Where are you?

My phone pinged with the receipt of the message as I watched the taxi driver decelerate. He approaching the junction I’d asked to be dropped.

I looked down at my phone and typed my response to Yinka: I’m here, just getting down at the junction.

A swift moment later, he typed back: Okay. Most of us are already here. Adebola brought that his bisexual friend.

Tosin? I queried.

Yes.

Who else is there?

“Oga, we don reach o,” the driver called from the front.

I looked up and snapped the phone cover shut over the screen, even as I heard the ping of Yinka’s answer. I slid the fare to the driver from behind before opening the door and alighting.

It was a fine Saturday evening, and the sun was ending its stay in the sky with a glorious burn sinking into the west. I took a deep breath and started walking down the street that adjoined the main road at the junction I was dropped. It wasn’t a residential area, and so, there were store fronts flanking the sides of the roads. Some of the establishments still had out front the red-and-white bric-a-brac that marked yesterday’s Valentine. There were pedestrians moving about; coming toward me was a man walking a pair of brown and black German Shepherds on long, wind-up leashes. The dogs snuffled the air, looking back and forth, keenly alert and searching for smaller animals to bark at.

Something about the dogs’ demeanour caused a frisson to snake its way up my spine, as I was struck by how much they reminded me of the bad dreams I had last month around the period of the signage of that draconian law. The dreams had been the same, filled with an impatient mob, vigilant, angry, thronging down the road and baying for the blood of the gays. The dreams had terrified me and turned me almost sick with paranoia whenever I stepped out on the road. Mercifully, with the passage of time, they dissipated and faded away into the murky recesses of my mind, only reaching out occasionally to startle me through such mnemonics as this.

I sighed as the man and his dogs trotted past me, trying to draw back the anticipation I felt yesterday when Yinka suggested we meet today at our regular joint in Yaba. A hangout was long overdue. Ever since the signing of the law made news, with the furor surrounding it, some of us hadn’t been too keen on coming together in any gathering that might draw any kind of unwarranted attention. But that was last month. Even though the blogosphere was riddled with reports of mob attacks on suspected gay men, the isolation of those news reports helped with the sense of invulnerability that permitted the idea of this hangout to be welcomed.

Just ahead of me, I saw someone walking forward. I arched my brows at the familiar back, even though his gait was strange and stiff. For a moment, I was puzzled by the oddity of his movement, the deliberate but awkward bounce in his steps. Then comprehension dawned and I began chuckling.

“Ekene!” I called out with a laugh.

My friend stopped and turned. His face was chagrinned when he saw the amusement on my face.

“For a moment, I thought you were a contestant practising for the Mr. Ideal Nigeria catwalk,” I said as I drew up to him and hugged him briefly, “and doing a bad job of it. What happened to the sashay queen?”

“She took a break the moment she realized that a booty shake on a guy is equal to fourteen years imprisonment.”

“Fourteen years is for those caught doing the dirty, not shaking what God gave them.”

“Oh good, have you clarified that with the bloodthirsty Nigerians and the evil police?”

I chuckled again as I crossed my hand over his shoulder as we continued on our way. The joint we walked into was already crowded and noisy, with its music loud and frenetic and the patrons chattering, clearly in high spirits.

“Over here!”

We heard as well as Yinka as he half stood and waved from a corner of the outdoor eatery furthest from the origin of the music. We moved in that direction, approaching a spot that were two conjoined tables crowded by six people. I noted immediately that Biola and Jonathan were the only ones absent. For the next few moments, there was a chorus of greetings and a flurry of hugs and handshakes.

“You are looking well,” Yinka said, eyeing me as I came to take a seat next to him.

“I am well.” I beamed.

“And how was your Valentine yesterday?”

I kept smiling, even as I swallowed against the sudden lump in my throat. “It was fantastic.”

“You’re lying,” Yinka said a moment after.

“I am,” I said with a tone that asked him not to pursue it. Something was happening to Kizito and I; I didn’t know what it was, except that the ease of our loving seemed be gone, to be replaced by a muted strain. I hadn’t brought up my disquiet with him, because I didn’t want to talk about it, not with him, and certainly not with my friends. Talking, I feared, would make it real and force whatever unfavorable outcome that lurked.

