“Come here!” one of them ordered.

The tone of his voice made fear surge up my spine, keeping me immobile. I stood there, right there by the wall of the south corner of the room. I couldn’t go to meet them and I couldn’t run away either. I had been playing with the other kids when a girl who was in a class ahead of came to call me.

“Broda Toyosi is calling you.”

I was excited and scared all at the same time. I knew why he had sent for me. It wasn’t their first time, nor their second and third. The only reason I answered their call was because they made me feel good. They made me feel wanted. After they’d done things to me, they’d threaten me and give me lollipops as a way of placating me.

I remember vividly, even though I have tried so hard to forget that day that I moved away from the wall and backed away slowly. I didn’t want to touch them anymore. I didn’t want to go down on them again. And I didn’t want them on top of me. I just wanted it to stop.

But no! They weren’t done with me. Yemi got up, and before my little feet could carry out of there like my life depended on it, he grabbed me by the collar of my shirt, slapped me twice and pulled me back into their lair.

I did things to them.

I was only five years old. They were in their late teens.

They were two brothers and their cousin.

Yemi. Niyi. Toyosi. Those were their names.

I remember going to wash myself clean that night before going to bed. I remember putting my small room in order that night. I remember the things I did that night.

And crying myself to sleep was one of them.

It went on for five years. And I kept it all to myself. I was strong back then.

***

Throughout my freshman year, I was always by myself. I didn’t make any friends and I didn’t let anyone close. But Ivan, he was persistent. Somehow we became good friends.

We were on a break that year and Ivan had to travel to some neighboring country to explore. He’d said that before he clocked thirty, he’d have visited most countries in our continent. He wanted me to go with him on this particular trip but I declined.

I met this really hot guy via the Internet. We spoke on the phone and on BBM when I wasn’t too busy with school work and him with work. Eventually, we decided to hangout one weekend at a bar. The conversation was pure bliss. When it was around 6pm, I decided to head back home. He didn’t press for me to spend some more time with him.

The next weekend, he invited me out to the movies. I had fun. I was proud of myself. I was finally getting over my anxiety and paranoia. I couldn’t wait for Ivan to come back to see the new me. I was certain he’d be very proud of me.

The weekend that followed, he invited me to his house. I went over. And right there, in his living room, I was raped. I was slapped around when I tried to resist. I did things I had never done before. They took turns. Three of them.

Chima. Yinka. Peter.

When Ivan got back from his trip, I had burrowed back into my shell. He knew something went wrong way before he got back. He hounded me but I didn’t tell him. He was mad at my seclusion, but he didn’t let me go.

I saw a counselor but he wasn’t of any help. I took to scrubbing my body four times a week. It became a ritual. My academics suffered.

If we were good friends and your room was scattered, I’d put it back in order, even if you hadn’t asked. I’d clean and wash and mop the place to sparkling sanitation. It gave me purpose. Putting things in order. It was like I was giving these lifeless things the help they could not get.

I still do that but not as much as when it started.

***

When I met Aliu, I figured I had to leave the past behind and start over. I gradually let my brick walls down. I let go of the shame and chains I’d grown up with. I decided to laugh more and live. The evening he decided to put a label on what we had going on, we had just gotten off the escalator at the mall and he had his hand draped over my shoulder. To anyone that saw us, we could have been brothers or friends or just family.

He cocked his head slightly toward mine and whispered, “Will you be my boyfriend?”

My heart swelled. And just as I was about to give him my answer, my eyes caught something, someone. Two people actually. Chima and Peter, walking casually like they owned the world. They were moving toward the escalator. The goofy smile I had on my face vanished immediately. I stopped in my tracks, and because Aliu had his hand around my shoulder, he was forced to stop too.

“Are you alright?” he asked, but he sounded so very far away.

I kept looking at the two men, who by now had almost gotten to where we were. Peter saw me first. He was shocked. I could see it in his eyes. Then Chima saw me. They both stopped in front of us.

By now, Aliu was looking from me to them and back.

