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“I think my boss knows about my sexual preference for guys, and he is acting like one determined to expose me.”
The rest of us stared at Jonathan, momentarily robbed of speech.
“Excuse me?” Biola was the first to break the silence with the words that revealed his incredulity.
“I don’t understand,” Eddie followed after. “What do you mean?”
“What don’t you understand?” Jonathan snapped. “My boss, Doctor Ebiowei, suspects something about me, and he is embarrassing me with whatever it is he knows.”
“How old is your boss?” I asked.
“Has he hit on you before?” Adebola asked.
“Have you hit on him before?” Paschal asked.
“Are you kidding me with that question?” Jonathan returned coldly.
“What? It’s a valid question!” Paschal said with a shrug and lips twitching with amusement.
“If you’re going to make fun of this situation,” Jonathan said, his voice rising, “then better get out of my house right now!” His hand, with a pointing forefinger, flew in the direction of the doorway.
“Can’t someone joke with you again!” Paschal protested.
“Seriously, Paschal!” Ekene interjected.
“What? I was only joking –”
“Yes, because this is the right time to fool around,” Ekene cut in with a biting tone which effectively shut Paschal up.
“But, seriously, Jonathan,” Yinka said then, “did you perhaps hit on someone at work, or do anything that might have compromised you with your boss?”
“No – I don’t know…” He lifted a hand to his face to knead his shut eyes with his fingers. When he opened them again, the eyes were a bit reddened. “I don’t know. All I know is that the man hates my guts. He has never warmed up to me since I started working at that hospital three years ago.”
“How so?” I asked.
“When I first reported to work, on my very first day in his office, that old bastard took one look at me, and the first thing he could think of to say to me was, ‘You’re tall, but too slender, and I can’t help but notice you have some feminine mannerisms. Are you sure you have the stamina to work in a hospital environment?’”
He stared at us, a glimmer of the horror he must have felt upon hearing those words resurfacing in his eyes.
Jonathan Kechere is not effeminate; he is just…well, for a lack of a better word, dainty. The classic ajebutter. Born, bred and sheltered in Abuja, he relocated to Lagos after his service year, complete with his impeccably-groomed airs and faint aura of vulnerability, the latter which he endeavoured to mask everyday with a masculine ruggedness I suspected was alien to him.
“I was shocked by such rudeness,” he continued. “Imagine! The disrespect to someone you don’t even know! Is that the manner new staffs are welcomed to establishments, or was that impudence his own style? Either rescind your offer of employment, or set me to work – you don’t get to insult me before you’ve formed a proper opinion of me!” The last statement came out in a shout, and spittle flew from his mouth. He was getting angrier.
“Did you respond to what he said?” I queried softly.
“Of course not. I merely stared at him, too annoyed to even manage an awkward laugh. And then he dismissed me. We didn’t have any further incident for some time. He is a mean boss, yes – something I soon found out was his reputation at work. That was fine by me. I am a hard worker, and could deal with him being an asshole about work. But being an asshole to me over something not work-related?” He was shaking his head as he added, “That I can’t deal with.”
“Something else happened?” Eddie enquired.
“Yes. About nine months ago, Ruby – y’all remember Ruby, right?”
We nodded. Ruby was a fellow doctor who he’d started seeing nearly a year ago, before Chidimma. They’d gone out on a couple of dates, and then the budding relationship had died prematurely. One second, Ruby was a potential girlfriend, and the next, she’d gone back to being just another colleague. Jonathan never offered any explanation as to the demise of the romance.
“Well, Ruby and I were getting along just fine. We had gone out a bit and were clicking…great chemistry. And then one day, Doctor Ebiowei came upon us as we were coming into the hospital from a lunch break. We were gisting and laughing, and the man stopped us and went, ‘Ruby, this one you’re talking to Jonathan with your heads together, you won’t go and marry. What are you two discussing so intimately?’ And Ruby replied with a smile, ‘Ah, sir, I’m thinking of making Jonathan my boyfriend o.’ It was aimed at the man as a joke, even though we both knew we were getting serious. And do you know what the jackass said!” A muscle worked in Jonathan’s jaw as he swept a glance over us. “He said, ‘Jonathan is a homo nau!’”
I drew in a sharp hissing breath. Shocked gasps broke out from the others.
“Oh no, he didn’t,” Biola breathed out.
“Yes! Yes, he did,” Jonathan said through clenched teeth. “And then, he went on to say, ‘Look at him nau, can’t you see he’s too fine. My dear girl, leave this boy alone, you are wasting your time.’”
I felt my shock give way as a spurt of intense anger began to bubble inside me. That sonofabitch!
“Those words ruined whatever chances I had with Ruby. The girl must have taken the man seriously, because she started dodging me, and acting very formal and ultra polite with me whenever we bumped into each other at work. I then said to hell with her, and closed that chapter.”
“This man is a real asshole sha,” Paschal said.
“How can someone be that advanced in age, and still be this obnoxious,” railed Eddie. “I mean, isn’t age supposed to mellow this kind of attitude?”
“That’s not all. A few weeks after that, there was this drug representative who came around – Tinuke. And she had a presentation to give one evening. It wasn’t a mandatory exercise, and because I had a tennis match engagement that same evening, I didn’t bother to go. I wasn’t even on duty that evening, and I’d planned to catch up on whatever would happen at the presentation from one of my colleagues.”
