Previously on LOVE AND SEX IN THE CITY: It is 2014. Declan steps into the New Year with a boyfriend, Kizito, and hopes for his new relationship. And we are happy for him – Yay! The love story between Declan and Kizito finally happened. But will it stand everything that 2014 has to throw at them?
There was no gravity. That was the first realization that came to my mind. The world around me had lost its pull to earth, everything without carted about by a strong wind, people flailing and shouting. I was getting spun in the air, head over heels, arms windmilling with a desperate volition. I could feel my head getting scrambled, like a box containing mementos of the past creating a racket when it’s shaken vigorously. I saw swirls of dizzying black and white concentric circles. I sensed my brain getting sucked out through my nose, and then upended, sensed it pressed against the top of my skull. The wind whistled in my ears. Momentarily, I’d catch a steadying eddy, which would hold and then twirl me in a different direction.
In the fleeting eddies, I caught snatches of other people’s cries. Where those cries of anguish? Were they yelling from panic? Were they pleased? Or were they just screaming to be heard? I couldn’t tell.
The centre has fallen from us. The words were uttered close to my head with a cold, thin voice. An unfamiliar voice. I whipped my head around, hoping to capture the owner of the voice. But an eddy hit me, and I was spinning and the wind was hissing like static in my ears.
The centre has fallen from us, and the world become chaos of our own making. Hold still, Declan. Hold fast.
Hold fast to what? The exasperated words shot out through my scrambled mind.
Who is this?
What are you talking about?
Is this a dream?
No, the ice gusted again. This is no dream. This is your reality.
I was jolted awake by simultaneous sounds – the burst of laughter from my colleagues in the general office, gathered together as they were in a pocket of conversation, and the sharp ring of my phone, its accompanying vibration tremoring on the wood of the table upon which I’d placed my head.
As I straightened from the table, working a yawn out of my mouth, my bleary gaze fell on the wall clock hanging above the work station before me. It was 3:15. I’d been napping for all of twenty minutes, and yet, it felt like I’d vacated from this realm of consciousness for an interminable amount of time.
My phone was still ringing. I reached for the device and the ringing stopped. The Missed Call icon replaced the Caller ID on the screen. I thumbed my keypad to check. Jonathan was my caller.
Another outburst of my colleagues’ mirth punched through the air, and I turned my head to them.
Halima had been turning her head in my direction, and our gazes collided.
“Aha! The LGBT champion has woken up!” she exclaimed. “Let’s hear what he has to say.”
“To say about what?” I muttered as my phone began ringing again.
It was Jonathan still.
“About what Goodluck Jonathan has done to your people na,” Tunde said.
“What people?” I queried, half interested in what Tunde had to say as I started toward the exit to answer Jonathan’s call outside the office.
“The underdogs you’re always defending,” Tunde hollered after me.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing,” Halima chided.
“Well now, it’s not only a bad thing. It’s a criminal thing,” Tunde retorted.
My back was to them as I stepped out of the office, but I knew he was smirking as he said that because I could hear the glee in his voice.
Feeling a sudden jittery sensation strum my nerves, I thumbed my call button and took the phone to my ear.
“Declan, this president is a bastard!” Jonathan exploded into my ear.
“Goodluck Jonathan?” I said, taken aback by the fervor of his tone.
“No. Mugabe. Of course it’s Goodluck Jonathan! What – have you not heard?”
“Heard what?” I said, feeling a sense of foreboding slide down my stomach.
“The news that has been trending on the internet all afternoon. What have you been doing – sleeping? You can’t have been that busy at work. I’m a doctor, and I got to know pretty fast.”
“Look, Jonathan,” I snapped, irritation replacing the foreboding, “either you tell me the news or hang up, so I can find out for myself on Eddie’ blog.”
“Relax, jeez!” I heard him expel a fretful sigh. Clearly he was flustered by whatever this item of news was. I suspected it was the same issue I’d just walked out on my colleagues talking about. I felt something within, some remote part of my mind trying to communicate some piece of knowledge to me, when Jonathan said, “It’s about the antigay law that was passed.”
“Antigay law? No, you mean the antigay bill that was passed by the Senate last year…” My voice trailed off as something approaching horror began to nibble at the edge of my mind. “The bill’s been signed into law?” I whispered into the phone.
“It’s been signed into law,” Jonathan reiterated. “That bastard president has officially turned people like you and me into criminals.”
