“Oohm, you guys, this is a week day. Do I really have to be a part of this expedition?” I complained as the cool evening air rushing in through the open window in the backseat of Adebola’s car slapped across my face. “By the time we finish this waka, whenever that time is, I still have to get home and prepare for work tomorrow.”
“Let’s hear word abeg,” said Adebola as he turned around on the front passenger seat. Biola was the one behind the wheel. Adebola doesn’t like driving to places he doesn’t already know how to get to. “Is it only you that has a job in this car sef?”
“Abeg help me and ask him o,” Eddie interjected, turning to look me up and down with rapid eye movements.
I chuckled. “Last I checked, I’m the only one here who has a job to get to tomorrow. Biola is on leave, Adebola, you, you are a master of your own work hours. And Eddie, well –”
“And Eddie what?” he rounded on me with exaggerated indignation. “Ehen? And Eddie what? Is it because I don’t have a white collar, nine-to-five job, you now want to condescend to me, ehn? Better take several seats mbok.”
“Declan, you didn’t mention me o,” Paschal said from Eddie’s other side.
“We already know you don’t have a job,” Adebola said.
“Yes, but he pointed out everyone in this car but me,” said Paschal.
I stared out the window on my side, not even bothering to respond.
“Can’t you see he’s still ignoring you?” Eddie said with a chuckle.
“For how long? This is seriously getting old.” Paschal’s voice became scathing.
“Pikin is not ready to forgive you for your big mouth, deal with it,” Biola quipped as he took a turn. “You can’t blame him. After all, your talk-talk cost him the possibility of getting it on with a very hot guy.”
“Can we not talk about Bryson now, please,” Adebola growled.
“Why, because you have the hots for him too?” Eddie said cheekily.
“Does everything have to be about sex with you, Edidiong?” Adebola snapped.
“Oh, I’m sorry, was I supposed to say ‘because you love him too’?” Eddie returned.
Biola’s laughter and mine rumbled as Adebola rolled his eyes at Eddie’s incorrigibility and turned on his seat to face the road.
“So, Biola,” I said conversationally, as I brought out my phone to answer some pinged chats, “where are we going? Where did you get a house?”
Biola had been house-hunting for the past month, a search that had proven problematic because of his high maintenance standards. He always had an excuse why he didn’t like any of the various places the agents had sought for him. The room is too small… There’s no running water… The toilet doesn’t flush… The ventilation is not right… The neighbourhood doesn’t look safe…
It was as though the guy had a mental depiction of the kind of apartment he wanted to live in, and wouldn’t let up until he found the place that matched that picture. And money wasn’t a problem. Biola works as a lawyer in the legal department of DotCom, one of the biggest computer engineering firms in the country.
And now he’d apparently found the right place, he had kidnapped me right after work, and along with Adebola, Eddie and Paschal, was whisking us off to see his imminent new home. Jonathan was on call, Yinka had flown to Abuja on a job, and Ekene was burdened with housework with his mother, hence their absence.
“In Ajao Estate,” he replied as he tooted the horn while overtaking a commercial vehicle.
“Big boy!” Eddie crowed.
“I’ve always been a big boy,” he responded matter-of-factly. “The status doesn’t need the validation of a nice apartment.”
“All you need now to round up everything is a good man with a nice dick,” Eddie said with a lascivious smile.
“Or one with a nice ass, as well,” Biola added. The guy is versatile; however he’d bitch me to death if he ever heard me giving him that label.
“So which market is chatting you up, this one you’re smiling like this?” Eddie said to me, shifting closer to me and moving his head over my phone. His hawkish gaze snapped up the image on the phone screen before I could react to his closeness. “Basil? Are you still all up in that guy’s business?”
“I’m not all up in anybody’s business,” I said defensively.
“But you two are still chatting. I thought you said you didn’t want the two of you getting into each other’s pants anymore.”
“Yes, and how does that translate to us not being friends or chat buddies anymore?”
“How does his boyfriend feel about this friendship?” He added finger quotes on the last word.
“I don’t know, I’ve never met him. And frankly, I don’t care. It’s enough that I’m taking his feelings into consideration, and that that’s the reason I’m not all over his man.”
“Why do you even care?” Adebola said, turning around to face us again. “Basil is hot. You’re hot. You two have great chemistry. You had great sex once. He lives in Abuja and you in Lagos. So distance ought to lessen any complications. Surely then, there’s no harm in fooling around with him.”
“When I think about finding love some day and knowing the pain of my boyfriend’s cheating, that makes it hard for me to simply fool around with Basil. Besides, he, like you said, is hot. And charming. I could fall for him, I’m not sure I could separate the sex from my emotions if we get into it. And when I do fall for me and he still won’t leave his guy, where would that leave me?”
“So noble,” Eddie said with a smile. When I eyed him, as though to gauge the level of his sarcasm, he said laughingly, “No, I’m serious, I like your sentiments. And the fact that you respect his relationship to a certain degree says something about you.”
“I don’t remember you being so noble when you were busy enjoying the affections of your sugar daddy, Benson,” Paschal said from his corner.
