Seni stared at her brother in disbelief. The way her eyes grew wide after his words landed on
her ears, he might as well have had a banana tree growing from his head. Only a boy … No. Only a man would believe such a cleverly concocted tale.
"Dele, repeat what you just told me," she said in the same sharp tone their mother frequently used when they were children. That tone, which overshadowed a question and answer session, was the warning that came before a slap or some other form of punishment landed on the unlucky child, for an act of disobedience.
Somewhere in Dele's brain, he noted that she was irritated with him, but he completely ignored her, choosing instead to act like she was over-reacting.
"What?" he asked, shrugging his shoulders. "Weren't you listening to me?"
Seni's patience was evaporating quickly, but she kept her eye on the goal: talking some sense into her brother's head.
Clearing her throat, she charged on.
"You just told me that I was wrong about Veronica, that I had misjudged her completely.
Your excuse? Because she insisted on paying for her own meal at … Where was this again?"
"The canteen in school," Dele replied immediately.
"Okay, so you went to eat lunch there and she just happened to be eating at the exact same canteen? Dele, she's an Education student. You're an Economics student. There are several canteens on that side of UNILAG--"
"Where the Faculty of Education is located. You're now telling me that she walked all the way from her Faculty to a canteen behind the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, just to eat toast bread? Is the butter at that canteen made from cows that do nothing else but dance to Shina peters, fool around with auto-tune and occasionally watch Nollywood movies all day long? I mean, what was so special about that toast that made her walk all the way from--"
"Who said she walked? You keep saying 'she walked' as if she doesn’t have friends with cars who could have given her a ride or like she couldn’t have taken a cab," Dele snapped.
"Regardless of how she migrated to that canteen, don’t you see how absurd it is? That’s a 30-minute walk, at least, just to eat two miserable slices of bread, slathered in butter, with what could possibly be a peacock's egg jammed between the slices!"
"You wouldn’t know a peacock's egg if you saw it. I'm pretty sure of that."
"Fine. But guess what Rita told me?"
"The same Rita with multiple carry overs?" Dele asked with a look that conveyed his low opinion of Seni's friend.
"Forget that side jo. Listen, Rita is also an Education student and--"
"I pity her future students, that’s if she doesn’t wind up counting or mis-counting money in a bank somewhere. That girl's ibon can kill both the sheriff and his deputy!"
"Yes, I know Rita is a notorious sheller, but she is not a liar. She said--"
"Good. At least you’ve admitted that her grammar needs serious polishing."
"Oh-oh! Let me land now!" Seni wailed.
"Okay, I'm listening. But hurry up abeg," Dele said crossing his arms across his chest.
"Well, Rita told me that Veronica does not have classes on Tuesdays."
Does Rita know the time-table of every student in her Faculty? I mean that girl … In fact, just forget that side. Veronica told me that she came to school to study at the library."
Seni snorted. "Veronica study ke? Sure. When pigs fly and dogs start using typewriters. We are not even sure she really took JAMB by herself. I mean, this is 2001 and you know how these things work. Just forget what she told you. This is the truth: she came to school for YOU."
At this revelation, Dele gave a blank stare. Not the reaction Seni was expecting. She pressed on.
"I can't believe you can't see through this girl's antics. Her goal is as plain as day."
"And what is that, Miss I-know-it-all?"
"She's after your money! Anybody with eyes can see that. She will use you and dump you.
Why can't you see it? Or do I need to drag you to a woli to wash your head and eyes with koinkoin before you see what I see?" Seni asked in a frustrated voice.
"Woli? Koin-koin? Seni, how many times have I warned you to stop watching these rubbish
Yoruba movies? They're filling your head with nonsense!"
Seni clapped her hands together dramatically and perched one hand on her hip, while the other demonstrated the words that followed.
"From your mouth? You're such a hypocrite! You who have been watching all these vampire
and werewolf movies would dare accuse me of watching Yoruba movies because of minor babalawo or woli scenes?! Wonders shall never end."
"Okay, that’s enough!" Dele's eyes were red and nobody needed to tell Seni that she had
crossed the line. He was her big brother after all.
"I will not have you insult me over a girl you hardly know--"
"Shut up! You don't talk when I am talking. I am 5 years older than you. Do they sell '5 years' in the market?" he asked angrily. Seni knew not to answer, but her thoughts did not stop flowing.