I wasn’t surprised by this. Jonathan may be conscientious with his job, but there is something he loves just as passionately – tennis. He is dazzlingly skilled in the sport, a whiz in the tennis court. I’ve watched a number of his games, and his opponents almost never stand any chance. He usually cuts a dashing figure in his white Tee and skimpy shorts, and in the court, he becomes a blur that sends the tennis ball bouncing about with dizzying speed.
“So I went for my game,” he was talking, “and the next day, when I bumped into Tinuke, I apologized for not showing up. I told her about my pre-arranged game, and how unavoidable my absence from her presentation was. And then she gave me this smile, a smile like she’d deduced something about me, and said, ‘It’s alright. I understand. Doctor Ebiowei told me you wouldn’t make it, that it’s your thing.’ I asked, ‘My thing?’ And she said, ‘You know, that you’re antisocial, with no girlfriends, and that you prefer hanging out with your boys…’”
“Oh my god,” I groaned.
“The man who doesn’t know your personal life said that?” Yinka said incredulously.
“Someone needs to cut off that man’s tongue,” Ekene interjected nastily.
“And you know the worst part?” said Jonathan.
“There’s a worst part?” queried Yinka.
“Tinuke finished what she said to me with, ‘Not that I’m judging. Every man has a right to his decisions.’ The sheer patronization she put on those words made me want to slap the bejesus out of her.”
A few moments passed, during which time seven of us ranted about Doctor Ebiowei, swearing at him and expressing our outrage at his despicability. At some point during the harangue, Jonathan heaved a sigh and lowered himself on one of the sofas, steepling his fingers beneath his chin and staring sightlessly ahead.
Noticing his countenance, I interrupted the din when I moved toward him and sat beside him, placing a hand over his shoulder and asked gently, “Jo, all this happened awhile back. What happened now to make you summon us?”
He drew in a shuddering breath in the silence that followed my question and turned his head to me. The vulnerability he was feeling was suddenly so stark; his eyes had watered, and I watched him fight his misery with anger. His jaw worked as he bit out, “I can tolerate any nonsense from that man. What I cannot stand is him threatening my happiness…” His voice broke.
“Your happiness?” I said softly, feeling a fresh swath of horror. “Oh my God, did he say anything to Chidimma?”
The others pulled closer, straining to hear, to be scandalized afresh by whatever new revelation Jonathan had to impart.
“Yes,” he said swallowing hard. “This morning, Chidi came to pick me up at work from night duty. She’s been using my car, since hers is at the mechanic’s. I was walking out to meet her in the reception, to see her chatting with my boss. The few times since we started dating that I’ve happened on them conversing at the hospital, I always felt dread at what the man might say. But apparently, he’s never said anything out of place, because Chidi has not let on anything. In spite of that, I’m always uncomfortable with her being around him. This morning, my discomfort was justified.”
“What did he say?” Yinka intoned.
“When I walked up to them, he smiled at Chidi and said, ‘Nawa o. I still can’t believe you’re marrying this guy.’ Instantly, I felt very cold. Chidi laughed and said, ‘I know, right? I nabbed him before all these other Lagos girls could. Aren’t I the luckiest girl.’ And his answer was, ‘Or the unluckiest one. I mean, can’t you see? Are you that blind?’ And he was waving his hand up-and-down at me as he said this.”
He stopped talking, and dropped his head into his hands. For a moment, none of us said anything in response. The bubble of anger was starting to froth faster inside me. I was livid. I watched my friend’s despair and I wanted blood – Dr. Ebiowei’s blood.
“Do you have a picture of this man?” Eddie spoke then.
“Yes, let’s have a look at him, “Paschal added, “and then figure out what to do from there.”
Wordlessly, Jonathan dug out his phone from his pocket, keyed in the passcode to unlock the phone and navigated to his Media Library. We waited silently as he scrolled through his pictures. Then he got to one and stopped, tapping on it to enlarge the photo.
“That was taken during a photo-op to promote something at the hospital,” he muttered as he handed the phone to me.
I peered at the screen. There were five people in the picture – three males and two females, all clad in white lab coats. The man in the centre looked the eldest, and was flanked by the two young women. Jonathan and the third male stood on either side of the women. Dr. Ebiowei had to be the man in the middle. He was a grossly-built man who looked to be in his early fifties, with a round, hairless head, narrow cruel eyes and thick lips above a sparse, greying beard. I stared back at his grimacing face, and I despised him the more.
I handed the phone over to Yinka, who stood next to me, and in between muttered cusswords and grunts of displeasure, the phone was passed around. Adebola was the last to see the picture, and as he held the phone in his hand, he gaped. Then he blinked and stared harder at the screen.
“Wait, is it this bald-headed man that is your boss, Jonathan?” he blurted.
“I know him!”
All faces swiveled to him.
“You know him how?” Jonathan asked.
“Please, tell us you’ve shagged him,” Biola said. “Please, tell us he’s a self-loathing, disgusting pig who likes ass, and should be punished.”
Adebola chuckled. “Yes, we’ve had sex a couple of times before. I know him as Doctor Ernest, never got his last name though. And yes, he is a disgusting pig who likes ass, which causes his homophobic targeting of Jonathan to make sense. But how does this help us help Jonathan?”
Biola gave a small, nasty laugh. “Oh, this world is truly, truly a small place. And karma just made it smaller. And you, my dear friend” – he pointed at Adebola – “just became that bitch’s instrument.”