She finally settled her gaze on me. Whether she was looking to me for the answer, or she knew I was the one she was asking about, I had no idea.
However, I took a deep inhalation, mentally bracing myself for her reaction, and answered, “I am. I am gay.”
The quietness that followed after my admission appeared suspended, with emotions held up by the tentative grasp of uncertainty. I waited. Fabian waited. And Tonia stood there, staring at me, her expressive face revealing the effort she was expending mentally to process this.
Then her eyes softened, and her lips tilted upward in a small smile, before she raised a hand to my chin. “Oh DeeDee,” she murmured. “How long have you had to carry this burden all on your own?”
“Wait, Tonia…are you supporting this?” Fabian cut in heatedly.
“Since when did you start thinking it’s alright to address me like we’re mates?” Tonia shot back coolly, leveling a severe gaze at him.
Fabian’s face tightened with the affront he felt at Tonia’s rebuke, and he glared impotently at her for a short moment, then at me, before turning and stalking out of the room.
“Shut the door behind you,” I hollered at his retreating back.
He disappeared through the doorway without touching the door.
Tonia chuckled as she walked back to close the door. “How long has he known?”
“A few weeks,” I replied, going to my bed and climbing on it. She came to join me. “Actually, since right before that time he went to Port Harcourt for an interview.”
“You mean when he flew back with Daddy and Mummy from the East?”
“He’s clearly not handling it well, is he?”
“Clearly so,” I answered with a shrug. “I thought he had dealt with it. We had a fight the night he found out –”
“How did he find out?”
“He saw incriminating BBM chats on my phone, which I’d given to him to check the internet with.”
“Ok.” Then she made a hand gesture for me to continue.
“So, we had that fight,” I said. “And then he travelled and returned, and we just never talked about it again. Tonight, something about my self-confident reassurance to Daddy that I won’t be impregnating any girl appeared to tick him off.”
“Well, duh!” Tonia said, with a smile and a lift of her brows. “You’re the wicked brother who had to go and be gay, and leave him all alone with the responsibility of not bringing home a pregnant girl.”
I laughed at that, really hard. She joined me, and the two sounds merged, a rich blend of tenor and soprano. Our laughter faded away like the end of a song. I wiped my eyes.
“You seem to be taking this well,” I observed aloud.
“It was surprising, yes,” she replied. “But certainly not shocking. When you admitted it to me, I was silent, trying to gauge how much I was reeling at the news. But I wasn’t. In my head, I wasn’t like, ‘Oh shit! My brother is gay? How the fuck did that happen?’ No. I was more like, ‘Well, well, what do you know?’ I think, on some deep level, I’d always known, you know?”
I nodded. “Yea, I know. Biola once said that those of us who think our families don’t know about us are kidding ourselves. He believes family always already knows, sometimes without realizing it. And when they do realize it, they simply bury it under the tombstone of denial, and never have to deal with it. Unless, of course, that gay member of the family decides to come out to them.”
Tonia hedged, then said, “Biola…that’s the lawyer, right?”
She lapsed into silence, and stared down at her lap.
With a small, indulgent smile tugging at my lips, I said, “You have questions, don’t you?”
She beamed as she gushed, “Like a gazillion of them.”
A short laugh gusted from me. “Look at you. What do you suddenly think I am, some brand new experiment, completed and rearing to go?”
“Duh! God is the scientist, and yes, you’re suddenly brand new to me.”
My heart began to expand to accommodate the sudden surge of love I felt for my sister in that moment.
“So, tell me, all your friends, your gang – you all are gay?”
“Yes,” I said, nodding.
“Even Adebola?” Her eyes were starting to turn to saucers.
“Yes,” I replied, feeling a pang at the mention of his name. We hadn’t spoken to each other since that afternoon at Yinka’s place. He’d even deleted me from his BBM contact list.
“Damn it!” Tonia swore. “That nigga is fine. Why do you gay guys always have to rob us girls of the fine ones?”
“Hey! Aren’t you supposed to be engaged?”
“Doesn’t mean a gal can’t carry beef on behalf of the single female population.”
“Well, you ladies have Will Smith. He should do.”
