Previously on AT THE END OF MY BREATH…
I was starting to make new friends online, some of whom I’ve met and some of whom I haven’t. Dillish was one of these friends. As we got acquainted, I grew to like Dillish in a way that I’d never liked anyone before. He lived in Abuja while I was in Lagos. He never talked about his personal life. We would talk about almost everything but his family. After a few leading questions from me which he rebuffed, I realised he was being secretive about his personal life, and so I didn’t bother him.
The more time passed, the fonder of him I became. And he looked so good in the pictures he sent me, which had me fantasizing a lot about him. We grew close. He became the first person I would talk to when I woke up in the morning, before even praying, and the person I said good night to when I was ready for bed. As we couldn’t meet physically, we made up the distance by constantly communicating with each other, which lasted for a year.
Then it was time for me to write my JAMB exams. My siblings wanted me to choose Unilag as my university of choice, but I wanted to be as far away from my family as I could get. When I told Dillish about my JAMB issue, he encouraged me to choose the University of Abuja. When my siblings heard about my interest in Abuja, they objected heavily, talking about the strikes and non-accreditation of some of the courses in the school. Eventually, I settled for a school in the North, which wasn’t very far from Abuja. It was a perfect compromise, as both Dillish and my family were pleased by it. And so, I proceeded to apply for the school.
I passed my JAMB exam, and everyone – including myself – was happy that I was going to get admission that year. My joy however was rooted in the fact that I was finally going to be able to meet Dillish. He was also thrilled by the prospect of us meeting, and I began looking forward to my Post-UME exams in August.
August dragged its way to the present very slowly, something I found quite annoying. But it came eventually, and for the second time in my life, I was about to set out on a trip outside Lagos. I was excited, even though I would be going in the company of my sister, who’d also applied for admission in my school.
As we prepared for our trip the day before our departure, my dad instructed us to start heading immediately back to the park and thereafter to Lagos once we were done. He wanted us back home at once. I was very displeased by this, as I’d already planned on us going over to my older sister’s house in Abuja, where we would stay a couple of days to enable me to see Dillish. I tried to reason with my dad that we couldn’t just get back on the road for the long journey back to Lagos after our exams, but he wouldn’t listen. I became very crestfallen and very upset with my dad, and when I told Dillish about this development, he too was disappointed. He told me not to worry, that things may still work out for us.
The next day – a day before our exam – my sister and I got to the school. The following day, we wrote our Post UME exams. And when it was over, we began heading for the park. Suddenly feeling defiant, I called my older sister, the one living in Abuja, and asked her if we could come spend a week with her and go back home to Lagos in the upcoming weekend. I complained that I was too tired to embark on a trip back to Lagos. She said OK. But the sister who I wrote the exam with was opposed to the idea. The good little girl that she was just wanted to do what daddy said we should do. But I was in my mind, like: Bitch, you’re not about to fuck up my plans.
She proceeded to call our father, but before she could put the call through, her phone went off. Her battery had run out. It was as though the Fates were working in my favour. So, of course, she had to agree with the plan for us to head over to the nearby Abuja instead of the faraway Lagos.
Suddenly feeling a rejuvenated excitement, I called Dillish to let him know our situation, and he sounded very pleased.
The trip to Abuja took about three hours, and we got to Jabi in the evening. My sister came to pick us up at the park. The moment we got to her house, I called Dillish to ask him where he was staying. I told him we were in the resettlement area and he said that was where he lived too. He lived in Zone A, while I was in my sister’s house in Zone B. As we tried to decide on how to see the next day, he was insistent on coming over to my place to see me. I acquiesced.
But the Fates that had been on my side all along turned on me the next day. Before heading out to work, my sister told us that we couldn’t leave the house, that everything we needed was in the house. Wi-Fi, constant light, food. There was no excuse, according to her, for us to go anywhere. She added that if we disobey her and go out to anywhere, she would know because the house had cameras.
I couldn’t believe this. As she was talking, I stared at her in mounting dismay. I hadn’t defied my dad to come here for this!
In spite of this, I was determined. I was not going to be deterred from seeing Dillish, besides, my sister hadn’t said anything about not meeting anyone at her place.
When Dillish told me he was around, I went to the gate to meet him. I was standing there, looking around, hoping to see the man whose pictures I’d been fantasizing about.
The guy who waved at me however was not Dillish. Feeling a little unnerved, I called his number and this stranger answered. It was his voice, but it wasn’t his likeness. At least, not according to his pictures. I was infuriated as it dawned on me that this guy who I’d grown to like so much had catfished me. He had been this dishonest with me, despite how open I’d been with him and the whole year we’d spent getting to know each other.
