We Made Water
(also known as The Story of the Preacher and the Pretty Little Bird)
‘Little bird, where has your mother gone?
Little bird, why are you all alone?’
— Dawud Wharnsby Ali
Altogether, it was not too bad an outcome. When X asked me at the dam how I’d ruined our thing, I told him what had happened with Sayo in Lagos. Described the whole thing to him in detail: the party bustling in scarlet lights, Sayo tapping my wine glass slowly and leading me away around the corner, our bodies rubbing against each other in the backseat of their car.
He continued to stare at the water for a long time in silence. Then he said, “Well, good work on the imagery.”
And all in all, it wasn’t too bad at all. A sarcastic remark meant he had kept his sense of humour, which meant the damage was measured and he would survive. God, the relief! From then on that was what I kept thinking. This unreasonable joy entered my heart and refused to leave. It was there after we left the dam that morning, stayed all through the day, through the silences and carefully stepping around each other; and the next morning when he said, “Naturally, you’ll have to move out,” it was still there, defiant, persistent.
I must have seemed crazy.
Because it could have turned out differently, you know? He could have asked why after I told him how.
Why? — and I would have had to tell him the truth. That would have broken him for sure. It broke me, even though I was already broken by then. I wanted to spare him all that, that’s why I was glad he didn’t ask why and I didn’t have to say the real truth, the one about my hair, and at least that would give him a chance to survive what I had done. After everything, he deserved that at the very least. Right?
And it turned out alright in the end, as you can see. I had to move out of his apartment that very morning. Put all my things in my backpack and went to crash with my friend for a while, but it wasn’t too bad at all, like I said. He was kind enough, my friend, considering that he was also close with X. He didn’t give me any bright smiles, but at least he didn’t throw me out, you know? We’ve known each other since secondary school, so maybe that’s why.
I crashed there for about a month. He let me do my business in the neighbourhood even though that was risky as hell, considering what had happened just three months ago. That was a really solid one.
By the end of January, I put all my money together and it was just enough for this apartment. That was when I moved here, and it’s been pretty chilled so far, even with all the rumours and stuff. I don’t really mind that; if they are talking about you, then you’re not ordinary. You know?
Funny story about that dam, that was where I came out to X as non-binary, just two days after we had met at an open mic event my friend was hosting on campus.
I get invited to a lot of cool things like that. That’s what happens when you are a political wonder like me; all the woke kids want to introduce you to their friends. Sometimes, it’s chilled. They know how to have fun and they have the money. But most times, I’m just bored. It gets boring.
I only go to the ones I can’t avoid, and mostly because it’s good for business. They hear your story and suddenly they see the physical embodiment of all their political convictions, so they introduce you to all their friends and everyone just drools over you the whole time. But it’s not too bad. And it makes good money, so I put up with it.
That’s why I show up at those events. Go with my bag, because you have to be deliberate. I just show up, high as fuck, meet all the people. Along the line someone will ask if anyone has kush or the good vibe, you know? No one likes to carry their drugs about; it’s hard out here these days. Sometimes I’m specially invited to the event to supply the kush. Everyone is there and I’m just in a corner with my bag rolling joint after joint, mixing shit and passing it out.
They smoke like crazy. And talk too. The weirdest conversations, but I don’t get involved, just mix their shit and smoke my kush quietly. Except sometimes when I’m broke and I want to make more money. That’s the only time I impose. I’d just say out loud, “God I wish this night wouldn’t end,” knowing someone would feel flattered and say, “Hm, maybe we should stretch it till morning, sleepover at someone’s place. Parte after parte and shit.” So we’ll all go, smoke all night, eat, talk, fuck if you want, but I never do because I’m a professional. I just watch. It’s a messy scene, all that sex and intoxication, so it’s better to just watch. More interesting. In the morning, I get my money and bounce. Good business.
But that day at the open mic, I wasn’t there for business. I didn’t even carry my bag. Just showed up for my friend because he hosted it.
It was around this time last year.
I was just there, smoking alone in one corner and watching my friend on the stage introduce the performers when this guy walked up to me and asked if he could share my joint. He was tall and slender, and his eyes were so intense. I wasn’t feeling too generous like now. But, you know, I passed it, and we smoked together in silence. When the joint finished, he said he had been watching me for a while, and I said I could not imagine why.
And he said, “Me neither.”
He just stood there looking at me for a while. Then he asked for my name and I told him: “Ayé.”
