It’d been two days since that disastrous evening (well, for me), two days since I last interacted with Bryson and Paschal. I refused to pick Paschal’s calls, and, it was only by the grace of God that I’d not already deleted him from my BBM contact list. But with the rate at which he was going with all the pings he’d been sending my way, despite my steadfast unresponsiveness, my patience was starting to wear thin.
But Paschal wasn’t on my mind at all this early Friday morning as I trekked the short distance from the bus stop to my workplace. It was very early, a few minutes past 6am. I’d left my house earlier than usual because I couldn’t bear to be around all the anxiety and long faces that filled the place.
Last night, the news broke of yet another terrorist attack in Kaduna. Gunmen believed to be affiliated with Boko Haram attacked a church in a community, gunning down nearly everyone who’d been in attendance of the evening service. All night, the blogosphere had been alive with reports of the act of terrorism, and all night, my family had fretted, my mother especially, because one of her brothers, Uncle Joshua, lived in that district. The woman had barely gotten enough sleep, preferring instead to burn up the phone lines as she desperately sought for information about my uncle’s welfare from her relatives who lived in the same area with him. His number had been unavailable ever since the news broke, so my mother worried everyone else. And the fact that no one had any report to give as to the whereabouts of my uncle proved to be even more disconcerting.
“This cannot be good, ehn – this cannot be good at all,” she mumbled as she hung up from an umpteenth call, as we sat in the living room, watching AIT’s account of the terrorist attack.
“Mummy, stop worrying,” Tonia soothed, placing a hand on her shoulder. “At least, there’s no confirmation that he’s dead –”
“And that is supposed to console me?” Mum snapped. “Eh? No news is equivalent to bad news, or don’t you know? Heu! Chineke m biko!” And she turned to her phone and proceeded to dial another number.
I shared my mother’s anxiety. I love Uncle Joshua, and our relationship was made even more special by the fact that he is the only one in my family who knows about my sexuality. Well, I mean, perhaps they all in my immediate family know or suspect something (it’d be foolish to presume that in all the twenty-seven years of me growing with these people, that they’d all be in the dark); but Uncle Joshua is the only one who has had the evidence of my sexuality bared before him. It was last year; he visited Lagos, stayed at our place. It’d been an exhausting night journey for him, and after the preliminary acknowledgements of his visit, he turned in for the night – er, morning – in the guest room. That day, I was on leave from work; everyone else went out for the day’s businesses, and feeling frisky, I invited one of my runs over for a booty call. Uncle Joshua, still groggy from sleep, walked in on us as we were locked in a passionate make-out session in my bedroom.
That was the day I wished I could die on the spot.
That was also the day I got to know understanding like no other.
After my runs made a harried and embarrassed departure from the house, Uncle Joshua called me into the guest room, and heard me out. He prodded gently, and I soon found myself unburdening my soul to him. I told him everything. About the first boy I kissed. About the repulsion I felt for the girl in secondary school who placed my hand on her left breast and told me to have her. About the turmoil I’d suffered. About the guilt I’d borne. About the private tears I’d shed. By the time I was done, I felt like a weight was lifted from me. I realized then how terribly alone I’d always been.
Then he pinned me with a frank stare and said, “As long as deep within you, you love who you are, who you are becoming, as long as you have no regrets from loving whoever you want to love or being whoever you want to be, then you have my approval. Someday, you’ll have to tell Ada nnem, and your father, and umunne gi, of this. When that day comes” – and he reached out a hand to grasp mine with avuncular affection – “if you need me to stand by you, I will.”
As I walked up the stairs to the entrance of Ibikun House presently, I blinked back tears in recollection of those words. The man had no idea – or perhaps he did – how much those words affected me, impacted my life. The knowledge that I had someone in my corner gave me a big boost from that day onwards.
And now, thanks to some bloodthirsty hooligans, I may have lost that someone.
That thought caused a wave of melancholy to sweep through my body. I felt sad, and I also suddenly felt tired. Tired from worrying about the life of Uncle Joshua. Tired from living a life that was essentially a lie. Tired from wanting to love someone, and not having any such person. Tired from the drudgery that it seemed my life and everything around it was becoming. I was suddenly very tired, and I needed somewhere to escape to.
The elevator doors dinged open and I walked out onto the floor of my workplace. The main door was ajar; some persons were obviously already here. The hallway however was empty, unlit and had the somber silence of the early morning, untouched by the frenetic presence of employees. I moved with slow steps toward my office, and then my eyes fell on the door that opened to the conference room.
Somewhere to escape to.
The conference room was barely used except during staff briefings which happened on Mondays and Wednesdays. The power lunches and administrative meetings were held in the much grander conference room upstairs. Today was Friday. It wasn’t even 6.30 am yet. This could be my somewhere to escape to, even if it was just for a few minutes.
I slid inside the room and shut the door gently behind me. It was very dim, the curtains hung over the windows, and the silence pulled me in, settled on me, with the gentle hold of a maternal caress. I placed my things on the oaken conference table, my phone beside my leather bag, sat on one of the upholstered chairs and rested my head on the headrest. I closed my eyes and expelled a breath.
God, please keep my uncle alive.
God, please keep my uncle alive.
