The first time Papa saw pornographic videos on my phone ended in tears. For seven weeks he whipped my bare back until they bled blood and water. He allocated a bigger portion of our farmland to me because, to him, I was jobless, hence the reason I found solace in watching a recording of a man and woman do things meant for adults. On Sundays, I had to be the first to get to church, and when the Holy Communion was ongoing, it was necessary I received largest share, or else it was a sign that I was still under the influence of the spirit of Lamuru.
But I couldn’t’ tell Papa that I did not like going to the church because my demons lived there. I mean, a church is supposed to be demon repellant, but mine gracefully thrived there. How could I tell Papa that his favorite young pastor Akko was the one who controlled the demon within my soul? That Akko’s presence brought bad thoughts to my mind; that every time our eyes locked in a battle of stares, he made me quiver, and sick ideas popped up every now and then into my head. I did not have the strength to tell Papa that the way Akko played with my hair sometimes sent me further away from all I believed in.
Every day, Papa reminded us the principles of God and how condemned a soul is when it went against the words of our pastor or when we did things the Bible preached against. You dared not miss the 5:30 A.M devotion in my house or you kissed goodbye to the chance of getting out of the breakfast my sisters cooked. I did not blame Papa for his highhandedness; I blamed the fact that education did not get to our community for several years and the most advanced of us all were those who proceeded to Standard 7 in Kantara town, six kilometers from our village.
I blamed my poor self who could not stop himself from staring at Pastor Akko in a weird way especially on Sundays when he handled the communion. I blamed Pastor Akko who loved to invite me over to his small office for counseling on some Fridays and made me do things I do not want to remember or write about. I blame Mama who died during her fifteenth childbirth.
I remembered the day our postmaster delivered my congratulatory letters to Papa. I remembered I came back from the farm that evening to meet Papa smiling like one who won the biggest jackpot, and he patted my back for bringing great honour to the family. I was the first to be accepted into an advanced school, one for those who did well in their Form Six School Leaving Examination and wanted to proceed to Standard Seven. I still think that day was the happiest I had seen Papa, or perhaps it was the day his first daughter had a white wedding in church and Papa danced like one under the influence of Lamuru.
I did not go to the farm for over three weeks before school’s resumption, all thanks to Papa. He paid my tuition and instructed Anupampa the London tailor to sew new clothes for me. Papa instructed my sisters to start preparing entirely different kinds of meals for me to fatten me up so that I would no’t get to school and be the thinnest kid amongst my peers. Papa hated it when we ranked low during comparison or when our neighbours had something bad to say about us.
Papa arranged a small feast on the eve of my journey to the new school. He invited friends to brag, and each of them came with bags of advice and no money. They all talked, drank and patted my back almost every now and then till I got tired. Many of them had nice things to say to Papa about me, and I saw him grin from ear to ear like a pleased rabbit. It was after series of discussions that I went to sleep in preparation for my journey.
Everything about my new school looked strange to me. This school accepted only male students. Our blue shirts were never to be tucked out of the black trousers. We were allowed to keep our hair but could never wear white socks. We did not have to wake at five but six-thirty, and we slept very early at eight P.M, unlike the usual past eleven I was used to at home. They said our Head Master hated the whites, and so he didn’t want us to copy them at all, hence his reason we had to wear black socks instead of white. We let our hair grow into big Afros instead of cutting it, and we all had to speak both the English and Igbo language.
In this school, each dormitory of five rooms had fifty students, a small kitchen and a line of toilets and bathrooms at the back. In each room, there were at least two senior students whose duty included helping us ease into our new surroundings, ensuring we stayed disciplined. Everything here was new and strange, including the boys.
I heard the word ‘queer’ for the first time during one of our Saturday recesses. We were in our room one evening when the boys started discussing about other students and those who liked boys amongst the students. Although everyone spoke against the notion, no one really did deny that they never once thought about it. I stayed in an upper bunk, so it was easy to hear all and still not join their conversation. I closed my eyes hoping that would close my mind and transport me away from the school and all they were saying.
