It’d already been a stressful day. I’d just finished quite the exam, the type you spend eight straight hours reading for and when it’s time to pen down what it is you’ve accumulated, you’re blank. After the exam, I realised I had no cash on me and decided to get to the bank before heading home. However my business at the bank wasn’t to be expedient; I had to go into the banking hall to queue up, seeing as the ATM machine was speaking in a language the hot sun wouldn’t let one understand.
I’ve always wondered at the beauty of the subconscious sometimes nudging one to the advent of something that’s yet to happen.
I was on my way to class a few days before this particular afternoon when I found myself absentmindedly thinking about how it’d been awhile since I was confronted on the issue of my sexuality. As an effete, these presumptuous confrontations are a common occurrence. Sometimes, they’re mild approaches; other times, they come in the form of harassment. I’d in fact gotten used to it. And so, the fact that it hadn’t happened in awhile was kind of strange.
I’m feminine. It doesn’t help that I’m on the slim side, so yes, I’m the hub of all the gay stereotypes. But why weren’t people side-talking whenever I spoke to them, I wondered. Had I burst out of my closet without even realising it? My friend, Mitch, would often say to me: “You never owned a cupboard, let alone a closet.” I entertained the thought that Nigerians were becoming a tad more open-minded. I mean, all that rainbow in shows like Scream Queens, Empire and HTGAWM had to be doing something to reset the homophobia in this country, no?
Anyway, back to that afternoon.
I was in the bank, quietly bemoaning my fate, astounded at the pisspoor banking system of this country. A cashier at one time actually made a call and chatted leisurely on his phone for several minutes when he clearly had a line of customers queued up in front of him. I stood there, way in the back, staring incredulously at him and wanting to scream.
I was too tired to remain standing in the queue, so I informed the girl directly in front of me that I’d be going to sit down in the waiting area of the back and that I’d be back when I see that my turn for service was close. She nodded her acquiescence and I went to locate a seat which I dropped into with a grateful sigh.
There were two girls seated beside me who were chatting and laughing. I took out my phone and focused on it, occasionally getting distracted by their chatter. Then I overheard the one right next to me say something about PANS. (PANS stands for the Pharmaceutical Association of Nigerian Students).
Oh, these girls are pharmacy students – these unserious-looking girls? Hmm, I thought caustically. Wanting to be sure, I decided to ask.
That was my biggest mistake of the afternoon.
“Hello, please, are you a pharmacy student?” I asked the girl right next to me. She was the one I’d overheard mentioning PANS, and she was the one I was looking at, clearly excluding her friend who was seated on her other side.
But the ‘bebeto’ of a girl who I hadn’t spoken to claimed the question for herself. Only she didn’t answer me. Instead, she shrieked, “Oh my God! You sound like a girl!”
I mentioned she shrieked, right? And this means her utterance drew the attention of a good number of people around us to us. I felt instantly mortified. I didn’t know what and how to respond. Was a ‘Thank You’ appropriate in this case? Yes, she sounded surprised and genuinely amazed, but was that all there was to her sudden interest? It wasn’t as though this was the first time I’d be hearing such observations.
Finally, I found the words to say. “Umm, okay,” I replied with a small smile.
Then I returned my focus on her friend, you know, the one I’d engaged in the first place, hoping my hint of dismissal wasn’t too subtle for the banshee to pick up on.
As it turned out, it was too subtle. She was in fact just clearly getting started with me. “I swear to God,” she spoke up again, “if you weren’t facing me so I could see your face, I would have thought you are a girl.”
I let out a short mirthless laugh and said “Okay” again, in that ‘Can you please stop talking to me’ tone.
“Sorry o, but I have to ask,” she said, shifting closer. “Are you a homo?” There was a hint of uncertainty in her tone, as though she wasn’t sure how I’d take the question.
I was taken aback by her effrontery. And a “Huh?” slipped out of my mouth.
Apparently thinking I didn’t understand her the first time, she repeated, “Are you gay?”
“And you’re asking because I sound like a girl or because you have a strong gaydar?” My temper was starting to fray. “Besides –”
She cut me off. “What’s that? That ‘dar’ thing you just said – what does it mean?”
“Never mind what it means,” I snapped. Realizing now that Ms. Garrulous had no brakes, I decided to get comfortable with the exchange. “Asking me such a question just because of my voice is quite stereotypical, you know that, right?”
She laughed briefly, genuinely amused. “It’s not just your voice o. Even your mannerisms and the way you handle yourself – so soft, so smeh-smeh.”
“So if I were loud and brash, that’d mean I’m straight?” I said sharply. I was seriously losing my cool with her.
“I just want to know because I’m sure you are the type all these gay people would want. You know, the way you behave is something guys, gay ones, especially like.”
Is this lady for real? I thought, astounded. “You seem so sure about what gay guys like.,” I said snidely.
She paused and looked me over with unwavering interest, gearing up to ignore my snideness and shoot another question at me.
“Wait, are you the only child in your family?”
