BEING BRUNO (Episode 5)

BEING BRUNO (Episode 5)

Previously on BEING BRUNO: Bruno is still dealing with discovering that he is HIV Positive, and has only told his aunt, Nnedi. But then his mother knows – Nnedi betrayed his confidence and told her – and all does not look good for the relationship between mother and son.

*

PAST

You had always been a hopeless romantic.

You don’t know where you got it from. It would have been easy to blame those sappy Harlequin Super Romance novels that had filled your head with ideas of how lightning flashes when two destined lovebirds meet, thunder clapping when they eventually consummate their relationship; or the Bollywood movie, Too-Fan India, that turned your inside to mush with scenes where Too-Fan (played by Amitabh Bachchan) kisses his one and only true love, Radha (played by Meenakshi Sheshadri) every single time that your father cued it in on Sunday mornings. But you had been a sucker for love long before that.

You had loved and adored Fishy, a soft doll your mom had gotten you when you were barely one, till you were eleven years old. Religiously washing it every other weekend, and as it got older, its filling bursting out from the seams that had come apart, you had dutifully sewn it back up with mismatched threads that made it look more Chucky than Dory.

The group of people who always seemed to illicit this feeling from you were your grand family. No, not your paternal grand family – those ones do not count – but your maternal grandparents and your mother’s siblings. Growing up, you shared this warm relationship with them. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that you spent every holiday with them, but even now, you have memories of that time from what seems like a lifetime ago, when you showered with your uncles and played dress up with your aunts. Each Friday, you came back from school, knowing which of them had come visiting by their body scent even before you opened the door to your apartment – which now that you think about it is pretty weird, considering that they never wore cologne then. You could easily say that you loved all of them, albeit unequally.

But over the years, relationships morphed and some deteriorated. First, Fishy was tossed away during one of the usual Saturday sanitation exercises. Then VCR was phased out and you couldn’t see Amitabh anymore. And then you disowned your aunt.

Okay, maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as that sounds, but I assure you that it is as true.

You were fifteen with hormones coursing through your body – leaving you perpetually excited, and questions bustling through your head, leaving you unbearably curious – when you second aunt, Osinachi, visited for the weekend. It has been a while since she last came. She was usually busy running her part-time program at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, or running around small towns in Enugu, delivering ice cream – amongst other things – from which she paid her own fees. Over the weekend, you two had caught up on what had been happening in your lives, all things cheery and blooming like summer that was until Sunday.

She was preparing to go back to Enugu, your mom, sister and cousins who were staying with you at the time were preparing to go to church whilst you were preparing to get your remaining two hours of sleep before you had to get up and start making lunch. In retrospect, you should have expected what happened afterward. Your aunt had a Deaconess as a grandmother, a Mother-General as a mother and a Pastor as a father. The idea of anyone in the family not going to church was more than a shock; it was a heart attack. And that was how she treated it.

When she came into your room, dressed in a snug Ankara gown that accentuated the mounds of flesh on her stomach and exposed the folds around her neck, she called at you loudly, “Aren’t you going to church?”

That was supposed to be a rhetorical question, meant to rouse you from what supposedly was you oversleeping, but then you replied, “No.” And as an afterthought, “Aunty, Good morning.”

She was quiet for five seconds – you know the exact timing because you were counting down the seconds before you would drift back to sleep – before she asked, “Ị sịrị gịnị?”

That was about the time you realized your sleep of tongue and sat up. You entertained the idea of taking back what you had said, telling her that you had simply overslept and that you would be getting ready for church immediately. But then, you thought about the freedom of having your parents on the same page with your agnosticism, how the three of you have had to come to terms with your absence from church in time and how you wouldn’t give that up for the false belief that came with pretence.

“I’m not going to church,” you reiterated.

“Chineke ekwe kwana ihe ọjọọ! What does that mean? That you want to become a bad person? That you have decided to let go of the God that has held you close to his bosom from the cradle?” Your aunt was incensed. “Someone like you that was born into the church, that has attended and won several Bible and Sunday school competitions, that is an example to others – you want to give himself to the devil? It must not happen. It will not happen!”

With regret, you realized that your sleep had been ruined. There was no way you could go back to sleep after this. You decided to get up and dress your bed. “Aunty, not going to church doesn’t make someone a bad person.”

Eehhhh?” She clapped her hands together, as if she had grabbed your words only to find them too hot. “Eziokwu? So you have become an expert in religious affairs? I see that those books you have been reading have spoilt your head. See, let me tell you something. If you do not carry yourself out of this house and go to church, eh? Don’t even think about greeting me anymore.”

You whirled around, more out of confusion as to what greeting her had to do with going to church. You expected her to threaten you, try to blackmail you into going to church, but this was ludicrous. Even she could see this.

Or could she?

“What?” you asked.

“Yes. If you insist on absenting yourself from the church, then I insist that you keeping your greetings. I would require nothing from someone who has taken it upon himself to deny God.”

At this point, you’d realized that this indeed was an ultimatum, so you decided to treat it as such and do the proper thing. “Okay. Nsogbu adịrọ. Although, it is rather funny that this is how you choose to respond to this. It is certainly not a very Christian way of handling matters like this. I mean, if I was really wrong, wouldn’t this be pushing me further away instead of bringing me closer to correction?”

“Chineke bara ekwensu mba! It has gotten to the extent that you challenge people when they are trying to correct you? I don’t blame you, sha. I blame your mother who has chosen to raise you with kid’s gloves, spoiling you rotten.”

She turned on her heels, stormed out of the room and banged the door on her way out.