Four boys were sent to the Head Master’s office some weeks after we resumed for the session. I heard they were touching themselves at night and someone reported to the House Master. They were not from my dormitory, and so I did not know them. I could not define how I felt that moment. Was it pity, grief? But I was sure it was not happiness. For days, we did not see them in their dorm but only on the school farm weeding and hoeing. Some weeks later when the Head Master addressed us, we were told they had been sent back home to their parents, that they were broken boys and the school did not have the resources to mend them.
I did not know if I was supposed to be happy or sad, but I definitely was scared. I got scared that one day Papa may have to receive me ungracefully back home for the same crime. I got scared that one day Aduo my senior whom I had a weird feeling for would report me to the other seniors. Most importantly, I got scared that I would be rejected and be termed a broken boy like the ones the Head Master sent home.
I avoided everything that reminded me of senior Aduo or pastor Akko. I started going to the chapel frequently and be last to leave after the Sunday school mass. I believed God loved me so much that he made me his son, and so I became a servant in His house. I chose to clean pews and sweep the chapels. Serving God should serve as a way to cut off this part of me.
Senior Aduo walked up to where I sat reading the Bible one Sunday evening. We had finished mass more than three hours earlier, but since Sundays were not hectic days, I stayed back to read the Bible. He said he liked how I worked for God, and that he would love to be my friend. He admitted that he ‘saw’ how innocent, gawky yet reserved I stared at him during PE. I was shocked and pleased he noticed me, too.
Aduo said I should not be afraid to tell him anything because God created him with listening ears and the biggest heart. I guess senior Aduo truly saw the way I looked at him on the assembly ground or the way I stared during prep when he pulled off his shirt to join other boys in playing football. Maybe it was the days I intentionally delayed going to the bathroom until few seconds after him, how I usually had daydreams in the bathroom and spent longer time any day senior Aduo decided to sing in his cubicle.
My heart pounded heavily and almost flew out of my mouth. My tongue twisted and words failed me. I stood there like a child caught stealing meat from a pot of soup, twitching my hands and nodding my head to his words. I quickly lowered my gaze as our eyes interlocked, rather than focusing on senior Aduo’s words. I found love on his lips and I fixed my gaze on them. His lips were reddish and thin, the curved upwards at some point and a dimple at the corner of his face. I longed for the day I would kiss him and he would do same.
For the first time in my life I felt like a human, a soul deserving of love and all the attention in this world. When senior Aduo held my shoulders, it was as if electric jolts ran through my body. I loved it, but I also recoiled, afraid of what I’d termed this feeling. The words of our Headmaster kept ringing in my head. I never wanted to be seen as a broken boy. Senior Aduo saw this. He smiled. Aduo had misty hazel eyes and a thin nose whose ridge held his big-framed glasses to his face. His gap-tooth was very visible when he smiled. Aduo towered over six feet despite just being few years older than I was. He also managed a nicely groomed beard that was almost dripping with oil most times. I was insignificant compared to Aduo.
Later that day, he invited me to the school garden which was not so far from my dormitory. I went looking for Aduo after dinner and we walked together to the garden where we discussed life while watching the sun set far off behind the fences of our school. I guessed these were what people in love did.
Aduo said he liked me, that he had always watched out for me since the first day I walked into the school premises. I was surprised that someone thought about me and liked my existence. Before then I thought I was only a figment, a breathing thing no one cared about, an insignificant spec of the human population. That evening Aduo gave me a hug and told me I was never alone in this world. That day sealed my fate – for I learnt God never hated me.
My friendship with Aduo graduated into something bigger. Almost everyone in school believed there was a chemistry between us. Whether it was envy or pure jealousy, I never knew, but I was cautious enough not to tell anyone I was queer or the fact that I exchanged notes with Aduo almost every day.
Aduo did not like sex. He told me his first few times were not pleasant. It was his aunt who had forced herself on him while he was just a teen. Although he hated what she did, he did not tell anyone about it except me. Not even his father who was her elder brother knew. Seven years later, this aunt came to our school on a visiting day with lots of provisions which Aduo accepted. When I asked if he had forgiven her, he said, “Forgiveness is for God. I just don’t want to remember it again.”
