ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Twenty)
Josephine came out of Rufus’s room and sat next to him.
“I didn’t know you were around,” I told her.
“You must have been pretty scared when the guys who took Papa Ru’s things came,” I said to her.
“No,” Josephine responded. “I came in about thirty minutes ago. I missed everything. My friend at the school of nursing didn’t come to class today, so I went to find out what happened to her. Turns out she is sick.”
Josephine took a look at Gina. Gina greeted her, “Good evening.”
“Good evening,” Josephine responded in a rather hostile manner.
I was wondering why Josephine was hostile. Did she think Gina came to look for Rufus?
“Moyo, it’s Adolo who is sick,” Josephine said. “You will not introduce your friend to me?”
“Adolo?” I asked puzzled. “This is Gina, Josephine. Pardon my manner, everybody. What I met on ground here has thrown me off balance. Josephine is Papa Ru’s woman, Gina.”
“And who is Gina, Moyo,” Josephine asked me.
“I am Uncle Moyo’s friend,” Gina said, sitting up. She pulled at her gown, which was riding up her thighs. Her expression changed. Her face turned red, but it was not out of embarrassment. She looked ready to battle.
“Where are you both coming from so late?” Josephine asked. “It’s nearly midnight.”
“Are you their timekeeper?” Rufus asked Josephine.
“I said Adolo is sick and Moyo didn’t even ask what is wrong with Adolo,” Josephine said. “Is it because of…? What is her name again?” She pointed to Gina.
“My name is Gina,” she said, in a subtly defensive manner.
“Moyo already told you he doesn’t like Adolo,” said Rufus, rising up and moving toward the fridge. “Gina what are you drinking? You will drink beer tonight, Gina. Steve already had the only Gulder in the fridge. We have lots of Star beer.”
“Thanks, Mr. Rufus,” Gina said. “I don’t drink alcohol. Do you have Coke?”
“The only cold Coke in the fridge is mine,” Josephine said. “You all didn’t have any soft drink in the fridge when I came in. I loaded the soft drinks in the fridge only ten minutes ago. And I placed one bottle of Coke in the freezer for myself. I didn’t know Moyo would bring What’s-her-name home this evening.”
“Gina is my name,” she said again, now with a little raise to her voice.
“Oh, Gina,” said Josephine. “Where did Moyo pick you up? It’s so unlike him to pick girls off the street.”
“Gina is not off the street,” Rufus replied. “She works at the Ekenwan Campus.”
“And she is not staying either,” I said quickly. “I just wanted to collect Papa Ru’s key because….”
“I’m staying, Uncle Moyo,” Gina snapped. “I’m not going anywhere tonight!”
“Of course Gina is staying,” Rufus said.
“Papa Ru, what happened was….” I began to explain.
“Good night guys,” Steve said. “I already had a drink this evening. Nice to meet you, Gina.” He went into his room and softly closed the door.
“Rufus, please drop me home,” Josephine said. “I’m feeling nauseous.”
“Sorry to hear that,” Gina responded. “Can I have the cold Coke then?”
“You are not touching my Coke,” Josephine snapped. She got up, matched to the fridge, and pulled away Rufus who was still holding the open arm of the large fridge. She closed the fridge, opened the freezer, aggressively jerked a bottle of coke from it, opened the kitchen cabinet drawer, and fished inside it with a hand. Then she straightened up, turned back, and faced us confrontationally.
“Who removed the opener from the drawer?” Josephine queried us. “You didn’t have an opener in this house. I brought the only opener in this house from home and kept it here because I was tired of people opening bottles with their teeth. And now the opener is not in the drawer where we keep it.”
“I’m sorry, Josephine,” I said. “I took the opener to my room to open a….”
Steve yelled from his room, “Hey guys, the opener is with me. I took it from Moyo’s room.” He came out with the opener and held it toward Josephine.
“Oyinbo,” Josephine said to Steve, “since when did you start drinking beer in your room! When you first arrived here, you said it was not proper to be drinking and eating in the room; that we should use the dining table to eat. Now you eat and drink in your room?”
“Don’t you guys do that?” Steve asked, smiling.
“We do whatever we like here,” Rufus said. “We have no rules.”
“Uncle Rufus, I have an opener in my bag,” Gina said. “You can have it.” She opened her bag and brought out an opener.
“Are you a hotel girl,” Josephine asked with contempt, “to be carrying an opener around in your bag? Or do you like beer that much?”
“She works at the university cafeteria, Josephine,” Rufus explained. “She carries an opener round because….”
“She has no mouth to explain for herself?” Josephine snapped. “Or when did you become her solicitor and advocate?”
“Auntie,” Gina said coolly, “I just dey respect you o. If I snap for you ehn, e nor go easy o; you nor go like am o. All dis one wey you dey rake….”
“You wan snap for me?” Josephine asked. “Street girl. I thought Moyo had some taste. Snatching drunks off the street and bringing them home.”
Gina got up and pulled down her gown. She was much taller than Josephine and with her eyes squinted, gazed down at Josephine in a manner suggesting that Josephine was a midget, without saying so in words.
“See what she is wearing,” Josephine retorted. “Too tight, too short, too red. Too tall. Skinny stick. And the cheap plastic slippers. Mchew!” She hissed.
“Gina, come let me take you home,” I said, getting up and standing between her and Josephine.
“Uncle Moyo, I said I’m staying here with you tonight,” Gina said, very coolly, changing the tone of her voice. “Because of this one without manners? I’m not leaving.”
Josephine laughed sarcastically. “Moyo,” Josephine said. “Give her what she came to get. Na leaf goat dey chop. Ashawo!”
“If your mama nor do ashawo,” Gina said, “she go born you? I thank God say I be ashawo. At least I am not a live-in bucket.”
“You called me a live-in bucket?” Josephine shrieked and tried to charge at Gina. I extended my arms and covered Gina.
Steve went to the radio, turned it on, and raised the volume high. We all looked in his direction.
“Ok, Josephine,” Rufus said, let me go and drop you off at home.”
“I’m not going anywhere!” Josephine yelled. “I’m not leaving because of this tart.”
She placed the opener on the bottle of Coke and yanked off the lid. The content of the bottle spewed out like a volcanic eruption, spilling all over her dress and on the floor. Half of the Coke was already out of the bottle, and it was hissing with foam, spluttering and swirling like an angry beast.
Gina laughed. “You can’t even open a bottle of Coke properly!” Gina said, mockingly. And they gave you admission to the school of nursing? If you give a patient an injection, that patient will expire!”
“Rufus, come and drop me at home,” Josephine said, looking at the mess she made on the floor.
“You won’t clean the floor before you leave?” said Gina, challengingly.
“ I can’t drive again tonight, Josephine,” Rufus said. “It’s late. I’m tired. I need to rest.”
“You best to do overnight tonight o, auntie” Gina tossed it in. “Like you do with your doctors at the hospital.”
Josephine heaved a sigh. Went to the sofa and fell into it.
She began to sob. “I’m sorry….”
Gina went and sat next to her, held her, and rocked her back and forth, sobbing with her.
Rufus looked at me, made a face, walked to the door, opened it and went to the balcony at the back. I joined him. Steve turned down the radio and joined us.
It was dark on the balcony and the full moon was sailing peacefully away from us, surrounded by a fleet of fleecy clouds.
“Anybody cares for a smoke?” Steve asked, after a moment of silence.
TO BE CONTINUED.
Interested in some of my published works?