He slapped her buttocks playfully as they walked past the lake near the parking lot. She tried to be nice.
It was painful, he looked like the kind that would have rashes in his pubic region; but fees had to be paid and time was running out.
“I have not eaten today. I am very hungry.”
“You are a strong woman o. It is past midday already.”
“I don’t have anything to eat.”
“Let’s go to my farm.”
“Please buy me some food there.” She pointed to the Mr Biggs outlet near the UBA building.
“Your farm is a bit farther than I can afford to go without food.” “It is just a twenty minute drive from here. I came with my Toyota.”
Sade looked at the car, metallic green, clean and new; it was not the latest model. It was as if Kasali hardly ever drove it. Sade glanced at her watch, folded her arms and kept her eyes on the floor.
“I have a lecture in two hours, and I am very hungry.”
In the restaurant, Kasali sat beside the air conditioner and Sade sat opposite her. He wore a clean but faded Ankara shirt and his feet had a shine as if he had rubbed Vaseline on them. She knew he had cleaned himself because the first time she had met him and on subsequent occasions after then she had noticed the odour that clung to him like an ugly ornament.
Until now, she had wondered whether he took pride in annoying everyone with his dirtiness. It was hard to imagine that anyone would feel at home with such shabbiness. It could be a step further on the path of eccentricity. He was old enough to be her father; but there he was, not bothered by his age.
The waiter came with a smile and a menu card. Kasali asked if they had pounded yam and bush meat, the waiter shook his head… no. He asked for eba and egusi. The waiter said it was not on the menu; he then asked for fufu. He glared at the waiter. “What sort of restaurant is this? You don’t have iyan, you don’t have eba, no fufu; then what on earth do you sell here? Do you ever have customers here?” He turned to Sade. “Who comes here? A restaurant in Akure Oyemekun does not have iyan, egusi, fufu, eba, ko si ila! What then do you sell here?”
The waiter brought fried rice and chicken, Sade preferred jollof rice and chicken. Kasali loved the spicy fried chicken that seemed pleasantly salty. He devoured it as if he had not eaten for days; he did not even notice Sade’s disapproval at the way he munched the bones and left no grain in the plate. His lips were smeared with vegetable oil. When the waiter brought him a small white sheet he stared at the bill, and at the waiter. “Two thousand three hundred?” The man looked confused. “Yes sir. That is the bill.” “Are you crazy?”
The customers in the nearby tables turned around with alert eyes, Sade noticed this and felt like disappearing. “That is the bill sir. The prices are on the menu card.” He stood up suddenly as if he would soon slap this man. “This is ridiculous! How can I pay two thousand three hundred for this? My ten year old can’t even have that and say he has eaten something.” He pointed at the empty plate before him, then at Sade’s plate. “This is what we are to pay two thousand three for?”
Sade feared he may not have enough cash with him and the embarrassing situation would soon aggravate.
He turned to Sade, as if to get some support. “Sade, look at this man. He wants to cheat me.” A man in a black suit walked to them. “Is there any problem?” he asked with a smile. “And who are you?” Kasali glared at him. “I am the manager,” the man replied calmly as if Kasali’s aggression was normal. “Oh, so you own this place? Look at the bill your boy brings here. The food is not even filling.”
The manager took the piece of paper from him and gave it a brief look. “That is the bill sir,” he said, still calm, still smiling. “Your daughter has been here before. She is quite familiar with our services and charges.” He turned to Sade. “You’ve been eating here?” Sade nodded; wishing once again that she had never had any reason to meet this man. She was relieved when he dipped his hand in his pocket paid the bill with crisp clean naira notes.
A flash of light got his attention. He jumped to his feet and his paces were quick. Sade turned to see where he was going. A tall, slim man with a camera and a red lanyard around his neck lowered his head and offered him a frozen smile. “What is it with you people? Am I your father? Why would you take my picture? Why? This is a place where people come to eat! Can’t a man eat in peace?” “Sorry sir.” “Look at me very well.”
The man held his camera tightly as if he was expecting it to be wrenched from him; he eyed Kasali cautiously. “Don’t ever take my picture again.” He pointed his hand to his ear. “You heard me? It is right to take my picture when I’m with government people; but it is going too far if I can’t even walk to my farm in peace.”
She felt better when he came back to her. Better than she would have felt if he had beaten the photographer. It was only rational to worry about the limits of an extremist. He sat down with a smug expression. “Do you love me?” she asked. His answer was quick: “I love you more than I would have loved to.”
“And you still have to force me to sleep with you?”
“I am not forcing you to sleep with me.”
“Then give me the money. Why do I have to come to your farm before I get the money?”
“When I love, I love with my whole being. Call it desperation and I would not be bothered. Call it passion and you are right.”
“Is it possible to love eight women at the same time? You have one heart, but you want to tell me that your heart belongs to eight women.”
“You cannot simplify things like that.”
“It is simple. I ask you to help me, but you won’t help me if I don’t have sex with you.”
“Don’t you love me? Don’t you appreciate my desire for you? Desire should tell you that something is precious.”
“Igbo and all sort of drugs are also desired by addicts. Are they precious? Some desires are not healthy. You see my breasts and the roundness of my buttocks and you want some pleasure.”
“What is wrong with that? I have seven beautiful women at home. If I don’t desire a beautiful African woman with a full healthy figure, what would I desire?”
“You are selfish. This is selfish desire. It has nothing to do with love.”
“It hurts me that you don’t believe me when I say that I love you.”
