I wrote a poem last night.
Today, Mr Okri, my form teacher, found the piece of writing in my bag while searching for Jonathan’s Biology note which he had accused was stolen by one of the boys in class. He took me, Dave and Tega — two boys who had a pack of Dorchester and a betting slip in their possession — to the principal’s office for interrogation. Our parents got a personal invitation to the school, courtesy of the principal. I could hear my parents' footsteps resounding in the hallway while I waited at the principal’s office, despite the echoes from the bell outside indicating lunch break. My parents’ anxious faces greeted me, betraying the question they longed to ask: “What have you done this time?” The principal was sitting behind a large oak desk. As the door closed behind us, he spoke to my parents: “Please, take a seat.”
My parents nodded and sat down in the two cushioned chairs available for visitors. I stood beside my father. I suppressed a smile; this scene had replayed itself a thousand times in the last thirteen years of my life: standing before a panel made up of my parents, the principal, my form teacher and perhaps a victim of my mischief, waiting to be punished. The principal handed the paper to my father:
“Read the poem—you will understand the gravity of Kenechi’s offence,” he said.
My father stared at the piece of writing held by his fingers, a thoughtful gaze he wore. It was the same expression my meals got whenever they were presented before him (he had a phobia for food poisoning). I was unabashed by the events happening — the revelation of my thoughts on paper.
“The poem exudes violence,” the principal explained as if my father was daft or could not detect the undertone. “Violence, any form of it, cannot be condoned in this school,” he continued. My parents did not chip in apologetic words this time. It was obvious that they knew the principal’s verdict.
I was enrolled into a missionary secondary school the next term. A boarding school was my parents' last resort after news came that it was a “Rehabilitation Centre” for lost teens. In the six years spent in acquiring a secondary education, my arms had waved goodbyes to old classmates and I had shook hands with a hundred new principals. This happened following a suspension or expulsion from the previous school. It was my curse — I was not meant to exist for a long time anywhere. It would explain why I let myself drown instead of returning home after my expulsion from school that term.
Arinze did no wrong; he was caught up in mine. We became friends after my entrance into the school. He—like me—had been exiled to the missionary school for one reason: to be in tune with masculinity. He was effeminate: in physique, in emotion, in attitude.
He chewed gum like those harlots in movies.
His travelling bag and bedsheets were shades of pink, and so were most of his underwear.
He crossed his legs when he sat, to the horror of most staff and students of the school.
He maintained his soft, melodious voice (unlike most of the boys whose voices became sonorous, thanks to puberty).
He was effusive and gave in to tears in a second.
Arinze was different, too different. I was curious about the rumours I heard about him from some of our classmates. "Your body is God's temple," I heard as a child in Sunday School but Arinze's body was his. He sprayed feminine perfumes over his uniform and used feminine body wash.
He was a rebel.
He reminded me of myself.
This must have been the basis for my attraction to Arinze.
On Monday, the first day of the Holy Week, Arinze was not at the dining hall for dinner.
I approached Nnamdi, the hall prefect and a classmate, to ask if Arinze had defaulted a hostel rule, if he was facing a punishment—WHY DID HE NOT EAT DINNER?
“Arinze is at the school clinic,” Nnamdi explained, clearing my doubts. He tried to make a joke of Arinze’s helplessness as he was assisted by a few roommates to the school clinic. I was in no mood to get mad, so I walked away. That night, I saw Arinze in my dream. He was walking to the chapel—it was time for morning devotion. I called out his name and he turned to face me. But his eyes did not meet mine. I was awashed with guilt.
“How are you?” I asked, concerned for Arinze's fragile body underneath the sheet. It was break time and I was spending the period with Arinze in the clinic.
“I don’t feel good—my body aches, he replied. Arinze’s tear ducts did not betray him. In my mind, a grateful hymn played. I was nursing the guilt triggered by my ignorance of his suffering the previous night. I told him about the fight between a student and a staff during assembly that morning. The school authority had not failed to reward the boy with an expulsion letter. Arinze laughed and laughed and laughed.
My heartbeat resounded in my ears.
I left the clinic that afternoon, conscious of the feeling awoken in my loins by the warmth in Arinze’s eyes, the excitement in his laughter, the happiness his smiles gave off. I knew that I wanted more...
Arinze did not return to the hostel until Easter was over.
We became inseparable. We shared seats in the dining hall, the classroom, and library during preparatory classes. In the evenings, while others played football or argued about sports and girls, Arinze and I sat under the guava tree adjacent the school field and laughed over our silly conversations. We were nicknamed HUSBAND AND WIFE by the boys. No one questioned our relationship; there was no threat in sight—I was too masculine to be gay.
I wrote some poems and showed them to Arinze in the library while we prepared for the term’s tests. The poems described my sexual fantasies with a man. Arinze praised my creativity. Then he sighed.
“What?” I asked him, curious about his thoughts.
“Sometimes, I wished you were gay. I am,” Arinze said as a confession. Adrenaline coursed through my body and I felt my heartbeat increase. I managed a smile. He gave me a nudge—he was satisfied with my response.
I was not.
While we sat there reading and starting up conversations that ended midway, I fought with my conscience to tell Arinze about my lust for him. I was ashamed to admit my queerness.
Because it was a recent discovery.
Because the discovery would break my parents’ hearts.
Because I feared being mocked by the boys and expelled from school.
Senior exams were forthcoming. I needed to graduate from high school. This was my goal. But it did not matter when Arinze kissed me in my room on the eve of our departure for the midterm break—he had offered to assist me pack after my roommates left for home. Nothing mattered when he pierced into me while I held my bunk for support. We moaned as our bodies fought to let out repressed lust. If we had paid more attention, if we had been cautious and played by the rules of the school, perhaps Nnamdi would not have witnessed the act when he arrived to inspect the room and ran to report to the hostel master...
This is why I drowned: I realised that society will never accept my kind.
The principal, before handing the expulsion letters to Arinze and I, called us CURSED SOULS.
“You are doomed, both of you! You will burn in hell’s fiery flames if you continue this way!” he declared.
Arinze did not mutter a sorry or goodbye word to me when his mother’s car honked outside. His bag strolled by his side to the car, both looking dejected. Arinze needed a hug, a kiss, a pat. I should have ran to him and said, “Don’t feel guilty, it was not you fault,” but his mother’s glare from where she stood held me down. I stared at Arinze's frame in the car, hoping that I got even a glance. But he was overwhelmed by guilt. My presence was ignored.
The car journeyed down the road, leaving trails on the red earth. I knew the path that led me to Arinze had intersected with another and I was on a new lane. I followed that path till I got to the river a few miles from school. Arinze had promised the previous night that we would go for a swim before our parents’ arrival. My body vibrated with the sobs of a million broken souls.
As my body floated on the water, my spirit sought to exist somewhere away from the homophobic space and rest for eternity in a place where rebels were welcomed.
Ugochi Okafor: "I am a copywriter with a few works published in The Kalahari Reviews and African Writer magazines, as well as having some features in Enter Naija and The Vanguard anthologies on Brittle Paper. I live in Lagos, Nigeria; a lover of nature and voodoo and all things absurd. A breaker of stereotypes; I enjoy having discussions with myself, and writing is a way I express my repressed feelings."