“And you guys have Wentworth Miller – oh my God! It still breaks my heart when I imagine those beautiful eyes not sweeping me off my feet.”
“Down, girl,” I said with a laugh.
“Wait, all your friends – including Jonathan?”
I hedged. A millisecond passed while I contemplated how my sister, an affianced woman, would feel with the knowledge that Jonathan, who she knew was getting married, was also gay. She’d met Chidimma once, several weeks ago, when the two of us ran into Jonathan and Chidimma at the shopping mall in Lekki. Jonathan had just then proposed to Chidimma, and she was still in that giddy phase where every other female acquaintance just had to know about her news and behold her ring. And two days after Tonia began wearing her own ring, she’d asked me for Chidimma’s number; she’d wanted some guidance from the other woman on the planning of her wedding.
“No,” I said emphatically. “Jonathan isn’t gay.”
“He’s not?” Her brows crocheted, as though she wanted to disbelieve me.
“Nah, he’s not. He’s just a very open-minded straight guy, who loves to hang around the rest of us.” I couldn’t put on Tonia the onus of the decision of whether to tell Chidimma or not about what she knew of her fiancé. And I had to protect Jonathan’s interest. He hadn’t taken too kindly to Ekene when he indirectly outed him by association.
“Well, that’s mighty open-minded of him,” Tonia said.
“Which you are being right now, right?” I said.
She looked at me for a long moment, before saying in a subdued voice, “Were you ever going to tell me?” The gaiety had left her countenance, and her eyes were serious.
I stared back at her, and then shook my head as I replied, “I don’t know… Honestly, I don’t. It’s not exactly the kind of news you simply pass on. Like ‘Hey, sis, guess what? I’m gay. Now, may I borrow your hair cream?’”
“Come on, DeeDee,” she interjected. “We’re too close to each other, closer to each other than any member of this family, for you to think me the kind of person you couldn’t share this with.”
“I tell you things, Dee. Very personal things I go through. With Eric. With my girlfriends. When I’m feeling down –”
“Yes, but Tonia, you have to admit, these are not the same things.”
She nodded slowly. “Yes, you’re right. They’re not.” A beat passed, before she asked, “This is why you stopped going to church, isn’t it?”
“Not entirely so. I accepted who I am way, way back, while we were still in secondary school. I even somehow managed not to buckle under the conflict in the reconciliation of my sexuality with my faith.”
“Then what happened?”
“I stopped having faith in the humanity of Christians,” I said with a shrug.
“But Dee –”
“Ending my attendance of church didn’t end my love of God, or my belief in His sovereignty. I didn’t suddenly switch tracks to atheism because I couldn’t deal. I simply became more…” I flailed mentally for the word.
“Agnostic?” Tonia supplied.
“What is even that one sef?” I groused with a smile. “All these labels that keep springing up now and again…”
“They help keep things in perspective, for those who do not understand them, and for those who revel in them.”
“Perspective…” I murmured the word, like it was alien to me. “Ah yes, if only the world had enough of that to help deal with its often savage dissension of the things it does not understand.”
“You’re talking about the antigay bill?” Tonia intuited.
“It’s too barbaric,” she said, shaking her head. “It won’t pass into law.”
“But it could. This country is filled with enough intolerance and religious bigotry to let it become law.”
“Well, fuck them,” Tonia said with feeling. Her eyes were stormy with purpose as she continued, “Fuck our legislators, fuck those who are too blinded by homophobia to see that they won’t make heaven. Fuck them all. They don’t matter to me. You do. You’re my brother, and I love you very much. I always will, no matter what. There’s going to be questions in the future, tough choices to make, but your journey doesn’t have to be a lonely one.” She clasped my right hand with hers, while looking earnestly at me. “You have me. I’ll be there for you, whether it’s when you want to smack Fabian back into being a good little boy, or you want to cut the bullshit with our parents. I’m there if you need me, okay? I love you, you know that, right?”
My eyes had moistened, and my heart had constricted with the rush of emotions that began tiding in with each word Tonia had just spoken. “Yes,” I husked. “Of course, I do.”
“Good. Now, come here.” And she pulled me into a hug.
