Babes: An expensive dream…
In the days of his unfurling, Chibudo, anaemic as the world had made him, became one with the wind, floating cynically; a pollution to the human population; a desecration of holy things; a defilement; a profanation. The pollutants, including his father and brothers, stopped at nothing to putrefy him further. Their words did the bulk of the work, blasting like an unrelenting barrage. Homo. Nwoke na'me ka nwanyi. Woman-man. And at that time, to say, he had not even known if a man could meet with another in the way he knew men and women met.
To save himself from a control plan that was unnecessary, he flowed into the ocean because he believed her bed was too wide to notice his presence, her wholesomeness holy enough to purify him. Here, he became a mute, accustomed to his own silence, a world where those pollutants were only the houseflies that buzzed but never stung. A meaningless exhale. The only things that seemed to bring a sense of purpose to his life were the drawings and the paintings, and his dream of creating something like the Mona Lisa. An archetypal masterpiece. A dream of representing Leonardo da Vinci in the African light. Yet, that was another difficult part of his life. But if only he could die for it, then that was a thing.
He never believed in lucky stars until the gods who created them decided to place one in the dark hollow of his life. Which was a surprise. Because he had denounced God of any kind when they all failed to twitch his desires to the one they approved of, even after praying more nights than he had seen in his brief life and getting deluged in his own tears. Perhaps God did not think him or his request seriously.
This lucky star came in the form of a boy he knew from senior secondary school. Tayo. They were classmates, not as close as they would become that Tuesday when Oche bullied him in front of their classroom, saying, "bloody cock sucker"–a firm smack on the shoulder–“how about you come suck my cock? Oh… but you don’t have a pussy.” Then came the rise of similar voices, like corroded throats, laughing into Chibudo’s face.
The earth nearly made a ridge over Chibudo's stiff body until Tayo, the new transfer student from a bigger school on the Island, appeared like the angel of Chibudo's imagination and pulled him out. A Saving Grace.
Initially, Tayo tried to inform the class that what they were doing to Chibudo was inhumane, irritating; “uncalled for,” he said, but they had their ears buried in an icebox. Then, Tayo’s expression morphed into that of a tiger in that moment as he firmly held Oche by the collar, startling him into a urine leak. Oche was obviously not as powerful as he believed himself to be. Or perhaps he knew well not to flex muscles with a much muscular Tayo.
“Try this shit one more time, and you’d hear loud and clear from me,” Tayo said, his lips almost touching Oche’s, a new stillness installed.
“Thank you for standing up for me," Chibudo said, standing before Tayo with a bottle of Fanta and a pack of digestive biscuits. The PE bell had just been rung, and many students milled about the place, some on the basketball court, others in the soccer field, some playing, others cheering. He had gone to the canteen to buy some snacks for himself when he saw Tayo sitting alone, a stone's throw away from the canteen block, watching the boys in the football pitch. He decided then that Tayo deserved a bottle of Fanta and digestive biscuit for his altercation with Oche in the classroom for his own sake. This was something nobody had ever done for him, except his late mother who was quick to shout at anyone who mocked him for acting so girly, and this woman was long dead, before Chibudo could begin secondary school, before he was right in age to face the unkindness of the world.
"Have this, please" he said to Tayo, passing out the snacks to him.
Tayo gave it a thought before he took it.
"Just tell me this is not a way to pay me for what happened in the class, because that boy was being such a douchebag."
"No, no… not at all. Just thought, you know, since I have some extra cash, I should get you some, too."
He wished he could say the words out, that he’d been craving a friendship all his life, and he, Tayo, seemed a full yard of a friend, an embodiment of what he had been seeking all his life, even if they were strangers to each other. Though he might not be worthy of Tayo’s friendship, he thought he would be most grateful if Tayo could see him, if Tayo could understand him, be with him, be kind to him, be his friend.
"May I sit with you, please?" He asked.
"Sure," Tayo said. He wiped a portion of the bench with his palm.
"I am Chibudo Ewelike," Chibudo said shyly, bringing his hand for a shake.
"Tayo Abdulgaffer," Tayo said, picking Chibudo's hand.
"You're Muslim?" Chibudo said. Immediately, he felt it was inappropriate to ask people questions about their religious background, especially during a first meeting, so he added more politely, "You know, the surname. Abdulgaffer. Sorry if you find the question impolite."
