Previously on SNAPSHOTS…
Children are a gift from God.
That was why Tope named his son Ebun.
Sometimes he’d look back on the name and wonder if that was where it had all gone wrong. Giving him a name like Ebun. He’d only ever heard females respond to that name. Was it the name that made the child he cherished the way he was?
Tope knew it was irrational thinking, but he didn’t have a tangible explanation for how his son could come from a virile man like him and end up so soft.
He had noticed the softness when Ebun was four. He could remember the day. He’d been watching the little boy play on the floor of the living room with a doll he just had to have when they visited a toy shop in the mall. The doll had been the focal point of most of his play; even the remote controlled race car he’d got was what the doll rode on.
“Ebun, don’t you want a new toy?” he’d asked.
Ebun sharply turned to face him with eyes shining, yelling with such childlike glee, “YES!”
“What toy?” he asked as the boy daintily got up and scampered over to him. He lifted his son onto his lap.
“I want the doll house they showed on TV with Barbie…”
Tope shook his head, mild panic rising in him. “No, son, those toys are for girls. How about I buy you a remote controlled helicopter?” He could imagine the chunk of salary he’d have to give away to get it.
Ebun put his thumb in his mouth and nodded once. He always did that when he wasn’t fully satisfied or was holding back. Tope ignored the lack of show of excitement. He’d buy the toy and Ebun would love it. Ebun was a boy after all.
Yes, Ebun was a boy, but he thought other boys too rough. He constantly shied away from activities that would mean him probably getting injured, preferring to play with the much calmer girls.
There was a wild girl, named Kemi, who was his neighbour. They also went to the same school, so their parents carpooled. He didn’t like her much. She always pinched him and teased him and would kick the back of his chair when they were in class together.
One day, she pinned him down in a fight, and thereafter, teary-eyed, he went to report to a teacher. The teacher had burst out laughing, asking if that was why he was crying, asking him if he wasn’t a man.
That question, it plagued him so often. Aren’t you a man?
Yes, of course, he was. He felt male, very much so. But it appeared that he didn’t know how to be one. His actions and frame of mind didn’t fit that box. Sometimes he wondered if he was a female trapped in a male’s body. He’d stand naked in the mirror, wondering if someday, he’d sprout breasts and his hair would grow extra long. He didn’t want that. He liked the way he looked very much.
Then what was wrong with him?
He’d always been a sensitive child, which meant he was very quiet, because it was not usual for people to be sensitive and loud at the same time. He knew people always did double takes when he walked into the room. He knew his father wasn’t happy with the way he was. His mother loved him dearly and would tell anyone harassing him based on his demeanor to leave him alone in a joking manner that still sounded like a threat. His mum was good at that, but it was as if she was trying to hide him from some truth she didn’t want to become reality.
One day, after returning from his secondary school, he’d been fiddling with his mother’s phone and found himself on Google, upon a page where someone, his mother probably, had searched for results to the query: What does it mean when your son is effeminate?
With his heart starting to pound, he skimmed the results. Most of them reported that it usually meant he is gay.
Gay. The word brought terror into his heart. He remembered a school assembly. Two boys had been caught doing sinful things to each other. They had been disgraced and beaten, and then expelled.
He however didn’t feel gay. No, he didn’t feel anything for anyone so far. He hoped desperately that when he did, it would be for a girl and not a boy. And right now, he had to work on staving away whatever unwanted feelings might be lurking inside him.
But he didn’t know how.
The next day was a Saturday and Kemi came over to his house. They were no longer neighbours, but they still attended the same secondary school. She was still rough and even a bit of a bully, but they were friends nonetheless.
She noticed him more quiet than usual and asked what was wrong along with a playful shove. She’d always had a soft spot for him and had even had this weird crush on him in her late primary school days, till she realised some other things.
With the bright sheen of tears suddenly filming his eyes, Ebun told her what he had read and said in a choked voice, “I don’t want to be gay…”
“How do you know you’re gay?” Kemi asked. “Do you like boys?”
