The family of Dr. and Mrs. Dickson Odogwu, with sorrow in our hearts, but with the deepest submission to the will of the Almighty God, announce the tragic death of our father, husband, brother, son, friend and succor, Dr. Dickson Odogwu, who died yesterday, the 24th day of August 2015. Until his death, Dr. Dickson worked as a surgeon at the University Teaching Hospital Enugu where he carried out his God-given mandate of saving lives. Aged 58, he is survived by his wife, son, daughter, and a host of other relatives…
It is Dr. Dick’s wife’s turn to deliver the eulogy. She stands beside the grave, dressed in a sparkling white gown, the type angels wear in Nollywood movies. The type Fr. Amadi, the priest in charge of Dr. Dick’s home parish, is wearing at the burial. The only black thing on her is her black sunshade. She struggles to read as sorrow and grief threaten to blow her open. She talks of how wonderful a father Dr. Dick was; of how loving a husband he was. How he never failed to call her three times daily; how he sometimes made her feel honoured like the Blessed Virgin Mary, to whom the Angelus prayer is said by 6 am, 12 noon and 6 pm daily. “I don’t know what led him to do what they said he did,” she whispered, as the volcano building up inside of her erupted. It spilled tears and gave sorrow and grief a body. She is led away from the graveside by the women around her, unable to finish reading what she’d written.
Next is the son, a handsome twentyone-year-old whom you have been nursing a secret crush on since the day you saw his framed picture in his father’s study. That was the day you first slept with Dr. Dick in his Enugu residence; the day you learnt that his wife and children lived in his ancestral home at Awka. The day you learnt that his wife, Mrs. Clara, worked as a nurse at a Teaching hospital in Awka. It was also the day you learnt that they – Dr. Dick and Mrs. Clara – were working towards her possible transfer to Enugu so the family could be together. You wondered if Dr. Dick actually wanted that, and what it would do to your relationship with him. You wondered if you’d have to start making use of hotels? Sleeping in a hotel scared you. The last time you went to a hotel, a barbeque was almost made of you. That was before you’d met Dr. Dick.
Well, it wasn’t really a secret, the crush you had on his son, for Dr. Dick had caught the lust in your eyes and warned you to never have anything to do with him. That his son was precious to him, which was why he’d framed the picture with real 24 carat gold. You wondered if you would ever get your own frame, if he would ever hold you so precious to his heart.
The boy wears gold-framed glasses, but unlike the mother, and like most of the few people who attended the burial (for many do not wish to associate themselves with a man that died in the manner Dr. Dick had), he is entirely in black. He looks like a younger version of his father, all of the same features that attracted you to Dr. Dick.
He talks about his dad’s fondness for gold; how he framed the picture of mum, and him, and his sister, with pure gold. This knowledge is new to you. You only knew of the boy’s picture being in a golden frame, you never saw the others. You realize that you have the phone numbers of his immediate family members except that of his son. He’d given you their numbers in case of an emergency.
“…it was the work of the devil. He must have been deceived or forced into it, but God will punish all who have a hand in the death of my father. My father was a God-fearing man— there is something we are not being told—this is a malicious set-up. My father, a gentle man to the core, could never take part in such an act. My father loved and adored my mother and couldn’t survive a single day without hearing from her. She was his oxygen. His loyalty and fidelity were never in question. How did this come about? What they said my father did is something he could never do …” the son said, before wishing his father a peaceful repose.
You’re filled with admiration for the young man. You love the way he read the oration flawlessly, with his eyes fixated more on the grave than on the paper he read from. His voice, even choked with grief, was soothing to the ears. You love that no one could tell his tribe just by hearing him read those English words, for he has the perfect English accent. You love that he was able to articulate his thoughts with such fluency while grieving, and this deepens the crush you have on him.
But you know that Dr. Dick’s death was not a setup. At least, not in the sense the young man had meant it. Dr. Dick sent you two distress messages that had you running to the execution ground. I don’t know where they’re taking me,the first message read. The second was shorter but more impactful. Kito. Udo Street, it simply read. Something had nudged at your heart. It nudged and nudged and pushed you forward until you collapsed on the floor. Kito! Every gay man’s nightmare. You knew people who had gone that way. Men in flames. Men who had all their savings taken away from them by vigilante officers. Kito! The single word that made you volunteer with Kitos Record after your own experience with it. How you almost became a burning log, save for the Founder of Kitos Records, the one who called the Commissioner of Police. By refusing to tell the police the real situation, he was able to save you.
