Apala of Oga Tunji
This piece was submitted by Adéwálé Àjàdí as part of the 2015 PEN World Voices Online Anthology.
OGA TUNJI. Forty-year-old Nigerian executive. Articulate, patriarchal—a real change from his teenage and young-adult life of openness and exploration. Feigns or adopts a tough pose, usually serious, and desires respect for his achievements.
MADAM BIOLA. Contemporary of her husband, Oga Tunji, in age and in schooling. Business executive and de facto head of household. A God-fearing woman who spends all her free time in church or watching Pentecostal/Christian TV. Her marriage has no sizzle, but she wants a son. The couple has two girls already.
EKAETTE. Oga Tunji’s young mistress. Pragmatic, possessive, and very demanding. Contemptuous of his marital status, she craves the social rehabilitation that marriage to Oga Tunji will offer but cannot be seen to seek it.
OBALOLA. Driver who has a polytechnic qualification and is well read but has little exposure. Lost prior bank job because of restructuring. Curious, open, and challenging of authority. As a result, the benefit of his potential eludes him.
A lush living room with large chairs and sofa. A big TV dominates the area like a space ship and there are words of blessing on the wall. As if in contrast, in one small side of the room there are carvings from different cultures that look like collector’s pieces. The room seems completely at peace and undisturbed. The silence is suddenly shattered by raised voices: a deep male voice and a high-pitched, frantic female response.
OGA TUNJI. I am sick of that errant idiot we call a driver. This is Lagos. For God’s sake, that idiot drives as if he is taking his GCE or whatever passes these days for a school certificate. I am not having any more of it.
MADAM BIOLA. There you go exaggerating again and calling the Lord’s name in vain. The man just exercises Christian patience.
OGA TUNJI. Then let him drive the flock in your church or Pastor Obadiah himself. I cannot continue to suffer that fool in my presence. He seems to think speaking in tongues advances driver competence. Did you see how he had us stuck on Third Mainland Bridge on such a Saturday night? Think of the jewellery on you and all this Owambe clothing. We were sitting targets for armed robbers. Girl, you think that your church will offer special deliverance to such stupid people. Well, today the chips fall where they may. He is sacked.
MADAM BIOLA. You do not mean that, do you? (In Nigerian patois.) What did the man do that was such a crime?
(OGA TUNJI plunks down on the seat, switches on the TV, and does not say a word. MADAM BIOLA walks right in front of him, but he moves aside to watch the TV. They do a little dance as she tries to block him and he tries to see the screen. She snatches at the remote control and turns off the TV.)
MADAM BIOLA. I know you are head of the family but how will I explain this to Pastor? You know that David is his half brother. It is our Christian duty to help people like him.
OGA TUNJI. Look, look, you ask too much of me. E le wa pa mi ke! I cannot put my life at risk because you are a deaconess in the church. That is your vanity. That man is a walking disaster area. I mean how many accidents can a man have? The shame is that you are willing to confuse this worker-in-the-vineyard stuff for a lifestyle. Is it not enough that I have ceded our love life to the church? Do you want me as a human sacrifice as well? (Tuts as he waves MADAM BIOLA from the front of the TV.)
MADAM BIOLA. In God’s name, I rebuke such comments.
(MADAME BIOLA falls on her knees and starts to speak in tongues and shake. OGA TUNJI looks at her bowed form with initial distress, and then in disgust, he stands to leave. She stops her prayers and grabs his leg.)
MADAM BIOLA. Where are you going? The devil will not have a place in our relationship. I rebuke him. I do not know what has come over you. Let us pray together that this house is cleansed of any kind of destructive force. (She starts to pray, one hand still around his thighs, the other in prayer and supplication.)
OGA TUNJI. Biola, why do you think that everything that happens in our life is about church? We cannot contract out all our choices to religion. I am not having that fellow drive my children and me around town. If you want him, pay for it. You earn enough. Sebi, you are operation officer for a bank. E wo na fi gbara. Try paying for that dunce for once.
MADAM BIOLA. You are my husband and I must honour your choices.
OGA TUNJI. I thought so. Be ni tie nri. You and your money. Apart from the 10 percent tithe you give to the church, your red cent will not even go towards anything in this house. Anyway, I am not paying for that fool. Tell his brother the Pastor anything you want. Tell him that God helps those who help themselves, and God can help himself to this fool. (He laughs and shakes his head.) Biola and money. Na Wa O!
MADAM BIOLA. But you know that what is yours is ours. What is mine is mine. I am a good wife and mother, am I not?
(OGA TUNJI keeps shaking his head and frees his leg. Laughing, he grabs his car keys and takes off his Agbada as he heads for the door.)
MADAM BIOLA. So, Oyetunji Onibudo, where are you going this nighttime?
(He continues towards the door with a slight slow down in his stride.)