Tayo chuckled. "Come on, guy, just feel free to ask anything, okay? I'm not sure exactly what I am in that regard. I'm not a very religious person. Sometimes I go to the mosque with my father, and other times I go to church with my mother. Actually, I go to church with my mother most of the time, since she is the more religious parent."
"It must not be easy bowing to two different Gods," Chibudo said.
"You're the one who sees them as different. I, like my father, believe that there is only one God, though religion has us approaching them differently."
As the conversation about religion ended rather abruptly, Chibudo felt a sense of emptiness, realising he had no other topic that would pique Tayo's interest. Judging by Tayo's quiet demeanour, Chibudo doubted he was one to speak at length either. He wished they could keep talking, if only to bask in the soothing timbre of Tayo's voice. But there was nothing left to discuss. So they sat together in a companionable silence, Chibudo content to watch the soccer players without any particular interest. Though the words exchanged were few, the warmth of Tayo's presence enveloped him, and that was all that mattered to Chibudo in that moment.
As time passed, the two boys forged a strong bond, discovering the intricacies of each other's homes and families. Their friendship grew to the point they seemed almost inseparable, like they shared the unwavering connection of Siamese twins. Chibudo's father was especially thankful to the gods of his fathers for finally blessing his son with a proper boy as a friend—as opposed to one who hides to try on his late mother's or sister's clothing. And he would stop at nothing at suggesting to Tayo, even pleading with him, to make his son the man he should be, not some ‘girlie’ he was trying to reinstate in the body of a boy.
The bond was so strong Tayo had to quit his bully friends when they found him stupid for mingling with the school's outcast. When they threatened to make him stop or suffer for it, he went into a fight with them and returned to his mother with a ripe avocado at the edge of his eyes.
“They fucking think you made yourself the way you are. I hate them!” Tayo snarled, his voice laced with anger and frustration. They were seated on a bench in the parking lot of Tayo’s empty compound. Chibudo had skipped school without his father's knowledge, just so he could be there for a friend who got in the way for him.
The weight of Tayo’s words hung in the air like a storm cloud, heavy and ominous. Chibudo hugged Tayo tightly so that his heavy sigh created a fog at the back of Tayo's neck. In that instant, he felt a different kind of connection to Tayo, a calling into something deeper. It was a moment of pure vulnerability, and he couldn't help but feel a newfound closeness to Tayo, a connection that transcended words. It was a bond forged in the face of adversity, an alienated intimacy that neither of them could have ever imagined. For the first time in his life, Chibudo felt seen and loved, truly loved, by someone willing to bear his cross alongside him.
Tayo was a revelation to Chibudo. There was everything to admire about him—his easy smile, the way his eyes crinkled when he laughed, the warmth of his touch. But this feeling, this love, was something foreign to Chibudo. He had always kept his fantasies with boys at a safe distance, only daring to admire the half-naked models on magazine covers or the sultry brown men he found online or in TV shows. But to feel this way about an actual boy he knew was terrifying and exhilarating all at once. He knew the dangers of even entertaining such thoughts, of being caught in the crosshairs of society's condemnation. Homosexuality was a sin, an unforgivable one at that. Many had suffered gruesome fates for their same-sex attraction—beaten to a pulp, burned alive. He had to be careful, but he couldn't help the way he felt about Tayo.
While his relationship with Tayo had started with no intention of romantic attachments, Chibudo found himself being helplessly drawn to Tayo in this way. All of his efforts to resist these feelings proved futile; it was like trying to hold back a tidal wave with a single hand. His heart had become a furnace, burning fiercely with desires. He struggled to understand how he could simply shut off these emotions, how he could deny what he felt so deeply. But how do you shut your heart completely from what it yearns for? From what makes you the you that you are?
So, he decided to shoot his shot and explore his romantic fantasies with Tayo one day. They were alone in Chibudo's room, practicing for their role in the upcoming school play when the air suddenly became cuffed, carrying Chibudo all the way in. Chibudo felt a surge of boldness he had never experienced before, and before he knew it, his lips were pressing against Tayo's in a tender kiss.
“I’m so sorry, Tayo. I am not like that, I promise. I shouldn't have done that. I don't know what came over me.” He pleaded just immediately.
After holding up so much air in his lungs silently, Tayo said, “It's no problem. You don't have to be sorry.”
