BOOK EXTRACT: ‘Lives of Great Men’
A deeply personal memoir filled with contemporary anecdotes of same-gender-loving Africans
From from across the diaspora in Europe to Lagos, here is Nigerian journalist Chike Frankie Edozien’s moving memoir. In this extract from ‘Lives of Great Men’ (Jacana Media, R260), he delves into his relationship with Lamido, a married man.
‘Until the lion has his historian, the hunter will always be a hero.’ – Anonymous.
(Elmina Castle, Ghana) I open my eyes but I’m not moving. This siesta has probably lasted twenty minutes and now I’m staring at the lanky, striking man awakening beside me.
It’s mid-afternoon, and outside the streets are choked with crawling vehicles. Over the past few days the ubiquitous horn-blaring has been getting on my nerves.
When did Ikoyi become so noisy? At least it’s serene here inside the Moorhouse. The air conditioner is humming softly, chilling the room. The severe brown wood panelling décor is masculine. Nothing’s soft about the furnishings.
This small boutique hotel may be tailored for busy businesspeople but it’s also an oasis amidst the chaos of Lagos. And it’s in this oasis that I’m reconnecting with my childhood love. I stretch and see our naked selves in the mirror, legs intertwined on crisp white sheets. All afternoon we’ve been canoodling. Then having furtive, furious sex.
It’s been ten years plus since we last met. Even after all this time our bodies haven’t lost that feral magnetism for each other. At first we tried to tamp down the sexual tension by staying out with others at the bustling Eko Hotel. But in the end we just gave in.
He stirs, spurring me to inch closer, put my arms around his waist and peer over his shoulder. He smiles and I melt. ‘You dey okay?’ he asks softly. Years ago, whenever we were alone, his deep voice softening to a whisper made me feel loved, and it does today.
He still has dimples and the whites of his eyes still shine against his groundnut-coloured skin. He has no tribal marks but turns to look and see if mine remains. Few people notice it. It is tiny and hidden like a small scar under my right eye. He finds it, smiles and strokes it with his thumb. Then he kicks off the sheet.
And as my Fulani lover’s sinewy, naked body stretches out into the ‘X’ position I touch his ’fro gently, marvelling at how thick and soft it still is. What sort of pomade is he using now? I gaze at this body that’s remained taut, even though it’s now without the chisel of yesteryear.
‘You look great,’ I say, gently fingering his bellybutton. His stomach tenses. ‘I no be fine boy again oh,’ he replies, adding, ‘Your hair still plenty.’ He always appreciated the hair that sprouts abundantly all over me.
I shave my head and face but I love my hairy chest, legs and arms, and rarely trim or ‘manscape’. I’m happy it still thrills him but I feel trapped. Even his scent, a mix of cigarette smoke and musky cologne, holds me captive. I hug him tighter.
That Diana Ross ditty floats in and out of my consciousness: ‘Touch me in the morning/Then just walk away/We don’t have tomorrow/But we had yesterday...’. What am I doing? I’ve just spent hours having sex with someone else’s husband. And now we’re in a post-coital afterglow with little to say.
I remember him always talking, even after sex, but today he just smiles. We look into each other’s eyes. We both want to be here. Guilt isn’t part of the equation. With this man it never has been. Not when I was nineteen, and not now, when we are both in our thirties. Nothing’s changed.
Yet somehow today everything is different. Alhaji Lamido Gida and I first meet in the 1980s, when we and our families lived not far from this hotel. My brothers and I are Ikoyi boys, ‘Aje butter’ children – middle-class kids whose parents have multiple cars, homes with domestic help and who send them abroad on holiday.
Lamido is twenty and to my mind an adult. He’s friends with my elder brothers and we meet when he comes to visit them. I’m sixteen and home on holiday from boarding school in Port Harcourt.
During my years at the co-ed Federal Government College I’m introverted, bordering on shy, but come alive when I get involved with the drama troupe and the press club. It takes three years before I finally begin to enjoy boarding, and by the time I meet Lamido I have friends from all over, not just the Lagos kids.
I also discover that the boys’ dormitory, where these lifelong friendships are formed, and where everyone strategises about chasing girls, is home to hidden but rampant guy-on-guy desire. By sheer happenstance I’m seduced by a classmate who I call Smiley. Although he’s two years older than me, we’re both going into Form Five and gearing up for the West African School Certificate examinations.
