by S.A SABO
Muri did not deserve to know. No one did. I would not even leave a note behind; I would just pack my things and go. We were never really friends anyway and though we shared many nights, there was a space between us that only the warmth of a friend could fill. I think he knew this.
Over our first year in Bosso, I had gradually lost the will to function. Going to lectures had become a chore and Geology, a course I was very excited about, had become a drudge. I had failed enough courses to guarantee an extra year at the university and was still in my first year. And if no strikes occurred I was looking at five years in that school after which I would probably only work as a Civil Servant earning a pittance.
I called home often to find out if my visa had come through. At first Mama found it amusing. Then she began to avoid me and made my sister answer the phone. The last time I called my sister told me that I was refused a visa. My heart sunk with a thud. I was about to hang up when her shrill laugh filled my ears. I got annoyed and hung up.
She did not understand why that visa was important. She thought I just wanted to go to London because it was London. She did not have to lie in bed at night waiting for Muri to come in. She did not have to smell his hands that reeked of cigarette and dirt. She did not have to lie underneath him in the dark his warm breathe pressing against her face.
Leaving is the best way to end this horror. I hated looking forward to what we did. I enjoyed smoking but then after the first cigarette of the day the rest became tasteless. I deserved more.
Muri and I never talked about it since the first night. We were outside smoking under the mango tree when there was a power cut which brought a thick darkness about us. He wanted to light another cigarette so he felt the space in-between us for the lighter. His hand found my lap and I froze. He rubbed down towards my waist, then stopped. I stood up, flicked away my cigarette and went into the bedroom. He followed me. His hand ran along the valley in my back. I felt nothing. When I ran my hand over his chest, he shuddered. I recoiled. This made him laugh. Embarrassed, I moved to the corner of the bed. He said sorry and tried to pull me back. I refused. He apologised again and I told him never to laugh at me. He nodded. If he had said okay, I would have known that he did not mean it. When it came to it, I stilled myself. The feeling was confusing. I wanted to know what I was feeling. I wanted to know if what I was feeling was what I was supposed to be feeling.
When he finished he lay back down and lit a cigarette. I moved to my side of the bed and pulled the cover over my head. In the morning, I heard him dressing up. I refused to wake up. I didn’t want to see his face. I didn’t want to know my reaction to it. The door clicked shut. I raised the cover and looked about the room. Nothing happened.
I felt the floor for my shirt and found a cigarette and a lighter, Muri’s gift to me. I lit it and sucked. Muri did not come back home the next night, I’m sure he stayed at Bami and Maro’s room. All they ever did there was smoke, drink and talk inanities. I used to hang out at their place. There was never any food but the weed we bought could last us days. After smoking we would all go to a bukka and binge on cheap eba and pounded yam, from where we would either go back to Bami and Maro’s and watch porn or, if it was evening, we would go to the basketball court and watch games till night fell.
There was little else to do in Bosso and very few girls around. Even the ugly ones were sought after. So I went to Joddi’s Joint. Joddi was a graduate from OAU and his Joint had computer games, which students paid to use. But I never played such games as a child and found it difficult to indulge in them later. I went there for the company. And Joddi never talked down to us though he was much older.
He had two regulars, Tolu and Mike, and together they would banter about rock bands, old school Hip Hop and the thrillers they had read. Most times I sat down and listened to their chatter and laughed at their jokes especially, Tolu’s who said if you play Enya at night in a closed room the lights never come on and candles never light.
I told Joddi about my plans to leave the country. I told him the moment my visa came through I would head for the bus garage without saying goodbye to anyone. Then why are you telling me he asked. I owe it to you I said. He nodded and gave me a sachet of pure water for free.
What are you going to do when you get to London?
Start living again.
Will you tell me before you leave?
I nodded. But he knew I would not. On my way home, it occurred to me that I did not tell Joddi which country I was going to. And he did not ask. I felt purged to have told him about my plans. My mood brightened. I stopped at a kiosk and bought two fingers of cigarette, a tin of groundnut oil and maggi cubes. I made jollof rice and kept some for Muri. After eating, I sat outside under the barren mango tree and lit up. It was not my first cigarette but it was not bland either. I saved the other one for later.