Aduo graduated a year before me and he moved to stay in a town not far from my school. I used to visit during breaks rather than go home. From there, I got to know Aduo more. Just like me, Aduo wanted someone who would stay with him every time, cuddle, talk to, kiss and rant to.
The mails came in August. Aduo’s had been accepted into Wesley College in the United Kingdom for a four-year medical programme and if he did well could be offered a residency Neurosurgery position. I was preparing for my final examinations scheduled to hold in February which was in a few weeks’ time when I discovered the letters tucked away underneath some books in Aduo’s place when I visited that Friday. Why he refused to tell me about the letters was a mystery. I was two months to graduating standard school, yet Aduo did not tell me his applications got positive results and he would be leaving Nigeria few weeks before Christmas.
In the next two months, I buried my head in my books in preparation for my final examination. The first few weeks when Aduo called, I did not pick. When he came to visit me in school to get some of his credentials, I refused to see him, too. Aduo did not apologise that he was wrong and that hurt me more.
Papa fell ill and died two weeks after I arrived home. Papa hated the idea of having his remains frozen, and so we buried him immediately beside the grave of my late mother.
Aduo sent a letter eight weeks after Papa’s burial. I did not open the letter immediately the postman delivered it but rubbed my fingers on the signature part, the part Aduo signed his name and drew something that looked like a heart. For weeks, I refused to read the letter and hid it inside one of the Ben Okri’s novels in my room. When I got a job, I moved out of Papa’s house to the other house he built on mama’s land many years ago.
Last Friday, I finally gathered enough courage to open Aduo’s letter. I waited until nightfall before I opened the letter that still smelled of him.
I am so sorry to hear about the passing away of your father. I hate that I did not write sooner or was around to comfort you during those lonely days. I know you to be strong, so I want you to not dwell so much on it. Papa is resting well in heaven.
I am sorry for what I did, Akufuo. I did not trust you enough to tell you the truth. I was afraid you would see through me and hate me for who I am. I do hope you forgive me.
Akufuo, I met someone here who reminds me of you. She is just like you: her laughter and how she twitches her hands and squints her eyes when she does not want to smile at my jokes. Akufuo, she even walks like you, she hates washing, and she loves to give me surprise hugs just as you always do.
I do not want to call it love because every night I stay awake shooting stars into horizons with hope that you will one day be here beside me. I just want to let you know that I love you, and as long as water remains colourless, what we shared will remain as love undefined. You do not have to write back to me, but I miss your voice and the smell of your body when you wrap yourself around me.
The one whose heart you stole that day you wore white socks and untucked shirts to school,
I tore the letter into shreds immediately I read it. I could not imagine Aduo with a woman, the same Aduo who told me he felt nothing for women. I sniffed, cleaning the tears that were forming already. I glanced at Akan who under the blue bulb of my room slept like an innocent baby, his face posed into a smile. I kissed him and placed my head on his chest, murmuring prayers that I may drift into a quick sleep.
is a contemporary Nigerian creative, a Microbiologist, and a medical student. His works have featured and forthcoming in both local and foreign anthologies such as Kalahari Review, The Shallow Tales Review, Pawners Papers, ARKore Writes, SPIC Family, P.O.E.M., Country Tales, TheSpeakingHeart, TFI, The Scribe Post, amongst others. He has interests in the areas of Medicine, Literature, Sciences, and Leadership. He is a Parliamentarian, a finalist with Tobi Coker, former Editor-in-Chief of NAMS, OAU, and author of three books.
Ololade is a poetry reader for ARKore Writes’ blog, a contributor to the TVO Tribe, and a creative podcaster for The GhostPen Project. When he is not writing, Ololade is either in the laboratory culturing microbes or drowning in Indian/Pakistani playback songs. You can find Ololade creating violence on Facebook @Ololade Edun or dragging Buhari on twitter @OloladeWrites.
Cover image credit: Tosin Taiwo