He nudged me, and I looked up at his face. But it wasn’t his face I saw. I saw the third guy. Yinka.

Then his face morphed into Niyi’s.

And then it was Toyosi’s.

And then Yemi’s.

And then it was back to Aliu’s bald-headed face.

I let out a choked gasp, turned and ran.

Truthfully, I didn’t know where the strength came from. But my legs carried me far away from them. By the time I stopped, I was at the gate of the mall. Everything came crashing down. I was shaking and I started crying. I heard a car honk behind me, but I didn’t look in its direction. I didn’t care. The man behind the wheel of the car swore at me, as he steered his car leftward and past me.

Then I started laughing. The sound bubbled forth from me, harsh and mirthless. And I was still crying. I was crying and laughing at the same time. Over time I’ve tried to conjure what my facial expression that moment would’ve been like. I bet it was horrendous.

I finally heard my name called out. I turned and saw Aliu running toward me. Following closely behind him were Chima and Peter. They were still far away. I straightened and turned to run again, but then I felt the small weight of Aliu’s keys in my pocket. I sprinted toward the car, which was close, got in and drove off.

My phone started ringing. I knew who was calling. The single beep told me who and I ignored it.

***

I drove back to Aliu’s house two hours and thirty-nine minutes later. He was seated outside, by the front door. He didn’t get up when he saw me. I didn’t want him to anyway. I went to where he was and sat beside him.

I told him everything. From the very beginning. He listened.

When I finished my story, it was dark. Very dark, thanks to PHCN.

“I will never hurt you,” he said then.

I could see the promise on his lips, in his eyes.

“I will not lay a finger on you, Morris,” he promised again.

No matter what you ask of a rose bud, it will wait until it’s ready to bloom. From this, I learned we all open up when the time is right. Not a second before and not a second late.

A month after that, I answered the question he had asked the mall. He became my very first boyfriend.

***

PRESENT

Some say, don’t burn your bridges. I say, if necessary, let the kerosene kiss it on the lips, watch it turn to ash. There’s always more than one way to cross the water.

I stayed away from everyone. Ivan, his boyfriend, Bello, and my other close friend, Deola. Luckily, I had the house to myself. Both of my father and mother had traveled out of state. Even Esther, the help was away. Being alone was pure bliss.

Aliu called. I ignored him. He left messages. I didn’t acknowledge them. I didn’t even read them. He knew better than to come over to my house. I had dogs and I’d have gladly set them loose on him.

I went back to the media outfit I interned for and threw myself into work, took on extra shifts and did stuff I had no business doing. I buried myself so deep that early one morning, when I opened my door to Ivan and Deola, I was startled into the realization that I’d totally forgotten they existed.

“I’m fine!” I said as Ivan opened his mouth to begin a lecture. Then I turned and left them at the door.

“Right. If by fine you mean fucked up, then yeah, I guess you are fine,” Ivan said as he walked in with Deola behind.

I rounded on him. “What do you two want?” I snapped.

Ivan stood and didn’t say anything. Deola walked over to me and pulled me into a hug. At first I stood stiffly in his embrace, rejecting the contact inwardly. Then his warmth seeped through my ice, thawing it, reaching in. And I broke down. I trembled and heaved as tears ran down my face, like the water flowing through the veins. I clung to Deola and cried.

“Oh Moe…” Ivan cooed and walked over to encircle us with his arms. “Shh, it’s going to be okay,” he said soothingly in my ear.

The three of us stood were like that for some minutes until Ivan’s phone began to ring. He released us to take his call and Deola walked me to a chaise in the corner.

“Where?” Ivan’s voice was sharp.

He looked at me and I had a moment of foreboding.

Ivan said in a small but steady voice into the phone, “We’ll be there soon. Calm down, man.”

“Kilo sele?” Deola asked after Ivan had disconnected.

“That was Aliu.” He hesitated with a look thrown my way. “Um, Khalil is… Khalil is in the ICU.”

Written by Vhar

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