But Chibudo was consumed with the knowledge that things could never return to the way they formerly were, and the weight of guilt burdened him heavily. Tayo didn't ask, typical of him, but he had a suspicion that it was for this reason that Chibudo started avoiding him. “Oh, yeah, my father has asked me to do something for him,” had become his regular excuse.
So, one day, when they went in a futile search for some small catfishes in the lagoon surrounded by a few kilometres of blade-grass—like they used to do—courtesy to Tayo’s suggestion, Tayo took sight of a flock of birds perching on the elevated part of land clothed with carpet grass and suggested that they go trap some for themselves.
“Aren’t those hawks?” Chibudo asked.
“And what if they are?” Tayo said sarcastically. Playfully, as well.
“Me, I can’t eat a hawk, biko kwa.”
“Well, you can’t resist me, can you?” They chuckled very briefly, even if Chibudo was still struggling to look Tayo in the eye.
Tayo was a calculated fowler, and one shot from behind the rocks took down a bird. It wasn’t a hawk. What Chibudo, in fact, had referred to as a hawk was a Pied Crow.
When they lifted the feeble bird from the grass, Tayo said, “Omo, I can’t believe you don’t know a hawk,” to which Chibudo chuckled and said, “What’s my business with birds, biko?”
Tayo reminded him that he had every business with birds, with nature, since he called himself an artist. Chibudo couldn’t argue any bit.
They decided to take a break from their hunt and rest on the plush carpet of grass. But this soon turned into a deep conversation as they lay on their backs, their eyes focused on the vast expanse of sky above. One topic led to another and they delved into discussions about their dreams, fears, and aspirations, all the while losing track of time. It felt like they hadn't had a heart-to-heart conversation like this in ages and they were determined to make the most of it, even if it meant returning home under the cover of darkness and having to be scolded/grounded by their fathers.
“I've missed talking to you, guy,” Tayo said.
"Me, too," Chibudo said.
As they lay on the grass, their faces buried in the sky, the setting sun casting a warm glow on their skin. Tayo longed to feel the connection between their fingers, and after a hesitant moment, they intertwined. He then turned onto his back, looking up at Chibudo with a tender gaze before pressing his lips against his in a soft and simple kiss. The initial contact was followed by two more, each growing in intensity. As they explored each other’s mouths, the taste of desire on their tongues, Chibudo was surprised to discover the sweetness of his own body, releasing a burst of pleasure that left him breathless.
Together, they explored the depths of their bodies, the wonders they could perform by touching, kissing, fingering and caressing. They revelled in the beauty of this connection, exploring every inch of each other's skin, learning what made them shiver with pleasure and what made them moan with desire. It was an exquisite dance, a symphony of passion that built and built until Chibudo couldn't hold back any longer. He wanted to take their intimacy to the next level, to feel Tayo completely, fully. Then he said he was ready to go all the way, the same eve Tayo would tell him those things, that he wasn't gay, and couldn't stay with him in the same way that married men and women did.
Even though those words hurt Chibudo pretty hard, they didn't stop what had started between the two boys. They grew into men and still kept not just the memory of those old times, but continually renewed that memory. Until Tayo dropped by one day only to say he was getting married, with a subdued voice, after some really nice sex.
“What?” Chibudo asked, withdrawing from Tayo's embrace on the bed. “I don't understand.”
“All you need to understand is that you still are the object of my unwavering adoration. I just need to do this for my parents,” Tayo said, guilt and plea laced around his throat. “You know I am their only son and they have high expectations of me.”
Chibudo was taking the time to process what Tayo had just told him. But with Tayo around, it was impossible to accomplish that. So, he asked him to get out.
"We can sort this out amicably," Tayo said, getting into his jeans.
"Just get the fuck out," Chibudo said. He was quick to shut the door once Tayo was outside his room.
The next month, he flew to Mombasa for a sponsored Artist workshop without reaching out to Tayo still. Perhaps that was all the redemption he needed from the stronghold of this thing called love.
Darling: See me falling…
Fast forward to the end of the beginning
for that is where this story comes alive
Chibudo, many years later, already fed up with the prospect of having nothing to show for his life someday, including Tayo, decided he had to propose his expensive dreams to Tayo. Around this time, Tayo was already married to Nafisat, and they had a daughter who still sucked her mama’s breast. Despite the fact that Chibudo and Tayo's squabbles were at their worst during Tayo's engagement to Nafisat, they were able to resolve them seven months after the couple's wedding, right after Chibudo's return from the workshop in Mombasa. The trip had been an excuse to not attend the wedding, a perfect one to quit Tayo. The idea that his Intimate One was getting knotted with someone else before his eyes made him sick. For his safety and theirs, it was best to leave.
