ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Twenty-two)
“You’re kidding me, right?” I asked Steve when he said that Gina was probably in my room. He extended his bottle of beer to Rufus who yanked off the top with his teeth and handed it back.
“Why sounding so alarmed?” Steve asked. “If you asked me, I’d say let’s swap places.”
“What!” I said, alarmed at his suggestion.
“You can stay in my cold room tonight,” Steve, “and I can use your warm room.”
“Is that British custom?” I asked sarcastically.
Did he wink? I couldn’t quite tell in the dark. He said, “The British have no custom. Only Africans have customs.”
“But do you know a great part of African custom?” I answered. “We light a fire, wear grass skirts, dance round and round while roasting the bwana on a pit, ready for dinner.”
“That’s Zulu,” Steve said. “Wrong book. You’ve read too many Tarzan stories.”
“Actually you’re right there,” I agreed. “In my secondary school days, my classmate, Bode Elemide, fed us with an ample diet of Edgar Rice Burrough’s books. Was he British?”
“Never read a single of his books,” Steve responded. “Probably American.”
“We read tons of Tarzan books when I was young,” I assured him. “They probably made them for Africans.”
“Don’t change the subject,” Steve said.
“What subject?” I responded.
“Do you want to sleep in my room tonight, and I sleep in yours?”
“Bye, guys,” I said, “I’m going to bed.” My bottle of beer had hardly been touched. I gulped down the entire content in one swig.
Rufus clapped. “You should have a shot or two of whiskey,” said Steve. “It will fortify you. Want me to get you the bottle? It’s in my room.”
I didn’t look back. I went to my room.
Gina was on my bed. She was snoring. The room was dark. The only light was from the clock on the table and it read 2:34 am. For some reason, I liked that sort of sequential time on the clock. Her gown was on the back of the chair. I noticed her panties on the top of the gown. I took off my shirt, threw it into the open wardrobe, and kept my pants and underwear intact. I climbed into bed next to her. She mumbled something inaudible, and her snoring stopped. But she continued to sleep, breathing deep and audibly.
The next thing I knew, Gina was shaking me, saying, “Uncle Moyo! Uncle Moyo! Wake up. Why didn’t you wake me up!”
The light from the window flooded the room, blinding me. Automatically, I turned to the clock. It was 6:02 in the morning.
“You didn’t wake me up when you got into bed last night!”
“Why would I wake you up?” I asked. “You were deeply asleep. You didn’t ask me to wake you up.”
“You are not a good person, Uncle Moyo,” Gina said. “You should at least have woken me up. I was so tired. I shouldn’t have had that beer last night.”
“What beer?” I asked her.
“Josephine and I shared a bottle of beer last night.”
“While we were on the balcony outside?”
She nodded. “I had never had a beer before. It must have knocked me out cold.”
“Beers help you to sleep,” I said. “I gulped down one too, just before I came to bed.”
“I know alcohol makes you sleep,” Gina said, looking sad. “My stepfather is a drunk. Sometimes he passes out at the bar and his friends carry him home.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” I said.
“But he is a kind person,” she said. “When he is not drunk, he is good. Very generous. He could give you the shirt on his back.”
“Lots of alcoholics are really nice people,” I agreed. “A shame the alcohol is such a monster and turns them into monsters too.”
“He is not a monster,” Gina said. “I love him. He is poor in terms of money. But he rich as a kind man.”
“That’s good,” I responded. I was embarrassed. She was not wearing anything. And she was not acting as if she was conscious of her body. I turned to the wall. The warm blood went through my body.”
“I have to go to work now. It’s past six. I will quickly take a shower. Will you drop me off at work? My madam will be mad at me if I was a second later than seven when I step into the buka.”
“There’s a new towel in the wardrobe,” I said.
“I don’t want a new towel,” she said. “I want to use the one you are using.”
“It’s in the bathroom,” I said. I did not want to turn my body, so she wouldn’t see how excited my body was. It wasn’t anything controllable. Even if Gina was not there, it was a daily ritual in the morning. It had never presented any difficulty. But with Gina present, it was the most shameful thing to experience in the world.
She laughed, knowing I was hiding something from her. “I’m coming back here after work this evening,” she said. “There’s something you want to show me.”
I said nothing.
She got up, went to the open wardrobe and grabbed the towel folded on a shelf, wrapped it around her body. “Your toothbrush?” I pointed to the tabletop, half turning my body.
“The toothpaste is there too,” I said.
“I see it,” she said. “The toilet is directly across the room? I used it last night.”
She went out. I got up the moment she stepped out. Although I did not remove my pants and underwear, you still could easily tell how excited I was if you looked at me.
I ran to the sitting room to grab a cup of water. Josephine was by the fridge in her nightgown.
She smiled when she saw me. “Hey, Moyo,” she said with a mischievous wink. “Did you have any sleep overnight?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Where is Gina,” she asked.
“In the bathroom.”
“I just had a shower too,” Josephine said. “She told me she must be at work at seven. Rufus is still sleeping. Will you take me to the hospital when you drop Gina off? I will be ready in two minutes.”
“Sure,” I said.
Steve came out. “Everybody is here,” he said. “Everybody except Gina.”
“She is in the bathroom,” I explained.
“I see,” Steve said. “Guess you guys had a great sleep last night?”
“Yes, we did,” I said. “Thanks.”
“I wanted to give you some condoms but you didn’t wait for them,” Steve continued. “You were too much in a hurry to go to your room.”
“Didn’t need any,” I said.
I went back to my room. Gina already wore her red dress. But I noticed she washed her panties and hung them on the back of the chair. “May I keep them here to dry? I will come for them this evening.”
I was confused. I nodded.
“I’m done now,” she said after a moment. I couldn’t help noticing how flawless her skin looked. “Not even a peck.”
“No,” I said. She pecked me on the cheek. “I had never slept out before, Uncle Moyo. Please believe. I don’t know why I’m acting like this. But I don’t care.”
“Josephine is coming with us,” I informed her. “I’m dropping her off at the hospital.”
We went to the sitting room. Josephine was waiting in her white nurse’s uniform. I grabbed the key off the table where Rufus kept it.
Steve came out of his room, saying, “See you all later,” as we went out. He locked the door after us.
Five minutes later, we were on the Ekenwan campus. I drove slowly through the gate and headed to the buka. I parked the car. It was about ten minutes to seven.
“Oh my God, I’m in trouble,” Gina said, holding me.
“You are not in trouble,” I replied, “It’s not yet seven.” I pointed to the wristwatch that Rufus kept in the car.”
“It’s not the time,” Gina said. “That woman sitting by the door?” She pointed.
“Yes,” I said, noticing a woman in a white blouse and a colorful wrapper. She looked strikingly attractive even in her simple attire.
“That’s my mother,” Gina said. “I hope she did not arrive last night and couldn’t find me at my place. She lives in Warri. And she didn’t tell me she was coming to visit. She will kill me.”
TO BE CONTINUED