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Excerpt for I Dream of Tomorrow by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

I Dream of Tomorrow

Victor .J. Ifemelu

Smashwords Edition

Copyright 2018. Victor .J. Ifemelu

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Table of Contents

Hunted

Chat History

Deviant

A Fractured Mind

A Father’s Secret

Reunion

Knock, Knock

Red Plague; Entry 17

The Pastor’s Daughter

Love, Simon

About the Book

About the Author

Sample of Amobi and the Door Beyond Time

Hunted

Jerry was surprisingly the first to fall behind. I looked back just in time to see him fall to his knees. Gritting my teeth, I hurried forward and helped him up. "Come on," I said anxiously. "We have to pick up the pace." Precious and her girlfriend Alicia, ran up to us then, panting hard. She was also dragging along a dazed looking Francis.

"How far behind are they?" I asked. Alicia frowned, that smart brain of hers doing some quick calculations.

"I'd say at least a hundred meters," she replied. "But we should keep moving."

I looked around the thick forest, barely noticing the birds that chattered to each other, staring curiously at us. In the evening light, each shadow seemed to hold a member of the mob that had attacked us. "Okay," I said finally and we continued our desperate race.

We ran until we could run no longer. It was quite dark by then and luckily we found a small cave where we could hide out for the night. I hadn't wanted to stop, but Jerry's asthma was starting to act up and Precious had pointed out that our pursuers would have stopped for the night. As we set up camp, I sincerely hoped that she was right. No one could possibly hate us that much, could they?

Alicia hunched down and produced a matchbox from her torn trousers. She was always paranoid about us getting lost and so kept a stash of emergency supplies on her all the time. Of course, most of it was lost when the mob attacked, but I was grateful for the fire nonetheless.

Jerry, hacking and wheezing, gently lowered himself onto the ground. I was by his side in an instant, and I studied him with anxious eyes. His handsome face was beaded with sweat and his normally black complexion had turned a nasty shade of grey that I didn't like at all.

"Relax babe," he said when he caught sight of my worried face. "It was a small attack."

I frowned. The way he was clutching at his chest suggested otherwise.

Jerry sighed and placed his palm on my cheek. "Emeka," he said a bit forcefully. "I'm okay. It's nothing serious."

"You don't look okay," I complained, leaning into his touch.

"Well, it could be worse," he said and nodded towards the spot where Francis was sprawled on the ground. Precious and Alicia were trying to feed him some of the chocolate that Alicia had discovered in her pockets, but he simply stared past them, lost to the world. He had been like that ever since Hugo, his boyfriend, had been snatched from his arms and burnt alive before him. We had had to run then and thankfully Precious had had the presence of mind to seize Francis before the mob could get to him.

Giving up on feeding him, the girls raised Francis until he was leaning comfortably against a tree. They curled up against him and offered me the chocolate, but I refused. "Jerry and I ate something remember?" I said. "You guys are ones that need it the most."

As the girls split the snack between, I released a deep breath I hadn't even known I was holding and allowed Jerry to pull me close to him. I tried to relax, but my muscles weren't cooperating and remained stubbornly stiff. My mind kept going over the events of the day and how it had gone horribly wrong.

It had started benignly enough. Our little gang had met up in one of the bars near our street. It was Valentine's Day and while it would definitely have been suspicious if we went out as couples, as a group we had nothing to fear. Jerry and I arrived early and unable to wait, had eaten something of the massive food that we had ordered. Hugo and Francis barged in then, quickly followed by the girls and they had chastised us soundly for eating without them.

Till today, I have never known what tipped off the Agberos hanging around the area. Maybe it was the way Jerry and I were leaning against each other, or the way Hugo and Francis were 'jokingly' feeding each other, but I'm almost sure that I saw Stanley, Jerry's ex darting out of the way, when the mob rushed us, shouts of "Homo!" filling the air. Hugo was closest to the door and was seized and lynched before our eyes. That's my last coherent memory.

Everything else, our escape from the bar, the surprising gymnastics that we performed dodging the Agberos' grasping hands, our mad dash towards the forest bordering the area and our subsequent flight are all flashes in my mind. Clarity only returned when Jerry fell and for a heartbeat, I feared that he had been captured.

Shaking off the thoughts, I raised my head towards the girls. "We need to be up by sunrise," I announced.

"If we can make it to Okigbo, I think we will be safe there. I have a friend. He'll..." I trailed off. I had wanted to say that he would protect us, but there was no guarantee of that. He didn't know that I was gay, but to share my doubts now would be disastrous when we needed all the hope we could get.

Precious, however, seemed to have read my mind. "It'll be okay, Emeka," she said. "You're not the only one who has friends there." She nodded towards Francis who had thankfully fallen asleep. I sighed and nodded once, not trusting myself to speak. Jerry wrapped an arm around me and I surprisingly fell asleep in seconds. My plan was to sleep for four hours, then we would be up and moving towards Okigbo before the mob could make up the lost distance.

Fate, unfortunately, had other plans in store for us.

We overslept.

I suppose I should be grateful that people of a lower IQ have a great tendency towards making noise. Had it been otherwise, all would have been lost.

We were awakened by several shouts of glee, and the sounds of stamping feet coming towards our direction. It was a sign of how on edge we all were that were up and running for our lives in a flash. This time I grabbed Francis, and after giving him a few sharp slaps, he managed to keep pace with us.

