There was no exchange of words, hostile or amicable, between Fabian and I before I left for work on Wednesday morning. In fact, I did not set my eyes on him, not since he confronted me last night. I remained in my room for the rest of the night, too distraught to even feel the hunger pangs or to simply give in to exhaustion and sleep off. It wasn’t until around 1am that I realized I was ravenous, and made my way downstairs, through the gloom in the house (my brother had turned off the plant, and NEPA still hadn’t restored the electricity) to the kitchen to take a quick midnight supper of buttered bread and tea.
As I started out of the house for work early in the morning, I walked past Fabian’s closed room door. I could tell by the subdued volume of some radio station’s morning music programme coming from the room, that he was awake. The electricity had been restored, and light spilled out from his room through the door jambs to the dim hallway; I could see shadowed movements cutting across the thin slats of light, which implied that he was moving about in his room. Probably packing for his trip to Port Harcourt later in the day, I thought.
I briefly battled with the thought of going in there to speak to him.
About what, the voice queried.
It had to be about either one of two things. I could simply tell him the truth, affirm what he already strongly suspected, and risk the irreparable damage that affirmation will wreak on our relationship. During the confrontation last night, I’d seen his expression, looked into his eyes. The loathing I saw there spoke volumes about his antipathy toward homosexuality.
Better rethink your life and repent from it immediately, because if you don’t, I’ll be very ashamed to call you my brother!
The thought that such a divide could exist between my brother and I filled me with a gamut of feelings I wasn’t ready to explore.
Or you could lie to him, the voice suggested. Deny you’re gay. Convince him otherwise.
As much as that idea appealed to me, there was something I found galling about outrightly denying my sexuality. It is part of who I am, a facet of the many complexities that make up my person. As indigenous as my anatomy and all the character traits I’ve grown up with.
One afternoon several days ago, an article online had sparked a debate between me and some of my colleagues in the HR. The article had been about yet another one of the court battles in the United States which had sanctioned gay marriage in the involved states. I’d been so fired up in my pro-gay stance that Tunde had eyed me before jibing, “Ah, Declan, this one you dey para like this, you be gay?”
Brazenly, I’d retorted, “And what if I am?”
Before anyone could dwell on the dubitable nature of my rejoinder, Halima, who’d been as pro-gay as I was, interjected, “Tunde, must everyone who speaks for gay rights be gay himself? You be yeye pikin o.”
And the tenseness of the moment dissolved into a bout of laughter. That incident made me realize one thing, that unless the circumstance is dire, I could never straightforwardly deny my sexuality.
Finally, I decided to simply let Fabian be. It was probably too soon for us to have any form of civil talk. I left the house, knowing I wouldn’t see him until after a number of days had passed.
The matter of his trip bothered me as I straddled the bike-man who was conveying me to the main road junction. He would stay with Dede and his family during the duration of his trip in Port Harcourt. And sometime within the week, my parents would also visit the Oil City to see their son. I was overwhelmed with great unease as I wondered if Fabian would feel the urge to reveal his recent discovery about me to my big brother and/or my parents.
I could not bear the thought of my parents returning home under a cloud of disappointment directed at me. Mother’s reaction to such a revelation would be predictable. She’d get hysterical, treat the news like any Christian who wasn’t ready for Rapture would react when he discovers he’s been left behind. She’d barrage me with scriptures from the bible, and then shed tears, attempting to use the guilt every mother had over her child to get me to ‘change my ways.’ But Father…him, I wasn’t so sure of. It was from him that Fabian inherited his brooding reserve. He is a well-educated, well-traveled man, and so could be more tolerant. But I couldn’t forget the one time last year, when I accompanied him to the international airport, where he was to drop off an aunt whose destination was the States. While in the building, we’d spotted a couple canoodling in the full sight of other travelers and airport personnel. Father had taken one look at them and said reprovingly, “There’s nothing that sickens me more than all these white people acting like everywhere is their bedroom.”
And this came from a man who spent a number of years studying abroad. Whether his remark came from an aversion to all the progressive attributes of the West that Nigerians love to deride, or was simply his preference for decorum in public places, I could not decide.
That day at work was quite the hectic one, busy enough o take my mind off my personal problems for several periods at a time. FitPlus was recruiting new staff, and there were scores of things my department had to do in co-ordination of the process. There were records to file, submissions to be processed, test and interview dates to schedule, people involved to notify. The entire day was filled with so much near-overwhelming activity that, for my lunch break, I was only able to manage a quick 20-minute absence from the office, before I was impatiently summoned back.
