A LOVE AT SEVENTEEN

A LOVE AT SEVENTEEN

Let us start from seventeen and the brown of Adam’s eyes that captivated me. They were a well of honey I could feel myself slipping into each time I looked into them. It was when we were making out on his friend’s bed that I first noticed them and I held his face to the light and wondered: How, just how? Seventeen and I was touched by love; lightly, tentatively, till it hugged me and I began suffocating in its warmth. But I didn’t die even when it felt like it hurt too much. It kept me alive and I was grateful for it, grateful that I didn’t listen to the people who said love didn’t exist. It existed for me. I could feel it from me. It didn’t die like my best friend said it would after I left Lagos for home in Ijebu-Ode. It waxed more than waned even as a year went by. A year of phone calls and short meetings and kissing in bathroom stalls and “I miss yous” and “I love yous” and fights that were not really fights. And when he whispered over the phone, “I am scared of losing you”, I was happy because I was scared of losing him too.

Then my mother found out. She took my phone away from me but I had memorized his number and would call at the phone booth near my house every evening. And the woman there would smile at me every time I came. She would give me free minutes and say in pidgin that the girl I was toasting was lucky. I would smile and think: If only you knew.

Mother tried and tried to get me to stop calling Adam, to change. She told me that it was wrong to want to be with another man. She thought he was a man preying on her young son and wouldn’t listen to me even when I insisted he was my age. His voice was too deep for a young boy, she said, and I wondered how she heard his voice and not understand why I loved him. It didn’t feel wrong to love him. It felt like what my body had been made to do. The flimsy crushes of females past were nothing compared to me wanting Adam. So I said the prayers she told me to recite half heartedly and tried not to let her tearful beseeching get to me. Even when Adam wanted to break up with me because she called him on the phone twice, one time to beg him to leave her son alone and the other time to cuss at him, I convinced him not to leave me. I would be fine as long as I had him.

*

I began my A-level studies in a school at Abeokuta a couple of months after my being outed. Mother was pleased because the school was strict and didn’t allow the students to have phones. The room I was to share with my colleagues was a sachet water warehouse that was not in use. The yam and stew that was my first meal there made my gums swell and the principal was a crazy man known to slap his employees and not let sick students out of the premises unless they were dying.

I made sure to call Adam as often as I could at night. I would trade provisions and food for a phone that a colleague snuck into the hostel. When he started to tell me he was too tired to talk, I would tell him goodnight and go sit outside, watching the stars to soothe my anxiety while my stomach rumbled. Then I would call much later and his line would be busy. Sometime he would put me on hold while talking to someone else till I fell asleep with my heart feeling tight in my chest. I remember one night we had a conference call – me, him and my friend. He flirted with my friend who laughed uncomfortably on the other end.

I didn’t know why he was doing what he was doing, toying with my heart the way a psychopathic child would with a lizard he had caught before crushing its head. It felt like he was pushing me, testing how far he could go. He would grow distant but still feed me just a little of what I wanted with phone calls and random cute texts and two-faced compliments that made me feel poor, because only poor people would be grateful for scraps. My love for him found a new companion. It was a dark cloud that hovered with every phone call and thought of him.

*

A few months to my exams, my mum took me to process my visa for my first trip out of the continent. I didn’t tell Adam about the visa processing. I had stopped trading things for the phone and he didn’t seem to be bothered about the fact that I wasn’t calling him as much. I got the good news that my visa had been approved. I was traveling to the UK. I looked forward to the trip, grateful for the distance it would provide because even though we rarely talked, it felt like my heart and stomach were in permanent knots.

The evening I was to travel, I called and I told him about the trip. It was then that his cool I-am-doing-you-a-favor voice turned panicky as he asked if I was leaving forever. I laughed and said it was only for two weeks. His reaction should have made me happy but instead I felt this dead weight in my chest. I could tell that his behavior had sapped something from me and in its place, resentment was festering.

While I was in Newcastle, he would text me occasionally and I would reply as icily as the December weather. I didn’t want to be cold but there he was, the presumed love-of-my-life sending messages as if nothing had happened, as if he hadn’t kept me walking on a wire over a canyon.

The days turned to weeks and the magic of being somewhere else seemed to work on me. I no longer craved his calls because I knew he couldn’t call. We texted but I was too busy enjoying myself to focus on his last seen on WhatsApp. He also changed. He became more attentive and that was alright. Just alright. I returned to Nigeria, grateful for the heat that I used to loathe and even grateful that the semblance of the Adam I used to love was returning. Resentment was forgotten but my love had become cautious.

