ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1982 (Part Thirty-five)
How could I have missed Obaseki’s car as he followed us from the campus? I prided myself in being careful on the road, paying attention to the vehicles around me, and particularly in making sure that I was aware of my environment.
But as a Yoruba proverb says, one cannot be as clever as the sneak who is observing one’s activities.
Any careless statement from Gina or me could escalate the delicate matter into a full-blown crisis.
“Obaseki,” I said, “there is a misunderstanding. You are not reading things correctly.”
“Don’t try to con—con—con–confuse me. I have—have—have eyes,” Obaseki insisted. “Some—some—something told me—me—me that you were take—take—taking her to a ho—ho—hotel. So—so—so I followed you. I know—know—know you very well. You—you—you can—can—cannot be trust—trust—trusted with women.”
Gina was covering her mouth with her palms, shocked. She finally recovered after a couple of minutes.
“Obaseki,” Gina said, “you are jumping into a wrong conclu—.”
“I trust—trust—trusted you,” Obaseki turned to Gina. “Joshua is—is—is my blood. I told him—him—him that you are depen—depen—dable. But—but—but you are not.”
“Obaseki,” I replied, “you met us having a drink.”
“Is your—your—your plan not to take—take—take her home la—la—later after your—your—your drink?”
“Oh no,” I corrected him. “We just came here to talk. That is all. I hadn’t seen her in months, and just wanted to—.”
Monday and Mary were at the bar watching the drama. Monday came out, turned to Obaseki and said, “Sir, please keep down the noise. We don’t like—.”
“Shurrup, you,” Obaseki yelled at Monday. “Or I will—will-will dish you—you—you a dirty slap. Am I talk—talk—talking to you? Who—who—who is your—your—your—rank!”
“Obaseki,” I said, “have you been smoking that thing again? Madam Ngu said that’s your problem. It sets you off. You can’t handle it. Your mom too said—.”
“You—you—you have been gossi—goss—goss—gossi—gossiping about me with that—that—that—witch?”
“Which witch?” I asked. “Iya Ngu or your mother?”
“You—you—you calling my—my—my—mother a wit—wit—wit—wit—witch!”
I was not prepared for what happened next.
Before I could get up from the chair, Obaseki launched at me with a head butt, knocking me to the floor. Gina was also on the floor next to me. As I tried to get up, Obaseki was on top of me, head butting me, and raining blows on me. He grabbed my head and pounded it against the floor.
Monday and Mary were begging him and trying to pry him off my top. But he was not yielding. He kept throwing combinations of blows on me.
He grabbed my neck and began to choke me. I knew I had to do something to save my life because Obaseki was going to seriously injure me. I was choking from the pressure of his hands around my neck.
Then Obaseki screamed, “You bit—bit—bit me, you—you—you this bitch!”
The pressure of his grip eased around my neck. Then he launched at Gina, who was still on the floor, and began to rain blows on her.
I scrambled up. Seeing him pounding Gina made me snap.
I was not the fighting type. I would do about anything to avoid a physical confrontation. The only time I was in a fight was when I was thirteen, as a secondary school student at the Olivet Baptist High School, Oyo.
I remember that secondary school fight as clearly as if it was yesterday. We were all in a boarding house, caged together like poultry chicken, all boys between the ages of twelve and seventeen.
The school had more than a thousand students in four hostels, Odetayo, Lockett, Pinnock and Atanda, named after Baptist missionaries who contributed to the establishment of the school.
I was in Odetayo House, which, as the other houses, was structured as a series of small rooms, with two long rooms.
I was in one of the two long rooms, Room Beta, together with other students of about my age, numbering about twenty students in all crammed in the room.
We were one big family, sleeping on double bunks separated by stacked wooden lockers.
Everything was shared—toothpaste, footwear, combs, clothes—we held all of them in common.
We knew who had pubic hair, and who didn’t.
As soon as your first pubic hair sprouted, you screamed and called everybody to see your accomplishment. We would count the number of the pubic hair and enter it in a log, keeping a tab on your progress.
And once you started producing sperm, you announced the news to everybody in Room Beta. And of course, we would gather and inspect your body, and would determine whether it was “solid” sperm, or just “water-sperm.”
Hunger was what we most held in common. We were always hungry. The school fed us three times a day, but it was never enough for our fast-developing bodies.