But years later, he found that his mind had tricked him into believing he could quit his intimate one. Quittance and intimacy were two distinct words constantly in conflict, one preventing the rise of the other. Then he knew he had to balance the equation, and to do that was to entirely delete the prospect of quitting and make the chemistry of intimating prevail.
The earth sighed a dry breath, as if struggling to exhale, a blend of the arid Harmattan and the chilly Pacific winds. November had arrived with its nurturing embrace, and Chibudo revelled in the pampering of the season. Beside him stood Tayo, still dressed in office clothes, both watching the orange sun sink into the ocean.
What do you want us to talk about? Tayo said. He too, like Chibudo, had come home to the peace of the ocean, to the therapizing instinct of God's creation.
Let's stroll down further, Chibudo said, turning to find himself standing in Tayo's eyes with Bethlehem's stars in his hand. It almost made him smile, this reverie.
Tayo walked down with him, saying things about not wanting to keep Nafisat bothered because he had failed to call to say he would be returning late. It irritated Chibudo, how frequently Tayo brought Nafisat into their own moment, but as was typical of him, he chose to throw the feeling into the sinkhole behind his mind.
It tells several stories—the tides, Chibudo said now that they stood on the dusty deck of an old abandoned yacht at the far end of the land. On the yacht was the inscription “Noah’s Ark” in old white painting.
Shebi you don start dis ya parables again, abi? I've told you times without number that I am not the grammarian or poet you are. Tayo said, and they laughed.
Be calming down, my love, Chibudo said, recovering from the laughter. I promise I won't go that way.
Better don't, Tayo said. Oya na teh me. Nafisat will be sick worried if I stay too long.
Chibudo apologized once more, asked him to be a little patient with him, and when he agreed to be, he started by telling him what he knew of the surge. An entity that never desires to escape its imagined fullness; the fullness that isn't locked in itself—that fullness that is beauty. Trapped in the ridiculed bewilderment of freedom. Perhaps it was so because it hadn't realized that it was enclosed in one space, away from the many beautiful things that life had to offer. A weary concession to glee.
Tayo was bewitched by the discombobulation that came with Chibudo's words, but he would try his best to repel this bewitchment, only to make Chibudo feel understood.
Chibudo continued by saying: When it tries to, it wrecks essence.
The sound of his voice, soft, wobbly, lush with brokenness, returned the pity Tayo often felt for him. He did not like it when Chibudo was trying to be poetic or whatever it was he said he was trying to be. It only pitched the idea that Chibudo was a sad, lonely, quiet man, a victim of circumstances beyond his control, trying hard to live in denial of the misfortune that often wrapped him like a present to the world's people. For Chibudo, however, it was a way to continually ostracize himself from the Real World, where he was the only entity contained in the universe. His cherished silence.
I brought you here in the first place because the sea and its tides are a representation of who we are. The Mirror. A reflection of what our hearts equally yearn for, but that this part of the world will never let us have.
Uhm… Tayo mumbled, unsure what he was going to say.
We cannot remain contained in this little space when we have the whole world, empty, waiting for us.
Chibudo turned to hold Tayo’s hand in his. I love you, Tayo, and I know that the feeling is mutual.
Sure, Tayo said.
We have always loved each other. Chibudo looked like a child begging for something he knew he could never get.
Tayo was running out of patience already. He wasn't the kind of person who could tolerate running through circles to get a thing when he could just stretch his hands to pick it. But for Chibudo, he could try to tolerate.
So? He asked.
So let’s express it, Chibudo said.
What do you mean?
We can run away to Chicago, New York, Texas, Australia, just to any place where it is not a sin for us to be who we are. Anywhere far away from this fucking homophobic continent. I have friends in these countries that are willing to help us stand there. I've been talking to them about it.
