ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Twenty-One)
When Steve offered us a cigarette, I took one out of the pack he extended.
It was from one of the packs he brought from Britain a couple of months earlier.
I was not good with cigarettes. But I was also not good at saying no to cigarette offers. All my friends smoked. And I loved to hold a stick of cigarette stylishly and watch the smoke rise from the tip of the ashes.
We sat there in the dark, watching the moon, smoking, silent. Suddenly, a bolt of lightning crashed across the sky, followed by a ripping sound of thunder. Instantly, the moon and the stars disappeared, and the sky was an endless black canvas coughing out intermittent flashes of jagged lights filled with throbs of thunder.
“Strange,” Steve said, “the way it rains in Benin City. One moment it’s sunny, and the next this endless downpour starts, only to end abruptly.”
“It’s not like that in Britain?” I asked him.
Rufus answered, “The problem is there is no weather forecasts here. Nobody prepares you for what is coming. If we had been told in the morning to expect rain tonight, this one wouldn’t take us by surprise.”
“And we have seasons in Britain,” Steve said. “It rarely snows in the summer. And we don’t get much sun in the winter.”
The rain began to fall in buckets, and the wind gusted water at us on the balcony where we sat.
“I’m glad I rolled up the window of the beetle where I packed it,” I reflected, as a heavy breeze threw the rain in our direction.
“So what happened to the beetle?” Steve asked. “You didn’t bring back home?”
I told them what happened, starting from the moment Rufus left to join his students at their rehearsal of Ola Rotimi’s play, all the way to the events at Obaseki mother’s club.
“How is Obaseki doing?” Steve asked.
“He’s not well,” Rufus jumped in before I could say anything. “He was all high on marijuana and misbehaving when we were having lunch. He had his head to thank that Iya Ngu and Wangboje were present. The way he looked, one solid blow would render him unconscious.”
“Let it go, Rufus,” Steve said.
“He still has to pay for the Sango mortar that he broke when he assaulted you,” Rufus quipped. “That Sango pot was priceless. I got it from Oyo through a priest.”
I remembered when Rufus brought the clay mortar one day after returning from a trip to Oyo to film a festival. It was a fairly large mortar, with the sides intricately decorated with Sango symbols.
“Papa Ru, let it go,” I mimicked Steve. “Thank goodness it was not Steve’s head that he broke.”
“Josephine tried to move the pot back,” Steve said. “It seemed Obaseki gave it a deliberate kick.”
“Is something wrong with Josephine?” I asked, rhetorically. “She was behaving so strangely this evening.”
“She’s been like that all week,” said Rufus. “She would cry at the smallest thing. And the next moment, she’s asking for fresh-baked bread or the egg of a snake. Her mood is changing all the time. I can’t figure her out anymore.”
I laughed. “Have you given her the crocodile bag she wanted?” She had asked us to stop the car abruptly because her eye caught a roadside display of crocodile bags and shoes. When I stopped the car, she jumped down and ran out, almost before the car came to a complete halt. And as she ran across the street, an oncoming vehicle pulled to a screeching halt, otherwise, the car would have hit her. The bag that appealed to her was the most expensive one. But we didn’t have enough money on us. Rufus said he would return to get her the bag, but I knew Rufus probably had forgotten about it. She was pretty upset that she couldn’t have the bag right there and then. It was so unlike her. Personally, I thought the bag looked rather tacky.
“I went back to the bag place,” said Rufus, “but the exact bag she was crazy about was gone. I bought a similar one. You should see how she yelled at me when I showed her what I got for her. Only last night. She wouldn’t let me touch her all night long. She left and went to sleep on the sofa in the sitting room at some point.”
“I noticed,” said Steve, “when I went to get some water from the fridge in the night. I was wondering why she was there.”
“She probably wanted a….”
Before I concluded my thought, Rufus interrupted. “She wanted me to return the bag in the morning and I said I wasn’t going to do that. She immediately got up from my side and went to the sitting room.”
“So unlike her,” I said. “She was always gentle, soft-spoken and understanding.”
“The number she played tonight was hot, one must say,” said Steve. “I couldn’t figure out where that came from. Out of character, totally.”
“True,” I concurred. “Especially to a totally new person. Gina hardly deserved that treatment.”
“Hey, Moyo,” Steve said, “who is Gina? That babe is sizzling.”
“Gina is Moyo’s wife,” Rufus said. “We are going to Warri this weekend to find her mother and introduce ourselves to her.”
“Papa Ru, she is a baby,” I said.
“Iya Ngu would be upset if you don’t marry Gina,” Rufus continued.
“Fuck Iya Ngu,” I said, quoting Rufus. The thunder rumbled and lightning tore across the sky. Rufus laughed. “You don’t know Iya Ngu is a witch?” Rufus asked. “See, you almost caused lightning to strike us.”
“Where did you meet her, Moyo,” Steve wanted to know. “You hadn’t mentioned her before and suddenly she is now your wife? Is she a student at Uniben?”
“Don’t mind Papa Ru jare,” I said. “Suddenly Iya Ngu’s feelings matter to him.”
“Is she Iya Ngu’s daughter,” Steve asked.
“Yes o,” said Rufus. “And she gave her to Moyo this afternoon. And Gina agreed to marry Moyo.”
“Is that the tradition here?” Steve asked, in earnest.
“Don’t be dumb, Steve,” I said irritated. “What sort of stupid questions are you asking? Didn’t I already tell you everything that happened this evening?”
“You are fond of not giving the details, Moyo,” Steve said. “Besides, I trust Rufus more than you. You are Oyo and Rufus is Ekiti. And Rufus said Oyo people are not straightforward, always saying no when they mean yes. He said Ekiti people are direct and say it exactly as it is.”
“Rufus is already an Englishman like you, Steve,” I said. “He has not been to Ekiti since he ran away from home at thirteen.”
“Which reminds me, Rufus,” Steve continued. “You said we will go to Iludun Ekiti to see your mum. When are we going?”
“I don’t know,” Rufus said. “Too many things on my plate.”
“That’s not what you promised, Rufus,” Steve insisted.
“I told you he is no longer a true Ekiti man.”
“I’m going to have another beer,” Steve said, getting up. He opened the balcony door and went to the sitting room.
A moment later, he returned to the balcony, the bottle of beer in his hand.
“Hey, dudes,” Steve said. “Know what? The ladies are not there. And I couldn’t find the opener. Maybe Josephine already took it inside your bedroom with her.”
“Just ask Gina,” I said. “She has one.”
“Gina is not there either,” Steve reported. “Looks like she is in your room, Moyo.”
TO BE CONTINUED
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