Only Fish called him Alaye. Sometimes he added “mi” at the end to make it possessive. Alaye mi. His other guys called him chairman, with a reference that cast him above them, that made eulogy the only point of rapport. But Fish, he knew how to dilute respect with congeniality. He knew how to raise him to the rank of boss, yet bend him to camaraderie when he wanted. He had a kind of hold on him that no one else had, not even his girlfriend Kaffy. As he gazed at him wrapping a joint, he thought there was charm in his clumsiness. And he chuckled.
“Wetin?” Fish looked up at him. He was sitting on the carpeted ground while Alaye sat cross-legged on his mattress. The window curtain was down to keep out mosquitoes, but it was also trapping in billows of smoke so the fluorescent-lit room wore a faint cloudiness.
“You no sabi do anything well.”
Fish lined the adhesive side of the rolling paper with saliva and rolled it up. “See.”
Alaye took it from him, flicked at it and it came undone. A sprinkle of weed fell on the floor.
“This na why you be fish, guy.” Alaye ran his tongue along the edge of the tube and pressed the wrapper close again. Then he twisted the extra paper at the tip. “This na how you roll confam joint.”
“Abeg Alaye, nothing do my own. Na you like wahala.”
They were already high, so their speech came out slurred.
Fish picked a lighter from the wooden stool where there was an ash-filled ashtray and an empty weed box. He lit the lighter and Alaye, with the stick already in his mouth, leaned forward to catch the flame. Alaye took in a drag, removed the stick, and handed it to Fish. Fish inhaled too. They both puffed out whirls of smoke from their mouth, which wafted towards one another, mixing and melting in the air.
Alaye liked getting stoned with Fish, because he had come to enjoy the dissolution of restraints which allowed him to share things he wouldn’t be comfortable sharing with his other guys. So far tonight, they had talked about his regrets for dropping out of school and Fish had shared how even he, a graduate, couldn’t get a job. “Naija school na scam. Nothing dey there,” he had said.
Now Alaye asked why he hadn’t seen Fish with a gal. “Wetin you dey hide, Fish?”
“I just no get babe. Me sef dey look for who go babe me.”
“You no get sense sha. You dey tell me say you no dey get regular knack? Your body be iron?” Alaye coughed.
“That’s no biggie, Alaye.”
“It is o. Man must get serviced on the regular joor. As you see me so, I dey knack anyhow.” The blunt they’ve been passing between each other was now burned to the butt. Alaye ground it in the ashtray.
“I sabi. You and Kaffy neva let person hear word when you do the do.” There was a hint of disappointment in Fish’s voice.
“You dey jealous?”
“Yes, I dey jealous!”
Alaye laughed till he started coughing again. Then he wondered about the jealousy. Was he jealous he was not having sex, or was he jealous of Kaffy? And why did he even consider the latter? He lay on his back and stretched his legs. They had become stiff from being sat on for long. He groaned.
“Ahhh! No blood dey my leg again.”
“Make I massage am for you?”
“You be my girlfriend?”
Fish hissed. “Who get time to dey press your firewood legs before sef.”
Alaye scoffed. “This one wey you no like to knack…”
“…you sure say konji dey hold you at all? Sure say your thing dey work?”
“E no concern you.”
“Oya na, make we hear, wetin you go like do if you get chance?” Alaye’s voice grew distant, muffled by sleepiness.
“Like… you, me… and Kaffy.”
Alaye didn’t answer. Soon his light snores gave away his unconsciousness.
Fish sighed and rested his head on the mattress. And he drifted off too.
In the morning, they wouldn’t remember this conversation.
Alaye first saw Fish at their neighborhood gym two years ago. A gym Alaye and his goons frequented. That day, Alaye had noticed a new face. His skin was so fair and smooth that the sweat dripping down his torso felt out of place on such pristineness. There was a tattoo on his left shoulder. Alaye studied it from the corner where he and his guys took turns lifting weights. He wanted to know if it was an emblem of any of the cults in town. But it was only a whorl inside a whorl, with the letters KB at the centre.
“Chairman! Your turn,” one of his boys said and he slyly snatched back his attention.
As Alaye grunted at pushing up the weights, he found himself wanting to talk to Fish. He wanted to know the meaning of the KB. He wanted to know what a refined-looking man like him was doing at a gym frequented by bad boys. He got a chance when, a moment later, the gym owner bounced in. Latman, a middle-aged man with short dreads and two marks on each of his lean cheeks. He stopped by Fish.
