TEN STORIES (VII) TORIA

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‘Toria! Toria! Wait now,’ Bode called after her as she stormed away in unintentionally faster than normal strides as if her legs could carry her more than they already were. She wouldn’t even as much as look back talk less, stop. The way he kept calling out the locally abridged version of her name irked her even more.
Victoria was a sweet unassuming young girl of a short stature. At twenty two, she’d only just finished medical school and had only come back home to Owi, her hometown- village, to spend some time with her parents before resuming her one year housemanship at the University College Hospital.
She’d grown up to know Bode, a tall dark handsome man in his early thirties, an accomplished carpenter and father of two. He’d been friends with her and indeed her family’s since childhood. He had been an apprentice with her father’s friend, the one who’d made the only two exchanges of parlour settees her family had while she was growing up. They were still using the second several years later. His boss would send him on errands to her father and vice versa. Sometimes, he’d simply just drop by on his own and play around with her brothers. But that was several years ago.
He’d completed his training and had gone on to set up his own trade which today, had become a name to reckon with in the entire Owi village, a village so large and developed it could pass for a town albeit the villagers still preferred to call their village, a village. Practically every household owned and used something from of Bode’s workshop. Whether it was a kitchen stool, a cupboard or a bed, it could easily be traced back to him.
Rumour had it that when his boss died about five years earlier, it had been as a result of a power tussle for supremacy and popularity in business between the two of them.  The man had died after a protracted illness.
When his wife of five years had died at childbirth two years later, it had been whispered again that he’d used her for wealth rituals. His business had boomed nonetheless, and two years later, he seemed to be over her already.
Or how else would one explain his increased courtesy visits to Victoria’s house, even in her absence, showering the family with gifts in cash and kind.
‘Bode brought this beautiful stool last week,’ she remembered her mother telling her on one occasion, just about two months earlier, when she’d come back home from school to obtain her original WASSCE certificates at her former secondary school for college clearance purposes.
‘Oh, it’s beautiful,’ she’d admired the new kitchen stool and had opted to sit on it while she ground pepper for soup that afternoon.
‘It’s so comfy too, she compared it to the already limping old stool her father had purchased from his friend and Bode’s boss over ten years ago.
‘Of course it is, anything from Bode’s factory is-‘
‘Factory? Abi workshop?’
‘Iwo lo mo. The man is really making a huge success of his career-‘
‘Career abi profession?’
‘Gbe enu e lowo,’ her mother had snapped at her, sprinkling some Okro seeds at her from the Okro she’d been grating. Victoria had a diehard habit of picking the fault in people’s spoken English.
On another occasion, she remembered having come home to her father and Bode chit chatting on the verandah. She wondered when they became that close.
‘Come and say hi to Bode when you’ve changed,’ he’d said as she made into the house after greeting them.
When she’d consequently come out, Bode had gone into a tirade of questionings and dry jokes as a way of making a conversation.
‘How are you? How school? How acada? Eh, so you will soon become a doctor, eh? Dokita wa! Make we just dey sick dey go be dat o…’ He’d kept giggling needlessly as  he said all these. She had not only been irked at his inability to speak proper English that day as always, she’d also wondered what kind of person wishes sickness on themselves because of the availability of a doctor.  Bode used to be very pleasant and jovial when they were all youngerand he was good company. Victoria wondered what had happened to him now, or rather, to her. Perhaps the rumours had affected her perception of him, perhaps education had changed her. She wondered if education alienated friends from each other, or made allies strangers. All she could conclude within her was that as far as she was concerned, Bode was now so low on life’s ladder and she so high they could no longer ‘meet’.
If Bode had been making any advances at her in the last few months of her study, it intensified when she came back home, he’d drop by at evenings just to check on her and sometimes send his apprentices to give her groundnuts- which he knew she liked- or used to, or fruits from his home garden. More so, his two children now resumed to her parent’s house after school, a development she only learnt of on her arrival.
‘This place is close to their school and your brother can help them with their homework. Besides, they get to eat and sleep, you know it’s not exactly the best for these little children to always be at the workshop, all those strips of wood flying up and down…’ Victoria had wondered if her mother knew what she was saying.
