Adedeji explores his sexuality in “What Made You This Way” by Enyinna Nnabuihe, this entry to our New Voices catalog. Spurred by memories of his friend Sochima, Adedeji must navigate around his family’s traditional values to reach a full understanding of his true identity.
When your home is built near a highway, you see everything—thefts, gangs, deaths, even prostitutes, at night. You have even seen two boys prancing the roads with their hands in each other’s rear pockets. You didn’t know what that meant, what they were; you thought they were mere friends when you saw them that evening, for you were barely seven. But now, as you remember all of these things that made you this way, blood rushing through your veins at the side of your neck to your groin, you are seemingly attracted to the memory of the thinner, taller boy, and you wish you were the muscular one ten years ago that felt the flesh of his buttocks through the rear pocket of his skinny jeans. You see, it is almost impossible to keep count of all the things you had seen that your mother and father, your sister Idara, and all those poke-nosing aunties called evil. If they knew you had grown to become what you saw, would they call you evil? Was it your fault? Why was your home even built near a highway to start with? Why was your window the one that graced the bloodstained roads that often paved the way for sex workers and the tear-rubber jeeps they preferably hopped into—their counterparts? Why did you glare at your windowsill more than you did at your family’s television?
When your eyes have witnessed dangers, the art of tale telling suddenly becomes a bore, for you have told many in your days, and hence have the right to strike down a friend or a prattling fiend with the words, “You are lying. That never happened.” And you are sure you’re right, for you can smell the discoordination in a story; its composition, expression. You can tell when the prattling fiend breathes a lie—that inaccuracy that disjoints the entire plot and sabotages the presence of the main characters doing what the tale teller says they were doing and to whom they did it. You have seen so many things, the listeners know, so they do not argue; instead they praise you, condemn whom you condemn, and listen to what you have to say. For your house was built near a highway, and that is what made you this way.
You were eight when the first incident occurred. You will call it an incident, an occurrence, because that is what people call a happening that erupts from nowhere and nothing, and changes a person completely, leaving trails of a lasting memory. Like a fire outbreak, a burglary, this was an incident, and you had not expected it. You were eight but you looked five. Sochima, a friend of the family who was just a year older than you, was the first to crack this joke to your hearing. You took notice of some of his distinct characteristics; he’d always have this oily skin that glowed in all its blackness. His parents permitted him to keep his hair, so there was this sphere atop his head that bore a resemblance to a disco ball; you had said that, and you added, tracing the fingers of your right hand, like friendly snakes or worms in the bushy hair, “How does it get so curly?” He knew you admired the curls, but he admired your grammar, and your composure—in his own words, “how you walk like your leg doesn’t touch the ground, and your fo-ne-tics.” He admired that you weren’t like all those other boys who had their heads buried in their PS Vitas and Nintendos all day, and all night, flicking and clicking and yelling.
When Sochima didn’t mention your sister, ever, that’s how you began to get closer to him. Everyone loved your sister, adored her, wanted to be near her. Had you been older than eight, and wiser, you’d have understood Sochima with one cursory gaze, but you weren’t, therefore, you hadn’t. But you knew and felt he was different, and you liked that, so he became your “bestest friend in the whole world.” Before Sochima, during the weekends, you played with your sister and her friends—watching all the Disney shows and singing the theme songs or imitating the voices and actions of the characters when the power went out, impeding your viewing time. To your surprise, Sochima loved all of those things too, and together, you hid in his room and sang and mimicked your favorite stars and enjoyed bottles of Fanta and KitKats his mother offered you, because she liked you. If it hadn’t dawned on her, every single time you sat cross-legged on her sofa adjacent to Sochima, or when you played ayó or board games, or when you asked her to measure your height with Sochima’s to see if you were growing any taller, she mentioned how much the both of you looked alike. You smiled each time, because it made you related to him, it meant you were birds of the same feathers, and you fancied Sochima’s resplendent feathers.
