Read ‘Being Bruno’ Episode 1 HERE
When you were fourteen, your mother got a job as an auxiliary nurse at a private hospital a stone throw away from your house. Your mom was ecstatic with the appointment, and when she started work, sometimes, she took you to the hospital and let you stay in the changing room while she worked.
That was where you were that day, the 27th of May, sitting in the lone plastic chair reading Dean R. Koontz’s Watchers, when a blur of movement outside the window caught your eye. You tore your mind from the thrilling story of the smart golden retriever to the window. At first, you don’t notice anything out of the ordinary, just the normal view of the windows into the second-storey apartment of the next building (you could practically see everything in the rooms, given how close together the houses stood, a something commonplace in Onitsha). And then, your eyes moved to the verandah where he stood.
He was tall and fair. Those were the first things you noticed. Then his subtle features – his thin nose, red lips, curly black hair. He was a few years your senior, that much was obvious. And you felt an instant attraction for him. You could feel the blood humming in your veins, travelling down there. You moved to accommodate the sudden turgidity behind your fly.
And then he moved. His hands swished from side to side robotically, as he did a quick move with his leg. He was break-dancing. It was a breathtaking sight to behold. And you felt a tug in your heart. You heard it beat a Thump-Thump-Thump rhythm in your chest.
You suddenly desired to be close to him, even if that was the last thing you did. You were drawn to him like moth to the flame. You wanted to burn with his touch. That was what you wanted, even though you didn’t know where the feeling came from. Before now, you had never felt anything like this for anyone.
It took a few days for you to have his pattern down pat. You knew what time he came home from school, when he went to his mother’s shop, and when he went to fetch water from the closest water pump. You wanted to meet him. And you figured the water pump was your surest bet. So you worked at finessing the plan you had of meeting him.
It was about two days later before you trusted yourself to speak to him.
“Hello…” you said in a voice that sounded weak to your own ears. You inwardly cursed yourself for choosing to embarrass yourself so.
“Hi,” he returned in a surprisingly small voice. It was a sweet voice. You imagined it saying your name. “Kedu? What’s up?” He was still talking.
Your mouth went dry. You swallowed a couple of times before you said, “Fine.” Your voice was a croak.
You shyly averted your gaze from his face to your water container, into which water from the tap was gushing. His slightly larger container sat at the side, being filled by the other tap. You prayed that they’d never filled. You prayed that nobody would come to the tap to spoil this magical moment. You prayed for these and many more miracles.
“I saw you dance!” You said those words as soon as they came to mind, because you couldn’t tell him how you really felt, what you really wanted to say. When he raised his eyebrows, you continued, “I want you to teach me.”
He smiled. His smile was the most beautiful thing you’d ever seen. It made you feel warm even though it was late in the evening and the cool breeze had settled in. It made you think of sunlight and blossoming flowers.
“Okay. That’s nice,” he said.
And then, you had fixed a date.
It was the happiest day of your life.
In the following weeks, you enjoyed his company. You basked in his every smile, drank in his joy. You were only jealous of the way he conversed with his best friend. You wanted to have that, to have him. You dreamt of it. It nearly drove you mad. Or maybe it really did, because then came the day you handed him a letter professing your feelings and how you want to be his friend. You had finally mined the courage to express yourself to him. You put it down in the letter, handed it to him outside and ran back upstairs, anxious to get away from him before he read the content of your heart.
Once you were in your flat, you darted to your window, the one that had an excellent view of the water taps. You saw him caress the folded paper and put it in his pants pocket. Fifteen minutes later, he appeared at the taps again. And he was beaming. He turned toward your window and waved. You instinctively ducked, letting the curtain fall. A few seconds later, you risked reappearance. He was still looking at your window, smiling. When you made yourself visible, you waved back. He shook his head, chuckling.
And then he moved his mouth. You could not be sure, and yet your heart pounded when you followed the movement of his lips, when you realized what he was saying. Bruno, I love you too.
The following three weeks were a blur. You two continued to spend time together, still under the guise of him teaching you how to dance. It’d taken only two classes for you to know that you were far too rigid to perform any form of dancing. You wanted to give up trying. The routines were too complicated, you couldn’t keep track of them, and you’d had enough of making a fool of yourself. But he was a persistent teacher. He took you through the rudiments of dancing, after which you’d regale him with the summary of the last novel you’d read. You told him about the world created by John Saul, Robin Cook and Mary Higgins Clark; about the man that operated the Novels Exchange Program at the Onitsha Post Office; about your six-year-old sister; about how awful you were made to feel at school, hated by the boys for being too effeminate and smart. You also told him things you’d never told anyone before, things nobody knew, about your father, and how badly he treated you and your mother.
You talked and he listened. And in those moments, you were happy.
Those three weeks passed. And then, the bliss came to an abrupt end.
You’d gone over to his building as usual, but he didn’t come out to meet you. His brother refused to let you into the house. You were bewildered. Then later, at the tap, while you were fetching water, he appeared. His eyes was downcast, his face sullen.
You rushed to him. “What’s wrong?”
The look he gave you froze you right where you were when you encountered it. It was cold and distant, the expression of a stranger. His voice was even colder when he said, “Don’t come near me.”
Confused, you looked at him more carefully. His eyes were bloodshot, red, misty. You took a step forward. “What…”
“Don’t take another step, homo!” he burst out. “You want to corrupt me. Homo, leave me alone!”
You stopped in your tracks. The words hit you like bullets. And they carried too. Everybody at the tap turned towards you. They divided bright speculative stares between you two. Their eyes bored holes into you.
Feeling a flush of shame, you turned, grabbed your water container, heaved it on your shoulder and ran off. You got home, dropped the container at the kitchen and escaped into your room. You dropped to the ground, your back against the wall, and wept.
You cursed all men – your father for making you miserable, and ‘Him’ for betraying you so.
But more than anyone else, you cursed yourself for being naive and stupid.
Homo. That’s what he called you.
Time passed, dulled the wound of his betrayal, but did not take away the sting of that word. The word filled you with shame. It made you duck your head when you thought about all the people at the tap who’d heard him call you that. It brought to your consciousness the thinking that you were different. Bad different. The kind of different you should be ashamed of.
And then, more time passed, three years actually. And that thinking faded away. You began to believe in yourself again, to believe that you weren’t damaged or evil. Or bad different.
But the security from your belief was premature. For there was a darkness lurking. Deep within. Waiting to break out.