Concerning the job placements, I’d much earlier informed my friends Ekene, Paschal and Eddie about it. But they’d all declined applying when I informed them the openings were for marketers. Eddie had sniffed disdainfully, “Don’t you see my skin is too sensitive for a job on the streets?”
“You are just not serious,” I’d laughingly returned.
However, I could understand why they were not scrambling for whatever employment the job market had to offer. Ekene’s boyfriend, Moses, was a staff of a new generation bank, and the man quite generously took care of my friend’s needs. Paschal’s hustle as one who got paid for sex was flourishing. And Eddie’s blog had started to yield profit awhile back; the controversy that Rainbowman.com courted had made it an upcoming hot ticket that internet brands were paying to get.
I wasn’t even worried about Eddie. It was with the other two that my concerns lay. What if Paschal’s prowess in bed wilted? Or the bucked-up queens he fucked decided they no longer liked their arrangements? And as for Ekene, even though he and his man had defied all the gay stereotypes to remain in a relationship that was nearly a year old, who was to say that tomorrow, Moses wouldn’t wake up and decide to end things by getting married, or by looking to fuck another man’s pussy?
Thinking about Ekene brought back in a rush my morning dilemma. He was just the person I needed to talk to.
I stepped out of the office and into the hallway in an attempt to claim some privacy for my phone call.
“How far?” he answered the moment the call connected. And then he barreled on. “My sister, it’s been awhile. When did I see you last sef…and Yinka, and Biola, and Adebola…in fact, everybody. Otegokwa o. You working class people should spare some time for housewives like us.” I chuckled as he went on, “In fact, this Sunday, we must have our usual hangout. Last time was in Yinka’s house. So this time, Adebola or Biola will have to represent. Haba!”
“I think Biola will love to play host for this weekend, to sort of break in his new apartment,” I said. “I’ll buzz him to find out.”
There was a momentary pause, before Ekene said, “Are you okay, Dee? You sound…I don’t know, a little off.” This is the reason he’s my bestie out of the entire gang. The guy can intuit into my feelings with such effortlessness, it is almost impossible for me to hide anything troubling me from him.
I sighed. “Yea, there’s fire on the mountain. How big the fire is or will be, I can’t say at the moment.”
His response came in a barrage of words. “What is it? Who is it? What happened? In fact, drop the call, so I can call you back, since this looks like a serious, potentially-long gist. Moses recharged me with 3 grand yesterday evening, and right now, me and my phone are feeling rich and generous.”
In spite of myself, I laughed heartily at that. “It’s alright. I can’t even talk much now. Too much happening around here. I’ll stop by your place on my way home.”
“Ok then.” And the call was ended.
It was about an hour later that closing time came upon us. I sighed with profound relief, put together my things and left the building. As I stepped out into the warm evening, I considered doing the short trek to the hospital where Jonathan worked on the other side of the main road. I could use a lift from him. Then I realized I didn’t know what shift he was on, and if he’d be at work at all, what with the wedding runs that his fiancée had insisted he be an active part of.
And Jonathan would never drive me to Ekene’s house. In a moment, you’ll know why.
As I darted across the road to the bus stop, I remembered my talk with Ekene about Sunday, and I brought out my phone (this phone that’s been putting me in all sorts of trouble lately) and pinged Biola: Sup. Just finished. Very tired. I’m sure you had a better day than me. About Sunday, can we congregate at your place?
I’d just gotten inside a bus when his reply thrummed back: Sure. Absolutely. Sunday at my place. I’ve missed you bitches’ faces. PS: Some rich bitch just filed a suit against my office. Care to revisit that your conviction that I had a better day than you?
I chuckled at that, already envisioning an indignant and cruelly-sarcastic Biola recounting this office drama for the rest of us on Sunday.
I soon got to Ekene’s place. His twelve-year-old brother was the one who opened the door to me.
“Brother Ekene is not around,” he piped up without any prompting from me, as he stared solemnly up at me right there at the doorway.
“Owu onye? Who is that?” a voice that I recognized as his mother’s hollered. I could see her spread out on a sofa inside, sitting up as she peered in my direction. “Oh, nna, is it you? Come in. Bia, Chukwuemeka, is it Declan you are keeping at the door as if you’re Angel Michael refusing him entrance into heaven? Come on, move out of the way, inukwa!”