His sarcasm was apparent, and it stung me out of my silent treatment of him. I snapped at him, “And what is that supposed to mean?”
“That he is married, and in all that time he was fucking you, I didn’t hear you preach respect for his marriage.”
“He’s married to a woman,” I said hotly, dropping a heavy stress on the last word. “Basil has a boyfriend. Both circumstances are different. What do I care about a wife? I have absolutely no empathy for a woman who’s married to a man who screws other men.” An image of Chidimma, Jonathan’s fiancée just then lifted into my subconscious.
“That’s cold, Declan,” Adebola said.
“It’s not,” Biola countered before I could. “Declan is right. It’s not his obligation or responsibility to feel for a woman married to a gay man. This frantic desire women have for snagging a man and rushing him down the aisle is part of what fuels society’s dedication to the institution of marriage, the heterosexual kind. No one wants to pause and consider that marriage is not meant for everyone, or that not every man wants to spend the rest of his life with someone of the opposite sex. So when a woman gets what she gets in her husband, I personally think she deserves it. And, if Declan feels for the average woman, fine. If he doesn’t, sé dandan ni?”
There was a smattering of laughter from the rest of us. Only Paschal remained with a scowl on his face. Who is even looking at him sef? Mscheew!
Eddie said then, “Oya, speaking of Declan’s love interests –”
“Oh for heaven’s sake,” I groaned, “when did I become the headline for this evening’s gist?”
“Keep shut,” Eddie cut across my protest. “I still yet to know how far things have gone with Kizito.”
“Not far at all. All that guy wants to do is talk about our kiss.”
“Talk is good. What did you expect before, for you two to start a shag-fest outrightly?”
I chuckled. “Not so. It’s just…I don’t know. I feel so reluctant to commit to the idea of starting something with him. I’ve disliked him and adored him for so long that this new territory just feels like something I’m not ready for.”
“You’re speaking all this English for someone as hot as Kizito, eh?” Eddie said with exaggerated outrage.
We laughed at that.
“Eddie, leave me abeg. It’s not doing me as it’s doing you.”
“Of course it’s not,” he retorted. “If me too, I had two attractive men on top my matter at once, it would probably do me the way it’s doing you.”
There was more laughter.
“It’s not that, it’s just – well…that is…” I flailed for something to say, then finally settled on, “Besides, he keeps wanting to know if I’m gay.”
“Say what?” Adebola arched his brows at me.
“Yes. The day he kissed me, he probed, wanting me to admit I’m into guys. Then yesterday, he nabbed me in the conference room, and he asked me again.”
“After he kissed you and you kissed him back?” Adebola said, incredulous. “What is he looking for, a signed confession?”
“Next time he asks you,” Biola said as he navigated off the main road into the estate which stood on one side of the thoroughfare that led to the airport, “pat him down. Perhaps he’s a gay basher, and is attempting to record your admission of your sexuality.”
“Ah-ah, Biola!” Adebola said with a laugh. “Na so? What is he, a CIA operative?”
Biola tapped the horn at a pesky okada man who was attempting to overtake him. “You’d be surprised at how ingenious homophobes are going to get with the introduction of this anti-gay bill. Who no dey fear 14 years imprisonment? Once you’re entrapped, they’ll be able to make you do anything.”
“That bill sef is just too ridiculous,” Eddie said with a scowl. “Another ploy our lawmakers are using to distract Nigerians from the real issues.”
“And I don’t believe our president will sign it into law,” added Adebola. “I mean, that would be a gross violation of human rights.”
“You call it human rights, they see it as an aberration,” Biola said. “And this country is an anomaly of sorts, a testament of how everything can be so wrong with a people. The introduction of the bill is the first shot fired. Loathe as I am to say this, but I’m afraid things certainly progress negatively in the near future.”
As my friends carried on with their argument of the politics and demerits of the anti-gay bill, I felt the cold finger of dread snake its way up my spine. I recalled Kizito’s face in my mental vision. A memory of that kiss we shared cascaded on my mind. No, he couldn’t be… He hadn’t kissed me like he was looking to set me up…
I was still wrapped up in my reflections, dimly aware of my friends’ conversations raging on around me, until the sharp blare of the horn roused me.
Biola singsonged, “We’re here, my people. Welcome, bienvenido a mi morada,” he added with masterful flourish.
I rolled my eyes as I climbed out of the car. The guy is currently learning Spanish, after conquering French. And he likes to show off his linguistic prowess every now and then.
He’d pulled up beside the cement wall fencing in the property. It wasn’t a tranquil neighbourhood because the road that wound through it served as a thoroughfare, and so vehicles vroomed past us as we strolled to the gate, skidding over potholes and pulling up at the behest of the uniformed men manning the makeshift checkpoint erected a few yards away. The gate was shut, but its pedestrian entrance was open, with the wiry figure of the sooty-skinned, tattered-dressed young man who could only be the gateman lounging in the narrow opening. His gaze flickered over us, and he gave a small smile when he recognized Biola from what I assumed was his previous visits to the property.
“Good evening, sah,” he greeted as we approached, making way for us to file past him into the compound. “You don come, oga? Na today you dey park in so?”
