I have no idea why they remind me so much of the morning of that day. Maybe it’s because it was the last medium through which our bodies touched. I had just returned under the covers of the bed in the air-conditioned bedroom. Sixteen was Kini’s perfect volume, but it freezes me. He says my bussy feels good when the upper part of my body feels cold and my butt cheeks begin to perspire, and the heat of our intense morning lovemaking spread to my thighs, making them moist. He says it is a moment he finds oddly satisfying. It was one of such mornings that day, after which I’d fixed him breakfast, my bussy still throbbing with every step, like my guts would drop through my wide-open crack. And then, I was back to bed, my head pounding, but not from the music he was playing in the parlour – Kini was probably the last person on earth who still vibed to Sunny Nneji.
The pounding was an echo of the rhythm of the sex we had the previous night, after which he’d looked me right in the eye and said, “You really make me happy.”
That had made me happy, and in a rare moment of faith, I had dared to believe in our ever after.
After his breakfast, he had walked into the bedroom to say goodbye. He still had time before he had to be at work, so he turned on the bedroom light, spent a few moments in front of the full-length mirror tucking his shirt in and fixing ruffles, then he clambered into the bed to kiss my forehead and gave my butt a gentle squeeze.
“Babe,” he said, “please, pass me my rings on your side drawers.”
I did that. They were the matching bands he got us for our second anniversary, even though he hadn’t considered it an anniversary. He’d said it was “our steadfastness in the course of us discovering a bigger picture.”
Whatever that meant. I just knew I loved to love him.
Our hands brushed slightly as I placed the rings in his palm. It was intentional. He liked our bodies constantly touching, and they left a lingering sensation that I nursed under my chin as he left.
I didn’t know the beauty of the morning as he met it when he stepped out through the hallway door of the six blocks of flats into the garage, but I started my day at noon after long hours of satisfactory slumber with the sun bright amid rainclouds, bright enough for me to take sun-kissed selfies on the balcony decorated with elaborate, potted plants.
As I walked back into the parlour, I stopped to drop a lingeringly loving gaze on the framed photo of Kini hanging on the wall next to the TV. He was beaming a smile at the camera, something very confident and self-assured about that smile, that pose. My friend, Dominic thought he was too good to be true. Not like Kini was every gay man’s fantasy, you know, sporting abs and height and drop-dead gorgeous features. No. Kini was just himself – a thickly-built, bespectacled, plain-looking man with a passion for anything African; music, art and nature, which he seamlessly and tastefully themed his home with. And while he was as masculine as you could ever get – a stud in his favourite clothing of shirts tucked into jeans with dockside suede shoes or oxford brogues – he often liked to prove to no one in particular that he was very much in touch with his feminine side. But Dominic remained steadfast in his thinking that Kini was too perfect, that he must be two-faced, living two lives. I’d always laughed whenever Dominic brought that up, thinking about how absurd it was that the man I’d been dating for two years and living with for six months, a man who was so good at being himself that he was out to his family – that such a man would ever think to live another life and that I wouldn’t know about it.
Even then, ever the pessimist, I somehow always braced myself for the worst; for the day I would wake up to discover that Kini had left with all of me under his shoes.
What I did not expect was that it would be so final.
That evening, I was settled in the parlour, watching a documentary on Discovery Channel, chewing on some peanuts and sipping Schweppes, when I heard screaming coming from the next door neighbour’s apartment. The house was inhabited by Fidel, Kini’s colleague. They often came back home from work together in Kini’s car since Fidel’s car was stolen a few months ago. It was Fidel’s fiancée, Jemima, who was screaming. My first guess had been that Fidel had probably come home early and was giving her some really good loving.
Then the cries became clearer. I tensed a bit, wondering if she was being beaten, but I couldn’t hear any grunts or other sounds made by a possibly violent Fidel. Besides, Jemima’s screams had the cadence of panic, of someone who’d been startled. I heard her unlock the door of their apartment and shuffle across the hallway to my door, pounding impatiently.
I peeked through the peephole to see her bobbing up and down like someone whose bladder was full.
“Hi. Is Kini back?” she cried at me when I opened the door. She looked like a nervous wreck.
“No,” I answered, unsure of what this was about.
“I just heard the news that there was a terrible fire outburst at NDDC highway over an hour ago. That’s their only route home and I am worried.”
“Oh my God…” I said.
I didn’t know what else to say as I watched her frantically dialing and redialing what must be Fidel’s number, each time getting admonished by the electronic female voice on the other end that the number she was dialing wasn’t available at the moment. At a moment, she darted me a look of irritation, as though she couldn’t understand why I wasn’t sharing in her panic. But I couldn’t tell her that I wasn’t even expecting Kini back tonight. That he’d told me he would be working a marathon so that he could meet up with our schedule to visit our friend, Herbert, in Enugu for the weekend. He intended to come home the following evening. That meant that he would be at the office, away from this fire outbreak that was apparently consuming commuters on their way home from a long day.