But we were losing ground and the mob was closing in. For the first time since yesterday Francis looked directly at me, and then stared around with sharp eyes, instantly accessing the situation. One member of the mob, who must have been faster than others, rushed forward and grabbed Jerry. He insists that I saved him, but I have no idea what I did. All I know is that the thug suddenly staggered away from us, holding bleeding hands over his eyes and screaming.

The mob slowed down to check on their fallen comrade as we rounded a sharp bend, but I knew it was only a small respite. They would be after us soon with more vigor, now that I had drawn first blood.

"Wait," Francis gasped.

I had no intention of waiting. I wanted to put as much distance as possible between us and that ravenous mob, but Francis stopped and began to break off some plants, forcing us to stop anyway.

"What are you doing?" Alicia demanded. I was starting to hear a low rumbling, the mob riling itself up for the final charge.

Francis stared back at us with sad eyes.

"This is the only way," he said. "Remember what I did and guys..." He smiled then. "Don't stop running no matter you hear." And he crashed through the bush, making a lot of noise.

I suddenly realized what he was doing and I had to push my friends to get them moving. We barely made it out of sight, before the mob came rushing round the bend, then crashed after Francis.

Precious and Alicia were silently weeping, as we ran, trying to make as little noise as possible. Jerry's face looked murderous and he kept close to me, as he was afraid I would decide to sacrifice myself too.

Remember me, Francis had said. And I would. Someday, I promised myself silently. I will be back and they will pay. I kept that thought in mind as we ran, even as we heard the sudden shouts of glee and the acrid smell of burning flesh hit our nostrils.

Glossary of Nigerian terms

Agbero: A tout or thug usually found soliciting for passengers in bus parks around Nigeria. Also a general word for a hoodlum or an untrustworthy and/or ignorant person.

Chat History

April 10

Xup



Hey



How r u doing?



I'm sorry, who is this?



...



...



Its Henry



...



How did u get this number?



Ada, your friend gave it to me.



...



I just wanted to talk.



Really? About what exactly



I suppose the feud between our two families is a good place to start.



I suppose so, considering it's your family that started all this



What?



Yeah, you robbed my grandfather of his birthright



That's the exact opposite of what I was told.



...



Even if it’s true, it’s just a piece of land.



Not the way I see it. You're all criminals.



Henry went offline.



April 29



Hey



What do you want?



Cool down alright, I just want to talk



Of course u do, since our last chat went so well



...



...



I saw u today





I won't...



...



What?



U were playing the violin in school, near the Biology lab.



You're really good by the way



Oh...



Thanks



...



...



May 2



I saw today's game. I didn't know you played football



There are all sorts of things that you don't know about me (smirks)



Oh really, things like what



I'm psychic



(Amused) Seriously?



No really



For example I know you can do a really good rendition of John Legend's All of Me



Thanks



Wait a minute, how do you know that?



I told u I'm psychic



Uh huh. Spill



I asked Derek



No fair



U were d first to approach Ada remember



Touché



Okay then, we have to promise to not seek information from each other's best friends



I don't think that will be possible. I like knowing things.



Alright then, but remember u asked for it.



(evil grin) Let the games begin!



May 5



Okay, so that was awkward



It wasn't my fault. You know my brothers go to the same school as us, they might have seen us



So that's why you decided to shove me into the gutter. First time we're meeting face to face in who knows how long and you're already beating me up



This doesn't bode well for our friendship



I panicked okay.



Besides who uses the word 'bode' in casual conversation.



I read a lot of classics



So do I but that hasn't turned me into some English master



You think I'm an English master? You just used the words 'casual conversation''



(annoyed) Urgh! You're so frustrating



I know. It’s one of my lesser known talents



That's it, I'm going to bed



Hang on



I want to see you again, without the shoving into gutters this time



Alright.



Let's meet in that uncompleted building next to our street.



K.



Gud night



Gud night.



May 6



That was unsatisfactory



Henry, we talked for at least five minutes



Yes yes, I know. I just wish it could have been longer.



We could meet again tomorrow



Felix...



No wait, hear me out first.



School ends tomorrow right? Well with the confusion that the school calls the end of term assembly, we can talk for a while, especially if I... oh I don't know... Accidentally bump into you



You are crazy



Your plan might just work however



(smug) Might?



Alright, definitely then (smiles)



I do want to see you though.



Excellent. Maybe we'll have time to practice your guy handshake. No offense but you're terrible at it



Hey!



Gud night Henry



Sweet dreams



(angry)



May 11



Thank God, they have brought back the power



What caused the power failure?



I'm not sure, but my dad says that some fool thief tried to make off with our transformer



Oh, so that's where that mystery stain at the end of the street came from



Yeah, I heard that they had to scrape off his fried remains with a shovel



Serves him right, I couldn't charge my phone for close to a week



I'm not going to lie, I missed talking to you



I missed you too.



By the way, thanks for that Rubik's cube. Where did you even buy it from? I haven't seen it in this area before



(mysterious) I have my sources



Sigh. You gave me your old one didn't you



Hey, I resent that



No wonder it had teeth marks all over it. I thought it had to have come from some sort of animal



Hey, I was two for crying out loud



So you DID give me your old one, thanks so much for confessing your crime



Jerk



(kissy face) Aww, I thought you loved me



You have no idea how much I do



...



...



Okay, that was a little bit creepy



Just a bit



I think I'll go to bed now



You do that



May 11



12 Midnight



Henry?



Yeah?



I couldn't sleep



Sigh. You too?



Henry... I have another confession to make



Throughout that week with no power, I couldn't stop thinking about you. Even now when I close my eyes, you're all I see



Henry... God, I think I'm falling in love with you



...



