a picture of moyo okediji working on one of his art pieces in his art gallery

ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY 1981, (Part Eighteen)

ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY 1981, (Part Eighteen)

Gina was looking at me directly in the eye as she began to turn the button that reclined the car seat. The moon came out of a clump of clouds and highlighted half of her face, as she pressed her back against the front seat, flattening it almost completely on the back seat. Her teeth, as she smiled at me, looked perfectly even, and they sparkled like diamonds in the dark.

“You are a handsome man, Uncle Mo,” Gina said. “Your mom must be very beautiful.”

“Thanks, Gina,” I responded. “My mom is beautiful indeed, but everybody thinks his mother is beautiful.”

“My seat reclines perfectly,” Gina continued. “What about yours?”

“No, Gina,” I said, “I don’t think this is a good idea. We better just leave the car where it is and walk home. Then get Rufus’s car to take you home. My place is no more than ten minutes from here if we stroll down.”

“Oh no,” Gina pleaded, “we can’t leave your car here. It’s not safe. This is Benin City.”

I chuckled. “The car doesn’t start,” I said. “It has no headlight. God help the thief who wants to steal it.”

“Or street hoodlums could vandalize it,” Gina continued.

“Nothing happens to this beetle,” I assured Gina. “It protects itself. The only reason I would ask that we roll up the windows is it might rain. The rains have been unpredictable here lately.”

Gina didn’t seem to be in a hurry to rise up from the reclining seat. I was already winding up the glass.

“Aww,” Gina moaned, “I’m already feeling comfortable where I am.”

“Come on, Gina,” I insisted, “let’s get out of here.”

“Do you know what time it is, Uncle Moyo?”

“I don’t know,” I responded. “Nine, ten, eleven. No idea. I don’t wear a wrist watch.”

“I already noticed,” Gina said. “I like wrist watches, but I’ve never owned one. I observed that you don’t wear one whenever you came to the buka.”

“You look at me when I come to your buka?” I asked, surprised.

“Yes o, Uncle Moyo,” I like your beard. But you should comb it so it looks groomed. And cut it short. It’s too long.”

“Who cares what it looks like,” I said. “A beard is a beard and all beards are born equal.”

“True,” Gina agreed, “but what makes the difference is the face on which you wear the beard. Looks really comely.”

“You are very beautiful, Gina,” I said reluctantly. “You could easily be a beauty queen or fashion models.”

“You think I’m beautiful?” she asked. She was still reclining on the seat. “I don’t believe you.”

“Oh, come on, everybody already tells you that daily.”

“I don’t trust them,” Gina said. “But I trust you. Look at that dumb man this evening. He said I am beautiful, and then wanted to force his mouth on mine. I said no, and he got angry and started beating me. Do you hurt someone you think is beautiful? Do you throw beautiful silk in the mud?”

“But they said you came with him to that place last week,” I said.

“Yes, I did,” Gina confirmed. “They said he is a man of God and sees visions. And all I wanted from him was for him to tell me my future.”

“He is not a man of God, clearly,” I said. “You have to be more careful, Gina.”

“Uncle Moyo, I’m not like that. I don’t go out. But I thought as a man of God he was fine and I was safe with him.”

“A beautiful woman could confuse a man of God,” I said. She was still in the reclining position on the seat. I decided to pull her up to get us out of the place. She allowed me to pull her up.

“Ok, if you insist,” she said as she go up.

“It’s probably midnight,” I said. “Let’s get going. We will be home soon.”

I slammed the car door. Gina closed hers gently. As I turned away from the car, she said, “You have not locked it with a key.”

“Not necessary, Gina,” I said. “Best to not lock it. Locking it creates false hope in a would-be car thief. They would break the window easily, only to then discover it’s just a worthless junk.”

“It’s not worthless,” Gina said. “I would rather ride in it with you than sit in that man’s sparkling clean white Mercedes Benz. Everything about him is white, even his shoes. I should have known it was all for show.”

We began to stroll down, not seeming to be in a hurry to get anywhere.

“The moon is beautiful tonight,” Gina said.

I wanted to hold her hand, but quickly stopped myself from doing so. I crossed myself. Gina laughed loud. I asked, “What’s so funny?”

She pointed at a dark spot near a shed that was closed for the night. Then I saw the two dogs. They were stuck together after making love, and looked really distressed. They thought we would hurt them and pulled away a little, still stuck together.

“That is so cute,” Gina said. “Is that what happens when a man and a woman make love?”

“Why ask me?” I said. “I don’t know.”

“Yes, you know Uncle Moyo.”

“How do you know I know?”

“Remember one afternoon you came to the buka with a beautiful and smart-looking lady? She said she couldn’t wait to go home with you and cuddle. I overheard you. I shouldn’t be listening, but there is nothing else to do at the buka but listen to people’s conversation.”

“I don’t remember the conversation,” I said.

“Then you must have many girlfriends,” she said. “How many girlfriends do you have.”

“None, I swear,” I told her. “If you see me with anybody, I probably just got a little lucky. I don’t have money. It’s expensive to maintain a girlfriend.”

“That’s because you’re dating the wrong people,” she concluded.

“You really want me to believe that you have never been man before?” I asked her.

“I swear to God, Uncle Moyo,” she said.

She got me curious. What would it look like to be with a virgin? I wondered. None of the women I had been with was a virgin—or so I thought. (Two years ago, one of my first girlfriends told me on Facebook that I was her first man. But I didn’t notice any bleeding, I told her. But she said she was surprised she didn’t bleed either—though she also said she told me at that time she was a virgin. I didn’t remember her telling me anything like that. But I was nineteen years old then, and was probably too excited to pay enough attention. But I digress).

We were now in front of our house, and Rufus’s car was parked in the front.

“Thank God, Rufus is home,” I said.

We went inside. And we met a really sorry sight. Rufus, all by himself, was in the sitting room. Steve came out of his bedroom when he heard my voice.

“Oyinbo,” I hailed Steve. “Bawo ni?”

“Ko bad,” Steve answered. He had been learning some pidgin Yoruba.

“Good for you,” Rufus said when he saw Gina with me. “I didn’t hear the sound of your car arriving.” Gina genuflected, saying, “Good evening Mister Rufus.”

Before I could explain what happened with the car, Steve said, “Moyo, something terrible happened here about two hours ago.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“Kongi sent some hoodlums from Ife to attack Rufus,” Steve said.

Rufus, totally still, sat there staring at the floor, looking shocked, tired and perplexed.

“Kongi? You mean Professor Soyinka?” I asked Steve.

“Yes,” Steve said. “The professor. He sent some boys from Ile Ife to seize Rufus’s video recorder, the one Rufus just bought. They also left with some Rufus’s films.

I stood there, looking stupefied. It was just unbelievable that this could happen.

“But that’s impossible,” I said. “Papa Ru works with Soyinka on some projects. While would he do that?”

“My brother,” Rufus said, “it’s like a nightmare. Gina, please sit down.”

“But why would Kongi send the boys to do that to Papa Ru?” I asked. Gina took her seat.

“Yes, it happened just like one hour ago,” said Rufus. “It’s a long story. I was wondering where you were. Or whether Kongi already hinted you that the assault was going to happen and you decided to stay away without informing me.”


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