Tayo was beginning to get afraid, not for Chibudo this time, but for himself. The beat of his heart was rapidly intensifying. He wondered briefly if Chibudo was deaf to the loud pounding of his heart. He wondered what must've gotten over Chibudo. Since they became friends as teenagers, then started meeting intimately, he thought it was clear to Chibudo that they couldn't be together, ever, married the way men and women did. He thought so because he'd made it clear to Chibudo the eighth time they made out in the fields, the first time Chibudo asked to be penetrated, that he wasn't gay, and had a plan of making a family with a woman and four children in the future, even if he loved the smell of Chibudo's body and would always appreciate the honour of burying his body in his, if the opportunity presented itself. They both lay spent on the carpet of grass up the lonesome mountain (a place they would later name The Sweetheart Gardens) when Tayo said that. While Chibudo's heart hadn't accepted that condition, his mouth and gestures agreed to it because he was scared of losing the only person his silence could contain. He had a strong crush on him, and he wasn't going to let whatever would or wouldn't happen in the future thwart that.
What do you say? Chibudo said, bringing Tayo back to the present.
Urgh, Chi-Chibudo, uhm… Tayo muttered. Are you seriously telling me this?
Of course. He couldn't take his eyes off Tayo's fidgeting eyes.
I am happily married to Nafisat, and we have a child together. I thought I made this clear to you from the beginning.
That was fifteen years ago. Come on, babe.
This is impossible.
It isn't. We can make it work.
Tayo snapped his hands from Chibudo’s as if he was just realising the irritation that Chibudo was. A faecal matter. It hurt Chibudo, the thought, but he wouldn't pay attention to the feeling. At least not now.
And I'm supposed to leave everything behind and follow you to some fairy land where gay hugs and kisses litter the streets? Come on, man, be more practical. This is very laughable.
How could you say that? Chibudo sounded hurt, and Tayo was aware of this, so he mellowed to explain himself.
Look Budo, I have a wife, a daughter, parents and siblings to look out for. It is easier for you because you don't have any of these things or people.
Do you think it is easier to pretend you are something you aren't for the whole of your life just because you're too scared to live out your true life?
You are taking this too far, Budo.
I am not.
I fucking have a life to live here. Jesus Christ! I can't follow you.
We can start afresh.
Start what afresh?!
Our lives. We have not truly been living our lives. I can give you all the money I have been saving up since my university days and from the auction of my works. It’s a lot of money. I am very sure we could have a more promising future outside of this place. Together.
Tayo tried to make Chibudo see the impossibility in what he was asking for, how so barely the thought of it held any water. He repeatedly begged him, in his way, to lighten up on him, to be reasonable; a wife and a daughter were not faeces to be abandoned, but Chibudo would not concede to his plea. Then Tayo burst out:
You have completely lost it, Chibudo.
Don't you dare fucking call me that ever again. Shit! I should’ve known everything with you would result in this. You want me to give up everything for you, because who the fuck are you?! Nonsense!
Don't do me like that, T. Chibudo said.
But Tayo did not hear that. He walked away, leaving Chibudo standing there on the deck to die in his gruesome fantasies.
A Charade of Many Unorganized (Pretty?) Things…
Chibudo was in the grip of an obsession he was powerless to resist. In his room were photos of the both of them, of the beautiful times they used to share, littered about the place like baubles on a Christmas tree. He was a detective of his imagination, staring at the photos, reassuring himself that Tayo was his and he would do anything within his power to seize him.
He'd tried calling Tayo like forever, and yet none came answered. His ears had gotten used to the electronic voice of a woman on the other side saying: “The number you’re trying to call is not available at the moment, please try again later, thank you.” Each time either of those calls went unanswered, he had a notebook in which he wrote. Counting the failed attempts made him feel crazy, but perhaps that was all he wanted to be.
When he reached 246, he scrolled through the 16 messages he'd dropped at different intervals, none were answered, the smell of fury choked him to near death, and to attempt to escape the choking smell, he smashed his Samsung Ultra against the wall, where a photo of himself and Tayo on the rug of his parlour eating ice cream hung.
Breathing became very difficult, and stopping to breathe was even harder, so he screamed.
Like a madman in a psychiatric ward.
This was insanity in all its shade, turning him into a Charade of Many Unorganized (Pretty?) Things. A litany of madness.
He hadn’t left his room since he got into it two nights ago, after the beach incident. For those two days, he hadn’t taken a bath or had any proper meal. He lived on vodkas, whiskeys, cigarettes, or a few pieces of biscuit from the fridge.
The room carried the same presence that was now associated with him: A Charade of Many Unorganized (Pretty?) Things—items flung about here and there, carelessly. More to it was his heart; rumbling and dying in something that was love in obsession.
