Sometimes love doesn’t just happen. There’s always a force, a presence, to lead you on, show you the path, drag you along even when your whole being says otherwise. Slow, but steady, it keeps pushing till you succumb to its will, till it consumes you whole, and leaves you shattered.
It was one of those languorous mornings. The sky had chosen that day to cry a river. The electricity supply, like always, was cut short. The date is May sixteenth. The flower-patterned teacup, tinted gold, was on the floor, stained by the hot chocolate you had for breakfast still visible. Breadcrumbs scattered all over the floor directly opposite you accompanied the party of things you left lying on the floor; helplessly begging for urgent attention.
You had been on your phone since your friend, the one you came to visit, left for school. The boredom and dreariness you thought hovered over Yenagoa drove you nuts. You decided to escape and hide out in Port Harcourt. It was your third day here, yet it still felt like everything remained the same. The time is sixteen minutes past noon. That was the first time a Tinder message from him graced your phone. You were still in bed, shuffling from one social media to another. You were in search of laughter, friendship, wholeness, and sometimes things you didn’t even know you’re looking for. You braced yourself for the moment; immediately running a background check. His bio, his available photos, and his name read Tega. The pictures you saw presented a bearded young man, with the tag ‘twenty-nine’.
“Good day, Tega. How are you doing?” was your reply to his “Hello”
He told you he was doing fine in that singsong manner people do when asked how they are, even when it’s quite obvious everything wasn’t fine. But just like Rudy Francisco said, “When people ask me how I’m doing […] I’d rather not ruin someone’s day with my tragic honesty so, instead, I treat my face like a pumpkin. I pretend that it’s Halloween. I carve it into something acceptable. I laugh and I say, “I’m doing alright.”
“How’s Yenagoa?” he asked
“Yenegoa should be fine,” you replied. “I’m currently in Port Harcourt.”
He asked you how long you have been in Port Harcourt, how long you’d be staying, and where you were at that moment. And you imagine him sitting on a swivelling chair, smiling at his phone, his smile stretched into a big grin. You also imagined voices in his head, jubilant ones, telling him how good it was that this fish, this mighty fish, is just within arm’s length, and how little to no bait is needed to hook it.
“I’m staying in Rukpokwu,” he announces like one eager to throw a flamboyant party just for the both of you. “I went to my office at GRA to pick something for work.”
You’re still in bed, smiling sheepishly at your phone. The breakfast things are still on the floor. A long trail of ants are gathering the breadcrumbs, and you stop for a minute to watch the ants, so dutiful, leading each other on. On any other day, you would have disrupted the procession, but today you didn’t.
“So, you came to spend some time with your boyfriend?” he asked.
“Sorry to disappoint, but I’m seriously enjoying my singlehood,” was your reply.
It’s hard to believe, he said to you, and you replied with a laughing emoji, asking why.
The standing fan jerked to life. You knew that soon breadcrumbs would be all over the room. You rushed for the broom. Somehow a beautiful kind of strength overcomes you and makes you wash the dishes. The neighbor next door is playing a song by Bruno Mars, and your mouth is moving, and your head is processing a different thing. “I look too good to be alone, my house clean, my pool warm… we should be dancing and romancing”.
The curtains had been up since morning. So, you pulled them down, plunging the room into darkness. The electric kettle was hissing. Even though you didn’t always take your bath with hot water, somehow you have in recent times forced yourself to since having discovered how it helps heal your face. Another song is echoing from the neighbor’s room. You recognized that voice, it’s Sam Smith. The water was scalding, but you’re enjoying the feeling. Somehow you wanted it to peel off this old skin you carried and give you a perfect one, but a part of you is telling you that perfection is an illusion, that no matter how hard we try to conform, there’s always going to be one thing that’d give us away. Sam is singing “you won’t find me in church, reading the Bible. I’m still here and I’m still your disciple, down on my kneels, begging you please, I’m broken, alone and afraid. I’m not a saint, I’m more of a sinner”. The song made you remember those days you’d punish yourself, those days you’d spend sleepless nights, begging God to change you. You were always on bended knees, because your pastor always looked your way whenever he talked about sinners who sin against their flesh in ungodly ways. You didn’t tell him anything, but somehow you felt your pastor knew. The simple truth was that he didn’t, it was just your mind playing games with you, painting you black. A different kind of peace started flowing in your veins and arteries and was following you around after you stopped going to church.
“There’s no way a beautiful guy like you would be single,” Tega replied. “What’s your height?” You didn’t even allow yourself the opportunity to clean up your body and dress before responding. He was gradually leading you on, but somehow, you didn’t know it. You thought it’d be one of those one-day chats, before the energy would die off and you both forget you ever talked. “I’m 5’10 and I weigh 65kg,” you replied.
