I glanced for what has to be the umpteenth time at the broadcast that Jonathan sent in the morning. When I read it immediately after he sent it, I’d felt an instant anxiety over what the problem was. Jonathan is not one given to theatrics, so the tone of the message was very worrying. If either Ekene or Eddie had sent this, I wouldn’t be so bothered. I’d immediately pinged him back in the morning, but none of my messages delivered. When I tried calling him, he didn’t pick my calls. A quick succession of calls to the rest of the gang revealed nothing. Neither of them knew why Jonathan wanted to see us.
“I was even going to call you to find out if you knew what is going on with him,” Adebola said when I quizzed him.
“No, I don’t,” I replied.
It was odd. The seven of us were best friends, but even within the gang, we had subtle factions, cliques made up of those who migrated more easily to one or two other persons than the others. Yinka, Ekene and I were a tighter-knit group, in much the same way that Biola and Adebola were, as well as Eddie and Paschal. Jonathan had always been the solitary one in the gang, primarily because he felt that the rest of us were gayer than he was. He after all had a woman in his life, and we didn’t.
But sometime in the past several months, he started warming more up to me, taking me into his confidence and including me in more aspects of his life than the others were aware of. I was introduced to Chidimma when they were still dating; our other friends got to meet her after they were affianced. Our closeness was helped by the fact that the hospital where he works has regular business concerns with FitPlus, my workplace, and is located on the other side of the road from the healthcare company. The proximity of our workplaces meant we could drop in on each other during the odd lunch break with ease.
And so, the fact that I was in the dark as to what this was all about not only worried me. It stung. Just for about five minutes, until I remembered that I hadn’t told him – or any of my other friends for that matter – about the fiasco that was sex between Paschal and I.
I suppose, even in the closest of friendships, some secrets are permitted.
But I’d soon know what Jonathan’s secret was, I thought as I hurried to the bus stop after I closed from work. Instead of getting on one of the buses idling on the fast lane, with open doorways over which the conductors hung and yelled for passengers going to Yaba, I moved to the service lane and got settled inside the bus headed for Shomolu, where Jonathan lives.
That was the other curious thing about this. Having all seven of us congregate in Jonathan’s house is like getting all of Nigeria to endorse gay marriage. Well, not that extreme. It had happened once before, after Yinka insisted that Jonathan could either host one of our Sunday hangouts, or he could forget about fraternizing with us. Yinka is a ray of sunshine, but he can be a real mean thundercloud when he puts his mind to it. Jonathan capitulated, but only after he extracted a promise from Eddie that he wouldn’t wear any of his scandalous skinny jeans to the meet, and cautioned Ekene over his habitual flamboyance. Lol, that guy’s paranoia no dey Oshodi market, I swear.
His greatest fear is to be outed. And so, whatever had trumped his aversion to having all his gay friends in his house at once had to be gay-related. That much I deduced.
Adebola was getting out of his car which he’d parked on the street side in front of the fence that walled in Jonathan’s flat. Nestled in the spot next to his car was an obviously-new, small Acura Jeep, whose ash-coloured bodywork gleamed in the fading light of the early evening. I was glancing admirably at the car while I waited for Adebola to lock up and walk to me.
He noticed my gaze on the car and said with a smile, “Excellent choice, right?”
My brows crocheted with incomprehension as I looked at him. “Uh, yes, I suppose.”
“I think so too,” he said, now beaming. “Especially since I’m the one who picked it out.”
“Picked it out for who? Do we know who owns the car?”
“Yes nau. It’s Biola’s car.”
My eyes widened with surprise. “Biola has a car? Since when? We were just at his place yesterday and he didn’t say anything. Matter of fact, I didn’t notice this car in his compound.”
Adebola chuckled. “He picked up the car today. And he was going to make an announcement yesterday, until the mess with George happened. I guess he then forgot. But the car runs has been on the burner for quite some time. I went with him to the dealership when he wanted to make his choice.”
See what I was saying about friends and inner caucuses?
