ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Five)
Obaseki, looked cornered. He certainly was not anticipating an encounter with me at the restaurant. His shrunken face looked collapsed with fatigue. The anxiety that he was feeling was palpable. His face began to twitch. It was bad enough when he saw me entering the restaurant. But the moment I informed him that Rufus was on his way to join us, his system could no longer handle the tension. He stood up. He patted his pockets.
“Oh, I was-was-just checking my—my—my pocket. For my-my-my-house keys.”
“And is it in your pocket?”
“Yes—I mea-mea-mean no.”
“Look properly. Keys know how to hide inside pockets. It’s their house. Most of the time, the lost key is just sitting in the pocket, waiting to be found.” I said.
“I ha—ha—have looked. Not—not—not—there.”
“Really?” I said, sympathetically. “Are you sure you brought it here?”
“Yes, yes, I’m sure.” He said, still standing up and patting his pocket. He avoided eye contact with me. No—no—no not sure.”
“But there is a clanging sound when you pat your back pocket. Sounds like a key.”
“Yes—yes—yes,” he responded. “No—no—not the house key.”
“Is it lost?”
“No-no-no not lost. I probably dropped it acci—acci-acci-dent—dent—ally. On the ro—ro—ro-road.”
“Could you have left it in your office?” I gave him an opportunity to escape, since he wasn’t ready.
“Yes—yes-no-no. Right,” he responded. “Must be, may—may—may in my-my—my office.”
“But what of your food? You hardly have touched it.”
“Yes—no—no not really hungry. Let—let—let—me go find-find—find the key in my office.”
“Good. I’ll watch your food. Rufus and I will probably be here for a while. We will be meeting some of the students auditioning for KURUNMI here.”
“No—yes—I will be—be—be back soon. Watch-watch-watch my food for—for me.”
He made a dash for it, but I pulled him back by grabbing his arm. “Your bag. You have left your bag.”
“Bag? Yes, yes, yes, bag.” He yanked it off the back of the chair and dashed out.
He collided against a young lady looking for a table, her food tray in her hands. The cup of water fell off the tray and broke on the floor. She struggled and managed to keep the rest of her food from falling off.
He turned only to throw a “So-so-sor-sorry!” at her, before flying out of the buka, but not before colliding against another fellow at the entrance.
His food was fresh. I was tempted by the delicious looking pieces of various parts of the goat meat, all painstaking sautéed in egusi melon soup and efo vegetables. He bought two wraps of pounded yam, and had only taken a couple of morsels from one, with the other untouched.
Just a moment later, Rufus barged in with a couple of students, including Mofe Damijo, who later would become a major film and television star. Rufus saw me where I was seated and joined me. He slumped into the seat that Obaseki just vacated.
“Whose food is this?” He asked me.
I told him what happened.
“So he left all this food behind and ran away?” Rufus asked.
“It’s crazy, isn’t it?” I said.
“Let nothing go to waste,” Rufus said.
“That’s a Biblical quote,” Damijo said.
“Have you met him, Moyo?” Rufus asked, indicating Damijo. I had seen him around. We exchanged greetings.
“I want him to play the lead role of Kurunmi,” Rufus said. “He is perfect for the part. We just have to work on his voice to make it sound deeper. It’s too high.”
“That’s wonderful,” I said.
“Wangboje came just after you left,” Rufus continued. “I was surprised to see him when he entered the theater.”
Rufus said “the theater” as if it there was such a building. In fact, there was no such thing. Within a week of his arrival at the Ekenwan campus, he discovered that there was no theater for teaching drama on the campus. All the lecturers were teaching theory, history and theory of theater. There was no production.
He said, “Moyo, let’s build a theater.” I told him about a building, a small hall really, behind my studio, where a woman sold Ogogoro and some students gathered to enjoy the homebrewed alcoholic drink. “We can easily convert this building,” Rufus announced.
We got some wood, nails, hammers, handsaws, and other basic tools, and by the end of the week, there was a raised platform at one end hall. This was the stage. We were painting it that afternoon.
“As I was washing my hand in the theater, Wangboje came,” Rufus said. “He said he had just been announced the Acting Vice-Chancellor. He is the Dean of the Faculty of Art, the Dean of the Faculty of Law, the Dean of the Faculty of Art, and now Acting Vice-Chancellor. Good for us. We can get whatever we want here at Uniben.”
“Did you ask him….?”
“You bet,” Rufus didn’t allow me to finish. “He will fund the project. But on the condition that I produce it for the convocation.”
“We can get it ready convocation, Papa Rufus,” Damijo said.
Rufus began to wash his hands in the bowl next to the Obaseki’s plate. Without a pause, he dipped into the bowl that Obaseki abandoned and continued where Obaseki left. At the same time, he yelled, “Gina!”
From the back of the counter, Gina yelled back, “Yes, sir.” She dropped everything she was doing and ran to our table. A long queue was still in front of her.
“Gina, finest girl,” Rufus said to her as she genuflects, “please ask these folks what they would like to eat and serve them.”
Gina hurried off. Rufus turned to me. “I know you have been looking at that girl.”
“What girl?” I asked.
“Gina.” Rufus responded, still eating his pounded yam.
“HOW AND WHEN DID YOU MEET HER!”
Rufus said, “The wahala that Gina will cause on this Ekenwan campus, Solomon Wangboje will not be able to handle it.”
TO BE CONTINUED
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