I was going to talk about something else in this entry but I’ll just have to move it to the next entry because I desperately need to talk about Ozumba.
Ozumba is a – to put it indelicately – mad man. He resides beside a garbage tank just two streets away from my house. Day in day out for three years, I walked past him when I went about my business. On my way to school, to the market, to the pharmacy, every single time, my routes always took me past Ozumba. My mortal fear of mad people kept me far away from him. This is a consequence of a mad woman called Ogazi, who chased my friend and I tirelessly back home one afternoon some years ago. And so whenever I walked past Ozumba’s dump, I moved in a wide semicircle that ensured that I stay reasonably out of reach should he suddenly get the thought to come after me.
The day came when I was coming home with my friend (let’s call her Ure), and we were walking past Ozumba’s dump. When the man was within sight, Ure giggled.
“Have you ever really noticed how sexy this mad man is?” she asked.
Surprised raised my brows, but she was still speaking.
“God, those legs are to die for. And that bitch is a diva!” We were walking past the dusky figure slumped next to the garbage tank, but she was turning her head back to stare at him as she gushed.
I laughed at the hilarity of her comment, and stopped and turned to stare at him as well. For the first time since I knew him, I really focused on Ozumba. And I could see what Ure meant. He really was attractive; he was rising then with a feline grace, his movements lithe, almost comparable to the routines of Yanis Marshall that I spend most of my free time obsessing over. (That bitch is my God). I was observing Ozumba, and the sashay in his hips was suddenly obvious to me. All of a sudden, I became interested in knowing more about him. This urge was like a strong pull I almost couldn’t resist.
This happened seven months ago. I was able to overcome the urge, because really, how do you go about knowing more about the man who lies by the garbage dump. Eventually, I was able to get Ozumba chiefly out of my mind until a couple of months ago.
It was evening and I was returning from the market, my arms loaded with nylon bags, when I noticed the small crowd around Ozumba’s corner. I moved in slowly, carefully, in case he went off like a bomb and the crowd scattered; I didn’t want to be caught in the middle of a mild stampede simply because I couldn’t contain my curiosity.
As I got closer, I glimpsed of Ozumba, through the bodies teeming around the dump, a bloody arm bent at an odd angle. Then I saw the cuts that crisscrossed his chest and ribs. The stench coming from there was unbearable, and yet Ozumba lay motionless. I knew his wounds had to have been causing him untold agony, but he seemed oblivious to them and was sprawled there, staring blankly ahead of him, his chest rising and falling, his bruised and battered face twitching every now and then. He looked entirely unaware of the crowd chattering all around him.
Soon, a small van arrived. It looked like it’d come from a psychiatric hospital. The professionals in the van came down and carried him away. He stayed complaint all through the time they got him up from the ground and took him into the van. As this happened, I tried to listen in on the murmurs swelling around me, to glean from the crowd what had happened. Apparently, he’d been beaten, mercilessly so. This wasn’t the first time, I presumed, because I’d spotted bruises on his face in times past. This time however, the bruises looked really bad, like the devil himself had possessed the people who’d assaulted him.
As the van drove away, the crowd dispersed. I turned to head on home, my heart sagging under the sudden weight of guilt. Yes, for no reason I could think of, I felt guilt. Perhaps on behalf of the ‘sane’ people who’d been beating this ‘insane’ man, perhaps because of his neglect – I didn’t know. I just walked away feeling terribly guilty.
“Kainene!” someone called me.
I turned to see the woman hurrying toward me. Her name is Gladys and she lived a few blocks away from me; she was one of those people you tend to dislike for no reason at all.
“Good evening,” I greeted.
She relieved me of one of my nylon bags, and we walked on with her enquiring if mother was home.
“Did you see what happened to that homo mad man,” she said when the pleasantries were quickly done with.
I stopped in my tracks, momentarily, before resuming my trek. “Homo?” I asked.
“The one they beat up nah,” she said, jerking her head back in the direction of the garbage dump.
“What makes you think he’s gay?” I asked.
She scoffed. “We all know his story biko. And even if we didn’t, he does like woman, that one is enough to give him away.”
I quietened the instant urge to get into an argument with her about how effeminacy is not proof of homosexuality. I didn’t want her to be sidetracked from telling me more.
“Okay, what story? Tell me,” I queried.
Then Gladys proceeded to tell me the second true story I’d heard this month that broke my heart. (The first will be my next entry).
Apparently, Ozumba’s family is alive and well. He was initially fondly called Chiboy. Back in the day, he’d been caught in an act of intimacy with his male lover by his mother, who went on to cause such a scene that neighbours began gathering to know what the problem was. As answers were given, word spread and more people gathered, and a mob was born. Ozumba was thoroughly beaten by this mob, taunted and humiliated while his own family watched. Thereafter, he was shackled and the hell that was his life began. He was taken from prayer house to prayer house, beaten as a means of deliverance for years, locked up, fed all sorts of vile things. At some point during this inhumanity, he broke. He simply cracked. He buckled under the atrocious pressure and never recovered. He fled from his captors and took to the streets, a ‘certified mad man’. Also, during his trials, his mother had died; apparently her heart couldn’t bear the sufferings of her son. What a laugh!
As Gladys spoke, I interrupted her to wonder at the sheer cruelty of her narration. Naively, I asked if anyone had spoken up for him, if he’d had anyone support him in any way. Gladys said no. Nobody, absolutely no one, had objected even once to the hell he was getting put through. His loved ones, neighbours, people he’d interacted with as he grew up into a young man, had stood by and let the abuse go on.
The guilt I felt earlier turned into grief. The weight on my heart was heavier this time. I felt like breaking down into tears. When we got to my house, I took my nylon bag from Gladys and went in under the maelstrom that was my thoughts. My emotions were awry. I felt wretched. How could this have happened? What manner of human beings had been capable of such cruelty for so long a period? Who could stand by and watch such a thing being done to a fellow human being and not oppose to it? I thought of Ozumba’s face, the bruises that had distorted his handsome features, and my heart shattered. I tried to imagine the pain he must have felt, the betrayal that ravaged him as his family stood by and let strangers mutilate him.
My mother had always thought I was odd as a child and then as an adult because I rarely cried. But I did now. I broke down in the privacy of my room and I wept my heart out. I cried for Ozumba. I cried for his broken heart. I took up my phone and I wrote a small piece with all my heart dedicated to him. I uploaded it on Facebook, an outraged little gesture, at once sad and angry in its query of the humanity in people.
If I didn’t already have one, Ozumba gave me a reason to never give up on this fight for equality, for our rights as LGBT people. Ozumba made me see the desperate importance of the reorientation of Nigerians in their regard of its LGBT community, from animals to their fellow human beings.
Ozumba will also always remain with me – of that I’m certain. From now till forever, I know I will always carry a small piece of him in my heart.
Written by Kainene