Felix...



I think I'm in love with you too



Ok...



What are we going to do?



I don't..



I...



Oh God, this can't be happening



Henry?



Felix, my heart beat a bit funny when I read that last message.



Is that normal?



Henry, I think we should just hide our feelings for now. Our parents CANNOT know about this



I'm with you there



And Felix... Try to get some sleep



Sure thing love



...



...



I'm making it worse aren't I?



Yeah



May 20





Felix?



Yeah?



...



This isn't working out well



I know



Will your parents be home tomorrow?



No. They will be at court with my brothers



Same here



I'm coming over tomorrow



Felix...



That's a terrible idea



I know, I just want to see you face to face.



...



...





Henry?



...



K.



May 21



Oh my God, are you okay



Yeah, my parents didn't see you



God Felix, we were supposed to talk.



Not... Not



Make out?



I can't even type it



It wasn't my fault, last time I checked you're the one that jumped me



Yeah, I know.



You smelled good though



You tasted good too. What was that flavor, banana?



Pineapple



Same thing



(amused) No they're not



...



Felix... This can't go on. I can't settle for just a few stolen kisses or just a quick chat. I want you by my side all the time, I want to BREATHE you



...



Ok



Where did you get that?



I stayed awake last night writing it out



(touched)



...



Are you thinking we should run away



Yeah, I'm already eighteen and you'll be of age in two months time



I'm not going to ask how you know that but...



A romantic elopement into the sunset...



I like it



K. I'm in.



So I've got some money saved up. You?



A huge amount is mentioned



(shocked) Okay.



That'll definitely be enough



When are we leaving



I don't know yet.



We'll have to plan this carefully



K. I trust you



And Henry, I love you



...



...



I love you too Felix.

Deviant

I didn't notice him at first, too busy fighting to get into my seat before the driver moved off. Although there were only three of us in the backseat, the bus was stiflingly hot and I had to wipe excess sweat from my brow. Several hawkers selling sachet water and soft drinks moved amongst the buses, calling out their wares, seemingly oblivious to the hot African sun beating down on them.

Glancing impatiently at the driver who was haggling loudly with a prospective customer over the additional fees her luggage accrued, I cast my mind back to the events of the day. Today was my sister, Rose's matriculation and a huge chunk of my time had been spent playing mediator between my parents and her. My dad is a naturally impatient and short tempered man and with my mom, who is almost as stubborn to egg him on, the situation had nearly deteriorated by the time I got there.

The issue at hand was that my sister had committed the completely unforgivable crime of keeping them waiting for two hours. My arrival cooled things down somewhat and by the time we went our separate ways; my sister back to her hostel, my parents and Jennifer and Joshua, my other siblings back to Onitsha and me to the park where I would catch a bus back to the polytechnic that I attended, things were once again okay between us. My family and I are one of those people that find it difficult to hold a grudge. They also possess very short tempers which is a vice that I, thankfully, do not have.

The driver had just climbed onto his seat, having settled with the lady, when the boy next to me tapped my shoulder, interrupting my train of thoughts. For a brief moment, I stared blankly at him, then something clicked and I gasped.

"Jesus!" I exclaimed, automatically extending my hand for a quick handshake and finger snap combination. A purely Nigerian gesture, it was something that I had difficulty initiating a year ago, but now was so effortless I could probably do it in my sleep.

"Longest time," he said, flashing his white teeth in my direction. "How long has it been, two, three years?"

Three years, seven months, two weeks, six days, 45 minutes and 29 seconds, my brain supplied helpfully. This is probably a good time to mention that I'm a Deviant. This means that I'm part of a group of humans experimented on by a secret scientific think tank called The Facility. Their experiments gave us powers and we were classified according to the type of powers we exhibited. I'm a Neural, which is a class for those whose abilities are mostly mental in nature.

Aside from having a ridiculously good memory, which is something that all Neurals have to some degree, I'm also telekinetic and I have some limited telepathy. I was taken by a facility when a guy I stupidly told I had a crush on reported me to the authorities. For some reason The Facility seems to prefer gay people. I escaped from the facility when I couldn't take their brutal methods anymore, but at least I got off easy. People like me tend to get locked up in prisons.

The guy scratched his head and turned away for a moment, allowing me to sneak a look at him. He was fair skinned, and his black hair was cropped low like mine. He was dressed in blue – black jeans over which he wore a red t-shirt. My gaze lingered on his chest which pushed enticingly against his shirt, showing that he was packing some muscle.

"Don't be offended," he began, oblivious to my discreet checking out of his body. "But... uh... I can't remember your name?"

"That's okay," I heard myself saying. "Since I can't remember yours either."

He laughed then, a soft, feathery sound that had me dazed. I wanted to hear that laugh again, wanted to...

Woah there, said my Inner Skeptic, bringing that train of thought to a screeching halt. Control yourself boy! Sighing inwardly, I put on an expression of mock seriousness. "Victor Egbuna, pleased to make your acquaintance."

"Leonardo Ugonabo, likewise," he said, mimicking me.

The moment he said his name, my brain whirred to life and immediately dug up the relevant memories. I remembered him now. He was my classmate and the last time I had seen him was when we were getting ready to take our WAEC examinations.

He was popular and insisted that everyone call him Leo. He was funny, a natural leader and was in short everything I could never be. I hadn't even known that this social god had taken notice of lowly mortal like me.

