It began about three months ago. It was exactly 4:20am in the morning and still dark outside, when I came awake; the boom of a thunder jolted me into wakefulness. I lay on my bed after checking the time on my phone and watched as more crashing thunder and flashing lightning and the winds that were stirring the curtains hanging over the windows announced the coming of what looked like it was going to be a torrential downpour. The last of the rains before Harmattan would take over.
Because it was still very early and I couldn’t get back to sleep, I picked up my phone and began to surf the internet, reading some articles online while my elder brother lay next to me on the same bed.
I’d been reading for some minutes, when the thunderstorm finally woke up my brother as well. He just lay there on the bed, clearly unable to go back to sleep too. I was reading this fascinating article by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie about the siege on her hometown of Abba, and decided to talk to him about it after he asked what I was doing. We talked and he seemed to know a lot more than I did about the situation in Abba. He asked me for my phone so he could read the article. I hesitated, because he had the habit of snooping on my phone whenever he had the chance. But then I handed him the phone, seeing as I had no excuse not to. Then I left the room to go fetch some water to drink.
Upon getting back to the room, I found him sitting up on the bed. The light was on and the dark look he turned on me the moment I stepped in stopped me short. Immediately, I knew something had gone horribly wrong and I felt a finger of dread work its way up my spine.
This brother of mine is the firstborn and at nineteen years of age, I am the last of four children. This means that he is much older than I am, and he doesn’t even live in the house with us. He has his own place, but occasionally visits.
When he spoke, his voice was as cold as the chill that marked the room from the rain that had started falling outside. “Kedu onye bu Emeka?”
This was the moment I realized that my life as I knew it was over.
Emeka was initially someone who stalked me online, refusing to take “No” for an answer as he pestered me for a romantic affair. He is in his mid-thirties, tall, ebony-skinned and good looking, but the reason I didn’t want to give him the light of day was because he was married and I had my eyes on someone else on the possibility of dating. But Emeka’s persistence eventually wore me down and the fact that he seemed like a kind person made me start developing feelings for him. We met a few times and bonded; the chemistry was right. As at that time, we hadn’t had sex but we’d made out a few times. We chatted a lot on WhatsApp and Facebook messenger, and he had a great sense of humour. He was also sensitive to my feelings, always there for me with the things to say to uplift me whenever I was upset or downcast. We became so fond of each other that I hardly ended my day without hearing from him.
And so, it happened that Emeka, in his usual manner, had decided to greet me for the morning with a love message on WhatsApp.
And my brother was with the phone when the text came in.
Kedu onye bu Emeka?
When he asked the question, I stared at him, not knowing what to say, my head struggling to come up with a lie and failing woefully at it.
Eventually, my answer came out in a stutter. “Em-em-Emeka bu enyim nwoke.”
“Enyi gi nwoke, as in normal friend or romantic friend?” my brother asked.
“Normal friend of course,” I said, now gradually recovering myself. Mind you, at this time, I didn’t know what my brother saw to make him ask me these questions, because I had a habit of clearing my chat history to avoid detection by people like my brother.
My gradually-returning self-assuredness however received a blow when he said sneeringly, “So, why will you normal male friend be sending you a love message this early morning?”
The ground shifted beneath my feet and I struggled to pull up a bewildered expression. “Love message kwa?” I said, like that was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. “No, it can’t be. There must be a mix-up somewhere.”
“Maybe I should read it out to you so that you will hear the kind of message that your normal male friend sent you.” The sneering stress he kept on placing on the word “normal” told me all I needed to know about how I wasn’t fooling him.
He cleared his throat softly and read from my phone: “Wake up my little sunshine to a blissful morning with so much love and happiness. I missed you a lot throughout the night and wished I could hold you in my arms, cuddle you and stare into your loving eyes. I remember the first time I saw you, my heart whispered to me that you are the one. You are too special, and so is your role in my life. Without you, I feel so empty. My feelings are pure and true. My little sunshine, I love you. Have a beautiful morning.”
