Jide liked to watch the rain. He liked the way it slanted down from the sky in broken lines; the sound of its splatter on corrugated zinc and even more, the steady tapping of their drops on the window. Sometimes he cried to the rain. For him, it held so many memories. And each time he watched it, tears rose in his throat and overpowered him. They brought him fond memories of the men he had loved. He would recall their names, one by one: the casual ones, the tepid ones, the ones that loved him fierce and gave him hope, and the ones that shattered his heart. They were like strands of flowers, bougainvillea hanging on the walls, waiting to be touched, to be remembered, waiting to be cherished. Or perhaps they were more like figurines. Antique figurines, many of them representing a time when his life blossomed afresh; when he believed, again, that this was the one; and that nothing could tear this one away. No one, no sacred union. And each time his heart shriveled, recoiled into itself. Especially with Stanley. Dearest Stan. Perhaps with the loss of Stan came an even greater loss, an eternal loss. Because with Stan, he lost himself to wild dreams. He dreamt of a future for the two of them, he dreamt of old age. The breakup with Stan happened in a flash. One day he was holding Stan's hand in his flat at Festac and the next, he was crying on his office desk, alone.
Jide met Stan at a closed party. Invitee only because of how such parties played out. First impressions did not help them. To him, Stan was the guy that asked, "What’s your role Bobo?" even before asking for a name.
"I'm not interested," Jide said.
"Oh, you're here with someone?" Stan asked.
Jide turned to look at him, now annoyed. It was, of course, the norm to be interested unless he was already with someone but it annoyed him nonetheless. He glared and walked off.
That day, it rained. The skies poured down and this was one of the two things that never left him: the other was Bobo. Each time Stan called him "Bobo," his heart froze and time stood still. Bobo was a strange name for a man like him. A name approved by the gods. A name he loved and wept for and cradled in his hollow heart. Bobo bore, in that pit of warm bodies and hidden faces, a cloak of intimacy. Bobo made Stan his.
The rain brought memories too of his sisters who no longer spoke to him. And his mother, with her wan, blithe eyes, softened by tears; her smile, seeking and overreaching, tight as though to sheath her disappointment and reassure him that her trips from church to church, praying and fasting with his picture waiting in her purse, would one day work. The rains bore her voice, her resolute sounds.
Once she said to Jide,"I know you are still the son I bore in my womb ten whole months. Ten." And the memory of those words brought tears to his eyes. With those memories came several others, each more elaborately woven into the fabrics of the man he now was.
In the beginning she said, "Tufia! Jideofor I said Tufia. God forbid." She spat on the sand in front of the veranda and for the first time since Jide could remember, the glint in her eyes that sparked only for him, died.
"How?" she whispered. "I don't understand how..."
Jide did not understand how either, no one understood how. It was something that just happened and it happened with dexterous subtlety. First he saw a boy and had his very first zing, a tiny current, like waves of gently gushing springs. Then there was a blank space of guilt and fear and poster boys and WWE champions and incognito web pages. And finally, he transformed into a man that had perfected the art of hiding his name. But in truth, there was no how, only faces. It was a game and the aim of the game was to hold as many faces as possible to his chest and mark them with his sweat. Perhaps that was why people asked, "what's your role?" before they asked for names. Names did not matter in the game. In the beginning Jide tried not to care for the names. He submersed himself in the game, breezing through the faces. Gerald, Ayomide, Johnson—whose name he later found out to be Chukwuekezie, but the names always stayed with him, like shadows of the men who owned them. Shadows were all he was destined to have. The night he met Stan, Jide lay awake next to him wondering how long their ship would sail before it sank. And this wonder eventually morphed into fear. Paralyzing fear that lodged itself underneath the thin sheet of sweat that was left between the two of them on the nights they enjoyed in darkness. Because Stan was real, Jide knew. Stan lay with him, just lay. What kind of a man just lay? In the mornings before he left, he pecked Jide on the forehead. He brought Coldstone each time he visited and he held Jide on the sofa as they ate it and watched TV. When he left, Jide's heart broke so hard that he worried there was nothing to repair.
