There’s a colleague of mine who had my gaydar buzzing for sometime in the recent past. Let’s call him Steve. I wasn’t into him, plus he works in another, very-separate department from mine. And so, he was just that co-worker who I’d see walking past me in the hallway and we’d exchange a quick hello, and I’d watch him move or speak or act, and the electronic fibers in my gaydar will go a-tingling over the question as to whether he speaks the same language that I do.
Considering our almost non-existent acquaintanceship, you can imagine my surprise when we bumped into each other in the hallway sometime after I hadn’t seen him in so long, and he stopped before me, uncharacteristic of him, and blurted out at me, “I’ve not been around.”
I blinked, resisting the urge to theatrically look back to see if he’d been addressing someone else. “Uh, okay,” I said. “I hadn’t noticed.”
“Ah-ah nau,” he pouted, “do you have to be nasty right now?”
My jaw dropped just a little bit, and I internally waged a very brief war over which feeling to indulge, to be conciliatory or…well, nasty. The former won. I replied with a smile to take the sting out of my words, “I wasn’t being nasty o. You and I are not in the same department nau. So when you’re not around or you are, you don’t expect me to be aware of that, do you?”
He nodded. “Yea, you’re right.”
“So, why have you not been around?” I asked conversationally.
“I was on leave. And I went to Owerri to do some runs to get a contract.” And then, with his eyes suddenly sparking with excitement, he leaned in closer and said in a lower tone, “I even got to meet with your state governor, Rochas. I didn’t know he does that thing o.”
I blinked again. This guy was pulling out surprise comments faster than a magician pulls out rabbits from his hat. First of all, my state governor? I had no idea we’d had a conversation where I divulged to him the fact that I am from Imo State. And secondly, what was this thing that Governor Rochas does that I was supposed to be in the know about?
“What is the thing that he does?” I asked.
“Ah-ah nau, why are you acting like this?”
“Like how? I’m just asking a question. What thing?”
“You know now, that he is TB,” he said, while staring expectantly at me.
For a moment, I flirted with the idea of keeping up with the pretense of not knowing what he was talking about. Just for a moment, and then I sighed and said, “Oh really? How did you know?”
That singular statement of tacit admission to knowing the things he knows was what forged a friendship between Steve and I. A tentative friendship on my own part, however. I was too wary about my sexuality being an issue in my workplace, so much so that I viewed my budding friendship with Steve with some amount of distrust. And so, I wasn’t entirely forthcoming with him whenever he prompted me to regale him with stories of my sexcapades, even though he loved to gist me about his. Our friendship suddenly brought to my attention this new side to Steve that I didn’t know existed – this nosy, exuberant, chatty person that I supposed he reserved for only people he could call friends.
That nosy part though… During one of our conversations during lunchtime, he began quizzing me about the nature of my relationship with Roland, a co-worker of ours, a young man from yet another department who I’d always enjoyed a casual friendship with. Roland and I were close, but not as close as Luke and I had been. (Remember Luke from #SuitsAndTiesPartTwo) I’d never developed any emotional feelings for him as I did for Luke. Our friendship was easy and light, and I never gave him much thought once I left work for home. So I found Steve’s curiosity over our relationship quite ridiculous. I laughingly responded that Roland and I were nothing beyond work friends, and we’d connected over the fact that we both attended the same university and that we were both from Imo State. Suitably convinced, Steve began to argue his certainty that Roland was gay. Of course I scoffed at his speculation. The thought had never crossed my mind, and I pride myself on the efficiency of my gaydar. It had been spot-on with Steve, hadn’t it?
But then, after that lunch, the seed was planted. I found myself giving Roland the extra once-over during the periods we were together, trying to discover something, anything, that would reveal to me how right or wrong Steve was. But there was nothing. His smiles were the same. His gestures, words, laugh – nothing changed. And on top of everything else, I began to feel some stirrings inside me for him. The realization that I might be harbouring something emotional for him both startled and annoyed me. Subtly, gradually, the way I began to see Roland started to change. I wasn’t happy about it, and I swore endlessly at Steve for upsetting everything.
However, I never once let on to Roland that I might be feeling anything heavier for him. One Luke’s episode was enough for me, thank you very much.
That resolve was however threatened on one Sunday at work. I’d gone in for my shift and was the only one in my office. While I worked, the extension in the room rang. I picked it up; it was Roland on the other end. He’d checked in for his shift as well, and upon looking at the logbook of key sign-ins, he’d seen my name and so knew I was in the building, hence the call.
Feeling mischievous, I teasingly said, “Oh so, you are now stalking me, eh?”
The dial tone on the telephone line was the next thing I heard. He’d hung up on me. At first, I thought there had been a mistake, so I called his extension back. He didn’t answer. I called a couple more times. No response from him. Then I realized he must have taken offense with my teasing. But I had work to do, so I didn’t bother with him until my shift was over.
It was on my way out of the building that I remembered to check up on him. Roland was the only one in his office, and initially seemed reluctant to admit he was pleased to see me. It wasn’t long before we cleared the air over the misunderstanding, and then I had to head out.
“Oya nau, later,” he hailed, stretching out his hand.
I took it in mine for a handshake, only for him to pull me forward into a hug. He held me to him, and I held him to me. And time stood still for a moment.
In that frozen moment, tensions tightened, my heart hammered away and my throat was suddenly parched.
Steve, what have you done to me?! I screamed in my head, while trying to stifle the sparks that were lighting up my nerve endings at this close contact with this young man I suddenly found myself attracted to.
When we pulled back from each other, he tapped my cheek lightly and said, “Take care of yourself.”
I walked out of that office feeling flushed and inundated with so much confusion and rioting emotions. Was Steve right? Was Roland really gay? What was that hug about? And the touching, what was that supposed to mean? Was I reading too much into an otherwise innocent gesture on his part? Straight guys hug each other and touch each other’s faces all the time, right? Questions, questions…
The situation came to a head a couple of days later, after I traveled out of Lagos for an exam in the East. I was studying hard in the evening for the exam the next day, when Roland called me. After some small talk, one which I tried to cut short with the plea that I had some reading to do, he finally blurted, “I really wanted to hear your voice, to know how you are doing. And hearing your voice has given me the confidence to believe that when we see again, we’ll hug again. Because, I saw it in your eyes that other day.”
“Saw what in my eyes?” I queried, feeling at once flustered and bewildered.
“Never mind that,” he replied. “Just know I saw everything, and I know we’ll have the chance to do it.”
He hung up before I was able to ask what ‘it’ he was referring to, leaving me to ponder how this all had happened. How I went from the guy who existed in the workplace as the only gay person he knows to the guy affiliated with two gay men, one a chatterbox and the other a seer…
Written by Xpressive JBoy