PREVIOUSLY ON LOVE AND SEX IN THE CITY…
“Paschal Atarere!” the policeman in the lead called out as they got close.
“I am he,” Paschal said, straightening up.
“He can’t deny his identity,” the brittle, sour-faced man who was his older sister’s husband snapped.
“And these” – the policeman swept a hand over the rest of us – “are your homo friends, eh?”
My heart stopped. For a moment, I was sure I’d died on my seat, because a spool of the different moments Kizito had beamed his amazing smile at me rushed past my mind’s eye.
“Excuse me, officer, what seems to be the problem?” Paschal asked.
“Sharrapdia!” the policeman barked. “There is no problem! In fact, the problem is your own! You homo people are the problem. You are all under arrest! Arrest them!”
And the five of them pounced, grabbing at us, hustling us up from our seats amidst our furious protestations.
“What did we do!”
“You have to tell us our crime!”
“Shuttup! You’re under arrest!”
“For what! This is wrong!”
Ekene was sobbing. Eddie’s eyes looked like they might pop out as he tried to ward off the policeman crowding in on him. My gut tightened and stomach acid driven by fear heaved up to my throat as another policeman snatched at my hands, yanked them backwards and the cold steel of handcuffs clamped my wrists together.
“What have you done? Ofure! Ferdinand, what is this?!” Paschal raged at his sister and brother-in-law with a face contorted with the venomous outburst as another policeman shoved him forward, his hands also manacled behind him.
Ferdinand stepped close to him, his eyes squinting meanly as he hissed, “You thought you could destroy me, eh? This is payback. Enjoy fourteen years, you faggot.”
Paschal spat on him; the older man recoiled with a gasp as the gob of saliva smacked his cheek. The policeman behind Paschal swung his gun forward, catching Paschal on the back of his neck with the butt.
Paschal staggered forward, but reared back up immediately to scream at his sister’s husband, “I will kill you, Ferdinand! Faggot like you! Just pack your load and run away from Lagos, because when I get out, I will kill you! Bastard!”
He was still hurling invectives as we were shepherded out of the joint, with the proprietress lamenting her unpaid service in our wake. I felt benumbed by my shock, not even uttering a single word of protest like my friends were doing. In my detachment, I wondered if Tosin had witnessed our arrest, if he had slunk away, grateful for his good fortune, or was standing somewhere, already working out a way to help us. I thought about Kizito and what he’d say when he gets to know about this; perhaps his first thought would be that I’d been caught arguing the rights of the LGBT and the unfairness of the antigay law, and then he’d get that reproving look in his eyes, the look he’d been getting a lot these days whenever I took too firm a stand on this issue.
He’ll leave me now, that’s for sure.
The thought filled me with sudden terror, a tidal wave that caused tears to sting my eyes, blurring my vision so much, I almost didn’t see Biola as he alighted from the car he’d parked on the kerb beside the joint’s entrance. He gave a start when he saw the commotion, and our gazes clashed. Outrage flashed in his eyes and he started forward.
I shook my head at him. He stopped and looked a question at me. I shook my head again. He nodded his understanding, and turned back to his car. I watched him get back behind the wheel before I was shoved out of sight into the back of the police van.
AND NOW, THIS WEEK ON LOVE AND SEX IN THE CITY…
There was silence in the police cell, hanging over its occupants like a black shroud. I could hear people breathing, the breaths short and measured for the inhalation of only enough air to provide the body with the oxygen it needs to live. The other occupants of the room did not speak to each other. One would think that it was because we had nothing to say to each other, but it really was the fact that we had not fully grasped how we came to be in this room – I mean, I know how we got to the room, but we had not come to accept how we came to be here, or that we were here for that matter – and we were trying to overcome the stench.
The room stank of something irredeemably bad, like brown beans left out in the open for three days without warming, but there was nothing of the sort in sight. The toilet was at one end of the cell and was relatively clean. The smell was really hopelessness, that bad moment in a coming-of-age movie when a character realizes that things are really horrible, that he is fucked seven ways to Sunday and there is very little he can do to fix it. It swirled around the room and curled its way into our nostrils and found a way into our hearts where it built a nest.