I was half asleep when Muri came back the next night. I heard him in the kitchen. I heard his feet on the rug. I heard the wardrobe squeal. And then I felt the lights die. I felt naked but my cover cloth was still above my head. The mattress sunk when he climbed onto the bed. I felt submerged. Into what I could not say but I felt as if I would drown if I didn’t pull myself up. I could hear myself breathing. Please get it over with, I wanted to say. Muri slipped his hand under the cover and found my buttocks. He pressed them lightly as if to make sure they were really mine. Were you waiting for me? He asked. I shook my head but I had gone to bed naked. As if not to waste time, he climbed on my back. I clenched my belly and buried my head in the pillow. He came in but stopped. What’s wrong? I asked. He continued moving and then stopped again. I’m not the first person you have done this with, he said. I did not respond. He carried on.
Have you done this before? I asked Muri who lay beside me with his face to the ceiling. He shook his head. Will you do it with someone else? He began shaking his head and then said no…I don’t know. I just hope I’m not gay. I put my hand on his belly and circled his navel with my index. I wanted to run my hand below his belly but I was not sure how he would react.
I hope I don’t have to worry about being gay. There’s nothing as clichéd, I said.
Being gay is clichéd? He asked.
No, worrying about it.
Muri placed his hand on mine and pushed it away from his navel towards his middle. Do what you want, he said.
By morning, he was gone again, but this time I did not miss him. He would come back at night. And I’ll be here. So for now all I had to do was exist. I did not get out of bed immediately. Naked I lie under the cover and let my mind take flights. I imagined myself in London schooling and working part-time. I imagined my new girlfriend but was unable to put a face to her body. I wonder about London girls. I knew they spoke differently but did they smell different. I realise that I knew less about them than I did the girls I’ve known. They all belonged to a separate entity from which I wasn’t barred but was not enthusiastically welcomed. They were there; I was here.
Now that I was beginning to find my way around Muri’s body, I wondered if I could find my way back to a girl’s. For a moment, this thought unsettled me I opened the windows to air out the room. I made pap and while I left it to cool, I went to the kiosk to buy kosai and some cigarettes. The morning dragged on but I did not care. I thought about stopping by at the afternoon lectures to collect the handouts. And then stop at Joddi’s Joint around noon to hang out. I had to return his Enya cd anyway. It was just rock music like the many others that have been made before.
Next time I looked at my watch it was past noon. Anxiety tampers with time, I have noticed, for good or bad. I had over-fed on the pap and was slowly overcome by drowsiness. I gave in and went to bed. I would just skip lectures and go to Joddi’s instead after I woke up. My sleep was light. A tap on my shoulder and I opened my eyes to find Muri in my face. I smiled and made to kiss him but he recoiled. Maro and Bami are here. He said. I sat up and asked. What do they want? Muri turned to the door and then back to me. One Nation.
I climbed down from the bed annoyed and disappointed in Muri. I came into the living room and found Maro, Bami, and a girl. Bami was in the girl’s ear. She giggled in fits and I wondered why because Bami could not tell a joke. Maro sat opposite them with a parcel of weed on a stool in front of him. He had rolled two sticks and was on his third when he looked up. Person. He said to me. Where you? I asked. I hold side. He replied and eased his tongue underneath the paper greasing it with his saliva before sealing it.
The girl looked at me, smiled and said Hello. I said Hi and took my eyes off her yellow teeth. Her feet had stained our blue rug. Bami winked at me and carried on talking to her. I knew he thought he was about to do me a big favour by bringing a girl to our place for an orgy. But I did not want to know where they found this one. And Muri would have to clean the rug.
Bami lit up one of Maro’s sticks, took a few drags and passed it to the girl. She shook her head. He dragged some more and passed it to me while he led the girl to our bedroom. Muri came out of the kitchen with one of our ceramic plates to use as an ashtray. I still use that plate. I said. I will wash it. He said. I tried to trace hatred or distance in his voice. I stared at him hoping he would meet my eyes. Instead, he lit up another of Maro’s sticks and sucked. The bastard.
I’m next, said Maro.
Here, take mine. I said proffering my weed.
Maro looked at me then Nasir and they both laughed
Is that how scarce toto is, that now this Chairman does not know that it is what we’re talking about?, said Maro.
To mask my embarrassment I smiled along and said things hard.
Are you sure you can recognise toto when you see it eh Chairman? Don’t go and put your blonkos in the girl’s ass oh, said Maro.
Muri’s laughter was wild. The weed was getting to him. But he still avoided my face. I decided to play some music. Joddi’s Enya cd was in the deck. Standing up to change it, I felt the contents of my head swirl. My body was weightless but I could not move it. I slumped back in the chair. Muri and Maro’s laughter rang out. I laughed at me too and picked up the remote from the centre table. I turned on the deck and played the Enya. Her ghostly voice rang out of the speakers but in my head, I heard silences.
Bami came out and Maro went in.
