A Rehearsal for Loneliness

A Rehearsal for Loneliness

My ex-boyfriend is seated opposite me, here in my friend’s house. Calling him “ex” makes me feel some type of way, because our breakup was not exactly conventional. You know, it wasn’t the kind where the guy says to the girl succinctly, “I’m tired of this relationship. It’s over between us.” Or the kind common in Nollywood movies, where a married woman catches her husband with his mistress in their bed, and goes, “On our matrimonial bed?” as though the bed once joined them in their solemnization.

At the time of our fight, Nnamani was practicing law here in Port Harcourt, before he moved to Lagos. I had gone to his apartment on a sunny Saturday afternoon, to tell him about the scholarship I won for my Master’s Degree. I wanted us to celebrate in his apartment, and I also wanted to tell him I needed a little break from our relationship.

What I planned to do with this break was to rehearse for loneliness. I had read books and watched movies where people who travelled to new countries, perhaps to start a new job or a new life, suffer from a disease called homesickness: this particular sickness that makes you long so much for the place you came from; one which leaves you wandering aimlessly for days and creates a hollow feeling in your chest. I wanted to know what that felt like, to prepare early for the pain of being apart from Nnamani.

So, in his apartment that had many artworks hanging on the walls, I told him I wanted us to take a break.

He stopped pouring the drink in the glass cups, and stared at me for a while before he said coldly, “Who is the guy?”

His question stunned me. “What do you mean?” I asked, drawing back from him. We were sitting on the same sofa.

He chuckled, but there was no mirth in the sound. “You’re seeing someone else, isn’t it?”

“I don’t understand what you are talking about.” I was very baffled that he would even think this.

“Bitch, don’t lie to me!” he exploded, before leaping up from the sofa, almost knocking over the stool upon which were the bottle of wine and glass cups. He faced me and grabbed my hand. “Don’t lie to me, Emeka!”

“Nnamani, you are hurting me!” I cried out as he twisted my wrist, his short sharp nails digging into my skin.

“I thought you were different! I should have known you’d eventually show yourself to be such a slut!” he shouted, his voice rough and saliva splattering on my face as he spat his rage at me. “Just one scholarship and you have gone online to look for man to fuck abroad, eh?! Slut!”

I tried to shove him backward and get to my feet, but he pushed me back to the sofa and then raised his hand to slap me. His hand however froze midway to my face.

I had never felt such pain in my entire life, and there, in his living room, with the noise of traffic outside, it was as though the pieces of my heart were shattering. I did not know who this man was. There was something behind his bulging eyes, something in that way he distanced himself from me, shaking his head and muttering, “Christ! I can’t believe you did this to me!”

I did nothing! I wanted to scream at him, but I stayed mute. This mad jealousy surprised me, especially because earlier on, when he read my letter of scholarship approval, he had been very jubilant. He’d said that universities in Nigeria would want to employ me when I return from my studies, because they loved everything that was foreign; that they could even make me a vice chancellor.

How could someone who’d shared my joy mere minutes ago turn into this? Why did he not ask me why I asked for a break? Why would he think me capable of cheating at the slightest provocation?

These questions haunted me in the early weeks after the fight as I tried to make sense of how I’d lost the man I loved in a manner I didn’t expect. I tried to make sense of Nnamani calling me a slut, almost hitting me. I spent days in my tiny apartment, crying and eating very little. I barely left my apartment nor took my bath. It was fortunate that the school where I taught Physics was on holiday; I don’t know how I could have managed my broken heart with the demands of my job.

And then, my friend, Cheta, knocked on my door one afternoon, three weeks after the breakup.

“I heard what happened,” he said in that calm voice one uses for people who are grieving. “Nnamani has moved to Lagos, and he said I should wish you good luck.”

It was Cheta who started taking me out, so I wouldn’t dwell on my thoughts about Nnamani. But whenever I was alone, I would cry and think of him. It was not that cry of longing or of reaching to take back our former life. Instead, it was a cry of pain, that someone who you loved so much should be the one who’d hurt you.

It has been four months since the breakup. Four months during which Nnamani and I did not speak to each other. Or see each other. And now, here in Cheta’s living room, Nnamani is sitting opposite me. His eyes are focused on whatever it is he is doing on his phone. Earlier, our eyes had met, and we quickly looked away from each other. It is odd how the two people who once promised to love each other forever are now acting like strangers. Had I known Nnamani would be here, I would not have come.