The walls, damp as they were like wet cloth, had caused me to shudder the first time I leaned against a corner. Then the thought that these walls had on them evidence of inhumanity and horrors past filled me with such revulsion that I sat now, hunched over my knees, determined not to make contact with anything I didn’t have to. Someone shuffled his bare feet in the distance and my ears pricked up. The room, with no windows and the only door way overlooking a corridor, was dark. Our personal items had been confiscated as we were getting booked at the reception, but even without my watch, I could imagine the time was about 7pm or so. When we were brought in, I’d noticed a single bulb hanging from the ceiling under the beam of a torchlight. Power was out but I doubted the bulb worked. The darkness completed the macabre scene of the room. Bleak darkness spoke volume of what it really means to be in this room – desolation, no light at the end of the tunnel.
The police officers had ignored us on the ride to the station. Not that we had plenty to say. Whilst we rode in the van, everyone but Paschal had been quiet. Paschal kept cussing his brother-in-law even though Ferdinand Adagbor was no longer within earshot.
By the time we were carted into the police station and booked, reality dawned on him that cussing wouldn’t solve anything. When they ordered us into the cell just beyond the counter, whatever little resistance we had left evaporated. Shouting wouldn’t help us. We needed legal help.
I wondered how long it would take for Biola to come. He could fix this. That law degree of his had to come in handy for us. Feeling a burst of frustration, I went to the bars that fenced us into the cell and called for the officers again, trying to reason with them. They didn’t pay attention to me. When it seemed like I had disturbed them enough, one of them bellowed from the counter that I should close my mouth or they’d come and close it for me.
When a policeman came to take one of the men that had been in the cell before we arrived, Eddie and I tried again to gauge the situation.
“What are we doing here, officer?” I asked.
“We have done nothing wrong,” Eddie added.
“You still get mouth to dey ask question, abi?” the sergeant said nastily. “You dey here dey speak English for me? Una no know wetin you dey do? We go see na!” Then he left with the middle-aged man he came to fetch.
“But we hadn’t committed any crime. Are we being charged for something?” I ran to the cage door and tried to shake it but the gate was heavy, its bars smoothened by other hands that had grabbed them with similar desperation.
“Declan, calm down,” Yinka said from behind me. “There’s no point in wasting your energy. These guys won’t talk to us now. In their minds, we are already guilty criminals and they’ll treat us as such.”
“This is crazy,” I muttered as I returned to the corner where my friends were. “This is just insane.”
“It is. These fools can’t tell their asses from their heads. They will be holding us here while the real criminals are out there.”
“You mean like my brother-in-law,” Paschal spat. “That asshole should be in here. But no, he gets to screw boys behind his wife’s back and we’re the ones inside a police cell.”
“What we need now is a lawyer,” Martin said from the furthest end of the corner. His voice was surprisingly calm. For someone who was prone to hysterics in situations involving what was right and wrong, I would have thought that he’d be losing his marbles now. The only person among us whose terror was palpable through his mewling awhile ago was Ekene. I’d held him then while he continued softly sobbing, “I knew it… I just knew it… This country wants to kill me… Oh Moses, where are you…”
“Biola should be here soon, if he isn’t already,” I said confidently in response to Martin.
“How would he be here? He doesn’t even know that we had been arrested. These idiots wouldn’t let us call anybody, remember?” Paschal pointed out.
I opened my mouth to speak, but Adebola was already talking, “I think they’re trying to sweat us, break us before they start pressing our buttons. You have heard of what they do to people they arrest. Maybe they will torture us to confess.”
Ekene let out a whimper, a thready cry that made my heart ache.
“Adebola, stop talking like that please,” Yinka objected. In the gloom of the cell, I saw him pull Ekene to his side and begin rubbing his arm comfortingly.
“I’m not trying to be a jerk,” Adebola said. “I’m just saying that right this moment, we are the worst criminals Nigeria knows and we should be prepared for the worst.”
Ekene let out another wretched sob and my stomach heaved.
“It won’t come to that,” I said hoarsely, although I wasn’t sure if that reassurance was meant for Ekene or me. I was scared. I had heard stories of how the Nigerian police force harass people; how they persuade and coerce confessions. The images that ran through my mind sent cold shivers down my spine and I felt goosebumps spread out my skin. “Biola will be here soon. He saw us get taken.”
“Seriously?” Paschal said loudly, too loudly. “And he didn’t do anything?”
