The opening strains of Downton Abbey’s soundtrack next to my head sounded like a shriek. I sat up, confused by the angle of the bed, forgetting where I was. I’d been dreaming about Kizito and the sensuousness of his kiss, that much I remembered. But even the details of the dream were disintegrating under the loud assault of the ringing of my phone.
I grabbed the brightly-lit device and without checking the Caller ID, I choked out into the phone, “Hello?”
“Declan – Dee, is that you?” a whispery voice came from the other end.
“Unless there’s someone else you can think of who’d be answering my call this late in the night,” I said waspishly, groping about my pillow for my other phone, the Nokia. I found it and clicked on the backlight. My eyes went straight to the time. 10.35pm.
“Dee, please, you have to get over here…” the voice whispered. Its urgency was unmistakable.
“No, I don’t have to get over anywhere,” I snapped. “Do you have any idea what the time is? And who is…” Before completing my words, I removed the phone from my ear to check out the Caller ID. Then I returned the phone to my ear. “Why on earth will you be calling me this late? Are you okay?”
“No, I’m not… Dee, I need you to come get me…” He gave a choked sob. “Please, Declan…”
“What is going on? What about your – what’s his name – Tony Drake?”
“That’s why I need you to get here,” he whispered with mounting hysteria. “I think… I dunno… I think he’s dead.”
Nine Hours Earlier
It was the kind of Sunday lunch my mother loved – the kind where she got to prepare a vast repast and play the matriarchic hostess to a room full of hungry and appreciative family members.
With Christmas drawing close, the influx of relatives in Diaspora back to Nigeria for the season had begun. My father’s immediate older sister, Aunt Margaret, and her children were usually the first set of relatives to come home, always in November. Her husband, Donatus Achalonu, followed after much later in December and closer to Christmas.
The Achalonus arrived yesterday, and as was tradition, had docked at my house. Aunt Margaret is the antithesis of my father, her brother, both in their physical and psychological makeup; she is bird-like where Father is more heftily-built, and she’s a chatterbox where he has a brooding personality. People who didn’t know them well often think Father is the older one of the two, that is, until you watch them have a disagreement and observe the sharp authority with which my aunt addresses my father.
The woman has three children. Her oldest is female, Uloma, who is older than my sister, Tonia, by two years. Her second child, Kennedy, is my age mate, and the last, another female, Kendra, is the same age as Fabian.
We’d all grown up together, right here in Lagos, up till the time Kennedy (who going by his native name, Chukwuma at the time) and I were fourteen. Uncle Donatus had been in the States for about six years before then, working at a good living and smoothening the way for his family’s emigration. And then, we turned fourteen, and the man visited Nigeria one more time and relocated his family to the States with him. Thereafter, Kennedy replaced Chukwuma and Kendra replaced Chioma. Uloma remained uninfluenced by any of the Western affectations her siblings picked up. Her locution stayed the same, while Kennedy and Kendra quickly adopted the lilting twang of the American accent. By their sixth Christmas in Nigeria, the two were struggling to respond to conversations in Igbo, and pretty soon ditched the language altogether. I thought the duo pretentious and resented Kennedy especially, because he let his acclimatization get in the way of our closeness. We’d been friends as well as cousins growing up, a relationship that became more tight-knit when we came into the knowledge that we were both gay. We became inseparable and fiercely protective of our secret and friendship.
Then they moved abroad and everything changed. It didn’t matter that they came home frequently for the Christmas holidays; we drifted apart with each new mannerism Kennedy picked up.
“You look like you can’t wait to escape,” Tonia said sotto voce to me, returning my attention to the boisterousness that was the lunch table.
“You have no idea,” I said in response, causing her to chuckle. A reflex glance at my wristwatch revealed the time to be 1.35pm. “And I’m not the only one guilty of that. I’ve been observing the desperate looks you’ve been exchanging with your man” – I jerked my head in the direction of Eric, her fiancé, who was seated on the other side of the table, beside Father – “like you two can’t wait to get some sugar from each other.”
Tonia giggled. “My dear brother, that is what konji is doing to us o. Eric has been away in Jos for nearly a month, and returned late yesterday. And we’re seeing for the first time since then at a family lunch? We have needs, and it ain’t Mummy’s fried rice and salad.”
I struggled hard to smother a bubble of laughter. “Antonia Chiamaka Odum, you should be ashamed of yourself.”
“Oh please, don’t be such a Catholic.”
We shared another bout of subdued mirth, before returning to our meals. I swept a glance over the table, observing my family members in the process. To my left, Aunt Margaret and Mother were discussing the weighty issue of what endangered species good wives had become. They blamed it on feminism and all these women rights’ movement. They reeled Tonia occasionally into their conversation, and frequently interrupted Father’s talk with Eric about the government, to give Tonia’s fiancé unsolicited suggestions on how to treat his wife well. Uloma sat between Tonia and our mothers, and served as the firm barrier that wouldn’t let my sister get entirely apprehended by the older women’s marital discourse.