‘He sees us as his parents, his are late remember?’ His father had said.
‘E be like say uncle Bode get eyes for you o,’ her brother had quipped one day?
‘Before nko, I’m a fine girl nah,’ she’d played along.
‘E talk am o, some days ago.’
‘Hian?’ She’d simply laughed it off. Bode could be very jovial, she told herself, he’d jokingly even asked her to marry him when she’d been much younger, but it was obviously a joke.
As Victoria stomped off angrily that evening, she put everything together and made sense of it, wondering how much of accomplices her parents had been in the whole matter.
‘Mummy!’ His four year old daughter had called her that noon. She turned as if she’d been pinched with a needle.
‘Ki lo wi?’ She’d asked.
‘Mummy tuntun!’ The little girl had jumped on her with glee.
‘Hian!’ Victoria was dazed. She knew she had to do something fast, to put her suspicions to rest. She gently put the girl down, and made for the kitchen where her mother was washing the plates they’d used for lunch. She’d instructed her to help the children with their homework as her brother hadn’t been around. A knock on the door had interrupted her. She’d gone to get it. Bode.
‘So early?’ She didn’t hide her displeasure.
‘Ko le da nooni. Mummy nko,’ he’d entered and nattered a bit with her mother and the kids before asking to speak to her in private. His mother had been consenting.
They’d gone out of the house and had unconsciously strolled off into the quiet street that led down her house to the Anglican church, about eight blocks away with several houses littering the winding road intermittently on both sides, making small talk.
He did most of the talking, she was either assenting to something he’d said or buttressing his opinion on another, holding back her anger all the while. Then they’d got to the church, the imposing Victorian style structured building that served the entire village. He’d asked that they sit on the three steps that led up to the porch.
Victoria needed no prophet to decipher what was coming but she also had a ready response- or thought she did.
‘You see my dear, you are very very great woman,’ he’d suddenly veered off the uninteresting topic of the hardworking janitor who’d been cleaning the church surroundings and had hailed them on arrival.
A ‘gbagaun’ bell went off in her head already.
‘I have use enough time to study you over the years, you is very very kind, open hand, having Good Samaritan behaviour, patient and very very one way, straight, you no dey look side, what you want, you get it.’ he gestured to drive home the message.
‘Just look, at how old? You be doctor? Wetin more can I ask inside a woman?’
Even in pidgin? ‘Gbagaun’! Victoria tried not to laugh.
‘I like dat kind woman o, personally, he said frankly. She’d turned a scornful but questioning stare on him.
‘Ah ah,’ he’d nudged her playfully, ‘my dear, are you saying you’re nor understanding what I am talk?’
She stared on as he verbalized on as one eating hot yams.
‘O ye ki oro omi ti ye e, Toria now. We don dey together now e don tey. And I even see say you don pali well well with the children. In fact, dem dey call you mummy mummy already. Your Ma and Pa, they are like-’
‘Bode!’
He was taken aback, not at her wicked stare or angry tone, but at the absence of the age long ‘Brother’ affix to his name.
‘Se suru Toria, I just wan tell you sey I love you ni now,’ he touched her teasingly as if to calm her down, resuming his cheery tone nonetheless. ‘You are the apple in my eyes, the groundnut in my garri, the cockroach in my-‘
‘Gbe enu e soun!’ She halted his hackneyed recitation and got up.
‘Ahah,’ she clapped her hands together. ‘Insult upon injury. Is this because I’m paying you attention? Lenu e se n wa rough bayen,’ she clapped her hands again.
‘Agutan ma ri Raimi be ke? All these village people, there’s no height they don’t pitch themselves at. Emi? Oh, you need another sacrifice abi?’
‘Toria!’
‘Shut up there! O ti e n pe Toria, Toria, se Toria ni won so mi ni?’
‘O de farabale now…’
‘Ehn, ki n se kini? Look, I don’t even have the time,’ she hissed and took off, furious!
‘Toria! Toria! Toria now…’

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