ENGLISHMAN IN BENIN CITY, 1982 (Part Thirty-seven)
“You are quite ugly too,” Mary said without a pause. “I knew you had too much palm wine today.”
“You are angry?” I asked.
“I was only trying to let you understand a simple fact of life,” I explained. “Because you were unable to sexually arouse Joshua does not imply that Gina would also be unable to sexually arouse him.”
“In other words,” Mary continued, “Gina is so beautiful that she could get Joshua to impregnate her? Whereas me, I couldn’t even get him excited?”
“That’s exactly what I mean, and that has nothing to do with your own beauty,” I explained further.
“And that, oga,” Mary responded, “is exactly what I meant by you too are very ugly, no harm meant. You so ugly even your momma don’t love you no more.”
“Ha! You take is personal, therefore—you…”
“Gina is fine,” Mary boasted, “but I am by far more beautiful. But before we stray from the subject, claim your child and don’t give it to Joshua. That theory of Gina being so beautiful that she can bring the dead back alive is not working with me. Tell me a different story.”
I felt like I didn’t owe her any story and told her so. She laughed. “Anyway, they seem to have disappeared, Gina and your crazy friend. All your friends are not well.”
“You mean Obaseki?” I asked her. “They probably have missed their turning, like we did.”
“I’ll go inside the hospital and ask someone,” Mary suggested. “Though there’s no sign of their car or of them in the parking lot.”
I got out of the car and followed her through the gate into the open main door of the hospital.
The place seemed deserted. The moment we entered, however, we began to hear voices and started walking in that direction.
After a while, a voice asked, “Who is that?”
I coughed. Walking towards us was a woman dressed in the white uniform of the medical attendant, wearing a nose mask below her chin.
“Who are you looking for?” she asked.
“We are looking for two of our friends,” I said. “They headed here moments before us. One of them is seriously ill.”
“Nobody has been brought here all day today,” said the woman. “They must have gone somewhere else.”
“They said they were coming here,” Mary confirmed what I already told her. “They didn’t say they were heading elsewhere.”
“They have not been here,” the woman said. “You may go to the reception and wait for them. Please excuse me. I have some errand to complete.”
She turned and entered a room, disappearing. There were still voices in the background but you could not catch what they said.
“We can’t just sit around here waiting,” I said. “Obaseki probably freaked out and forgot where he was going. I should have followed them.”
“I agree,” Mary said. “Your friend didn’t sound fine upstairs.”
“He is sometimes off,” I agreed. “And I should have known better than to….”
“Stop the blame,” Mary suggested. “What do we do now? Wait here for some time, or what?”
“We go to Joshua’s place and look for them or inform him,” I suggested. “Or what do you think?”
“Joshua could never be home at this time,” Mary informed me. “But I know a couple of places in Benin where we could find him.”
“If he is in town, that is,” I said.
“I know he is in town,” Mary said. “He will chair the annual harvest ceremonial at our church this Sunday.”
“The same place where the pastor’s wife–”
“Yes,” Mary replied. “Guess what happened? They were transferred, pastor and his wife.”
“Where are they now?”
“Who cares?” Mary shrugged. “We have peace back at our church.”
“Let’s go find your lover,” I told her.
“Your rival,” she said. “There is a drinking bar near his car dealership. He uses the place as an office. He may park his car far from the drinking bar to hide his whereabouts from his old girlfriends. But I have connections there. Barmaid to barmaid connections. They’ll fish him out. We can start from there.”
We drove straight there.
He was not there. But Mary’s connection there had a story for us. Apparently, Obaseki brought Gina’s unconscious body there and began to act incoherently.
When Joshua figured out that Gina’s body was lying there, bleeding, at the back of Obaseki’s car, he freaked out.
He thought Obaseki had gone crazy and violated Gina.
He broke a beer bottle and stabbed Obaseki, missing the throat narrowly but leaving an ugly wound on Obaseki’s shoulder.
Everybody, we were told, was in the hospital either attending to Gina’s or taking care of Obaseki. Joshua was somewhere there in the melee.
Nobody at the hospital knew exactly where Gina was. I was looking quite lost when someone said, “Hello Moyo, looking for someone?”