On my right, my brother was engaged with my other cousins. I noted that Fabian seemed a bit flirtatious with Kendra, like he’d forgotten they were related. I couldn’t blame him though. Both Kendra and Kennedy had more than their borrowed mannerisms in common; they also possessed in an aesthetically right amount their parents’ good genes. With complexions the right shade of tan brown, high cheekbones, pouty lips and eyes that slanted attractively when they smiled, they looked more like twins than siblings with a two-year age gap. Kendra was also voluptuous, with a cleavage that Fabian was struggling not to gape at.
After you’ll come and open your mouth to tell me homosexuality is an abomination, abi? I thought sardonically. Just look at you ogling your first cousin’s breasts.
Lunch was almost over when I decided I’d obliged my family enough. I had my own party to get to. I began pushing my chair back from the table.
Mother glanced up at me. “Ah-ahn, nna, you won’t even finish your food?”
“Mum, be rest assured that there’s no more room in my tummy got one more spoonful of food,” I cajoled with a smile. “But this was very delicious.” I got to my feet.
Mollified, she chuckled. “Ngwanu. Where are you even rushing off to? Don’t you and Chukwuma have some catching up to do?”
I smiled inwardly when I saw Kennedy wince at my mother’s use of his native name. The woman was the only one I knew who had refused to oblige him and his sister with their change of names. Even his own mother called him ‘Kenny’.
“I just have some personal errands to run, mum. I’m sure Kennedy won’t want to put himself out by going out with me.”
“Actually, I won’t mind at all,” the accented voice of my cousin cut in as he too pushed back from the table and got to his feet.
Resentment instantly flickered on inside me as I glanced at him. The emotion blossomed as I took in the smooth, protuberant arch of his derriere as he stepped away from the table.
Kendra wasn’t the only one of the two who was voluptuous. In Kennedy’s case, all the fatty tissue had gone down behind south to give him a big ass. I began to envy him his ass when he visited Nigeria at twenty-one, looking all bootylicious. My envy became a grudge when he visited at twenty-three and snagged from me the hottie from the next street who I’d been getting acquainted with. All it took was an introduction and a glimpse of Kennedy’s ass, and the idiot switched his affection from me to Kennedy.
And now, he wants to trot that ass after me to Biola’s house! My village witches must have added new vigour to their turning of my pot.
“Are you sure you want to come with me?” I said as I retrieved my used plate and started for the kitchen. Kennedy followed after me. “I mean, the weather is hot, and I’m going by public transport.”
He shrugged, an elegant up-and-down motion of his shoulders. “You live your life with all the creature comforts you can ever hope for, and at some point, you just want to live a little dangerously.”
Public transport under afternoon sun is now dangerous living, eh? I fumed inwardly, as I dumped my lunch things into the kitchen sink and began to wash up.
“Besides,” he continued, “I’ve never met your friends. For years, I’ve tried to get you to introduce me to them to no avail. At first I thought you were ashamed of them, but then I see your picture posts on Facebook. And they look like an okay bunch. I want to meet them all. That one that looks like he’s doctor… He’s hot.” A lascivious smile began curving his lips.
“He’s also married,” I said tersely.
“But he bats for our team, doesn’t he?” Without waiting for my answer, he continued, “A wedding ring is no obstacle please. If anything, it’s a turn-on for me – something about having what I absolutely should not be having.”
“I’m pretty sure you’ve had a fair share of what you absolutely should not have.”
“Oh you have no idea. Over in Chicago, I’ve had a couple of married men who saw the light after getting with this” – he spread his hands down in sweeping gesture over his body – “and decided they didn’t want to be married no more.”
“You’re quite the home wrecker then, yea?”
He gave a tinkling laugh. “I prefer to think of myself as an LGBT activist.”
The answer surprised a short laugh from me. “Really? How’d you figure?”
“Well, part of the goals of LGBT activism is to get gay people to self acceptance, right? And what’s more self accepting than a married gay man who realizes he should divorce his wife and settle to screwing ass exclusively, hmm?”
In spite of myself, I responded with a more genuine laugh this time. Kennedy’s cheekiness was one of the things I’d enjoyed about him in the past.
“So, do I get to finally meet your friends?” he beseeched.
“Okay, okay, let’s get going,” I conceded.
We went upstairs to my bedroom, which he was temporarily sharing with me, got changed, and came back downstairs. As we made our way through the living room, I announced that I was going to spend the night at Biola’s. Mother was giving a nod of consent when Aunt Margaret said to her son, “Will you be staying out with Declan as well, Kenny?”
“Yes, mum,” he answered promptly.
We stepped out of the house and started on a short trek to the junction. As I squinted under the bright sunlight, I said, “You don’t really intend to spend the night with me at my friend’s place, do you?”
