left turn a few feet before we hit the grassy bank and stopped at a clearing. There was a raised spot there which was smoothly cemented. The spot was cool and far away from any distractions plus it was close to the small river running down into the lagoon.
“Hmm, what is this place?” she asked, looking around, her hands on her hips, mischief in her eyes.
“Ssh, it’s a secret” I said into her ear. She giggled.
We spread handkerchiefs on the ground and sat on them. I asked her to close her eyes and pulled out two ‘udara’ fruits from the small polythene bag I had with me. She laughed like a child. I put one on her palm asking her to guess what it was.
“Agbalumo!” she shrieked. I wasn’t surprised. She loved it.
We shared the cherries and talked into the evening.
She told me about her plans to travel abroad for her master’s degree, immediately after graduation.
“What about NYSC?” I wondered if she’d ever come back.
“I plan to come back for that. I won’t be over there for long anyway.” She seemed distracted, like she wanted to change the conversation. She started fiddling with the cherry seeds. She was placing them orderly, one after another on the concrete floor.
I checked out what she was doing. She had spelt my name with the seeds. A ‘C’ an ‘H’ and an ‘I’. My mind went into overdrive. She must have felt my intent gaze ‘cos she looked at me and sighed deeply. I put my arms around her and she leaned into me. We sat side by side facing the gurgling river.
I wanted to spill my guts right there but I held back. I wanted to tell her things I’ve never said before, not to anyone. But what will she say? Will she care that my jeans were old and faded or that I didn’t wear an expensive Rolex? All I had was my love for her, and of course my future.
The car behind me honks crazily, drawing me out of my daydreams. I blink and focus on the road.
I think of all the reasons why I love her and want to be with her. We had made memories together, done new things together, cried and laughed together. She even taught me to drive and I taught her to play basket ball, which she didn’t really succeed at, thanks to her ‘very appropriate height’. It still makes me laugh, picturing her scampering about in the court.
Ha! I love this girl.
The airport parking lot is buzzing with activity, it seems like the whole world is arriving in Naija. I lock my car and head in.
My mind is blank right now, not knowing what to expect. I haven’t seen Tobi in two years since she went on for her MSc in the UK. We spoke only once in a while, but I was glad for the break. I needed to sort out my feelings. Now she’s due back tonight and she has asked me to come pick her up at the airport.
I’m here waiting at the arrival wing of the Murtala Mohammed Airport decked in a smart dress shirt and navy blue Next jeans. My car is packed in the lot. I drove down here from my little two room apartment in Gbagada phase 2. Needless to say, things have looked up for me, a little.
I tap my feet and watch people go in and out of the airport. I jump as my phone vibrates to the tune of Tuface’s ‘Implication’. Vera? Why is she calling? I shut it off, not wanting to talk to her. I had promised her we would talk but I expected her to make it my prerogative. She’s coming on too strong, I muse. I like her. But I think she may be a fair weather kind of friend.
“Announcing flight 7876, from Schipol, Amsterdam…..”
My cue. I get up and pace the floors. Why am I nervous? My palms are sweaty. I browse through the magazine stand to my left to release the tension.
Ten long minutes pass, then I hear a flurry of activity as a group of people shuffle toward the doors of the arrival wing. I stretch my neck, scanning the sea of faces.
I shove my hands deep in my pockets as I spot her. She hasn’t changed. It takes a while for her to see me. She smiles when she does and runs towards me, dragging a little case. She’s wearing leather boots, with heels. She looks great.
She reaches up and hugs my neck, I can smell her perfume as I twirl her round, she laughs like a contented child and we draw a few stares.
“Chi, you’re a sight for sore eyes” her eyes dance around my face, taking in every detail.
“Ditto” I smiled, “How was the flight? Tiring?” she scrunches her nose, the same way she used to.
“You bet it was. I hate flying, I felt claustrophobic all through” I take her case and lead the way to my car, her luggage following.
“Wow, I like the sun!” she says rubbing her arms in pleasure.
“It doesn’t shine in the UK?” I say, trying to hide my excitement at seeing her again
“Oh come on. You know what I mean. I’m so glad to be back”
“Wait till we get into traffic, we’ll see how glad you are then” I quip and wink at her, tossing her bags in the boot of the car.
We drive round town for two hours and finally head to my apartment. She insists she isn’t ready to meet with anyone that night. We crash in the living room, I take the floor, she takes the couch and I stare at her all night.
The next day I drive her down to her house. Everyone falls over themselves in a bid to greet and hug her. Her mother nearly has a fit. She wasn’t expecting her, not until two days later. I hang around, feeling unsure. Her mother treats me nice. We leave a while later, her itchy feet unable to stay home for long.
“So, where do you wanna go? I ask, “See your friends?”
She cocks her head and looks at me as we stood by the car contemplating.
“Hmm nope. I just want to go out.”
“Cool. Can we take a ‘danfo’, instead of the car?”
My jaw drops. I haven’t taken a cab in weeks, now she wants me to take a ‘danfo’! And since when did she call it that?
“Seriously,” I hear her say, “I want to feel Lag, you know”.
She pulls me out of the gate. We take a bike to the main road and wait, giggling and laughing. I suddenly have a bright idea.
“Bingo. Let’s take the BRT!”
“I’ve never taken one of those. Will they let us lap?”
Time seemed to halt as I strain to hear what she said.
“You heard me the first time dude”
“It’s not happening”
“Aww come on, you’re such a spoilsport.”
We walk down to the BRT corridor, hand in hand. I please her every whim, amidst stares that make me remember our weird driving session, way back in school. What is it about Tobi that makes me do the unthinkable? I’m still trying to figure this out as the huge vehicle grinds to a halt. She gets up and pulls me after her. “Lets stop here”
“Why? What’s happening here?” I’m beginning to miss the lap contact.
“Afriquita, I’m hungry.”
I thought of it and smiled. “They don’t have burger here o, no ice cream either”
“Who wants any of those? I’m looking for real, peppery food. Nkwobi, Asun or Amala and Ewedu will be nice. I’ve missed those.”
The little restaurant is warm and cozy. We relax and chat while we wait for our food. My mind is racing with the possibility sitting right before me.
“And…why are you staring at me, dude?” I see the words leaving her mouth.
“You haven’t changed at all.”
“Oh, you don’t like that? Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t have come home then.”
“C’mon, I wouldn’t change you for the world. I’ve missed you, hmm…” I place my hand on hers; she avoids my eyes but doesn’t pull away. Good sign.
“I think my mum likes you…” she says, completely out of the blues. “I told her about you” she looks up at me, her eyes teasing, searching. I can feel her scrutiny and I’m tongue tied. I say the first thing that comes to mind.
“I like you too” her eyes grow wide and a smile plays on her lips. I shrug.
“I do really”
“Are you trying to… tell me something..?” she places both elbows on the table, her hands under her chin, waiting.
I open my mouth to say something, and then the waiter brings our drinks.
I hurriedly place two straws in one of the bottles and lean forward. She does the same and takes a long sip from the straw, our foreheads touching. I look into her eyes and smile. I feel like I had been given another chance to take that plunge.
Undoubtedly, there’ll be more double straws in a single bottle, for years and years.
Now, to find those very words to seal this deal…