The taxi bounced over a rut on the tarred road, and the jerky motion pulled my gaze from the scant pedestrian traffic to the man beside me in the back of the car.
He was looking at me. With the half smile that had his lips crooked slightly upward, he appeared to have been looking at me for quite awhile.
“What are you doing?” I queried.
“Nothing,” Kizito replied.
“Why are you looking at me like that?”
“Like… I don’t know. Like…”
“Like I want to gobble you up?” His smile turned rapidly into a grin, and his voice dropped into a low tone as he continued, “If you were thinking of saying that, you’d be right. You look incredible, and I can’t help myself around you.”
I felt heat suffuse my face. “Kizito, I already said yes” – I lowered my voice as well – “to being your boyfriend. So you don’t have to butter me up.”
“I’m not buttering you up,” he said, laughing shortly. “I’m being serious. Being with you these past two months is bringing about a change in me that I didn’t think I’d be comfortable with. And yet I am.”
“What do you mean?”
“I’ve always known about my bisexuality right from my early university days. I’d be with a girl and still want to be with a guy. And even though I’d reconciled myself with these feelings, I was never quite comfortable with the gay aspect. I suppressed my attraction to guys as much as I could. And whenever I gave in to the urge to hook up with a guy, I treated it like something I had to get over with as quickly as possible. I had girlfriends, but I never stuck with any guy longer than a few shags.” His eyes moved searchingly over my face. “Not one, until I met you.”
An emotion I didn’t pause to identify began to course through me, warming my skin like the rays of an early morning sun. it was a familiar feeling, one that was reminiscent of the contentment I felt this morning when I drifted into wakefulness, breathing in the peculiar scents of Kizito’s sleep-warm body next to mine.
“With you,” Kizito continued, “I find myself wanting to be bolder, more steadfast, less inclined to run. You actually made me want you, chase you, just by sharing the same office building with me. Gawd! The risks I took when I kissed you then, simply because I had to kiss you…”
The memories of those stolen kisses – in the conference room, in the stairwell – appeared to collect into a faint flush of incalescence, which burned itself on my lips. Reflexively, I raised a hand to my mouth, my fingers brushing over my lips as though to encounter the heat. Kizito’s gaze was drawn to the movement of my hand upward, and remained arrested by the motility of my fingers across the fullness of my lips.
His breath was ragged as he muttered, “Stop doing that please.”
“Stop doing what?”
He grinned. “You know what I mean, you tease.”
I blew out an exasperated breath as my eyes flickered to the front seat, where the cab driver was navigating his way down Herbert Macaulay Way. “Nawa for this country o. This is how my boyfriend will want to kiss me, but can’t because of our backwardness. I’ll tell you this now” – I wagged a finger at Kizito – “this is not how it is in America. Hollywood movies alone are a testament to how the backseat of taxis is the perfect place to get away with a snog or two.”
“Perhaps we should elope to the US then,” Kizito said, chuckling.
“Perhaps we should.”
“Or perhaps we should get our own place.”
I blinked my confusion at the non-sequitur. “Uh, what do you mean?”
“Look, your friend Biola was most generous to let us consummate our relationship at his place, undisturbed for three days. But the holiday is over. He’s back and we’re out. You stay with your folks, and I with my elder brother. None of these arrangements is conducive for the sexual part of our relationship.”
“And so you’re suggesting…”
“We get a place of our own.”
“To the outside world, we’d be flat-mates. But we’ll know better.”
A smile erupted from the depths of my soul and rose up to spread across my face like the rising sun. I had to fight the urge to reach forward and pull Kizito into an embrace and a kiss. “Oh sure, we’ll know better indeed,” I reiterated with a laugh.
“So you’ll consider it?” His phone had started ringing, causing him to begin contorting his body as he attempted to slip the device from the pocket of his snug denims.
“Consider it? It’s been considered, signed, sealed and delivered. When do we begin house-hunting?”
He chuckled distractedly as he glanced at his phone screen. The ringing had stopped by the time he retrieved the phone.
“It’s one of my customers,” he said. “I’ll have to call him back.” He thumbed the CALL button against the number on his screen and took the phone to his ear. He cussed a second later as he withdrew the phone from his ear. “I forgot that I exhausted my credit last night.”
“You can use my phone,” I offered, reaching to rummage for it in my bag.
“Don’t worry. I’ll go buy credit once we drop.”
As if on cue, the cab driver began to decelerate. As I watched the Fit Plus building draw close to us, the usual disgruntlement I felt whenever u beheld the edifice less than a week after the close of work the year before was absent this time. In its place was the glow I felt at all the promises this year seemed to hold for me. I glanced sideways at Kizito, who was reaching for his door handle now that the driver had pulled up at the curb.
