I could hear it laughing at me from across the house, hiding in the toiletries cupboard. It laughed and taunted even as I laid in bed, staring at the ceiling. Trying to ignore its jeering. The sound resonated against the walls of the hallway, eventually finding its way into my bedroom and straight into my consciousness.
You need me! it called out.
I did. That truth was painfully hard to swallow. I did need it, but I wished with every ounce of me that it wasn’t true.
I was exhausted, completely vacant inside. I barely remembered the last time I’d slept without it calling to me, begging me for attention. I wanted to lie in bed, ignore it. But no, I just couldn’t.
My heat sped as I tried to imagine what my life would be like if I wasn’t abused as a child. If I’d be more outgoing and not scared that I’d been taken advantage of. It was what made me decline Aliu’s offer to take me out. It was what made me keep to myself a whole lot.
I wanted to be more. I knew I could be more. I was simply afraid.
I pulled the duvet off my body and went into the kitchen. I fetched the detergents and disinfectants. My fingers were hurting as I clutched the containers tightly. I went into the bathroom and flicked on the light. From the entrance, everything looked perfect.
White. Clean. Perfect.
But I couldn’t take a chance it wasn’t. I undid the cap on the bottle of the disinfectant. The familiar smell filled the small space. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like the task was daunting.
I was home.
I’d done this for eleven years. I felt dirty and used. I felt worthless. No one else knew of this struggle except Ivan.
Hours later, my hands and shoulders were aching and my knees were raw. But I could finally sleep, with my consciousness clouded with thoughts of the infinite whiteness of my prison.
Khalil was in the corner – again – playing with my phone. We’d done his assignment and had had lunch together. I’d grown really fond of the boy.
Ivan walked in and saw my little friend and smiled. We were both interns and we’d been friends for quite a while. “Bobo, have you signed that new safety protocol?”
“Ha! Yes o. I forgot to drop them with your boss this morning. It’s here though.” I pulled out the envelope from my bag.
“No be only you. That’s why I came to see if you had and collect it before you left.”
“Aw, ose gaan. What’s up with you?”
“Nothing much o. Just tired.”
“Me too jaré. When you dey close? I fit drop you for your junction.”
He checked his watch. “Five thirty. You should be ready by then, yea?”
“Yes, I should. Mechanic never finish with your car ni?”
“The bobo say Saturday. That car don taya me, I no go lie you.”
The door squeaked open and Aliu came in. The second Khalil saw him, he ran to him.
“Will you like to spend the weekend with Aunt Suliat?” the man asked his son.
Khalil nodded enthusiastically.
“Alright, get your bag.” Aliu gestured to the corner where he’d put his bag and the boy hustled over so fast he tripped and fell.
The three adults in the room flinched.
“I’m okay!” he hollered, waving a hand as he jumped back up on his feet.
The three of us laughed.
Aliu moved toward me and nodded his head in acknowledgement of the ‘Hello’ Ivan said to him. With his back to Ivan, my friend trained his goggled eyes on me and mouthed, ‘He’s hot’ while fanning his hand before his face, as though cooling off from a blast of heat.
“Hey you, how are you?” Aliu trained a smile on me.
That winning smile! Those kissable lips! I stifled a lusty sigh.
“I’m very well, Mr. Aliu, thank you.” Then I remembered the gift he gave me yesterday. “I forgot to thank you for the perfume, thank you.”
I glanced nervously at Ivan, but he was reading the document I’d just given him with an air of deliberate studiousness that made me suspect he wasn’t actually reading anything. Aliu was looking at me like he had a secret and I was beginning to get a little uncomfortable.
“Since I’ll be alone this weekend,” he began, “and really not sure I want to be, I wondered if I could talk you into a movie and maybe dinner tomorrow or Sunday.” He tipped his head and his expression changed. Soft and a little pensive.
I didn’t even have to think about my answer. There was only one, even if it was one I didn’t want to give.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Aliu –” I began.
“Aliu,” he corrected.
“Mr. Aliu,” I maintained. “I just can’t.”
“Can’t or won’t?” He said it so quietly I almost didn’t hear.
“Uh, Mr. Aliu, right?” Ivan spoke up as he advanced toward us. His smile was bright and apologetic for his intrusion. He had a finger out to Aliu as he reached his other hand out to grasp my arm. “Can I borrow my colleague for a minute or two so I can get out of here? We won’t be long.” Ivan maintained his smile as Aliu nodded his acquiescence.
Then Ivan grabbed my arm and steered me into the conference room. He released me, shut the door behind him and turned a glower tome.