“Oyinbo, you finally show.”
“Yes o, Mr. Latman.” Fish stood and shook his hands.
Because he didn’t chop knuckle or say “tuale” with raised hands, Alaye decided he definitely wasn’t of the street.
“Good, good. Enjoy yourself, eh?” Latman said. Then he spied one of Alaye’s guys smoking. He walked over to them.
“Oga, abeg na,” Latman said and Alaye eyed the smoking guy, who grumbled before throwing the leftover stub out the window.
“You know say no be say I mind like that. Na my license I dey guard,” Latman said.
Alaye nodded towards Fish’s direction and Latman understood he was asking “Who him be?” Latman then explained that Fish had helped with all the registration jagbajantis of his gym.
The next time Alaye came in, he chose the space close to where Fish trained the last time. Fish came in later and as he had expected, retained his last training gears. He greeted Alaye and the two guys with him and started working a dumbbell. Naira Marley’s song jammed from the gym’s speaker today because there was light. Then a news program came on the radio and Fish hissed at a headline announcing Nigeria’s worsening inflation. He muttered to himself, “Everything is just shit.”
“Naija dey show you pepper, Oyinbo?”
Fish was startled. He glanced sideways at Alaye, who was now sitting on his bench.
Fish huffed. “E no show una pepper?”
Alaye laughed and the guys with him joined in, as if on cue.
“Wetin you dey do?” Alaye asked.
“I be graduate with a degree in BetNaija.”
Alaye laughed again. “E be like say you dey cash out well well. You get levels.”
“Nah, I just sharp. I fit sell you games.”
Alaye liked him already. He would like him to be one of his. He would like to acquire him.
“You know wetin dey cash out more?”
In a whisper, “Yahoo.”
Fish paused. “Alaye, I no… fit do… that kain thing. It’s illegal.” he said. Then he quickly added to lighten the judgment that might have reflected in his tone, “Wetin I mean say I no get the liver.”
“You smart pass all the shikini money you dey make for Bet. No dey dull yourself.”
Fish shook his head.
Alaye smiled, then said, “Fish,” christianing him what he would always call him. “When your eyes don shine, find Deluxe Villa and ask for The Chairman.”
“Yes sir,” Fish said, a quiet trepidation seeping into his voice.
Alaye laughed and said again, “Fish.”
A month later. Alaye and Kaffy were smooching in his room when some raps on the door cut in. Alaye didn’t stop. He shouted back, “Later!” But the knocks continued.
“What!” Alaye tore his body from Kaffy and went for the door. It was one of his guys, Bayonet, with Fish’s figure peeking behind him.
“Chairman, this guy say he gatz see you now now.”
Alaye nodded. He whirled and asked Kaffy to excuse them. “Sorry babe.”
Kaffy rolled her eyes, buttoned up her loose shirt and left the room.
Fish entered and Bayonet closed the door behind him.
Alaye removed the clothes on the only plastic chair in the room and offered the seat to him. Fish sat with his hands lodged between his thighs. Alaye followed his wandering eyes – from the single mattress on the carpeted floor, to the teal painted wall on which hung sketches of naked women, to his sweat-dotted body and the bulge in his shorts. He thought of covering up with a towel, but they were both men and that shouldn’t matter. After all, he had been the one who interrupted.
“Are these yours?” Fish asked, pointing at the sketches on the wall.
“Yeah, I draw one kain, one kain.” He sat on the mattress. “So… your eyes don shine?”
And Fish narrated his recent ordeal with SARS while traveling interstate, how they’d harassed him because he looked like yahoo-yahoo boys.
“So I wan belong. The job wey I chase go Osogbo no even click. I no wan dull myself anymore.”
“See, you sure?”
Alaye grinned and called for Bayonet, who he ordered to introduce Fish to the rest of the guys. “I go meet you soon.”
As they left, Kaffy returned, looking sullen, arms crossed over her chest. She was dark-skinned and slender, a contrast to Alaye’s hulking figure, a blade of grass to a tree.
“No vex my baby,” Alaye said and pulled her in for an embrace. “My sweetie sweetie.”
He kissed her and she relaxed. Soon, her moans stretched all over the house, sometimes interspersed with screams of Alaye’s name.
