ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Six)
Rufus was almost done eating the plate of food abandoned by Obaseki, and was washing his hand, still chewing the last piece of the goat meat. Then to my amazement, we saw Obaseki as he returned, walking through the door, straight into the buka. He looked dazed, as if he was walking in his sleep. He hesitated briefly, before making directly for our table. Dede Mabiaku took one look at him, and said, “Dis man don shack very bad Igbo.” (“This man looks like he has been smoking pot.”)
Dede it was who later replaced Fela Kuti as the lead singer at The African Shrine in Lagos, when Fela was too sick to perform, just before his death in 1997. Dede took over the band as Seun Kuti’s mentor, after Fela died.
But in 1981, Dede was one of Rufus’s students, and just the night before, I caught him having sex with a young woman in my Volkswagen Beetle, where I packed it in front of my studio on the Ekewan campus. I was painting in my studio and, as usual, did not lock the door of the Beetle. But after painting all day, and well into the night, I ran out of white paint, and decided to return home. Perhaps if I felt like it, I decided, I could get some more white paint from home, and return to the studio. But if I wasn’t feeling up to it, I would just call it a day and relax until the next day before returning to the painting. I left my studio and walked to my Beetle. I opened the door. Lo and behold, Dede and his girlfriend had pushed forward the front seats, to create a breathing space for themselves at the backseat. The groaning sounds of suffering was coming out of the poor woman’s throat. But Dede did not stop, nor did he acknowledge my presence, and probably they didn’t even know I was there.
I smiled, and closed the door, and left them to their suffering, saying, “Lucky nasties.” I returned to my studio and resumed work on a mat-weaving loom I was making. Now that I was conscious that the two transgressors were in my Beetle, I realized that if I listened carefully, even from that distance I could hear her distress noises and his pounding rackets. In my studio, I had a bottle of Ogorogo that a University of Benin security officer awarded me about a week before then. I used “awarded” because he presented the bottle to me in his admiration for my rigorous working habit. It was about 2 am when he peeped in from one of the back windows, and said, “Ol’ boy, nor kill yoursef o. He don pass midnight. Even sef, he don reach 2. You no wan go home go sleep?” (“Hey you, don’t kill yourself. It’s well past midnight. It’s actually 2am. You have no plans to return home and sleep?”)
I had never seen him before. He was wearing the uniform of the university security officers.
I said, impatiently, that I would soon go, but needed to fix a particular section of the painting, while my groove was flowing. “One must not stop when the painting says keep going,” I told him.
“Make I enter,” he asked. I said, “Sure.”
The studio was not locked and he came in. He stood in front of my canvas and surveyed what I was painting, nodding his head several times. “This is very complex o,” he said, admiring the work. “I don’t know what you are painting but the color is sweet.”
He said that from his observation station he had noticed me working late every night, and he had brought me a “small” gift. “You dey drink?” He asked. I answered, “Small, small.”
He retrieved a bottle from his bag and extended it to me ceremoniously with both hands, saying, “Make I award you a trophy, my friend. You dey try.” (“Let me award you a trophy in recognition of your hard work.”)
I happily took it from him, opened the lid, and used the lid to measure some of the drink. “It’s grade one,” he said. I threw back my head and tossed the drink down the back of my throat. It burned me, and I twisted my face.
He laughed. “Didn’t I tell you! Nobody born of a woman can drink a shot of that bagger without franking face.” He produced a tiny cup from his bag and I filled it to the brim for him. He tossed the liquor back, head tilted back. He frowned deeply at me as he swallowed it. He extended the cup to me as if he was holding the head of a snake. I filled it for him again and he repeated the motion. This time he gave me the cup, and said, “Keep it here. When I make my night rounds, we will have a cup to do salutation.” He staggered out of my studio, saying, “Don’t stay too long. Go home to your wife.”
I thanked him profusely, took a shot of the poison, screwed my face tight, clutching my chest, and returned to my painting, coughing.
The night Dede and his woman occupied my Beetle, I found the liquor and the cup useful. I gave myself two quick shots, as I heard the agonizing sounds breaking the silence of the night, from the distance of my Beetle. After what seemed an eternity, Dede—who had been quiet all along—suddenly gave a loud scream: and then, there was perfect silence. When the noises stopped, I gave them ten more minutes and then went to my car. They were gone.
I had not seen Dede since that encounter, and was not a bit surprised when he came to join Rufus in the buka. I did not raise the matter with him. And he had been quiet at the table, as Rufus held court, until Obaseki returned to the buka, making straight for us.
“Whatever that man has shacked,” Dede said, as Obaseki reeled towards us, “I want some of it. It must be really bam.”
TO BE CONTINUED
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