I buried my head inside her hair and hugged back. She still smelled of a long day and the kitchen, but that didn’t matter to me. I was just intensely glad that I finally had someone in this family to count on. Suddenly, hope glimmered in the gloomy future I’d envisioned myself having with my family.
“Nawa o,” Yinka said over the phone three days later, “so, you’re not just Tonia’s brother anymore. You’re now her gay BFF?”
“My dear ehn,” I said with a gust of laughter. I’d just finished recapping my coming out story to him. He was the second friend I was telling. I’d gotten on the phone with Ekene that same evening, after Tonia left my room. Currently, I was in a chartered taxi headed to Lekki, and my narration to Yinka had been a bit stilted, because of my self-consciousness with the presence of the cab driver in the car.
“So, that’s two down, three more family members to go. Assuming Fabian doesn’t beat you to it, who’s next?”
I could hear the grin in his voice and I responded with another laugh. “Not for a very long time o, abeg. The drama of telling the other three can wait, perhaps until what I’m not doing with my life will tell them.”
“Like getting married?”
“And having kids. Wouldn’t it be best if they simply inferred from my perpetual bachelorhood, and dealt quietly with it without asking any questions?”
“Yes, that’ll happen about the same time that Orland Bloom will finally discover my love for him, sweep me off to an exotic island, and proceed to spell his name all over my body.”
I threw my head back in boisterous laughter. “Hold on to that probability.”
“I’m breathless with anticipation.”
The taxi driver chose that moment to begin jockeying for the right of the road with a Honda on his left amid furious blasts of the horn.
“Ah-ah! What’s all that noise?” Yinka complained from the other end. “Aren’t you supposed to be at work?”
“I took a half day off,” I replied. “I’m on my way to check out the Lagos Business School at the Pan Atlantic University.”
“Oh yea, about that MBA you want to pursue in Human Resource Management, yea?”
The driver jabbed at his own again, and spat a flurry of angry Yoruba at the Honda’s driver.
“Ow-kay, it’s become a zoo over there,” Yinka said. “Let me know how it goes at the school. And, Dee…”
“I’m proud of you for the huge step you took with your sister.”
“It wasn’t like I had much of a choice.”
“Still, it’s a plus for you. And I’m happy for you. We all deserve to be cut breaks like this.”
“We all do,” I agreed, before the call was ended.
It was about thirty minutes later before the taxi driver pulled up before the sedate entrance of the Pan Atlantic University, nestled on its luxury spot along the winding stretch of the Lekki-Epe Expressway. I paid the man, and moments later, the vehicle was swerving to rejoin the traffic heading back to the main city.
I stood for a moment, taking in the serenity of the environment, with the graveled driveway leading up to the gates, and the Spartan but lush vegetation dotting the landscape.
I started forward, calling out a greeting to the young man approaching me from the gates. He was headed for the main road, but appeared to do a double take when he looked up at me to return my greeting.
“Declan, is it?” I heard him say.
I stopped walking to focus on him. He looked vaguely familiar with his extremely fair complexion, and hair that was a dusting of light colour on his head.
“It is you!” he enthused, before parting his small, bleached lips into a smile, and coming forward with an outstretched hand. I shook it, but my incomprehension must have been evident on my face, because he said, “It’s me, Oscar. You know, Oscar from –”
“Right! Yea, Oscar!” The dots had clicked. Paschal’s friend. The last time we met was at Yinka’s place, the Sunday we’d been arguing about gay sex roles. “I remember you for the singular fact that you got under my friend, Biola’s skin that afternoon,” I said.
He ducked his head with an abashed grin. “Yea, I told Paschal after that day to never let me be alone in a room with that dude. He looks like he could turn to one of my village witches and tear me apart.”
I laughed at that.
“So what are you here for?” he asked.
“Well, hopefully, this could be my new school.”
“You’re here for an MBA?”
“Fantastic. I’m already doing a program here.”
“Well, what do you know? I already have someone to show me the ropes around here.” I beamed at him.
He ducked his head again, in a manner that told me it was probably an idiosyncrasy. “Well then. Why don’t I help you out on your first day,” he said, turning so we could walk together.
“Hardly my first day, but thanks. Weren’t you on your way out though?” I questioned as we drew close to the gate.
“I was. But it’s nothing important.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely,” he reaffirmed.