The COVID-19 pandemic first shrouded the world with stillness. Then a few months later #ENDSARS protests erupted across Nigeria. People in face masks carrying placards condemning police brutality and blocked major roads. By this time, Fish had moved into a room in Deluxe Villa. Ironical to the ornate name, the building was just a face-me-I-face-you apartment with a pit latrine and a bathroom besieged by algae. The building had been colonized by Alaye’s guys. No landlord would have allowed a bunch of igbo smoking and alcohol gulping yahoo boys live in their house, except Alaye. He had inherited the house after his father’s death five years ago. And he had gone to wean boys living in between crannies to live for free with him. This was how he became their “Chairman.” Most of them later moved into self-contained apartments after they hammered. So, apart from Fish, only Bayonet and two other guys still lived in Deluxe Villa with Alaye. And these days, they were often visiting the self-contained apartment guys, bringing back packs of weed or bottles of Vodka for their Chairman, a sort of offering, an homage.
Fish, who never blended completely with the rest because of his tint of intellectualism, was often with Alaye. And on nights Kaffy wasn’t sleeping over, they hung out, getting high together and talking shit they don’t remember in the morning. Last night had ended with a ramble on threesome. Tonight, Fish asked Alaye why they did yahoo yahoo despite knowing they were hurting others.
“Se e no dey pinch you for mind say we dey make others suffer?”
“E dey worry you?” Alaye asked.
“Walahi, sometimes, e dey worry me. I no like the feeling. My mama no know say…”
“You be bad boy,” Alaye cut in, then laughed. Naturally, Fish laughed too. They tend to mirror each other when blazed. Alaye snatched Fish’s stick from him and put it together with his into his mouth. A puff in and the sticks flared. When he exhaled, thick threads of smoke crawled out his mouth and nostrils.
“Me, I be bad boy and I chest am. I no need reason am to make me feel good. I no dey do am to pay the white people for slaving my forefathers kankan. That na bullshit reason. I be bad boy and I chest am!” Alaye laughed again, its pitch now on the edge of hysterical. He continued, “But you, you be fish, your heart no hard reach.”
Fish took back his stick from Alaye, a frown hardening his gaze.
“I know say I be fish. But I no mind, as long as I be your fish.” His voice was grumpy yet there was a prideful lilt to it.
For a moment they were silent, until Alaye spoke.
“If I no dey street wise, wetin I for dey do sef?”
“You for be an artist,” Fish said
“Na true o. I good.”
Fish smirked. “You good, you good, na only woman bodi you fit draw. You neva draw anything pass Kaffy boobs and ass.”
“Forget! I dey draw anything.”
“You fit draw man bodi?”
“See this one, na wetin I start with be that.”
“Eh! Alaye, I know no say you sabi lie like this.”
“I fit draw you now now. No dey underrate my talent o. Nothing dey wey I no sabi draw.”
Fish squinted at Alaye like he was searching for a needle of a true claim in a haystack of bluffs. Then he started to remove his shirt.
“Shebi you say you fit draw, oya come draw me.” He stood up and staggered as he tried to pull down his trousers.
Alaye first froze, stunned. Then he shrugged and collected a sheet and pencil from his bedside shelf. When he turned back, Fish was only in a white brief that was plastered to his groin like a second skin. Alaye swallowed.
“Start na!” Fish’s eyes were on the pictures on the wall. He lay down on his side the way Kaffy did in one of them, his right arm propping his head. “Show me say you get real talent.”
There was no movement from Alaye.
Alaye shuddered out of a trance, the provocation of which he wasn’t sure. Was he suddenly missing Kaffy because the pose before him reminded him of his sketching sessions with her and the way they always ended with her moaning his name? Was that why there was warmth and movement between his thighs?
He drew the outline first. Then he started shading in the rise and fall of Fish’s body, the contour of his smooth chest and abs, the contrast of the lit and shadowed places. His hands sometimes quivered and a few unintended strokes were drawn. But he didn’t stop to erase them. They were inconsequential in the big picture. By the time he finished, Fish had slept off on the floor. He looked at his work and at Fish and he smiled, proud of himself. The resemblance jumped right out at first glance. He put the drawing materials back on the shelf, took the bed sheet from the mattress and covered Fish. Then he fell on the bare bed with a bounce. Before sleep took him, images of Fish’s body flashed through his mind, hardening him. And he knew the arousal earlier had nothing to do with Kaffy.
It was Kaffy who woke them up the next morning. Fish’s body was quite close to the door so when she pushed it open, it hit his head and he rose with a start. Kaffy stared at his almost naked body with disbelief. She put down the basket in her hand and went to slap Alaye awake. Before Alaye yawned, before he stretched and tried to pull Kaffy over his body, she had snatched the drawing on the shelf and shown Alaye.
