Originally published on kalaharireview.com
I was seventeen when my mother found out I am gay. It did a lot of damage to our relationship. She felt like she didn’t know me anymore, that who she thought I’d been was a lie. This strained what used to be a tight friendship, a borderline obsession on my part. I no longer wanted to be alone around her because the conversation would turn to how I was faring with converting my sexuality to what was “normal” and I was running out of ways to give non-committal grunts.
The strain on our relationship weighed heavy on my mind and I wondered how I could fix it.
I was in an A-Level school in Abeokuta when I read a book by Max Lucado about telling the truth and how it could help heal relationships after trust has been broken. I wondered where I had lied to my mum and I realized I hadn’t told her the truth when she asked if I had had sex. That was it! That was the truth that would fix our relationship and prove that I could and would tell her anything, and then maybe we would be on our way to healing.
I met the teacher who had been put in charge of the A-level students on the evening of the following day after reading the Lucado book and asked to make a call to my mother with the phone provided for students. I went to an empty classroom, sat on one of the empty plastic desks and dialed her number. She picked on the second try.
“Mummy, I have something to tell you,” I said after pleasantries were exchanged, “and I am only telling you this because you think you can’t trust me and that I am lying too much and keeping too many secrets from you.”
“I’m listening,” she said.
Ignoring the voice in my head that had started to tell me it was a bad idea because my mother’s “I’m listening” means “I can’t promise you that I won’t get mad”, I said, “You know how you have asked me whether I have had sex before?”
“Well, I have had sex before.”
The line was silent for a few seconds and I pressed the phone closer to my ear, fighting down the panic that had suddenly begun to well inside me.
“Okay, I have heard you,” she said after what seemed like the longest time.
“I’m sorry I lied and I am sorry I did it,” I said.
“Okay,” she said, “who was it with?”
I didn’t expect her to ask that and I knew I could not say the truth because she was unpredictable. She had called my boyfriend one time to plead with him to leave me alone. At another time, she called to curse at him. So I lied that the person I had sex with came out of town and I asked to see him and we did it in a hotel. I gave her a made-up name.
“Were you the giver or receiver?” she asked.
“Both, ma,” I lied. I hoped that the half-truth would make my confession easier to swallow.
“You used condoms?”
“Yes” I said, glad that I had insisted on it when I hooked up.
“Okay, thank you for telling me,” she said. Her voice hadn’t changed throughout the conversation so I took it as a good sign that things had gone well.
Nothing was said about the conversation whenever we talked on the phone for the next couple of months. Instead we made plans to get my visa so I could travel to the UK with her on holiday. My visa was approved and a few days after that, we were on a flight to London.
It wasn’t the best of times to travel on holiday. It was winter. However she wanted to make sure I traveled before I turned 18 because she believed it was easier for people below the legal adult age to get their visas approved. I would be alone with her for hours on a flight; what if she brought something up?
The journey was going smoothly. I got to see snow at the stopover at Istanbul where they had issues with the engine of the plane that was to take us to London. We had wasted an hour at Istanbul. By the time we got to Heathrow, the flight to Newcastle where my uncle stayed had left. We had to book another one, which meant dipping into the money we’d planned to spend during our stay here. And this began to stress my mum.
In a bid to send good vibes, I sat next to her and put my head on her shoulder and she started to play with my hair. We were talking about nothing in particular and I was feeling pretty warm inside when I noticed a white man with tattoos all over his arm and I said to her, “Those tattoos look nice.”
“Are you okay?” she said sharply, pulling away from me. “How can you think that is cool? Next thing, you will go and tattoo your arm!”
“I would never get a tattoo,” I said with righteous indignation.
“How can I know what you can do if you can let another man put his penis inside you?” she snapped.
In that instant, whatever good vibes I had in me that I was trying to transmit to her vanished.
“You were the only one I could trust in the house to be a good boy,” she continued, “but now, I have no one!”
If I had deflated the first time we had a confrontation, I was absolutely crushed now. My grand plan hadn’t worked- it seemed to have made the distrust deepen.
“Ehn, James?” she continued. “How could you do that? I’ve always talked to you and your brothers about it and showed you bible passages. You loved God. You were in the choir and you were chapel prefect. And you even shared the word whenever we had family devotion. You want the devil to useless your life now, abi?”
I sat still. I felt cold, the kind of iciness that wasn’t coming from the air conditioning, but from inside my bones. I watched her remind me how much of a disappointment I was.
My mother was saying a lot but I must have tuned her out because hearing anymore would have left me broken. We sat beside each other stiffly and in silence long after she had finished, mother and son. Her eyes were misty and my neck hurt from resting it on the back of the wooden bench.
She didn’t bring the issue up again. I think she realized that her using something I told her in a bid to mend our relationship against me had widened the rift between us, and that I would probably never share anything with her again. I became quiet and only spoke when I was spoken to. In a bid to at least salvage the fun I was supposed to have on the trip, she started to act like an overbearing mother hen. She’d coddle me and urge me to take pictures in front of shops and would act overexcited as if on my behalf. I found it very annoying but I endured and even indulged her. My pictures of the trip became all me, tightlipped in front of shops we never entered.