He frowned, tilted his head to the side a little, “As in ‘world’?”
Then he said, “That’s really cool. I’m X.”
Two days later at the dam, he said the reason he couldn’t leave the open mic until I had agreed to meet him was because I did not ask about his name. He thought that was really cool. Funny thing. Me, I was just bored, you know? Those woke kids, they come, start up a conversation and try to convince you that they are very interesting, but they’re all just boring, all the same.
That day, the dam was covered with water hyacinths, and all the trees around had the same deep green leaves. But in one corner two trees stood out naked. They were standing side by side, their bodies slender, their crowns high and leafless in the sky.
X said they looked graceful, ahead of their time.
He looked at them for a long time, then turned around and asked me what I thought.
That’s something that never happens with those other woke kids. They just talk and talk and never ask what you think of anything. Or when they do, they listen to your answer only to the extent that it helps them feel good about themselves. So when X asked what I thought about those two naked trees and I saw the genuine interest in his eyes, I decided to say, “Maybe they are non-binary.” I don’t know why, and it doesn’t really make sense now. But maybe I imagined myself as the trees, you know? Graceful and ahead of time.
He considered it for a while, looked at the trees in the distance and tapped two fingers on his chin like this. In the end, he gave it a nice spin, saying, “Hm. Maybe they are. A non-binary couple.” He continued to tap his fingers on his chin, smiling. “No, no, not a couple. Non-binary people don’t do relationships. Just fucking. Two non-binary fuck buddies. And they are probably kinky too. Look at that banging body!”
I smiled and said they didn’t look kinky to me.
“How do they look then?’ he asked.
And I said, “Maybe sad.”
And he said, “In what world are two sad non-binary trees fucking not kinky?!”
That made me laugh, and he laughed too. We laughed together, standing side by side at the dam, and the space between us filled with the sound.
After that day, he didn’t have to ask and I didn’t have to tell him again. Some people just get you like that. You know?
Later, we agreed that was when our thing began. That day at the dam.
We also agreed to say ‘thing’, because how else could we describe it? People would ask us if we were together, and we would say no because how could we say we were together when we were just one thing? You know? We struggled with that for a while. Eventually, we decided to start saying the truth: that we were a thing, that we had a thing, that he was my thing and I was his thing.
That last one was his idea; he said it was romantic. Started calling me Butterfly Baby too. I liked that. He had this soft, velvety voice, and his generally quiet way of doing things made it sound really warm.
That was the first thing he gave me: warmth. Plucked me in from the cold, gave me a bed, a blanket, hot food. Told me a story. I’m not joking. He told me a story. Said it slowly as we ate:
the story of the pretty little bird who lost its magic ring
once upon a time, a pretty little bird playing alone in the hills lost its magic ring. this was very unfortunate indeed, because it was all the little bird had left of its mother who had suddenly disappeared one morning without explanation. also, with the ring, the little bird had been able to imagine its dull life precisely the way it wished. it would picture the kind of tree it would build its nest in when it was old enough, feel the sturdiness of the branches, smell the texture of the air, and hear the friendly greetings of the other birds in the treetop neighbourhood. it liked to pause in the middle of a random activity to wear this magic ring and imagine these things. in the picture in its mind, its mother would return suddenly one day, just as she had disappeared, and they would live together happily forever in its nest.
when the images started to form behind the little bird’s closed eyes, it would smile with satisfaction. for these reasons, the ring was its single most cherished property.
but somehow, mysteriously, it had woken up one morning and could not find it. so it flew, panicked, all over the world looking for it.
it flew to treetops and asked the other birds if they had seen its magic ring.
“have you seen my magic ring?” it asked.
the birds looked at the distressed little bird and pitied it. they wished they had seen its magic ring, but they had not, so that’s what they said.
“no, we have not seen your magic ring,” they said, and on hearing their answer, the little bird flew away with its beak pointing to the ground.
it flew down to the fields and went to the elephants who remembered everything, the cats who could uncover hidden things, and the humans who knew the ways of the world, and to each of them it asked, slowly so that every syllable was clear, “have you seen my magic ring?” and each of them replied, “no, we have not seen your magic ring.” and each time, the pretty little bird flew away with its beak pointing to the ground.
one day, during its search, it met a young preacher and put the question to him. the preacher responded no, but he looked at the distressed little bird and knew it was hungry, so he offered it food, which it accepted reluctantly because finding the ring was the bird’s most pressing concern.
quickly, then, they went to the preacher’s house and ate warm maize and drank tomato juice to their fill.
then the well-meaning preacher leaned across the dining table and offered to help the bird find its ring.