I had returned to the parlour and was watching on the news the furnace razing the highway. It was a distressing sight, and I was grateful my boyfriend wasn’t anywhere near the pandemonium.
I dialed Kini’s numbers anyway, but his phones were switched off. This I expected. Kini was a little too attached to his phones, so whenever he had work to do, he’d put them on flight mode to enable him do his work efficiently. I assumed it was what he had done, so I settled back on the sofa after Jemima had returned to her fiancé’s apartment and stayed on the news channels. One of them was documenting the event live, and my heart was breaking at the sight of the long row of burnt vehicles with charred stumps that had once been living, breathing humans in them. There was commotion everywhere, people screaming, people running, escaping the inferno with varying degrees of burns. There were some lying dead on the tar, their bodies stiff and their faces displaying the horror they experienced just before they passed.
I swallowed hard as I watched, and I thanked God over and over again.
Then, there was a knock on the door, just as I was starting to nod off on the couch while watching the music videos playing on Trace Urban. It was about 10:17pm. I sprang to my feet, somehow thinking it was Kini coming home after all to hold me and comfort me from these horrors of the world.
But Kini wasn’t the person at the door. Jemima was back, this time with Fidel. She was clinging to her man’s arm, her relief palpable in the twilit hallway.
“Is he back?” Fidel asked. His face was oily from the perspiration and stress of the day he’d had.
“Oh my god, are you okay?” I burst out, full of concern.
Kini did not believe in best friends, but if he did, Fidel would be the one for him. Kini had told me he was one of the few friends he’d bothered with telling about his sexual orientation and that Fidel had been very cool with it. Both men liked to hang out in our apartment a lot, talking about football and politics and wolfing down whatever I’d made for dinner, with Fidel often teasing that my cooking was so good, even better than his fiancée’s, that it was making him reconsider this marriage thing and find a guy too to shag, just so he could enjoy what Kini was enjoying. I’d never found that joke funny, but Kini would break out in guffaws every time Fidel told it.
“I’m alright. Is Kini back?” he said with an insistence that stopped me short and caused a chill to start snaking its way up my spine.
“No, he’s not,” I said slowly, looking searchingly at his face. “He said he’d be at the office, working overtime.”
Fidel sighed. “I’d hoped…” His voice broke and his shoulders heaved. Then he looked at me and said, “May we come in?”
I stood aside and let them through, Fidel first, then Jemima. There was something almost smug about Jemima, like she had finally gotten something that I didn’t have. They sat on the sofa, and then after I’d sat down as well, Fidel looked gravely at me and gave me the news that began changing my life.
“Alex… Kini was in the fire.”
“What…” I said quietly, blinking as I struggled to comprehend what he was saying, because it didn’t make any sense. This wasn’t the first time Kini had worked overnight, and every time he did, he always came back to me the next day. Fidel couldn’t be saying that this time, it would not be so. He simply couldn’t.
“He said he’d be working a marathon… He said he’d be at the office…” My voice was shaking from a thready panic. “Why was he out there? The only reason he’d be there would be… Was he coming home? Were you with him? Did he change his mind and decide to come home?”
I’d sometimes feared that Kini would leave me someday, but leaving me through something as fatal as death was not how I’d ever imagined it.
“His girlfriend was at the office,” Fidel said. “I think they had somewhere to go, so he closed a bit early. There were some other workers in the fire… They are currently at the teaching hospital. Kini was among them. The girl in his car died. But I am not sure about Kini’s situation.”
His girlfriend… He closed early… Teaching hospital… Girl in his car died… Kini’s situation…
I was struggling to take everything in. But with each fragmented bit of the information Fidel has just unloaded on me, I returned to the first two words he spoke.
Kini had a GIRLFRIEND?!
Kini of course had a few girls always on his phone asking for sexual favours and wanting to come over to his place. Some of them simply showed up without invitation and made a fool of themselves as they tried to seduce him with me in the other room. It could be one of those girls that Fidel was referring to.
It had to be.
But first, I had to see Kini. I needed to see him.
The next few hours went by in a blur. Fidel took me to the hospital, where I was able to see Kini by identifying as his brother. Fidel corroborated my claim.
When I saw my boyfriend lying on the blue sheets of the hospital gurney, looking almost charred beyond recognition, I had to put my hands to my mouth as though to physically push back the scream of despair that threatened to erupt from my mouth. He groaned occasionally, as though testing himself to check if he was still alive. He looked to be in so much pain. And the doctors didn’t think he would survive his burns.
I called his parents, and his mother’s wails in the background as I talked to his father were haunting. I stayed by Kini’s side until his family came to see him, and then, I left the room to give them time with him. His family knew about him, and they knew about us. They however neither treated me with warmth nor with kindness. However, after several minutes in there with Kini, his brother burst out of the room and came to me with a face wretched with anger and pain. He stopped in front of me and hissed at me that I was next.