He tried to explain to me why he did what he did, but I wouldn’t let him. My anger towered over him, and after I ripped him a new one, I turned inside and slammed the gate in his face.
When my sister came home that evening, during dinner, she asked me who I was talking to and screaming at when I went out to the gate. I stared at her, like: WTF! There was a camera at the gate too?
I told her it was a guy I met during my Post UME exam. She was going to say something to that, but I quickly cut in, telling her not to bother, that we didn’t take our exams in the same venue.
That night, Dillish kept calling me, but I wouldn’t answer his calls. Then he sent me a message, saying that there was a reason he was so secretive with his identity. Upon reading this, I finally relented, and so when he called yet again, I answered. He asked for us to meet again. I told him it wouldn’t be possible since my sister was monitoring us with cameras. I told him I was deeply hurt by his subterfuge, and he said I should give him a chance to get to know him in person. That he wasn’t a bad guy. I believed him and forgave him, and we carried on chatting like nothing happened.
It turned out that my sister and I couldn’t go back to Lagos that weekend, because of my nephew’s (my older sister’s son’s) birthday. So, we pushed our return to Lagos to the following weekend. At this point, I was devising lots of ways to see Dillish, but nothing seemed workable. My sister’s restrictions were a real pain in the ass.
But the Fates seemed to be back on my side, because the Wednesday after the birthday weekend, we all had to go for the Winners’ Chapel’s midweek service. I told Dillish this and we made rapid plans to use that as an opportunity to meet.
On that day, I met him at the church gate. As I got closer to him, he winked at me and I felt such a rush of warmth and pleasure go through me. Upon coming to stand before him, I realised that he was actually quite handsome. Even handsomer than the guy in the pictures he sent me. I also noticed the bags under his eyes and was startled to see that he had such an unhappy face, even though he was smiling at me. I observed some scars on his hands, and asked him what happened. He said we couldn’t talk there.
So, we began to stroll about the church premises, and he began to talk. He told me about how happy his childhood had been – that is, until his family found out he was gay in his first year of university abroad. His sister had caught him in a hookup; she reported him to the family, and his parents yanked him out of the school and back to Nigeria. When he returned home, his life took a decided turn for the bad. His family turned into strangers, with his parents constantly complaining about how they had caused this by sending him to an overseas university to be exposed to the corruption of the West. He talked about how he was subjected to all kinds of conversion therapy; the scars on his body were remnants of some of those crude conversion methods. His father, through his influence, then got him admission into the University of Abuja, but he wasn’t allowed to stay in school. Instead, a driver took him to school every day and he was expected back home at the end of his classes. His social media accounts were deleted and his online interactions were monitored.
I was astonished. I asked him how his parents could do this, considering how exposed and educated he said they were. And he responded that where religion is concerned, education and enlightenment tend to take a backseat. Apparently, they worshipped in those churches where congregants don’t wear any adornments. No earrings or jewelry of any sort.
I asked him how he’d been coping, and he said that he had become so lonely. Suicide had constantly been on his mind, that those conversion therapies had broken him. That he was just there, existing.
I felt really wretched by this and hastened to assure him that all would be well. He said he hoped so.
We’d been walking about the church compound for some time, and then went over to the restroom. Once we were inside, he shut the door and said he’d been dying to do this. And before I knew it, he’d leaned in and kissed me. I was at first surprised, and then, I settled into his embrace and kissed him back. His kiss was perfect. The restrained passion and tenderness of it sparked to life something inside me. I couldn’t explain it. I’d never felt it before. But I was positive it was something I wanted to go on feeling for this boy for the rest of my life.
When he broke the kiss, he looked into my eyes and said he loved me. When I didn’t respond, he asked if I felt the same. I told him I liked him very much, for sure, but I didn’t know what love is, didn’t know what it felt like to love someone. He nodded, saying he understood. That he was prepared to wait till I began feeling the same way for him.
We left the restroom holding hands. I may not know if I loved him, but I was sure about other things I felt for him. I wanted to be with him from that moment on. I wanted to care for him. I never wanted to leave his side.
It pained me to remind him that I’d be leaving Abuja the coming weekend. He said that was okay, that we would see on Friday. He went home and I went back to church. Service was soon over, and all I could think about was Dillish and about the kiss in the restroom. And all my thoughts did was make him keep smiling all day. His beautiful face, with those bags under his eyes and that deep unhappiness that didn’t seem to waver even when he smiled, was the last thing on my mind before I drifted off to sleep that night.
