I got employed at my workplace in April 2013. I was careful when I first joined the workforce, mindful, guarded, determined not to be distracted by the cuties among the population I’d be working with. As much as I observed, I was aware that I was also under scrutiny by my colleagues. I later got to realize that the scrutiny was mostly driven by speculation about this newcomer, who’d gotten the job that one of their own, an insider, had also applied for.

On the first Friday I spent at work, there was a small fete held at the workplace. It was a sort of TGIF event, and was held partly to welcome me officially into the fold and partly to bestow the award of the Best Staff.

Among those of us having a good time was this guy who appeared to be the company clown. He had a lot of jokes to tell, and people around him always reacted with laughter. I found him amusing too, and soon began to like him. (Let’s call him Manuel)

In the days that followed the office party, I became aware of the fact that as a newcomer, I had walked into a staff position that was higher than Manuel’s. He was where he was because he’d gotten the job with a lower academic qualification; company policy required that for him to be promoted, he’d have to obtain a higher degree, and even if he did so from part-time studies, he’d have to resign and reapply for the job he wants. The company policy does not recognize the study for and obtainment of higher academic degrees to pursue promotion whilst still under the company’s employ; their question would be: “When did you have the time to get the degree?”

Anyway, Manuel was a good man, married too. He was smart and really very sweet. He was also good at his job and had won the Best Staff award a couple of times before. As time passed, we became close, developing a friendship that had him taking me into his confidence. It was during this period that he told me of his struggles as a family man; his wife had just put to bed, and life was apparently harder, living off the salary of a lowly staff like him. He’d gotten the degree he needed to get promoted, but he didn’t want to take the risk of resigning and reapplying. I encouraged him to look for employment elsewhere, and he agreed.

Predictably, with our closeness came a development of feelings on my part. I wanted him. But at this time, I’d come to realize how antigay my workplace generally is, and so, I didn’t dare unburden my frustrated desires on Manuel. I couldn’t take the risk of any unfavourable consequences.

Manuel liked to talk about his life as a family man, and during one of our conversations, I remarked, “Lucky you for already building a life and family at your young age.”

He replied, “This one you’re talking, how am I sure you even have a girlfriend sef.”

That was odd. What you’d expect to hear in a situation like this is: ‘How am I sure you don’t even have a girlfriend’ – words that betray the commenter’s desire to believe you have a girlfriend. The way he worded his comment, it was as though he wanted me to know he didn’t think I had a girlfriend. And that was odd. The only reason a virile young man would want another virile young man to know that is if –

I didn’t want to dwell on the thought. But my heart started pounding a bit faster as I asked, “What do you mean?”

Manuel gave a small laugh. “Nothing. It’s just…you remind me of someone I used to know who lives at Ilupeju.”

Oh, someone, huh? I thought. Okay, I’ll bite. “Tell me about this someone I remind you of who lives in Ilupeju,” I said.

“Are you sure you want to know?” This he said with a pointed look at me.

My heart began to beat faster still. What was going on? Was he trying to tell me something? Was this a completely innocent conversation? Or had we taken a turn I wasn’t aware of?

Guardedly, I replied, “Yes please, I want to know. And since we most likely have the same character, I’d also like to meet him, if possible.”

“You want to meet him?” he said. “Are you sure you can withstand what he’ll want with you if you do?”

“Whatever he’s capable of dishing out, how do you know I’m not capable of taking on?” I’d wanted to say ‘capable of receiving,’ but I feared that’d be too much of an overt innuendo; besides, I still wasn’t sure how innocuous or not our conversation was.

Manuel laughed at my response. Waving a dismissive hand, he said, “Guy, let’s forget this matter abeg.”

His abrupt dismissal of ‘this matter’ worried me. I quickly began recounting our exchange in my head, checking to see if I’d said anything to out me to him. I wondered if he was gay too, and if this conversation – which he initiated, by the way – was his subtle way of letting on to me that he was a brother in the Lord.

Eventually, Manuel got a new job, resigned from his old one and moved away. The separation affected our friendship and we kept less and less in touch with each other.

Now, as part of my job description in finance, there is a report my office usually gets from the competition, which comes via email as a result of some interoperability between the two firms. It involves the settlement of transactions conducted between us. I was the point man for my firm, and I worked with a team from the other firm. One day, the response to my mail that I got wasn’t from the person I’d been working with. It was from Manuel.

I was thrilled, and a brief exchange of emails had him confirming to me that he currently worked with the other firm in the unit I dealt with. I was pleased for him. He called and we chatted, reconnecting once again.

We spoke severally on the phone in the following days, and with each time I heard his voice, I yearned for him afresh. I remembered our Ilupeju conversation from months ago, and decided to resurrect the subject.

“Manuel,” I said during a phone call, “you know you still owe me something.”

“What?”

“That Ilupeju connection.”

A beat passed as recollection came to him. And then he laughed. “So, you’ve not forgotten.”

“Of course not.”

“Okay nau. Make we see first.”

We settled on an evening hangout at a bar I knew very well. We met up that evening, and while enjoying some drinks, we chatted about this and that, general talk, catching up some more.

Then I brought up the subject that was uppermost on my mind. “Manuel, just tell me plainly, what did you mean when you were talking about your friend at Ilupeju?”

He heaved a sigh, cleared his throat and then said, “Well, I had to use code in telling you about that kind of stuff because of the law that was just signed then.” (When we had that conversation, the antigay law was just a couple of months old)

“And even though I wasn’t sure of you,” he continued, “I had my suspicions, which were confirmed with the responses you gave. You are smart o, the way you were just coding what I was saying.” He laughed.

I joined in his laughter, and just like that, we branched out from general talk to gay talk. We talked about hook-ups, the antigay law and the increased kito situation of the country. We talked about sex, roles and stereotypes.

“I must confess, I said at a point, “I’ve always had a crush on you.”

“Tah!” he said with a self-conscious chuckle.

“I’m serious.”

“Go joor. Why are you now forming like I exist?”

“I’m not forming. I’m confessing. I’ve had a thing for you since we started becoming friends.”

He paused and sized me up with an intense, discerning look before he said, “Well, confession received. No penance at all for you. But I suspect you and I aren’t compatible sexually.”

“What do you mean?”

He didn’t say what he meant, but I got the feeling he was talking about roles. I felt some disappointment, but shrugged it off when he carried on talking about knowing some good market in the gaybourhood and how he’d be more than happy to hook a sista up.

In the end, our friendship remains and is the beauty of it all. It’s just unfortunate that I don’t have him, a friend and ally, in the den of homophobes that I call my workplace.

Written by JBoy

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