“Where’s Biola?” Ekene enquired as Yinka gestured for a server.

“He’s on his way, he says,” Martin answered as he lifted a glass of Smirnoff Ice to his mouth. “Third Mainland Bridge traffic is being a bitch as usual.”

“And Jonathan?” I asked.

A few chuckles erupted at the table as Adebola said, “Did you not notice how quiet he stayed all through our whatsapp chat when Yinka brought up the idea of a hangout. I knew then that he wouldn’t be coming.”

“Has he said he won’t be coming?”

“Yes,” Yinka said. “He replied when I texted him some minutes ago to say he’s caught up at work.”

“Plus he now has a wife to get home to,” Paschal added.

“Yea right,” Eddie said with a disbelieving roll of his eyes. “If he never hangs out with us anymore, it’d be just fine for him.”

“I’m surprised I’m even still in his BBM contact list,” Ekene said. “Every now and then, I check for him in my list to be sure he’s still there, because I figure I’d be the first to go when he starts weeding off contacts he fears might expose him.”

He very nearly did, I thought to myself.

“That guy’s paranoia is not of this world,” Paschal said with a chuckle.

“Stop calling it paranoia like it’s a nice little headache he has,” Eddie countered. “He’s internally homophobic, simple as that.” He made a slashing gesture with his hand, emphasizing the finality of his words.

“What’s that – internally homophobic?” Adebola’s model friend, Tosin queried.

I glanced at him, idly appreciating his lean good looks as Martin answered, “It’s called internalized homophobia, and it’s a small piece of arsenal that Eddie likes to whip out when gay men don’t behave themselves.”

“Somebody has to call you people to order when you start fucking up,” Eddie riposted.

“With the gay clime in this country, I wouldn’t mind some internalized homophobia,” Paschal said with a laugh.

“Abeg bring down your voice,” Ekene hissed. “Tatafo Nigerians are everywhere biko.” His eyes darted in all directions as if tattlers lurked behind him.

A server approached our table then, with a tray upon which were some drinks and saucers of finger foods. The next few minutes were characterised by banal talk as he placed the orders on our table.

However, once he was gone, Eddie began, “It’s indeed a shame that the Nigerian’s response to what he does not understand is to criminalize it. Nothing is to be feared. It is merely to be understood, but thanks to the widespread belief in all these ancient holy books, no real humanity is allowed.”

“Abeg don’t start with religion,” Martin groaned.

Tosin chuckled, his eyes on Martin.

“What else is there to start with?” Eddie retorted. “Everybody who’s been hailing Jonathan for what he did have been using the bible and tradition to back up what they believe is the rightness of his act. And for a nation as sinful as Nigeria, this is just hilarious. It’s amazing how every other sin vanishes when homosexuality is the topic. Even murder becomes pardonable if it’s the gays that are getting lynched.”

“Like that mob attack that happened in Gishiri, Abuja on Wednesday,” Yinka said.

For some moments, sounds of commiseration roiled over the table as we recollected the ghastly news of the Abuja neighbourhood that rose like an angry tide very late in the night to displace innocent men from their homes and beat them to within an inch of their lives.

“Was any one of them killed?”

“I don’t think so. The reports are conflicting,” Eddie said. “Either some LGBT activists intervened and rescued some of them or the police came into the picture in time to stop a lynching. I’m trying to see if I can get an interview with any one of the victims willing to talk for my blog.”

“The police – ha!” I scoffed. “Trust the Nigerian police to exploit this in every way possible. Their intent wouldn’t even be to charge anyone remanded in their custody to court, but to threaten them until they can extort money from them. We are so screwed in this country.”

“It’s a good thing we have some good Nigerians who are making noise on our behalf,” Martin intoned. “All the gay Nigerians are running scared. So when the likes of Ayo Sogunro come out on the social media to tweet their consistent outrage, it gives me hope.”

“Wait, Ayo Sogunro is gay?” Tosin blurted. His eyes had widened on his handsome face.

“No, he’s not,” Adebola said.

“Then why is he –”

“Are you saying he has to be gay to speak up for gays?” Eddie cut him off with a flinty expression.

“Well…it’s just…” Tosin flailed mentally for a way to express himself without provoking Eddie. “If he’s straight –”

“Then he can’t be a human being, right?” Eddie interrupted him again.