Clad in only boxers Bami held on to the air with his left hand and pumped his waist to and fro while smacking the air with his right hand. Nasir broke into a big laugh. Bami took my weed from me and sucked hard. Any water, I want to bath. He asked. I laughed and surprised myself by how loud I was. We haven’t had water for two days, said Muri. And how is that funny? Asked Bami. I shrugged. He dragged the weed one more time and stretched it to me but I refused it. The walls of my stomach were beginning to stiffen.
Who’s playing this noise? Asked Bami. Change it if you want. I said to him. He changed the cd and the first track was Bad Boy For Life, and immediately Bami began chanting along to the refrain.
We aint, we aint going nowhere
We going nowhere, we can’t be stopped now,
Cos we Bad Boy for life…
I needed to leave that place. By now, I found it easy to imagine myself elsewhere. I hoped Muri would miss me so bad that thinking about it would pain him. I think that was partly why I made the effort to make him enjoy what we did. So that he would get used to it, so that he would begin to expect it the same way I did.
When Maro came out Muri stood up to go in. Just then, he caught my eyes and looked away. I found a blip of satisfaction in the fact that he had avoided my eyes all this time. Perhaps he did not want to know if I approved of what he was about to do. Perhaps he thinks I would be hurt knowing he was doing to that girl what he should be doing with me. Maro had a cloud on his face. He kissed his teeth and picked up of the stick to light. What happened? Asked Bami. Maro lit his weed, sucked it till the tipped burned evenly and then said,
I come quick.
How come? Asked Bami.
What do you mean how come? I said.
I wasn’t talking to you, said Bami.
The thing just come quick, I have to stop smoking this weed, said Maro.
I began to laugh but noticed neither of them shared the humour.
And we spent so much to convince this girl to come here with us, said Maro. I was too high to empathise with him. Not that I really would if I was sober. Because of him and Bami, Muri was on our bed doing things with that girl. I prayed that he too would come quick or that his condom would burst while inside.
I’ll go back in after you, said Maro.
I’m not going. I said.
Why? Asked Bami, his face behind a white mist.
I just don’t want to.
Are you afraid?
I said I don’t want to. Is it by force?
You’re not even grateful that we brought you free toto.
Don’t you see how dirty she is?
It’s all pussy, said Maro.
This one will burn you dick.
It’s all pussy, said Maro.
To you maybe, but to me it’s a death trap and I have bigger plans for my dick.
Cool but go easy with the lotion, said Bami.
I rather help myself than get my dick fried up. Like I said, I have bigger…
Oh just shut up, you’re ruining my high. I also have bigger plans for this high, it’s going to take me places. Bami began laughing at his joke but neither of us joined in.
Why did you guys bring her here? Why not take her to your place? I asked.
I don’t even know. Said Maro whose clouded face loosened with every drag he took.
Muri said we should bring her here. There were too many boys at our place and we didn’t want to share, said Bami and laughed too hard he choked and had to sit up to relieve himself.
So Muri said you should bring her here.
Yes. Maybe he took pity on you because the last toto you saw was the one you came out of, said Bami.
I doubt you saw that one because you were blind, added Maro.
Bami began laughing but then choked and coughed in rapacious fits. He ran to the kitchen.
There’s no water. I called after him.
Bami walked back to the living room still coughing. He looked around for his trousers. As he made for the door, Maro asked him to buy more cigarettes from the kiosk.
I wanted to think about Muri’s motive for asking them to bring the girl to our place. But my thoughts were light as though they hovered above, my head lacking enough reasoning to drag them down and process. I let that thought fly at which point the fire on my weed was beginning to burn my fingers.
Muri came out. He looked around his eyes droopy.
Kiosk, said Maro.
Muri looked at the parcel of weed on the table and then raised his head to Maro and said,
Next time I’m going in first.
What happened? Asked Maro.
Nobody likes leftovers, said Muri and sat down.
This time I did not look at him. I tried not to.
Your boy said he’s not going in, said Maro to Muri.
Muri turned to me.
I just don’t want to.
Yes but why?
I did not respond. I could feel Muri’s piercing glare.
You’re going to let free toto go to waste, said Maro. He adjusted himself in the chair and picked up a cigarette. I picked one as well but went outside to smoke it. The slat of anger in Muri’s voice gladdened me. His guilt must be working him.
When Bami returned he saw me outside and hurried in. I decided to take a walk. I needed the distance and leaving might further hurt Muri. I hoped it would. I went back into the living room. Maro was not there. He must have gone back in. I searched for my shirt, put on my slippers and left.
