ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1981 (Part Thirty-One)
Gina sat on the floor by the doorstep waiting for us when we returned late to Benin City from Iludun. I didn’t she was sitting there until the headlamps lit up the spot where she was and Felicia said, “Hey, is that not Gina?”
It had been a long day spent mostly on the road and it took me a minute to adjust my mind to what was happening. I was exhausted from hours of driving on rough roads to and fro Iludun, Mama Rufus’s place.
We had passed through many towns I knew only from the tales that folks told about them. Ado Ekiti caught me by total surprise. As I slowly drove through the main street of the city, I turned to Steve, sitting next to me with his camera, and confessed that I would have sworn it was a much bigger city, given all the stories I had heard about the place.
“Not too bad,” Steve said. “Looks romantic. Population, say, fifty thousand? Maybe a little less?” He glued his eyes to the sides of the road, shooting pictures of the women and the children, the men in their indigenous suits, everybody moving so leisurely it appeared they were not in a hurry to get out of the blazing sun.
The street was bumpy. It would have been better left untarred because the patches of bitumen on the raw red ground only added to the bumpiness of the road. The local drivers knew how to navigate the street better than I did.
That morning, I decided to drive. Steve really itched to drive but I reminded him he did not have a driving license and the police at the checkpoints were going to extort money from him when they found that out. He reluctantly climbed down from behind the wheel and I jumped right in.
The others heaved a sigh of relief. Apparently, I wasn’t the only scared that Steve was going to drive us off a cliff somewhere if we allowed him to handle the car.
The roads were not too busy because it was a Sunday. We were taking Mama Rufus back to Iludun after she had spent two days with us in Benin City. She arrived early Friday, and, though we begged her to stay at least a week, she said she was returning to her trade that Sunday. She was an independent woman and did not fancy the notion of her friend minding her store for her. She didn’t do her actual marketing in Iludun, but always kept her Iludun shop open just in case someone from the town needed something urgently. The sky opened up and torrents of rain fell as we drove into the village.
It was fascinating to see kids in the village calling her Iya Rufus. If only they knew that the Rufus they called by his first name was old enough to be their father.
We left Benin six in the morning. The road was good while we were on the Benin-Ore highway. But we soon branched off that highway at Uselu, and headed towards Akure on a road that technically was still under construction. The road was already done, but it was not yet officially declared open, and hardly anybody used it. The commercial drivers used a different route where they could pick more passengers along the way.
Leaving the busy Oselu intersection free, the road construction workers mounted a roadblock a couple of miles off the busy crossroads. They used the roadblock to extort money from the few bold drivers who wanted to take advantage of this new road to avoid the potholes of the old motorway.
I pulled the car to a stop at the roadblock and the construction workers walked toward my side of the bus. But they noticed Steve immediately. With shouts of “Oyinbo,” they flocked to his side of the car, and hailed him to give them money.
I looked at them, and said, “Oyinbo is here to inspect this highway under construction. He has been sent from Lagos to see if this road was being constructed properly. Who is the foreman here?”
They all withdrew immediately from Steve, piling up by their makeshift shed. One man who was smoking a cigarette asked them to open the roadblock, which they quickly did.
I drove through without hesitating.
“You are crazy, Moyo,” Adolo said, chuckling. “You sure got them in a small panic out there.” She sat next to Rufus in the middle row of the bus. I noticed she was leaning against him.
Felicia giggled. She was sitting next to Mama Rufus in the back row.
“I had nothing to lose,” I told her. “At the worst, they would ask for an ID and we would give them fifty kobo—at the most.”
We enjoyed driving on the new road all the way to Akure, where we forked right to the road to Ado Ekiti. It was nothing short of a nightmare. Steve had his camera with him and took pictures every ten minutes. He had Ektachrome films, meaning he would print the films as slides, and he could also print regular pictures from those special films. I have never seen the rolls of Ektachrome films before. But they looked just like regular films to me.
Steve did not seem to mind the roughness of the road. He actually said he enjoyed them. He remarked that he had never seen ridden on such an “adventurous road” before.