“i can help you find your ring,” he said, “i know a way. only you’ll have to stay a bit longer, lay your head on my pillow, sleep, rest a little while.”
but the little bird stood up and shook its head angrily. it was upset that the preacher had suggested delaying even further, when finding the ring was a matter of utmost urgency. “if you’ll help me, help me now!” but the preacher could not help it, so it flew away, flapping its wings violently against the wind, pointing its beak to the ground.
the little bird flew all over the world for many days searching for its ring. it did not pause to rest or for food. finally, as it hovered over a river, it spotted the nice wet line below between land and water, lowered itself to it, sang a low, mournful song, danced to it, then fell to the ground and closed its eyes.
the little bird never found its magic ring.
ìkọ́kọ́ aládùn bí oyin
nìyá mí sè lọ́jọ́ náà bí àná
ìkọ́kọ́ áti omi tútù
púpọ̀ yaburata n’ílé
ìyá mi ò kú, níbo ló lọ?
òrùka rẹ̀ dángájíyá lọ́wọ́ mi
bí n bá ṣe báyì, àbí tọ̀hún
bí n bá mí ẹlẹ ẹlẹ lóríijó
ìyá mi ò kú, níbo ló lọ?
ìyá mi ò kú, òrùka rẹ̀ dà?
so sweet like honey was that
mother’s ìkọ́kọ́ from yesterday
cold water and ìkọ́kọ́
the excess was not by accident
my mother is not dead, where has she gone?
her ring dazzles on my finger
when I move this way, then that
and I breathe heavy shaking to the groove
my mother is not dead, where has she gone?
my mother is not dead, where is her ring?
When he broke into song, I thought I must be dreaming or crazy. It did not make any sense. You know? Here I was with a strange man in his home which I had moved into less than two months after meeting him, eating his warm food and listening to him sing to me in Yorùbá about a distressed little bird. It did not make any sense at all. That after two years of thrashing about in the deep end, all it would take to save me was this gentle man’s warm food and soft velvety voice.
After the last line, I said, “That’s a very dark story.” He smiled and said, “Yes, it is.”
Then I asked why didn’t the little bird find its magic ring, and he said because it was silly; it did not realise that the strange thing that was beating in its chest all along was the ring. Maybe if it had rested, as the preacher advised, paused long enough to hear it properly, it would have put it together.
“Silly little bird,” he said finally and laughed.
That night was the first time we made water, and it was the conversation we had afterwards that changed everything. Sadly. Maybe if that night had not turned out like that none of this would have happened…
That’s wild. I didn’t think of it like this before.
We took a long shower together then lay in bed in silence. We didn’t do anything for a while, just lay there, naked and dripping, looking at each other and smiling.
At some point, he reached out a hand and touched my face. His fingers were light on my skin. He brushed my eyebrows, snaked down the bridge of my nose to my lips, and stayed there for a while. Just slowly tracing a path around and around as if he were tending to something. It made my body stretch.
I leaned into his hand.
Finally, he spoke. Whispered, “Butterfly baby,” and his breath fell on my face. I inhaled, drew it in. That made my body wriggle a little, you know, like a worm. And his body caught it, wriggled too. We wriggled together naked and dripping, flowing towards each other until the space between us was sealed.
It wasn’t that our bodies touched. We didn’t think of it as touching. We just flowed together, you know? A thing. Like water.
He had this theory about water: since its flow brought new things from foreign places, when it made itself noticed in any given situation, something new was coming.
And he really believed it. Sometimes he would randomly spill his drink and that would get him thinking the whole day. That night when our bodies flowed together in his bed, afterwards he said, “We made water.”
And I asked, “What do you think is coming now?”
And he said, “Isn’t it obvious? Well, it’s not coming exactly. More like starting.”
I turned my face slightly to the side and brushed my hair backwards. He touched my hair too, ran his fingers through its roots slowly, sadly. We were quiet for a while.
Then he said, “It’s a good thing, I’m happy,” and sighed.
I sighed too.
His fingers in my hair scratched my scalp playfully. “But for something new to start,” he added, “the old stuff has to go.”
That was when I made up my mind. I wasn’t conscious of that then, and I didn’t think about it like this until now. But that was the moment that changed everything.