Please, keep him alive for me.
The plea went through my mind, telekinetically communicating its urgency to whatever divine being was listening.
I was so immersed in my supplication that I didn’t hear the conference room door click open. I also didn’t hear the first call of my name.
“Declan, are you alright?” he said again.
I opened my eyes, mildly startled, and found myself looking up at Kizito. He stood scant inches from me, his hand outstretched, as though to shake my shoulder.
“What do you want?” I said woodenly, feeling too calm to indulge the irritation I usually felt each time I saw him.
He pursed his mouth, compressing those gorgeous lips that were just too uniquely kissable. “I saw you enter this room,” he replied. “And I was wondering if everything is okay.”
“Everything is. I just wanted to be by myself,” I said pointedly.
He caught my meaning, and the displeasure deepened on his face. “I don’t want to fight with you today, Declan.”
He stared at me. I stared back. The silence throbbed. And then, I shut my eyes again and said, “Please, leave me alone, Kizito.”
He didn’t. A chair creaked beside me as he sat down. That male scent that was uniquely his assailed my nostrils.
Seriously, what is this guy’s problem? I thought as the familiar irritation sparked to life inside me.
“I just want to be a friend to you,” he said in response.
I opened my eyes. I had no idea I’d said that question out loud.
“We used to be friends when I started working here,” he continued. “Then all of a sudden, your attitude changed, and you started acting one kind toward me, like a – like a –”
“A bitch?” I supplied.
He paused and looked quizzically at me. “Well, bitches are for women. You’re a guy, so –”
“Tell me something, Kizito,” I cut in again. “Are you homophobic?”
“What?” His eyes widened, and he gave a startled laugh. “What has that got to do with anything?”
“I overheard you and Mahmud in the men’s room the other day, gossiping about fags” – I placed finger quotations on the word – “and talking trash about them –”
“Wait, that was Mahmud, not me. I was merely – hold on.” His eyes narrowed. “Is that what your ugly attitude toward me has been all about? You started beefing me after you heard us say a few trash talk about gays?”
“A few?” I cocked a brow.
“What does it matter to you what we said?”
I didn’t answer him. I looked away from his stare, feeling my heart begin a faster thumping.
“Tell me nau,” he pressed. “What does it matter to you? The only people who would be offended by what we – Mahmud – said that day are either gay activists or gay guys.”
The thumping gained a little more speed.
“So tell me, Declan, are you a gay activist” he craned his head around to try to look into my eyes – “or are you gay?”
The thumping was now banging against my chest.
My phone rang just then, its screen lighting up. I grabbed it from the table like it was a lifeline, and answered the call.
“DeeDee, he’s alive!” Tonia gushed through the receiver. “Uncle josh is alive. He got caught in the gunfire, because he was at the church. But his injuries are not so serious. He’s at a hospital, and just now finished speaking to mummy.”
Thank you, God. I felt grateful tears burn behind my eyes.
“DeeDee, are you there?”
“Yes…yes, I am,” I muttered. My throat felt as though it had been tied in a knot, and if I wasn’t careful, I would burst out in tears right here.
“Uncle Josh is alive!” she squealed once more, gave out a giggle and hung up.
I bought the phone down from my ear and gave a sigh of relief. Thank you, God.
“Who was that? What was that about?” Kizito asked.
I ignored him, grabbed my bag from the table and made to stand up.
“You didn’t answer my question.” He was standing too.
“Too bad,” I snapped. “I suddenly find myself in no mood to answer silly questions from people I don’t like.”
“Just tell me, Declan. Which are you?”
“Well, what do you think?” I spat furiously at him.
For a moment, he didn’t say anything. He simply stared at me, as though he was gauging me. Then he spoke, “I think you won’t mind at all if I did something like this.”
And he moved forward, caught my face in his hands and leaned in. Whatever else I would have – should have – said disappeared as his mouth claimed mine. Caught off guard, I braced my hands against his chest (incredibly sculpted, my fingers discovered), and after a moment of surprise, I parted my lips to him, and kissed him back.
And why not? Do you know how long I’ve been dreaming about and desiring those lips?
He groaned, and he took my mouth again and again, long and slow, his lips sliding over mine, his tongue stroking the inside of my mouth, his kiss gentle and teasing, giving and demanding.
I was overwhelmed by the variety of sensations he evoked. I felt lightheaded and giddy. Confused and bewildered. Appreciated and adored. It felt as though my entire world had shrunk to this very moment, centered on this very kiss.
I wasn’t at all ready for it when the kiss ended. My breathing was harsh and I blinked my eyes open, dazed, as he stepped back from me. I was at first disoriented, and then I was angry. I just couldn’t explain how I went from one emotion to the other.
“What the hell was that for?” I rasped.
He blinked, obviously not expecting the hostility. “Uh, well – I just thought…I don’t know –”
“Well, start knowing very fast!” I cut in waspishly. “Because in case you haven’t heard, there might be fourteen years imprisonment waiting for guys who do that sort of thing!”
And I shoved past him, and stalked out of the conference room. First Bryson, now Kizito! I thought angrily. What is wrong with these ‘straight’ guys sef?
I remain yours faithfully, Pink Panther.
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