The boy flashed me an abashed grin and stepped aside for me to walk into the living room.
“Good evening, ma,” I greeted as I moved toward a seat.
“Ehen, good evening, nwa m,” Mrs. Nnoli greeted back, before hollering at her son again, “Emeka, close the door nau! Ihukwam trouble!”
The boy shut the door and promptly scampered out of the room. I watched Ekene’s mother move on her seat, and lift the remote control in her hand to tap down the volume of the TV. She started speaking as she did so, “My dear, you’ll have to wait for my son small, inugo? It’s not long he went to the mallam’s place down the road to fix his boyfriend’s palm slippers.”
I will eternally be admiring of Ekene’s family, and yearning of my friend’s enviable status as a homosexual man who is out to his family, and has been accepted and loved for who he is ever since. Hearing his mother use the words ‘my son’ and ‘his boyfriend’ in the same sentence could never cease to amaze me.
Ekene didn’t come out to his family voluntarily. No. In fact, he’d had to do so. It happened five years ago, when we were still students of the university. We were on a vacation back home at the time. He’d been crushing massively on a family friend of theirs, Chineme. And according to him, Chineme had been giving him all the signs that he’d found hard not to interpret as the much-sought-after greenlight. Chineme loved to hug him (a tad too tightly for a straight guy), send him texts that had ‘I miss you’ in them, and make suggestive remarks about his body (Ekene has a lushly plump frame that many a straight guy likes to say looks like a woman’s).
Finally, during an evening he spent with Chineme in the other boy’s house, he’d caved under the weight of his sexual frustration, and touched Chineme in the place he wasn’t supposed to touch. The boy went ballistic, slapped Ekene once or twice, and drew the attention of his mother, who grew equally enraged. A miserable Ekene was asked to leave their house, and Chineme’s mother promised that she’d come to his house later to inform his parents of his ‘disease.’
That was when my friend made a move that was ultimately brave. He went home, called his parents and two older brothers out into the living room, and told them the words every Nigerian gay man dreads saying to family: “Hey, guys, I’m gay.”
He was teary as he unburdened himself, and the story of his acceptance of his sexuality, the loneliness he’d suffered as a result of it, and the drama with Chineme and his mother – it all came out in between sobs. His dejectedness was apparent, and must have called up his mother’s maternalism, because the woman came to sit by him, drew him to her bosom and cooed for him to stop crying. “To tell you the truth, my son,” she’d said, “somewhere deep inside me, I’ve always known. It is not easy for a mother to accept that her child is different, but if God made you like this, then who am I to question how you have turned out?”
“On the brighter side,” his father – ever the humourous man that he is – quipped, “you are one less son I’ll have to worry about bringing an unwanted pregnancy into this house.” That cracked the tension, and everyone dissolved into awkward chuckles. (Ekene is the middle child, and has four siblings, all of them males)
The finest moment of his coming out was when Chineme’s mother, true to her word, came the next day to ‘report’ Ekene to his parents. His father and mother had heard her out with twin somber expressions as she railed about the abomination that their son was, and how they should get him to a good deliverance pastor fast. The woman even had the nerve to offer the services of her pastor, saying the man was so good it wouldn’t take much for him to cast out ‘those demons’ from Ekene. At that, Mrs. Nnoli had coldly looked into the other woman’s eyes and proceeded to tell her all the things that eventually ended the friendship of the two families.
The years that passed since then saw the acceptance of Ekene’s family grow. They soon stopped not wanting to know about his social life, with his mother frequently scolding, “Don’t think because you’re not chasing after girls like your brothers, that I will allow you to do chom-chom-chom with the boys of this Lagos. Mba nu! You must settle down o. If you start bringing strange, strange faces to my house, I will start questioning them on their intentions for you. And you and I know how embarrassing that will be for you.”
It was also initially embarrassing for us, his friends. When I say Ekene came out to his family, I mean, he threw open the closet doors and showed them all the fabulous wardrobe spaces occupied by his friends. We hadn’t known Jonathan, Paschal and Eddie at the time of his coming out, but naturally, each friend we made became subject to the scrutiny of his mother, scrutiny that Ekene couldn’t hold his own against. When Jonathan realized that Ekene’s family knew he played for our team, he was predictably furious. And he swore off ever going to Ekene’s house to face the people who knew about him what he loathed them knowing.