I heard a scoff somewhere; I wasn’t quite sure who made the sound, but then I heard Yinka say, “What would he have done? If he had shown up there and tried to reason with the police, they would have arrested him too. These guys weren’t listening to anything being said then. They came to that joint with one mission – to round up the homos. And anyone who indicated back there that he was associated with us would have gotten arrested right along with us, no questions asked. It’s called guilty by association.”
“Something your friend was lucky enough to escape, Adebola,” Martin said.
“My friend…” Adebola began to query, and then said, “Oh you mean Tosin. Well, he’s a lucky bastard. Imagine going to the convenience in time to escape getting rounded up.” He let out a short sardonic chuckle.
“The point is, Biola will be more helpful to us from the outside,” I said softly. “No point losing our wildcard that early in the game.”
“So how do we contact him and tell him where we are? God knows when they’ll let us call anybody,” Eddie said.
“That shouldn’t be necessary. He was discreetly following us all the way here. He should be working on a plan already. I saw his car around the corner when we were being driven in here.” After I shook my head at Biola back at the joint, silently stopping his headlong rush to come get involved with our arrest, hope had kept me alert and on the lookout for any reassurance that we hadn’t been abandoned to our fate. Catching a glimpse of Biola’s ash-coloured Honda had bolstered my flagging optimism.
There was a couple seconds of silence before Paschal’s loud voice rose again. “When exactly did you plan to tell us this? We’ve been sitting here forever and you couldn’t mention something like this?”
“Paschal don’t shout at anybody now abeg,” Eddie snapped before I could say anything. “You’re the one who dragged is into this mess in the first place. So just shut it.”
“What does that mean?” Paschal asked and even though the room was dark, I could see the frown lines on his forehead furrow. “Just what the hell is that supposed to mean?”
“If you hadn’t…” Eddie started, but I cut in. I couldn’t let him finish that sentence. Not in here.
“Guys, let’s not do this here. Eddie, we can’t be talking about that here, consisting why we are here in the first place. Paschal, calm down, it was an oversight, not saying anything about Biola. But like a lot of things, that isn’t important now.”
“Exactly. We have to stay positive and hope that Biola handles this as quickly as possible,” Yinka added.
So, we fell back into silence until the sergeant that had left with the middle aged man returned with him. He opened the rusted lock on the gate by twisting the key this way and that before it sprang open. The man walked into the room, his feet shuffling on the bare floor as he walked past us and went to the back of the room.
“Which of una be Declan?” the officer asked and my throat went dry. My heart skipped several beats, before it started beating an irregular pattern in my chest.
“I say which of you be Declan, abi you no dey hear again?”
“I am Declan…” I said weakly, when I found my voice.
“Wetin you still dey there dey do? You think say na hail I dey hail you? Come out here, joor!”
I shuffled to my feet, and then started walking to the gate after throwing a glance around the room.
“Oga, why you dey call am?” Yinka asked.
“All of una dey ask too much question. You think say na Who Wants To Be A Millionaire I come for here?” The officer let out a moving laugh. “Where the Declan person? Make I bring talk-true come find you?”
“I am coming.” I said as I crossed the door and joined him in the corridor.
“Oh, na you? This one no be asking stupid questions.” He handcuffed my hands and closed the gate behind me, reengaging the lock before he led me towards the counter, grabbing my right arm tightly.
When we came into the reception, I had to blink a few times to readjust my eyes to the lighting. Finally when I could see more clearly, I saw a familiar face on the other side of the counter.
I automatically started toward him, feeling the hold of the officer on my arm slacken.
“You have ten minutes,” the officer barked as he stalked off to the other end of the counter.
When my gaze returned to Biola, he was smiling reassuringly. I closed the gap between me and the counter and placed my hands on top of it.
“No touching oh,” the police officer called out pompously.
I ignored him, fixing my gaze on Biola in his button-up stripped shirt and slight smile. I smiled back, although I imagined that mine came off more painful than his.
“Biola…” I said breathlessly. I had never been happier to see him as I was in that moment. “You took so long.”
“I’m sorry. I had to proceed cautiously. I’ve been here for close to half an hour now trying to make headway but…” He stopped talking and looked at the officer at the end of the counter through the corner of his eyes. “How are you?”