“I’ll catch up with you before you get to the elevator,” he called as the two of us alighted. He started off with his loping gait for the umbrella stand on the other side of the road, under which a young girl was already set for her first business of the year.
I paid the cab driver and moved away from the vehicle as he steered it around to rejoin the morning traffic. I glanced across the road, observed my boyfriend and the young entrepreneur carry on with their transaction, and began walking leisurely into the compound.
I’d just turned to my phone to idle my way through whatever untended notifications there were, when a voice called, “Declan!”
I reflexively turned my head around, thinking it was Kizito calling for my attention. And then my auditory neurons made the connection with the timbre of the voice.
“Declan – hey! This way!”
It was a female calling from ahead of me. I squinted at the lithe frame of Veronica Mbadiwe as she hurried toward me, her disproportionate bosom heaving with the strength of her exertion.
“Hi Veronica,” I said with a warm smile.
We chorused our ‘Happy New Year’s as we hugged, and I was assailed by the lemons of her hair and the lavender of her body. We pulled back to give each other the once-over.
“Hmm, how long has it been?” she exclaimed. “Wait o, the last time we met was…” Her voice trailed off and her eyes widened. “Oh my God, the last time was at that canteen over there!” She was snapping her fingers as she stretched her right hand in the direction of the restaurant where I usually lunched during my break time.
“Yes,” I said, feeling a slight twinge at my recollection of that afternoon. “Yes, it was.”
“Oh sweet Lord Jesus, Declan you will not believe what a good thing you brought to my life that day!” she gave a delighted squeal as she clasped her hands over her mouth. “Oh my God, you were just sent into my life at the right time to be the originator of the best thing that ever happened to me.”
My brows crocheted with incomprehension. “Uh, veronica, what are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about this!” With a theatric sleight of her left hand, she splayed the fingers before me. The lone ring encircling one of her fingers was too ornate to be a dress ring. Besides, it adorned her fourth finger. It was a gold band, upon which was set a tiny filigree of gemstones that gleamed softly in the morning light.
I reached for the outstretched hand and pulled the ring closer. “You’re engaged,” I said softly. “Who’s the unlucky man?” I knew the answer before she gave it.
“Dotun of course!” She was laughing. “And the thunder that will fire you for that wisecrack is on its way to you from Ojuelegba. Which one is ‘unlucky man’? Dotun would be very lucky to have me.”
Oh you have no idea, I thought. “I didn’t even know you guys were serious,” I said to her.
“Haba nau! We’ve been dating since June last year,” Veronica said. “Add to that the fact that my biological clock is ticking, and you’ll understand how this had to happen sooner rather than later.
“You’re twenty-eight going on twenty-nine,” I snarked. “Which kain yeye biological clock ticking is that?”
A laugh gusted from her. “Abeg, Declan, a girl cannot afford to waste her time once she starts nearing thirty o. And all these brothers are not loyal. So when you meet one of the good ones, you get him to do the needful fast.” She wiggled her left fingers in obvious satisfaction.
I sighed inwardly. What had I set in motion? “But aren’t you bothered that your family might disapprove? I mean, Dotun is Yoruba and you’re Igbo.”
“We’re in 2014, Declan. Nigerians are marrying Ghanaians and South Africans these days.”
“Right. Of course.”
Picking up on the lackluster tone of my response, she suddenly frowned, and some of her joy winnowed away from her countenance. “You don’t sound too excited. Is everything alright?”
“Yea, sure,” I hastened to reassure. “I’m happy for you. I really am.”
Her eyes quizzed mine, trying to spool any information they might betray. But my expression remained carefully unrevealing of the angst I felt within me.
“Are you sure? If there’s something you think I should know –”
“Something like what?” I forced a laugh. “Don’t be ridiculous, Veronica. Enjoy your moment joor, don’t mind me.”
Where was the vindictive pleasure I should feel at how well my plan to get back at this woman had worked? She had made part of my existence during our university days fraught with tension, with her gossip of my homosexuality. And years after, I’d endeavoured to score one back at her by introducing her to Dotun. I hadn’t thought it would flourish from a relationship to an engagement. Because of me, the woman who’d sneered at me for being gay was all set to wed a homosexual man. The thought saddened.
“Hey Dee,” Kizito’s voice intruded from behind. He was at my side a microsecond later, placing his hand lightly on my back as he glanced at Veronica. “Hello, good morning.”
“Good morning.” She nodded as she replied, and her eyes strayed to the contact Kizito’s had made with my body.
Kizito turned to me. “Dee, I have to run. That was my customer, and he wants some deliveries. So duty calls. I’ll holler at you later, okay?”
We stared awkwardly at each other for a short moment, both of us yearning for the proper lovers’ goodbye of a kiss. We settled for a quick hug, before he walked away.