“Wetin be the meaning of this?” Like she was showing a murderer their victim’s body.
“Chill, babe, chill.”
Alaye looked beyond her to Fish who had packed his clothes and was tiptoeing out as if commencing a walk of shame.
“Babe, e no mean anything.”
“I no wan hear say e no mean anything. No be only me you dey draw? When KB reach my level?”
“Kaffy, chill. Na dare make that happen. Na only you get my eyes.”
Kaffy hissed. “You don dey spend too much time with him sef. Fish this, Fish that. I no like am.”
“Now you dey jealous man, shey?”
“I sabi wetin I dey say. I sabi.” Kaffy went to lock the door. She brought the basket to the bedside and brought out a cooler. “You don dey lean. Na why I say I should surprise you.”
She uncovered the cooler and scent of curry and thyme wafted into the air. “Na jollof and chicken.”
“My baby. My sweetie sweetie. Wait, make I go brush.” Fish took his toothbrush from a cup at the mattress’ foot.
“You no get toothpaste again?”
“I go get from Fish”
Kaffy rolled her eyes. She snatched the drawing and began to rip it, piece by piece. Alaye said nothing. He shook his head and left the room.
When he returned, Fish was behind him. Kaffy’s eyebrows curved into question marks. “Wetin?”
“I wan Fish to eat the jollof too. You know say things tight for this Coro season.”
“Na you I bring food, no be for your Fish or Shawarma.”
“Kaffy, shebi na me get the food? I say I wan chop am with Fish. Simple.”
Kaffy fumed but Alaye ignored her. He took the cooler to the middle of the room, where he and Fish sat, spoons in hand. While they ate, Kaffy hummed as she scrolled through her phone on the mattress.
Alaye noticed Fish was distracted, checking his phone every now and then. Glancing at Kaffy from his peripheral vision, he jokingly asked if Fish was expecting a babe, even though he knew that couldn’t be the case.
Fish shook his head, nonchalant. “I dey follow the protest online and I just see say one go hold for here in Ilorin today.”
“You wan go?”
“Yes o. I must go, shey you know SARS and me get…”
“Why you no get girlfriend sef?” Kaffy cut in.
Fish was shocked. “What?”
“I mean, shey you no like girls ni abi na…”
“Kaffy!” Alaye glared at her. She hissed and continued tapping at her phone’s screen.
Alaye faced Fish. “We fit go together. I wan see how the protest go be.”
“Lailai!” Kaffy shot up.
“No wait kankan. If you leave, you no go meet me when you come back.”
“Chill na, babe. I go treat you like mad when I get back.”
Kaffy wouldn’t have it. She insisted Alaye spent the whole day with her.
Alaye tried to reason with her but everything was like crashing ceramics in her ears. Then he turned to Fish and told him to go and get ready. Kaffy’s adamance irritated him so much he couldn’t wait to get out of her sight.
“If you go, eh, if you go!” Kaffy kept repeating, her tone threatening, as Alaye dressed up.
“Wetin go happen?” Alaye was now at the door.
“You go break your leg.”
“Put the key for under the doormat,” Alaye said and slammed the door behind him.
Kaffy did leave before their return in the evening. She left with the key. And as if hexed by her threats, Alaye came back limping. He had sprained an ankle during a stampede. Fish suggested they go to his room so Alaye could rest. But Alaye said they needed to break his lock. He had Aboniki Ointment inside and he needed to massage the swollen ankle to ease the pain. They could have gotten a hammer from one of the other guys in the Villa, but they were all out as usual. So Fish went outside to fetch some stones which they used to break the lock.
Inside, Fish found the ointment on the window sill. He scooped a blob and applied it on Alaye’s ankle. As he started to massage the joint, Alaye gritted his teeth, holding back from shoving Fish. When Fish was done, he wiped off a single teardrop that had forced its way out. Fish smirked.
Later that night, Alaye sent a picture of his injured leg to Kaffy’s WhatsApp. Kaffy called immediately.
“Make I come?”
“No, I dey alright.”
“Pele. Shebi I tell you.”
“I now know say you be confam winch.”
They laughed and said some sweet nothings before bidding each other good night.
The next day, Kaffy came with another basket of food. This time Alaye didn’t invite Fish to join him and Kaffy was very pleased. Fish came later to request for a lighter. Alaye gave it to him through the crack in a barely opened door. Kaffy hissed when Alaye shut the door. He returned to her. But his leg ached and he paused to catch his breath.