Biola shook his head. “No, I just wan come look the house again. Na my friends be this.”
“Ok, sah. Good evening,” he greeted the rest of us with the one salutation.
We nodded in response. I looked around as we traipsed after Biola. The house was a duplex, a neat brick and plaster affair, built to accommodate four separate apartments. It wasn’t a typical block of flats. The ground on the compound wasn’t tarred, it was paved with interlocking tiles, and there was a certain quietude that hung over the environment, even at this time of the day, that spoke of a tenancy that were both proletariat and minded their business.
Exactly the kind of environment I wouldn’t mind living in, I thought.
Biola unlocked the front door and ushered us into his flat. We oohed and aahed as we were led on a tour around the empty space. It was a two-bedroom apartment, with a large living room, and a small corridor that was flanked by the kitchenette and one bedroom on one side, and the second bedroom and the convenience on the other. Biola was almost rapturous as he gabbed about pleased he was with the place, what furniture would go where, how tastefully he would furnish the apartment, and how big a housewarming do he would host when he was all moved in and settled.
I envied him his independence. Just like me, he’d been living with his folks in Yaba. He hadn’t been in a hurry to move out after he got his job and started earning a handsome remuneration a couple of years back. But there always comes the time when, no matter how loving and accommodative your family is, you just have to strike out on your own. It comes sooner to some people than others, but it always comes. And for a youthful gay man, there was nothing as dear and treasured as his privacy.
My own time would come, I thought, nodding in affirmation. I wasn’t ready yet, but I would be soon. Perhaps, I could even persuade Biola to let me co-rent with him. Or maybe, I’d get a boyfriend who would double as a live-in lover, and we could both share a house and our lives, and live happily-ever-after.
“Earth to Declan,” Eddie’s teasing voice broke into my thoughts. I looked at him, and a split second before I heard the trilling sound of my phone’s ringtone, he said, “You do realize your phone is ringing, right?”
Laughing self-consciously, especially in light of the ridiculousness of what I’d been thinking of, I fished my phone out from my pocket. On the screen was Dotun’s name. “Uh, I’ll take this outside,” I said.
No one paid me any attention, and I slipped out of the house, back out into the warm, slightly-breezy hold of the evening. Then I answered Dotun’s call. “Hi, what’s up?”
“There might be some trouble for you, Declan,” he said without any preamble. His voice was grave and concerned.
My heart skipped a beat, and reflexively, my mind went into an overdrive as it sorted out what the trouble could be about. In a matter of milliseconds, I’d deduced that it had to be about work. But what was it about work? It couldn’t be about my performance; my evaluation came in two weeks ago, and I was fine. Well then, office misconduct? Perhaps, but what –
My heart chilled as I thought about Kizito and our kiss. Had someone seen us that early morning in the conference room and reported us? How could that be? Whoever the person was would have confronted me first, at least to rub his knowledge of my indiscretion in my face or used it to extort something from me. It was the way of humanity, to use power however spitefully or insidiously to suppress the lesser person. Then again, what if the person didn’t want it to be known that he was a telltale?
What if the person is Kizito? A small voice whispered in my head. Remember what Biola said. What if all that kissing and his friendliness was part of a ruse to get back at you?
For what? I queried silently.
For being gay, the voice answered primly.
“Declan, are you there?” Dotun’s voice intruded on my panicked musing. His voice held a thread of impatience that revealed that he’d asked that question a lot more than once already. “Hello, Declan –”
“Yes, yes, I’m here,” I croaked, then cleared my voice before continuing, “What trouble do you mean?” As I spoke, I walked further away from the building, toward the gate.
“I’m not entirely sure of the details. I’ll know more by tomorrow, but it seems someone lodged a complaint against you, someone who used to work here.”
My heart alternated between thumping faster and relaxing. This couldn’t be about the kiss, and it couldn’t be Kizito. But still… “I don’t understand,” I said. “Why is it an issue if the person doesn’t work at Fit Plus anymore?”
“Because, according to Mrs. Oguzie, it’s a complaint that embarrasses,” he said, then lowered his voice as he continued, “It has a deviant sexual claim in it, and the complainant is male.”
He paused, and a pregnant silence ensued in the wake of his words. My heart plummeted this time, dropping to the pit of my stomach. Someone had taken his homosexual vindictiveness against me to my work? A gamut of emotions began to surge inside me, robbing me momentarily of speech. Outrage, panic, annoyance, fear, anxiety – there was no clearly defined feeling. And I felt myself reeling internally. I was outside the compound now, and I leaned against the wall, breathing heavily. Motorists tapped their horns and pedestrians chattered as the world moved on around me.
“Where are you?” Dotun asked. “That place you are in is very noisy. You know what, I’ll call you back later. Don’t be afraid, okay? I’ll see what I can find out about the complaint, and let you know. I just wanted to give you a heads-up, but I’m sure you’ll be fine. Just relax, okay?”
Just relax? JUST RELAX?! I wanted to scream. But I didn’t. I merely mumbled an ‘Okay’ and hung up the call. Then I let out a trembly breath, as my mind started a mad scramble for answers as to what this new development was all about.