FOREWORD: Remember the series 890 – the beloved sweet beautiful story of love and relationship and family we all fell in love with? Well, Vhar has returned with a sequel. Now, let me brace you lovers of the previous series. You are about to hate Vhar. HATE, HATE, HATE HIM! There. My job here is done. You may now read.
"We are done."
Aliu and I had just completed our evening run on the Lekki/Ikoyi Bridge and I was totally exhausted. Khalil, who had been discharged the week before, was under his grandmother's doting eye back at his house. There were other evening joggers on the bridge. We'd run together a lot of times, sometimes making fun of other joggers: ladies whose breasts jiggled in their sports bra, men whose knuckled knees never failed to crack us up. Some other times, we recounted the lives of these strangers as if we were the omniscient narrators – the all-seeing and all-knowing.
But not tonight. Aliu had been quiet since we met about an hour ago.
I wasn't sure I heard him right, so I removed my headphones from my ears and looked up at him from above my heaving chest. He wasn't looking at me. He was looking straight ahead at the vast water flowing swiftly into the night.
"Kilo so?" I asked.
There was a pause.
Then he turned and looked at me in the eye and said tonelessly, "We are done."
"Done? Done with what?" I asked because the statement came out of nowhere and I was genuinely confused.
I snorted in amusement. "Very funny. Better don't joke about shit like that, bobo."
"I'm not joking," he said.
The light from bridge's monument cast a perfect, crisp halo around him. The bridge is a work of art. I'd overheard someone a few weeks back describe the walk on it at night as “almost sexual”. Now I don’t know anything about that, but I guarantee that a few marriage proposals as well as many ulterior ones have been sealed with a walk or a drive on this bridge.
My break-up would definitely be the first.
I straightened up, expecting to see the familiar glint of humour in his eye, the smart-ass smirk, or the quiver at the corner of his mouth as if he was trying to hold back a laugh. Instead, his gaze was shuttered and empty.
I'd seen him give several people that look: police officers, roadside thugs, the mallam who once tried to sell cigarettes to him at an exorbitant price, his father. But not me. Not even his son.
My stomach dropped. "It's like Boko Haram has opened HQ in your head, abi?” I said, aiming for a bantering note in my voice. “Better stop this joke now."
He shook his head. "It's over, Moe. I don't love you anymore."
He could have slapped me and shocked me less, hurt me less. The words ripped through my rib cage and slashed at my heart. Aliu was never supposed to say "I love you" with a "don't" in between. If anything, I should have been the one to say that two months ago when he hit me.
"This isn't funny, Ali." My voice trembled. I couldn't hide it, couldn't act hard. He'd have seen right through any front I tried to put up. He knew me that well.
I thought I knew him well too.
"It's no big deal, really," he said with a dismissive shrug. A trickle of sweat rolled down his toned arms.
"Abi o ti ya werey? It's no big deal? After you hit me and I forgave you?" Hot anger burned deep in my belly. I balled up my fists. "What the hell is wrong with you? What's going on? Is it your father again?"
"Look, I'm just tired of you," he said casually and gave another shrug.
I took three steps backward like I didn't even know him. It was obvious it wasn't killing him like it was killing me. Two years and nine months I'd known this man. Two years we'd been together. And he could shrug it off like it was nothing?
"You're young, patient and smart. You'll find someone in no time,” he continued.
I stood there, stunned. And I started sweating profusely. It was like I was in a sauna.
"Look, I've got to go. I'll see you around." And he trotted off.
I felt hate. I felt anger. I felt pain. I felt helpless. But one thing I refused to weigh me down was hopelessness.
And it was in this state that I met Demola.
TWO YEARS LATER
As I rounded the corner onto my street, my phone vibrated in its holster around my upper arm. All through the night, I'd not been able to sleep. So I took it out on my sneakers and muscles. I don't think I'd ever run that much in my entire life. My boyfriend, Demola was getting married to his fiancée of six years in three weeks. Of course, he had let me in on his bisexuality in the early stages of our relationship, but I couldn't afford to be biased about his preference to women simply because I'm gay.