“Okay, you’ve made your point,” Tosin conceded before disappearing behind a bottle of Stout.

“I don’t even know what possessed this rubbish government to go and sign this law,” Yinka said. “Who told them we gay people wanted to get married. The law is such overkill.”

“They weren’t thinking about what you want or not want when they signed it,” I said. “They were just looking for something strong enough to feed Nigerians so we don’t focus too much on the government’s incompetency.”

“Fuck Goodluck Jonathan,” Eddie spat with vinegary strength.

“These days, I’m starting to have a better appreciation of Jonathan’s paranoia,” Adebola said. “Whenever I get on any of these hookup sites, I begin to see danger in every potential hookup. There’s this one guy” – he picked up his phone from the table and began thumbing the screen, the soft light of the screen illuminating his face in the twilight – “he chatted me up on Badoo. All I did was say ‘Hello’ back and he dumped massive info on me.” He squinted at the phone screen. “Ehen, he replied with: ‘I am based in Lagos. I own a supermarket, wine shop, mini mart and I’m also a contractor.’”

Paroxysms of laughter broke out at the table, intermingled with expressions of disbelief.

“Is he for real?”

“What is that, his CV?”

“A supermarket and a mini mart – only him?”

“What did you say to him?”

“That I work in a bank,” Adebola deadpanned.

I laughed the hardest as I tried to picture my fashion designer friend all trussed up in the formal attire of suit and tie. The image wasn’t coming along.

“And then he said, ‘You are cute. Give me your number.’”

“Just like that?”

“This one stinks of a set-up from a mile off.”

“Oh, and he followed up with an invitation for us to meet at his supermarket.”

“Not his mini mart?”

“No, I suppose ‘super’ sounds like a better meeting place than ‘mini’. And guess where he says this supermarket is located at?”

“Where?” some of us said in unison.

“Ojo.”

I shuddered when he mentioned the place, as thoughts of my near kito experience in Abule-Ado pushed at my mind. All around me, my friends were objecting to the idea of anybody going for a hookup in Ojo.

“Please, for me, any potential hookup beyond Festac is out of it for me,” Eddie was saying.

“You are talking Festac,” Adebola interjected. “I live in Festac, and I’ve sworn off anybody staying beyond Second Rainbow down past my area toward Okokomaiko and beyond.”

“The actual gay guys that live in these places must be miserable as fuck, knowing what they know about the average gay man not trusting their area,” Ekene observed.

“They should move, to places like Lekki, where people like me live in relative freedom from the fear of kito,” Martin preened.

“Just look at you,” I said with a sneer.

“Well, it’s the truth,” Martin said matter-of-factly. “Island people are not hungry people. And hunger is what makes the people in those areas” – he twirled the fingers of his right hand in a dismissive wave – “dangerous.”

“It’s easy for you to be snotty when you’re living in the luxury of your aunt’s house,” Adebola chided.

“Are you minding him?” I said.

“The pot that is still living with his parents is running mouth for kettle, really?” Martin widened his gaze at me in mock disbelief.

I chuckled. “I’m not your mate anymore o. I’ll soon be moving into my matrimonial home with my man.”

“Oh wow, this is great!”

“So you and Kizito will soon be living together in sin!”

“I didn’t know you guys were that serious!”

“I’m so happy for you, Dee!”

I flushed under the acknowledgement of my friends, and my heart expanded with the surge of love I felt for the man I was going to be taking this big step with. I could see in the faces of my friends their appreciation of what I had, and it filled me with sudden optimism, an anticipation of good things to come, dispelling most of my angst.

“I wonder what’s still holding Biola?” someone observed.

And we began talking about the horridness of Lagos traffic, segueing into prime real estate and laughing over celebrity gossip. I was having a good time.

Just then, a mild commotion drew my attention to the entrance of the joint. I’d been looking after Tosin who was walking away from our table to go find the convenience, when a van pulled up before the gate. A strange jittery sensation bumped along my nerve endings when I recognized the black uniforms on the men alighting from the vehicle and gathering at the entranceway.

“What’s going on over there?” I heard Adebola ask.

“Wait a minute, Paschal,” Yinka said, “is that not your –”

“Sister,” Paschal breathed out. “That’s Ofure –”

“And your brother-in-law,” I finished.

