“Or else what?!” Andre’s voice came through the speakerphone in a snarl. “What will you do? Please, Paschal, stop making threats when you and I know you can’t do more than a dead rat.”
“You bastard!” Paschal hissed at the phone from the back of Yinka’s car, as Yinka maneuvered through the traffic on Ojuelegba. “If you know what’s good for you, you will take down that Badoo account!”
“I will do no such thing! When you treated me like shit months ago, and I complained, did you listen? No! So you can go to hell! That profile will remain there, complete with your pictures and number and sexual orientation. If it gets you any hook-ups, great. If on the other hand, those who are not meant to see it should see it, well, the whole idea of doing this was to teach you a lesson.”
“You want to teach me a lesson, abi?” Paschal seethed. “Wait till I catch you, you bitch!”
“Abeg, go and take several seats, fucktard like you!”
Paschal had opened his mouth to sling back another expletive when I reached back and snatched the phone from his hand, disconnecting the call.
“Declan, whaddafuck –”
“That’s enough abeg. So you two will continue trading insults – what does that achieve?”
“Guy, give me back my phone!” he growled.
“That conversation had derailed enough,” I said, as I returned his phone. “He has said he won’t deactivate the account. You let him be. He obviously won’t listen to you. A couple of days from now, one of us will call him and try to reason with him, and that won’t work if you keep antagonizing him.”
“Yea, a couple of days during which I continue getting embarrassed online. For fuck’s sake, my dick pictures are on that profile!” Paschal’s eyes flashed as he got incensed again. “And it says there that I’m gay! Gay! I swear, if I get that guy eh –”
“Relax already, haba!” Yinka snapped. His indicator light was blinking as he made a turn from the highway. “It’s not as though the whole world and the people you know are on Badoo. Be thankful Andre didn’t think to design this mess on Facebook. Then, you’d be truly fucked.”
“I should relax, abi?” Paschal said sourly. “Easy for you to say. You’re not the one going through this embarrassment.”
“You’re right, I’m not. And I really didn’t want to have to say ‘I told you so,’ but this wouldn’t have happened if you’d delivered on your goodwill to the guy.”
“Yinka, not now –” I began in a chiding tone.
“Don’t you dare tell me how to handle my business!” Paschal flared, cutting me off. “It was my money, and how much of it I choose to give out is my business.”
“And now, look where your handling of your business has landed you!” Yinka scoffed, turning his eyes away from the road long enough to glare at Paschal. “Look, guy, don’t just tempt me to be a bystander in this situation and however it concerns you.”
“Okay, that’s enough, guys!” I interjected. “Yinka, just drive. And Paschal, he means well. So stop getting your blood hot unnecessarily. Andre is not an issue for now. I’ll call him and try to talk him around. Right now, what you need to focus on is what you’re going home to meet with your sister.”
After Paschal’s older sister’s shrill intrusion on our lunchtime several minutes ago, the woman had gone off on a tirade, one so fulminating that Paschal had had to disconnect the call from the speaker, and he moved away from our table to endure her diatribe in private.
“You idiot! Ozige! Diè kpokpu wé! What is wrong with you? You want to disgrace this family, eh! It will not be better for you, you hear me? Orue! Fool!” she’d hurled at Paschal before he turned off the speaker, and took the call away.
“Wow,” Eddie said. “She sounds really pissed.”
“She said something about disgracing the family,” Ekene said with an impish smile. “You think Paschal may have impregnated the house girl?”
“Puhleeze!” Adebola burst out, the single word eliciting gales of laughter from Ekene. “He may be able to work a man pussy with the skill of a gay gigolo, but I hardly think he’d know his way around a vagina.”
“What nonsense are you talking about?” Jonathan cut in tersely. “He’s Top. Of course he can fuck a vagina.”
“I beg your pardon!”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean!”
Adebola, Eddie and I chorused at the same time, turning wrathful expressions on him.
“So because I’m Bottom,” I continued, “you’re saying I couldn’t possibly be capable of having sex with a woman?”
“Are you?” Jonathan arched his brows at me, his lips twitching with sudden mirth at our outrage. “Capable of having sex with a woman?”
