BEING BRUNO (Episode 7)

BEING BRUNO (Episode 7)

Previously on BEING BRUNO

*

PAST

There is a place where people go to when they feel like they have nowhere else to go. When they feel like humans have failed them, or that their mortal legs have reached their limit, they turn to an immortal God whose résumé includes superhuman skills like parting a sea and raising the dead.

A long time ago, when you were so young that the idea of time was ungraspable, you followed your grand family to such a place. One of your grandfather’s older friends drove the family in his Peugeot 504 painted royal blue. The car spurted periodically, jerking in the middle of the road, and when it moved normally, it emitted a sound so loud one had to shout to be heard over its noise.

When it drove into the compound, you could hear a group of people singing. The sound was intriguing. It seemed to come from a very many people, more people than the number that usually came to your church in Onitsha on Christmas days. The sound was synchronized, not the cacophony that the teachers in your primary school were usually rewarded with when they asked the pupils to sing during the morning assembly. As you slowly climbed down from the car, behind your mom, you tried to understand what they were singing. While you watched your grandfather and his friend carry out your uncle, Onyebuchi from the backseat where your grandmother was sitting, teary eyed, cradling his head in her laps as the car jerked and spurted, you listened intently till you recognized the words that made up the lyrics of the song.

“I have a very big God oh! He is always by my side! A very mighty God, by my side, by my side…!”

Your mother grasped your little right hand, so you followed her as she tugged you toward the front entrance to the church. The voices swelled louder and louder still as you got closer to the door. And when you finally walked into the building, your eyes grew wide. The church was very big. Wide and high like nothing you had ever seen before. The walls were not plastered, the lines of cement holding the concrete blocks together exposed, but they seemed to reach so high above. The windows were made of glasses of different colors. Lots of green and red, but some were also transparent – even though the images that filtered in through them seemed larger than normal. The hall was lined with long benches, dark brown in color and so high that it grazed your grandfather’s back, just below his butt cheeks. The benches were occupied by people. Men, but mostly women dressed in different stages of causal wears – colorful blouses atop wrappers or dark colored skirts that covered their ankles.

The singing continued, the voices rising higher and higher. You looked around in bewilderment until your eyes settled on your grandmother. She was singing louder than anyone else around, her eyes clenched shut, stray tears falling down her cheeks to her jaw line, disappearing around her neck. You were forced to join in the now familiar chorus when you caught your mom looking at you, her face passing a clear message: Behave!

So you shut your eyes and when the pastor started speaking, asking people to ascend to the throne of grace, you imagined yourself sprouting wings, running outside and taking flight. You imagined your wings spreading like an eagle’s, your body soaring till you’d crossed the clouds and the blue sky. Then suddenly, a hall much like the church you were in came into focus. The walls were sparkly, the ground glittering. There was no ceiling in sight, and light filtered in from unknown sources to give the hall a radiant glow. People dressed in shiny white garments, some with wings much like yourself, stood around, their faces alight with smiles. From their lips came forth melodies in a language you couldn’t understand. The song was more transcendental than what you had heard in the church, the voices melodious –

“Mama,” the pastor said, his voice sounding closer than usual.

You wanted to see him but you dared not be caught by your mom opening your eyes before the prayers were over. So, you squinted, opening your eyelids so slightly that you could see your eye lashes. The pastor was standing in front of your grandmother, his hand stretched toward her. His face was strained, as if he was trying to concentrate on something you could not understand. His pointy beard moved up and down in tow with his lips as he said, “Someone is after you.”

Your grandmother had opened her eyes. She was looking at the man of god in the same way your uncle Onyebuchi, before he became sick, used to look at a plate of Abacha – hungrily, lovingly. She nodded frantically. You wondered if she was agreeing with what the pastor was saying or if she was simply acknowledging the message.

“One of your children, something bad has happened to one of your children,” the pastor said.

“It is true, Pastor. My first son is very sick. Please help me,” your grandmother said in a voice you had never heard from her before. Meek, pleading.

“I will help you. God has heard your cry. He will not leave you desolate. He will not let your husband’s brother succeed.”

“Amen!” the congregation roared.

“You must see me after service for a one-on-one counseling. We will deliver your son in Jesus name.”

“Amen!”

You saw the pained smile creep up your grandmother’s face. She had come here looking for one thing and she had found another which she hadn’t been looking for. God works in mysterious ways, right?

***

PRESENT

The night before, when you met the pastor, sitting quietly beside your mom as she narrated the problem to him, the memory of you in that church so long ago with your grand family, especially of your thin and ailing uncle on the floor beside you, came back to you with a pang.