"Leo, Leo," I said jovially, giving no sign of the sudden inferiority complex that had come over me. "How far na? Which school you dey sef?"

"Ol' boy I neva enter school o!" Leo replied. "All of them fuck me up badly." A brief frown crossed his face, and then brightened when he looked at me. "You nko?"

I told him the name of my polytechnic.

"Ah," he exclaimed in mock horror. "So you later go polytechnic? Na outside university we tink say you go go."

I simply shrugged, giving no answer. I didn't tell him that any hopes for me leaving Nigeria had been shattered when the Facility took me. I didn't know which country they were originally based in, but I wasn't about to take the risk and fall into their hands again. Once was enough.

Our conversation lulled after that. As I leaned into my seat, Leo seemed distracted by his sleeping neighbour, who had drooled over his shirt. I, on the other hand, was trying to resist the urge to edge closer to Leo. This is ridiculous, I thought. I had never felt this way about a guy, even if he was practically sitting on my lap. What was going on?

I turned to talk to Leo, and for a brief moment, I actually thought he was trying not to get close to me the same way I was. That made me forget what I wanted to say. Don't be silly, I chided myself. He was probably getting into a more comfortable position. And yet something was brewing at the back of my mind, a stray idea that had yet to take form.

"Primus," said Leo suddenly.

"Pro bono publico," I replied, automatically finishing the Faculty's motto, without even thinking about it. First among humans, all for the good of the public.

We were stunned for a moment by what we had done, and then his face broke into a wide grin that I was sure was mirrored in mine.

"You're a Deviant?" He asked, keeping his voice low, an expression of hesitant hope on his face.

"So are you," I said by way of answer.

We started laughing then, drawing a few looks from our fellow passengers. I was giddy and I had to mentally restrain myself by whooping. Another Deviant, my brain enthused. That explained the irresistible connection I was feeling.

Finally, I was no longer alone.

"How?" Leo asked, eyes wide in wonder. I took a deep breath and told him my story. He was no longer smiling when I finished. "It was the same with me," he said darkly. "Except I didn't escape, they released me."

"Really," I said in surprise. In all my dealings with the Facility, they hadn't exactly struck me the type to willingly let a subject go. "Why?"

"I don't know," he said simply, but I got the sense that he wasn't telling me everything.

We had to stop our conversation then, because a lot of the passengers were now eavesdropping shamelessly. A couple of minutes later, the bus got to my stop and I had to get off. As I dropped down, Leo pressed a piece of paper into my hands.

"That's my number," he whispered, still conscious of our unwanted audience.

"Call me."

As the bus zoomed off, I had to fight of the strong sense of loss that suddenly gripped me. Silently cursing the short journey between my sister's institution and mine, I hoisted my bag to my shoulder and trekked the short distance to my lodge.

"Victor's back!" Onyinye, my neighbor screamed deliriously as I entered. I put on a smile and spread my arms out for a hug. This was my life, I thought sadly. Putting on a constant show. I tried not think about the future or what would happen if I ever slipped in my performance.

My thoughts were on the paper as I hugged Onyinye and performed the necessary motions of two friends meeting after some time. Sighing again, I pushed all thoughts of the paper from my mind and focused on Onyinye.

I had been doing this since I was twelve. What was a few more hours wait? And so I allowed my chattering friend to lead us inside.

Glossary of Nigerian Terms

WAEC: An acronym for the West African Examinations Council. They are the body responsible for one of the three exams a student must sit before gaining admission into a tertiary institution (Universities, Polytechnics, Colleges of Education etc). In daily Nigerian English, it is used as a name for the exam itself.

A Fractured Mind

I simply stared as the doctor fluttered around me. Mother and Father were opening and closing their mouths, saying meaningless words that I couldn't be bothered to decipher. I turned away from them and studied the impressive office. There was on a sign on the table that proudly declared DR. STELLA WILLAMS; CHIEF PSYCHIATRIST, OUR LORD'S MENTAL HOSPITAL. Arranged around the sign like an honour guard were several diplomas and awards. Pinned to the wall opposite me was a newspaper clipping that read: NIGERIA'S YOUNGEST PSYCHIATRIST BAGS AWARD AT AGE TWENTY. The walls were coated in a cream coloured paint streaked with stripes of blue. It was probably meant to invoke feelings of calm and peacefulness but I wasn't feeling any of that with all the noise these people were making. Irritated, I turned around.

Their backs were towards me and they were all gesticulating wildly. "We should never have taken her, I agree," Father yelled, unaware that they had gained my attention. "But we thought that if we brought her to you of all people, you'd be able to heal her."

"Oh so you care about her now," demanded the doctor that I assumed was the Chief Psychiatrist. "That's funny 'cos you've never shown any sign of it until now."

Father's face darkened and I thought he was going to punch the doctor in the face. The thought didn't bother me at all which surprised me for some reason. Should I have been concerned?

"I was trying to protect her," Father said through gritted teeth. "I never expected this."

"How do you think I feel seeing her like that," the doctor sniffed. She scowled at Father, making no secret of who she thought was to blame for whatever was wrong with me.

Father opened his mouth, probably to argue his innocence but Mother caught sight of me then and shushed him.

"Kachi, nne," she began in a sugary tone that I disliked immediately. "How are you doing?"

I made no reply, not because I didn't know what to say, but simply because I didn't feel like it. I just cocked my head and stared at her. Mother's lower lip began to quiver and as she turned away to hide her tears, I was again struck by the feeling that I should be feeling some sort of emotion at the moment. I searched around in my mind for the missing fragment but I came up empty.

