It was a random tweet. My eyes skipped over it the first time. Returned to it a second time. Then it sunk. I made one phone call. It was true. It is true. And even though my eyes blur with furious tears, even though everything in me screams one big NO! It doesn’t change it. Tobi Ogunniyi is dead. And this doesn’t make any difference, but it is my tribute to a boy who was many things to many people.
We went to the same primary school but I didn’t recognize him when we met in university. He was cool, boy he was cool. He could arch an eyebrow like a rock star and he had the sort of looks you’d associate with one too. Light skin, sculpted features.
Tobi, teach me to arch my eyebrow, now.
You either have it or you don’t, sweetheart.
Tobi, with ready accomplices in Tarela and Kenzo, introduced me to the beauty of contemporary rock. He would play me song after song on his Discman for hours, right there in the lecture room. He introduced me to System of a Down. The first time, he put the earphones over my head and started playing their CD. When he saw I was properly entranced, he raised the volume to the max. I trembled suddenly from the impact and when I glared at him, he laughed riotously.
That’s the only way to listen to rock. Really loud.
He was that sort. There are many who thought him snobbish and stuck-up but Tobi was who he was, perfectly insouciant when it came to gossip or what people thought of him. After our first year, we separated and went to our different departments so I saw less and less of him. We would pass each other on the corridors of the Faculty of Engineering, and he would tease me, “Oyinbo! Chinko!” and even, “Jennifer!” He was probably the only one in Engineering who used my Christian name.
I’m smiling at the memories now.
We both got older, wiser, I stopped listening to System of a Down. Tobi remained Tobi. Popular, friendly, loud, fun.
My last memory of him is in the dark hallway beside the Engineering Library and beneath Surveying & Geoinformatics. He’s walking past, with large earphones over his head, chewing gum. He sees me, smiles, and for the last time (even though I didn’t know it) archs an eyebrow at me. We hug.
What are you doing here, Jennifer?
Came to see my supervisor.
“Aight.” We touch knuckles. He walks out into the sunshine…walks out into the sunshine. Goodbye, Tobi.