He chuckled as he settled a pair of sunglasses over his eyes. “I couldn’t get that one past you, could I?”
“I simply recognize the exploitation of an opportunity when I see it. So who’s the guy?”
“Remember the man I told you about who’s married, and who I’ve been in an off and on relationship with in the States?”
My brow furrowed in thought. “Yes, the one you said lives in Houston with his family… Tony Drake, you said his name is, right?”
“That’s the one. Well, he’s back here in Lagos without his family.”
“Is he Nigerian?”
“With a name like Tony Drake?”
“Tony is his name. He added ‘Drake’ to it to make up his profile name on gayromeo, where we met. His actual name is Tony Ikedim.”
“So you two are hooking up today?”
“This evening, at his house in…” He paused to fish a very small book from his pocket. He flipped through the minuscule pages until he came to what he was looking for. “Somewhere in Oregun, Ikeja…”
I shrugged. “Where’s he picking you up?”
“He’ll call me when he’s ready and I’ll let him know where I am. Then he’ll come over and get me.”
“And you’re sure you can trust him? You’re sure he’s okay?”
“What are you now, a CIA agent?” Kennedy gave a small gust of laughter at his witticism.
“No, just someone who lives in the reality of the Nigerian gay clime.”
“Relax. This won’t be my first rodeo drive with Tony. He’s cool.”
“Very well then.”
To his credit, Kennedy kept his western affectations to a minimal level when he got submerged in the small crowd of my friends. The gang knew about him, and had been expecting a bratty Americana when I made the introductions. He unwittingly didn’t give them the satisfaction. He fit right in, trading barbs and flipping weave-ons. Everyone was present at Biola’s house except Jonathan and Yinka. The party was eventually moved to a joint in Biola’s neighbourhood, where we capered amidst drinks and fish pepper-soup.
“I didn’t know Nigerians filmed porn,” Kennedy said as he leaned into Adebola’s side to watch with him the orgy of vibrant erections and limber bodies showing on his phone screen.
“Neither did I, darling,” Adebola said. “Apparently, the threat of an antigay law is not enough to keep us from being a tad adventurous.”
“But it’s such amateur stuff,” Kennedy observed.
“That was probably filmed by a phone video recorder, the best we can do while we wait for the Michael Lucases and the Corbin Fishers amongst us to rise.”
“And this is like the third video I’m watching,” Adebola said. “All of them filmed orgies with no condoms.”
“What, there’s a dearth of condoms in Nigeria?” Kennedy snarked. At the smattering of laughter from the table, he added, “I’m serious.”
“Don’t ask me,” I replied. “I didn’t even know we did porn until just now.”
“What we see on TV is usually art imitating life,” Kennedy opined. “And when it’s amateur hour like this, it’s clearly echoing a shocking lack of awareness or low interest in protection during sex.”
“I’m liking you more and more,” Eddie intoned, the gay activist in him shining through his eyes.
“It might be a cultural thing,” Paschal said. “I remember when I was back in delta and I was about to have sex with this girl – the one female I’ve ever fucked. And when I insisted on a condom, in the interest of avoiding any future complication of an unwanted pregnancy, she flared and said, ‘Do you think I’m a prostitute?’”
There was an outburst of laughter.
“How does that even compute?” Martin queried. “How does the insistence of condom during sex translate to an insinuation that you’re a prostitute?”
“My dear, the thing weak me o,” Paschal said.
“I think there’s this sense of inhibition that gay guys feel when we’re wearing a rubber,” Adebola said. “Like you can’t really get adventurous enough during sex if you keep checking to see that the condom is intact, or keep switching condoms when each one tears.”
“True. God knows the bugaina is not as lenient on a rubbered erection as a vagina is,” Ekene joked.
“The argument a homophobe will cease on when he wants to make a case about how the ass is not meant for things to go into,” I said.
“Hoe adventurous can Nigerian gay guys even get?” Kennedy said. “You want your mind blown during sex? Get a European in your bed. The Bottoms can do things and let you do things with their ass-pussies that will make you wonder if it’s the same LGBT god that created us all.”
The jest was met with more laughter.
Our banter carried on till twilight, when Kennedy got the call he’d been expecting. When he informed the man on the other end of the line that he was in Ajao Estate, the caller instructed him to come on out to the main entrance of the estate. A few minutes after he ended the call, he said his goodbyes and left the joint. In the wake of his departure, and with the rapid descent of the night, our party quickly broke up. Adebola, Paschal, Eddie and Ekene went off to their separate destinations, while Martin and I, who would be staying over at Biola’s, returned home with him.
The rest of the night was spent catching up on new episodes of American Horror Story. We watched the show till about 10pm, when the apprehension of the following day’s grind sent us to bed.
Thirty-five minutes later, Kennedy’s call roused me from my slumber. And his words doused what was left of my somnolence.
“I think… I dunno… I think he’s dead.”
“What do you mean you think he’s dead?!”
Written by Pink Panther