That void written over you, turning you to a cloned variant of yourself, disconcerts me. Your face has gathered moist-beads as it always does whenever you are agitated. I know that look. I know too when you grow large down there. Now, you avoid my face and everybody else’s. You’ve wet your shirt with perspiration. It hangs snuggly on you and seems to be saying, ‘You can always have me even if you can’t have her’. But you know it’s a lie. Shirts are ephemeral; love is not.
See, your palms are sweaty again. You told me you got sweaty palms from your dad, the uncle I never knew and of whom you have only a vague memory. Your mom too left you and married another man shortly after your dad’s demise. So, Dad took you in with us. We were very poor at the time, but Dad could not bear to see a brother’s son sleep in the streets, so he took you in with us. At night, you and I shared the small space that was created when the centre table in the parlour was removed. When I wet my mat and cover-cloth, I used to nestle close to you to share yours. Under your cover-cloth was like the womb of a woman pregnant with a set of twins. It was our private domain, beyond the bounds of mum’s hassle and dad’s vigilance. We whispered to each other, we touched each other.
Do you remember how we used to listen in on Mom and Dad’s conservation, lurking behind the door, holding each other and trying not to make any sound? On many occasions, we heard Mom telling Dad to send you away. We would return to our mat in the parlour and I would ask whether you would be going soon and you would say ‘no’. Mom did not disguise her hatred for you when you newly came in. She would shout at you at the slightest provocation. She once told you that if she were like your mother, there would be no woman to receive you into this house. That day, you secluded yourself, sitting alone under the mango tree outside. I came to you, thinking you were crying. You weren’t crying. You usually don’t cry at Mom’s nagging.
Olori-Ebi is shouting at you now, “Talk! Or have you suddenly lost your tongue? Omoale. You are set to drag the name of our family in the mud, but the ancestors will not allow it. You will not shame this family while I live. Ko baje lori Olugbon, ko baje lori Aresa. Ebi yi o ni toriimi baje’. He spews his spittle of disdain on the floor of our parlour and wiped it with the sole of his left foot. I look at you hoping our eyes will lock and we will communicate our uneasiness with the old man’s unwelcome act, but you are wearing a distant look that hints on your sightlessness at the moment. So I look away. Nobody here, except I, seems to mind Olori-Ebi’s spittle.
‘In all the years I have been existing, this is one abomination I have never heard of.’ He stops talking and fixes you a gaze which – were it a knife – would shred your flesh into eatable chunks. Dad has not said anything since this meeting started. He hasn’t said anything since you told him about our intention. All he has done is invite Olori-Ebi over and I am unsure whether the glassy water I see in his eyes now are tears of regret.
Olori-Ebi resumes talking. ‘Would I have known you would turn around and bite me and still go ahead to sharpen your teeth?’ I don’t have to think long about what that statement means as Olori-Ebi is quick to add, “I should have allowed you to live the life your mother wanted for you when she left you and chased men around the town.” The frail haggard-looking man is reputed in the family for lauding himself for the little act of kindness that mistakenly slides through his fingers and taking for himself the encomium that belongs to another person. He would not stop telling everybody how he sold firewood to pay for Dad’s SSCE and all he gets in return is a few naira notes for feeding every month and I still wonder whether he expects Dad to send him to America when he himself has never been to the airport. Now he is claiming responsibility for your education and Dad is still silent.
I am steeling myself for my own turn of this censure. I am after all as guilty as you, but Olori-Ebi is presenting you as the predator and I your quarry.
I am looking at you now, praying and hoping you will tell him of our readiness to bear the consequences if there be any. But instead of you to talk, your lips are just trembling, those lips that send a yearning into my blood when you plant them on mine.
The first time we kissed, your lips lingered on mine for some time before your tongue reached out for mine; it initially felt as though a snail was moving on my tongue, but in the moments that followed, a gratifying warmth spread from your tongue to mine and I relished the moment your tongue vigorously ransacked my mouth. My blood had heated to boiling point, my legs heavy. Gently, I wrapped my hand around you. And then you suddenly stopped and walked briskly away. I hated it, but I have since stopped brooding about Sewa’s betrayal. You appeared in my room that night saying you wanted to be sure I was not brooding about Sewa again. I wasn’t brooding about her. I was imagining what it would be like to have you right inside of me. In all our years of sharing a mat and cover-cloth, I hadn’t desired you like I did when you walked away briskly that afternoon.
There was power outage. The chargeable lamp on my reading table flickered a tired illumination into the room, I turned its weak gaze on the wall and we sat together on my bed and our bodies touched, yours sending an electronic surge into mine and our minds conferred and we played our usual game and you grew large down there and you entered me. That was when we wordlessly swore an oath of eternal commitment.
Before you left my room, you said, ‘Titi, Egbon loves you”. I looked at you and smiled, knowing that I would never call you Egbon; I never had. You are only a year older than I, so unworthy of that title but I have always loved it when you acted “egbon”, like when you did my chores and later told Mom that you didn’t offer a hand or when you offered your own pocket money so that I could eat more food than my own pocket money could buy at school.
Afterwards, we started offering our bodies to each other without any reservations. When Mom said harsh things to you, we stayed in your room or mine and talked about Mom’s despicable nature and how unfortunate of Dad to have married her and then we would talk about us and you would grow large down there and enter me.
Then I called at your room in the university one day and met a lady about my age whom you introduced to me as your girlfriend and I returned home with a fever. You came back home but I would not talk to you. I avoided you around the house yet my fever persisted for days. You showed up in my room again. You did not apologise for breaking my heart, you only planted your lips in my neck and liquefied the mountain of my rage. The moments that followed were bathed in euphoria. We played and danced to Beautiful Nubia’s O what a feeling. You picked the sachet of artesunate tablet on my table and threw it in the trash bag before you left.
Your name escaped from my mouth one day while Sam was making love to me and I knew immediately that our ailing relationship had finally completed its life span. The next day, he bade me the farewell of a bereaved loved one to a stiff cold body in the coffin. I didn’t brood. I did not brood when my other ex too left.
When you graduated from the university, Dad came to your room one day and met me sitting on your bed in ordinary undies. He sent me out with the alarm of an overprotective father sensing an imminent act of incest, but earlier that day you had grown large down there and had undressed me, did some unbuttoning and unbuckling on yourself and entered me and emptied into me and we both cried in ecstasy.
That same week, you asked me to marry you and I said “yes”. Then, we worked out the modality of getting the family to approve our abominable intention. We would convince Olori-Ebi and others of our unflinching love for each other and if they refused to approve of our marriage, we would threaten them with suicide. Now, here you are, seated with wet palms and trembling lips.
Image: Jeremy Perkins via Unsplash