And, thinking about it now, maybe I didn’t even have the right to make up my mind that way, since there was that thing with his name too.
The thing about his name, it’s related to another theory of his, about names. He said naming was about ownership. When you name something, you claim it, but since only you should own yourself, then only you should be able to name yourself. So he dropped his parents’ name and gave himself a new one.
But he also had this theory about how the self is always changing, so he took a new name to match each new emerging self.
In the past, he had been Harry, then Iyanu, then Yimika. The one immediately before X was Fẹ́ Mi, because at that time he was trying to form his theory on love and it was taking too long. Took a whole year and many different kinds of men. He said it was like he was trying to figure out how to be loved.
X came because he was trying to figure out the unknown aspects of his gender, in order to complete his theory on gender and sexuality. So X, as in unknown factor. But in my mind, I preferred Fẹ́ Mi. Not for any serious reason; I just liked the way he meant it. You know, as a request. And he had the same tall and slim stature as all the other Femis I knew, so it was also fitting.
So I liked Fẹ́ Mi, and I wasn’t really crazy about X. That’s why I said maybe I was not even justified to make up my mind like that after he said, ‘But for something new to start, the old stuff has to go.’ You know? And if I had not, none of this would have happened. We wouldn’t be here right now, me and you, in this apartment. We wouldn’t have met. That’s wild.
But that didn’t occur to me before, as I said. That night, after he said “But for something new to start, the old stuff has to go,” I just felt very sad, you know? We still flowed together, and all, but it was different now. Our minds were different. Like two heads on a snake. Or like two bays of the same ocean. You know?
That made me very sad, and I didn’t like it. So the next morning when we woke, to brighten the mood, I told him that The Story of my Name was made up. That made him laugh. You don’t know the story, so you won’t understand: it goes that one day when I was ten and helping my mum in the kitchen, she told me the story of the great matriarch of our family, Afisa da Silva:
the story of Afisa da Silva as told by posterity
the story goes that in the early hours of the day of the 1835 slave rebellion in Salvador, Afisa da Silva, a Nago free-woman living in the lower city by the bay, delivered a blind male child, which, according to the traditions of her people, was to be killed. when the head midwife said to Afisa, “You know what must be done,” and to the other midwife in the room, “Go and call the priestess,” then walked away with the child in her arms, Afisa wanted to scream and snatch her baby away, to suckle it at her breasts and sing nice songs. but she couldn’t, because she was too weak. the pains of labour had rent her mind from her body and all she could do was grunt and groan.
in the streets of Salvador, the rebellion raged on. Afisa’s husband Ahuna, a young slave man, was one of its leaders. usually, he would be away on his master’s plantation in Santo Amaro where he went for one week every month, travelling first up to the upper city, and then the rest of the way to the sugarcane city. But today Ahuna was in the streets of Salvador, leading the rebellion to Palace Square, chanting, “Today, we will be masters of the land!”
the rebellion failed. the masters mobilised the army, and even though the rebel leaders called on the slaves in the city for reinforcement, very little help came. the slaves were scared. in the end, the rebellion was too weak. the masters regained the city.
Afisa, dejected about the killing of her baby, waited for her husband to return home and soothe her, but the only thing that arrived later the next day was news of his death. suddenly, she found herself alone in the world. she had lost her entire family.
soon rumours started going around that the masters had decided to deport some slaves and ex-slaves back to Africa, to prevent another rebellion. Afisa did her findings and secured a place on a ship headed for the port in Lagos. she wrapped all her belongings up in two cloth bundles and said goodbye to the city that had taken everything from her.
when she reached Lagos, she started a small dress-making business.
growing up in the upper city of Salvador, she had trained as a dressmaker, and when she turned 13, her kind Portuguese mistress had let her start a small business with the other white families in the neighbourhood. she gave half of her earnings to the woman and kept half for herself. soon, she had enough money to pay for her freedom.
in Lagos, Afisa’s Brazilian-style dresses were popular and her business boomed. she became very rich and influential, and after some years took a new husband. a young man who took her name and gave her four daughters.