Na today you just know say you be my senior brother? Yeye!
But she did not dare open her mouth to say those words. She knew her brother well enough to know that when he got angry like that, he could easily baptize her with heavy slaps or worse yet, finish her with his belt, and her parents would not defend her.
Dele continued with his torrent of angry words.
"You keep going on and on about Veronica, as if she is a bad person. Isn't she a woman like you? Shouldn't you be defending her? Later now, you'll say guys are the ones always insulting girls. Isn't that what you're doing now? You women are the ones destroying each other!"
"But Brother Dele, it's not like that. Just because I’m a woman--"
"Point of correction, you are a girl, not a woman," Dele spat.
"Okay, fine. Girl. Just because I am a girl doesn't mean I agree completely with what every girl does or says."
She paused. Her eyes never left Dele. She was watching him closely to see if he was going to lash out at her and mentally prepared herself to flee from him if she had to. For the moment,
Dele had resumed his former stance with his hands across his chest. But his face was no longer calm. Seni decided to take her chances.
"You see …" she began, moving closer to Dele, and deliberately softening her voice to pacify him. But Dele refused to be wooed.
"I don’t see anything here but some inexplicable beef you have for Veronica. Don’t come near me," he said, putting up his hands to prevent her from advancing closer. Seni felt hurt, but did not say anything. She got his message loud and clear.
"Brother Dele, I know I’m your younger sister, but it doesn’t mean I have the IQ of a cockroach. What am I saying sef? IQ has nothing to do with this. Call it a woman’s intuition.
Whatever. But, please be careful with Veronica. Shine your eye well well! She’s not who you think she is.”
“Enough! Enough! We’re not having this conversation again. And since you have grown wings and think you can advise your elders--”
How does he being 5 years older than me, make him an elder? Where’s the walking stick?
The grey hair? The endless string of completely irrelevant and meaningless proverbs that have absolutely no application to our discussion? Seni wondered. Dele was still speaking.
“Go to my room, pick up the pile of dirty clothes on the floor and wash all of them! If I see one sweat stain on the armpit of any shirt ehn … You go hear am! Nonsense!”
As he walked away, he talked angrily in loud tones:
“Na person wey no get work, na she go dey walk up and down, dey do busy body, dey give her senior broda advice, dey chook mouth for inside matter wey no concern am. Rubbish!”
Seni let out a long, pained sigh. As she made her way to the kitchen, she caught a glimpse of Dele, serving spoon in one hand, still mumbling angrily to himself, heaping large spoonfuls of the asaro she had prepared earlier, onto a plate.
“If to say I wan poison you now … Na so you go just chop and quench. Dis man, shine ya eye,” she mumbled under her breath.
It turned out that Brother Dele was right. Partly. By the time she finished washing those clothes, it was almost 7:30 p.m. and the mosquitoes had started feasting on her uncovered legs.
She was thoroughly exhausted and went to bed early. Pretty unusual for a 17-year old.
* * *
Seni did not hear anything else about Veronica from Dele’s lips. It was as if he deliberately
avoided mentioning her name in Seni’s presence. She began to second-guess herself.
Maybe she shouldn’t have told Dele anything.
But how do you stand by and watch a person you love get hurt?
As yet, Veronica had not done anything to hurt Dele, but Seni knew it was coming. She was still wondering about this one evening, a few weeks after the “Vero-inspired” conversation she had had with Dele. She was completing the last leg of her journey home from JAMB lessons by foot. When she was within two minutes of the house, she decided, on an impulse, to go and visit her friend, Nancy. It was Friday, and even though she knew that she had to study over the weekend, she also knew that her parents were less strict with their “you-must-study-everyday” rule on Fridays compared to other days. Her spur-of-the-moment plan was to go and borrow a few movies from Nancy and watch them over the weekend.
Nancy, who was three years older than Seni, had an enviable collection of books and movies.
As an only child, she regularly got monetary gifts from her parents and relatives, and the money usually went towards a seemingly bottomless list of items she adored. At the top of that list were books and movies. She even had a DVD player in her room, something Seni plotted and planned to get as soon as she could save up enough money to buy one.