“That is beside the point!”
“Then what is the point?”
“That it’s ridiculous to disparage a gay man’s possible sexual relations with a woman simply because he’s Bottom.”
“You’re spreading your legs for a dick. So is the woman. Even among you Bottoms, you recoil from intimacy with each other, and label it lesbianism.” He chuckled, a sound laced with derision. “How do you have that kind of mentality, and still think yourself able to dominate a woman in bed?”
“Are you saying there are no bisexual Bottoms?” Biola interjected.
“Besides, you’re mixing up two issues here – a gay man’s sex role and his masculinity. One doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the other – unless, of course, you’re making the unseemly mistake of dismissing a man as weak and ineffectual, simply because he decides to submit in the bedroom.”
“The emphasis being in the bedroom!” I said, sitting up and jabbing my forefinger on the table to underscore the three words. “I can’t believe that for all your enlightenment, you’d malign us with a chauvinistic heterosexual stereotype like that. A Bottom is the female of the gaybourhood, therefore he can’t fuck a woman – are you fucking kidding me!” My eyes flashed.
“Hey, hey, relax,” Jonathan said, laughing and lifting his hands as though to ward off physical attack. “Don’t be so touchy.”
“You mean like how touchy you get when we say that bisexuals are the scum of the gaybourhood?” Biola quipped.
Jonathan’s expression soured. “You’re such a bitch, Biola.”
“I know, right?” Biola beamed back at him.
We looked up. Paschal had returned to the table. Consternation was etched on his face, and his eyes were stormy with a gamut of emotions.
“I need to start getting on home.”
“Sure, of course…”
“We’re done here anyway…”
“What did your sister say?”
“She was too angry to speak any sense, said I should come home at once and face her over something she’d just discovered about me on the internet. I have a feeling it’s this Badoo profile.”
“Your older, married sister is on Badoo…” Ekene gaped. “Doing what there bikonu?”
“I don’t think it’s her,” Paschal said. “If anyone snooped something about me from the internet, it would be Ofure.”
Ofure was his younger sister. Paschal was the only male in the three children from a lower middle-class family from Delta. He moved to Lagos from Warri when he gained admission into Lagos State University, and lived with his older sister, Edith, who’d already finished school and had just gotten a job in a government parastatal. A couple of years later, Edith met and married her husband, and her brother moved in with her into her matrimonial home. The husband didn’t mind. Three years later, Ofure dropped out of the university over a pregnancy-cum-abortion furor, a scandal that pursued her from Delta to Lagos to come live with her older siblings and forage for a greener pasture. There was no love lost between Paschal and Ofure; theirs was a mutual resentment that dated back to their childhood.
“That Ofure sef,” Eddie said with a hiss. “She won’t go and find a husband to marry, instead of mooching off Edith and her husband.”
“As she woh-woh like that? You think Lagos men don’t have eyes?” Paschal said acidly.
The rest of us laughed. We’d lost long ago the awkwardness we used to have for the wicked humour Paschal often expressed about his family.
Thereafter, we disbanded, saying our goodbyes as we moved to the narrow parking lot facing the delicatessen and disappeared into different cars. Eddie was riding shotgun with Biola, who was going his way. Adebola would drop Ekene off at Second Rainbow en route to Festac, where he was supposed to meet his boyfriend, Moses. And Yinka acquiesced to Paschal’s plea to take him home to Orile. Jonathan was the only one heading out alone.
There was a brooding silence in the car for the rest of the drive to Orile. Paschal sulked in the back. Yinka focused on his driving. And I finally started out on the sore task of deleting Bryson’s pictures from my phone’s gallery. I’d put off doing this in the week since our break-up, settling instead for just deleting him from my Blackberry contacts and social media accounts. But the pictures…I hesitated now. I stared wistfully at the first photo I saw. Then another, and another… Exposures of either him alone or the two of us beaming into the camera, two happy people in love – or so I thought. Recollections of that Monday evening when I last saw him flooded my mind, fanning the embers I’d been struggling with all week, and strengthening my resolve. My thumb began to swipe across the phone screen, tapping and erasing the mementos of my recent past.