We couldn’t talk the next day till it was nighttime, at which time we made plans on how to see the next day. He told me where his house was; it was as though meeting me set him free from whatever restraints he had over his private life.
And then, I woke up on Friday morning to have my sister put us to work in the house. She called it environmental cleaning. I mean, who does environmental cleaning on a Friday?!!! I was so exasperated.
The housework took the whole morning to accomplish and I was exhausted when I finished. I got into my room and promptly slept off, leaving my phone charging in the sitting room.
I woke up at past 4pm, and the first thing that came to my mind was my phone. I went to get it and was startled to see that I had 76 missed calls. 76!!! All of them from Dillish! There were two messages from him too. Feeling upset with myself for sleeping off and at my sister for being the reason I possibly may not see Dillish before going back to Lagos, I called him back.
There was no response.
Then I clicked open the first message. It read: The best thing that ever happened to me is knowing that someone out there cared for me after all I’d been through. And the best moment of my life is kissing you in that restroom. I love you and I know you will eventually get to love me. So, please forgive me for breaking your heart with this action I am about to take.
Some unease began to settle in my heart as I clicked open the second message. It read simply: Tell my family I love them still, no matter what they think of me. Tell my mother that this abomination she gave birth to loves her and hopes they find peace after I’m gone.
I was crying desperately now, as I realized what must have happened. Tears were gushing down my face as I sobbed hard, even though a desperate part of me told me it couldn’t have happened. That he couldn’t have already done what his texts seemed to tell me he intended to do.
I jumped up and dashed out from the house, not minding what my sister would say when she got back. Remembering the description he gave me of his place, I rushed over there. All the way there, I kept wiping tears from my eyes, hoping this was at least a prank, or at the most, delayed. I got to the house, knocked on the gate, and the security man who came out to meet me asked who I was looking for.
When I told him, the next thing he said sent my heart plummeting.
“He don die.”
Letting out an anguished cry, I pleaded with him to let me into the house, that I had a message for Dillish’s parents. He led me to the house, and even as we approached, I could hear the screams of a woman coming from inside what I presumed was the living room.
We stepped inside, and I beheld the chaos of grief in the room. A woman I supposed was his mother was the one screaming. A man was seated on the sofa, most likely his dad, looking blankly into nothingness. People surrounded them, consoling them.
And I stood there, staring at them and hating them – these people I’d never met before – for putting Dillish through the hell that drove him to take his life. Nobody even seemed to notice me, and I stood there, unable to check the tears that began rolling down my face again.
But I had a message to deliver. I approached the screaming woman hesitantly, and that was when I was noticed. I wiped my eyes and with some difficulty, introduced myself as Dillish’s friend and told them that before he died, he sent me a message he said I should deliver to his family. I showed his mother the message and she read it. Then she dropped my phone as she started screaming again, uncontrollable in her renewed grief.
I left the house, hoping that their guilt would never let them rest for what they did to their son.
I got back to my sister’s house, went straight to my room and cried myself to sleep. I woke up in the early hours of the morning and opened my phone diary. And as I wrote, I told myself that I would never let this happen to me. Dillish’s death served to strengthen my resolve to make me the only person responsible for my happiness. My life was changed by the death of the boy who I liked very much.
But it was a struggle, living that life. I got admission into my school but I’d lost interest in my education. I kept getting attacked by bouts of depression, however much I tried to live. I did well in my first semester, but my results started dropping from second semester. I found myself unable to let go of Dillish. I kept on thinking about him. I couldn’t move on, no matter how hard I tried. And the more I thought about him, the lonelier I got.
It was around this time that the pain on my side started. It came in flashes at first. But then it progressed gradually, through my listlessness in school and eventual dropping out, until that day in November when it consumed my life.
I finished my story here and sat back, staring at my stunned audience of fellow patients and doctors. Then the responses began coming in a rush; everyone had something to say – except for the very homophobic Ade, that is. The therapist kept staring at me, looks which I returned with a small smile. I was scheduled for further sessions, and was discharged the next day.
When I got home that evening, I opened my phone diary. For some moments, I stared at the screenshots I made of Dillish’s messages to me. I remembered how desperately I’d held on to them as a link to the boy I lost.
Then I said, “No more.” And deleted them.
In the days since that day, I have been striving to do the much I can to give to our community, to help with those who may be going through such pain and psychological issues that I’ve been through. In that vein, I want to appreciate Pink Panther for this platform, for its presence and the way it has helped me so much and provided me with so much to learn. I want to thank contributions from people like Mandy, Higwe, Delle, Vhar, Francis, Mitch, Orobo Hunter, Audrey and others who I can’t really remember.
Thank you so very much.
Written by Dillish