We were allowed to bring “provision” from home. The “provision” consisted of snacks, mostly biscuits and loaves of bread most of which we consumed during the first week after resumption from the vacations in-between the three-month terms.
What usually remained long after the first week of school resumption was garri—some sort of cooked cassava, pulped and ground into small particles. We would simply soak it in water—and if lucky, we would have a cube or two of sugar to sweeten it.
During the first week of resumption, which we call ọ̀sẹ̀ ìgbéraga (week of pomposity), we even added supplements such as Bournvita, Ovatine and milk to our garri snacks, nicknamed “garium sulphate.”
We were an uncontrollable bunch—and yours truly appeared to be totally out of order. I obeyed no school rules. They were made for mortals, not cuties like me.
We played hard.
Fighting was totally taboo.
But if, for one reason or another, two “in-mates” insisted on fighting, we would not discourage them. In fact, we would encourage them.
We would demand that the fight be made formal.
We would announce the fight. I, as the artist, would make the poster for the fight, indicating the names of the two fighters, the time of the fight, and the venue, which was the scout camp, a small clearing in the bushes at the fringes of the school campus.
Somebody would “print” the tickets—all handmade—which we would distribute free of charge.
Once the fight was announced, there was no backing out.
Each fighter would be given a coach, and a referee would be appointed.
The two fighters would take the lead, and all the rest of us would file behind them, yelling “Ticket, ticket, ticket….” As we filed off to the scout camp, others interested in the fight would join us. And since there was not much to do, we would have a good crowd to watch the fight.
I was always careful not to provoke anyone to the point of getting into a ticketed fight.
Until one day, when I was not so lucky.
There was a short student, Adenrele Adeniran, who I assumed I could easily destroy in a fight. We called him Ade Panko. Little did I know that being shorter than me did not mean that the guy couldn’t beat the daylight out of me in a fight.
He said he could beat me up.
I thought that statement was disrespectful. We began to argue.
And, oh my, they ticketed us for a scout camp battle.
I was not afraid. I actually thought that it was a mistake that Ade Panko wanted to take me on.
We marched ahead of the cheering crowd to the scout camp, some ten minutes from our room.
At the scout camp, they placed us in the middle, and formed a ring around us.
It was a free-fight. You could use any part of your body.
The rule of engagement was simple. You fought until you were tired, and the fight would be halted to give you some time to rest, after which the fight would resume.
The loser was whoever said he was tired of fighting.
So, we clashed, Ade Panko and I.
We fought hard, and when we got tired, they halted the fight. My trainer asked me to sit down, fanned my body with an exercise book, and instructed me on what I was doing right, and how I could improve.
“Your real strength is your leg kick,” he said. “You give deadly kicks. Draw him in, and deliver him some bad-ass kicks.”
We must have fought for more than one hour. We were both so exhausted, we could hardly lift our arms. But the audience was not satisfied. They wanted more.
“Fight!” the referee shouted.
But there was no energy in either of us. The referee propped us up and pushed us against one another, but we could not find the strength to deliver a blow or a kick.
“Why bring us to the scout camp to waste our time,” someone complained.
“This is like two lazy chicken fighting,” another said.
“Give them some water,” another suggested.
But we could not fight again.
They declared the encounter a draw. The referee said he would have to book a rematch.
I said, no, I was not interested in a rematch. Ade Panko agreed with me.
And we were both carried back to the hostel as champions, drained, and much wiser.
Ade Panko and I became the best of friends.
I learned that shorter did not imply weaker than me.
More importantly, I learned never to fight again. Why entertain these fools for nothing, and also get pummeled in addition!
As I watched Obaseki hitting Gina, I knew I had to break my oath of not fighting.
I grabbed a chair and crashed it on his back.
A leg of the chair broke, and he fell off Gina.
Gina got up from the floor.
Obaseki was still sprawled on the floor, but he looked fine.
I turned and went to give Gina a hug.
That was when Mary said, “Madam, you are bleeding!”
I was bleeding too and my mouth tasted salty. Somehow, I got a tiny cut on my lower lip.
I inspected Gina.
“She is not bleeding,” I said.
“At the back, sir,” Mary confirmed.
I turned her around.
And saw that the back of her white wrapper was soaked in blood.
“Is she having her period?” Monday asked Mary, as we all stared at Gina.
TO BE CONTINUED
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