BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER

BLOOD IS THICKER THAN WATER

My aunt (my mother’s sister) got married and settled down in the town where I was growing up. Because my brothers and I grew up having a closer relationship with our maternal side of the family than our paternal side, my aunt’s place quickly became a second home to us. This bond was even more strengthened when my aunt started having children. I was 9 when she had her first child, a boy. The first day I held my newborn cousin in my arms, I finally felt like a big brother. This feeling had always eluded me with my brothers, who being close to me in age, were my enemies; we always fought over everything from our mother’s attention to the suya our father brought home at the end of his day. My cousin however was this frail bundle who evoked protective feelings from the 9-year-old me.

As his siblings came after him, we continued to grow up together, our lives staying connected with the many sleepovers in either homes, and the functions our families attended together, and the holidays we spent in our maternal home.

The older we got however, the more my sense of guardianship over my cousin (let’s call him Nedu) began to shift to a deeper kinship. You see, I was finishing up secondary school, braced for the university, and I was discovering all the ways I was different – how I loved kissing boys, how I couldn’t help getting turned on by the male brawn, and how the sexual intimacy with these boys made me feel, well, like a woman.

And I’d begun to notice how effeminate Nedu was, with his limp-wristed gestures and silvery voice. While everyone around him thought of him as the cute little ajebo, I watched him speculatively, wondering if perhaps my cousin was also gay.

I have three brothers, and my immediate younger one (Muna) is dimpled and good-looking. The day I should’ve perhaps talked to my cousin, the day I should’ve attempted to let him know that he and I were perhaps more than blood relatives, was when he idly observed to me about my brother: “Muna is a fine boy o.”

I raised my brows at him when he said this, and I watched him watch my brother who was in another corner of the room. I did not know why he felt he could share that thought with me, why he let himself get so unguarded with what he was thinking which the world wasn’t supposed to know he was thinking. It didn’t occur to me that perhaps he didn’t know that the world wasn’t supposed to know.

Muna is a fine boy o.

I was aware that my brother was a fine boy. I also knew that he was alpha male, a guy’s guy, tough exterior, wild personality, and always hanging with the “big boy” crowd. I suppose there was something about the entire package my brother presented – this dimpled bad boy – that appealed to Nedu’s sheltered, softer nature. Even though I thought a lot of things in that moment when he said, “Muna is a fine boy o,” I did not talk to him, because, well, how do you start the gay version of “the birds and the bees” talk with your little cousin? I wasn’t an adult even, and I didn’t think I should own that responsibility.

The universe, however, had other ideas.

As was usual, a Friday came when my brothers and I had a sleepover at my aunt’s house. My aunt’s place was a big house with lots of rooms. I slept in a bedroom with one of my brothers, while Muna slept in Nedu’s room with him.

The next morning was Saturday, and I was out on the verandah of the top floor, when Muna stormed out there to meet me, his eyes blazing. He called my name and I knew there was trouble.

“Do you know what Nedu did to me last night?” he snarled, his eyes sparkling with rage.

My eyes shifted fractionally behind him to encounter Nedu standing just by the doorway connecting the living room inside to the verandah. He looked miserable and afraid, and I felt an instant surge of protectiveness toward him. When I turned my attention back to Muna, my decision had been made: no matter what my brother was here to report, he was not going to get the verdict he wanted.

“What did he do?” I asked.

“He…he…he touched me!” Muna spat, struggling with his expression of disgust. “He touched me while we were sleeping last night.”

I hadn’t seen that coming, but I felt more surprise than shock. Nedu whimpered by the door, and the sound drew our gazes to him, Muna’s filled with contempt and mine overflowing with empathy.

“You are crying, abi?” Muna spat at him. “You want to cry, eh? You have not seen anything. You had the audacity to touch my – to touch me. Nonsense!” He turned his glare back to me. “I’m reporting to you so you’ll deal with this boy. This thing he’s doing should not be encouraged.”

“I know, I know,” I said cajolingly. “And I will talk to him –”

“Talk to him?” Muna’s lips curled with outrage. “You will talk to him? I’m telling you he touched me the way he wasn’t supposed to, and you’re saying you will talk to him? You need to punish him. Tell Aunty even! Let her deal with him! I’m just telling you because you’re the senior here. What he did is not good.”

I wanted to retort: Which part? The part where he likes to touch penises or the part where it was your penis he touched?

Aloud, I was still placating. I had to talk Muna’s anger down, because I did not want Nedu to suffer more grief than he was clearly already going through. And he was so young – much too young to experience the fury that comes with an exposure of something he could not control. So I talked and talked to my brother. I cajoled. I reasoned. I told him what happened had happened, and that what Nedu needed was a gentle reprimand to never do what he did again. What good would a beating do? What good would getting him in trouble with his parents do? I assured him that by the time I was done talking to Nedu, he would never even think of doing this thing again.