Just then, I felt as if the ground had given way beneath me and I was falling through thin air.
The centre has fallen from us.
The voice bearing those words was so crisp and clear, that I flinched around, thinking someone had snuck up behind me and uttered them close to my ears. But the hallway was empty. There was no one. Another burst of laughter came from the office beside me. I shrugged. It was just an emergence of a phantasm.
Jonathan was still talking. “I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but ever since I heard this, I’ve been quite scared. This law scares me. So scared in fact that I’ve started deleting all the gay people in my Facebook friend list…”
My heartbeat was ranging from a dead stop to a full-out ramming speed. I continued to experience the sensation that I was falling, a feeling that seemed like an uncanny reenactment of my dream from minutes before.
“And BBM too,” Jonathan was saying. “In fact, the first thing I did when I heard was to go and delete my Badoo account. Even though my facial pics are not there, you never know what this law is going to push people to do. All the random gay contacts I have on whatsapp – deleted.”
“Why?” My focus was snapped back into the conversation. “Why are you deleting your contacts?”
“Ehen? What kind of question is that?” Jonathan’s incredulity was palpable. “You want them to catch me? I can’t go to jail for fourteen years o.”
“That’s the jail term the president signed for being homosexual in this country?” I was aghast.
“Be careful how you even throw that word around,” Jonathan hissed. “There’s enough jail sentences to go around, including for those who know but won’t talk.”
My silence said ‘Oh my God!’ as clearly as any utterance I’d have made.
“And that’s why I’m severing ties with any guy that’s not my close friend. You know all these gay guys and how they can run their mouth anyhow. The police might just catch one of them that you’ve done stuff with and force them to talk and they’ll mention my name. I’m deleting them so that there will be no evidence to support whatever claim they might make.”
“So you’ll delete me too?” I said, sudden wry amusement nudging its way through the molasses of my shock.
“No na! You heard me say none of my close friends. The entire gang is safe from my severance. I know you guys are very careful.”
“Even Ekene?” I teased. Jonathan and Ekene had never really been close despite the chummy relationship of all nine of us.
He caught on to my teasing and rejoined, “The jury is still out on that one.”
I let out a short laugh, one that ended in a sigh. “Oh Jonathan… What are we going to do?”
I’d meant that rhetorically, but he answered anyway. “I’ve already told you what I’ve started doing. Self preservation is key.”
“Deleting people will solve nothing. You’ll just end up worrying yourself over something that won’t have any effect and lose a few good friends in the process.”
“Who cares!” His objection was an explosion. He quickly lowered his voice as he continued, “I have enough good friends in you guys. Plus doing what I’m doing will help me sleep well at night.”
“Will it really?”
There was a pause on his end as my words sank in, and then he said furiously, “How are you not rattled by this?”
“I am –”
“Then how come you are sounding so unbothered?”
“I don’t know. Maybe I’m just processing. I mean, I did only just learn about this like five seconds ago. And really, I feel as though at the end of the day, nothing much will change from what is already the status quo. Nigeria has always been a bad place for us, and this new law doesn’t change that. It just makes it legal for the police to extort us and the public to brutalize us. It doesn’t mean we have to stop living. It just means we have to continue being careful with our dealings henceforth –”
“Which is why –” Jonathan began.
“And deleting contacts, friends already made, isn’t being careful. It’s being unreasonable.”
“Easy for you to say. You’re not married.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
Just then, the call of Jonathan’s name resonated from the background. “Yes?” he answered. His voice drifted away, became muffled with distance as he carried on a dialogue with whoever had called for his attention. A few seconds later, he returned to the phone. “Look, Dee, I’ve got to go. There’s a patient I have to see. We should all try and hang out soon, you know, to talk about this.”
“Yes. We should.”
“Okay then. Talk to you later. And please be careful.”
As I disconnected, the words floated up to my subconscious again, traversing the chasm that separated my present from the place I’d first heard them. The centre has fallen from us and the world become chaos of our own making. Hold still, Declan. Hold fast.
I felt whiskers of chill blow up my spine. What are you trying to tell me? I queried. Is it about the antigay law? Because now, I know. Anything else?
No response drifted back to me. The silence stretched, just as unnerving as the interference from my dream.
A BBM message dropping into my phone roused me from my thoughts. I navigated to the app and clicked it open to meet a litany of unread messages. Without clicking any of them open, I could see the texts sent by my gay friends, messages whose tones ranged from panicked and incensed to teasing and indulgent.