Ebun shrugged. “But I don’t like girls either.”
“Have you kissed a girl before?”
He shook his head.
“Do you want to kiss me?”
He raised his head quickly to her, surprise filling eyes that were still dewy with tears.
Tope was heading upstairs to tell his son that he was headed out. His wife had gone to the market so it would just be Ebun and the maid. He made his way noiselessly down the corridor and peered through the crack that was his son’s room and what he saw made his stomach lurch. Ebun had his lips locked on the Kemi girl’s lips in a weird tender kiss.
Should he knock? Should he interrupt them? If he did, what should Ebun’s reaction be? Fury? Calm? Tope surely didn’t want him to get a girl pregnant.
But he also really wanted this for his son. Normalness. It meant his son would be safe.
Realizing that he’d made his decision, he silently walked away, deciding that whatever was going on in that room was innocent. He would talk to Ebun later about the birds and the bees.
He got into the car and drove to Richard’s house, a million thoughts running through his head, mixed feelings tugging away at his heart, supreme of them all elation.
He told Richard what he had seen while they drank beer and watched the football match.
“But I always thought…” Richard started to speak, and then abruptly stopped.
“Thought what?” Tope said, instantly bristling.
“Well, Ebun has always been on the more feminine side,” Richard said with a shrug and a swig of his beer.
“So?” Tope was scowling.
“Nothing,” Richard said.
There was silence for a while. Neither of them was really watching the match.
“My son cannot be gay,” Tope said flatly.
Richard could sense him trying to hide his insecurity and fear, but said nothing.
“I mean, I’m not gay, so he can’t be. He was kissing a girl for crying out loud!”
“I have kissed many girls,” Richard said pointedly, letting the meaning of his response hang in the room.
“But you’re not like that,” Tope said, throwing him a glance. “The hostel thing was a mistake. You were confused –”
“No, I wasn’t,” Richard cut him off, his jaw tightening.
Silence reigned for a bit, during which time, Tope reluctantly let his mind drift back to the memory of being kissed by Richard. At first he’d thought what he felt was disgust, but soon he realized it was fear that Richard wasn’t normal. He’d always been scared of things outside normal. But Richard had assured him that it was just a lapse of judgement.
Or had he? He couldn’t remember the details of that call.
Something else also stirred in his memory. It was the way the kiss had felt. Tender. Like a whisper. Like Richard had been trying to tell him something. Tope knew what it was that Richard was trying to tell him, and though he’d felt fear and repulsion, that had been a moment when he truly began to feel very safe with Richard.
Richard’s bellow jerked him out of his reverie, and he tried to pretend he had been watching the match too.
After the match, while the commentaries were going on, Richard turned to him and said, “I know you, Tope. I know you love your son and you feel protective of him. That’s what is driving you to want him to be who you want him to be. It would keep him safe. But don’t you think you’re overthinking this? He’s just fourteen. He’s got a whole life ahead of him. I’m not the same person I was when I was fourteen and you aren’t either, but still we are who we are meant to be. We don’t know if he is gay or bi or straight, and as much as the first option is unpalatable, the real tragedy would be making your son feel like something is wrong with him.
“I’ve seen how you look sometimes when he does things…when he kissed you on the cheek at that party the other day or shook his hips so well at my daughter’s birthday last year. I’ve heard you shout blue murder at him when he dressed up in your wife’s jewelry and clothes. It can’t be good for him. Maybe instead of trying to mould him to be whom you want him to be, why don’t you love him instead and prepare your mind for whatever may come.”
“But it’s wrong –”
“Who says it’s wrong?” Richard asked with raised eyebrows.
Tope began to say, “The bib–”
And he got cut off by Richard’s booming laugh. “You and me both know you are not religious, so don’t use the bible to excuse your discomfort.”
Tope gave a wan smile and sighed.
“Don’t worry, my dear friend,” Richard said as he clapped a hand over Tope’s shoulder. Both men were making their way out of the house. “You’ll be fine.”
Written by IBK