Above all games, you and Sochima loved to play archery—the one enhanced by PlayStation where the both of you had motion sensing joysticks, and you flung them at your wills. You were better at it, for you were more energetic than him, but sometimes you let him emerge the victor, because it was his game you played in his house and you didn’t want him to get angry and quit talking to you when that was all you ever wanted to do: spend time with him. When you scrolled through the options of this particular game on one joyful Saturday in his air-conditioned living room, you noticed there were other sports challenges, not archery alone. You wondered how this boy could have all these games and still read the novels that laid in the shelves in his parents’ study.
“Sochi,” you called him. “Let’s check out this table tennis.”
“Can’t you see I’m sweating? We just finished seven rounds of archery, rest oga.” He was sprawled on his bed like a sweaty pregnant woman, and the meal of fufu and ofe nsala his mum had given him swelled his stomach to make it seem disproportionally bloated in relation to his thin frame. You had been offered the meal too, but you nodded, grinning keenly, meeting his mother’s eyes, saying, “No, thank you” like your own mother had taught you. You didn’t blame her, and Sochima’s mother didn’t like you any less, for it was the year the practicalities of juju were all over the news—first wives poisoning second wives’ children, kidnappers giving children lollipops or biscuits, instantly brainwashing the child, or brothers charming their own blood, whom they had coveted their wives for as long as they could remember. So you found yourself watching him slurp and gulp and swallow and lick his fingers till he was done. As Sochima sweated from the rounds of gaming, you’re sure he queried in his mind if you were made of steel that you’d been on an empty stomach, but hadn’t grown weary. He didn’t know behind that fence your homes shared, you were a different person, your parents weren’t wealthy like his and didn’t believe in frivolities like games. And you wanted to play what you could till your brain and fingers were so sore, you’d trek home like a zombie.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take it easy on you.”
He smiled as he crackled the bones in his fingers and back, then said, “I trust you.” From his response, you liked him even more, because then and there, he truly distinguished himself from any mortal being you’d ever shared air with. He’d noticed you were letting him win, and he didn’t feel bad about it, not to talk of feeling threatened. He cherished your insincerity and your childish empathy and how you carried his feelings like a basket of eggs on your frail head.
The table tennis game was not as you expected; you couldn’t see the opponents, just the ball flying in your direction and you kept swinging the joystick like your life depended on it. You were ecstatic although Sochima was winning genuinely this time. The gap between his two front teeth he was always conscious of was now overly conspicuous as he beamed. You wished that moment could freeze or you could replay it over and over again, but once you did, it was all erased by the interruption of his mother’s scream.
“Don’t you touch me!” It seemed to come from her room. You were extremely shaken when Sochima told you that his parents slept in different rooms, but that day, as you almost peed your jean trousers on hearing his magnanimous mother’s scream, you were about to find out why.
His father’s voice came into light after a few tosses of instruments—wooden spoons, stainless flasks, a pestle—deep-throated and scary, yet seemingly jolly and harmless, like the voice of the crab, Sebastian, from The Little Mermaid. “Woman, will you stop hurling those things and face me like the man you think you are?” His voice maintained a calm diminuendo, soft, smooth, a flawless allegretto.
It was when Sochima’s father emerged out of the shadows with his wife’s neck firmly groped in his clutch of a hand that Sochima tapped you and spoke without any hint of shame or shock, “Let’s get out of here.” But he was too late, he knew, when he looked down at your soiled pantaloons, and the silhouetted map of North America that had encompassed it. He sneaked a laugh out of his mouth, a bare sniffle, and you both raced to his room.
“Pick any trouser,” he said, pointing to his closet, his eyes glimmering. “Or any shorts. I have never seen you wear shorts.” Indeed, you hadn’t ever. You adored how he paid attention.
You were surprised because he had so many clothes, and also because he’d treated his parents’ wild fight like he was watching it on the TV, and when it became too loud and he couldn’t find the remote control, he just changed his location instead of switching the TV off. As you stripped your wet trousers to his cold floor, you asked him, “How often do your parents fight like that?” You knew he would not want to answer such a sensitive question, but you asked anyways. You were curious and worried. You were eight, but you knew it wasn’t healthy for a child his age to be witnessing abuses and aggressive fights as that. You knew, because your mum is a psychologist, and she counselled people in the house, married people. And even your parents, the closest they’d ever been to fighting was when your mum came back from a church revival really late and your dad was hungry, so he made food, over seasoned burnt beans, for everyone in the house—something he considered your mother’s job, alongside “her hobby she calls therapy.”
