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Chinelo Okparanta. Photo credit: Bucknell University.

“I was 16 years old, nearly 17, when a boy first expressed interest in me. Or, maybe it was that I was 16, nearly 17, when I first took notice of a boy’s interest in me.” This is how Chinelo Okparanta’s recollection of her first teenage crush begins. In a piece for Freeman’s magazine, republished in Literary Hub, she details growing up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, where she meets the boy, a fellow Jehovah’s Witness who “looked like a mixture of Keanu Reeves and Brad Pitt.”

The relationship fades away after she recoils from his kiss and embrace and he goes on to have a new life. It is a brief peek into a world of romance enmeshed in family and religion.

______________________________________________________

Anyway, Paul called me and asked me what I wanted to do, I told him I didn’t know. He asked me about marriage. Did I see myself having children? I told him, of course! Surely one day in the future.

He asked me what names I would name my child.

“Nigel, if it’s a boy!” my brother offered, jokingly, from where he sat in the living room.

“Yes,” Paul said. “Nigel! I like the sound of that!” If I had a boy, would I name it Nigel?

Maybe, I replied. I knew that I wouldn’t. It sounded too stuffy and entitled and British, and in what world would I ever find myself giving birth to a stuffy, entitled British child?

He pulled me to him and wrapped an arm around me, placed a kiss on my cheek, and then another one very barely on my lips. I stiffened. Maybe because my brother was there in the room with us, or maybe because my mother was in the kitchen, just one room over. Maybe, even, I was too mindful of the teachings of the elders at the Kingdom Hall, who often warned the young people against behaviors like this. Or maybe it was simply that I was not ready to go on the journey that Paul’s questions were implying that he would have liked us to go. Whatever the case, I was somehow frightened by his attention, and I recoiled from his embrace.

That was the end of things. After that, I stopped hearing from Paul. For a couple of months, he’d been calling me, at least every other evening, no less than twice a week. After this incident, his phone calls ceased. Whether I had been wanting to make babies with him or not, I had grown accustomed to his friendship and genuinely enjoyed our phone conversations. The complexity of desire. What did we even talk about? Overbearing parents, for sure, but otherwise, I can no longer remember. When two full weeks had gone by, I decided to call him. His mother picked up the phone.

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Read the full piece on Literary Hub.

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About Otosirieze Obi-Young

View all posts by Otosirieze Obi-Young
Otosirieze Obi-Young is a writer, journalist, & Deputy Editor of Brittle Paper. The recipient of the inaugural The Future Awards Prize for Literature in 2019, he is a judge for The Gerald Kraak Prize and was a judge for The Morland Writing Scholarship in 2019. He is Nonfiction Editor at 14, Nigeria’s first queer art collective, which has published volumes including We Are Flowers (2017) and The Inward Gaze (2018). He is Curator at The Art Naija Series, a sequence of e-anthologies of writing and visual art focusing on different aspects of Nigerianness, including Enter Naija: The Book of Places (2016), which explores cities, and Work Naija: The Book of Vocations (2017), which explores professions. His work in queer equality advocacy in literature has been profiled in Literary Hub. His fiction has appeared in The Threepenny Review and Transition. He has completed a collection of short stories, You Sing of a Longing, is working on a novel, and is represented by David Godwin Associates literary agency. He has an M.A. in African Studies and a combined honours B.A. in History & International Studies/English & Literary Studies, both from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He taught English in a private Nigerian university. Find him at otosirieze.com, where he accepts writing and editing offers, or on Instagram or Twitter: @otosirieze. When bored, he Googles Rihanna.

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