“Oh this can’t be good,” Ekene said tensely beside me.

The party had drifted into the compound and was canvassing the tables, peering at the different patrons as though trying to identify someone. A portly woman clad in an unflattering snug dress waddled out of the lone building in the joint to intercept them. She was the proprietress, and soon engaged the four policemen in a tense dialogue.

“Won’t you go and say hi to them?” Martin said to Paschal. “You know, find out why they’re here.”

Paschal was half-standing from his seat when he said, “I don’t know if I want to ever speak to these people ever again.”

And then, across the expanse of tables, people and the delights of the night, his sister turned her head and her eyes interlocked with his. Even in the falling light, I could see the malice that twisted her features and turned up her lips as she said something to the policemen and pointed in our direction.

“Why do I feel like we’re about to get majorly fucked?” I murmured, feeling the rise of foreboding inside me.

We watched wordlessly as the party of five policemen, Paschal’s family and the proprietress advanced on us. My breath began coming in accelerating bursts as suddenly, my dream rose into my subconscious – an angry, vigilant horde bearing down on me with its reckoning.

“Paschal Atarere!” the policeman in the lead called out as they got close.

“I am he,” Paschal said, straightening up.

“He can’t deny his identity,” the brittle, sour-faced man who was his older sister’s husband snapped.

“And these” – the policeman swept a hand over the rest of us – “are your homo friends, eh?”

My heart stopped. For a moment, I was sure I’d died on my seat, because a spool of the different moments Kizito had beamed his amazing smile at me rushed past my mind’s eye.

“Excuse me, officer, what seems to be the problem?” Paschal asked.

“Sharrapdia!” the policeman barked. “There is no problem! In fact, the problem is your own! You homo people are the problem. You are all under arrest! Arrest them!”

And the five of them pounced, grabbing at us, hustling us up from our seats amidst our furious protestations.

“What did we do!”

“You have to tell us our crime!”

“Shuttup! You’re under arrest!”

“For what! this is wrong!”

Ekene was sobbing. Eddie’s eyes looked like they might pop out as he tried to ward off the policeman crowding in on him. My gut tightened and stomach acid driven by fear heaved up to my throat as another policeman snatched at my hands, yanked them backwards and the cold steel of handcuffs clamped my wrists together.

“What have you done? Ofure! Ferdinand, what is this?!” Paschal raged at his sister and brother-in-law with a face contorted with the venomous outburst as another policeman shoved him forward, his hands also manacled behind him.

Ferdinand stepped close to him, his eyes squinting meanly as he hissed, “You thought you could destroy me, eh? This is payback. Enjoy fourteen years, you faggot.”

Paschal spat on him; the older man recoiled with a gasp as the gob of saliva smacked his cheek. The policeman behind Paschal swung his gun forward, catching Paschal on the back of his neck with the butt.

Paschal staggered forward, but reared back up immediately to scream at his sister’s husband, “I will kill you, Ferdinand! Faggot like you! Just pack your load and run away from Lagos, because when I get out, I will kill you! Bastard!”

He was still hurling invectives as we were shepherded out of the joint, with the proprietress lamenting her unpaid service in our wake. I felt benumbed by my shock, not even uttering a single word of protest like my friends were doing. In my detachment, I wondered if Tosin had witnesses our arrest, if he had slunk away, grateful for his good fortune, or was standing somewhere, already working out a way to help us. I thought about Kizito and what he’d say when he gets to know about this; perhaps his first thought would be that I’d been caught arguing the rights of the LGBT and the unfairness of the antigay law, and then he’d get that reproving look in his eyes, the look he’d been getting a lot these days whenever I took too firm a stand on this issue.

He’ll leave me now, that’s for sure.

The thought filled me with sudden terror, a tidal wave that caused tears to sting my eyes, blurring my vision so much, I almost didn’t see Biola as he alighted from the car he’d parked on the kerb beside the joint’s entrance. He gave a start when he saw the commotion, and our gazes clashed. Outrage flashed in his eyes and he started forward.

I shook my head at him. He stopped and looked a question at me. I shook my head again. He nodded his understanding, and turned back to his car. I watched him get back behind the wheel before I was shoved out of sight into the back of the police van.

Written by Pink Panther

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