I wrote my exams and got admitted into the university to study a course I hoped I would love. (I never did). He was happy for me. It meant we no longer had to tiptoe around my family and we could see each other more frequently. I was happy for me too but mostly because I would get to meet more gay men. I told him this and he went quiet for a bit before he said, “I hoped that means we won’t be getting our rocks off with other people.”

My “Oh, okay” response was flat and he took it as agreement to this sudden suggestion of exclusivity. Because of the strictness of my mother after she found out of my sexuality and because the town I lived in was a small one, I had had sex only a couple of times and that was before I met Adam. The open policy was an unspoken one and he would tell me about other people he crushed on and I would listen and pretend he was telling me a story about someone else. I wanted to get fucked by him very much but he was like the prize toy in a shop. It was alright to play with the others while there, as long as I would take him home. Now it was like the prize toy had been shoved into my hands and the shop was closed. I didn’t like it. So I decided when nobody was looking that I would sneak in through the window and played.

*

The month I started university, Adam came to spend a weekend with me. We were in the house my father grew up in, which was often empty of people but livable. The bed we lay on was an island we did not leave except to eat hastily-made noodles, and the one time we went to KFC to eat chicken that he said had too much salt. It was bliss and the three days felt like an eternity I didn’t want to end. I think those days brought back to life what had died inside me. There was a lot of kissing, soft and feathery, but every time I wanted to really go in, Adam would stop me. Even after I convinced him to fuck me, he was so gentle, which was nice. Except that I wanted him to fuck my brains out till I would throb for days even after he was gone. He didn’t do that. Instead he slid out after I came, brought me a bowl of noodles and told me how much he loved me afterwards.

When he left, the bubble popped and I was thrown into the world of stress and anxiety that I have come to associate with being in university. Lectures had to be attended, tests had to be studied for, assignments had to be submitted and friends had to be made. People were friendly enough but I still felt this out-of-place-ness whenever we got together. I just couldn’t relate to the flattery that permeated their speech like “na you be boss na” or when they talked about football – oh my god, the football talk. When I said I didn’t watch soccer, I got a derisive look and a high pitched “Why” and I would shrug and smile apologetically in response. I was often called a weirdo.

It wasn’t so bad until Adam started to call a lot. He would text me something sweet before I woke and call me in the middle of classes even though I had sent him a picture of my timetable. I assumed the first few times I told him I would call him back or sent him those impersonal automatic texts, that he would get the message. But he kept calling. He would get very moody if I didn’t return his calls so I would try to, but he’d be moody still. He would call at odd times and say “How are you doing?” as if he hadn’t asked me that a couple of hours before. He would go on about his day for so long I could tune him out while I tried to finish an assignment, and he would get angry when I missed something he’d said. I used to pick his calls in front of the people I was trying to be friends with and they would smirk at me and say, “That babe dey disturb you, abi?” And I would laugh and talk to Adam in low tones. One day I accidentally put him on speaker in front of someone and his voice boomed: “Hey baby, how you doing?” And the person’s eyes grew wide as I hurried out of the room, angry with myself and with Adam. So I asked him to stop calling me as much.

This upset him. He had hoped we would be able to talk better now that we were both in university and my mum wasn’t a hawk circling over my head every time she smelt something borderline homosexual. But I had become accustomed to us not having to talk too much. The change was giving me anxiety. I felt him holding on to me tightly as if he was scared I would up and disappear without a second thought about him. I told him he was starting to get clingy and that I had so much going on and some space to breathe would be nice. He said he would try to give me space, but I think trying was killing him because when we did talk, he was sour and curt. I didn’t care. I needed it, I told myself. He was in pain but he would adjust, just like I adjusted all those times he put me through a lot. A part of me remembered when I craved the attention I was now getting, but it was gone now, killed by the cold winter of the UK and left there.

*

I met someone a couple of weeks after I said I needed space. I have no idea now why he captivated me. He was a self-absorbed, internally homophobic gay man who would rather not be seen with me in public but would ask me to come over when he was horny. Anytime I gave him a blowjob, I would get a sore throat after, and I am not sure whether it was from the way he assaulted my throat or the fact that he wasn’t always clean. Still, I was captivated and would try to hold his attention. Adam with his issues became a hum in the background of my mind to the point that I didn’t call him on Valentine’s Day.

I knew it was Valentine’s Day but I didn’t see the point of making a fuss about it. So when I did call later that evening, after spending time with my side piece, he was much colder than usual.

“What did I do this time?” I asked with a sigh.

“Why didn’t you call me all day? You were with that guy, abi?”

“What guy? I wasn’t with anybody,” I lied.

“Today is Valentine’s Day! What’s your excuse for not calling?” he said.