Good. That’s where he belongs, the Voice said. The past. About time you started moving on.
“We’re here,” Yinka announced.
He’d just swung into Agboyin Street, which was a crescent, both ends opening into the vast network of roads on Orile. The small street was riddled with potholes, most of which contained dirty, stagnant water. Yinka pulled up in front of Number 25, a two-storey building of different flats, the topmost left-hand corner being the house Paschal lived in.
Yinka pulled a gear, and the car idled with the ignition on.
“Can you guys come in with me?” Paschal said softly.
Surprised both by the request and the subdued tone of his voice, I turned to face him. Yinka turned too.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes.” He nodded. “I could use some moral support.”
“Plus if we’re there, your sister would have to restrain her anger, yes?” Yinka said.
Paschal gave a short, mirthless chuckle. “Clearly, you don’t know Edith.” And he opened the door and stepped out of the car.
Yinka turned off the ignition, and we followed after him. Paschal led the way to the stairwell door, pushed it open and started upstairs. On the landings, the front doors of either flats stood opposite each other, barely holding in sounds of the evening hubbub that was peculiar to the families dwelling behind them.
Soon we got to his floor. He had a key and led us in.
“Are your sister’s children around?” I asked, as I noted the absence of small footwear that I always saw strewn on the verandah whenever I visited Paschal.
“No,” he mumbled as he locked the front door behind us, crowding us into the small porch. “Their father took them to see his brother’s family in Ikorodu. I’m sure they’ll be home late.” He had two nephews, aged three and five.
“So, it’s just us and your sister,” Yinka said. “This is so not going to be pleasant.”
As if on cue, a female voice called from inside, “Onome, is that you?”
“Yes,” Paschal said grumpily as he jerked open the net door, drew the curtain aside and walked into the parlour. We followed after him into the room that was too brightly lit, even though it wasn’t sundown yet.
The woman who’d just gotten to her feet from the sofa at Paschal’s entrance blinked at us. She bore a striking resemblance to her brother, which was unfortunate for her, because Paschal’s features were the masculine kind that looked good on a man, but was quite off-putting on a woman. Her features were angular, with no softened definition, and her body had begun to spread into the stoutness that was consequent of childbirth and a mind too preoccupied for exercise.
Her self-consciousness at our presence lasted two seconds. Then her scowl returned, and she turned to her brother, bristling afresh.
“So this is who you are, eh Onome!” she began, her voice climbing with every syllable. “This is who you are –”
“What are you talking about?” Paschal interrupted woodenly.
“You know what I’m talking about! Don’t just come here and act like you don’t know what I’m talking about!”
“Great. So, that’s it then. Since we’re all apprised of the situation, we can all get on with our business.”
His sarcasm stung her. “Your business – in whose house?!” Edith’s voice was like a stiletto and her features had twisted up into an ugly mask. “Homo like you! Shey that is the business you’re busy doing all over Lagos that has made you not to settle down and get a good job. Eh, answer me!”
“What are you talking about?” Paschal said coldly.
“I am telling you that I now know your dirty secret! That thing that used to carry you out of this house – I now know it!” At this, her seething gaze darted in the direction of Yinka and me. It was only for a second, but the heat in the glare made me flinch. “Homo! That is what you are! And the worst part is that you have no shame sef!”
“Don’t you dare deny it! You can’t even deny it! It’s right there in the internet! In that – that – Ofure!” The woman turned her head and barked in the direction of the door opening into the corridor. “Ofure, come out here!”
The words were barely out of her mouth before a skinny girl whose chin was moving rhythmically over her gum-chewing stepped into the parlour. She was even more unattractive than her sister, with shoulders that were too thin, and lips that seemed habitually turned down, giving her a perpetual sneering look.
“Ofure, what is that website that you showed me where we saw your brother’s pictures?”
“Badoo,” she replied with inordinate relish.
“See?! Badoo!” Edith spat. “It must have to be something bad. You can’t use yourself for something good. It just has to be –”
“Ofure, what were you even doing sniffing around on that site?” Paschal interrupted, his angry stare on the younger woman.
