The first time you tried to hang yourself, you could not find a rope in the house. Later, you’d discover one rolled up in a corner in the storeroom behind the kitchen and wonder why you had not looked in there before. Your mum would be saying from the kitchen, ‘Don’t just stand there, bring me the plunger!’ and your heart would be hammering against your chest.
The second time you tried – ‘Homo!,’ John had said in class that day and seized your shoes so that you had to walk about barefoot – you were writing a suicide note when your mum came and banged on your door. ‘Ibrahim! Ibrahim!’ Perhaps if you had a heart of stone like John, you’d have ignored her and gone ahead, but your heart was made of foam rubber, which was why it squeezed in your chest so unabashedly. You crumpled the paper and tossed it into the bin.
‘What are you doing?’ she asked when you let her in, looking about suspiciously as if she knew.
‘Nothing,’ you said.
She gave you one long stare, then said, ‘Come and go and on the gen for me.’
After that day, you gave up. It wasn’t a decision – rather, it was the inability to make the decision. Weeks became golf balls emptying slowly into a hole of forgetfulness, and each night you lay helpless in your bed, all the emotions in the world pressing you down, smothering you. You asked God, why? Oh God why? Doing nothing to stop the tears that flowed. There were John’s words ripping through your soul. Fagilola! Homo oshi! The giggles of your other classmates casting a shadow around your heart, and you knew that you must do it. But your mother’s voice, it’s shrill, the way her eyes glistened at the news of your Unilag admission last month, the joy you felt at her pride, how could you do it?
And so you learnt to not struggle, to force your body to stay put, to make no effort whatsoever, telling yourself if death came or if it didn’t, you’d have no hand in it.
Why, oh God, why?
But God was silent.
Until Emeka. You’d think of him as God’s belated reply, the reason why He let you live through those nights of despair, the big brother you never had. You met him in the GT Bank in campus, waiting to pay your school fees – although with time you’d come to unlearn that fact, teaching yourself instead that you’d known him all your life. You’d come to unlearn also your initial guardedness, that you’d declined his request for your number and, after you relented and gave it to him, missed his many calls. (‘I saw you,’ he would say when you asked later why he had been so persistent. ‘I’ve been there before, so I know how it feels.’) All this and many more you’d teach yourself to forget, remembering only how you’d called him one night and cried on the phone, how embarrassed you’d been afterwards, saying you were sorry, God, you were sorry, you didn’t mean to bother him!
‘Can we see tomorrow?’ he asked.
You went to his off-campus apartment. There was Chuck his roommate, and you were uncomfortable being in the room with him. But then Emeka touched Chuck lightly and said could he excuse you please? Weeks later, as Emeka told you about Chuck and him, you’d think, but I knew. You saw the signs in the tender way he’d touched Chuck that first day, in how longingly they could lose themselves in each other’s eyes and the way everything seemed to stop when they did this, in the way they so easily leaned into each other, laughing or merely sitting, slapping each other’s laps playfully.
In the months to come, you’d come to feel for Emeka a deep wholesome trust, and for Emeka and Chuck, a searing regard. You went to their apartment often and watched them closely. Studied them almost, so that you had the feeling of taking a pen and a notebook and documenting every single moment of their lives, piecing them together like shards of a broken mirror with the raptness of a researcher. And back in your hostel, you’d imagine what they talked about in your absence, how they ate, joked, slept.
Soon, those nights of despair ceased and the only emotions you felt lying alone in your bed was longing. You yearned for their kind of life. Could it be possible? you wondered. But it was so strange, wasn’t it? Could it really happen?
Then Mark came along, a boy in your department, and it was so surreal, almost like drowning.
When you told Emeka, he said, ‘Wow! So you’ve fallen in love!’ and Chuck said jokingly, ‘Thank God, now you’ll leave us alone!’ And when Emeka met Mark, at Lagoon Front on a sunless afternoon, he whispered in your ears, ‘Chai, he’s making me think things I don’t want to think o!’ and you laughed and laughed.
The first time you and Mark kissed, on Christmas Eve, he looked at you in that teasing way of his and said, ‘Not bad for a first-timer. Or has Emeka been teaching you?’
You placed your head on his chest, right where his heart was, closed your eyes and lost yourself in the steady rhythm of his heartbeat. You kissed his nipples, making him catch his breath, then raised your face to his and kissed him again, moaning and loving that he moaned back. That night, you told him about your mum, and about the bully John, and about how there used to be a time when you wished you would die. He held you tight, and you clung to him in the dark.
‘I’m scared,’ you said.
‘I know,’ he whispered.
‘What if I try again?’ you said.
‘You won’t,’ he whispered.
‘How do you know?’
You believed him. You knew you shouldn’t, but you did.
Written by Atanda