By this time, we’d gotten to the first floor of the flat, stopping before the door that had stuck on it Winners’ Chapel stickers which proclaimed the promises of the Lord from 2009 to 2013.
“I often wonder which year we’ll get to before this door will have no room for any more stickers,” Adebola said with a sardonic chuckle as I pressed the doorbell.
A tiny screech resonated from inside the house, and moments later, a shuffle of footsteps on the other side was followed by the bolt being drawn and the door being swung open to reveal Ekene.
“Well, hello there,” he sing-songed.
“He let you open his door?” I observed with a lift of my brows.
“Oh, the poor darling is fairly distraught, just distraught,” Ekene said with a limp-wristed hand lifted to his chest. “With the way he’s being brooding since we got here, if you suggest a drag queen contest in his living room, he won’t even flinch at the idea.”
Adebola and I laughed as we followed him into the house.
It soon became apparent that we were the last ones to arrive. Biola, Yinka, Eddie and Paschal were sprawled all over the couches. There were two packs of Five Alive on the centre table, and the three cups, half-filled with the juice and placed on the stools beside Yinka and Eddie – and Ekene, as he went to reclaim his seat – showed they were the ones sharing the drink. Biola and Paschal were nursing bottles of Stout.
“So Biola, you bought a new car, and you didn’t tell anyone, okwaya?” I burst out the moment I got comfortable.
“Biola has a car?” Ekene questioned, joining Yinka and Paschal to drop surprised stares on Biola. The three of them must have come here before him.
“Yes o!” Eddie interjected. “The pikin came to my house with that fancy piece of metal to pick me o. When he pinged me to wait for him, I thought we were going to do his usual chartering of taxi. I didn’t know I was about to be treated to an air-conditioned ride to this place.”
“Hmm, ibem fa,” Ekene exclaimed. “See all these my fellow pikin them are all joining the Big Girls Association. Ekene Nnoli, what are you still waiting for?”
“For Moses to pay your bride price?” Yinka supplied with a grin.
There was an outburst of laughter as Ekene protested, “Ha! Must I be a married woman before I can become a big girl?”
“Ask him o!” Adebola enthused. “Single ladies rock jaré!”
“My dear, you mustn’t,” Biola concurred. “Look at me nau. After that disaster with George yesterday, I decided to pamper myself with a new car.”
“You speak like you simply woke up this morning and got yourself a car,” Yinka said. “What are you not telling us? Have you now gotten some Dangote connections? Link me up abeg, screwing that man is on my bucket list.”
“Screwing Dangote himself, is that not greedy of you?” Eddie said, rounding on Yinka. “Mbok, if it’s me, all I want is perhaps his steward, or last-born son.”
“Steward, last-born son, pick one, you slut,” Yinka fired back.
“Ehn, I’m a slut, I agree,” Eddie rejoined. “You, you’re both greedy and a slut. That’s two sins. Who you think say God go punish pass.”
By this time, the rest of us were laughing hard, with me doubled over with my mirth. The gaiety in the room however dropped several degrees when Jonathan chose that moment to make an entrance into the living room.
I looked at him, noting no outward expression of distress or anxiety on his countenance, except for the crease across the bridge of his nose where a frown had set, his uncombed afro whose kinky curls stood on end as though he had frequently run his fingers through them, and the tenseness that marked his body with a visible tautness. He seemed very wound-up, a far cry from the laughing, care-free friend I’d hung out with just yesterday.
“Is everything okay, Jo?” I said, standing to walk toward him, concern brimming in my eyes.
He managed a wan smile at me as he answered, “Not really…”
“Well, tell us what the problem is,” Paschal said, “and if it’s somebody who needs to be offed, we can get started already.”
It was a weak effort at levity, and no one laughed as we stared expectantly at Jonathan, waiting for him to speak.
Finally he drew in a shuddering breath, and upon exhalation, he said, “I think my boss knows about my sexual preference for guys, and he is acting like one determined to expose me.”