“What policeman would have bothered to come save a gay man,” he’d asked, when you asked why he lied to the police commissioner saying it was a petty thief who was being mobbed. His lie brought the police to the crime scene, and when they learnt the true situation, you were already safe in the force members’ hands. With the exchange of some Naira notes with the men of the force, and the repeated mention of the Commissioner’s name, he was able to free you from the police.
To satisfy your curiosity about how he came to know of your case, he told you of his virtual platform, Kitos Records, where “we document cases of homophobic attacks and try to help when we can.” How someone, whose name he’d never mentioned, but who he spoke of familiarly, had rung them up to inform them of your case, and how lucky you were to have him close to the vicinity. Some streaks of luck that seemed to be in a script somewhere waiting for a Nollywood director to acquire; a streak of luck that was nevertheless real. You immediately asked to be a part of his team, a small community of LGBTQ people looking out for one another, with an influential founder who continued to remain mysterious, even to those closest to him. When he told you there was no money to pay for additional staff, you offered to be a volunteer. “My way of paying back,” you’d insisted, even when he’d said you didn’t have to.
It was through Kitos Records that you met Dr. Dick. “He donates to the platform,” you’d later learn, but that wasn’t what led you to him. Or, rather, him to you. It was an essay you wrote on “The Demonization of The Gay Person In Nollywood” that got you both exchanging emails. You’d lashed out at a Nollywood movie that presented a gay man who was married to a woman as being under demonic influence. In the movie, the gay man meets up with his former male lover from secondary school years after he’d married a woman. The lover is still single and highly successful. They start hanging out and their old love is rekindled. The wife learns of the affair in the most heartbreaking of ways; she seeks advice and is told to take it to God in prayer. By the end of the movie, in an overwrought happily ever after manner, the wife’s pastor destroys the demon of homosexuality with which the secondary school lover had bewitched her husband.
“Flat plot. Flat characters. Misleading lessons,” you write in your essay, explaining how there is no such “demon of homosexuality,” accusing Nollywood of inflicting harm on the LGBTQ community by churning out such movies. You explained how gay men often have to marry women, not because they are no longer gay, but because they have to conform to societal dictates. These men end up having secret affairs with male lovers in order to stay true to themselves. “I’m one such gay man,” Dr. Dick had written to you.
A series of email exchanges would eventually lead you to a hotel room where you both stood looking awkwardly at one another. Later, you would both burst out laughing at how the world is indeed small and circular; for he who had written under the name X, turned out to be Chike, and he who had written as D, was infact Dr. Dick.
But that was before. And back in those early days you never would’ve imagined that a day would come when the word Kito would put you on the floor, again, terrified, lying prostrate before the burning bushes of barbarity fueled by the powerful poison of hatred and ignorance. You’d tried to get to your feet. Self-preservation and an instinct to survive kicked in. You couldn’t just ignore the message and save your own skin, although you were aware it might’ve been a trick to lure you out too. It wasn’t unheard of, Kitos who organized with security agents to catch a gay person and use him as a worm for other fishes. But the activist in you kicked in.
Forcing your way through the crowd, you found yourself in the centre of the mindless bloodshed. Bricks and clubs were being used to pummel the two men; you were shocked to see Dr. Dick; the other man was a stranger. Immediately, you rushed away from the mob to a deserted corner of the street where you called your boss. You knew he was out of town, but you hoped he’d give you one of his contacts.
“He’ll contact you,” your boss had started to say, but you didn’t allow him to finish before you cut the call. Next, you called the police, but the response you received made you realize that the call was useless. Not that you’d expected them to come. You remembered how when your friend’s boyfriend was burnt alive, it was said that some of the policemen just stood there, and some even joined in taunting the young man while as he was bathed in petrol. But you called them anyway because there is something about powerlessness that can make a person do things even if they have been proven ineffective, in the hopes that somehow, things will be different.