Veronica’s gaze sharpened on me. “Declan, don’t tell me you’re still doing that thing you were doing back in the day.”
“What thing is that?” I said, my voice instantly icing over.
She recognized my tone and hedged. “Well, it’s just that… You know it’s bad… That thing, it’s an abomination –”
“I’m sorry, but I’m still waiting to hear what thing it is you’re talking about,” I snapped, my words an icy volley of curtness.
She lifted her hands in an ‘I’m backing off’ gesture. “No vex abeg. I just felt I should point out some truth to you. But today is not about that. It’s a happy day.” She smiled to take the sting off her next words. “But just know that I’ll be saying a prayer for you. It’s the least I can do as your friend.”
I chuckled sardonically. Oh Veronica, I’ll be saying a prayer for you also. It’s really the least I can do as your friend.
“I better be getting inside now,” I said stiffly.
“Ok then. I just came from seeing Dotun sef. When you see him, tell him the luckiest girl in the world sends her love.” She dazzled me with her bright smile as she pulled me in for another hug, before sauntering off.
“So I hear congratulations are in order,” I said as I stopped by the open doorway of the office.
Dotun whirled around, simultaneously raising his face from his scrutiny of some spreadsheets in his hand. He was standing in front of his desk; he must have just returned from the General HR office, which would explain his door not being shut.
I pulled the door close as I advanced into the room.
“Well, Happy New Year to you,” he said, beaming as he dropped the sheets on his desk and rested his derriere on the edge.
“Same to you.” I smiled back at him.
“So what were you talking about before?”
“I heard you put a ring on it. I ran into Veronica outside. She was simply over the moon.”
Dotun ducked his head as he gave an abashed chuckle. “I proposed last night o. But her joy meter seems to be still be running on full blast.”
I gurgled with laughter. “Making fun of your future wife, eh? There’s a special place in hell for guys who do that o. Congratulations anyway. This is wonderful news.”
“Is it?” He looked up at me.
“Isn’t it?” I cocked a brow.
He shrugged. “What can I say? I mean, I think it should be. But…” His voice trailed off with poignant uncertainty.
“But?” I encouraged.
“I mean, I’m not like you and some other gay guys out there who know exactly who they are and have figured out clearly what they want in life.”
“Do you want marriage?” I queried.
“Precisely the question, Declan. One that’s easy to ask, but hard to answer.”
“You can try.”
“I have two answers to that question. First is yes and second is ‘I don’t know’. Yes, because it is what society believes a man of my age should want or be in. I mean, grandkids would make my mother very happy. And I want her to be happy. But the second answer leaves me feeling very perplexed. The fact that I can say ‘I don’t know’ at this stage scares the shit out of me.”
“Perhaps you need more time to make up your mind?”
“Thank you, Declan. I need all the time in the world. I might as well sit and think about it till my hair grays and my teeth fall out.” His tone was marinated with self-deprecating sarcasm. “More time? At what age? I’m thirty-four. More time after I have proposed?” He suddenly looked vexed.
“Hian!” I said in laughing protest. “Na me send you go propose?”
“Yes nau! If not, why did you introduce us?”
I’d automatically opened my mouth to give my response, to offer up the truth. Hesitation choked the words to a stop and gradually shut my mouth.
“What?” Dotun said.
“Come on, Declan. If there’s something you want to say, just say it.”
“It’s just… Veronica… She gossiped me out of the closet in the lodge where we lived back in the university.” At Dotun’s widened gaze, I nodded. “Yea, she saw a gay porn VCD in my player, put two and two together, and distributed the four to our lodge-mates. I barely survived that scandal. And when I saw her that afternoon I introduced you two, I was simply feeling vindictive.”
There was a momentary silence, broken when Dotun expelled a breath. “Well you ought to be happy now. Your plan has worked.” The expression he turned to me had no antagonism on it.
“And it worked way better than I imagined,” I said with a grin. “It however doesn’t give me any satisfaction. I’m in a good place now. And I can’t seem to understand what I was thinking then.”
“Well, I have proposed. And there is no turning back on that.”
“But I thought you said you were confused about the whole thing.”
“That doesn’t mean I won’t go ahead with the marriage. That a hen stands on one foot due to uncertainty doesn’t mean it will not venture into new territory.”
“Spoken like the wise old village man that you are.”
We shared a short burst of laughter.
“Look,” I said as I got close to him, placing a hand on his shoulder, “if you are confused, maybe you shouldn’t go through with it.”
Dotun gave me a discerning look. “Perhaps you meant to say that because you are in a better place, I should not go through with it?”
“Oh come on! Keep me out of it o. Let us talk about you. If you are okay with your decision, then it’s fine by me. Maybe that is how it was supposed to be and I was merely instrumental in making it happen.”