“Don’t you dare question her when I’m talking to you!” Edith roared. “You’re the one who should be ashamed of yourself here. You! And you two – Declan and Yinka!” Her wrath shifted to us.
“Sister, kindly leave my friends out of this.”
“Why? Are they not complicit in this as well? They say birds of a feather flock together. So I have to assume all of you are homosexuals. God forbid!” She snapped her fingers in a heavy show of disgust. “And I’ve been entertaining all of you in this house all this time, having you around my children! My sons! Boys that they are – you want to corrupt them! God forbid!”
I instantly bridled. Who the hell did this woman think she was to address me like this? I’d opened my mouth to give a sharp retort, when I felt Yinka’s hand close over mine in warning. I shut my mouth and fumed in silence.
“Look, sister, that is enough!” Paschal’s face was a mask of anger. “You’ve crossed a line, and I won’t have it.”
“How dare you talk to Sister like that!” Ofure shrilled.
“Shut up, you witch!” Paschal flared at her, lifting his hand and making to strike her.
Reflexively, she recoiled from him with a whimper.
“Eh! In my presence, you want to act like an animal?!” Edith shrieked. “Touch her nau! Just touch her! And I’ll show you why I’m Edith Afokeoghene, first daughter of Atarere and wife of Adagbor!” She slapped her ample bosom at this. “Just touch your sister! You think I’ll stand for this nonsense? You want to be a homo and a woman-beater on the same night in this house? No nau!”
“Fine! I’ll leave this stupid house for you people!” Paschal roared at her.
For a moment, she stared – the reaction of one who hadn’t expected that response. Then she gave a scoffing laugh. “Look at this one! Where will you go? Orue! Idiot! Leave if you want to leave! Look at o!”
Paschal had shoved past her to storm into the corridor, disappearing through the adjoining door. The two women followed after him, Edith relentless in her tirade, and Ofure slinking behind, silently enjoying her brother’s disgrace.
Alone in the parlour, Yinka and I remained speechless. I shook my head, feeling empathy for Paschal well up inside me. I thought about my own sister, Tonia, and how vastly different her reaction to the knowledge of my sexuality was from his.
“It is really sad how different families can be,” Yinka said then, intuiting into my thoughts. “You just never know, until yours is tested. And then you know.”
“Do you want to know about yours?” I asked, turning to him.
“No,” he said slowly, and then looked at me with uncharacteristic despondency. “I am not brave enough.”
“We are all almost never brave enough. Often times, the choice is taken out of our hands,” I said, wincing as Edith’s invective crescendoed from further inside the house.
A few minutes later, the three of them returned to the living room. The women were still trailing Paschal, who now had an overnight bag slung over his shoulder.
“Go, homo, go!” Edith was shouting with a clap of her hands.
“Don’t worry, I’m going!” Paschal snarled back. “I’ll come for the rest of my things with time.”
“Hurry up and come and collect them all! And just go! Go! So I can investigate just how far you’ve corrupted my family!”
At this, Paschal stopped moving. His eyes suddenly sparked with a malice that almost made him look like Ofure. He turned slowly to face his older sister.
“Corrupt your family, you say,” he said silkily. “Well, here’s a question for you, my dear sister. Have you ever stopped to wonder why your husband has been happy with me staying under his roof for eight years, eating his food and contributing nothing to the upkeep? You really think it’s because he’s such a good husband and considerate brother-in-law?”
A nickel could have dropped in the silence that followed, and the sound it’d make would resonate with the same volume of an ancient church bell tolling in its enclave.
Comprehension dawned in the room instantly.
My eyes grew wide as saucers as I stared from Paschal to Edith. The woman started back one step, as if he had slapped her face. Her jaw slackened and she put her hands to her breasts. Her ire dissolved into a desperate, silent plea directed at her brother, an expression that begged him to tell her what he’d just implied was a lie.
Paschal didn’t. He spat at her instead, “Did you really think that? Well, think again!”
Edith’s face began to crumple as she rasped, “Get out of my house.”
“With pleasure,” Paschal retorted, before whirling around.
“I never want to see you again,” she choked out after him.
“That makes the two of us,” he shot back as he made for the door, Yinka and I hurrying after him.
Written by Pink Panther