After oversleeping one morning I didn’t have a pail of water to bathe with. I’d already missed the bread-and-boiled-egg breakfast and didn’t want to risk wasting more time with the trek to the outdoor quadrangle where the twenty-four communal taps were situated.
So I ask Smiley, who isn’t one of my friends but who is also running late, if he can share his full bucket with me. I expect a ‘no’ but he says yes with a little smile. And we bathe together, sharing the water, scooping just a little at a time so there is some left for the other. I make it to class on time and we become pals.
One evening when I go to fetch him for night study I’m surprised to find he’s not ready. He has a brown cotton wrapper tied around his waist and no shirt on, as if he’s about to go to bed. Without a word he pulls me into one of the tiny inner rooms behind the long, bunk-bed-filled main dorm, locks the door quickly, turns out the lights and whispers, ‘Shhh.’
We keep still while the prefects usher everyone else out. I hear the clanging of the chains on the outer gates and know everyone’s gone. Smiley sits back on the lower bunk and beckons. The tiny room has only space for one bunk. I lie beside him on the thin foam, and in the darkness he begins giving me little pecks on my lips and then my cheeks, sending sensations I’d never had before shivering down to my toes and up along my spine. I’m contorting each time he licks someplace. Then the furious rubbing of his prick against mine through the fabric of my shorts and his wrapper gives way to us removing our clothes.
Smiley whispers, ‘Turn this way.’ I’m confused but he gently moves us into a comfortable position. And for the first time I’m having sex. Intercourse feels weird at first, then fantastic. There is pain, but that comes later. When in the deep throes of ecstasy I heave and ejaculate I think I’ve just peed. Smiley calmly explains, ‘It’s just sperm.’ That night kicks off moments with him that I can’t even tell Paulie, my best friend back in Lagos, about. At fifteen this kind of sexual play is new to me. But not to Smiley, who tells me of others he’s ‘gone out’ with.
Boys having sex with each other surprises me. Until then I didn’t realise it was even possible. After I leave I feel great, but later the ‘good boy’ in me is wracked with guilt. The term is almost over, thankfully, and the first thing I do when I arrive home in Lagos is head to my parish and get on my knees in the wooden pew, where my priest gives me his undivided attention. During these years confession was often heard out on the church verandah, privately but not in a wooden box. ‘Bless me father for I have sinned. Since my last confession...’ I have lost my innocence. The Church of the Assumption in Ikoyi is a single-storey building next to a marble office tower and across from the Falomo Shopping Centre.
I’m a regular reader at morning mass and have worshipped here with my family from infancy. The young priest knows me well and names my ‘sin’ homosexuality. He acknowledges my internal struggle and encourages me to end this liaison. He is sympathetic but warns of consequences and makes me feel that this is behaviour I can vanquish if I just try harder.
And I am strong. But I’m never strong when I return to Port Harcourt. No number of Hail Marys work. At some point I move into Smiley’s room. We’re now seniors prepping for O Levels so I’m not under scrutiny as I was when in the lower classes. Another classmate – Christopher – and I also begin to fondle occasionally, sneaking off when we can, meeting by the twenty-four taps under cover of darkness for moments of frottage. But I know this thing is passing: it’s puberty play, purely physical and devoid of real emotion. So I keep going to confession and I pray. I pray for a good girlfriend. I pray to be like my four elder brothers.
Lamido changes all this. I’m now in Lower Six and have more freedom at home. I’ve aced my O Levels but flunk the yearly Joint Admissions & Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam so can’t get into university yet. My options are either to take it again a year later, or complete my A Levels, which will take a further two years of study. As I prepare to retake the JAMB I’m studying all day and partying with friends at night.
On Friday evenings Paulie and I usually head to Jazz 38 on Awolowo Road to listen to live music. Sometimes the Afrobeat King, Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, pops in en route to Ikeja, where he plays his standard set at the Shrine. Paulie and I have been close since primary school, where both of us eschewed football and worshipped Motown divas, particularly Diana Ross. We were blissfully peculiar before we knew what it meant to be so.
Taking turns at the microphone on the outdoor stage to belt out Sade Adu’s ‘Smooth Operator’ is becoming our thing. Lamido appears in the crowd, sees me, waves and comes over to us. Though his parents are in Kano, he lives with his siblings in Ikoyi. He’s up for anything in the name of fun. He feels no guilt. ‘I’m a Muslim,’ he tells me, ‘so I don’t drink, but I’ll smoke anything smokable.’ I nod admiringly.