I met him on the Lekki/Ikoyi link bridge, a few feet away from the spot Aliu broke up with me. Ivan and Deola were too far behind to help me with my sprained ankle when he, Demola, had come along, helped me to Deola's car and waited till my friends completed their laps.
"Hey, mom,” I said breathlessly into the mouthpiece of my hands-free. “Shey e wapa?"
"Moe, are you okay? What's going on?" I could hear the concern in her voice right away.
I chuckled. "Nothing, ma. I just finished running when you called."
"You and this your running. I don't know the fat your skinny self is trying to burn sef."
"I'm fine, mom."
"Are you?" she asked, both her suddenly somber tone and the question itself catching me off-guard.
"I am." There was a loud pause on her end. "Really, mom," I reiterated. I wasn't sure who I was trying to convince though – my mother or myself.
"I don't know who you're trying to convince here," she said.
I hated it when she did that, intuited into my thoughts.
"How many laps did you go?" she queried.
I groaned. I knew where this was going, and knowing her, she wouldn't let up until I had told her what was bothering me.
"Is this about Demola getting married?" she asked.
See why I hated that mind thing she does?
"No, it's not –”
"You're lying. I can tell. I know these things."
I sighed and sat on the curb, feeling like pulling my short hair from its root.
"I am fine, mom," I said through gritted teeth while using my arm to wipe the sweat off my face.
"No, you aren't. Your relationship with Demola is about to end and you're doing that thing you do when you're exasperated, depressed and helpless."
My mother knows I'm queer. I came out to her after Aliu and I broke up, and she finally signed the divorce papers my father had served her.
"I've always known," was what she had said in the end after I was done telling her of my sexuality.
My coming out to her opened created a closeness I'd never known with her before. We'd talk about men – as weird as that was – to politics, finances, cooking techniques and how to cater to a man. That last part she didn't fail to let me know she's had ample experience with, and most times, I cringed at the old fashioned tips she gave me. Like this is 2016!
But right there on the curb, I wasn't ready to listen to her talk about my relationship with Demola. I didn't want her to meddle or say anything soothing to make me feel better. I wanted to feel every pain, every loss the end of my relationship would bring me.
"Look mom, I have to go. We'll talk later." I hung up before she could protest. I jogged to my house – father's house – climbed the short steps and slipped inside as quietly as I could, even though my father wasn't around. I went straight to the water dispenser in the corner and gulped two cups of water.
As I took my last sip, I felt a change in the room. I wasn't alone. The change was very familiar. It was a gut reaction I thought I had long ago cured myself of. At least that was what I kept telling myself in hopes that one day, it'd turn out to be true. I stilled, swallowed hard and turned around slowly while my heart beat frantically in my chest.
Aliu was in my living room.
I had not seen him since after Khalil's funeral.
I swallowed hard again before calling his name.
It came out like choked sob. The first thing I noticed was his beard – or the lack of it. His chin was clean-shaven, with a hint of moustache and a goatee. He had kept his beard longish when we were together, and that gave him the bad boy look those in the beard gang business were after. He looked different, as I stared at him, and yet so breathtakingly familiar. My chest constricted.
Then slowly, anger started to build up. Why was he here? Here with those dark eyes that could see straight into my soul? He was leaner, wiry and looked stronger under the tight shirt he was wearing.
I remembered vividly the day he walked into my office – the day he came into my life and changed it. It felt like years ago when it’d only been four years. Two years of being together, and then two years of him shutting me out of his life.
Now, the bigger part of me wanted to launch myself at him and drop his ass to the ground. I'm not a violent person. But if backed into a corner, I'd defend myself now. Don't blame me. After what I went through growing up, and after Aliu broke up with me, I had taken self-defense classes. Nothing major, just the basics and then some more.
Few people can provoke me into the rage Aliu had me in that moment. Thin line between love and hate? Probably.
"What are you doing here?" I hissed.
He didn't flinch from my obvious rage. He didn’t seem surprised by it. It was like he hadn’t expected anything different.
“We need to talk,” he said as a matter of fact.
Written by Vhar