I was roused from my musing by some commotion coming from the kitchen, and a sharply-uttered reprimand. Mrs. Nnoli looked in the direction of the kitchen, as we heard Ekene scolding and his younger brother whining.
“Ogini kwa?” their mother yelled. “Ekenedilichukwu, what is it?” She heaved her bulk up from the sofa to her feet, and started for the kitchen. “You know what? I don’t even want to know. Ekene, come and attend to Declan, who has been waiting for you since.”
He exploded into the living room, hustled me to my feet and out, down the small corridor, and into his bedroom. We plopped down on his bed, and he retrieved an opened box of chocolates, placing it before us. Picking up a piece, he slipped it into his mouth, chewed delicately and then said, “Alright, gist me everything.”
“It’s not exactly a chocolate-eating kind of gist,” I said with a wry smile.
“Oh, you want wine for us to drown out your sorrows? Cos, I can get one of those,” he quipped.
I chuckled and shook my head. “No, chocolates will do.”
As we munched away, I narrated what transpired between Fabian and I last night. As I talked, he listened, saying nothing, only nodding and chewing and nodding some more.
And then I finished with, “I honestly, right now, don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to do if he tells Dede and my mum and dad. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to handle the pressure that will come from them knowing. I don’t know how they’ll react. I don’t know how to relate to Fabian from now on. I don’t…” I drew in a shuddering breath, and let it out slowly. “I just don’t know how this could have happened…”
“My dear friend, you don’t know a lot, do you?” he teased.
We shared a small laugh at that. Then he sighed and cast about, as if searching for guidance in picking his next words. He started, “You know what? You’re reasoning this situation all wrong. You’re desperately seeking answers on how to contain it, when you shouldn’t.”
“I shouldn’t,” I reiterated. There was no inflection there, but the words were a question nonetheless.
“No, you shouldn’t,” he answered. “What’s happened has happened. What you can do is roll with the punches, however they come. If Fabian keeps this to himself, treat him the way he’ll start treating you. I love the way you handled it, telling him you don’t owe him any explanation. Because, really, you don’t. He doesn’t have to explain to you why he fucks girls. Why should you explain your preference to him? The only people you owe anything concerning your sexuality and life, in my opinion, are an explanation to your parents, and your pace of mind with God. Finish.
“And that is why you should tell your parents the truth if Fabian outs you to them.” At the widening of my eyes and the disbelief that jumped into them, he said insistently, “Frankly, I think you should. You owe them that. Don’t insult their intelligence by weaving a story to get out of this. And I’m saying this because you’re matured enough to handle the consequence, if it’s negative. If they throw you out of the house, you have a job, you have friends, your fall to the bottom won’t be too hard. Even if they don’t, and start treating you instead with cold resentment, you can still move out and strike out on your own.
“Determine your life based on what is best for you, not them. It is one thing if they don’t know, and you have to live the lie of getting married and having kids just to please them. But if they know, if Fabian tells them, see it as a blessing in disguise, instead of as a catastrophe. Tell them the truth. Let them deal with it however they want. And on your own part, whatever you do with your life will be based on what you want. If you subsequently decide to get married to a woman and have children, it will be your decision, not their expectations. If you decide to gay yourself until you die” – he smiled here – “again, your life, your decision, not theirs.”
He leaned forward and placed a hand on my shoulder, before saying, “My dear, when the bible said ‘The truth shall set you free,’ this is one of those truths it was talking about.”
At this time, my eyes had misted over with tears. I took a deep breath and looked off, trying to keep my emotions in check. “Thanks,” I husked. “I really needed that.”
“I’m your friend, Dee,” Ekene said, still smiling. “My business is to tell you what you need to know.” When I laughed, he continued, “Would you like to crash here for the night? I mean, no one will be at your place now.”
“That’s exactly the reason why I should go home,” I said. “My dad hates a night to pass with no one in our house. That’s why we don’t all travel to the village for Christmas. Person must dey that house.”
We laughed at that, and minutes later, I was ready to leave. He walked me to the bus stop, where I soon got a bus homebound. Nearly thirty minutes later, a bike-man bearing me pulled up in front of my compound. I alighted and was accepting my change from him when someone drew forward from a corner of the fence shadowed by a tree.
“Declan,” he called my name.
And I turned to face someone who I absolutely didn’t feel like seeing.