Sochima breathed a while and gave you the smartest retort you would ever hear, maintaining a smile. “Their fighting is only making me stronger and wiser, in good ways, so don’t let it affect you in a bad one.” It was curt and you folded it neatly and kept it in the pocket of his camo shorts that you picked up, admiring. He complimented your fashion sense, and looked toward the toilet in his room to take a pee, another thing you didn’t have in your room, for you shared the toilet conjoined to the corridor with your sister and aunties. Strolling to the glowing cabinet, with marbles as walls, he made a passive comment: “Now, watch how normal people pee.” He giggled like a jester, and you followed his trail, because you hadn’t grasped the joke. Or had you? In a few seconds none of that mattered, you were both with your squirmy penises out, coloring the crystalline water in the toilet hole with orange from him, and yellow from you. You peed from the right, and he from the left, and your distinct springs of urine met at the center to form a magnificent yellowish-orange fountain that flowed into the waters with a gush. He smiled at you when he saw the fountain, and you smiled at him in return, because you knew it was out of his creativity that he initiated that. But you don’t understand, Until now, why he held your own penis and splattered the little trickles of urine from it all over the toilet seat. Until now, you don’t know why he dropped the penis, bent his neck, leaned forward and pressed his small lips against yours. You don’t know why, but you wonder, for you feel that was what made you this way.
When Sochima’s dad packed his belongings and left, Sochima cried. It was the first time you’d seen him cry. You noticed just one thing during his meltdown on your shoulder; that he acted like a girl. Maybe it was because your mum and uncle that was deported from Nashville, Tennessee trumpeted it all around the house as a desultory comment immediately Sochima left, and they were sure he couldn’t hear them. Well, you got tired of hearing them, but they didn’t stop. So, everyday he came over to avoid his parents’ quarrelling, just before he left, you asked for his iPod and you listened to Don’t Stop Me Now at the highest volume, repeatedly, because you couldn’t confront them.
The night before Sochima’s dad left, he slept in your house, in your bed, and the both of you played tinko tinko, and Concentration, both games that involved clapping of hands, so they were, by this uncle from Tennessee, classified effeminate. You didn’t like this uncle; you are not sure if you do now. He had a very terrible first impression on you when he arrived at your family’s doorstep with his luggage and his unkempt beards, looking like Hagrid from Harry Potter. When you mentioned it, you recoiled in disgust as he said you shouldn’t be watching all that sorcery nonsense, because it encouraged witchcraft. That Harry Potter, a harmless film, harnessed the spirit of stubbornness in children, and inculcated an affinity for all things magical. Of course, on hearing this, your revivalist mother broke all the Harry Potter DVDs, and fearing that that sorcery would glue the pieces together under the orange moon, she spat rehearsed prayers as she burned them, confessing that she’d caught you with Sochima uttering mundane words, arrant gibberish, and asked, “Were those the spells they were using to trap the destinies of these, her innocent boys?” This uncle from Nashville, Tennessee said yes, and that is when and where you dusted your hands and declared that he was enormously dense and that was the true reason they’d sent him packing back to Nigeria. You were eleven, then.
This uncle never ceased to prick layers of your temper. At least, that’s where you and your sister saw eye to eye; you were both disgusted by this uncle in all of his totality. Was it his phony gangster accent, or the fact that he sprayed “bitch” and “fuck” and a truckload of other cuss words around the house, like they were mosquito repellents, but made your mother ban you from uttering words coined by J.K. Rowling? Once, you, Sochima, Idara, your father and this uncle sat in the sitting room watching a game of lawn tennis. Everyone in the room was in support of Andy Murray because they didn’t like Novak Djokovic’s method of playing. You didn’t give a damn, you subtly supported Djokovic, because he was sneaky like you and agile and had this smirk that bewildered his opponents, so he was able to shower them with borderline passes and swift serves that enhanced their perplexity and occasionally split their tennis knickers. During the break of the first set which the Serbian, Djokovic, had won, the camera whirled to the audience and caught two men with hairs on their faces, their pink lips, jammed in togetherness.