OGA TUNJI. I am meeting the boys at the club. Do not wait up, OK, I will be late. (He increases his stride and walks out of the room, slamming the door.)
MADAM BIOLA (calling out at the closed door in futile rage). Oyetunji! Oyetunji! You are playing with fire. Darling, don’t do this!
Which boys have no home or family to go to at this time of night? You, a man of substance looking for what is not missing all over the streets of Lagos. Which boys will give their wives sleepless nights and their children fatherless bedtime tales? Which boys will feed the night their most enthusiastic passions and deny their home the warmth of their smiles? Oyetunji, answer me answer me.
Oyetunji! Oyetunji! Lord, deliver us from Satan and his emissaries! Oh Lord, from boys who disguise their demons as recreation. Olorubn gbami O, Gbami O. (She breaks into tears and falls on her knees, speaking tongues and shouting.) It is well. It is well.
OGA TUNJI is laying next to EKAETTE, both sharing post-coital warmth.
EKAETTE. Are you staying the night or rushing off as usual?
OGA TUNJI. There you go spoiling the moment again. Of course, I have to go but it does not mean that is what I want.
EKAETTE (with the voice of a temptress). So stand up for what you want. Life is too short. (Pauses for response.) Just shows who wears the trousers in your house. (She gets out of bed and starts to walk away with an exaggerated sway of her hips.)
OGA TUNJI. Damn girl, you know how to get me going. Come back here now and finish what you have started. Imagine what I was thinking when we first met. Is that a walk you use on all the bank’s customers?
EKAETTE. Aha, Tunji! I took one look at those big eyes of yours and I had to have you. I bet you get propositioned all the time.
OGA TUNJI. Never mind that you sure know how to make my nature rise. So you had plans for me even in that refinancing meeting. Believe me, all I wanted was to watch you walk past as the skirt stretched to the limit of endurance. MBA or not, I am glad we do not work together or I would get nothing done.
EKAETTE. You know I love it when you are boss. If you are sure you still have the energy, make something happen. Come now, show me who is in charge here.
(He grabs her and they cavort around on the bed. Light fades and we can hear giggles and laughter.)
EKAETTE. You will pay for my hair, oh. See, see, it took me hours to get it like this. It will cost you, oh. Please mess it up as much as you like.
TUNJI’s living room again. Half-finished breakfast plates are strewn about. The radio is playing gospel music and BIOLA is singing along. She is so engrossed that she does not hear the knock on the door. OBALOLA waits discreetly by the door. BIOLA continues her praise worship, oblivious to the waiting OBALOLA. She waves her hands in praise, then prepares to kneel down as she mutes the music with the remote control. At the same time, OBALOLA decides to announce his presence.
OBALOLA. Good Morning, madam. I need the keys.
(BIOLA is completely startled and falls over with fear.)
BIOLA. Please take anything you want—anything, but do not touch me. I am a Christian woman. Do not rape me, please.
(OBALOLA stands there at first with his mouth open in shock. Then he starts laughing hard, holding his palms as if in surrender, but he cannot control his laughter.)
BIOLA. You can laugh at me, but you will not enjoy me. I will just lie down there, so you had better just take the car and other things.
BIOLA. Oya, do want you must but you will regret it. That Animal in you and those rough hands on me! God will be in control. You will not get away with it even though we are the only people in the house. God sees what you are going to do. He knows that it is against my will.
(She starts to disrobe, taking off her wrapper and struggling out of her top. He holds his sides to control himself and he rushes to prevent her from completely disrobing.)
OBALOLA. Madam, I beg, O, I am the new driver. I no be armed robber oh!
(It takes some time for his words to sink in. The realisation seems to dawn on BIOLA belatedly.)
BIOLA. You mean you are not? You enter my house unannounced. Are you mad? Driver?! Driver?! Get out of my living room.
(She hurriedly covers herself up and flings the first thing she can lay her hands on: her precious flower vase. It shatters near OBALOLA, who flees. She wails in recognition of what she has just thrown.)
BIOLA. My Lalique vase. Oh Lord, save us from demons. You will pay for this. Oloriburuku bastard. You will pay. Oh lord, Oh lord.
Later in the car. OBALOLA driving.
BIOLA. Who recruited you as my driver?
OBALOLA. Oga Chukwu at the company, madam. Your husband the MD interviewed me.
BIOLA. So it was Chukwu and my husband. Hmm. So which church do you go to?
OBALOLA. Church, madam?
BIOLA. Yes, church. Are you born again?
OBALOLA. My people are Catholic ma.
BIOLA. Did I ask you about your people? Eh eh, watch that crazy man on your left. Look at another one cutting in on the right. Lower your speed; we are approaching a junction. You cannot downshift the gear like that. (She takes a deep breath as if to compose herself.) So you are trying to 419 me eh? Your family, my foot. An unbeliever will not drive me. Only God knows what kind of demons you carry around with you. If you will keep driving me, you have to give your life to Christ.