"How long has she been like that?" said the doctor, her tone impersonal and professional.

"At least two weeks," said Father. He shot a nervous glance at me. "It started after... after she nearly killed Tony."

That name awoke a feeling of rage that I didn't know I was feeling until then. It was an all consuming fire and I wanted to let it out, to free it from the frail cage that was my body.

Father must have seen the murderous look on my face because he suddenly seized Mother and backed away. Only the doctor didn't move, looking more puzzled than frightened. "The Kachi that I know wouldn't hurt a fly."

Mother shook her head, looking terrified. "You didn't see her that day."

Stella moved closer and placed a hand on my forehead while my parents gasped in horror. Strangely the fire burning inside me dimmed immediately until I was feeling only mildly irritated. "I'll take her," said the doctor. She sighed and glared at my parents. "Of course I'll take her. What else can I do? You should have brought her earlier."

My parents thanked her profusely and almost grovelled before her. They asked her what she thought the final bill would be, but she snapped that she wouldn't collect a dime, looking almost insulted. When my parents finally left, she turned towards me and her face softened.

"Kachi," she breathed. "What have they done to you?"

The doctor studied me for a moment, then her face went hard and she whipped out her phone and called someone. In seconds I was being taken to a ward. It was as white and impersonal as her office and had only one window which was barred, I guess, to prevent the inmates from escaping.

As I checked out my bed, the door opened and the doctor entered. "Try to get some rest," she said, slowly scanning the room. "I'll have one of the guards send up some hibiscuses for you." She smiled at me and exited, leaving me wondering how she'd known that they were my favorite flowers.

*****

The following weeks were a flurry of questions, visits and counter visits by my doctor. She insisted I call her Stella and most of her visits were just spent talking. She didn't seem at all discouraged by my continued silence and kept on trying to draw me into conversation with her, often casually stating facts about me that she had no business knowing, like the fact that I wanted to be a wrestler when I was younger, or the star shaped birthmark on my lower back.

I knew what she was trying to do and she knew that I knew, making our one sided conversations incredibly fun for me. I began to miss our talks when she had to leave and though I gave no visible sign, I think she noticed the way the fog over my memories lifted a little when she was around.

The first time I smiled at her was when she got me some chocolate ice cream and made some throw away remark about finding it on the ground with my name on it. She had been startled, and then smiled so widely I thought her face would tear. Later that night, as I realized that I had felt something when she had smiled at me; I decided to start responding to her. What I had felt was vague, just a spark, but I suspected that there was more to it and I wanted to feel it again.

The next day, I nodded when she asked me a direct question and this time she couldn't restrain the whoop of joy that left her. She told the guards to leave me be and so I was able to take short walks around the hospital.

"Being able to see the sky and trees might jar her emotions," she said once to her colleague when he got wind of her order.

I didn't mind at all. The uniformly white room was starting to get to me anyway and I appreciated a bit of color. It also allowed me to mull over the doctor and the feeling I got whenever I laid eyes on her. She's gorgeous, I realized one day, shocked that I was starting to appreciate such things. But it was more than that, it felt like there was a hole, a gaping cavern inside my soul that was begging to be filled.

I first talked to Stella when I decided to give her a surprise visit. Ever since she authorized my freedom around the hospital, she'd visited less and less and I missed her.

"You're making so much progress," she said during her last visit. "I simply can't justify visiting you as much as I used to."

I opened the door to find her crying, talking to someone on the phone. "She's starting to feel things, I can tell," she sobbed into the phone.

"You don't know how hard it is, how painful it is when she stares at me without a hint of recognition on her face." Stella blew her nose, still not noticing me.

"No I haven't told her parents and frankly I don't think I want to. They might undo all the good work I've done." She'd stopped crying now and sounded more like the doctor that I knew.

"They're afraid of her."

That wasn't news to me. I had sensed their fear when they'd dropped me off here, their nervous glances at me had given them away immediately. What surprised me that the doctor had asked them to not to see me (which was very okay with me) and had thought enough about me to know I might not want to see them. Again, there was that sense that there was something I should be feeling and after a brief search, I found it.

Compassion, pity, empathy and a little bit of love all flowed through me, following tracks that had not been used in a while. Perhaps that's what pushed me to take that last step.

"Are... are you okay?" I choked out, my voice hoarse from disuse.

Stella looked up in alarm, and then relaxed when she saw me. "I'll call you back," she said to whoever it was she was speaking to. I got the feeling that I should know that person. She got up from her chair and moved closer to me.

"What did you say?" she asked quietly.

I hesitated, unsure that I would be able to get the words out again. "I said... are you okay?"

I had been looking at the ground when I repeated my words, and when I looked up, Stella's eyes were again filled with tears and she was smiling. She cupped my face in her hands, a decidedly familiar gesture that made my breath quicken.

"Yes," she said. "I am now."

*****

We talked for a while, my short responses bringing more smiles to her face. At ten, she decided that we had spoken enough and gently sent me to bed.

But I couldn't sleep.

I kept tossing and turning on the bed, my mind running in a million directions. That gesture that Stella had made, like she had wanted to kiss me seemed to have awakened something long slumbering and it didn't want to go back to sleep.

I thought of Stella, thought of my parents, even thought about Tony, the rich man's son that my parents had decided that I must marry. Against my will, the memories came cascading over me and I remembered how Tony had approached my people with his people seeking my hand in marriage. I remembered coming out to them there, laughing at the shocked looks on their faces.