As I listened to my brother read, I didn’t know whether to allow for the warming of my heart or recoil with horror at hearing Emeka’s loving words roll out from my homophobic brother’s mouth. And yes, my brother is homophobic. He had always had his suspicions about my sexual orientation, suspicions he didn’t keep quiet, as he always questioned me about how I never talked about crushing on any girl or had any girlfriends. I always had nothing to say to him whenever he came at me with his questions. And then, I discovered that he had taken to snooping on my phone, but I always deleted my chats anyway, so he never found anything concrete to use against me.
And now, he had. I knew I was in for it this morning.
Without even giving me a chance to react to his blatant invasion of my privacy, he started. “I knew it! I always knew it! I just knew that you are a homo! I just couldn’t prove it!” He was raising his voice so much, he was almost shouting. “I don’t need any other proof other than this text from your lover. My god, Boochee! You and man?! Tell me something, does he fuck you or do you fuck him?!”
I had stiffened in anger of my own, now reacting to his total disrespect of my privacy. I didn’t bother answering his nonsensical question. I didn’t have to answer him. I owed him no explanation. He wasn’t the boss of me. I just glared at him as if to say: Will you shut the fuck up and mind your business for once!
“Answer me!” he shouted angrily, clenching his fists as he stood from the bed, as if he wanted to punch me but thought better of it.
I remained resolutely silent. He was still with my phone and returned to it, refreshing my chats. There was this particular old chat that I had never bothered to delete. It was my interaction with my ex, George. The stirring of something sentimental in me was the reason I’d just never gotten around to expunging that bit of history. George was someone I considered special; we only broke up because he moved to Mexico and I couldn’t stand the idea of a long distance relationship. He pleaded that we carry on with our relationship but I just didn’t see it working. We stayed friends and communicate every now and then.
My brother clicked open George’s chat and read through. George and I were always a raunchy pair when we were dating, frequently sexting back and forth. So, if Emeka’s message wasn’t ample evidence, here was everything my brother needed to nail me to the cross of homosexuality.
At this point, as things escalated, I abandoned all pretence. As my brother raged, I tried to get in a word edgewise, protesting that all that he knew about my sexuality was not something I had any power over, that I’d always been like this right from childhood, right from the days when I preferred my sister’s dresses to my own clothes.
But the more I talked, the more incensed he was. At some point, he was out of the room, shouting the entire house awake. The other occupants in the house that morning were my mother and sister. My father traveled for work and my second brother was in school.
My brother was ranting and passing my phone around to my mother and sister to read for themselves what he had just uncovered. My mother barely looked at what he was showing her, but my sister took the time to read. And her reaction confirmed something I’d always suspected. Before that day, I’d always felt like she knew about my sexuality. That she knew and didn’t mind it. Because after reading the texts, she didn’t say a word. She simply sat there on the sofa in the living room, like this was all too much fuss over nothing.
It was my brother who kept on raging, his voice competing for volume with the rainstorm outside.
For awhile, my mother stood there, evidently trying to sort out how she felt about this early morning drama. She was the kind of a woman who didn’t say much, but the little she would often say mattered a lot.
Finally speaking to me in a quiet tone, she said, “Nna m, is this true?”
“What, mummy?” I asked, playing for time.
“What your brother said… Is it true? Are you gay?”
With my brother, at this point, I would have roundly owned it. But facing my mother was a different situation. I didn’t want to disappoint her. As mother and last born child, we shared a special bond. She was the love of my life. With the exception of my sexuality, I kept nothing from her about my life. She knew me more than anyone else in my family. So I was afraid of what answering her would do to our closeness.
“Answer her, you bloody homosexual!” my brother interjected in a shout.
“Hey you, will you shut up!” my mother snapped at him. “I wasn’t talking to you.”
This reprimand gave me no small amount of pleasure.
It was a small moment of joy that quickly evaporated when my mother turned to me and asked her question again. This time in a more tensed tone, as though she was waiting on the announcement of a very important result.
“Yes, mummy, I am,” I finally said, uttering the bravest words of my nineteen-year-old life.
For a moment, she stood, staring at me, looking pole-axed. “No, it cannot be,” she said the words that sounded like she was expelling a breath. “It is impossible. I can’t have you tell me that. So finally my enemies have gotten to me. Heu, chimo! This is not happening. The devil is at work here but I’m not having it.”