It was a young woman in a nursing uniform. “We have not met formally,” she said. “But we have a couple of friends in common. Nurses. I’m Clara.”
“It’s great to meet you, Clara,” I said. “Yes, we are looking for a patient. A young woman. She was bleeding….”
“The woman in a white dress?” Clara asked?
“Yes,” Mary responded. I nodded.
“With a man also in a white dress?” Clara asked.
Mary and I exchanged glances and nodded. Yes, Joshua always wore white.
“They left,” Clara said. “They needed immediate attention and the emergency is very busy tonight. There were some stabbing cases….Such a busy night.”
“You wouldn’t know where the people in white left for?” Mary asked.
“Yes, I do, in fact,” Clara said. “I told them to waste no time and rush her to the Jude Hospital. That’s the only place they can give her the kind of attention she needs now. It is very expensive. They will take a big deposit before admitting her. But that’s their best bet. I think they said they were going there.”
We shook our heads in disbelief and thanked her. We ran back to the car and began to trace our way back to Jude Hospital.
The entire escapade was so overwhelming.
Suddenly, Mary started to laugh as I focused so intently on the road.
The traffic was already building towards the end of the office rush hours.
She laughed so hard, she collapsed on her seat.
I glanced at Mary and asked, “What is so funny?”
She didn’t say anything, but laughed some more, trying to cover her mouth with her hands.
“To be candid, Mary,” I said, “it’s a bit funny. But I will wait until I see Gina before I do my laughing.”
“It would have amounted to the same thing had we waited back at the Jude Hospital,” Mary said. “We ran all the way back into town, only to be speeding like a crazy man back to where we were less than one hour ago.”
“But if Joshua, rather than Obaseki, had showed up with Gina at Jude Hospital,” I said, “wouldn’t that have puzzled us?”
“Everything is still a puzzle to me right now, sir,” Mary said. “There are things here and there that I do not know and that you won’t tell me.”
“I can say the same thing,” I replied. “All the information you gave me today was free. Imagine what still remains untold, things you have not even told me.”
“I told you everything,” Mary said. “I don’t know why. See me running around with you like a regular accomplice. Yet I have only known you no more than a couple of hours.”
“I have told you everything too,” I replied.
“The most important part,” Mary insisted, “you keep from me.”
“What?” I was careful this time to take the turn at the right place, a lesson from the earlier error. “I keep nothing from you.”
“You still have not come clean about the father of Gina’s child,” Mary said. “I know it is not Joshua. You said it’s because I’m ugly, but I don’t believe you.”
“The truth comes into place one puzzle at a time. But we won’t get a new piece until we get to that puzzle,” I said.
“All that wayo talk,” Mary replied, “just to tell a lie?”
We were at the front of Jude Hospital.
Conspicuously parked at the entrance, inside the gate, is Joshua’s white Mercedes Benz saloon. The front tires are twisted abruptly, suggesting some urgency in trying to get out of the car.
I decided to leave the car outside the gate instead of parking inside the hospital compound. “Let’s go and find out what is happening in there.”
We both got out of the car and walked into the hospital premises.
A slight gust blew. The weather felt cold, and my body began felt fatigued. I looked at Mary, and for the first time, saw her as a human being, rather than a character who was serving me some food.
She looked lively and bright. She moved closer toward as the cold gust blew. Our bodies touched briefly and I hooked one finger into one of her fingers, for a couple of steps as we moved into the hospital building.
I was looking down as I walked, lost in thought.
When I looked up, standing at the hospital doorway, staring at us, was Joshua.
He looked like he was staring at ghosts. He had been watching us for a while, it seemed.
I quickly unhooked my finger from Mary’s. She also looked up and saw Joshua, both his eyes boring into us.
He seemed to have seen something he was pained to see, but could do nothing about.
Did he catch us with fingers locked together, or did he miss that?
But he stood like he was struck by an ailment that suddenly froze him alive, rooted to the same spot where we saw him.
“Joshua,” I said, “long time no see. How is Gina? We followed the two of you from the general hospital.”
He did not say a word.
“They said you brought her here,” I continued, “so we followed you.”
TO BE CONTINUED.
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