ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY 1981 (Part Thirty)
“My he—he—he=aler at the psychi-psychi-atric hos—hos—hos–pital made me sw-sw-sw-ear never to have a con—con—con—con—con-fron-front-tation again with Miiiiiiiiisster Ru—ru-rufus,” Obaseki was whispering to me, from under the table. “Says he-he-he will bring me back back in.”
“It’s okay, Obaseki,” I said. “You come out and sit here at the table. I will go and see what’s happening.”
“Don’t, don’t, don’t leave me, Mo-Mo-Moyo,” Obaseki pleaded. “Please- plea-se-stay-stay-stay-don’t—don’t go….”
“It’s alright, Obaseki,” I assured him. “Whatever the matter is, we will get to the very bottom of it today. This is really ridiculous!”
“My healer, my lealer, says, not to go near Rufus,” Obaseki pleaded. “He says if I fight—fight-fight-fight-fight with Rufus again, he-he-he- will bring—bring—bring- me back—back-back-back—back right inside. I don’t—don’t—don’t—don’t want to go back—back—back–back inside.”
“You won’t go back inside,” I assured him. “Just stay here. I will go and straighten things out with Rufus. It must all end today.”
“To—to—to—to—day?” Obaseki said, his body shaking. “Is this—this—this water?” He pointed the cup on the table. Felicia had left the water for me with my breakfast. But I didn’t tuch it. The hot pap was enough liquid as far as I was concerned.
“Yes,” I nodded. “It’s good water.”
Obaseki picked it up with a shaky right hand, then he supported the cup with his left hand, to control the shaking, and lifted the cup to his teeth, which appeared shut tight.
“Calm down Obaseki,” I told him. “We will handle it today, Obaseki.”
“Okay, Moyo,” he said. “Okay. Thank you. Thank you, Moyo.” He was calmer after drinking the water.
“Just stay in here, Obaseki,” I told him. “I’ll come and get you when the time is right, okay?
“Okay, yes, Moyo,” he said. “It’s totally okay. Thank you. Thank you, thank you, Moyo.”
He looked much better.
I went to the sitting room.
It was much different in the sitting room. Everybody was laughing and talking.
Mama Rufus was seated by herself on the large couch. She was a magnified version of her son and she sat right in the center of the couch, taking over the entire structure with her personality. It was not so much the size that overwhelmed the sofa, it was the aura of her being. It goes beyond the sofa, filling the entire room. She had a smile on her face that seemed so natural, a permanent feature that didn’t seem to change irrespective of the circumstances.
On the far right side of Mama Rufus, Steve perched on the support of the sofa. He looked like he wanted to scoot into Mama Rufu’s entrails. Rufus had told him so much about her that hse had become the true and authentic African symbol for him. People like Rufus or I no longer counted. We were tainted. His ears were flapping out, absorbing everything around.
To his right was Rufus, in the humblest position I had ever found him. It was a mixture of guilt, love and helplessness. His entire body was animated. The child in him was out to play. Yet there was a restraint on him psychologically that I couldn’t believe existed there.
I saw the duality from which Rufus emerged like the flash of a picture. There was a guilty side that felt like he was having by far too much fun. And there was the surging spirit that moved and soared irrespective of whatever was pulling him down physically or psychologically. The third component pulls energy from the free spirit, aware of the other aspect. The overall character is from a fourth level that is an attractive, complex and impossible to predict collage, integrated in the person of Rufus.
The flash of that collage exploding at that moment was the child Rufus: Adolo and Felicia sat at the table listening to Rufus and his mother.
Rufus lifted his face when he saw me entering the sitting room. “That was what I was just telling you, Moyo,” Rufus said, gesturing in my direction. “I was telling you about the day I stole my mama’s money and ran away from home.”
“And two nights ago, I was dreaming of that same day I returned home and found Rufus was gone,” Mama Rufus said. “I decided to come and find him and see what he is up to recently.”
Rufus, excitedly, interjected, “The same time I was dreaming she told me she was coming to look for me. But I was in Bradford, and just got a fat BBC deal to film a documentary on Overamwen, the Benin tragedy. I was telling her to wait until I left Bradford for Benin, but she said she was leaving, and I was thinking she wasn’t going to locate me anyway….”
