It has always been easier to play the class clown. I learned much earlier that it was a good defence mechanism; the best way to hide my disappointments, rejection and worries. So it came as no surprise to me when I tried to downplay my new status and brush it off my back.
Upon our return from Daberechi’s lab, Josh and I hung out like we would do on a lazy Saturday: we dined on Josh’s spicy jollof rice he referred to as Mama’s special, watched reruns of our favourite shows and went out for a meet-n-drink with a couple of friends when the sun set.
There was cold beer and up-tempo music, with, of course, Yours Truly playing the role of the king’s jester and endeavouring to make everyone laugh. I think it was and still is a good distraction – focusing on everyone else and living in the moment. Besides, if I decided to stay at home and stew, it would not change my circumstance. After one too many bottles, I went home feeling optimistic about life and the road ahead.
I was only able to sleep for a couple of hours despite my inebriation, before the nightmares came. But unlike the bad dreams in times past, which I was often lucky enough not to remember when I woke up in the morning, this particular one felt so real, I woke up scared and teary-eyed.
I dreamt I died.
I was watching my mother staring at my lifeless body, and the true Yoruba woman she is, she was wailing and throwing herself on the floor, lamenting that her enemies had finally gotten the best of her. It was oddly amusing to me as I watched the drama play out. And at once, I wanted to reach out to her and soothe her, to tell her I was okay now, and that she didn’t have to worry about me. I was finally at peace.
Then she said something, words I would never forget: “Temidire Durotimi, you know you are all I had in this world. How could you go and leave me here alone? How could you let this disease to kill you? Did I fail so much as a mother…?”
I sobered instantly. The yearning to hold her swelled. But try as much as I could, she remained out of my reach. It was like the TLC Waterfall music video, where one of the protagonists tried to reach out and embrace his mother in the end, but couldn’t. It was too late to do that.
And then, I cried out to her:
Ma’ami, you are not a failure. It is me who has failed you in all ramifications. You are the best thing that ever happened to me. The only true friend I have ever known. I am sorry. I am sorry that I let you down. I am sorry that I could not be a better son…that after all we have been through, I have disappointed you and left you…that I did not tell you and that I had to put you through this heartache.
But she couldn’t hear me, and I needed her to. I wanted her to hear me, but she couldn’t. She continued lamenting, her grief keeping her out of my reach. I felt distraught. I was crying now.
And then, I woke up with a start, my eyes moist, and my chest tight with the crush of my pain. The dream was a vivid memory in my mind.
Moments later, I closed my eyes and tried to go back to sleep, and hopefully dream of sunshine and rainbows and beautiful black men. But the fates would not allow me such a privilege. Every time I closed my eyes, I would see Ma’ami, crying, beating herself up and referring to herself as a failure. And there I lay there in bed, staring at the ceiling and counting sheep, reflecting on how far we had come.
I started calling my mother Ma’ami after watching the Tunde Kelani movie which starred Funke Akindele. She hated the moniker initially, but grew fond of it with time. I remember feeling deeply connected to the movie, not only because of its powerful storyline and commendable cinematography, but because it struck a chord deep within. It reminded so much of the kind of relationship me and my mother shared. The trials and huddles we went through as I grew up. From the controversial circumstances surrounding my birth to the great sacrifices she made for me growing up, for me to get an education and be better than she had been. She would walk me to school every day (even in secondary school!), and sacrifice a chance at buying herself nice things, just so that I could have the opportunities to be a great man.
As the years rolled by, we continued to share that bond a mother often shares with her child, further cemented by our circumstances. We were the only family we had, so there was no one else to forge that connection with. We fought and bickered from time to time. Sometimes I called her wicked and insensitive when I didn’t get what I wanted, but we would always make up shortly after. We had shared everything – tears and laughter, triumphs and letdowns, the ups and downs of life in general.
Ma’ami was my biggest cheerleader, always, always standing at the sidelines with a word of praise and encouragement, never giving up, always inspiring me to do bigger and better things, trying her best to fill in the role of both parents for me, and I tried to be the husband she never had. I told her everything, even that I might be gay, and that I didn’t feel the need to be married and be a man who would up and just leave and not be there or have a mistress outside (story for another day).
So my decision not to share my status with her came with certain . . . consequences. This was the first time I’d had to keep something grave from her. I wanted to come undone before her and just bare it all. But I weighed it and come to the decision that keeping my status a secret from her was best for the both of us. Her knowledge of HIV and her perception of the ailment – very similar to the world’s – meant the news would send her down a path of worry, which may then affect her emotionally and psychologically. I’d recently watched a documentary of a father and his gay son who was positive; it was not easy for the father, even though he learned to adjust. And this was an oyinbo father, let alone my demon-banishing, thoroughly-and-unapologetically African mother. She could not deal with it, I told myself. It would kill her. And I would not be able to forgive myself if anything happened to her because of me.
I was also worried it would strain our relationship, because then I would have to explain to her where I got it from. And how do I justify that being gay for me was as normal as breathing when I had contracted the disease, in my case, from the love of cock and bubble butts and being reckless about it? Wouldn’t she translate it to mean that homosexuality was evil and nothing good could come from it? For me, one leg of the sexual orientation debate I often lost was when the issue of HIV and other STDs came up. Statistically, we have the highest exposure to STDs and the virus. So how could we prove to the world – or me to Ma’ami – that being gay was okay?
I had always hoped that the day me and her had this conversation again about my sexual orientation, I would be able to tell her it was simply who I am, with no buts or commas in the equation. That I would be able to convince her that I could be gay, responsible, successful and clean. But this was not to be my fate. Perhaps maybe I would still be able to do this someday, but at the moment, the odds seemed stacked against me.
I was burdened by all these thoughts when the sun came up. I had smoked half a packet of cigarettes by now, and yes, I know those things are not good for me. But they got me through the night.
It was yet another beautiful day. I could feel the warmth of the rising sun and slits of light creep into my bedroom, but I felt as grey as a cold day in June. I popped in the Travis Singles album (some people can write depressing music sha) and tried to get some sleep.
I once read on a friend’s status… Someone once gave me a box of darkness. I did not know that this was also a gift… I never understood what this meant until this morning. I rolled over and prayed the darkness would envelope me, and that in it, I would find comfort, solace and perhaps peace of mind for a little while.
I guess I will be okay eventually. Maybe not today, but eventually…
Written by Temi-D