ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY (Part Twenty-two)
I almost lost control of the steering wheel when Gina told me that the woman sitting patiently by the door of the buka was her mom. Her back was turned to us, and it was not until the bus jerked forward noisily that she turned towards our direction.
“She is gorgeous,” Josephine said.
“You will have to step down, Gina,” I said. “I think she already can see you.”
“You think so?” Gina asked, trembling. Her hand gripped my arm for support. “You think she has seen me?”
“Certainly,” I noted. “Can’t you see that she is pinning her eyes on us?”
“Okay,” Gina said. “I will step down. But will you come with me?”
“Yes, I will,” I assured her.
“Moyo, you stay in the car,” Josephine said. “I have my nurse uniform on. I will go with her. She was ill last night. She came to my place. I gave her some injections. She was too weak to return home. She came to spend the night with me. How does that sound?”
“You are a genius, Josephine,” I said.
“Moyo, you owe me here,” Josephine said, gleefully.
“Anything you want, Josephine,” I said. Both Gina and I heaved a sigh of relief at the same time.
Gina stepped down from the bus, and Josephine followed her.
They were out of earshot. Gina hugged her mom and said some things I couldn’t hear. And Josephine also talked, after which Mama Gina hugged Josephine. I saw that Josephine’s plan was working. Then Mama Gina continued to talk. And immediately, Gina started crying. Mama Gina stood up and Gina collapsed on her shoulder, crying. Mama Gina began to cry. Josephine also was crying. The three of them went inside the buka.
A couple of moments later, they emerged from the buka and headed in my direction on the bus. As they got near me, I came out of the bus and approached them.
“My papa died, Uncle Moyo,” Gina said, weeping. “Mama, this is Uncle Moyo.”
Gina’s mother looked at me suspiciously. She could read something fishy going on. She was trying to figure out my place in the story that she just heard about Gina’s sickness. Her maternal instincts were telling her another story than the tale she was just fed.
But, apparently, a more urgent situation was at hand. They had to deal with the urgency of the death of Gina’s dad.
“My madam gave me the rest of the week off,” Gina said. “We will bury him this Saturday in Ogwuashi Ukwu.”
My head was spinning. Ogwashi Ukwu was in the delta part of Bendel, a state with a name combined from adding Benin and Delta to form a single word. But Ogwashi Ukwu is the Igbo-speaking part of the Delta. I didn’t realize Gina was Igbo. I thought she was Itsekiri or Urhobo, which are other ethnic groups within the Bendel State.
Mama Gina had composed herself. She extended her hand toward me, and I took it between my two hands. She looked stunning, not old enough to be Gina’s mother. She looked more like Gina’s sister. She was shorter than Gina, and her body was a bit rounder, but not by much. If she was seated, one could mistake her for Gina.
“Sorry to hear of your loss, madam,” I told her.
“Thank you, Mister Moyo,” her mother said. Her frown was no longer as intense, but her worry was still vivid on her face. She appeared to have accepted my inevitability. She realized there was a conspiracy going on, but she didn’t see me as dangerous.
“It was so sudden, Mister Moyo,” Mama Gina said. “A truck ran into him as he was returning home from work four days ago. He died two days ago at the hospital in Warri.”
“How tragic,” I said. “May his soul rest in perfect peace. Where is his body now?”
“At the morgue in the hospital,” Mama Gina said.
“Was the truck driver arrested?” I asked.
“Yes,” Mama Gina said. “A mob was about to lynch him, but the police saved him from them. Papa Gina was a popular man in town. Everybody loved him, especially children. He gave them sweets and biscuits and they sang for him. And the accident happened just a stone throw from our house.” Her eyes welled up and she used the tip of her wrapper to dab her eyes. She was wearing a double-layer wrapper popular among the Bendelites. It was different from the Yoruba women’s form of the wrapper. Her blouse, made of white lace, looked so elegant on her. She tied a head wrapper made of orange silk. You couldn’t guess she was mourning.
“The driver is in police custody?” I asked, knowing how corrupt the police could be. Once given some money, they could easily let the culprit go.
“No,” Mama Gina said. “He made an arrangement with us and I asked the police to let him go. He will pay for the funeral costs.”
Gina started crying again. “It’s alright Gina,” Josephine said. “At least he is no longer in pain. There are some things worse than death. Some of our accident patients at the hospital wish they were dead. Their injuries cannot heal and the cost of maintaining their pain is very high. Some family members are so traumatized that they run away and never return to care for their patients.”
Then, to my surprise, Gina came and rested her head on my shoulder. I looked in Mama Gina’s direction to see her reaction, but she looked away.
“Will you attend the funeral, Uncle Moyo?” Gina asked.
“In Ogwuashi Ukwu?” I asked. My head was thinking really fast.
“Yes, Gina,” Josephine said. “We will all be there. Just give me the address.”
Gina opened her bag and produced a pen and a piece of paper. She scribbled something on the paper and handed it over to Josephine. “That’s our address,” Gina said.
“We will do a traditional waking for him on Friday night,” Mama Gina said. “And the church service and burial will be on Saturday.”
“I will tell Rufus,” I said. “We will all come for the waking on Friday and stay for the burial of Saturday.”
“Thank you, Uncle Moyo,” Gina said. “I am so grateful Josephina. You should go now so you don’t get late for work. I still have to work out some details with my madam at the buka.”
“It’s alright, Gina,” Josephine said, climbing back into the bus. Gina took her head off my shoulder. Josephine said, “And don’t forget to drink lots of water, Gina. The injection you got last night requires you to be well hydrated.”
“Bye, Gina,” I said. “We’ll see you on Friday. Bye Mama Gina. And safe journey back home.”
“Bye, Mister Moyo and thank you, Josephine,” Mama Gina said. Gina didn’t say a word but waved at us.
I climbed back into the driver’s seat.
We drove slowly out of the university gate and headed toward Josephine’s hospital.
“She is going to need a lot of water after the injection you gave her last night, Moyo,” Josephine said. For a moment, I didn’t figure out what she meant. “She will miss you.”
“Nothing happened,” I said. “Believe it or not.”
“Thanks for giving me the option not to believe it,” Josephine responded. “I choose not to.”
“Poor girl,” I said. “Losing her dad so suddenly.”
“It’s devastating,” Josephine said. “But there is a silver lining. Funerals are very expensive here o. And the culprit will pay for the funeral.”
“He must have greased the hand of the police too,” I said. “Otherwise they wouldn’t cut him any deal.”
“I feel a little light-headed myself,” Josephine said. “I may not stay too long at the hospital today. Maybe it’s the long night. I hardly slept. Your crazy brother nearly killed me. Very rough man.”
“You were the one who got the injections,” I said, laughing. “Gina got no injections.”
“We already settled that matter,” Josephine said.
The bus cruised to the front of the hospital, and the gateman opened the gate for us. He recognized Josephine and greeted her with a wide grin. “Josephina!” he said, showing his teeth with two missing at the top. “What did you bring for me?”
“Corporal Joe, I will see you later,” Josephine responded. “I don late already.”
I drove slowly until I got to the general ward, where I parked the bus, to enable her to get down. She stepped down, and said, “Bye, Moyo. Tell Rufus I’ll be back sooner than later today.”
As she turned to go, I threw her a last glance.
“Hey, Josephine,” I yelled at her. “Stop. Come back inside.”
“What?” she asked.
“Your dress,” I said. “It is soaked with blood at the back.” I looked at the seat that she just left. It was also soaked with blood.
TO BE CONTINUED
Photo: Rufus Orisayomi with my friend, 1981,
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