The pastor had not spoken to you directly. The entire four minutes that you sat in front of him, he had listened to your mom speak, his fingers urging her to speak faster, go straight to the point. Then he had closed his eyes, snapped his fingers repeatedly before he looked at her and told her that you are to embark on deliverance session. He told your mom that one of your uncle’s had inflicted you with the illness because he did not want to see you successful. God, in his infinite mercy had thwarted the plan by allowing the early diagnosis which has prompted you to start seeking for solutions. It was this same uncle that had initiated the rift between your parents. However, the name of this uncle could not be revealed at this time.

So that was how you came to be in the church, standing for two hours and praying like you had never done before. More than you had when your father had taken you to Mountain of Fire and Miracles ministries.

By the time you were done at past three in the afternoon, and after you had ingested the bottle of Olive oil as prescribed by the pastor, you were dog-tired and feeling a strong urge to puke when you saw him. It was a blur – the image of him. He had walked by so quickly you only saw his face for a brief second before your gaze came to rest on his back. You thought you were mistaken, except that his steps were unmistakable. He would put his left leg forward, and then throw his right out in front of him with a swagger. You would recognize those long legs and the way they walked anywhere.

All thoughts about the weird taste that had been left in your mouth by the oil forgotten, you started toward the end of the church in a daze. You were not sure what you were going to do or what you were supposed to do for that matter, but you couldn’t stand in the middle of the church until you figured it out.

And then, someone touched your left shoulder. You remember which shoulder because you felt something inexplicable when the touch happened, like a small electric current had been sparked with the contact. You turned sharply to find him there, standing in the flesh with that goofy smile on his face. The fair skin, the thin nose, red lips, curly black hair.

“Hi! I thought it was you!” he said.

“Hi. Uche…” you said, smiling back without knowing why. “It is you…”

You mentally slapped yourself for responding to him so breathlessly, like you were so blown away by seeing him that you couldn’t talk properly. He chuckled and the sound reverberated through his arm to your shoulder and all over your body. “You still remember my name, this guy!”

You wanted to tell him that you recalled more than his name. You wanted to tell him that you remembered the way his lips curled up, the left slightly higher than the right, when he smiled; the way he put his hand between his legs to pull his pants – and everything underneath – up when he stood up; the way he sometimes interchanged ‘r’ and ‘l’ when he spoke.

But you thought better of it. The Bruno from those years ago should be forgotten, and all the stupid high-school-boy-things he had done should be obliterated. So you just smiled and waited for him to continue the conversation.

“It has been a long time oh! You left for school in Enugu and then you guys moved,” he said.

It was your turn to be surprised. Apparently, he had kept tabs on you, knowing as much as where you had gone for school. You had to think your response through before you uttered it. Your knowledge about how to conduct a conversation with a straight dude was a little more than rusty and you didn’t want to say something terribly wrong.

“Nna, the struggle is real,” you said. “Our calendar is remarkably different and I am usually so busy, I can’t visit as often as I would want to. What about you? What have you been up to?”

“Here and there, here and there oh, Bruno! Come, let us find somewhere we can sit and talk. We have some catching up to do,” he said, letting his hand trail down your arm to your hand.

You followed him outside the church, to a store that sold beverages and snacks. You wondered if the way things had played out after you had written him that letter was a figment of your imagination. You knew the way you had felt about him, you knew you had written that letter but the way he was acting made you question your recollection of what he said afterward.

You both sat down, across from each other on plastic chairs, separated by a blue plastic table. He ordered Orijin and you asked for Fayrouz.

“You haven’t changed much, Bruno,” he said, fixing a stare on you. “Yes, you look different – leaner, a better fashion sense – but you are still essentially the same person – the shy boy that doesn’t drink alcohol.”

Anger flashed through your mind, wondering how he got off thinking that he knew you because you had written him one goddamned letter so many years ago. In that time, you had changed in so many ways that you could barely recognize yourself sometimes.

But instead, you smiled forcefully. “I hope life has been good to you?”

He told you that he was a graduate, waiting for the National Youth Service. He hadn’t been able to lock down his dream job though.

“Is that why you are here?” you asked. “Looking for greener pastures?”

“No, not really,” he said somberly. “How about you? What’s up with you?”

“I am okay,” you said monotonously, recognizing the question as the usual Nigerian banter. “We are in Naija na.”

He looked at you for a while, a long while. His pupils danced from corner of his eyes to the other, dark and searching. You looked at him quizzically, bending your head to your left hand side slightly, trying to read his mind.

“What?” you asked.

“Huh?” he said.

“What are you thinking? You are looking at me all weird.”

He smiled softly, his lips curving slightly on his left. His right hand traced a faint outline on the table top. “I was just thinking that I spoke too quickly. You seem to have changed in some ways.”