How fast time flies. The afternoon is far spent, and the sun is gradually taking its bow toward the east. “I’m close to Choba,” Tega texted. “Currently at NTA road. Are you available for a quick meeting?” You knew you weren’t ready to leave the house. You weren’t ready to meet with this person you just exchanged pleasantries with. Since that haunting incident that happened to you earlier in the year, you have been so cautious about meeting strangers from hook-up sites. But because you didn’t want to make him feel bad by giving an outright rejection, you asked, “when will you leave?”
“By some minutes past six pm,” he replied. You read his message and smiled a satisfying kind of smile, but you didn’t reply.
Consistency is one of the grounds on which love breeds so well, sometimes. If there was anything Tega was, it was consistent, and you liked this about him. You have not started thinking of him the way you would in weeks to come. Somehow you sealed your heart from emotional invasion. You kept your head high above water; strong and sturdy. It’s May the nineteenth and a message from him is asking you how Port Harcourt is treating you. You had just returned from Market Square at Choba junction. You went to get bread and some fruits with your friend. “Only God knows who is making you smile like a goat,” your friend is saying. You laughed and asked if he was jealousy. He’s saying something else, but you didn’t listen. You were imagining if you have ever seen a goat smile. Was it a compliment or an insult? You didn’t want to think much about that, after all, you have used more inhumane things to compare your friend’s state of mind.
Tega is on it again. “Come to the office in GRA, will you?”
“Hmmmm,” was the first thing you typed and sent. You knew you weren’t ready. You knew you weren’t fully guarded for this invasion. But you’d rather not tell him. Lead him on into believing you would visit his office you did. “How do I locate there from Choba?”
He asked for your number but sent his. You read his message but didn’t reply. You felt in charge of this ship. You liked the way you were busy navigating it even though it was obviously too big for you. You didn’t know you were having a field day because the tides were still merciful. You were, like some people would say, playing hard to get and it was a beautiful feeling for you.
The days joining the nineteenth of May and the first of June were silent ones for you and Tega. Days when thoughts of him never crossed your mind, not even for a microsecond. Days when you read James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and you were disgusted at the level of internalized homophobia you thought consumed David whole. You wished you had the power to save Giovanni, to make him whole again, to show him the kind of love he deserved; but the kind of love he found himself in swallowed him and left him battered. His mate led him on till he was lost never to be found again.
It’s the beginning of pride month. It was a conscious decision to wish every queer person on your list. That was when you sent the message. “May June be extremely colorful for you. Happy Pride Month,” and you accompanied it with the rainbow flag.
“It’s your pride month o,” Tega replied within minutes, with loads of laughing emojis. “Send me a message on WhatsApp. Haven’t I passed the test?”
The laughter that got hold of you vibrated your entire body. It went through your mouth, down to your oesophagus, churned the habitats of your stomach in a celebratory kind of way. It left you satisfied. It was a good sign for you, this moment. “Yes, sir!” was your reply, and you knew you were done ignoring him. You were on his bio again. “I’m the best kisser you will ever know,” the bio read. You sent it to him and told him you have outshone him a long time ago. He sent a laughing emoji and said “never!”, your last communication on Tinder.
There’s a thing about love. Most times you don’t know when or how it happens; you just see yourself longing to be with someone, sometimes forever. Although it took a while before Cupid invaded your heart, you never saw yourself falling sheepishly at the mercy of his bow and arrow. You once read a thing that said, “Cupid is one of the most annoying creatures I know,” now you somehow agree.
Tega is the kind of guy that carries a certain kind of allure that makes one stay, refusing to leave. That night he called you. He told you he was on his way home. You asked him if he had had dinner because you wanted to hear more of his voice. “I’ll just skip” he said, “it’s long past my dinner time.” There was something about his voice that was soothing. The friendliness of it all, like he has known you from time immemorial. He was saying something when the call got disconnected. He had video-called you on WhatsApp the next day apologizing for the disconnection. What a gentleman you thought, your lips giving way to a very broad smile.
“What’s that painting on the wall behind you?”
“It’s a map. Let me show you.”
“It’s a beautiful map of Africa,” you said. “I love the colorfulness of it. Just like the shirt you’re wearing.”
You’re telling him names of countries on the map, and how good you were in geography class back in secondary school. He tilted his head to the right and a throaty kind of laughter escaped him when you said “you are having fun o.”
“Because I have a map in my office?”
“Because you’re in your office, happy and plenty of free time to make calls. Boredom is almost devouring me whole,” you said.
“Port Harcourt is a stone throw from Yenagoa,” he winked. “Why not try getting a job here.” You wanted to tell him how you have tried yourself at that, how you couldn’t find well-paying jobs in Yenagoa, but you chose not to. He called you almost every day. On days when he didn’t, you called. A longing bigger than you was carrying you onto a pedestal you felt was a little too high. A part of you still held back, fought back. The day you finally shared a space with him, it was in his office. He had sent you the direction on WhatsApp. “I’m afraid,” you told him. “Afraid of what?” he had asked.
