Artist: Dotun Popoola Title: Portrait of Moyo Okediji Medium: pen and ink on paper date; 2020

ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Thirteen)

ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Thirteen)

As Rufus exited the buka, it was clear that Obaseki was disappointed.

With Madam Ngu and Prof. Wangboje present at the dining table, the circumstances for a total mediation of the crisis were perfect.

They would have just instructed Rufus to cut it, and that would have been the end. Obaseki could not have wished for a better opportunity.

But Rufus left to start his audition with his theater students without the discussion of the crisis coming up. One thing was certain: Rufus was mad and did not hide it.

That Obaseki ended up with the beer that Gina opened for Rufus did not help the situation. Rufus glared at Obaseki, who gave him the “Didn’t-you-eat-my-entire-lunch?” look in return.

“Obaseki,” Madam Ngu began, “you will kill your poor mother. From one wahala to another. The poor woman. What happened between the two of you?”


“Madam,” Professor Wangboje checked his wristwatch, “we should get back on the road to Ugbowo. The traffic.”

Iya Ngu got up immediately, and slung her shoulder bag like the straps of an AK 47. Gina brought a note and presented it with genuflection and “Yes, sir,” to Professor Wangboje. He dipped his hand in his pocket, fished out a note and gave it to Gina. “Keep the change,” he told Gina, who smiled broadly, saying, “Yes, sir.”

Obaseki and I still had a new glass of beer in front of us, from our share of Rufus’s order. We both got up as Madam and the professor left the buka. When they were stepping out, Madam turned back, and said, “Unfailingly this Sunday at my house, Muyo and Obaseki; like four or five in the evening.”

“Ye-ye,-yes, yes, ma,” Obaseki replied.

“Certainly madam,” I said, clinging to the hardness my beer mug as they stepped out.

Gina was still standing in front of us, looking happy with herself.

“They have paid for your drinks,” Gina said, “and I added one beer for each of you and Mr. Rufus—making three extra beer–to the bill. Shall I bring them for you now or leave them in the fridge for you till tomorrow?”

“Not tomorrow,” Obaseki said, “bring them now.”

“Yes, bring mine now also, Gina,” I said. “Please keep Rufus’s beer for him till tomorrow. I’ll let him know he has a beer with you.”

Obaseki tossed his glass of beer down his throat as he sat down. I began to sip my beer, waiting for the cold lager that Gina promised. Gina approached our seat from the far-left direction of the main entrance, balancing our beers on a tray.

At the same moment, a tall man in a white suit entered the buka, to the far-right of the main entrance, the heels of his shoes knocking dramatically on the pavement. When he saw Gina, he stopped in his track and muttered “Gina!”

She genuflected and smiled and kept coming in our direction. She placed the drinks on our table, then turned to me, “Uncle Moyo, don’t forget to tell Mr. Rufus about his drinks with me. And your lunch is on me tomorrow Uncle Moyo.”

She disappeared before I could say a word, gliding off to the seat chosen by the new man in a white suit. She had her back turned to me and I couldn’t see the expression on her face. She departed, and two minutes later reappeared, looking like she had a one-hour make-up. She pulled down her tight red skirt as far down as possible—which wasn’t far at all. The man in the white suit got up and strolled to the entrance to join her. There was laughter and chuckling. Soon a car started, and zoomed away from hearing distance.

I was already beginning to feel the impact of the drinking. Everybody had actually packed and left, and we were the last customers for lunch. Within the same buka, a different set of restaurants opened in the evening. We were in-between lunch and dinner at that moment, and functionally we were the special guests of Gina, on her treat, in absentia.

The beer was very cold. I thought opening it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have agreed to sit down and discuss with Obaseki that afternoon. My plan was to return to my studio, now that I had secured a measure of reconciliation with Madam Ngu, whose tentative approval of my work she gave that afternoon.

But the beer was open, plus the appearance of the man in the white suit was disturbing. We sat behind the beer like millions of other unwitting victims of that beverage that evening.

“Do you know that man, Brother Mo?” Obaseki asked, in obvious reference to the man in the white suit.

I shook my head.

“He knows me,” Obaseki said. “He saw me. He was just pretending that he didn’t see me.”

“You guys seem to be….” I started.

“Yeah,” Obaseki said, “way back. He’s my half-brother. The legitimate son. I’m the illegitimate son. Turns out legitimate is just a dumb playboy who cannot add one plus one to get anything. He crashes cars and women every weekend.”

I drank some beer. Well, when one got tipsy, the screenplay must also go haywire, but the storyline was getting out of hand at this point. I drank some more beer, as if by so doing I could gain more clarity. Nothing was going to make any sense anyway. I was by now too overwhelmed to find anything shocking anymore.

“That lousy bastard, Joshua,” said Obaseki, “is the carefully hidden secret of the family.” Then he half-covered his mouth with his free hand, after gulping down a sizable level of his beer, saying, “The dog has slept with both of his own same-father-born-same-mother-born sisters. He still does. If I lie may Ogun strike me dead.” He brought out his bunch of keys and sunk his teeth into the keys viciously.

My eyes returned to where the man in the white suit was seated about a moment before then. “Don’t be deceived by the way people look. He is both a church pastor and an Olokun priest,” Obaseki continued. “Come and see women at his house like a festival every day. As some come, some go.”

I continued to listen with my mouth open. “We are opposites in all ways. Both of us born of same father different mothers. We were born three days of one another, but I am still the elder. Because I was born outside of the church wedlock, my mother was not recognized by the born-again Christian family. I was raised in the shadow. But we all know the truth, right? We pretend we don’t. It’s so funny!” Obaseki chuckled.

“Joshua was born on a special Olokun day. He automatically became an Olokun priest by family tradition. He has been sworn into several Olokun oaths. His symbol is that of a kite that hunts in the neighborhood, poaching stray chicken.”

“That is what we call “Anfani Adugbo,” or Street Candy in my language,” I obliged him. “He must have contributed a good number of children to the community.”

“That, unfortunately,” Obaseki said, “is his problem.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, puzzled.

“The cat is always seen hunting,” Obaseki taunted. “But the cat has never brought home a kill.”

“What?!” I covered my beer with a cardboard lid cover.

“Not a single child. He has two women living with him at home as his wives. Nothing.”

I pushed my seat back more comfortably.

“Maybe he will be lucky with Gina,” Obaseki opined generously.


Artist: Dotun Popoola

Title: Portrait of Moyo Okediji

Medium: pen and ink on paper

date; 2020

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