We started working in the company around the same time. I was assigned to the desk in the right-hand corner, facing the door. She was seated in the left-hand side of the room. Within a week, I had gotten to know most of the other colleagues in our open-plan floor office and I was on talking terms with them, except her.
Tomi was the only person I couldn't understand. She never went out of her way to smile, say hello or acknowledge my greetings even though she passed by my desk several times a day. She basically ignored everybody, kept to herself and refused to interact. In the end, I gave up trying and ignored her too, deciding that we probably didn't have much in common anyway.
I'd been working in the job for eight months, when my dad died suddenly. He was only fifty-eight and he hadn't been ill. Being an only child, I was devastated. All the responsibilities for the funeral arrangements fell on me and my mother. I had to take some time off work to grieve and plan the funeral, and then another week off to recover from the stress, and unravel my dad's business and personal affairs.
On the Monday morning I was due back to resume at work, things didn't exactly start well. It was a rainy day, and my umbrella was not doing its job at all. I'd been standing at the bus-stop for nearly thirty minutes, narrowly avoiding getting splashed by cars driving in the puddles. As time passed, I started worrying that I would get to the office late.
I was getting desperate when a car stopped a few metres in front of me, and the female driver beckoned to me.Looking in, I saw that it was Tomi, my unfriendly colleague. She opened the passenger door and I was too relieved to refuse. I got in the car, and folded my wet umbrella. I hoped the ride to the office wouldn't be too awkward.
"Hello," I said. "Thanks for the lift, I really appreciate it.""You're welcome," she replied, keeping her eyes on the road."How are you?" I asked, as a way to start conversation."I'm fine." She didn't say anything else; instead, she turned up the volume of the radio. When we got to the office, I thanked her again and she nodded.
At closing time, she came to my desk and offered me a lift home. I was surprised but pleased she offered, thinking she was looking for a way to make up for her unfriendliness earlier. On the way back, I started telling her about my recent loss in the family, but she just nodded and listened.
When she dropped me off, I invited her in to come and say hello to my mum, but she shook her head vigorously and drove off so quickly that her car tyres screeched."What's wrong with this girl?" I wondered, puzzled by her strange behaviour. "I'd better not get into a car with her again."
At lunch time on Tuesday, she came to my desk and asked if we could go to the staff canteen to have lunch together. I was a bit wary, but my curiosity got the better of me and I agreed. She insisted on paying for my food. I found us a table and she sat opposite me. I started eating but she didn't touch her plate.
I waited for a minute before I asked her, "What's wrong?"She shook her head before leaning closer, and then she began:"My mum would kill me, if she knew I was doing this. She warned me all my life to stay away from you."I raised an eyebrow.
"I understand you'll find this confusing. There's no easy way to say this, so I'll just let you know the whole truth. We're step-sisters. I've known you all my life, but from a distance. Our parents made sure we didn't cross paths. That is, until you joined this company."I stared at her, my mouth open; lunch forgotten."I envy you so much," she continued. "You know, I've just lost my father too. You can grieve him openly. I cannot."
The writer is a Nigerian novelist
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