We returned to Nigeria and we never spoke of the disaster for many years, until one day when she dreamt I was tied up or that I had died or something. She called me and asked me to come back home from school. She said we needed to talk. She told me of her dream and how she had shared it with her sister who had also shared it with a man of God. The man had asked to meet with us. She also told me that in the course of talking to him, she had revealed my sexuality to him.
I took all this in with mixed feelings. She had once again told someone of my sexuality without my consent, and now she wanted me to go meet some utter stranger who didn’t know half my life’s story to have me delivered from a demon I didn’t have. I didn’t want to go meet any man of God. I didn’t need any deliverance. I stood up from where I was seated and went to meet her in the kitchen where she was slicing plantains with that grave look on her face that I had come to associate with when she was worried about me.
“I don’t want to go,” I told her.
The grave look turned to anger and she sneered at me: “Is it me you think you are doing with this thing? You are doing yourself. If you don’t know people die from it. The anus was meant to pass things out, not take things in and because of that, you have a higher chance of contracting HIV. If you want to let the devil ruin your life how does it concern me? After all I have tried my best to bring you children up right.”
When I was sure she was done I left the kitchen and went to my room to cry myself to sleep.
The next day, I was on the road with her to Ijebu-Ode. She sang praise and worship songs as she drove and muttered prayers under her breath. I was starving. We didn’t have any breakfast because we were to go and meet the man of God fasting.
In-between the singing and muttering, she said things like the devil had lost because God was going to bring me out of the realm of darkness, and that this was why God reveals things to his children. I was silent all through. I wondered what would happen to me at the man of God’s church. Would I be asked to bathe naked or be beaten with brooms or would I fall to the ground under anointing? If I did fall under an anointing, would it hurt because from the things I had seen on television, some people often reported that they felt like they were burning. I also wondered if the deliverance would work, and if it did work, what next for me?
We arrived at the church. It was no surprise to me that it was celestial. The man of God wasn’t around yet but my aunt was. She and my mother went into the chapel to pray while I sat in the car and played Candy Crush.
When the man of God finally arrived, I was dozing off in the afternoon heat. I was called into the chapel by my aunt. A few white plastic chairs had been arranged in a circle and I was asked to sit on one of them facing the man of God — a stocky man wearing an assortment of rings on his sausage fingers. I wondered what kind of man of God wore rings that were not marriage bands
He started to pray in Yoruba and I said Amen whenever necessary. After the prayer, he said in English, “The Lord has revealed to me that your son is in bondage.”
Bloody hell?! I thought. I looked up my mother to see her eyes red, with tears filling the rims. I ducked my head back down. I wished I was brave enough to tell my mum not to listen to the load of crap the man was saying and insist we go home. But I listened as he continued to prey on her fears.
“The enemy has set up altars against him. We will need intense fasting and prayers to break him free.” And like a doctor prescribing medicine, he put me on a dry fast that I must break only with fruits after 6pm every day for a month. He also gave me a bunch of bible passages to read and meditate on during prayers.
My mum thanked him and gave him lots of fruits she had brought along with her in appreciation. I thanked him too because I had home training. On the drive back home, she bought Gala for me.
I did fast. It was terrible. I couldn’t believe people do it for days on end. By the time I was ready to eat each day of the fast I’d feel so faint with the world moving around me like a ship being rocked by heavy waves. I spent a lot of the fasting periods sleeping, and it was one of those naps that was interrupted when I felt someone shake me gently awake.
I opened my eyes to see my mum sitting on the edge of the bed. She was crying.
“What’s the matter?” I asked. I was too weak to be upset by her tears but I still felt dread.
“Who did you make a covenant with?” she asked me.
Say what now?!
“James, answer me! Who did you make a covenant with?”
“No one!” I groaned.
“You must have, otherwise why else haven’t you given up this thing?”
I didn’t say anything. What was I going to say? I didn’t know how to get into a lecture on how sexuality works, especially since every time I’d tried to explain to her that I had ALWAYS been gay, she refused to believe me.
However, I tried.
“I didn’t make a covenant with anyone, mummy. I have always been like this,” I said with a weariness that had nothing to do with my hunger-battered body.
“Don’t say that!” she admonished. “You haven’t always been like this. It was when you had sex that you became this way. Or don’t you know sex has a spiritual side to it? You made a covenant with the first man you slept with!”
I didn’t know what to say to that. Actually, I did. I was supposed to say: That is utter bullshit. And please go back to that man that is parading himself as a pastor and preying off your fears and tell him that he should leave you alone and stop telling you lies.
I was supposed to say a lot of things about the things I was truly feeling. But I stayed quiet.
When she realized she wouldn’t be getting anything out of me she told me it was time for prayers and then left me. I picked up the bible but I couldn’t read a word from it because my eyes were clouded with tears.
Written by IBK