There was no way to put into words how Chibudo felt with the silence that now lingered between him and Tayo, except that he felt like shit. Through the mirror, his finely shaped face looked like a Charade of Many Unorganized (Pretty?) Things. His perfectly shaped chest looked like the breast of an aged woman. His curvy butt resembled the overweight of an obese man. His armpit had become the devil’s ashtray. There was no perfection in his body. There was no fucking way he was the image of God. This ugly thing that he was, he thought, must be the handiwork of the Devil, for from God came only beauty and perfection. That was the distinction between good and evil. Between God and the Devil.
He punched the mirror with his fist. The mirror shattered. Blood splattered on the dressing table.
Staring at his naked frame in the broken mirror, all his mind and eyes could see was a young man useless to himself, useless to the world; perhaps only useful to men who wanted to completely render him useless.
Not to say he’d been whoring around with many different men, for whatever bond that held him to Tayo was so strong he couldn’t possibly break it. Though he'd forced himself to—around the time when Tayo told him that he was going to get married to Nafisat, only to put down the pressure from his parents to settle down and give them grandchildren—and the only man he met for about two months did not taste as sweet as Tayo. He did not wear the grace of Tayo, and though he was another kind man, Chibudo learned that he couldn't be compatible with anyone other than Tayo. And despite thinking he'd been alone all his life, even with all those people around him, he was afraid of dying lonely.
When he returned from the workshop in Mombasa seven months after Tayo’s marriage to Nafisat, he called Tayo to say he’d forgiven him and that they could get back to being friends. Just friends, he’d emphasised. Tayo was overjoyed to reconnect with his sweetheart from the time when neither of them knew what the future held. So they hooked up and somehow continued from where they'd left, even with Tayo's new marital engagements.
The fire had been set. So they kept it burning. Unquenched. Yet tactically blanketing the smoke so that no one knew a fire was burning.
Some nights, they met at Chibudo's house or the beach house reservation Chibudo would later discover. And all of Tayo's excuses for skipping those nights at home with Nafisat were work-related. Nafisat respected his work, so she never tried to interfere more than he would've wanted. A person of few words, she was lovely, however. It was it, her cool persona, as white as her face, that made Tayo consider getting married to her in the first place.
All their lives seemed almost perfect this way until Chibudo thought he could ask for more. The more that Tayo couldn’t give. The more that would saturate Tayo with guilt—both towards his wife and Chibudo.
Sweethearts: Dream only as little as you can't…
When the doorbell rang, Chibudo knew that his deal had arrived. He helped himself through the tiny corridors to the front door of his apartment. He knew he was a mess and didn’t want Effiong, the dealer he knew from the time when his heart was first broken—when Tayo got engaged to be married to Nafisat—to see him in that state. Not like he even really cared. He opened the door about 25 degrees so that only his face popped through the opening.
Effiong had a mean face, the visage of a young man who could murder someone and stage the crime to resemble a suicide scene. His hands were locked in the pockets of his jacket. He said nothing to Chibudo. Chibudo said nothing to him. Not even a salutation. They did not need to say anything.
Chibudo handed over some naira notes to Effiong, who, after confirming the amount, snuck the substance into Chibudo’s hands.
Chibudo shut the door and hurried to the table in the centre of his sitting room with the substance, Meth, in hand. He reached for the small box sitting on the floor beside the table, took out a syringe from it, drew the substance into the syringe, and injected all of it into his arm. Moments later, he would see himself revolving in the centre of the universe, his eyes uprooted from their sockets, wandering into the farthest wilderness, where several peers of himself stood like the ghost of Halloween, conceding to the pull of the arid wind.
Fuck you, T, in this mutherfucking fucked universe! He laughed hysterically, and slumped.
He did not wake up until the next day arrived in a fuggy Harmattan haze. The morning was still young, a new day to be useful to himself, but there were many things in his head telling him how useless he already was, how unhelpful it would be if he tried to play useful. So he yielded to those many voices.
Helping himself up from the rug, he found himself reaching for the white wine in the cellar. He drank the wine straight from the long transparent bottle. He picked the remote of his sound system, touched some buttons, and soon, Helium in the voice of Sia saturated the atmosphere in a depressing aura. The volume was too loud, and even if the walls of his apartment weren't soundproofed, he wouldn’t have cared about disturbing the neighbours.
