By Yinka Seth
My brother came home one day, worry etched on his face. His face was a pimpled mess as he was just going through the hormonal imbalance that comes with being a 14-year-old in the throes of puberty.
‘Mummy, Peter is gay,’ he says shoving yet another morsel of eba into the abyss that is his mouth. Since his body began to change, he has been like a wildfire in the Amazon, consuming everything in line of sight.
‘How do you know this?’ My mum replies hanging the last plate to dry while my brother launches into a hurried account of how Peter, his childhood friend and our next-door neighbour had come out to him by accident. He ends the story with questions.
‘How can a boy like another boy? Won’t he go to hell?’
Instead of a sermon, a stern warning to desist from friendship with Peter, my mum sits my brother down.
“What do you know about sexuality?”
His eyes shift across the room and land on mine. I look away. His discomfort does not faze our mother. She turns his chin so that his eyes lock on hers.
“There is nothing wrong with Peter.“
“That’s his own business. Me I can’t be friends with somebody that will bust my yansh.“
‘You can’t be but I can. Invite Peter to dinner today.’
Dinner that day was amala served with gbegiri soup. We do not eat amala in my house because nobody likes it. We ate it that day because my brother says it is Peter’s favourite. At the table, Peter slouches, all his energy focused on enjoying his meal. My mother asks him to fix his posture, and remember to always sit up and stand tall. He promises to never forget.
After dinner, we all settled down to watch Telemundo. My mother’s current obsession is with a Filipino series called Inamorata (or with the lead actress called Inamorata, I forget which.) Peter joins us. I wait in the terse silence waiting for her to bring it up, to ask the questions: “who introduced you to it?” “Have you prayed about it?” The questions never come up. What comes up instead is a flicker of recognition in Peter’s eye when a male hairdresser who is effeminate comes on screen. What he sees is himself.
He mutters under his breath ‘That guy is a good actor.’
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At the crack of dawn, my mother comes to my bedroom and sits at the edge of my bed, worry written in the parchment paper of her ageing skin.
‘Should I tell his guardian?’
‘That what?’ I ask.
‘They need to know that a necessary part of raising children is letting them walk and fall and cut their knees. Children are not sheep; they will not always walk the path you outline for them.’
I hold her hand and tell her all the things that reading YNaija Non-Binary blog has taught me. I tell her that queer children have needs different from other children.
In a society filled with hate against all things queer, this darkness is where identity is formed and many works of art are produced. Although we ought not to stand idle while children self-destruct, we must respect the need for queer children to explore their colours in the closet and never out them before there are ready.
Two days later two ladies who jog around the estate in the evenings more for the purpose of spreading gossip than exercise stop by to greet my mother.
‘I hear your neighbour’s son, Peter, is gay. His guardian found out and they have prevented him from leaving the house.’ The first one says.
‘I hear that he steals his guardian’s clothes and tries them on,’ the other interjects
‘His guardian says she will be keeping him on a dry fast so that the demons can leave him. As for me, I believe Jesus will intervene.’
My mother meets their gossip with a silence so cold they do not bother with pleasantries on their way out.
At nightfall, we hear a thud on the balcony. My brother rushes to find out what could’ve made such a noise. It is Peter who has hurled himself over the fence with a bowl in his hand asking
‘Can I get some garri?’
My mother pretends not to see him so that she can claim plausible deniability when the rumour mongers do their work. She enters her room and instructs my brother.
‘Give him a portion of anything you can find. Sugar, milk, rice, whatever.’
Peter’s guardian say that they have had enough. They say it is one thing to house a boy who likes other boys but it is a travesty to house a boy who walks around the house with a headscarf affecting the ways of a girl – a boy-girl. They say it loudly, in that way Nigerians speak when they are past caring what the neighbours think.
His things are thrown out in a haste. Half zipped Ghana-must-go bags with chiffon tops and marvel tee shirts peeping out sit by the curb while his guardian arranges for him to go back to their hometown.
Through the frenzy his back is rod straight, a testament to the way my mother (whom he now calls his mother) has raised him. All that he has become, photosynthesized in the dark, stands now in the full glare of the afternoon sun – defiant as a rainbow.
To the village it takes to raise queer children, ponder these questions.