“Come to my house tomorrow,” Cheta had said to me yesterday on the phone. “I want to throw a departure party for you.”

This afternoon, when I arrived a few minutes before the party, Cheta led me past a parlour that didn’t seem to be ready for any festivity to his bedroom where we applied makeup. He ignored me when I asked about which of our friends was coming, but he talked a lot about Nnamani.

“Do you remember when Nnamani used to take us out to dinner, and we would dress like girls?”

Of course, I remembered. It was Nnamani who brought up the idea of Cheta and I going out at night, dressed like women. He’d tell us how it was okay for us to “flaunt your effeminate bodies proudly.” It was he who, on the day Cheta celebrated his twenty-sixth birthday, started taking us in his car to small restaurants, where the servers in their starched uniform would greet us with, “Good evening, ladies and gentleman.”

There were nights when we would step out of the restaurants, and some men would stop him to ask him for our numbers.

One time, when we were in the parking lot of a certain restaurant at Eleme, two men, who were probably too inebriated to know better, had given Cheta and I their cards after we refused to give them our phone numbers. Nnamani had looked on as we giggled our way through the exchange with the men, an amused expression on his face.

“In my next life,” he’d said after the men left, “I will ask God to make me effeminate.”

It is obvious to me now – as I watch Cheta strut about in his high heels as he connects to the TV from his flash drive a movie he said will open my eyes to America – that he and Nnamani planned this. I am not sure why, considering how Nnamani is yet to say anything to me. When we finished making up, Cheta had excused himself from the room to make a call. He spoke in whispers. Minutes later, someone knocked on the door, and Cheta asked me to go open the door for the pizza delivery guy. But it was not pizza delivery at the door; it was Nnamani, standing there with a fuller beard than I remembered him having.

“This America you are going to,” Cheta says as he sits beside me, “you need to open your eyes o. Those people can scam too o. You will see what they did to Eddy Murphy in this movie.”

“I have seen Coming to America before, Cheta,” I say with some weariness.

In fact, it was Cheta and I who saw it several times as kids. It was the movie which made our Math teacher give us the nickname “hyena witches”. We were in class before the Math period, narrating the film to a small group of our classmates who hadn’t seen the film; we were acting out the part where Eddie Murphy told his bride-to-be to bark like a dog. The teacher had walked into the class and said, “Where is the hyena witch disturbing my class?” The nickname had stuck with us until we graduated from secondary school.

“You know we watched this movie like a zillion times when we were teenagers?” I say to Cheta.

“Watch it again,” Cheta says. “You might have missed something that will help with your going to America.”

Nobody says anything as the movie began with the logo of Paramount Studio: the pyramidal mountain with a blue lake at its foot, and stars that move across the screen, forming an arch over the mountain. Nnamani is texting on his phone.

“Excuse me,” Cheta says when his phone beeps. “I need to go and prepare something for us to eat.”

“I thought you ordered pizza?”I ask.

“Yes, but I don’t know when it will arrive. I’m hungry.”

I watch him leave the room, not at all fooled by this ruse. But I cannot be here alone with Nnamani. I stand to leave after Cheta, but Nnamani grabs at my hand as I make to walk past him.

“We need to talk,” he says. “Please.”

“There is nothing for us to talk about,” I snap.

“Please,” he says again. He gets to his feet as well. “I know you’ll be leaving Nigeria the day after tomorrow, and I came all the way from Lagos to see you, to ensure you don’t leave without at least talking to you. I miss you, babe. I overreacted because I was jealous. I was afraid you would go there and find someone else and forget all about me. You know how much I love you.”

I laugh caustically. “So, it’s now jealousy?”

Nnamani always has something to blame for his misdeeds. We were undergraduates when we had our first fight. He’d failed a course and come back to the room we shared looking very displeased. When I tried to hug him in consolation, he’d pushed me roughly away and threw his bag at me, before stabbing at me with eyes that blamed me for what he was going through. We did not speak to each other for three days. And then, one day, while I was in class, he sent a text saying he’d made jollof rice.

“You hurt me,” I told him when I got back to our room.