Oh God! This fucking government needs to go to hell!
How could Goodluck Jonathan do this?
I’m afraid, Declan. I’m now actually afraid for my life, and I’m not even effeminate.
Dee, have you heard that you’re now a criminal?
Just negodu. Just negodu what this government is doing to its minority.
They have won o! The witches in my village have won this round!
Seeking to apprise myself of more information concerning this development, I navigated my way to my internet browser. I thumbed over to my bookmarked pages and clicked on rainbowman.com. The story was at the top of the other blog updates; Eddie had splashed the breaking news with headlines that seethed with his indignation and mocking disdain.
PRESIDENT JONATHAN SNEAKS THE ANTIGAY BILL INTO LAW LIKE A THIEF IN THE AFTERNOON!!!
The post itself was an opinion piece, a diatribe that slammed the federal government after revealing the facts of the issue, primarily the details of the law – the Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. I read with mounting horror as dastardly phrases jumped out at me. Marriage contract between persons of same sex prohibited in Nigeria… Court of law… Conviction to a term of 10 years… 14 years imprisonment…
What followed after in the comments section was the usual contest of opinions peppered with the despair of the gay readership and the overwhelming malicious triumph of the homophobic trolls.
The next thing the government should do, a prejudiced commenter crowed, is hunt down this fucking rainbow man, whoever he is, and shut down this abomination he calls a blog.
I read that and felt the beginnings of fear, a trickle of ice, for Eddie. For me. For all of us. I searched inwardly for that sanguine man who’d just tried to bolster Jonathan moments ago, and I could only find trace amounts of him. The trickle of ice was surging faster, benumbing every nerve ending it touched.
My phone rang just then, and I almost dropped the device. With a hand that was slightly shaky, I lifted the phone to my ear.
“Hello.” My voice was hoarse.
“Have you heard?” Paschal said from the other end.
“Of the antigay law? Yes.”
“Who told you?”
“That one must be a basket case of nerves.”
“That he is,” I replied.
“What’s funny?” I asked.
“It’s just… Well, everyone I’ve spoken to so far got to know through the usual channels. Linda Ikeji, Bellanaija, them say-them say. But me, I got to find out in a most peculiar way.”
“There’s this dude I met about three months ago. We’ve been running things ever since. He’s in fact a major contributor to the boutique business I’m planning on operating, wrote me a cheque of 150 grand two days ago. And yesterday, he asked me to come over to his place in Lekki. He was going to have today off, he said. We’d relax, have breakfast in bed, all that jazz. And that’s what we had. Morning sex, and after that, he served omelettes, which we had in bed. Then there lengthy cuddling and pillow talk, and another round of sex.”
“How nice,” I said, my tone tinged with sarcasm.
Paschal chuckled again. “I’m getting to the point of my gist na.”
“Can you get to it fast? I’m at work.”
“Yes, ma.” Another chuckle. “Well, we slept off again. I woke up around midday to see him reading from his iPad. I reached for his crotch, figured we’d go another round, you know, give him his money’s worth. But to my surprise – and this is because this dude is perpetually horny for thirty-eight – he slapped my hand away. And then he said, ‘We can’t do this anymore. It’s not safe.’ I was like, what? And he showed me what he was reading on his iPad. It was LIB’s report of the antigay law nonsense. Thereafter, like joke-like joke, this dude hustled me out of his house. He kept on saying how what we are doing is no longer safe, how this country is no longer safe. And this is coming from a rich guy living in a secured estate in Lekki, and I’m the one returning to a rented apartment in Surulere.”
“People are scared,” I said slowly, remembering Jonathan and his near meltdown moments ago.
“People are scared,” Paschal reiterated, “especially people like him.”
“People like who? Your Lekki runs? How do you mean?”
“He only just came out to himself and accepted his sexuality like six months ago.”
“At thirty-eight years of age?”
“Yup. He’s had a lifelong internal battle with denial. Never hooked up with a guy until six months ago. Got married at some point to prove to himself that he couldn’t be gay. And then he stopped struggling and started accepting. His divorce from his wife was finalized three months ago. So you see, he’s basically a newbie to the life of a gay man. And then, this happens. Whereas, for those of us who’ve been fucking dicks and ass for years, we get to be afraid and uneasy, for those like him who are still coming in on or to terms with their sexuality, this will set them back psychologically several steps.”