I sighed before replying her first question and ignoring her second, “Being gay is not restricted to a particular kind of person. Even someone like Buhari could be gay. Muhammed Ali could have been gay, for all we know. You watch Empire, don’t you?”
“Well, from your reasoning, Jamal shouldn’t be gay. But he is. That’s exactly my point. It’s wrong to ask me such a question just because of my physical disposition.” At this point, I looked at the queue to ensure these she-demons were not going to make me lose my spot.
“Ehn, I know but…” Ms. Garrulous paused, obviously losing her train of thought. “Anyway, like I asked before, are you an only child?”
“Why do you keep asking that?” I said irritably.
“You seem like such a little kid. So fragile and delicate,” she said, smirking at me like those were supposed to be words of comfort.
“So I’m now not just acting like a girl, abi? I’m also like a child? Girl, you are confused,” I shot at her, tasting bile.
She reared back and got defensive. “No nah. Don’t get me wrong. It’s still the same thing I was talking about. You just seem so fragile to me.”
“By your own analogy then, you and your friend must be children, seeing as you are girls, right?”
At this, the other girl, the one who’d been quietly observing our exchange, choked on an abrupt burst of laughter.
I shook my head as I continued, “To answer you, I’m not an only child. I’m the first of four children.”
“Wow,” she said simply, looking like my answer had disproved something she’d believed in. she permitted me a few seconds of blessed silence, before pouncing again. “So do you have brothers, and if so, do they act like you, you know, voice and all?”
I felt insulted and retorted immediately, “Do you have sisters, and if so, do they ask the same kind of question you ask, you know, stupid and all?”
Her friend choked on another burst of stifled laughter.
She stared at me, looking like she wasn’t sure whether to be offended or not.
Before she could make up her mind, I continued, “Can I ask you a question? What’s the answer to that your question you asked about me being gay going to do for you and your life? I’m actually curious to know. If I’d said yes, what would you do? Call the police and tell on me? Consider yourself fulfilled for the day for landing such fodder for good gossip? If I said no nko, would that be it? The end of it? Or would you go on to debate with me over whether I’m lying or not? I’m just really curious to know how the question of my sexuality will affect your life.”
She opened her mouth and shut it, much like a fish out of water. Then she said, “Well, don’t be angry. Why I asked what I asked is because, you know all these gay guys are looking for people’s lives to destroy –”
“Are you serious right now?” I interrupted with a short bark of humourless laughter. I couldn’t believe this young woman. I was hungry, tired, slightly aching in the head; I couldn’t possibly add IQ reduction to such a résumé. Indulging this girl had been a terrible mistake, it just dawned on me. “They destroy people’s lives – how do you know this? I mean, have you had any encounter with them that resulted in you being this way?”
Clearly her life was a mess. I simply wanted to know if the gays were responsible.
“Haba na,” the friend, Ms. Quiet, finally found her voice. “It hasn’t gotten to that. How can you say that? All she’s saying is that these people think they are having fun, but it’s not fun. They don’t know what they want. If they see you now, they will think you are part of them, not knowing it’s just your nature to be this way.”
“Listen,” I addressed them, “there are all sorts of people in the world living their lives, good or bad. And oftentimes, they manage to live these lives without affecting others negatively. Now, something as relatively insignificant as someone’s sexuality doesn’t affect you in any way, so why are you so disturbed? I couldn’t walk up to you, a complete stranger, and ask you how much you have in your account. That would be a senseless thing to do. And it applies in this situation. Some questions, like the one you asked, have no base. And unless you have had direct contact with these life-destroying gay people, I don’t see why you should be worried for me. It’s not your priority, okay?”
“Hmm. You’re being so unnecessarily defensive, don’t you think?” Ms. Quiet said.
“Your friend was being unnecessarily intrusive, don’t you think?” I replied.
“See ehn, I’m not against you if you are gay o,” Ms. Garrulous snatched the wheel back from Jesus. “I was just asking a question because my mind said I should, and all these homo things are not good at all.”
“And I’m just telling you that you can’t go around asking people you’ve just met everything your mind tells you to do. It’s inappropriate. I’m 20 years old and you’re – what, twenty-eight?” She shifted uncomfortably in her seat as I continued, “But with what has just happened here now, I’d consider myself more enlightened and open-minded than you, because I know a person isn’t automatically evil simply because he or she is gay. People don’t destroy lives because of who they sleep with. I know a bunch of gay and lesbian people with very lovely personalities. Good people, a lot more well-behaved than you. You really should work on yourself. Reverse your attitude on yourself, ask yourself the inappropriate questions you ask people simply because your mind tells you to, and observe how they make you feel. It’d be a huge step towards self development.”
At that point, I looked again at the queue. The girl who’d been in front of me was currently at the counter, which meant it would soon be my turn to transact.
“It’s my turn on the queue,” I announced to my lovely companions with a bright smile. “It was nice meeting you girls. Bye now.” And I got to my feet, wagged my fingers in a small wave, and walked back to the queue, leaving the two Nigerians behind.
Written by Delle