Tunde didn’t know what it meant back then. He was only seven years old, after all. How much could he have understood about anything? His father’s driver, Uncle Iboro picked him up from Primrose Primary School every day in the week, took him back to his father’s office in LUTH and on most days, Tunde met a woman there with daddy.
On this memorable occasion, two days before Folake’s accident, Segun’s secretary at the time wasn’t on seat when Tunde got there so he decided to walk into his father’s office anyway. Opening the door, Tunde found his father sitting behind his big desk across the door, head up facing the roof, eyes shut, moaning softly. There was a smacking sound coming from under the desk. Segun’s door had been squeaking recently and Tunde learned to enjoy it as he’d been pushing and pulling the door to make it squeak for nearly a week now but with this strange scene in daddy’s office, Tunde unintentionally announced his entrance with the squeak. Shocked, his father jerked up in his seat. There was a thud and Tunde heard a familiar female voice cry out from under the table amidst shuffling. Segun barked at the confused Tunde who immediately rushed out without saying a word.
Trying to understand what was happening, Tunde sat in the waiting room just outside the office until a few minutes later when mummy’s good friend, Aunty Lolade came out with daddy. The slim, fair woman’s makeup seemed rushed even to a seven year old boy as she smiled down at him, asking about school.
“Can’t you greet?” Segun had blurted out.
“Good afternoon, aunty.” Tunde said, looking up at them, hands clasped behind his back.
“Segun, fi omo yi sile, jare! Good afternoon, my dear.” Aunty Lolade laughed, patting and rubbing Tunde’s head.
She bought him Okin biscuit and Coca-Cola that day. Before then, she had never done that. She confirmed the feeling Tunde had that what Segun was doing was somehow wrong. In the kitchen the following day, watching mummy prepare the usual Saturday breakfast with his father out at the gym, Tunde asked his mother a question.
“Mummy, why was Aunty Lolade in daddy’s office yesterday?” Except, it wasn’t a question and Folake sensed it as she turned away from the frying pan full of akara and searched her son’s face.
“She was?” Folake urged. Tunde nodded and left the kitchen.
Later in the day, Tunde heard his mother speaking with Aunty Lolade on the phone. He thought she would ask what aunty was doing in daddy’s office, but she never did. It was a very long phone call, but they had occassionally talked on the phone for long periods before. However, after the phone call, Folake’s mood changed. She was obviously sad.
The next day, the day of the accident, a rainy Sunday, April 20th 2008, even Segun had noticed and asked Folake what was wrong several times that evening as they prepared to leave for a family friend’s welcome back party, but she said everything was okay. On the way back from the party, Segun and Folake got to talking about Tunde’s future. They had been having problems agreeing on whether Tunde should be sent to boarding school for or not for secondary school education. Segun felt that it would be good for Tunde’s independence to go to boarding school. He himself had gone to secondary school and was better for it. But Folake felt Tunde would cope better going to school from home.
“You’ve been touchy all weekend and refused to tell me what’s going on. Has something happened with Tunde’s at school?” Segun derailed for a moment, turning away from the road to look at his wife from time to time. Folake had had enough. She tightened her grip on her handbag and sighed, keeping her eyes on the dancing car wipers.
“You know what? Maybe I’ve been waiting all weekend for you to tell me what’s going on, Segun.”
“I don’t understand-”
“Maybe I’ve been waiting all weekend for you and Lolade to tell me what’s going on.”
Folake’s statement jarred Segun. She met his gaze and continued. “You know who told me? Tunde. Fantastic, isn’t it?”
Segun wasn’t keeping his eyes on the road anymore. He stammered and made to hold Folake’s hand as the car moved onto incoming traffic on the right side of the main road. The coming truck’s headlights blinked on and off. Folake screamed Segun’s name as the truck horned desperately. Segun looked up.
Tunde is sitting in front of the computer in his study corner looking at his mostly blank “My Family” word document. His eyes move over the only sentence on it. “My father clears his throat a lot.” He backspaces, clearing the sentence until just the phrase “My father” is left, then he completes the sentence with “has cancer.” Staring at this for a short while, he clears the whole sentence and minimizes the word document. Getting off his chair, he lands on his bed, eyes fixed on the ceiling, thinking.
In the living room with the television on, Segun is seated still on his sofa with the remote control in his right hand. He‘s looking at the television but not paying attention to the programme. There is a still, forlorn, lost look on his face.
Written by Olutobi Odunubi