Afisa lived a happy life with her new family. she loved them very much, and was very much loved by them. her daughters grew up to be very successful, and they too had girls. no male children were born to her line for many generations, and the da Silvas became known all over Lagos as the lineage of self-made women.
the story goes that that was how my mum told me the story that day when I was 10 and helping her in the kitchen. but later, my aunt told me the rest of it.
she said that a bird had visited Afisa da Silva on her sickbed the day before she died. it fell in through the window, screeched and trashed about violently, shedding its feathers everywhere. with its claws, it tore Afisa’s skin and blood oozed out. she screamed and her daughters rushed to her rescue, but when they threw the bird out, she accused them of taking her poor baby from her. she said he was angry at her because she had not saved him, and they didn’t let her apologise before taking him away.
her daughters tended to her wounds in silence. they didn’t understand her crazed words, because they did not know about her Salvador family. it must have been the pain of not being understood that made her utter one last, damning statement before shutting up forever. by the next morning, she was dead.
my aunt told me all that the next summer when I went to spend the holiday with my cousins. she said I was the first male child since the blind Salvador baby. she also said she was working on a book about Afisa da Silva’s life, based on her diaries and from the point of view of the dead baby.
I don’t know if my aunt ever finished the book, but she named the dead baby Ayéfọ́jú, the world is blind, which was what Afisa da Silva said when her daughters did not understand what she was saying about the bird.
so, as the story goes, that was the first time I heard the name Ayéfọ́jú. I was 11 and it was just a wild concept to me. I thought about it for years. in my mind I had this image of the world as a blind ghost baby wandering about the whole place lost. and when I left home, that was how I felt, you know? like a blind ghost baby. so I started calling myself Ayéfọ́jú. Ayé, for short.
That’s how the story goes.
The first time I told it to X, he didn’t know what Nago meant, and all that, so he didn’t really get it. We had to google it. We read about the rebellion too, so he’d get the full picture. That did the job. He looked into space for a long time, thinking about it all, then he sighed and said, “Your blood has crossed the ocean twice.”
He turned his head to look at me. “I wonder what that means,” he said.
And I said, “Maybe the journey is complete? Two is an even number.”
But he shook his head, “Or maybe there’s still one last journey to make. Three times is the magic. There is more water to come.”
Anyway, that morning I told him the story was made up.
Not that everything was a lie. Just that last part about feeling like a blind ghost baby.
The truth is that when I was leaving home, I needed to disappear. So I left Lagos, came here and picked a new name, the first name that came to my mind. That’s all.
But I always tell The Story of my Name like that, because when those woke kids hear that last part, they get very emotional, and that’s good for business.
When I told him that, he laughed and shook his head. I laughed too. We laughed together, holding each other in bed. Our minds were still different and I was very sad, but at least we were still flowing together, you know? That was nice.
The thing about the story of my name, where it ends is where the story of my hair begins. But I don’t tell that one very often, because most people are not interested in my hair. They like it, they say they like it, but they don’t ask about it, so all I ever say is thank you. The only time I ever told the story was at the party in Lagos when Sayo asked. Before that, only X knew, but I didn’t have to tell him. He just got it. That was the best part, you know? All the things I didn’t have to tell him because he got.
But then all he had to say about it was, “But for something new to start, the old stuff has to go”, and that made me very sad.
Before him, no one else knew, because I don’t get to tell it. But now, it’s all out in the air. Sayo asked and I told them. And if you ask now, I’ll tell you.
It’s not a long story, just that when I left home, I didn’t have the money to cut my hair or take care of it. So I just left it alone and it started to tangle up. I’d just comb it back with my fingers. You know? Then it grew long and shaped up like this. I didn’t like it for a while. But then my friend said he liked it, so I started liking it too. That’s all.
Those days after I left home, it was wild.
I didn’t have any plans, just packed my things and came here to crash with the guy I was dating then. That was the first time I ever travelled on my own, and I’ve been here since.
I don’t like travelling. Sometimes I go to Lagos because my major supplier is there, and sometimes for parties and all. But I’m always scared I’ll run into my mum and she’ll cause a scene. That’s crazy. After two years I’m still scared of that.
She must have really fucked me up.
She didn’t really want kids though, so maybe that’s why. She was forced to have me because her mum didn’t let her get an abortion. To the da Silvas children are sacred, out of respect for Afisa da Silva’s Salvador baby. Because it could be a boy, you know? When I came and I was a boy, that proved my grandma’s case. I was special. The first male child since the blind Salvador baby.
But my mum didn’t care about that. To her, the interesting thing about Afisa da Silva’s story was the general arch: the story of a young girl’s journey from slavery to wealth. The blind Salvador baby was just one of the plot twists. She and my aunt used to fight about that, because she was all smug about it. She said my aunt was not a real feminist because she romanticised the idea of children. And if my grandmother had been dead when she found out she was pregnant, she would have had an abortion.