As Paschal’s word struck me, a face ghosted before my mind’s eye. Small eyes that crinkled into the most attractive expression when they were merry. Short, blunt nose. Powerful, aggressive jaw that anchored full, sensual lips that was uniquely kissable. Lips I’d been kissing exclusively for the past two months. Kizito. The boyfriend I was rapidly falling for. And the man whose emotional connection with me had had to weather his struggle with his bisexuality.
The only thing worse than a gay man with internalized homophobia is a bisexual man with internalized homophobia, Biola had once said of Kizito in the period I’d been both attracted to and maddened by him for his hot-and-cold attitude toward me.
But he had come around to the gay part of his sexuality. He had made love tome, gotten into a relationship with me. We were house-hunting. We were going to live together.
We are happy, I thought. We are. He’s happy with me and I’m happy with him. And this mess with the antigay law can’t touch us. My self-reassurance was emphatic.
Paschal had disconnected from our call, and I went back to work. My colleagues attempted to draw me into their debate over the signage of the law, but I was reticent. My mind was too filled with a jumble of emotions for me to maintain any articulate responses in the conversation. I got through work till closing time like an automaton. I simply wanted to leave here and get home, bar myself in my bedroom away from the sensation of nakedness I felt out here on the outside.
Upon closing time, the staff of FitPlus Inc. thronged out of the building in singles and clusters. I was on my own, hurrying out into the evening with a determined air of solitude.
The main road was just ahead. All I just had to do was cross to the other side, get into a bus…
…Sit still, endure a number of stops till I get home. I could almost taste the bath I’d have to scrub this entire day off me, could almost feel the enclosure of my bed sheets whose comfort I’d crawl into and hope never to come out of.
I whirled around, startled.
Mary Jane was almost abreast of me. Her eyes were searching, her gaze discerning, as she walked up to me.
“I’ve been calling you since I stepped out of the elevator and saw you exiting the reception.”
“I’ve been preoccupied,” I mumbled.
“Yes, I can see that,” she said with a laugh. Her expression became solemn seconds later and she peered at me. There was something suddenly disconcerting about her stare. “Are you okay?”
“Are you sure?”
“Why the hell wouldn’t I be okay or sure that I’m okay?” I heard the snap in my response, and didn’t regret it. I just wanted to get home, and this bitch was being a deterrent.
At my terseness, she drew back. Her brows shot up as she registered my mood. “Ow-kay,” she said slowly. “You really aren’t okay. But that’s alright. I noticed you were preoccupied earlier when I came to the HR office. Maybe it’s bad news you received, I don’t know. I just wanted you to know that I’m here whenever you need to talk. Okay?”
There was a traffic of people eddying around us. There were proletarians wearing the look of a long day in their drawn expressions and hasty gaits of those who couldn’t wait to get home. Goodbyes were called out as co-workers parted ways. Car doors slammed and horns honked as the parking lot became astir with movement. Two women were walking past us, gabbing away to each other. Beneath their uncombed weave-ons, chapped lips and faded makeup – a clear indication that they hadn’t visited the Ladies for a touch-up before deciding to go home – the gazes they threw is was fleeting.
Fleeting… And yet, they bore into me. Bold. Knowing. Accusing. We know what you truly are, they seemed to be saying. And it’s only a matter of time before we’ll lynch you, especially now that the government has legalized your perversion as a crime.
Panic clutched at my heart, and I felt suddenly exposed, recoiling inwardly the way a naked man would do physically if the door to his bathroom was unceremoniously thrown open to intruders.
“Declan…did you hear me? Are you okay?” Mary Jane was reaching a hand to me. She was staring more intently at me.
Knowing me. Accusing me.
I shrank back before her hand could find purchase. “I have to go,” I husked.
“I have to go.”
I spun around and darted for the main road. All around me, the stares got bolder, stripping me, rendering me more vulnerable. The thoughts that crowded my mind terrified me. And all I could think of to do was try and outrun them, even as the masks of disapproval chased after me all the way.
Written by Pink Panther
WRITER’S NOTE: In my mission to pen this episode, I had to talk to a few friends of mine concerning that fateful day of January 2014, when the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was signed into law. I wanted to know how they got to find out about the news and their reactions to it. And I got varying responses, all of them tied into a feeling of vulnerability, a sense of loss. It’d be interesting to know how y’all reacted to the news of the law’s signage. Do sound off in the comments.