There is something about hope being born out of deafening hopelessness. You questioned if anyone else had called the police before you and hoped that maybe, the police didn’t know about the mob, the violence against these gay men, and that the police would actually respond to the call and carry out their duty, enforcing law and order. You called because you wanted to believe that you had once been saved by the police, even though you knew the truth was your boss had lied to his brother, the State’s Commissioner of Police, telling him you were just a petty thief; you called because you wanted it to be true that your boss’s brother’s junior colleagues had responded because a sense of duty called them to. You’d checked your watch after you made the calls, it was 9 pm. A neighbourhood that was usually quiet was kept awake that night by a collective hatred.
You were the one who called the wife after you’d gathered the little information you could from some of the onlookers, spectators of this gross act of inhumanity, people who had whipped out smartphones and were already breaking the news; people who, even though they hadn’t acted in violence themselves, broke the skulls of Dr. Dick and the stranger.
People said Dr. Dick had been caught pleasuring the stranger. You didn’t ask any more about it. Maybe you were afraid that by asking, you might come across as suspicious, as someone who knew the victim(s), that someone might point at you, say to you like the girl at the gate had said to Peter in John’s account, “aren’t you also one of the gays?” It had been a secret affair, the affair between you and Dr. Dick, but you had to be careful. You never can tell what people know until they talk.
It hurt you to think that you were not as precious to Dr. Dick as you’d thought, that he would cheat on you. And of all places on a street notorious for housing people who, with the strike of a match, would make a bonfire of others’ bodies? People, who despite the cost of petrol, would gladly supply gallons of it, in order to burn those who’d been sentenced to death by a street court. A street where people would sacrifice their own motorcycle tires as fuel even if they couldn’t afford to replace them. It was on this same street that a sixteen- year-old boy was burnt alive for stealing a goldwatch, a watch which turned out to be just cheap, fake gold.
Dr. Dick had lectured you often about safety:
You have to stop being so friendly with those fem guys else people will suspect you of being gay. Don’t you know most of them are gay? You may disagree and I know it’s a stereotype but this is how society thinks. Rumours are spreading that Dr. Y is gay and everybody knows you are very close to him. People are already gossiping about the both of you and it scares me. You never know who’s listening and what a person may do.
The last time he’d given you such a lecture was three weeks before his death, and you’d shouted at him, accusing him of not trusting you, thinking that was why he didn’t want to see you around any real or perceived gay men for fear that you might cheat on him. You’d accused him of being dangerously obsessive. Dangerously obsessive. You said it like it was a diagnosis, the name of some disease. You asked whether he was afraid that a group might kidnap you and ask you to name all those you knew who engaged in homosexual activities, which had recently become a money-making strategy. Dr. Dick didn’t answer. You’d assured him that it would never happen.
You knew you had no right to be angry with him the moment you introduced yourself to his wife as a student of surgery who’d been attached to him in the hospital. You didn’t introduce yourself as boyfriend, for you couldn’t. And the inability to say so, the refusal to disclose the full state of your relationship with Dr. Dick to his wife, was a reminder that you are no better. That you were also cheating with someone’s husband. You had no moral right, you, a young man of twenty-two, cheating with an older man whose first son was almost your age; how could you be angry at him for cheating on you? Not even when his cheating provided the platform from which bricks and clubs crushed his life.
Ị sị na di m mere gịnị? his wife shouted in disbelief. Ị sị na di m mere gịnị? she kept asking, even when she stood in the place her husband had been lynched. What do you say my husband did? The people were gone when she got there. This was after the heartless killers had pushed the corpses into the gutter. But she was lucky, the widowed mother of two, to have a body to bury—a body to call her late husband’s corpse, even though his body had been mangled beyond recognition. A small miracle on the Burning Street.
Your friend’s boyfriend had been burnt alive when he was caught having sex with a politician in the only hotel on this street, his ashes scattered on the road to be blown by the wind to the six geo-political zones of the country. The politician managed to escape being burnt and was rescued by the police, who later released him; he is now running for a seat in the Senate.