You chuckled. “I have?”

He nodded once. “Yes. One would have to spend some time with you to notice it. You have become more curious, somewhat more assertive. Sure, you still have that innocence that I found endearing… but you now have this fire in your eyes.”

Your eyebrows shot up. “What?”

He chuckled. “It’s true now. There is this thing in your eyes that gives one the idea that you know something we don’t know.”

“No, no. I’m not talking about that. What you said before that.”

“That you still have the innocence?”

“No, after that.”

“That I found… endearing?”

“Yes. That.”

He swallowed nervously, as if he had been caught in an uncomfortable position.

You were not about to let it go though. “Does that mean what I think it means?”

He closed his eyes briefly. You thought he wouldn’t answer, but after a long pause, he said meekly, “I guess so.”

“Seriously?” To say that you were surprised was an understatement. This was the last thing you expected to hear from him. “I mean… the way things went then, I thought you were…”

He shook his head regrettably. “Back then, things were complicated. I was experiencing these feelings that I couldn’t explain. Recognizing the interest you had in me was as terrifying as they were exhilarating. I didn’t understand it. I just knew that it was wrong, abnormal. It was different from what I had with the priest that was at the parish then. Having you close was very tempting, I started imagining things. Doing it to you, with you. It snuck up to me, you know.

“And then, a few weeks later, Tochi, my friend commented on how I used to smile when I saw you. It was said in passing, but it frightened me. I felt like he’d discovered a nasty secret. And that’s when I knew that I must end it, whatever it was, even before it began.”

“Wow!” you said, and really, that was all you could say at that point. “I mean, wow! I could never have imagined that. I thought it was all in my head. Which is interesting, considering that I never imagined things with you. The most I thought about was the exhilaration of talking to you. At that point, I didn’t know there was more…”

You stopped and swallowed nervously. Emotions you couldn’t describe coursed through your body.

He resumed talking, “When I went to the university, I gave into my body. It was fun. At first, I told myself that it was all just a phase I would grow past as I became older. That didn’t work out. Then I told myself that I would give it up when I got a steady girlfriend. That didn’t work out either. It was only after my brother caught me with someone that I realized how serious it is, that I needed help. I have been going for deliverance sessions since then, months now. Sometimes I feel like it has worked, that I have been delivered of the spirit. But then, after a while, I see someone that tempts me. And I give in, only to be racked by guilt afterward. Then I look for another ministry.”

“So that’s what you are doing here, you are trying to rid yourself of homosexuality…”

He flinched when I said the word, as if he’d been smacked across the face by a fist. He looked wildly around, before looking back at me to say in a voice that had dropped some octaves. “Are you still in the game?”

You were quiet for a while. Not from having nothing to say, but from having so much to say. You wanted to ask why he was convinced that something was wrong with him in that aspect; you wanted to tell him that it wasn’t a game, or a lifestyle for that matter; you wanted impress on him the fact that he had come to condition himself to see a fundamental part of himself as fundamentally wrong and that it was this perception that he needed deliverance from.

But you didn’t say any of those things. Instead, you smiled coyly and said, “I’m not in a game. Nothing is wrong with me in that aspect.”

He nodded in the way people usually did when they wanted to give you the impression that they understood you. But you were sure that he didn’t. “So why are you here?” he asked.

“My mother is convinced that the village people are after us and she wants us to be better protected.”

He looked at you blankly, and then a look that said that he understood you just fine crossed his face. He burst out in laughter.

And you joined him.

As the laughter died down, it struck you that the church had surprised you with something you hadn’t expected to get from there. A chance meeting and a talk that made you laugh for the first time in days.

Written by Uziel

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2 Comments

  1. NaijaTgal
    May 12, 13:06 Reply

    Sweet and sad at the same time… Reminds me of a ‘Love I never had’ back in school. An boy from the East…
    A boy i never got to date…but we both knew that we were falling for each other. It all started with a simple gaze that seemed to slow down time. We noticed each other from across the room and would often extend small talk into lasting conversations while getting lost in each others eyes.
    We started working out together and studying together…his smile was like a rainbow after the storm and his eyes lit up whenever I laughed at his corny jokes. My female friend (who I was out to) noticed and encouraged the bond but his friends teased him a lot and he became distant…it all went downhill from there…the last time I saw him…he looked really sad…we just stared at each other without even saying goodbye.
    I often wonder how powerful we would have been together…with our life forces burning in unison… I guess I might never know…

    Just another sad tale from Nigeria

  2. trystham
    May 12, 21:36 Reply

    If that wasn’t a sign from heaven, I don’t know what other validation u r looking for o. Imagine, just after service and prayer????

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