You didn’t know how to tell him, how to allow him into your story. You sent him a link to a blog post. “This is why I’m afraid of seeing you”.
“I won’t bite,” was his reply. A teary smile took ownership of your lips, and your eyes became cloudy. He was alone when you arrived. You were on the phone with him while climbing the stairs, while walking down the corridor, until the door. The young man who sat behind a small, rectangular desk was waving the pen with his left hand, his lips, a crescent, his incisors flashing their natural light on you. The map was on the wall above his head. “What an honored man I am to be your host,” he said, standing up to meet you. He was few inches above you, even though you didn’t need to tilt your head to see him, you did anyways, just the way one would when waiting for a kiss. The palm of his right hand that wrapped yours was moist, and soft. Delicate.
You sat on the swivelling chair opposite his desk. It was filled with so many things that were begging for orderliness. It was a jumble. He offered a bottle of cold water and took his place on the other side of the desk. He asked you if his office was hard locating. He was talking, you were hearing but not listening. His face was a young one, but covered in a beard, one would assume he was already in his thirties. His lips that were few shades away from black, formed a beautiful island on the space between his jaw and nose. His hairline seems to be taking a bow to the inner circle. You were imagining things. A tap on the desk brought you back. He was asking a question, he repeated himself, and that was when you arrived. You found your voice. He was attentive. He listened like he desperately needed whatever you uttered. You knew he wasn’t just smiling because of what you were saying. There was more, because you know you have a clingy kind of effect on people. “Your voice made me just realize how much I love Chimamanda,” he said. Laughter got hold of you. That wasn’t the first time you were hearing those words, but hearing it from him sounded so different, and true. He touched you, or rather, the fingers of your right hand brushed his, and you willed it back to its place. There was silence, and the only sound was from the music playing on his laptop. “We have to get going,” he said. “I need to get things from the market to cook.”
He lived on the first floor. The building looked like it used to be a hotel. A two-room apartment. An empty space, save for the gold-colored curtains, a two-settee couch on the west end, and a small table made up his sitting room. The walls are covered in a shimmering white color, and the lighting gave it a beautiful kind of glow. They were bare, save for a hand sketched portrait of him hanging on the wall above the couch. You dropped your bag on the couch. “No, bring your bag to the room.” You followed him. The blue lighting played with your eyes. They were trying to make peace with the beautiful dimness.
You once told him you will make dinner when you finally visit. You were conscious of his eyes on you. Every move you made was with the awareness of eyes on you. Even though you wanted him in the kitchen, to help, or just stay and talk with you while you cooked, you didn’t persuade him to. “I haven’t really cooked in this house since I moved in,” he told you. Everything was new, and the pot was still in its pack. “You need a cutting board,” you told him. He was leaning on the door. He was naked, save for the skimpy shorts he wore. You didn’t notice he was there until his phone beeped. “I’m so tired,” you told him after you were done cooking. He asked you to come for a hug. It was relaxing, your skin on his, his lips on your forehead, his arms around you, holding you like one would hold onto something from shattering. You liked the feeling. You wanted the moment to last forever. He swayed your bodies from left to right, it was as if you were dancing to a music your ears couldn’t hear, but your heart could. You felt his hardness pressing on yours. You allowed yourself to inhale deeply. You love the scent of him. He loosened his hold on you, your face in his hands. He kissed you, slow, short, but passionate. “I have to serve the food,” you said, slipping off. Your heart was almost pounding out of your skin.
You know how two people who are in want of their own bodies never ever get to finish a movie on Netflix at a sitting. That was your story. Your bodies and your being wanted a different kind of distraction. He touched and squeezed anywhere his hands could reach. You turned to meet his lips. His tongue was navigating all of your mouth like there was a precious treasure he needed to find. When he kissed, a passionate kind of glow enveloped his eyes. He held your head in his cupped hand, his left around your waist, his hardness pressing hard on yours. His skin, the warmth of it, felt heavenly on yours. Slowly, he let go of you. He traced your body with his fingers and his magical tongue. When his tongue wrapped up your hardness, a melodious type of moan escaped you. Your body wringed in pleasure. You lost track of time, soon your bodies were colliding. He was a gentleman. The meticulous way he lubed your entrance, the slow pace with which he joined his body to yours, thrusting gently as he went. His eyes on yours, it wasn’t the kind of eyes a random hook-up would possess, it was something deeper. His hands are linked with yours. You wanted all of him. You felt drops of perspiration drop on your chest and stomach. His right hand stroking your hardness. You almost exploded. The feeling you have always wanted. It was quick but satisfying. Later you would watch him sleep, you would watch his chest rise and fall. You would watch him curled up in bed like a big question mark. Watching him sleep made you smile, made you want to reach out and straighten his eyebrows, touch his beard, kiss him, hold him. He felt so vulnerable, and you liked that you could behold it all.