“You and my brother lived in sin,” he spat at me. “And now, God has let the devil claim him with fire straight to hell. Just know that you are next!”
Around 10 am that day, Kini was confirmed dead. I never got to see his dead body. I simply had the somber countenance of the doctor and the high pitched wails of his mother to tell me all I needed to know.
The doctor walked away from the grieving family, and I waylaid him with my questions about Kini.
“I’m sorry,” he said sadly. “There was nothing we could do.”
There was something he should have done. He should have woken Kini up for a minute so he could tell me to my face if he had lived a double life, to tell me who the girl in his car was, and why I kept hearing his mother say over and over again that he had come to his senses too late. The doctor should have woken Kini up just long enough to give me answers to these questions I never thought I’d be asking of him.
Fidel however gave those answers to me later that day. He came over to the apartment that I would soon have to move out of because Kini’s family would be unforgiving in his death. And he told me everything I needed to know.
Kini’s parents had finally pressured him into giving marriage to a woman a thought, at least for the purpose of giving them a grandchild. They’d even gone out of their way to find him a “nice girl from their hometown.” They simply wanted him to marry her and have a son by her. He didn’t even need to live with her; he could put her up in a house of her own. Kini had finally agreed. And he’d been seeing her for the past six months, while both families involved planned a small wedding, at Kini’s insistence. But she had gotten pregnant, and at four months along, she’d had a doctor’s appointment the day she died. She and Kini had been on their way to the hospital when they encountered the highway fire outbreak.
“Every time he talked about her,” Fidel said, “he was disappointed in himself. He would say it should be you, not her.”
But it wasn’t me, was it? I thought as resentment grew inside me. The betrayal was blindsiding. In that moment, I hated Kini.
Why? Why hadn’t he told me? Why didn’t he prepare me? Did he think I didn’t love him well enough to understand? Did he even love me as much as he’d led me to believe? How did he think he would keep this up? Did he ever think of me as he pursued this new family? Had he intended to choose between me and this woman? Or was Dominic right and he simply planned to live a double life, with me on one side and this new family on the other?
With the more that I’d gotten to know, I had more questions.
And I was so angry. So much, I hated the man that I also loved. I hated Kini for the double heartbreak of losing him and finding out he betrayed me so.
I hated him so much that when Fidel suddenly leaned forward and kissed me, I didn’t react. Not at first. He took my immobility as consent and got bolder with his kiss, his mouth moving more assuredly over mine.
I was stupefied. How could Fidel be kissing me? Wasn’t he straight? A flashback of the time he last told that joke that Kini found so funny shot through my mind, and I wondered briefly if perhaps he hadn’t been joking all this time.
I could feel his heartbeat pumping fast as I placed a hand on his chest. It was racing like a polo horse. I’d raised that hand to his chest to stop him. He was Kini’s friend.
Yes, the same Kini who betrayed you.
So, I kissed Fidel back. He gave a small moan of pleasure as he felt me respond to him, and he became more adventurous, as though this was something he’d been wanting for a very long time. He used his tongue on my ears, my neck, my nipples, my belly button, and the heat between us intensified when he grabbed my dick with his sweaty palm, his lips glued to mine as he kneaded my passion. Then he lifted me off the couch into the bedroom, and laid me on the bed. On Kini’s bed, the one where Kini and I had made many sex memories.
“Oh, you are so sweet…” he moaned against my lips as he began struggling to remove his shirt.
Kini had also thought of me as sweet.
Kini had lied to me.
Just as Fidel was clearly now lying to me; even this moment of passion was a lie – to his fiancée. The image of Jemima slammed into me, and I remembered the nameless, faceless woman who Kini had been about to create a family with.
A rush of fury surged through me, replacing the heat inside me with its scorching intensity. And I shoved Fidel off me. I shot up from the bed and turned the furious look on him, allowing its burn to singe off his passion so that his hazy look of confusion and desire began to clear, leaving him to confront what he was doing.
“Leave,” was all I said, and he began scurrying to right his clothes and rush out of the apartment, muttering “I’m sorry, Alex…I didn’t mean to…I’m sorry…” as he left.
I left Kini’s place too, much later in the day. I would be back with the movers to get my things the following day. I had no place to relocate to, but for now, I would stay with Dominic, just until I’d be able to rent a place of my own. But for now, I just needed to not be around Kini’s things.
I was on my way to the bus stop when I saw him – Kini, in Tarpaulin shorts and a bright orange T-shirt, standing among a crowd of people at the bus stop, waiting for taxis and buses. I sighted him from across the road, but he did not see me. Or maybe he did just before the road cleared for me to cross, because he got into a taxi headed in an opposite direction. And then, I was not so sure it was him I saw.
Torn between my grief and hope, filled with a sudden urge to scream, I stood there, at the spot where I’d seen him standing, looking in the direction he’d gone off in the taxi, and wondering why it seemed as though I was going round in circles, like the rings Kini made for us on our anniversary, a symbol of the big picture which I was yet to discover.
Written by Peaches