Since I had said the words, I felt suddenly emboldened to say them again, to clear my mother of any misconception. “Yes, mummy, I’m gay,” I said again.
“Shut up!” she snapped at me, suddenly veering from shock to anger. “This is total nonsense. Can you even hear yourself? What about Sodom and Gomorrah and how God destroyed them for their immorality. Does that story not mean anything to you? Besides, homosexuality is not acceptable in our culture. We are Igbos for crying out loud!”
She began to rebuke the devil and I allowed myself some relief that she was heaping all the blame on the Devil and not me. I didn’t speak up again in defense of my sexuality, and this also saddened me. I wanted to say something, to correct the direction of my mother’s misconceptions. But I stayed silent.
“You need deliverance, because it is obvious that you are not in your right senses,” my mother was saying.
“Seize his phone!” my brother was suggesting. “Let us now see how he will communicate with all these his yeye friends.”
My brother was being quick with his suggestions of how my mother should handle the situation, should handle me. He was determined to have her confiscate my phone, but to my greatest surprise, she didn’t do so. And in the midst of all the drama, my sister quietly sat there in her pyjamas, saying nothing, looking like this whole thing was a disturbance.
“I must surely get to the root of all this rubbish,” my mother finally said before she stalked out of the room.
Eventually, one after the other, they all moved away from me and I was left alone. I was back in my bedroom, reflecting on what my life had turned out to be. I felt like screaming. Instead, tears began streaming down my face. I was not crying because my secret was out. I was crying because I was dreading the reality of losing my family over this.
I was also worried about how there was left my father and second brother. I was very disturbed by what they would say when they got to know about this.
The next few days were hellish for me. I existed in my own home like I was a stranger. After wreaking havoc in my life, my brother returned to his own place. My sister soon went back to her nursing school. And I was left with a mother who stopped speaking to me. She alienated herself from me; I was there but I wasn’t. For all she cared, I was not under the same roof with her. Except the meals she made, she didn’t acknowledge my presence in the house. She even went as far as doing herself those simple chores she would ordinarily call on me to do.
This ostracisation drove me mad. Depression set in. At some point, I contemplated suicide. I am a homebody, but my home was denying me.
Later that day, I called Emeka and told him what happened. He was instantly apologetic, but I absolved him of any blame. It wasn’t his fault. If I’d had the good sense to not give my brother my phone, this whole thing wouldn’t have happened. He offered to leave work and come pick me up so we could go out to someplace where he could try to make me feel better. But things were still too tense at home for me to give in to that indulgence. Plus I didn’t want to burden him with how terrible I was feeling. As the days went by, he kept closely in touch with me to make sure I was surviving what was going on.
My father was still not back from his travels; my second brother was the next to react to the news of my homosexuality. When he called, I answered my phone with no small amount of dread, as I knew what he was calling about.
He sounded cordial as we went through the initial pleasantries. Then he went straight to the point of his call: “All I want to say to you is that you own your life and can do as you please with it, and no one has the right to judge you for it. But for the sake of our family and for your own good, I think you should reconsider some of your decisions on how to live your life. You are still very young and can never comprehend how the decisions you make will impact your life when you get older. This is all very shocking to learn but it won’t stop from me from relating well with you. To be frank, I was disappointed but not angry when I heard the news. But I am optimistic that it will all change for the better.”
It seemed to me like my brother was caught between tolerance and denial. But as we ended the call, I was relieved to know that anger and rejection from him wasn’t something I had to contend with.
After two weeks, things began returning to normal between my mother and I. we were starting to regain our relationship. And when my father came back, he was expectedly furious with me. He made threats about withdrawing his financial support of my education and bundling me off to conversion therapy. But my mother came to my defense and diffused the situation with him.
My elder brother stayed ostracizing me for some weeks, but he soon came around to talking to me.
Presently, my family (with the exception of my sister, I suspect) seems to be in denial. It appears they believe that this homosexuality is something I will eventually grow out of, that all this is just part of my youthful exuberance. And even though I am grateful for the fact that my coming out did not leave any lasting damage, I have a feeling I will have to come out again to them in the future to let them know that I am unmistakably gay.
Written by Boochee