“Olorun maje!” your father screamed, aghast.
“Tufia!” went an overwhelmed Sochima.
“All these homosexuals are fucking disgusting,” this uncle said, and your heart immediately sunk to your chest and zipped itself amongst stones and a picture of Sochima smiling with his gap tooth in view, that moment he grabbed your groin, and the glint you saw in his eyes when he kissed you. You realized that your sister hadn’t passed a comment, that her mouth only hung ajar, and you wish you had been like her, but you were frightened and you heard yourself say, “As in,” in agreement with your uncle. All of these made you this way.
So, even as you came home from boarding school one hot afternoon on April 12th, a day before Easter, and discovered a ginormous padlock on Sochima’s door, you didn’t squeal but your heart did. You later learned that your bestest friend had travelled abroad for an operation because his kidney was lacking, you heard, nothing more, for your mother couldn’t explain further.
“Where?” you asked.
“I think India.” She didn’t even look at you when you asked, but as you sighed, and left the kitchen downcast, she said, “Kpele, oko mi, you will make other friends.” You had written off her statement, stifling tears and mucus, because you didn’t think it possible that any one on planet earth would be capable of replacing Sochima. But your mother, who told you sorry and called you her husband as most Yoruba mothers do their sons, was right.
There were many more like Sochima—the dancer at Bar Beach that taught you the gwara gwara and admired how your thin legs were able to bend that way, how those thin legs could still jump so high over the high-jump pole, and how you bent your vertebrae really low under that same pole when you played limbo. “You will make an exceptionally skilled dancer,” he told you. There was the I Know Everything guy in your class in SS1, Fidelis, that answered all the Chemistry questions and got attention from teachers, so you summoned up courage to meet him to teach you. During lessons, you used your leg to caress the hairs on his leg and before you knew it, his hand was over your zipper. Indeed, you were learning chemistry. There was the South American boy, Pedro, who you met online on Instagram that had asked for your WhatsApp number and began to have flickering video chats with you. He sent you pictures of his mum taking a shower through the curtains and you laughed at how abundant with mischief he was. He complimented you once in a while, called you fine, your eyes cute, but there’s something he said that was ought to change you. He said, with just the right amount of moustache and the español accent, you could pass off as Mexican, or Cuban. That made you download the Duolingo app, and in no time at all, you learned to say; “Mañana,” which is tomorrow, “mostacho” for moustache, and “Mi nombre es Adedeji. Estoy Cubano y Nigeriano.” He mentioned, in most of the chats, that he was bisexual, but really, you didn’t care. Just as you didn’t know what love was, you didn’t know what it meant, and your curiosity had died with Sochima.
The dancer at Bar Beach was the kind of gay that didn’t hide it. You exchanged saliva in one enclosed shed and you were so trapped in the moment that you hadn’t heard your phone ring seven times. Your ringtone was Humble Beginnings by Bazzi, and it began with blaring trumpet sounds, so you were that into the moment. You and this dancer hadn’t exchanged numbers because you hurriedly wiped your lips, ran out of the shed, and answered the eighth call that came into your phone. It was unexpectedly, Fidelis, and he was asking where you were.
“Where I am?” You were shocked. “How did you even get my number?” You replied his question with another one, a safe move you’d learned over the years.
He took note of it, and apologized and smiled, you felt his lips form an upward arc through the phone. Then he said, “I’m at your house. Don’t you want to study for WAEC anymore?”
“I’m on my way. I went out,” you said, buttoning your shirt, and running in the sands, back home.
When you got home, he called you “the Almighty cruiser” with his hands wrapped tightly, raised to the ceiling, in reverence to your partying dexterities. You understood Organic Chemistry more than him, so it was you who did the teaching this time. He watched you blab and explain and disperse spittle onto the textbooks laid before you. You were not sure if he was listening, but you weren’t even listening to yourself. You were trapped in his eyes, his chestnut eyes, his smile, his oily face, the curls in his hair. He wasn’t so muscular, like you, and you had wondered the first time your gaze met this Fidelis’s if he was actually Sochima, but had changed his name and had forgotten about the first half of his life which had you in it. But when you’d seen Sochima’s Instagram account and had frozen, but followed him and sent him a direct message, you knew Fidelis was just Fidelis, one of the many that were like Sochima.