I remembered running away to... someone... someone special's house. I remembered making sweet, sweet love in the candlelight. I remembered my parents barging in and carrying away my wriggling body while we both screamed helplessly. I remembered something snapping in my mind, a strange emptiness descending on me, then the attack that almost killed Tony. I remembered the last time I spoke, screaming my love for... someone in court where I was placed on trail.

My breath caught.

Something snapped in my head and tears streamed from my eyes as the missing piece fell into place and I remembered.

I remembered everything.

I remembered Stella.

*****

Stella was in my ward at eight on the dot. She walked briskly to my only desk and began to arrange her papers on it, chattering aimlessly about nonsense and blissfully unaware of the look I was giving her.

"Some of my memories came back," I interrupted. My words had the intended effect and she immediately shut up.

"Oh, that's good then," she replied in a would be cheerful voice but I could see that her hands were shaking.

"Yeah," I said slowly, still watching her. "I remembered who Tony was and why I... became like this."

Stella said nothing and instead crossed over to look out the window. I had carefully planned how to do this, but seeing her so afraid, so scared of allowing herself to feel hope got to me and threw all caution to the four winds.

"Kpakpando m," I whispered. "Why won't you look at me?"

Her breath caught, my pet name for her finally doing its job. In two quick strides she was standing over me, cupping my face in her hands.

"Kachi..." she breathed, staring at me with wide eyes. I smiled and cocked my head at her. She smiled back and hugged me.

Then suddenly we were kissing and I was lost, drowning in the sea of love I hadn't been able to feel. I threw my hands across her neck and didn't let go, even when we had to come for air. She was crying, tears streaming down her copper skin.

"There were times when I thought you would never remember," she whispered into my neck. "Times when I couldn't stomach what they'd done to you. What..."

"Shhh," I said, stopping her with a finger. "That's all in the past now. I could never forget you for long. I love you, silly."

She laughed a little and hugged me again. We stayed like that for a while, just feeling each other. Stella, my heart, my love, my life was back in my arms where she belonged; and I was content.

Stella hummed, then leaned back to stare at me. "While I would love to stay like this forever, we have to consider what we're going to tell your parents."

"Well," I mused, playing with her name tag. "You're the doctor. You think of something."

She smiled, then frowned when a thought occurred to her. "You don't think they'll try to keep us apart again, do you."

"No I don't think so. But you don't have to tell them that I'm all better," I began slyly.

"You can just say that I'm doing great but there's still a high chance I'll relapse and rip their heads off or something."

Stella laughed and I revelled in that sound. "Naughty girl," she teased. "But that's a great idea."

"I know, I think I deserve a reward."

"Oh really," said my girlfriend in an amused tone. "And what would that be?"

"I have few things in mind," I said seriously. "But I think a kiss is a good way to begin."

Stella simply shook her head. "Kachi," she sighed in a way that showed just how much she had missed my exasperating side.

"Shut up and kiss me," I demanded.

And she did.

Glossary of Nigerian Terms

Nne: An igbo word. It means mother and is used as an affection term, usually between parents and daughter.

Kpakpando: An igbo word, it means star.

A Father’s Secret

Amaechi found out that his father was gay two weeks after his thirteenth birthday. He'd just returned from school and was headed straight to the living room to watch some television. His father and his best friend were already there; fast asleep on one of the couches. They weren't naked or anything, all his father was doing was just holding his friend as they slept. But there was just a sense of love and air of peacefulness around them that Amaechi had never seen between his parents. And that was when he made the connection. Even though he didn't know enough to give it a name, he realized that there was only one person that his father truly loved - and it wasn't his mother.

Amaechi had gone to his room, a great sense of confusion rattling around his young head. He liked Uncle Jim, he always had. It was Uncle Jim who had bought him his first bicycle, and when his dad claimed to be too busy, it was Uncle Jim that had come to his games.

Every. Single. One of them.

In a way, Uncle Jim was more of a father to him than his own dad. But now, all he could feel was an intense hatred for his father and Uncle Jim, and a deep sorrow for his poor mother.

He didn't tell his mother what he'd realized when she returned from work. He didn't have to. She had been sensing that something was wrong with their marriage and it showed in the alarmingly increasing number of fights that they had. And even though by the time she came back, both men were awake and occupying different seats, something clicked and she had ordered - in a really, really loud voice - that Uncle Jim vacate the premises and never return. Bewildered, the two friends had asked what the matter was, but the woman was beyond reason. She may not have known the true nature of their relationship, but subconsciously, she knew that the source of all her problems was on one person - Uncle Jim.

Amaechi ran downstairs at the time when both men were starting to realize that his mom was serious. Uncle Jim had sighed, shrugged and picked up his coat. "Steve, I should be on my way home," he said, already halfway to the door.

"No," said Steve. He hadn't said it violently or in a loud tone, but everybody stopped in their tracks. Even Fiona, Amaechi's mother was silenced.

"No Jim, you can't leave."

"What do you mean?" screamed Fiona in outrage. "Listen up Mr. Man. Its either your friend leaves this house or I pack out."

"That won't be necessary," said Amaechi's father, a calm rock in the face of Fiona's storm. "Because I'll be leaving the house for you."

For the second time in five minutes, Fiona lost her voice.

"Steve!" said Uncle Jim harshly. "What are you doing?"

"What I should have done a long time ago. Marrying her was a mistake I should not have made."

"You... you're leaving me," Fiona said in a small voice that made Amaechi realize that his mother hadn't actually been serious about leaving the house.