“I…” I stopped. I didn’t know what to say. The automatic response would have been to tell him that I was fine, but I wasn’t fine. I was a lot of things – angry, pensive, tired, hungry, worried – and none of them was a recipe for fine. “I’m hanging in here.”
“And the others…I suppose Ekene is a mess right about now.”
“He is. He can’t stop calling for Moses. The rest of us are holding up well, all things considering. But Paschal is pissed off, understandably so.”
Biola nodded. “He should be. I am too. Imagine the nerve of his brother-in-law – having him arrested for a crime he himself is guilty of. This case is pretty sensitive, Dee. I would have loved to see all of you but they only allowed me audience just only one of you. Under the circumstances, I thought it best to speak with you about our options.”
“To me? Wouldn’t it have been better to talk to Paschal? After all, this is essentially his case.”
Biola shook his head. “I considered the options and Paschal won’t be helpful at this point. They are not charging you guys with anything yet, but they are hell-bent on keeping you in custody. I’ve been trying to get you guys out on bail. They are not budging. I keep being jerked around.”
“And that’s bad, isn’t it?” I asked after a moment’s silence.
“It’s not good. It’s almost as if they know that they have struck gold. The public opinion on the subject is in their favor. They smell a big pay day and are probably working to utilize this opportunity. This is one of those cases that could drag on for a long time, the parties involved sucked dry financially.”
“So what are our options?” I was afraid of what I’d hear. It was obvious we would have to pay off a lot of people for this one. The prospects of how much money could be expended frightened me.
“I’ve been making calls, trying to fast track things legally. But I think we should involve someone influential – someone who these yeye policemen will listen to.” He paused, as if to give me a chance to catch up to the meaning of what he was saying.
“Benson – who’s Ben –” Comprehension dawned on me with an instant flicker. Benson! Oh my god, I hadn’t seen or spoken to the man in nearly a year, since he dumped me in May last year, because the antigay bill had just then been passed and he wanted to focus on his family. The piece of shit! I’d learned about someone else, some guy in Surulere, that he’d started shagging when he apparently gotten over his instinctive panic to the bill.
“You can’t be serious,” I said to Biola through clenched teeth.
Biola sighed. “I wouldn’t have brought it up if I didn’t think it necessary –”
“Biola, that guy” – I lowered my voice to a hiss – “dumped me over the phone because a bill was passed. A bill! Now the bill is the law and you think he’ll ever want to get involved?”
“We have to try, Dee. This case is a big deal and he is a big shot. We could use his help in making sure that this doesn’t become more complicated than it needs to be.”
“Biola, no!” I wasn’t thinking about this, I was aware of that. But right now, the thought of reentering Benson’s life as a possible felon made my skin crawl with rejection. “We have to figure out another way.”
“Una time don finish!” the officer cut in just then. He had gotten to his feet and was ambling over to me.
“Declan, we don’t have time for this,” Biola said insistently. “We need his help. He can help.”
“But will he?” I cried. “He could say no, and then think the worst of me.” A part of me recoiled at the thought. “Please, just figure out another way,” I said as the officer grasped my arm again, and began to lead me back toward the cell. “I don’t want him involved.”
“Okay. Just don’t worry,” Biola called after me. “I’ll take care of it.”
He was still talking, and I could hear his words, but their meaning was having trouble reaching my cerebrum, as the officer unlocked the gate to the cell. Beyond lay the gaping gloom waiting to reclaim me. The few minutes I spent in the reception suddenly seemed like precious moments of freedom that were about to get snatched right back. The corridor suddenly began to feel cramped and I struggled with my breathing.
The sergeant shoved me forward after uncuffing my wrists, and I stumbled into the cell, where my friends were waiting with wide eyes.
“What happened, Dee? Where did they take you to?” Eddie was the first to ask.
I took in a deep steadying breath before I said, “I was taken to see Biola. He is working on getting us out.”
“Hallelujah…” someone let out.
“What exactly did he say?” Paschal wanted to know more.
“That we shouldn’t worry, he’ll take care of it.”
Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.
Biola’s words, whisper-quiet now, strummed through my mind, unable to escape because of the tenacity with which my mind held on to them. They had assumed an immense importance. They were a necessity. They were all I had – all we had for the time being.
Written by Pink Panther