“You were good at this, he said often, his hands gripping your head or stroking your hair, your eyebrows, your chin. Sometimes, you wanted to tell him to fuck off.”Tweet
You had just moved into the lodge and you came outside to say hi to the neighbors. Their shirts were off, slung over their shoulders, the evening swirling with the stench of weed. You noticed Onyebuchi right away, his body packed with small cubes of muscle. When a girl walked past, he whistled—Fine girl, shake it, they all yelled, and you decided, okay, you were going to avoid these guys. But, as you shook hands with them before returning to your room, Onyebuchi tickled your palm with his middle finger and winked. You raised an eyebrow, confused, surprised, but already with the sensation in your stomach of something gathering.
A few nights later, he came into your room and said, “Nice,” pacing slowly, tilting his head this way, that way, as though trying to memorize the spaces and corners. And then, gesturing at your walls and curtains, a mismatch of pink and muted gray, he said, “But this color is too girly.”
He sat on your mattress and said he liked it too and you asked him what. The thing on your phone, he said. The gay thing.
You stood by the door staring at him. He had a generator in his room, and when it gargled to life, you’d taken your gadgets to his room to charge, like all the guys did. But you’d been careful to password-lock your phone before leaving it.
He stood up now, strode towards the door and bolted it shut. Turned towards you, stood so close, you could feel the warmth of his body, smell the distant whiff of weed submerged under the delicious scent of cocoa lotion. Before he held your shoulders, before he gave a slight but firm nudge, you knew that you would kneel before him, that you would stretch your lips and slacken your jaws, or lock them tight, that you’d make it dry and clean, or nasty, soggy-wet nasty: whatever made him happy, anything to make him happy.
He didn’t suck, didn’t kiss, didn’t anything. You were good at this, he said often, his hands gripping your head or stroking your hair, your eyebrows, your chin. Sometimes, you wanted to tell him to fuck off. Wanted to peel yourself from the fullness of feeling, from the things, intimate things, you wanted him to do and say when he wasn’t towering over you or sitting in your mattress with his legs spread.
Often, you remembered your worth—you who was top of your class, you who would not take homophobic shit from anybody, not even from your seminar instructor with whom you’d argued back-and-forth for weeks until he agreed that there was a place for queer narratives in Nigerian Literature.
This is it, you’d tell Onyebuchi, either he kissed you or sucked you off, or you’d end this craziness. But I’m not gay, he’d say, you just suck dick so well. In the days that followed you’d ignore him in the corridors, bury your head in a novel when he came into your room to watch a movie on your laptop, until, finally, he slid into bed beside you and kissed your neck, one light kiss, all you needed, a small conciliatory gesture, your body already hungry for his presence, for the force of him.
Your best friend said she could not even see what you liked about him. Yes, he had a hot body, but he also had an oblong head shaped like a poorly-finished table, and a face like a ball of shit smashed against the wall. You tried to explain to her that it was actually the accumulation of those imperfections and the way he was unaware of them when he walked and talked and laughed, his movements loud and dripping with an untouched entitlement, but she looked at you like you’d finally gone crazy.
He said, I am a time bomb, after you watched The Fault in Our Stars, the credits rolling on your laptop’s screen—he leaned into you and said it. Quietly, as though he were in awe of the words. Your heads were pressed together, his nose touching yours, his breath warm on your face, and it struck you how intimately you were nestled, how close your lips were, how he wasn’t shaking his head and pulling away.
And then he was gone, on a clear Sunday morning, with your laptop and phone and wallet. You rushed across the hallway to his room and found his door ajar, his room almost bare, save for the larger pieces of furniture, his bed, desk, cupboard, things he could not have slipped with him into the darkness. His generator gargled on, while your neighbors paced the corridors, going in and out of his room, talking in angry voices about the things they’d lost, their laptops and phones. As though any of that mattered. As though their anger could change anything. As though you were not thinking how he did not even leave anything, a note, your phone jacket, to mark you as special. As though you were not thinking about Nnabuike who, back in secondary school, had called you a homo whenever his teammates were around. As though you could not still feel his weight on you, Nnabuike’s weight, after he tackled you to the ground one afternoon, after you yelled back homo at him. As though you could not still feel the blow as it landed on your face, and the spit, and his friends lifting his weight off you. As though you could not see the fear in his eyes, the fear but also the disgust. As though you couldn’t see him standing by your bunk-bed at lights-out, muttering his sorries, the desperation in his voice, how badly he needed you, so much you let him crawl in beside you and pull down your pajamas.
How could the shirtless, angry boys in the lodge understand any of it when all they cared about was their rage, oh how badly they would fuck that Onyebuchi guy up? You wondered if any of them knew that last night, before he slipped into the darkness with their gadgets, Onyebuchi had been in your room, his hands almost crushing your skull, your nose pressed firmly against the prickly bush of his groin. What would they do if they knew? Slap you around? Shove you against the wall? Ask if you enjoyed being a homo-bitch to a boy who had stolen from them? Yes? Yes? Unzip their trousers? Unzip their trousers.
Arinze Ifeakandu was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2017 for his short story, “God’s Children are Little Broken Things” and was an Emerging Writer fellow at A Public Space in 2015. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He’s a 2018 winner of the Richard Yates Short Story Contest. His stories have appeared in A Public Space and in the Caine Prize anthologies, among other places. He has recently completed a collection of stories.
Feature image: Jan Tinneberg (Unsplash)
Author photo by Santiago Sanchez