Iya Ngu stopped eating. She had not touched most of the food in front of her, and did not eat the two pieces of goat meat left in her plate after Professor Wangboje helped himself to the first one. She began to wash her hands.

“Madam,” I asked, “you are not eating the meat? It’s delicious goat meat.”

“I don’t want to chew meat,” she said. “I am going vegetarian. Here, have them if you want. The soup is actually palatable. I wouldn’t use as much salt if I was doing the cooking, but it smells good. And I think it has some Maggi cubes in it too. I don’t do Maggi cubes.”

She pushed her plate of soup over to my front. “Thanks, madam,” I said. I took one of the pieces of goat meat, and began to do justice to it. Gina was still busy getting the drinks. I decided that it would go well with the beer.

As Iya Ngu washed her hands, Gina returned with the drinks. She gingerly balanced the bottles on her tray and carefully set them on the table. She had separate bottles of Gulder for Rufus and Obaseki, and brought one bottle for sharing between Iya Ngu and me. Professor Wangboje got a chilled bottle of Coke. After opening the bottles, Gina glided back, and all eyes, except mine, followed her. She soon returned with the glasses.

This time, I could not help throwing a brief glance at her as she returned to the counters. Perhaps her gown was too red and too short. But with the shapely legs on which she bounced, she clearly was not burying her talents. On the contrary, she was flaunting them.

Madam Ngu did not miss my glance at Gina.

“Muyo,” Iya Ngu said, “you didn’t answer my question.”

“Excuse me, madam,” I apologized, “but I forgot the question.”

“Have you read George Bernard Shaw’s PYGMALION?”

“Yes, madam.”

I read Pygmalion when I was in primary school, along with other Shaw plays, including, ARMS AND THE MAN. My father had a Shaw section in our home library. But I just read them for the story value. I had no idea what they mean.

“Then you must know why I asked the question,” Iya Ngu said.

“Not really,” I responded.

“So what is in Pygmalion?” she asked.

“It’s been years since I read the play, and if I remember right,” I started, “there was a party among the aristocrats in London. Maybe not in London. But somewhere in Britain. The aristocrats, men and women, were wining and dining and speaking Queen’s English. A street girl selling flower was hawking flowers outside that party hall. This Cockney-speaking flower girl was called into the room to sell them some flowers. And one of the characters in the party took a bet that he could turn the dirt-covered, Cockney-speaking flower selling girl into an aristocratic lady in a matter of months. I don’t remember the details, but I think he won the bet.”

Obaseki said, “Moyo, you are the aristocrat and Gina is the girl selling flowers and–.”

I still didn’t see where they were going with the story. I turned to Rufus, who didn’t take any fancy to Obaseki’s interjection. He gave Obaseki a side glance and Obaseki stopped talking.

“Obaseki got it,” Iya Ngu said. “Just take the flower girl and turn her into an aristocrat, Muyo. She would be grateful you did, and you would have a settled and satisfying life.”

I now got it. But madam Ngu continued, seeing she got our attention.

“The Pygmalion play, she said, “is really from Greek mythology. It is the story of an artist who carved a female figure that was so beautiful that he fell in love with the figure. And he offered a goddess gifts until the goddess turned the carved ivory figure into a real person. The artist and the transformed beautiful carving got married and lived happily ever after.”

“That’s not my interpretation of the myths,” Obaseki said. “It is actually from Ovid’s books. “I see it as the woe of the artist that gets so carried away by his work, that he ends up wedded to the work for life.”

Madam Ngu sipped beer, and said, “Obaseki, that’s a brilliant interpretation! Is it your original interpretation?”

Obaseki, happy, said, “Yes, madam,” smiling.

Rufus was furious. He gulped down his glass of beer and refilled it, leaving his bottle empty. He yelled, “Gina, bring me another Gulder.”

Iya Ngu, ignoring Rufus, continued. “I was almost like the artist who got wedded to her work. I got so engrossed in my art that I almost forgot to marry. In any case, I was a tomboy artist. Gentlemen in those days were threatened by a woman who smoked and drank beer at the university staff club.”

“You smoked, madam, in the late fifties when you were a lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, and we were your students,” Professor Wangboje, intervened, sipping his coke. “we were all so scared of you as you brought out a silver cigarette holder and brought out a lighter placing the cigarette between your lips at an angle and lighting it up drawing in the smoke and gradually releasing it as you stood over our paintings.”

Madam Ngu chuckled. “The men were so intimidated. I was one of the first women in Nigeria to wear pants. And I would sit, crossed-legged, by myself, at the staff club in the evenings, with my bottle of cold beer and a stick of cigarette. Most of the time I didn’t smoke the cigarette. But I realized that as long as I had it with me, the men would be too intimidated to approach me.”

“Why didn’t you want them to approach you, madam,” Obaseki asked. By now I regretted sharing a beer with Iya Ngu. She was still nursing her glass of beer, while mine was gone and Rufus was going on the second bottle.

Iya Ngu turned to Obaseki as said, “Well, all they wanted was a housewife, and I wasn’t prepared to be a housewife. I wanted to develop my career as an artist.”

At this point, Dede Mabiaku, who had left with the other undergraduates when Madam Ngu and Professor Wangboje entered, walked into the buka. He went to where Rufus was sitting and whispered into his ears.

Rufus bolted up. “Oh,” he said, “I must run. The students are waiting for me at the theater, We have a rehearsal.” Gina came to the table with Rufus’s Gulder, and opened it.

“I can’t stop to drink the beer, Gina,” Rufus said. “You shouldn’t have opened it. I didn’t ask you to open it yet.” Gina held the bottle of beer, looking confused.

“Don’t worry, Rufus,” Obaseki said. “Moyo and I will share it.” He took the bottle from Gina and filled my empty glass.

Rufus left without saying a word.

Madam Ngu turned to Obaseki, said, “What did you do to upset him so badly? Rufus is such a nice and gentle being. I had never before seen him looking so mad.”


Artist: Dotun Popoola

Art: Portrait of Moyo Okediji

Ink on paper


Interested in some of my published works?

Similar Posts

Leave a Reply