ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Twenty-Nina)
Some fire seemed out of Papa Ru as he sat, something which would be clear to someone who knew him well, and might not be noticed by others.
I saw the difference in the grey dim to his eyes. It was less in the bow that formed around his shoulders as he leaned forward on the table, under which Obaseki was hiding. But Rufus was hardly aware of his own body yet. It was the first time he left his room since we carried him there the moment we arrived from burial. He seemed to have a hard time just keeping his face from falling off his head. As if to ensure that did not happen, he pressed his chin into his palm, his elbow resting firmly on the table for support, seemingly carrying the entire weight of his torso.
I looked at Steve. He held his breath. I was not breathing either. I was willing to bet anything that Obaseki under the table was breathing. Rufus did not notice we were asphyxiating. He breathed in deep, and pushed back deeper into the straight-back wooden chair, as if it was an air bed.
It felt like he was going to leave some important message and that was his chosen moment.
“Yesterday, in one of my many dreams—who knows whether it was yesterday or several days ago—but in a dream I returned to the day I left Iludun. I probably was ten or twelve. I was sure,” Rufus said.
“To give you a better background, Moyo and Steve,” Rufus said, “you have to understand that I don’t know my exact date of birth. All I remember was growing up with my grandfather, who was a hunter.”
Oh My God! He was going to narrate the story of his life. Obaseki was in for a long wait under the table.
“My earliest memories were moving over long distances, riding astride the back of my grandfather’s neck,” Rufus told us. “We moved through the forests day and night, from one place to another. Later, I remembered that I began to walk on my own alongside with him. We went hunting to far places. I especially enjoyed night hunting. I did not go to school like the rest of the children at Iludun because I was always with my grandfather. The man was really old, and I was becoming a reliable hunting guide. I longed for the day I would take over from him and could go hunting without him. One morning we woke up to find that grandpa had died in his sleep during the night.”
“The death of baba became a serious turning point in my life, because I was sent to live with my mother. I knew she was my mother, and I always felt free to steal pennies occasionally from his safe, but I had never lived with her before. She promptly placed me in the primary school. They didn’t know in what class to place me because I was a grown up, and couldn’t start me at the lowest class. They thought I looked so wild I could just eat my classmates. They started me off at Primary Three. After a couple of months, they moved me to Primary Four.
It was the most boring thing I had ever seen in my entire life.
I decided to run away and leave the village entirely. I knew I would run away. But I just didn’t know where I was running to”
Adolo stepped in, saying “Rufus, your food is on the table. Or do you want it here?”
“No,” I said, before Rufus could answer. “It’s best for him to eat at the sitting room.”
“Why,” Rufus asked. “Better here. Don’t want to be moving around too much.”
“Good for your legs, Rufus,” Steve implored. “Don’t just sit in one place.”
“It’s true Rufus,” Adolo said. “And it’s already set on the table anyway.”
“You’ll make me forget the dream I was narrating,” Rufus said.
“No,” I said, pulling up and off the bed with a groan. My entire body ached. “Let’s go to the sitting room to listen to the story,” I said, opening the door wider. “I was enjoying it.”
Rufus stood up with a loud grunt, then fell right back into the seat.
“Ouch,” he exclaimed, “that was hard. Adolo, please bring the ogi here.”
Adolo yelled, “Bring Papa Ru’s food in here, Felicia!”
“Coming, madam,” Felicia responded in jest. “Oga don wake?”
“He is awake,” Adolo said.
“I’ll be there in a second,” Felicia announced.
And in less than two minutes, Felicia yelled from Rufus’s room, “I have your food here. Come get it before it turns cold.”
“I’m in Moyo’s room,” Rifus said. “I just want the akara. I’m not keen on ogi.”
“When did you leave your room? ” Felicia yelled back. “I didn’t realize you were up. You were still fast asleep last time I saw you.”
“Me asleep? With you sleeping next to me! Blaspheme,” Rufus said, eagerly digging into the bowl containing the akara balls and seizing one of them. “This looks and smells delicious,” he said, biting into it. “Yummy,” he declared.
“It’s got a lot of burning spices in it,” Felicia said. “I deliberately made it high dose spicy. To open up the pores all over your body.”
“Just exactly what I needed,” Rufus said.
“But you can’t eat such a hot dish and still talk,” Adolo said. “It’s hazardous. You should eat at the sitting room. Where you have cold water from the fridge.”
“Just leave me here,” Rufus said. “I’m happy where I am. This akara is incredible. Did you add sugar to it?”
“Of course,” Felicia said, ironically. “I added heaps of sugar to it.”
“You people now add sugar to yam and beans when you cook,” Rufus continued. “You are flirting with diabetes.”
“Not me,” Adolo responded. “I don’t even use sugar on gari when I soak it.”
“They say honey is as bad as sugar,” Steve said.
“Not the type of honey we have back in Iludun,” Rufus observed. “Until I ran away from home and arrived in Ado Ekiti, I didn’t taste sugar. We had the pure natural honey from local beehives.”
All I could think about was Obaseki. What was going on with him under the table?
“The day I decided to run away from Iludun,” Rufus said, “it started like a joke. Mama was leaving for the local market…”
There was a loud knock on the door.
I had become aware someone was at the door for some time. But the drama inside the room had been so gripping that I was not paying sufficient attention to anything outside.
Now the knock was so loud we could not ignore it.
Adolo yelled, “Who is that?”
And Felicia rushed to the door.
A moment later, Felicia came back.
“Mister Rufus. Your mama is here,” she says.
“What?” Rufus screamed. “She said she was coming in my dream!”
“She is in the sitting room.”
Rufus took in a deep breath. A sudden jolt of vigor went through his body. His face lit up as if from the inside out. He almost bolted out of the chair as he ran for the door, making for the sitting room.
Steve, Adolo and Felicia followed him. Excited, both Rufus and his mama were talking really loud, and I could hear them from my room. I had my ears tuned to two directions at the same time, because I was also paying attention to Obaseki.
“So, Obaseki,” I said. “What are you going to do? Rufus’s mother is in the sitting room.”
TO BE CONTINUED.
Painting by author. Acrylic on canvas,