“And here she is,” I said. I went before her and prostrated. She smiled broadly at me. I saw that she opened her lips far beyond the permanent smile-mask she typically wore. I saw the bright light in her eyes as she touched me on the back, blessing me as I laid prostrate before her. She asked me to get up, and I did. I went to stand next to Adolo.
She whispered in my ears, “Where’s Obaseki?”
“In my room,” I whispered back in her ears.
“That morning, I was ready for when you would depart for the big monthly market,” Rufus was saying to his mother. “You had been preparing for the market for some two weeks earlier. And the nearer the day of the market, the more excited you became. Finally, on the day of the market, as you were packing your things to hit the road before dawn, it suddenly dawned on me: today or never.”
“That day, as I packed, I was thinking, once I sold some of the things I had ordered at the monthly market, I was going to place you on a truck and send you to Ibadan to be with uncle. I was thinking, ‘This place is not for Rufus,’ I was thinking. His eyes are too far away. The surrounding looked like he was not there. I felt he was going to run away. It was better to send him away to a person I knew than for him to run away to a place I didn’t.”
“As you packed in the dawn, thinking I was still sleeping,” Rufus continued, “I was just pretending. I was praying that you would leave enough money in your “secret” safe for me to make my getaway. You thought I didn’t know your secret safe because you always waited until I was asleep before going there. I knew the game of sleeping while awake.”
“That morning, I was not sure whether to leave much more behind in the safe,” Mama Rufus continued. “If I took more money with me, I could preorder dried cassava from visiting farmers. If I preordered I paid the current price, knowing fully that the price never dropped and could only rise. But if I waited another couple of weeks, maize would be out and I would be able to bargain for maize and dried cassava at the same time with the same farmers, at better bargains. I decided to wait. So there was enough money for you to steal. I didn’t for a moment imagine you knew where my safe was hidden.”
Rufus laughed, throwing up his legs and leaning back into the cushion seats of the chair.
Adolo whispered in my ears, “Are we going to secret Obaseki out through the bathroom at the back? I can go and open the window from the outside and he could jump out easily.”
“No,” I said, “he is fine. He drank some water and settled down.”
Adolo shook her head. “From the eye of a nurse, I see a man who did not take his medication today.”
Rufus kept laughing at his mother’s statement. He said, “Thank you for deciding to leave money behind that day. When I got into the safe and opened it wide, I could not believe how much money was in there. And behind the safe was another safe. I took everything. I calculated you must be rich because you still going to make even more from the market that day.”
“When I got to the market that day,” Mama Rufus said, “something told me there was a problem. I couldn’t place it. All my goods sold very quickly. I decided to return with the afternoon bus because there was no need to wait for the farmers. Had I waited for the farmers, I would have taken the evening bus. And I wanted to return home quickly to ensure that you ate well when you returned from school. I had been modifying my routines since you started living with me, after Baba Ode transitioned. Good thing I took the afternoon bus. The evening bus has a front tire bust, with the vehicle somersaulting several times. Lives were lost in addition to lots of goods coming from the market.”
“The moment I cleaned your safe,” Rufus continued, “I grabbed my two pairs of trousers and couple of shirts and threw them in my handbag. I didn’t wash my face or eat the rice you left for me. I went straight for the motor park. And I happened to be the last passenger. The conducted took one look at me as I sat down, and as the truck pulled out, and said, ‘You are a runaway. It has it written all over you.’ I didn’t say anything. I was just clutching the bag with my belongings. I felt my money in my pocket. I was on my way to Akure, via Ado Ekiti, according to my plans.”
That was the moment we heard a spine-curdling, beastial sound reverberating from the corridor and moving slowly toward us in the sitting room.
We all turned in that direction.
Coming from my room, Obaseki entered the sitting room. He had his hand raised up in the surrender position.
He was stark naked. He had removed all his clothes.
As we all gazed at him, he released that spine-cuddling yell again, as if a beast lived inside him. Then he fell on his knees and began to sob.
TO BE CONTINUED