Rufus froze when he saw Obaseki moving towards our table. His jawline tightened. The grotesque was unmasking. I understood the meaning of that facial reaction. When a cobra flattens its head and its neck while lifting up its body off the ground to the torso level, even a baby knows what that means. We had crossed the red zone. I immediately got up and picked up the tumbler in front of him before it became a scud missile. My movement also distracted him for a moment. This was the climactic moment that had been building up for a year.
I remember the day after Obaseki roughened up Steve, the visiting Englishman, and Rufus came early in the morning to knock on the door of my bedroom. I was lucky that morning because Hilda was with me overnight. Hilda was a new graduate student studying painting and she arrived around 10 pm, totally unexpectedly. I had joked with her some two days previous that life was dry for me, and I wouldn’t even recognize what a man touched in a woman because it had been a really long time since I had been so lucky.
“When last were you with a woman?” Hilda asked me. She was priming a canvas in readiness for a painting, and I had gone to her studio to show her how to stretch a drum-tight canvas. She was only one week old at the Ekewan campus. “You don’t look like you are starving. I saw you talking with an undergraduate student yesterday and she was giving you the come-and-do look.”
“I swear, Hilda, I haven’t been lucky in months,” I told her. “The person you are talking about was trying to get me to hook her up with Rufus.”
“Who is Rufus,” Hilda asked.
“That man who was in my studio when you came to ask me to help you stretch your canvas,” I replied.
“He’s not my type.”
“I doubt you’re his type either,” I countered. “He likes a woman that ‘has something one could hold on to,’ according to him.”
“And I don’t?”
“I didn’t say that,” I said quickly. “I was just quoting Rufus.”
“He likes fat women?”
“Did I say fat? No. Just something to hold on to, as he would say.”
“Typical Nigerian man,” Hilda said. “I don’t like him. There’s just something about him I can’t fully figure out, but I don’t like it.”
“Well, he’s not starving like me,” I replied.
“Seriously, when last were you with a woman?”
“It’s been a long time,” I replied.
“A long time is relative. A day? A week? A month? A year?”
“Seems more like a year to me.”
“Makes two of us,” Hilda disclosed.
“Liar,” I said. “What about the guy who dropped you off at the studio in that blue Peugeot 504?”
“That was my brother. He is my immediate junior brother.”
“You look much younger than him,” I said.
“And flattery won’t get you anywhere.”
“Not flattering you,” I said. “It’s the truth. I can’t believe all the guys are not all over you.”
“No, they’re not,” she said. “Guess they are typically intimidated. They prefer easy targets.”
“You too should stop playing hard to get,” I said.
“Am I playing hard to get with you?” She asked.
“After we are done with stretching your canvas,” I said, “there’s a woman behind the studio who sells pepper soup and drinks. You care?”
“Sure,” she said. “I can do that.”
“Come, gimme that,” I took the brush and primer from her and quickly completed her priming for her. “Let’s go. Nobody would mind that we have paints all over us. They know we are coming from the studio.
We went to the pepper soup woman and I spent the last fifty kobo on me treating her. I walked her to her hostel—just a couple of yards from the joint—and returned to the studio, got my beetle, and headed home.
I was therefore pleasantly surprised on the night Obaseki attacked Steve, and soon after Obaseki’s mother and his brother left, to find Hilda knocking on our door. Josephine got the door, winked at me, and said, “Moyo, you have a visitor.”
“How did you find your way here,” I asked her much later when we were together in my room.
“I just asked people where Rufus lives. Everybody knew.”
I was therefore quite irritated when very early the next morning, Rufus knocked on my door. I didn’t open the door. He simply walked in and caught us in an awkward situation.
He was not fazed. “Get up, Moyo, let’s go and jog.”
“I’m not jogging this morning.”
He was dressed in a tee-shirt and shorts, with his jogging tennis.
“Get up, my friend,” Rufus said. “She is not running away. She’s still going to be here when we return.”
Hilda by now had covered herself up completely, with the blanket over the head. “I’m not going anywhere, Papa Ru,” I told him. “Go and do your jogging.”
“I’m off,” Rufus said. “I have to be really fit. That crazy man, Obaseki, is going to get some of me when I get my hands on him.”
“But his mother came to beg you last night,” I reminded him, “and you said everything was fine.”
“I said we are not pressing charges,” Rufus said. “I didn’t say I wasn’t going to beat him up.”
“Good,” I said. “Go and do your jogging. I’m not available with you this morning.”
He hissed, smiled, and left the room.
I overheard him trying to coax Josephine, his girlfriend, to go jogging with him.
She declined. And he left alone.
Every morning he jogged. And truly, he began to develop toned muscles, as he worked out regularly, lifting weight and doing press-ups, jogging nine miles daily. But there was hardly any day he didn’t talk about what he was going to do to Obaseki if their paths ever crossed. I reminded him that Obaseki was sick, and was being treated at a psychiatric hospital. Rufus was not impressed. “If a dog is rabid,” he always said, “it would never run into a raging fire. And if it did, fire would burn it.”
When Obaseki, therefore, returned to the buka that day, and Rufus got up, his eyes on fire, I knew katakata was going to spark. I looked around the buka. There were only a few people left. The food sellers were already clearing their stands. But our table was packed with Rufus’s students, who didn’t know what was going on, and why his expression had changed so suddenly.
I walked toward Obaseki and Rufus stepped away from the table and was coming in our direction.
TO BE CONTINUED