Steve smiled sadly at his wife. "Let's be honest with ourselves, I have not been a very good husband to you. Don't worry, you and Amaechi will never find yourselves wanting. I'll make sure of that."

Fiona stared as her former husband grabbed a distinctly uncomfortable looking Uncle Jim and made for the door. In that moment, everything fell into place. "Homo!" Fiona screamed, her voice laced with absolute disgust. Steve and Jim stiffened, then without a backwards glance walked out their lives.

Steve and Jim travelled out of town the same day, fearful of the stories that Fiona might tell, but she didn't. Perhaps it was because there was still some love left for her husband, though Amaechi's pleas for secrecy might have played a greater part, but she never did. Instead her once blazing temperament mellowed and she threw all her efforts into raising her only child. She sent him to the best schools, got him the best tutors and when he got an opportunity to study abroad, she called her husband for the time in seven years, asking for help.

Help arrived in fifteen minutes in the form of an amount so huge it left Fiona screaming and Amaechi even more confused. He wanted to hate his father for what he was. It was something that the pastor regularly preached against in dire tones, voice dripping with self righteousness. But Amaechi couldn't hate his father anymore than he could purposely break his arm, and he could tell his mother felt the same way to a lesser degree. How could he despise his father when he repeatedly insisted on being nice?

Five years later, the twenty seven year old Amaechi was now the Managing Director of a very successful bank after he passed out of the university with flying colors. He lived in a flat near the outskirts of the city and aside from a few stories from his mother; he'd had no contact with his father for fifteen years. But that was no big matter, after all he had his mother, a girlfriend who he loved to bits and more friends than he could ever ask for. Who needed a father anyway?

And so Amaechi convinced himself that his father was sooner forgotten and cast aside. Whenever the issue came up, he dodged it insistently, whether by burning all the pictures of his dad or breaking off with the friend that had trustingly come out to him. These were all things that reminded him of his father and they were to be avoided at all costs.

"You should speak to your father," said Fiona one day during her son's weekly visits. "He hasn't spoken to you in such a long time." The suggestion surprised Amaechi and he made no secret of it. "When did you become his spokesman," he asked. "I thought you hated the very idea of him."

"I thought so too, for a while," his mother replied. "But your father, well, we talked recently and I think I've come to understand him. That doesn't mean that I've accepted what he is or forgiven him for walking out on us, but he is still my husband and he is your father."

"No," Amaechi said stubbornly, echoing his father in so many ways that his mother almost smiled. His father hadn't wanted to get involved in his life when he needed it, when he'd most wanted it. Why now? And so he after saying a curt goodbye to his mom, he'd stormed home and locked himself in.

Thoughts of his father constantly assailed his mind and to fight them off, he went to his in home bar and began to indulge. He had just finished his seventh bottle, when a knock came on his door.

Go away, whoever you are, he thought sluggishly, reaching for a new bottle. The person, however stayed put and after a few minutes of constant rapping, Amaechi groaned and dragged himself to the door. After drunkenly fumbling with the locks for almost a minute, he finally opened it and stared right into the face of his father.

His intoxication vanished at once as the two men regarded each other warily.

"Amaechi," said Steve. "You've grown."

He scoffed a little, still blocking the door with his body. "You've aged."

And it was true. Steve's once luscious black hair had turned silvery grey and he had developed a bit of a paunch that wasn't there before. His face was crisscrossed with worry lines and wrinkles but his eyes were still sharp and they regarded his son with a just a hint of guilt. "I should never have left."

"Yes, you shouldn't have," Amaechi snapped and once he did the words kept pouring out of his mouth. "You said marrying my mother was a mistake."

"It was," Steve replied firmly. "Your mother is too good of a person to have gone through that sham marriage with me."

That threw Amaechi a lot, but he tried not to show it. "You could have called, texted, anything!"

Steve looked away guiltily, staring down at the street below. "I couldn't talk to you, couldn't face you after what happened. My marriage to your mother may have been an error, but you weren't. You were the best thing to have ever happened to me, and I would have stayed with your mother because of you, if only...." He trailed off and glanced back once at his son.

"I went to our old neighbourhood today. They don't know about me."

Amaechi frowned. "Yes, we never told anybody about you... and your boyfriend."

"Why?" There was a genuinely curious tone to his voice.

"I don't know," Amaechi said truthfully. "We should have done it. Should have let the whole world know what you are..."

"I didn't choose to be like this," Steve interrupted gently.

"But you could have fought it! You could have lied to mom about Uncle Jim and continued seeing him behind her back. You could have done anything but leave us!" Amaechi was panting now, fighting tears that he could feel lurking behind his eyes.

His father shook his head. "I admit I've made a lot of mistakes. I've done many things I'm not proud of. Lied to many people that didn't deserve to be lied to." The gaze that he fixed on Amaechi was earnest. "Allow me to make this one thing right."

Amaechi gulped and looked away from those burning orbs. He thought over his pastor's sermons, and then thought over his mom's gentle acceptance over the years. He thought of the friend he'd lost because of his refusal to change and the families he'd seen together growing up. The tears he had been holding back slipped free and he angrily wiped them away. He looked up at his father who was watching him, a contrite expression on his face.

"Dad," he said finally, uttering the word for the first time in fifteen years. "Come in."

Reunion

He arrived at the stroke of ten, his posh car making no sound as it drifted to the front of the restaurant. He came inside, spotting me almost immediately and made his way to my table.