* * *
Their love story supposedly began in June when the bus Jide was traveling in crashed into a 16-wheeler near Surulele and Stan cancelled his flight to Kingston to sit outside his hospital room while his mother nursed him to health. Supposedly. That's only what Stan told Jide, "My heart stopped when I heard."
But for Jide, it started on the way back to his apartment when the skies cracked open. Or perhaps even way back in the party when Stan followed him to the leather cushion and said, "I'm so sorry. That came out wrong. I'm Richard. Richie, if you like."
"Really? Richie? Is that even your real name?" Jide said. He was almost sure it wasn't and just wanted him to go away.
"Yeah, you got me. It's Stanley," he said, laughing. "So what's your name, Bobo?"
Perhaps it was at that moment that it happened. A bit of Guinness, a bit of laughter and a little flutter somewhere in his stomach and somehow, his brain began to brew with the possibilities, endless as they were, stretched out like a mat before the both of them. Stan bought him another beer before offering to drive him home. In the car, some loud song played as they made their way through the butter-colored streets.
Stan talked over the stereo, words that registered but were now forgotten. In bed, Stan whispered to him as he moved, which was a bit distracting because Jide was used to hushed sex, quiet sex, because even the walls had ears. The whispers were only interrupted by the occasional silent moans that followed precise movements. After he rolled off Jide, he did not gather his clothes, instead he closed his eyes. Jide lay awake, listened to his breathing soften and knew that something had happened.
* * *
They never said the words to each other, but Jide knew. And that humid June afternoon, squeezed between bleeding people calling out to God, he knew more than anything. When Stan told him, Jide's heart stopped and he whispered,"I love you, for real."
"I love you too, Bobo," Stan said. Jide saw something else in the deep of his eyes; he saw the sincerity of his fear.
The doctors came and wheeled Jide away to the theatre. After the surgery, he woke up to his mother sitting next to his bed and Stan sitting outside.
It was mid-January, the time of year when dust still swirled around in small cyclones. Weeks had passed since the wedding.
With a love like Jide and Stan’s came fear. Perhaps both were one and the same. Something about the realness of Stan's touch scared Jide completely off his wits. His little gap tooth was real; the calluses on his hands were real (boarding school) and the smell of his skin was real. Every corner of the streets of Lagos seemed filled with people that saw right through him. Every glance set off alarms. He had heard the stories of the boy that was battered in Osun and the one that was burnt in Onitsha. But no matter how apart they walked from each other, walking next to Stan exhilarated him. Because it was Stan and he was real. What they shared was real, so real that at times, Jide felt it take on its own consciousness and hover over him. Even after Stan left, he sometimes felt it. He knew that Stan was not his to keep, not in this country. It was why no one bothered with names: all there could ever be were two bodies, two fires, two souls, in sync, a brief state of oneness. Love had to be stifled, killed. Jide knew the rules of the game but Stan aroused in him a simple man who wanted nothing but to fall madly, deeply, and unreservedly in love. And to be loved the same. To be loved fierce; to be loved true; and to be held. But all that was not supposed to be. One September afternoon in 2014, Stan took Jide to Browns at Oduduwa crescent and told him there that he was getting married in December.
"Bobo..." he began.
In the days that followed, there were few things that stuck to Jide's memory, and one of them was the way air rushed at him after Stan said Bobo. He had never heard him say Bobo that way, never knew Bobo could be said that way: filled with such tragic solemnity.
"Bobo, I'm getting married."
Jide had always known that eventually something would happen, something would tear them apart, and what worse than marriage. Stan was a young man with a good job and a nice apartment and a car, and so he owed it to everyone to 'settle down'. With a woman, of course. Men did not love men. The air around Jide stilled for moments, he found it hard to breathe, hard to blink, hard to move at all.