So, you suspect it wasn’t a set-up, at least, not in the sense his son had meant. And you know it wasn’t the work of the devil—Dr. Dick having sex with another man. You know who the devil has always been and it has never been the victims of homophobia. And what does the son even mean when he says that his father was a gentle man and thus could not partake in such an act? Does he believe being gay makes a person thuggish or that gay people are not gentle? You excuse him because of his grief. Grief can be disorienting. Grief can make a dullard of a university professor and a coward of a war hero.
You’d prefer that Dr. Dick’s killers be caught and punished on earth, here and now, as you and his family members still live, for you are not sure of an afterlife. The only life you are sure of is this one, not the one that might come after. It pains you that you can show only a moderate sense of loss, a formal grief, nothing intense that might suggest extra closeness with the deceased, that would be detrimental to your reputation. Your relationship with Dr. Dick, as far as the records are concerned, was purely an official one, a workplace relationship that began and ended in the hospital. You feel pain that you can’t participate in the ceremonial act of throwing a shovelful of sand into his grave, and for a moment you wish you are a Catholic priest. Not just any Catholic priest, but the priest in charge of Dr. Dick’s home parish. You envy Fr. Amadi whose sparkling soutane and purple stole give him the right to not only throw sand into the grave, but to also be the first to do so while making the pronouncement of finality, Aja ka Ị bụ, aja ka Ị ga-alaghachi.
You are comforted by the rationalization, the logic, that by not throwing sand into his grave, you will retain that part of you that is him. For what is the significance and essence of the sand throwing if not as a ritualistic and symbolic freeing of oneself from all connections to the deceased?
Fr. Amadi talked about the thief at Christ’s right hand and how, even in death, was able to steal his way into heaven. He admonished people against playing God and sentencing people to hell because they think of them as evil. This Catholic priest, one of the youngest you’ve ever seen head a Parish, who doesn’t carry himself like a Nollywood angel, intrigues you. You are amazed at his decision to officiate at the burial Mass. You know that if it had been in your parish, the priest in charge would have sent the catechist to officiate the burial, for the dead had sinned and fallen short of the glory of the priest. And, as he made his parting pronouncements while throwing the sand, Aja ka Ị bụ, aja ka Ị ga-alaghachi, that you have found some comfort. Dust you are and to dust you shall return. This may have some theological meanings for Fr. Amadi and for the millions of Christians who make such pronouncements, but to you, it is a purely secular statement of fact. Dr. Dick is dead, his body has been committed to earth, and soon it will disintegrate to become dust. That is the goal of living: to one day become dust and nourish the earth. To give life to seeds and microorganisms that inhabit the earth. To know that in the next apple someone eats, the next mango someone licks, and even the wine used at the altar, it may be a particle of you, a part of you. That is eternity. That is the beauty of having lived. That is the beauty of dying, leaving the torture of living and becoming free.
Thinking of the thief at Christ’s right hand who stole his way into heaven, you wonder if this may be possible for Dr. Dick, if truly there is a heaven. He was never a thief, so you know that stealing anything is not an option. But he is, he was, a lovely man. You have seen Angel Michael depicted in many drawings and texts as male. You have also heard that he is the one that stands at heaven’s gate and thus can allow or disallow someone from entering. You wonder if Angel Michael could be gay too. You imagine him falling in love with Dr. Dick at first sight, like you did the first day you saw him, the doctor you had been assigned to work with.
You imagine Dr. Dick stealing Angel Michael’s heart, heaven’s gate opening for him. You think that it is not unlikely even though you’ve heard again and again by people who wield Bibles as weapons that gay people will burn in hell. But the same has been said of thieves, yet a thief still stole his way into heaven. What is the difference between a thief who by flattering Christ earned a place in heaven, and Dr. Dick, in all of his charm, winning a place in heaven?
About the Author:
Ugochukwu Anadị is a student of the University of Nigeria. An avid reader, he sometimes writes. His writings have been published by Afapinen, Afritondo, Afrocritik, ANA Review, Brittle Paper, Brilliant Flash Fiction, Con-scio magazine, Kalahari Review amongst a few others. He’s especially interested in the humanization of queer people in literature and literary criticism.
*Featured image by Goran Tomic