As he listened, Muna seemed like he’d been placated. His scowl was still there, and the look he shot Nedu was still hostile. But he didn’t seem so intent on a sterner retribution.

How wrong I was.

After he stalked out of the verandah, leaving me alone with Nedu, I called my cousin to me and began to talk to him. I told him I bore him no anger over what he did, but that it would be wise if he never got that intimate with Muna again. I told him I understood the phase he was going through, the impulses he was battling, the questions he must have. I did not out myself to him, but I told him I was available to him should he need any answers to his questions.

For the rest of the weekend till my brothers and I returned home, nothing eventful happened.

And then, my aunt called my mother. She wanted to speak to me. My mother handed me the phone, and I was instantly made to confront my aunt’s wrath. Muna had told her everything, she said. And how could I, she wanted to know. How could I not have done anything after Muna reported to me what her son did to him? As the most senior, why did I neglect bringing the issue to her attention? How could I have condoned what Nedu did? Or did I know more about this abomination?

Shocked by my brother’s betrayal and upset to be on the receiving end of my aunt’s furious disappointment, I was still stammering my way through my defense when she said, “You know what? We can’t be having this discussion on the phone. I want you to come to my house first thing tomorrow morning.”

And just like that, I was scheduled to face the grand jury for aiding and abetting an abomination.

You think Goodluck Jonathan’s 10 years imprisonment for those who know but did not report is grievous? Try being a 17-year-old having to explain himself to a wrathful relative. That appointment with my aunt was the most uncomfortable thing I endured as a teenager. I was caught in that place where I needed to exonerate myself whilst not throwing Nedu under the bus. The poor boy had already been put through the wringer with his parents and was in a corner of the living room sobbing quietly as his mother’s rage scorched me – and him.

I didn’t see him for weeks after that day. But I got to learn that his parents put him through a very rigorous prayer session to rid him of whatever disease was attempting to contaminate their first child.

When eventually I met Nedu again, I could tell with one look that the boy had grown more than the number of years he was living. The experience of the trauma had aged him some, taken away some of his innocence, given him a guardedness that someone his age wasn’t supposed to have.

He smiled warmly at me when we met. He hugged me. He said “Thank you” to me. That was the day we became more than cousins – that we became friends.

But when my brother’s name came up, his countenance grew cold and his eyes hardened. “I hate him,” he said with feeling. “I hate him. And I will never forgive him.”

And just as I got a friend, my brother got an enemy. For years after that time, Nedu didn’t forgive Muna. As my relationship with him flourished, his with Muna deteriorated. It used to bother me, and then it stopped bothering me, especially when Muna found out I was gay years later and began waging a cold war with me.

But we eventually got over that, Muna and I. He traveled abroad, made a life for himself in a tolerant society, and came to the understanding that love is love. I remember the day I told the story of Muna coming to my defense online, in a Facebook group of paternal relatives, to lambast a cousin who had had the gall to call me out on my LGBT views. He read the girl to filth, and I never loved him more.

“I’m sorry, are you talking about Muna?” Nedu asked when I finished my narrative. His tone was thick with disbelief. “As in Muna, your homophobic brother – that Muna?”

I laughed, suddenly remembering that he still nursed a grudge against my brother. “Yes, Nedu, he is no longer homophobic. He has truly changed. You should reach out to him. Mend your relationship with him. He’s one of the good guys now.”

“If you say so,” he simply said.

I have no idea if the two of them have sorted out their differences. But sometimes, I wonder about that day years ago, when my brother stormed into my Saturday morning to tell me our cousin had touched him inappropriately. I remember the enraged Muna, the miserable Nedu, and the Me who was dragged into an obligation he wasn’t ready for. I think about us then and us now, and I laugh to myself when I realize how different we’ve all become: the tolerant Muna, the self-assured Nedu, and the Me who owns that obligation like it is what I was born to do.

Written by Pink Panther

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4 Comments

  1. Swan King
    July 09, 07:59 Reply

    I remember my trip to Lagos and U sharing this story with me. Reading it now fills me with nostalgia.

  2. Mandy
    July 09, 08:55 Reply

    This is quite beautiful. It’s really nice that your cousin had you to guide him through whatever mistakes he might’ve made. Had you to help him build his closet. 😀😀

  3. Queen Blue Fox
    July 09, 10:57 Reply

    Darling you know I love you now and always. And I am eternally grateful
    😘😘😘

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