"Bobo, come on, say something. Anything."
"I...um, I don't know what to say." He exhaled. His hands were shaking and he felt that if he said more, his voice would rise. He picked up the napkin beside his plate and wiped his hands.
"Look, Bobo, I know this is big but... it doesn't have to be the end... we could still—"
Jide raised a hand to silence him. His blood simmered and Stan’s voice made his skin crawl. He pushed back his seat and stood.
"Please, Stan, just save it." He walked away. His lunch break was over so he went back to the office. He opened a file on his table and watched the numbers lined up in steady progression and the tears came. They rushed up his throat and bubbled to his eyes. Not just for Stan but for himself. He pitied himself for falling for Stan in the beginning even though he knew he and Stan were only silicon threads held together by the absence of the inevitable.
They went through the rituals of breaking up, or at least Jide did. He blocked Stan on social media, stopped taking his calls, and created an anonymous Facebook account with which he followed Stan and the beautiful woman he was promised to marry. In that order. Stan came to his door many times.
"Bobo, let's just talk." Jide was not sure there was anything left to talk about. On the day of the wedding, he sat at the far end of the hall and watched his Stan get married to another. The couple looked happy. They were sitting on two metal chairs with backrests shaped like hearts. They whispered to each other as the MC spoke. On occasion she would touch his arm and laugh softly at something he said. Eventually the MC called them to dance. First they danced to fast highlife music, all smiles. Then they danced to slow music. Jide just watched. After the dance, he got up and walked all the way home, from the hall near Frank street to his flat on Fifth Avenue.
* * *
There was a knock on the door. It was mid-January, the time of year when dust still swirled around in small cyclones. Weeks had passed since the wedding. Christmas had come and gone but his apartment still smelt slightly of Stan and his eyes still watered when he thought of how it ended. He had not been to any party since Stan left.
It was a Tuesday and Jide had just come back from work and was reading posts on his Facebook feed. He closed his laptop and went to open the door.
"Stanley," he exclaimed when he saw Stan standing in the doorway. It occurred to him to immediately shut the door but it had been too long or at least it felt that way.
"Bobo! Long time no see."
"Yes. Congratulations," Jide said. "I'm sorry I couldn't make it to the wedding." He added, forcing a smile. Stan raised his eyebrow. Perhaps he saw Jide at the wedding.
"So how about we go out and get a drink?" Stan asked.
"I can't. I have a lot of accounts to sort out," Jide said. He hurried to shut the door, but Stan wedged it with his feet.
"Come on, Bobo, just one drink so we can catch up."
“There is absolutely nothing to catch up on.”
Jide swallowed and looked at Stan. He wanted to back away from the door, from Stan and the familiar scent of his deodorant and his gap tooth. He wanted to run but instead he looked down at his feet and said, "OK. Let me get my wallet."
In the car, they drove in silence for a while. Suddenly Stan swerved to the side of the road and turned off the engine.
"Look, Bobo, I've been meaning to say I'm sorry."
"No. Really I'm sorry. I know I hurt you and I wish you would find it in your heart to forgive me."
"It’s not your fault," Jide said. "You did what you had to do."
Stan gave him a pointed look.
"I don’t know what else you want me to say," Jide said.
They sat in silence for a few moments before Stan restarted the engine and drove to QLounge. The traffic was already beginning to congest. They talked of Buhari and his missing school certificate, of Lagos, even of the bar itself—but not of Stan's wife. With every beer their conversation grew less throaty and the ease with which Jide remembered Stan seeped back.
That day, it rained. The skies poured down and this was one of the two things that never left him: the other was Bobo.
On the drive home, Stan's phone rang. Jide guessed from the quiet way about his voice that it was his wife.
"I'll be back soon. Let me just run some errands."
Jide was right.
"Sorry about that," Stan said.
"Oh, it's fine. I was meaning to ask how you were finding married life." Jide chuckled. He had intended it to be humorous but was not sure it had come out as planned.