I wandered about our area. I went to the shade where we often played snooker. As it was evening, the bodies had started to crowd the scene. Next door was a woman who sold hot drinks from her room. Upturned benches leaned on the wall beside her door. I walked past her as she swept the ground raising mild red dust. I walked past the mechanic garage in front of the only storey building in the entire area. I’d never stopped to count how many stories there were. As if automated, I realised that I had been gravitating towards the bukka all along. I wondered if that was my plan when I left the house but my recollection was hazy. Now I was becoming lucid. I felt a tightening in my belly. This added a spring in my step as I made for the bukka.
The zinc shack was empty except for a mechanic who sat in a corner neck deep in his eba. I ordered poundi and egusi. The aroma of food encouraged more drum-rolls in my belly. The sweaty waitress said the egusi was just getting ready and it would take another minute. She placed the washing hand bowl and water in a plastic cup on my table. The red cup had circlets of brown dirt in it. I asked for pure-water instead. She brought me a sachet. I held it up in the remnants of light the sun had left behind. Brown sediments settled at the tip-end of the sachet. Next time the waiter entered was with my poundi and egusi. Do you have coke? She nodded. Give me one. I was half way through the food when I realised that the egusi was hotter than the eba. The pepper in my soup burned my tongue and hastened my lucidity. This was what I loved most about weed – the anticlimax. I washed my hands and guzzled down the last of the coke. Standing up I felt the weight of the poundi push down my bowels. I had to ease myself. I paid and left. There was no water in the house so it had to be the bush. I bought three fingers of Rothmans and another sachet of pure-water. I asked the kiosk owner for some paper. He looked around his shop, found a newspaper and tore out two leaves for me. Leave some space for me too. He joked. I nodded and made for the bush. Because of the water shortage, even the locals and not just the students defecated in the bush. I walked past a phone box that hung on the sidewall of a business centre. The urge to call home welled up in me. I thought about leaving it till after my bushgame. I decided to make the call quick, pressed as I was. No one picked up. I dialled again and on the first ring, my sister’s voice poured down my ears. She was excited and this made her incoherent. We just got the letter, just now. I was waiting for her to settle down when a clipped sound rang in my ear. I looked at the screen on the phone box; my credit was low and I had to insert another card. I felt my pockets and realised there was not enough for a card. My stomach growled. I hung up the phone and made for the bush. I would hurry home when done and get more money for a phone card. This could be about my visa; why else would she be so excited about a letter just received. I wetted the newspaper with the pure-water even before I finished. I lit a cigarette and in-between hurrying home and thinking of the letter that got my sister excited I forgot to smoke the cigarette till it was half-size. I sucked what was left, and flicked away the stub. The night had fallen when I reached our place.
I opened the door and raised my hand to switch on the lights when I heard stop. It was Muri.
I need to get something. I said.
Why did you leave? He asked.
He did not respond. I could make him out on the bed under the weak light that peered through the curtain.
You mean the girl.
Yes. He said.
I just didn’t want anything to do with her.
I just didn’t.
Do you now hate women?
Because of what we did, do you now…
No, what makes you think that?
Then why didn’t you do it?
You mean with her.
Did you see how dirty she was?
When has that ever stopped you? Did you not do it to punish me?
You’re repeating my questions.
I switched on the lights. Muri sat up with his back to the wall. I could tell he had no underwear on. He knew I noticed. His eyes trailed me across the room to the wardrobe where I searched for my wallet.
I wanted to make sure I wasn’t …you know… that’s why I did it with her.
I ignored his prod. My wallet was in none of my trousers. I looked on the top shelf. I looked in my box. I stood up and tried to think of where I’d left it. I looked in Muri’s wardrobe. I flipped through his clothes with less care than usual. He said nothing. I looked around the room, everywhere, but the bed. I had it with me before I went to sleep, before Muri brought that girl to our place.
I checked my trousers again. Muri stood up and made for the door. I thought he was going out naked but he stopped and switched off the lights.
Can’t you see I’m looking for something?
I felt him walking towards me. Before me, he smelled of cigarette and Muriness.
What do you want? I asked.
He tried to kiss me. I did not refuse. He moved closer, I took a step back and hit the wardrobe. He kissed me again.
Have you seen my wallet? I asked.
He began to unbutton me. I helped him with my shirt.
You want to leave, don’t you, said Muri.
I did not respond for I was unsure if he meant leave him or leave the school. Or leave the room. My anger surged. I turned him around so that his chest was now against the wardrobe. His head hit the door and he squirmed. He craned his neck to look at me and I pressed it to the door. When I came in, he groaned. Then laughed wildly. I pushed harder and he fell quiet.