“Are you okay at all?” He reached up to place the back of his hand against my temple. “Or do you need me to exorcise this stupidity out from you?”
I swatted his hand away and shook my head. “I’m fine joor, kilode?”
“Kinni o bade?! Ehn? I thought maybe you were suddenly ill since you turned down that walking-piece-of-man-truffle’s invitation.” His voice ended in an accusatory tone that made me begin squirming. “Moe, for how long will you keep hiding? You need to live.” He stressed the last word while raising his hands in front of him and shaking the partially clenched fists in the air.
“But you know I have issues –” I started.
“Shut up!” I was interrupted for the second time. “Just shut up. Issues? Don’t we all? Ehn? Honey, he’s not those guys that…that did that to you. You need to stop being pathetic and stop hiding behind work and your studies and everything else equally boring.”
“Ivan, I don’t know if he’s queer. I don’t –”
“Ivan, I don’t know if he’s queer,” he interrupted, mimicking me. “So? Must he be queer? Free food and a movie. Not like you can’t foot your bills, but then, let someone take care of you for a change. I’ve been doing a damn good job and I’m tired alreeeeady. Ah-ah!”
“NO!” he snapped. “No buts. Or don’t you like him? I hope to God you don’t say no because I’ll beat you up!” When I didn’t say anything, he swatted my upper arm. “Well?”
“I do,” I managed.
“Good. Now you’ll go back in there and say yes to the nice gentleman or I will snag him for myself.”
I sighed. It was just hard. “Okay.”
“Don’t okay me.” He grabbed both my arms and gave my body a slight shake. “Just go say yes to him. And if he’s queer, you both are adults. Go forth and fornicate.”
I gasped. “I’m not –”
“You’re still here?” He lifted his brows as he released me. “My friend, shaddap and get out.”
I was tired from the ‘cleansing’ I did the night before. I was sure it was what made me succumb easily to Ivan’s bullying. But I knew he had the best of intentions. And I supposed that by the end of the weekend, I might have my answer about Aliu’s sexual orientation. At least I hoped so. And the thought had my heart racing a little. I went back into my office feeling somewhat giddy.
Khalil had gone back to playing with my phone, oblivious to the occupants of the room. His father turned from looking at the screensaver on my laptop, and he ducked his head and pulled his hands behind him, his manner abashed, like he’d been caught doing something wrong. He smiled tentatively at me. Seeing him nervous was my undoing.
“Yes,” I blurted out, and sighed at how good it felt to let that word free.
His brows furrowed. “Yes?”
“To dinner and a movie.” It was a whiplash-style turnaround from “I can’t” to “Hell yeah”, and I watched to see what his response would be.
He palmed the back of his neck as a huge smile broke out across his face.
But I wasn’t done. If I was going to do this, it had to be my way.
“On one condition,” I said as I straightened the chairs in the room to stop from staring at him.
He nodded and walked towards me, apparently not worried about whatever condition I was about to lay on him. His smile morphed into this sexy grin that had my breath hitching.
Okay, breathe, Moe.
I cleared my throat. “Uhm…where was I? Oh, yes…Condition. Dinner will be my treat. I’ll pay for it.”
A frown descended on his face immediately. “No, Moe,” he objected. “I asked –”
“No,” I cut across his demurral. “It’s either that or nothing.”
Wait…! Had he been about to say “I asked you out?” Truthfully, I wanted to pay for dinner because I wanted – no, needed – to have some hold over the outcome of the invitation-cum-date or whatever.
He was standing a foot away from me and his scent was raising havoc throughout my body. Musky and male in all the best ways.
God, let him be gay, I found myself silently praying.
“Why do I get the feeling that you’ll be worse than Khalil?” He chuckled. “Alright, fine you’ll pay for dinner.”
I smiled. “Okay then. Uhm, tomorrow, yea?”
“Tomorrow sounds perfect.”
“Say 5? I’ll pick you up.”
He gaped. “What?”
“I said I’ll pick you up. Is there a problem?”
He paused for some seconds. “It’s just weird. I invited you out but you’ve snatched the entire initiative right from under me. I can’t believe I’m agreeing again.”
“Good. May I have your phone number?” I glanced at him and found him staring at me. I looked away quickly.
We exchanged numbers.
“I’ll text you my address,” he said.
“Alright then.” I managed a smile.
He paused, like he had something to say. Then he shook his head, a bemused expression on his face, turned and called on his son.
When they got to the door, they both waved at me, and moments later, the door squeaked, announcing their departure. And I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding.
Written by Vhar