Even though you eventually started talking to each other again, the events of that Sunday created a rift between you and your aunt. It is your earliest memory of how easy it is for you to move from caring about someone.

It would be many years later before Osinachi would bring up this event again, using it as the primary evidence of what is wrong with your lifestyle.

***

PRESENT

What is the opposite of love?

The typical answer would be hate, but given what you have learnt over the past few years, you are inclined to argue that that answer is wrong. To understand why, let us try two simple questions.

What is the opposite of Boy? Most people would say “Girl”, right? Except that that for you, would be the wrong answer too.

What is the opposite of Plus 1? Minus 1, of course! This one is relatively easy, right? The opposite of +1 isn’t 0 or 2. It is -1 because the opposite of adding something is the removal of that thing.

So let us apply the same logic to the first two questions posed above and hopefully, I would have saved us the time we would have spent arguing back forth about who is right and who is wrong.

What is the opposite of boy? Non-boy. This could be a girl or an intersex, but the defining factor is that such a person is not a boy.

What is the opposite of love? Indifference.

You have to understand that it is important to be familiar with this logic to understand what happened to your relationship with your aunt in the days after Nnedi’s betrayal. You had come to withdraw from her so much that you came to feel nothing for her. That evening, when she came into your room to say, “I hear that you are going to Onitsha on Friday,” it was like you had been silently but steadily constructing a brick wall that was rivaled only by the Great Wall of China between the two of you, and you hadn’t thought about it until that moment when she stood in your doorway and asked you what she probably thought of as an innocent question with a softness to her face.

You did not move your gaze from the ceiling, you continued with counting the lines of plastic tiles that ran the length from one end of the room to the other. You did not think to dignify her with some sort of acknowledgement. The tiles had your attention, all thirty of them. You started from the beginning to count again, just to be sure that that, too, wasn’t failing you. The task was rewarding and successful at distracting you from all the thoughts that threatened to roam free in your brain, to tear at your brain cells and drive you crazy.

“Bruno…” she started, and because you knew what was coming, you stopped counting, priming your ears to catch her words as accurately as possible. “You have barely spoken to me since yesterday. I imagine that it is because I told your mother about what you told me.”

You breathed evenly. You mulled over those words, taking some weird satisfaction in the fact that she is obviously having as much trouble as you with calling the problem by its name. And then, without moving a muscle to look at her, you said, “You promised to keep it between us. You promised that you wouldn’t tell. But then, I turned around and you are already tattle-telling. Why?”

She sighed with exasperation. It seemed off-handed, but then you had seen it many times to recognize it for what it was – irritation. “You are too young to understand. Your mother is my sister. She deserved to know. It was my duty to inform her. See, if tables were turned…” She paused – and you imagined that she muttered something like, ‘Which won’t happen in Jesus name’ under her breath – and then continued, “and I confessed to you that I was pregnant, would you keep it a secret?”

It surprised you that she thought that you would tattle on her in the same way, that you would betray her trust in the way she did. It befuddled you how she couldn’t see the gravity of what she had done. You said: They are not the same thing, and you know it. But despite that, I would have trusted you to handle the problem anyway you deem fit. I would have supported you, helped you anyway I can. Not butt in and make decisions for you.

Except that those words never made it past your lips. But your face must have betrayed what you were thinking for she continued, “You just don’t understand. You are still a child. Have you ever thought about what would be my fate if something had happened to you? What if you got sick? How would I explain the fact that I had known but had kept it a secret? I had to pray about it. I asked God to tell me what to do. In the end, it was obvious. Eventually, Papa and Mama would have to be told, too. But your mother is the logical starting point. It is the right thing. You will come to understand that.”

You finally turned toward her, staring at her blankly for a long time before giving her a pained smile, knowing that she would be unable to read its meaning. “I understand,” you said.

And you really did.

You understood that she didn’t see this as a betrayal but as a justified step in the right direction. You understood that she hadn’t understood your position in the whole thing, that she had looked at things from her own perspective and had done something that would mean the less havoc for her. You understood that you would never trust her with anything of consequence ever again.

Whatever relationship you had with her was gone, just like your relationship with Osinachi had changed after her ultimatum so many years ago.

It was time to take one step back, retreat into yourself.

***

Later that evening, while you were researching your new favorite topic, you came upon some interesting things: The virus has more than one strain… The virus can become resistant to existing medication. In Nigeria, this could mean a death sentence if you run out of options… Infection is incurable basically because the virus is sneaky, with the ability to hide for several years in insusceptible parts of the body like the brain, waiting for when the body is ideal for reproduction again… A good support system might be helpful, especially in first few months following diagnosis…

Your phone pinged, interrupting your movement from one webpage to another. A familiar picture flashed across the screen and you steeled yourself before you answered.

 “Bruno. You haven’t been talking to me. What is it?” the voice from the other end said.

“Hello to you too and how are you?” you said.

“Cut the crap, young man,” she said chidingly. “Anyway, you won’t believe what happened with Ikechukwu.”

Yep, the real reason for her call had crept right up. In the usual manner, Sheba only called you when she needed something.

For a second, a long second, you entertained the idea of telling her, of talking to her, of getting her to listen, just listen and give you a shoulder to lean on. But then, you thought better of it.

You had to retreat into yourself.

Written by Uziel

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2 Comments

  1. Mandy
    April 19, 07:32 Reply

    Why on earth is god and religion used as an excuse for everything criminal in Nigeria? someone told you something in confidence and you take pride in betraying the person, because Jesus told you to? Nawa o.

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