“I didn’t know it was a big deal!”

“Not a big deal? Aren’t we dating?”

“Yes we are. We have been for over a year. Valentine’s Day isn’t that special. I can tell you I love you whenever. So stop making a big deal out of this!” I was irate.

“When last did you tell me you love me, ehn? You’ve been acting all funny especially since you became friends with that guy. You are making me feel like I am crazy…”

He went on and on from the other end, and I felt very tired of the nagging and the hot-and-cold behaviour. And in that moment, I couldn’t deal. So I said to him, “I think we need a break.”

“Break? Break?! That’s just code for break up. If you want a breakup, we might as well just break up!”

I knew he didn’t mean those words and he wasn’t expecting me to take the bait, but I was exhausted. He was exhausting me and I was willing to take whatever I could get.

“Fine! Break or breakup! Whatever! Just let me be!” And I cut the call.

That night, while lying on my small mattress, I felt a lot lighter than I had felt in a long time. There was a twinge of sadness but it was lost in the sea of relief I felt. Perhaps I would have gone back begging at some point. I didn’t really consider us over. I still loved him somewhere in my heart, but I needed to find it again without him breathing down my neck.

I don’t think I will ever know though, because the next week, he was in my room at school.

He had called the weekend we “broke up” to tell me he wanted to spend time with me. I think it was a last ditch attempt to win my love back. He must have thought his presence would make things return to normal. I found myself saying “Yes” even though every part of me screamed “No.” But I thought it cruel to not at least try. I wish I didn’t say yes.

The evening he arrived, I knew I had made a mistake. I didn’t want to see him or spend time with him. I would leave him with my friends and go for lectures I would have otherwise preferred to miss. At night, when he wanted to cuddle me or touch me, I would not-too-gently push his hands away. I wouldn’t let him kiss me. Even when he told me in the night before he was to leave that my side piece had made moves on him, I simply laughed and asked why he hadn’t agreed to it.

“You’re my boyfriend,” he protested.

I shook my head slowly and turned my back to him and drifted off to sleep. I woke up to the sound of him sobbing.

“Please, IBK, don’t leave me,” he said. “You made me love you and you’re leaving me out in the cold.”

And even as I saw the tears stream down his face, all I could think of was how he would be gone the next day and I would be free.

I let him hold me that night and I kissed him good bye the following morning. We didn’t talk for many months after that. I still wish I hadn’t let him visit me.

We didn’t work out, but being with Adam made me realize one thing. Love did exist. Love does exist. And even though the relationship ended, it didn’t mean it – love – was false.

Written by IBK

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10 Comments

  1. Mandy
    July 08, 07:29 Reply

    This really sucks. You could be forgiven for making this sort of mistake at 17. It seems like Adam needed time to realize he loved you, and when he came round to that, that was when you needed your own time. Really sucks when two people who should be together miss it because their emotions aren’t properly aligned.

    Quick question : did you two eventually find your way back to each other?

    • IBK
      July 08, 17:45 Reply

      We are friends. We grew up and realised how immaturely we handled what could have been the best thing ever.

  2. HIM
    July 08, 15:20 Reply

    I think I almost cried from this. The way you write, it mirrors a lot of things about myself.

  3. Dimkpa
    July 08, 17:06 Reply

    I’m a bit confused about this tbh. How did you go from being with an insecure person who you didn’t like to “love does exist”? What has led you to that conclusion?

    Seems to me you so want to believe it does even though nothing in this story, and maybe your experience, supports the claim.

    • IBK
      July 08, 17:43 Reply

      I think my experience supports it. I believe if we knew better what it meant to love someone and have a relationship with them things would have ended differently by not ending. And I believe that things ending that way didn’t negate the point where things were going great and I could feel the love. Even now, after everything settled between us I sort of miss him and being with him.
      The last paragraph was more tacked on cause I wasn’t sure how I wanted to end it and consolidate the story with what I learnt.

  4. Bee
    July 09, 15:52 Reply

    It might just be me, but I think you treated him horribly. You could’ve forgiven his lack of hope when you were doing your A-level studies. I mean, I would’ve forgiven him considering how much he changed. Yes, you both handled it immaturely; I saw a lot of loopholes, places where things could’ve been addressed. Still, I’m so lost as to why you ended it. Like, did you actually like this guy, or was it your first taste of relationships?

    But again, it might just be me.

  5. Boy
    July 10, 17:27 Reply

    This is so beautiful and I think it’s a brave thing, to walk away from love if it doesn’t feel right at the time.

  6. Lorde
    July 10, 22:46 Reply

    I think….this is the most beautiful story I ever read on this forum….so real..and the simplicity with which it was written…

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