"Phillip," he said absently, examining his seat with a critical eye and a slight frown. Once he was satisfied that there was no dirt on it, he lowered himself on it and gave me his full attention.

Newly returned from the US, Richard looked as good as ever. He was enrobed in a grey suit and he'd pierced his right ear. The new craze sweeping the nation, whereas other people's piercings made them look desperate for attention, Richard made his look good. Then again, he always looked good, even during our school days when the rest of us would be reeking and covered in sweat after a game of football. He studied me, a small smile on his face.

"I thought you wouldn't come," he said finally when it became clear that I wasn't going to say anything.

"I had no reason not to," I replied, examining my nails. "Same as I had no reason to honor your invitation. It was a last second decision really."

He sighed, an old expression that he reserved specifically for when he thought I was being stubborn. I turned my gaze on him, my face a carefully schooled mask of unconcern.

"When did you come back?"

"Three days ago," he said. "Sandra picked me up from the airport. She came back a week before me and she said she would be coming today." He cast a wary glance at me. "She wants to see you, they all want to see you; it's been a long time."

I leaned back into my seat, saying nothing. Sandra was the third member of our little group back in the old days. Even now I still marvel at our finding each other. I didn't know the specific number, but the odds of five queers finding each other in a country where staying hidden was a necessity must have been astronomical. Then again, though they were quite good - they had to be to have stayed hidden as long as they did - they weren't exactly the best at it. That dubious honor belonged someone else. Me.

Richard was still watching me, waiting for a response. "It has been a long time hasn't it," I began after a moment's pause. "It's been what... five; six years since you all abandoned me. How is Chidi by the way? He never did accept his asexuality before you guys left for America."

I allowed my mask to crack just a little, and Richard recoiled from the pain he must have seen behind it. His lip trembled, and if I didn't know him well I'd have thought he was going to cry. Richard wasn't one to willingly cause a scene.

"We had no idea we left you behind," he pleaded.

"Simply because you didn't bother to double check," I completed for him. There was no emotion at all in my voice; I had long since learned to bury that part of me. "A simple head count would have instantly told you that I wasn't there, especially considering the fact that if I was there, that's exactly what I would have done. You should have known that, I was your boyfriend for God's sake."

"I swear on my life that we did notice that you were missing," Richard said, reaching out to grab my hands. I had to fight the urge to wrench it away. "We thought you were with the pilot. After all, it was you that planned the whole thing." A tear escaped from his eyes and the sight melted some of the hurt I had been holding on to for a long time. He could tell from the way my hands were relaxing in his that I was listening to him.

"When we got to America and found out that you weren't there, well," he paused to wipe away the tear. "We might have caused a few scenes trying to return to Nigeria, but the organization wouldn't let us."

I stared at him, saying nothing because I couldn't say anything. I'd formed this picture that the friends I'd thought I had were just using me for my brains in order to survive. That they had seen the best opportunity to get rid of me and had seized it with open hands. It was the only explanation that stopped me from going mad, and kept me sharp enough to weather the uproar that their dramatic escape caused. I was far from healed, but, finally, the wounds around my heart were starting to close.

"What happened?" he asked. His hand hovered over my face for a second, before dropping back to the table. I was glad that he had resisted the temptation to cup my face because I wasn't sure I would have wanted him to stop and I wasn't about to have to five years of damage control go up in smoke.

"It's a long story," I said simply, and it was. I wasn't about to tell him how I'd screamed as the plane left without me because I'd doubled back to make sure that we weren't being followed, how I'd had to lie to pretty much every body we knew to cover up their escape and the mysterious organization's part in it. They'd refused to tell us their names, which was a smart thing to do in case we were just pretending to be queer in order to catch real gay people. I hadn't been keen on following them out of the country, but we were all tired of having to hide who we were and I had taken the risk.

"It really is a long story," I repeated when Richard's face turned dubious. "One I'll tell you later."

Richard still looked suspicious but the fact that I was willing to speak to him again had an effect and he let it go.

The waitress came around then, and when she caught sight of Richard's rich attire she almost fell over herself in her eagerness to offer him her services. She took our orders and soon returned with what looked like the entire restaurant staff who were all wearing that ingratiating smile Nigerians put on when they meet a 'Big Man'. Richard stared at them with puzzled amusement and I realized that it had been several years since he'd had an experience like that.

He turned to me when they had left and grinned at the expression on my face. "What's that look for?" he asked, digging into his plate of jollof rice.

"Nothing much," I replied, struggling to hide my distaste. "I was just waiting for them to beg you to spit in their hands so they could worship that too."

Richard laughed, as if what I said was funny. "Yes, Nigerians can be funny at times."

"Not just at times," I retorted, regressing to my default cynical side whenever my country was brought up in conversation. "Nigerians are some of the most unpatriotic people you'll ever meet," I continued, ignoring Richard's amused look. "But anytime our politicians talk about Nigeria, you'll usually hear them begin with "This great country of ours (insert speech here). Please, Nigeria has never been great. How can it? When our leaders insist on spiriting away our money to foreign banks."

"And take the issue of Christianity," I continued, now on a roll. "It is a western import, it didn't originate in Africa and yet for some strange reason no one mentions it when they regularly bemoan the evils of the west and how its turning our children into something we don't know. And if the issue of being gay comes up, they'll immediately shift it into the sin category, quoting things about how it's against the laws of nature, how even animals don't do it, etcetera etcetera. Hmm! Judge no one indeed."

Richard shrugged and simply spooned more of the orange colored rice into his mouth. "I thought you didn't believe in God."


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