He swayed to the song frenetically, cursing the day he ever met Tayo. Then an engrossing laughter. Like the bark of a dog. Like the croaks of night toads. Then he cursed all of the days he let himself be used by Tayo; the moments he opened himself entirely to an impossibility that kicked him with Tayo. Then a sympathetic loud wail. Like the grunts of a crocodile. Like the chirp of a cricket.
But he couldn’t hate Tayo that much. He couldn’t. Fucking fuck, he couldn’t. He began to yearn for him just two hours later. He thought of praying to God to bring Tayo back to his doorstep before the day ran out, but remembering that God had never answered his prayers from the time he yelled and yelled for God to make him desire the same things the other boys desired, he knew there was no point in praying. After all, the whole time he’d been praying to God, it was only the devil that came answering, never God. For God wouldn’t let him download and watch a series of gay porn and wank to them just a few minutes after he’d said an “Amen” to a sincere prayer about being free from the curse that homosexual desires were.
Minutes later, he slammed the door of his apartment, still dressed in the same robe and looking even more dishevelled than he had in the days prior. He took the white car from the parking lot downstairs and fired up to the heart of the town, where Tayo’s office sat behind the Atlantic Ocean, amongst many other such long office complexes reaching for the skies.
Tayo did not want to see him when he came, but there was no way he could avoid him. No fucking way. When he finally decided to give him the attention he’d been pushing for—since the twelve minutes he’d been in the office, asking everyone he saw to help him call Tayo, even ready to fight with the security persons who came to shuu him off—he had nothing to say but the same crap about them fleeing the continent and getting married somewhere on the beach of Miami or Paris.
Get out of my office, Tayo said, frowning.
Chibudo quietly stood like he was being controlled by a remote and walked away.
He was supposed to walk out to gather his bags to meet with Tayo at the airport, but he knew perfectly well that he was only walking out to continue carrying heavy sacks of depression, anger and acrimony upon his shoulder. This dream was probably too expensive, too delicate.
As soon as he was back in his apartment, he jumped into his mini studio behind the visitor’s room and picked a fresh canvas, a brush, and his pallet with the energy of an angry bird. It was as if finally going out after three days had filled him with much inspiration to create something with an exact immediacy.
He painted for the rest of the day, and did not stand from his stool until it was a few minutes to midnight, when he had finished the painting. He roared in laughter, looking at the painting he had just created. It was only a painting of irregular dark colours. But it filled him with a sense of purpose. He laughed loudly again. He loved this very painting.
Then it dawned on him that he could be hungry. He helped himself heat the soup in his freezer, and that was his dinner. The only proper food he’d had in a long while.
Stalking became a new habit; followed Tayo everywhere, online and offline, even down to his home. Once, he stood outside of Tayo’s room window, and all he could imagine was Tayo fucking Nafisat, sucking her nipples, grinding into her, giving her the life that was his. His heart simmered with such unimaginable bitterness, and had something not pulled him back, he would’ve ran into the room in whichever way possible to drag Nafisat out and throw her into the burning furnace of Nebuchadnezzar. He didn’t mind wherever that fire was. He would find it. Particularly for Nafisat. For coming in between.
He had given his entire life for this love, now what was his reward? All he knew about her was how lovely and easy-going she seemed, even if he pretended not to see that. Whenever he dropped by at the house, she always welcomed him with a fine smile and warm hug, and let him have one of her finest recipes. The smiles and hugs and the meals were real, but still he detested her, and of course, he had to wear a fine mask always, he had to be the very supportive best friend of her husband. The same man that was supposed to be his One and Only.
On one of those stalking nights, he finally decided to go in. It was 10:00 pm. He’d been on the opposite side of the road, inside his car, observing everything that was happening from 9:15 pm. He was wearing black gloves, and he had a hood over his head.
He was a vigilant, gallant watchman until he noticed Tayo’s car pull into his ungated compound. He waited a while for Tayo to dampen the engine of his car and go in before he came down from his car.
He opened the front door with a master key he'd had a locksmith at Makoko design for him. Inside, he found Tayo drinking from a glass of water in the dining room. Tayo shook when his eyes met Chibudo standing there, dressed in black nylon clothes, looking at him with a knife that resembled a pen. He whispered:
What are you doing here? How did you get in?
I came to see you one last time, Chibudo said.
In my fucking house? While Nafisat is around? Tayo said in whispers.