Fidelis’s lips pressed against yours kicked your fantasy away and brought you back to earth. You caressed the hair on his head and brushed through the curls. You both had something in common: Your eyes were open as you smooched, probably because your sister was at home and she could have barged into your room without warning. Hurriedly, you raced to the door and bolted it. You and Fidelis were young and happy and exotic and of the same age. You had a Chemistry exam in two days, but guess who cared? Neither of you. You romanced his body, and he romanced yours, and neither of you had any control over what happened next for one of the most voluptuous thirty minutes of your life.
That night as you read Akwaeke Emezi’s Freshwater, picturing yourself with Ewan instead of Ada, a message you’d not been expecting thumped into your phone and the closeted creaks of your heart. Pedro had asked, Are you alone?
You replied, Yeah, what’s up?
Then he said, I’m horny. You weren’t surprised, because you’d known Pedro to be the one that never used long, cunning routes to get what he wants. Once, he’d sent you a screenshot of his sex chat with a Tanzanian boy, he said, with a large, uncut dick. You’d laughed at his effrontery and saluted him all the heart emojis on your keypad. On this day, you were just aghast that he felt your mood.
You typed, You can VC me, and immediately when you did, the fluctuating power went out. You wondered if your prayer warrior mother had caused it for you were on the verge of sin, but you just typed in a note of apology to Pedro, it’s a little dark here, so you won’t see me. Pedro said it didn’t matter, that he was turned on by your display picture, and being super proud of the mustache you’d grown, he would masturbate to the image, for you. At first, he rubbed his fingers through the foliage of hair that entrenched his medium-sized penis and as he relaxed his way to those pulsated veins, his lingam bulged and it was no longer medium-sized, it was a bazooka. Pedro made these noises, these sounds, and they erupted something in you, so you grabbed a bottle of moisturizer from your chest of drawers, removed your shorts, the camo shorts you’d never returned to Sochima, which you now wore as boxer briefs. You found yourself stroking unremittingly and moaning like you were actually having sex, something you’d never actually had, and when it was done, sperm jetted out of the little hole Pedro had been stroking, and his lingam remained the same, inflated, with the pulsated veins, everything. You had already jetted out bottles of sperm with Fidelis, so nothing really came out of you. This is what made you this way. But is that what you told your revivalist mother who had seemingly been watching you throw libidos in the cold air of the night at the fair, veined lingam on your phone’s screen?
“Adedeji!” she screamed. “What is going on here?”
You hadn’t ended the call with Pedro just yet, but your phone fell from your grasp and crashed to the tiles on which you stood, for you were awe-stricken. You didn’t have the words, you didn’t have the right facial expressions; at that moment, you hadn’t even a composure. Your legs were wavering flagella, your heart, Mark Henry on the wrestling ring. So, as you watched your mother march to her room, screaming obscenities, yelling “Blood of Jesus” times without number, you picked up your phone and saw how cracked it was. And you blushed, because Sochima had replied your desperate DMs of How has everything been, brooo? Where are you now? with an angry emoji with fumes of smokes as from a kettle, protruding from its nostrils. He’d typed, You thief. Hope you’re here to return my shorts, and the blush on your face extended to your ears, you see, because he, who made you this way, had not forgotten you in the slightest.
Enyinna Nnabuihe was born in 2002 in Lagos, Nigeria. He is currently a student of Pharmacy at the Nnamdi Azikiwe University. In late March 2021, he signed to Whipik Stories as a chat story creative and has published multiple stories on the platform. He writes expansively on politics, happening tragedies, and the need of being oneself. When he isn’t occupied with school, reading or extremely dramatic television series, he pours his heart into poetry and posts on his Instagram page, @enyinnawrites. Part of him has dreams of being a filmmaker.