In days and weeks to come, he shared pictures of things he would love to get for his house, asking for your opinion. “Do you like this one?” he asked when he sent a lighting that would leave stars on the ceiling of his room when it’s dark. You called him to tell him how much you liked it, and he said he would get it. He was always asking for your opinions, and you read a different meaning to it all. You felt loved.
The second time you visited was on a Monday. “I’m wearing your shirt,” you told him that morning on your way to school. “It makes me feel closer to you,” you had added, and he laughed, and you laughed. You thought it was lovely. Romantic. The both of you laughing at the same time. “Why not come to Port Harcourt today. I have missed you.” You took a happy deep breathe and asked if he truly wanted you to come. You didn’t want to sound desperate. That evening, you were at his door, and the sex was mind-blowing. You asked him if anyone has visited since your visit, and he said no. You asked if he has had sex after you and he said no.
“Yes, once. A week after I left here.” You felt bad, you felt like you cheated, and for a minute you couldn’t look at him on the face.
Things changed after the trip to Aba. Exhausted and hungry, the both of you had come back from a stressful day. He rushed for his charger and the socket the minute the door was open, his phone had died during the day.
“I don’t know why this person would be making a fuss about this whole thing,” he said. You were standing by the bathroom, drying your body. “I already explained to him, and he kept saying how he would ‘payback’ soon. Did anyone call you? Did you receive any message on Twitter or Instagram?” You told him you were yet to check your messages. “Who’s this person you’re talking about?”
“Just a friend. I don’t know why he won’t understand. Even my mum called. I already called to explain myself.”
You saw the message, you responded, telling the person you were fine, and Tega was fine, though a stressful day, but things are okay. “Is this person just a friend or more than a friend?” you asked Tega.
“Who are you to me?” he asked, smiling, a sly one.
You didn’t know how to respond. “A, ermm, well, I’m your friend,” you stutter. Another stab, you wanted more than just friendship. “Can I see the pictures we took with your phone?” You wanted something to distract you.
“I thought you said no one has visited you since I left. Who’s he?” you asked showing him a picture of someone sitting on the spot you were seated.
“He’s just a friend who came around to make some supplies,” he said. His mouth was full, he was eating akara and bread, and fried potatoes.
You didn’t know how to react. The words that would have come out of you churned themselves up and went down your throat, down to your stomach. You felt betrayed. You felt angry. Yes, nothing was said about this whole friendship, but you felt he made you believe there was a paradise, but there you were, with the full realization that there was never one, and the possibility of anyone in the future was now ruled out. Paradise denied.
That night he didn’t touch you. He didn’t kiss you. He didn’t cuddle you like he did the first time you visited, or the first night of this second visit. You thought maybe it was because of the stressful day you both had. But when you initiated sex in the morning, it was as if he was forced to do so. He had to take some pints of whiskey to get in the mood. He didn’t kiss you, no beautiful bedtime play, just him in you, stroking, till his grips got tighter, and slowly, his grips loosened. It was nothing like the previous experience.
Later, days after you left his house for Yenagoa, he would tell you via text that the person he was talking about, the person who he said was just a friend, was actually his boyfriend.
Fuck you, you said under your breath. “You’re in a relationship all this while?” you asked.
“I have been meaning to tell you, but after what we had, I felt something beautiful and didn’t think it wise to talk about my relationship.”
He lied to you. He lied to you when you asked him if he has had someone visit him after you, he probably also lied about not having sex. You felt used. You felt emotionally drained. You felt tears dropping down your cheeks, but you didn’t tell him. You rather come off to him as strong. “It’s fine,” you said, even though nothing was fine about the moment. That night, you called your ex-boyfriend and cried on the phone.
Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash
COMMENTS ( 6 ) -
Tony! April 01, 2023 14:01
Beautiful storytelling here. Love it entirely.
Viscount November 17, 2021 17:28
Wow! I haven't read any piece of work this wonderful and special. Your word choice was great and you told the story like a real champ, I am rooting for you, great work here.
Chijioke November 10, 2021 13:57
I stopped crying, IJEM. I am learning that trust is priceless. I started learning to love myself more and expect very little from people. This is terrific.
Pete November 06, 2021 08:00
Beautiful piece, enjoyed every bit of it. Kudos!
Wekerish October 26, 2021 04:20
Wow!!!very interesting.Its been a long time since I picked a book to read but this u have there I never wanted it to end.. Goodluck to being the next Noble Laureate of Africa from Nigeria..
Didi October 22, 2021 07:16
This is touching....and emotional It was worth my time.. Congratulations to you... More inspiration to write more.. ❤️