He pulled Chibudo to the kitchen beside the dining, where the lights were turned off and nobody could see.
My life is dead, Chibudo couldn’t help the tears. You killed my life, Tayo.
How? Tayo said, pity and guilt dissipating off his face. It made him sweat.
You’re so far out of your depth. You have no idea what you have done to me. You have burned my fucking world down, Tayo.
I have done no such thing, Budo, and you know it. Your demands just got out of control.
My demands? What do you think I am? Someone you should be fucking with just anytime you want it? I have feelings, Tayo, and I feel deeply for you. He paused, searching for something in Tayo's eyes.
Come to think of it, you never really loved me, Tee. You were just interested in the sex and all. You never really see me. Chibudo said, his voice cool and soothed, his eyes unflinching.
You know that is not true, Tayo said. I see you, and you know it.
Then prove it to me.
What are you saying?
You can't be with me, why? Because I am a man? Because you fear? I only hate that I cannot fucking quit you. You have infested my whole life.
I love you, Budo. So much, Tayo said. He wished to hold Chibudo trapped from this madness, to clean his tears and reassure him that they would still be alright like in times before.
Then how could you have not cared about me rotting in my room for two weeks now?
I care about you a lot, Chibudo. I couldn’t help not thinking about you every single night since the time at the beach. But you cannot expect me to concede to what you said because you said it. I am a responsible son, father, husband, and staff. I can’t burn my world down for you.
But I could do just that for you.
I did not ask you for it, Tayo said.
Chibudo’s eyes were all over Tayo. He couldn’t help the love that had grown into a deep-rooted tree in his heart for Tayo. This may be our only chance, Tayo. Let’s run away.
I am not running with you, okay? Get that in your fucking brain.
I love you, Tayo.
It was as if something was eating Chibudo from the inside, as if his skin was pulling out of the rest of his body, and he couldn’t help it. He tried to pick Tayo’s face in his hand for a kiss, but Tayo pushed him away.
What we have together is transcendental, something stronger than we can imagine.
What we had together was nothing but lust, Tayo corrected. We were only two teenagers who wanted to try.
It broke Chibudo’s heart more, to think at some point Tayo had been in love with him, only to discover there’d never been a space for him in Tayo’s heart. All of those days in The Sweetheart’s Garden were only a sham.
Tayo noticed Nafisat standing a few distance from both of them, watching. How long had she been listening to his conversation with this crazy psychopath? Chibudo felt happy seeing Nafisat there. At least the drama, for however long she’d watched for, should inform her that Tayo had always been his before she stole him.
Baby, Tayo said, trying to accost Nafisat, who was ascending the flight of stairs quickly, afraid of what she'd just found out about her husband and his supposed ‘best friend’. Chibudo pulled him back. Let her be; she’s not right for you. I am.
You are a fucking sick psycho! Tayo said, so much anger and rage burning up in him. He would’ve punched Chibudo if not that they go way back, and he'd grown to hate violence more than any other thing.
The curse got to Chibudo. He stood for a while, dumbfounded, as Tayo chased after Nafisat upstairs, alone, more broken than ever before. Insulted. Shitty.
He closed his eyes and forced himself to breathe.
Driving through the suburbs into the Third Mainland Bridge, and outskirt of the city, Chibudo could not think. He couldn't cry. He was numb. It did not even occur to him that he was driving past speed limits. To say, that would've been the least of his worries.
It was a long directionless drive; not back to his house, not to anywhere he knew, and he wasn’t prepared to take a halt. But he soon saw a mountain top shaped like the oral cavity of a beast under the luminous shade of the moon, and he finally pressed the brake a distance away. The view fascinated him. The sand felt warm under the slim soles of his flip-flop as he walked towards the mountain.
The world had done things to Chibudo since his birth; before he left his father’s house for the university—for good—at eighteen, nearly twelve years ago; before he found success and recognition in his art; before the winds completely displaced him. He wished he could help himself from these things, but didn’t they say life was the master planner and all you had to do was follow in its lead? Sadly, nobody could save him, either. Not even his Saving Grace, Tayo, who had also now forsaken him.
On top of the mountain, with his head covered in the full moon, he stretched his arms wide open, and for the briefest moment, he felt free. But the cost of freedom is everything, and he desired earnestly to be free. He was tired of life; tired of being useless; tired of everything. So why not give up everything for freedom?