He sighed. “I don’t even know what to think anymore.”
“Are you still confused about your sexuality?”
“Well, maybe I am. You know I’m a late bloomer. I had always had girls as a much younger man and it stayed that way for years. It was only after that –”
“Incident with the porn you saw in my phone, right,” I finished for him. “Until that time, you never experienced any sexual excitement when you saw boys?”
“Looking back, I cannot say I was aroused by them. All I can say is that I was thrilled and excited by handsome males.”
“Maybe you were afraid of your desire and so you refused to acknowledge it in its totality.”
“Perhaps you are right. But I experienced it as a strong but hazy attraction…until I kissed a man for the first time. Until I kissed you.” His stare on me became pointed.
I stepped back from him, suddenly feeling stifled by our proximity. “Oh that’s right. I was your first male kiss. How did that feel for you?”
A rhapsodic look fleeted across his features. “Chai! It felt like rapture. As if I died and went to heaven. My entire body was on fire! I had never experienced anything like it.”
“Not with any of the girls you have been with?”
“Never.” He shook his head.
“That’s proof. You gay!”
“Why? It could have felt that way just because it was a part of my sexuality I had supressed for too long, like a drowning man who suddenly came up for air.
“So maybe you are a bisexual who had his gay side suppressed?”
“Maybe. At the same time, I feel a bit uneasy identifying as bisexual. If I put my attraction for boys and girls on the table, there is something that thrills me about what I feel for boys.”
“More proof. You gay!”
“Perhaps it’s just the thrill wanting or of eating what is forbidden.”
“Oh there you go again, rationalizing.”
“I did say I’m confused, did I not?”
“Yes, you did. But come to think of it, why must we always know exactly who we are or what we want? Life itself is an unraveling process. With every passing day, we learn from our experiences and attitudes can change. With each passing day, it becomes clearer to us who we are and what we really want.”
“But society waits for no man. They will not let you unravel in peace. When you are thirty, nobody gives a damn about your process of unraveling.”
“No one will make me do anything I don’t want to do,” I stated categorically.
“Easy to say, until the mother starts to call you like clockwork every 8pm to cry and beg you to set her grandchildren, who are locked up in your loins, free.”
I clapped a hand to my mouth as hilarity brimmed from my eyes. “Oh my God! Is that what your mother did?”
“Yes oh: She already has chosen names for the first child. Two names actually. Abiodun, if it’s a boy, and Temitope, if it’s a girl.”
“You have got to be kidding me!”
“I kid you not. It’s even harder because I and my mum share a special bond. My siblings envy me because of it. I would do anything to make her happy. That’s why I laugh to silence that part of me that suggests that I should not marry. I would take a bullet for my mum. If marriage is all she wants, I am ready to marry ten wives for her.”
“Well, as Rita Dominic’s character would say in that movie, The Meeting, OYO is your case. I love my mother, but I will not” – I added a heavy stress on the word – “sacrifice my life on the altar of ignorance, even if it is the ignorance of Mummy Dearest. I do not believe in unreasonable and unjustified sacrifices. Please if I am going to die, let it be for a good reason.”
“Isn’t your mother a good reason?”
“Her ignorance is a bad reason.”
“Let’s put this down to differences in perspective. Different strokes for different folks.”
“You are so on your own. But for civility sake, I will agree.”
“Thank you.” He straightened and turned to retrieve the sheets he’d placed on the desk.
“So, seeing as I’m the founder of this thing God is about to join together, do I get to be on your groom’s train?”Dotun threw his head back and guffawed at that.
I was on my way out of Dotun’s office when my phone buzzed. A look at the screen revealed a number that was unknown to me.
“Am I on to Declan Odum?” a raspy male voice enquired.
“This is he,” I said jauntily as I moved in the direction of the General HR Office.
“This is Detective Moses Badmus, and I was wondering if you could spare a few moments of your time to come to the Area C Command Police Station in Sabo for some concerns.”
Before he was done speaking, I had already turned to stone. The shock of what I was hearing made such a devastating impact on me that I thought I was going to faint. Oh my God, how did they find me so fast?!
“Hello, Mr. Odum, are you there?”
“I am –” I cleared my throat and tried again. “I am. Erm, what is this call to the police station regarding?”
I sensed the man hedge, as though gauging how much he should let on to me. “Well, there’s an ongoing investigation, and we would just like to ask you a few questions.”
“Investigation pertaining to what?”
“Mr. Odum –”
“Am I a suspect in this investigation?” Hysteria was urging my voice up a few decibels.
“No, you’re not, Mr. Odum. You’re merely a person of interest.”
“Why?” This was the second question this morning that I’d asked whose answer I knew before it came.
The detective replied, “Because your phone number was found on a dead man’s phone.”
Written by Pink Panther