“I didn’t mean to,” he’d said. “I was just having a really bad day.”

He didn’t apologize, but I forgave him.

“Nnamani, you hurt me,” I say now, raising my voice. “You hurt me!”

“I didn’t mean to. I told you I was not in a good place.” He tries to touch me, but I move back, evading his touch. “Babe, believe me. I don’t know what came over me. It was just anger and jealousy.”

Anger and jealousy… Well, at least he did not blame the devil.

“Why won’t you just accept that you hurt me,” I say to him, “that you did something? What, am I supposed to blame your jealousy? Is your anger the one who is at fault here?”

A long moment passes, and then he releases a sigh, before saying for what will be the first time since I started loving him: “I am sorry.”

I stand there, not sure I am hearing right.

He seems to sense my disbelief, because he says it again. “I am sorry, Emeka. I am very sorry for the pain I have caused you.”

I stare at him. I don’t know what to do to him, but to stare at him with eyes that are starting to prickle and fill with tears.

“I am sorry,” he says again. He keeps saying those three words. “I am sorry.”

And when he opens his hands to me, I fall into his chest and begin to cry. There, in his arms and surrounded by the strong smell of his cologne, it is as though I am clearing out the pain I have held on to for those four months. Perhaps to forgive is to exhale all the pain, and to inhale a peace of mind.

I eventually free myself from his tight embrace, and we stare at each other for an interminable amount of time. Then I touch his cheek, before disengaging from his touch and leaving the room for the kitchen where I can already smell what Cheta is frying.

Written by Chichi Asampete

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  1. Mandy
    April 26, 11:46 Reply

    A lack of communication is the singular most destructive element in Nigerian gay relationships. This thing they say about how men don’t like to talk about their feelings has become a failing with homosexual relationships. In this story, both Nnamani and Emeka failed each other. Nnamani should have talked about what he was really feeling instead of spouting his jealousy like that. And Emeka should have interjected and talked about where his head was at, instead of letting his hurt take over.

    Communication. Talking. These are such underrated things when it comes to gay men dating each other. It’s like we replaced the talking with the sex. We let sex do the talking for us.

  2. Higwe
    April 26, 12:45 Reply

    Can we normalise effeminate men taking self defense classes ??‍♂️

    It always bothers me when I read these stories of a grown man physically dominating another grown man to the point it looks like an adult is beating a child.

    There should be absolutely no reason for this ….like how ???‍♂️

    Please if you’re interested in self defense , you can always ask Pink P to send me an email , there are very good classes here in Nigeria that will turn you from a kitten to a tiger.

    I’d understand physical abuse in heterosexual relationships because women are built to be considerably weaker than men , but a man has no reason to be a bitch to another man …not if he can help it .??‍♂️
    As for the writer , abusers never stop .
    Eventually he’s going to start resenting your success and do everything within his powers to put you down .

    The worst people you could possibly deal with are people who end up blaming everyone but themselves for their failures.

    Life is giving you a clean break and I highly suggest you take it.

    Love many be blind , deaf and dumb but so is a dead body six feet beneath the soil .

    To be forewarned is to be forarmed .

    This isn’t a love story but a story of an abuser and his pawn …and I only see one ending .?

    • Pjay
      April 27, 13:01 Reply

      It’s fiction, Ogbeni camdan.

  3. Rehoboth
    April 26, 12:52 Reply

    Em em. Did the pizza guy later come or was there no order?

    • Fred
      April 26, 16:54 Reply

      Mind your business, Rehoboth ??

  4. Sizi
    April 26, 15:21 Reply

    How do I send my story

  5. Delle
    April 26, 21:40 Reply

    Why does this story read incomplete?

    Or is it just me? ?

    The writing…impeccable.

    Guys like Nnamani are exhausting. Cannot deal.

  6. Gaia
    April 27, 11:19 Reply

    Biko Nnamani is not an entirely bad guy here… this can happen to anyone. They have dated since they were undergraduates and no record of domestic violence. He was jealous and did not know how to react. Not like there was an actual fight…. he used the wrong words and now he is sorry ?‍♀️

  7. Rexxy
    April 28, 02:15 Reply

    Well I’m excited that you walked out!!!!

    I hope you are happy in the abroad to hell with his nonsense and anger!!!

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