Tears flooded her face; she reached for a white handkerchief. Kasali pursed his lips and looked away. “You are treating me like a prostitute and you still want me to believe that I am not just one object of fascination. You want to use me.”
Kasali touched her shoulder. “I want us to share. You have what I need, I have what you need. I need you; it just happens that what you need will be given if I see you in my farm on a certain night. You are the one talking about deadlines. I am not the desperate one. I am not a liar. I love you. If you don’t believe me, I can’t force you.”
Sade decided to let it pass. A teenage boy with an AK47 had slipped his finger into her skirt and then into her in one of those stormy days of trying to survive the war. Hiding a diamond in her vagina was equally painful. She was a slave working for one of the warlords in the river beds; searching for diamonds as gun-clutching, hungry and angry-looking men watched. She reminded herself that this Kasali too would pass.
She had heard about Kasali, even before meeting him at the Seme refugee camp where his generosity provided more food every month. “Your farm must be very big. You could afford a truckload of yam every month.”
“I sell a truck of yam every month; but when I heard about the ECOWAS food initiative, I was not bothered about the money. I was happy to help, I was happy to give. My barn is full of yams; we have more than enough yams at home, to pound and to cook or roast.”
“Those men that come with you, are they your labourers?”
Kasali showed his teeth. “They are my sons. I work with my family.”
“Everyone on your farm is your son?” “My sons work with me, my wives are there, six other relatives stay with me.”
“But not everyone living with you works on the farm.”
“Every one of them.” He said and got Sade wide-eyed.
“It is a lot of work and it has been rewarding.”
“Is it rewarding for them too? Is everybody there happy to work? Are they all there willingly?”
He gaped at her. “I thought you said your great grandparents are Yoruba from this side.”
“Yes. They are from Ijaiye. Why did you ask?”
“Are you a student nurse or a lawyer?”
“I told you I needed the money for my fees at nursing school.”
“Our people say if a woman looks at oro, oro will carry her.”
Sade did not want to be threatened by this man and this talk of oro made her uneasy. “I don’t mean to offend you sir.”
He spread his arms. “I am not offended. Your Yoruba is good to hear and you speak easily. I am just wondering if the culture is still well preserved by our children abroad.”
“And you said you are not offended.” “Am I so hard to believe? I said I am not offended. You are a young Yoruba girl; I just want to be sure that I know you.”
“What does Yoruba have to do with me? Is it not our people that say we can’t all sleep with our head facing the same side of the world?”
“You are beginning to talk like those white people. This is one thing I hate about schools. They don’t tell us anything new. They just tell us what white people say about things.”
She drank from the cup. “The sciences and social sciences are based on reality. They are not just oyibo talk.” “We knew reality before they came.”
“Superstitions had a firmer grip on our life and culture.”
“Are you telling me there are no superstitions in science as it is now?”
She glanced at her watch. “At least it is not based on superstitions. Science could explain how twins came about. There was a time we thought twins were evil omens and should be killed. ”
“What will we ever get done if we are always trying to please the sensibilities of everybody? People live with me and I ask them to work with me. Why live with me if you cannot work with me?”
Sade looked away but could see him with the corner of her eye. “So what would you do if someone tells you he or she does not like farm work, and wants to work at the supermarket or go to school?”
“Once in a while someone tells me something like that. But once I tell them my mind, they stay.”
Sade sniffed and wiped a tear. “Your mind; that is all you tell them?”
“Why are you so suspicious? I tell you something and you question me like I’m a liar.”
“Someone wants to go to school or take a vocation, but simply chooses to change his or her mind after you speak your mind? I’m supposed to believe that?”
“How old are you?” His face was hard as if she had insulted him. She knew where he was going with the age thing, so she decided to ignore it. “Sade, I don’t like the way you are treating me. I give you so much respect despite your age. I like to be accorded my due respect.”
“I’m sorry. I just want to know a lot more about you. I was once a happy child, but life has taught me to ask questions and face my fears.”
“All these questions are to face your fears?”
“I am no longer afraid to speak my mind. Sometimes my thoughts make no difference but I should be free to say my mind.”
Kasali removed his cap and ran his hand over his hair. “Do you believe in freedom?”
“Don’t you believe in it?”
He snorted; the questions irritated him, but he decided to keep his eyes on the prize. He put the cap back on. “I’m here asking a beautiful woman to spend some time with me. Am I free? A president plans to contest an election and dies in a plane crash before the elections; is he free? A woman gets married to a man she is expected to have sex with for the rest of her life. Is that what you mean by freedom? Malaria grounds a muscular man and leaves him shivering and sweating and panting like a wounded starving animal. And he is supposed to be free. Who is not free to speak his mind? You are right. Anybody may say anything, some words are good to hear.”
“The world is evil,” she said, “but when it comes to us we have to try and do good. We have to do good without expectations.”
“Everything we do will be rewarded. It is about that. For me it is not about expectations. Our people say whatever you sow you will reap. I act according to my conscience. I have never committed a crime. The government knows me and they know where I live, my record with them is clean. Freedom is not out there.” He pointed at her chest. “It is in there. In the heart. In the mind. Just live life. Don’t try to explain and understand and name everything. Just deal with me like a lover, because that is who I am.”
“I’ve heard you.”
“And besides, you look like that lovely dark skinned girl in afro on the Bata ad.”
To read more, buy your copy of Kasali’s Africa, available in the following places:
Ceci Plaza, Alagbaka Akure
Terra Kulture, 1376 Tiamiyu Savage Street, VI.
Laterna Ventures, 13 Oko Awo, VI
Ebeano Supermarket Plot 9, Northern Business District, Lekki Phase 1.