OBALOLA. Madam, I need this job ma. MD asked me the same question and warned me not to join your church or he will sack me ma.
BIOLA. You mean Tunji said that? Eh! We shall see. Is there no other way out of here? This traffic is at a standstill.
(They both attempt to look ahead. There is a crowd of schoolboys surrounding a man who appears the worse for wear from their constant beating and taunting. OBALOLA rolls down the window and shouts.)
OBALOLA. Eh! Stop it! What has he done to you boys to deserve such a beating?
(A voice shouts out that he is possessed and he admits to killing his parents and others.)
BIOLA. Will you focus on getting me out of this madness?
(OBALOLA is already out of the car, arguing with the boys and protecting the badly beaten man by putting himself between the assailants and their hapless victim. He eventually manages to seek refuge for the man with a passing police car and returns to BIOLA and the car.)
BIOLA (with disdain in her voice). Are you mad yourself? You put me in danger by involving yourself with a possessed man. Are you possessed yourself?
OBALOLA. No ma. I am just being a Christian ma.
BIOLA. You think I will not tell your boss how you came into the house unannounced and walked in on me? You are misguided. Mister I-am-being-a-Christian. I am sure your friend deserved what he was getting. You reap what you sow. Just get me to my appointment before you expose me to any further danger.
(Mobile phone rings.)
BIOLA. Hello. You mean you want this crazy driver to take you there? I am not sure about him. Tunji, make sure you pay for our holiday today. I promised the kids both Cape Town and Madrid. But we must keep our promise. OK, thank you. All their friends are doing the same. OK, thank you. Bye. (Turns to OBALOLA.) Oya, drop me at church and be back at 7pm at the end of cell group meeting tonight. In the meantime, go to office; your Oga needs you right away.
OBALOLA. OK ma. Madam, I have to be in my area before 9pm or else I will have trouble with this OPC boys ma. They are very violent; in fact they killed three people last week.
BIOLA. That is your problem. I have to go to my Bible class “Digging in Deep” and it finishes at 9.30pm. Do you think I will walk home?
OBALOLA. No ma.
BIOLA. Remind my husband that I said he should complete the funds transfer for our monthly tithe.
OBALOLA. OK ma.
Office car park. OBALOLA is idling the car as he waits for OGA TUNJI. He comes rushing out of the office, snatches his brief case from the accompanying assistant and heads for the car. OBALOLA sits patiently while OGA TUNJI settles down into his seat, and then he eases the car out.
OGA TUNJI. Great job. You do not come out of the car to carry my bag. You barge in on my wife and you leave her to fend for herself in a riot. What should I make of you? Self-destructive or just disinterested? You say you have an HND and have worked in a bank. How professional is that?!
OBALOLA. It is not so, sir. Madam was praying and . . .
OGA TUNJI. Shut up. Right now, I have no time for all of that stuff but you are not off to a good start.
(He is sweating heavily even though the air conditioner is on at full blast and OBALOLA is shivering.)
Is this air con working at all?
(He loosens his necktie but there is no visible sign of relief. His mobile phone rings, then he receives an SMS text.)
No, baby cannot make it tonight.
You know I have business to run.
No, it is not about Biola.
Come on, I was with you yesterday.
OK, I will send the driver about 7pm.
You know I cannot go to Florida with you. They also are going away.
No, there are no girls I am seeing.
Honestly, this is a busy day. Let’s talk another time.
Come on, behave yourself!
(Cuts off the phone. It rings again.)
I said there are no girls.
Oh! It is you.
I was speaking to Chike. I am sure he will settle down someday.
No, he did not.
You are not serious; your summer trip alone is costing over five million naira. I do not know why you cannot travel economy class.
OK! But then you want me to send a tithe. Why don’t you pay it? You have. Then that is enough for two of us.
(Cuts off the phone. Picks up another call.)
Honestly, we cannot afford to bribe someone else. The margins of profit are already insignificant. No, come on Randolph, having a Swedish CEO changes nothing. I am awash with educated people; in fact, even my driver holds a degree. Hmm, hmm. We shall see, but remember this is not South Africa, this is Lagos, Africa. OK. (Still sweating profusely.) Driver, pull in next to that apartment block. I need some air.
(Phone rings again.)
Biola, please now, I am feeling unwell, can it wait. Never mind, it is well, I am unwell.
(Makes a gurgling noise. Drops the phone and slumps. He starts to gurgle. OBALOLA pulls over very quickly. He rushes to the back seat. He looks at TUNJI and he is distracted by the voice on the phone so he picks it up.
OBALOLA. Oga, Oga! Whoever you are, he cannot speak to you anymore. Sorry, madam, I have to see to Oga. (He rolls up his sleeves and feels for a pulse. He picks up the phone and calls a number.) It is an emergency. It is my Oga. I think he has a heart attack. (Drops the phone and tries CPA. He continues to press and puff.)