Because she didn’t really want children.
She was in her twenties and the guy she was fucking got her pregnant so she would marry him. He punctured holes in the condoms, and all. By the time she found out, she was already pregnant. That made her mad. She almost killed him. She thought about it for weeks and if she could have gotten away with it, she would have done it. That’s what she said. But all she could do was break up with him and raise me alone, because the only thing she wanted less than a child was to be married to a man.
So maybe that’s why she was a shitty parent. I don’t know.
But it’s crazy that I’m still scared I’ll run into her one day in Lagos.
She’ll cause a scene, I’m sure. She did it one time back in secondary school when she found a love letter my friend wrote to me. That was when we were still dating. She just kept yelling, “For a boy?! How dare you?” Drove me to school and had us beaten publicly during the assembly. She stayed and watched. It was crazy. That’s why I’m always scared she’ll cause a scene. I just know it.
She changed my school the next term, put me in a boarding school, so I didn’t see him again until I moved here. He’s in his final year now. You might know him – Sage; he’s popular on campus. He was the one that hosted the open mic event around this time last year.
When we met again, we tried to get back together, but it wasn’t working, so we agreed to stay friends. But the sex was good and we continued fucking for a while. On and off.
That’s why when me and X started being a thing, I thought there would be bad blood between them. You know? Because he knew X, and X knew about my history with him. But they were both actually really cool. They were very good friends, so I guess that’s why. After I told X about the whole thing with Sayo, the next morning before I left, he said if it had been Sage he would have understood.
“I just don’t understand,” he said, “you ruined our thing with something meaningless.”
At the time I thought that was not altogether a bad outcome. Because if he had understood, it would have broken him the way it broke me and he wouldn’t have survived. Better to spare him all that.
That’s what I thought at the time. Now, I don’t know.
Anyway, it was my friend that told me about the party, so maybe part of the reason he let me crash with him after everything was because he blamed himself.
The day after it happened, that was what I thought too. That if he hadn’t told me about the party and then convinced me to go, none of it would have happened. But that was just me trying to shift the blame. That’s another reason I didn’t tell X the real truth. When he asked how, I could have told him why too, but I didn’t want him to think I was trying to make an excuse. Or, even worse, a justification. You know?
My friend said it was a party for non-binary people in Lagos. He didn’t know Sayo would be there or he would have told me, because he knew I liked Sayo’s music. He would have tried to use it to convince me to go, instead of saying it would be good for business and all.
That was true, though. My business was a mess at that time, because I was just recovering from what had happened with the police three months before.
Crazy thing that happened that day. I was going to see X and they just blocked the road, pointed a gun in my face and asked me to enter their van. I wasn’t delivering or anything, so I wasn’t even carrying my bag. I was just going to see X, you know? They searched my phone and saw my last credit alert from an order I received that morning. Then they drove to an ATM and cleaned out my account. They said they knew I must be a drug dealer, so they made me take them to my house. I’m serious. I was living in this tiny room closer to campus then. When we got there, they turned the entire place over, found my stash and took it away. It was crazy.
The word got out and many of my old customers just disappeared. They were paranoid, you know? I was paranoid too, kept thinking they would come back. I couldn’t sleep for days. That was when I went to stay with X, and that’s why I said it was like he plucked me in from the storm and gave me warmth.
That’s why my friend thought it would be good for business if I went to the party in Lagos, because I would make new connections and all that. That’s why I went. Neither of us knew Sayo would be there, so I couldn’t have planned it all along.
Not that any of that mattered to X. What mattered to him was that I had ruined our thing.
It happened as soon as I spotted Sayo spotting me in the scarlet lights of the party. They snaked through sweaty dancing bodies toward me, tapped the wine glass in my hand slowly, breathed “Hey” into my ear, and disappeared around a corner.
I followed them, just out of curiosity. They were waiting for me, leaning against a door and twirling the wine in their own glass around, smiling.
I said hey, and they said hey again, and we just stood there staring at each other awkwardly.
Then I told them I liked their last single, just to fill the air. I said it made me cry. And they laughed and said they didn’t know whether to say thank you or I’m sorry. I laughed too, brushed a lock of hair back. That was when they asked about it.
They said, “Interesting hair. What’s the deal?”