Kaffy told him to rest on his back. “Na me go ride you today.” She unzipped his trousers and straddled him. Soon, her moans splattered everywhere and beyond.
After Alaye had climaxed and Kaffy’s head was now on his chest, her fingers twirling strands of hair, she said, “Baby, you need to pack comot from this area.”
“Why?” Alaye asked.
“This Face-me-I-face-you house dey reduce your rank. See all the boys wey you train, they don level up. Your own boys o.”
“That one no mean na.”
“E mean. E mean well well. And we need more privacy sef.”
“This na my father house.”
“Eh ehn? Shey you no wan do anything for yourself?”
Alaye nodded. “Okay, but…”
Kaffy jerked up. Her voice animated, she said, “I get an agent uncle. E go fast and cheap through him.”
Alaye requested for some time to think about it, but Kaffy dialled her uncle’s number anyways.
Some Saturdays, Kaffy washed Alaye’s clothes against his wish, against his protests that he preferred to wash his clothes himself. She would retort, “Instead for you to dey thank God say your girlfriend na one thousand yards wife material.”
This Saturday, she noticed a certain purple pullover, Alaye’s favourite, was missing from the basket of dirty clothes. She didn’t see it on the hanger.
Alaye was on the bed as she searched for it.
“Wetin you dey look for?”
“I no see that your purple pullover ni.”
“Ah! That one dey with Fish. He get bad cold last week and he no even get sweater.”
“So you carry am give him, something wey we don fight over say I wan take am?”
“Na borrow I borrow him. E go return am later. Na Fish na.”
“Fish ko, Kilishi ni. Stop to dey call him Fish sef. The way you dey sweet your mouth over am dey vex me.”
“Where all this dey come, Kaffy?”
“Shebi you have kuku draw him? And you like it, ehn? Or you no like am?”
“Wetin dey do you?”
“Be acting film there. You think say I no know this no be your first? That… That…” Kaffy closed her eyes as if swallowing something too heavy for her throat.
“I know say na you take my old sketchbook.”
“And you no talk. You no fit ask. No be because you dey shame? With every rubbish you draw inside, why you no go shame?”
“Fuck! Kaffy, fuck!”
Just then, Alaye’s phone rang.
“No be your fish dey call you again?” Kaffy said.
Alaye showed her the screen which displayed “Bayonet.” He picked the call. Kaffy started pacing up and down.
“Shit!… Where?… Okay… I go reach there soon… Wagbayi.”
“Wetin?” Kaffy searched Alaye’s face as he ended the call.
“Fish get accident.”
“I need to dey there with him.”
“See? See wetin I dey yarn since. Se na him be your girlfriend or na me?”
Alaye was already putting on a shirt.
Kaffy jumped at him and gripped his collar, yelling, “You no dey go anywhere. If he wan die, make hin die.”
Alaye yanked her off him. “Kaffy!” he said, holding her gaze so that his resolve sank into her.
He left her sprawled on the floor crying.
Alaye didn’t meet Bayonet and the rest of the gang with Fish at the hospital. He stood by his bed and grimaced as he took in his bruised face. Fish’s left arm was bandaged and his right hand had a drip attached to it.
“Alaye, say something na.”
“Nothing, I just thank God say you dey alive.”
Fish chuckled. “The accident no serious sef. I go dey alright, Alaye.”
“You no get choice.”
Fish made to scratch his forehead and Alaye having read his gesture swiftly rubbed it for him.
“Hope say you no get coro join sha?” Alaye said.
“Nah, na kolo mental I get join,” Fish replied. And they laughed.
A nurse checking on a patient opposite asked them to keep it quiet or Alaye would have to leave. They shared a look and snickered.
“How your babe na? You said she go show today.”
“That one, they don use vex do her. She no wan make I come here.”
“You for no worry about me na.”
“Don’t mind her jare. Her mata don tire me.”
“If her wahala too much, maybe you should breakup with her fa. Make she no kill you for us o.”
“Abi. Babes kuku plenti for ground.”
“Tuale! Alaye mi!”
“My guy! My guy!”
About the author:
Ishola Abdulwasiu Ayodele is a creative writer, visual artist and educator. A fiction mentor at SprinNG Writing Fellowship, his works have been published on Brittle Paper, Omenana Speculative Magazine, Outcast Magazine, African Writer, Sub-Saharan Magazine and elsewhere. He shares some of his artworks and writings on his blog, Imoleitan.substack.com. He tweets @IsholaAbdulwasi