He oozes charisma. He loves his brothers, reveres his sister and dotes on his nephews. It seems his siblings are in charge of his education. There have never been sparks between us – he’s really my brothers’ pal not mine – but now, as my friends and I gallivant around Lagos, I start running into him often.
Strolling by the waterside near the 1004 residential complex on Victoria Island to gawk at folk, gist and drink is something Paulie and I do often. In those heady days after high school, seeking out palm wine or barbequed meat has become de rigueur for us.
We generally stroll along the lagoon on the road to Maroko, but sometimes we make a detour and stop at the chop bars on Bar Beach, along the ocean side of the island. Victoria Island is upscale residential, and more and more nice joints are popping up all the time. We both love to people watch. Other times we retreat to the snooker room at Ikoyi Club, the members-only recreational enclave that has been there ever since it was founded in 1938.
Our friends bring their girls along. We all go to the same house parties. Sometimes I have a girl who likes me and I invite her to tag along; at other times I’m solo. I’m fine alone. It’s on one of these unattached nights out that I run into Lamido near 1004. He and I leave the others and go get suya near the Second Gate. I find these piping hot skewers of beef, peppers and onions irresistible.
It’s a cool evening and Lamido’s wearing one of his floor-length caftans, a brown one, with black leather slippers. Chatting with him alone while chopping suya and licking our fingers feels nice. Afterwards he takes me home in a taxi. We get out at the Queens Drive junction and stroll to my gate. Once under the giant tree that provides shade during the day and blocks out the streetlights at night, he leans in and sneaks a kiss. His tongue slides in and out of my mouth very quickly. No one can see. It’s unexpected but so enjoyable all I can do is smile. I’m seventeen; he’s twenty-one. Before tonight I’d not thought of him romantically. He smiles and says he’ll see me tomorrow, and many subsequent evenings he comes to fetch me, for us to hang out alone. ‘Oya make we waka commot,’ he says before our moonlight strolls. He’s old enough to drive but I’ve never seen him behind the wheel: we take taxis everywhere.
When guys walk hand-in-hand it usually feels brotherly, but I get goosebumps every time he touches my hand. I shudder when his hand meets the small of my back. He’s tactile and I like it. Lamido’s a man-about-town, energetic, slim, with a thick head of soft black hair. I love touching his ’fro. I like his dimples. He’s always elegant, and his scent – cigarettes and cologne – makes him seem so adult. His body is toned but I’ve never known him to play basketball, football or any other sport. He talks a lot, switching effortlessly from Hausa to pidgin when sitting barefoot on the floor with the house-helps; but at Ikoyi Club he’ll discuss politics in the Queen’s English before going dancing. He’s a tough guy, but when we’re alone I see only tenderness.
He tells me jokes in a soft voice and is, he says, full of gratitude for me. I love that his eyes light up when we meet. He loves that I’m not so butch, and doesn’t mind my sometimes swishy gait. Gossip has little effect on him. He lives contentedly in his own space and I enjoy being there with him. He only desires that we meet. Often.
In the bedroom reserved for overnight guests in my family’s home we’re constantly having life conversations, then having sex when everyone’s at work, then more conversation, followed by more lovemaking. We talk of our dreams too. Lamido encourages me to dress traditionally and gifts me a metallic-grey brocade caftan. It has intricate embroidery in thick white thread around the chest area and along the edges of the sleeves and hem, and is obviously expensive.
He thinks I can pull it off with the kind of natural savoir-faire that he has as a Fulani man, but all I want to wear are jeans and T-shirts from London. He seldom wears Western clothes, but when he does his outfits are more fashionable than anything I own. He’s the first to use the ‘L’ word. ‘You’re my first love,’ he says over and over.
I stop going to confession. But sometimes I wonder: is he just ‘toasting’ me, as we guys do? I’m not sure how this love happened. Lamido is popular and has options, including the many girls who want him. Meanwhile I’ve been going through the motions with a Warri girl who has decided that I’m her boyfriend, now that my brother is done with her. I say okay: it seems the easiest thing to do. Back in Port Harcourt I had a girlfriend. Most of the time we just passed notes and met up to chat. It was fun and simple, but not electric. Now in Lagos I have this girl who, after flirting with my brother, has settled on me. And it’s fun to take her places, to hug and hold her tight as we say goodbye; to show her off. But the truth is, I have zero desire for her. When Lamido looks my way, my heart beats faster and my smile grows bigger. It’s a jolt and I’m happy.