"It’s OK," Stan said, "I...um....she's a good person." He paused. Jide sensed he wanted to say more but he didn't.
Back at the apartment, he walked Jide to the door.
"Thanks for the drinks," Jide said.
"My pleasure," Stan said. Jide stretched out his hand but Stan hugged him. His hold lingered for a moment before he let go. They stared at each other.
"Want to come in?"
Stan looked around before entering Jide's flat. He came into the living room and perched on a sofa. Perhaps inviting him in was not such a good idea.
"You know what, I think I should go. Maybe later."
Jide nodded and watched him leave then went over and locked the door. He brought his laptop from the dinning to the living room and got comfortable. There was a knock. He sighed, exasperated, wondering which of his neighbors it was. When he opened the door he was surprised to see Stan standing in the hallway.
"Did you forget--"
Stan walked in, closed the door, and kissed Jide. The tentative touch of Stan's lips to his stunned him. He did not know how to respond. He pushed at Stan's chest.
"What are you doing? You're married."
Stan blinked as though this was a new fact and then he kissed Jide again. This time Jide kissed back. Slowly at first, until their hands were all over each other and they were making their way to the room. Stan felt and smelled of fondness, like a favorite dish that he had stayed away from for too long. They were like two bolts of lightning clashing and reverberating waves of pleasure. With each thrust, thousands of ripples shot through his skin, to his hairs and to the nails of his toes. Afterwards they lay next to each other catching their breath.
"My God!" Stan said and they laughed.
Jide wanted to tell him that the world had disappeared. But he kept trying to remember if the door was locked. They lay there, next to each other, engulfed in oneness, until Stan's phone buzzed. He looked at it and got up to get dressed. Jide watched him with an ugly feeling sinking in his stomach.
"Are you serious?" he asked. Stan looked up.
"I'm so sorry but I really have to go. She's waiting for me."
Jide nodded solemnly.
“Come on, don’t be like that. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Stan said and came over to kiss him.
Jide withdrew, chuckling. “No, you won’t."
“Seriously? Come on, Bobo, don’t be childish.”
Jide flared. Childish? He was being childish?
“Get out,” Jide said.
“Bobo, you seriously didn’t except me to spend the night,” Stan said, adding in a low voice: “I’m married.”
Jide escorted him to the door. He listened to the echo of his feet edging down the hall and then went to the veranda to watch his car drive into the night. A cool breeze was billowing through the trees. He came back in and lay on his bed, burdened with sadness, a hole growing in the very fabric of his being. He thought of Stan’s wife welcoming him back, laying in his arms through the night. He sat up on his bed, buried his face in his palms and broke into fresh warm tears.
The next afternoon, Stan called. Once, twice, then again and again. He sent texts, all of which Jide deleted, unread. The day crawled slowly by. Once the skies darkened, bringing the hope of a harmattan drizzle, but then it cleared up just as quickly. Jide was restless, tight jawed, and his accounts sat staring back at him. He thought of the night before and how quickly Stan had dressed and his eyes watered. He had never felt more alone. And this aloneness was heightened by the knowing that he would always be alone. Men were not supposed to love men.
After work, he drove to a closed party in Yaba. He sat at the bar, looking at the other people intermingle—whispering in each other’s ears, touching each other’s arms, laughing. In a way, they were all like him: alone, with the looming shadow of knowing that they were not allowed to love who they wished to, and a stupid type of eager-hope lurking somewhere anyway. In a way it was like waiting for blood to dry—or perhaps it was more like waiting for the rains to come, to sweep up the scents of wet harmattan dust, to overrun the gutters, and kindle in its path, fires that burn each other out.
Ani Kayode Somtochukwu is a Nigerian writer and poet. His poems were shortlisted for the 2017 Erbacce Poetry Prize and his works have appeared in Tuck Magazine, African Writer, Brilliant Flash Fiction, and Dublin, among others.