The two days that Mama Rufus spent with us in Benin were still playing in my head.
When Obaseki walked naked into the sitting room, with Mama Rufus right there looking, I could have died of embarrassment. But Adolo’s reflex was quick. She immediately removed her wrapper and went to cover him where he was on his knees, sobbing. She had her shots below the wrapper.
Obaseki did not hold on to the wrapper, but crawled on his knees to where Rufus was seated, still sobbing. Adolo followed and adjusted the wrapper to cover him up waist down.
“I don’t—don’t—don’t want-want-want to-toto-to go back in please, Mis—mis—mis-mister Ru-ru-fus,” Obaseki was sobbing.
I got up and knelt down next to him, saying, over and over again, “It’s alright, Obas. It’s okay. You won’t go in. You’ll be okay. Just calm down….”
“My hea—hea—healer said he would take-take-take me in if I got—got—got into a fi—fi—fight with Rufus a—a—a—again.”
“Let’s go get your things,” I told him, trying to pull him up, while also keeping the wrapper from falling from his body. But he kept struggling with me, speaking incoherently about not wanting to return in, while I kept assuring him he was not going back in. Finally, somehow, the shaking tormenting his body subsided. But he kept sobbing.
Mama Rufus sat there as if there was nothing unusual going on.
“Give him some water to drink,” Mama Rufus said, very calmly. “Then take him to the bathroom and pour some water over his body.”
Obaseki stopped shaking when he heard Mama Rufus’s voice. Felicia appeared with a glass of water and gave it to Obaseki who promptly gulped it down.
I got him to stand up, still propping up the wrapper on him. I pushed and dragged him back to my room.
“But I told you to stay here, Obas,” I said.
“It’s my-my-my healer. My hea—hea—healer said he would take-take-take me in if I got—got—got into ano—ano—ano–ther fi—fi—fight with Rufus a—a—a—again.”
All his clothes were dumped on the same spot. I helped him to put them on.
Adolo knocked on the door and entered without waiting for a response.
“You are having a psychotic episode, Obaseki,” Adolo said. “You will soon be okay.”
“My hea—hea—healer said he would take-take-take me in if—if—if….”
“Did you take your medication today?” Adolo asked.
Obaseki did not answer her. She concluded, “You did not. That’s the problem. You have to go home and take your medication.”
“…if I got—got—got into a fi—fi—fight with Rufus a—a—a—again,” Obaseki was saying.
“Should we take him to the hospital?” I asked Adolo.
“No—no—no please…. Not—not the hos—hos—hos—hospital,” he pleaded.
“We will take him home,” Adolo said. “It’s just a bad episode. He will be fine once he takes his drugs and sleeps.”
Steve and Felicia joined us. “I know his mom’s club,” I said. “It’s not far from here. I will take him there and see if she is around.”
Steve said, “I’ll go with you.”
“Adolo should come with us too, please,” I said. “Felicia can go and take care of Mama. I bet she must be hungry.”
“I was already preparing the extra room for her,” Felicia said. “But it needs some cleaning.”
I held Obaseki on one side, and Steve held him on the other and Adolo steadied him from behind. We all walked out of my room. Rufus and Mama Rufus were still sitting at exactly the same spot.
“I knew I heard his voice earlier this morning,” Rufus said as we left the house. “But I thought it was in a dream.”
Obaseki hesitated when he heard Rufus’s voice, but we pulled him away. We bundled him into the back of the bus, and Adolo sat next to him. I clicked the button of the center lock of the car, so nobody could get out unless I released the button. With everybody secure, I pulled out and headed toward the clubhouse where I last saw Obaseki.
He had calmed down considerably. He was now breathing properly. When we got to the front of the club, he saw his mother’s car and said, “She is here.”
TO BE CONTINUED.
Picture shows me today venturing into the park. Why didn’t that occur to me in the last six months I had been hiding at home from the Covid? The parks are safe, with hardly anybody, and the air was cool and fresh.
I took off my shirt and enjoyed the space. I only wore my shirt to take the picture.
I will use the park more frequently now.