And because I didn’t always get to tell it since no one ever asked, I told them. I also told them the story of my name, for context.
Afterwards, they reached over and ran their fingers through my hair and said it was pretty. We stood there in silence for a while, alone, apart from the sweaty bodies and the loud music and the scarlet party lights spreading around playful patterns.
I was still thinking about how they had run their hands through my hair, so when they said, “It’s hot in here, do you want to step outside?” I didn’t know when I nodded.
We went to sit in their car. They turned on the AC and we just sat there. They started talking about something related to the car, but I was not listening, because I was distracted. All I could think was how nice it had felt when they touched my hair.
Maybe if I had not been distracted thinking that, I would have reacted when they leaned across and kissed me. But I just parted my lips. You know?
And when they unbuttoned my trousers and pulled out my dick, I didn’t stop them from putting it in their mouth. After that, they picked a condom out of thin air. That was when I realised what was happening, but by then it was too late. I let them ride me.
Gently, you know, because we were in the car, and all.me
After everything, we sat there in the backseat with our trousers down our knees. I was numb. Just sat there watching them. They brought out a cigarette and lit it. I watched the smoke fill the car, but I wasn’t really there. Not in that car. I was back in my mum’s car the day she found Sage’s love letters and drove me to school. Because that was the last time I felt that numb, you know? It’s like, you know something very terrible is coming, but it’s not here yet, so you’re just sitting there waiting since you can’t run away.
Later, I thought that if I couldn’t escape it, at least I could try and delay it. You know? All I had to do was avoid making water with X.
That was hard, because I really liked making water. When we did it was the only time we felt completely one. You know? A thing moving with one mind not two.
That’s how I knew he would know the moment we made water, and all I had to do was avoid it.
I tried for a while, went to bed early, left the house early, all that. It worked for like a week, but one day he woke me up just before daylight and said we had not made water in a while and he wanted to do it. I couldn’t say no.
So we made water.
And it was terrible. We both knew it as soon as we started, and we stopped immediately.
He looked into my eyes for a while, then fell back in bed and fixed his eyes on the ceiling. He just lay there for a long time, naked and looking at the ceiling. It was so quiet. My heart was beating like crazy. Eventually, he stood up and said, “Let’s go to the dam.” I couldn’t argue.
We walked slowly. His place was on campus, not far from the dam, so it was not too bad. When we got there, he stared at it for a while before finally asking in his velvety voice, “What happened?”
When he said that, I thought I would drop dead. My heart was beating so much I couldn’t move my lips. But eventually I was able to say I ruined our thing. And that was when he asked how and I told him.
Maybe I should have told him why too, I don’t know. I’m thinking about it differently now that I’m telling you about it.
Maybe if he had understood, he would still have survived, you know? Since he saved me and all. That makes sense.
He saved me, so I should have known he would survive.
I was out in the cold, but he plucked me in and gave me warmth. Told me it was ok to be warm. Told me a story too, then commanded me to love my heart. That first day in his room after he told me the story. He held me before the mirror, leaned into me from behind and breathed softly into my ear with his velvety voice, “Touch your chest, feel your heart beat, love it.”
And I did. For three months. Anyone that can command you into loving your heart can survive anything.
So maybe I should have told him why, you know? The real truth. Maybe he would have survived. I don’t know. I didn’t think about it like this before.
Anyway, crazy idea: as I was telling you the story, I was thinking it’ll probably make a good book one day, you know? It’s a really good story. I was thinking about that book that my aunt was writing. I never figured her for a writer at all, because she doesn’t have the looks, but she said she was writing a book anyway. But you look like a writer, with your glasses and all. So I thought maybe if you’re a writer, I could get you to write about me. A story, you know?
So I started wondering what title you might give it. That was hard to guess. The best thing I could come up with was Little Bird. Like the story X told me that first night at his place. That kind of works, if you think about it.
That was what I thought at first. But then I thought again and it didn’t make sense. For it to work, the little bird has to fall asleep by the river, no? Because that’s what happens in X’s story.
So that title doesn’t really work yet. That was just what I was thinking as I was telling you the story. I don’t know what you think of it. Oh well.
Ìjàpá O is a gender queer writer working out of Ibadan, Nigeria. They are interested in the realities of the conditions of youth and queerness in a hateful world, as well as in the tensions that occur between the young and the old.
*Image by Emmanuel Ikwuegbu on Unsplash