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Broken String

 

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Ajoke looked at her new husband, unable to believe that she was now married to him. He looked magnificent. The muscles of his back flexed invitingly as he bent over at the edge of the bed where he now sat to pull off his shoes. She wanted to laugh aloud in happiness from the joy of it all. She had married the man of her dreams, and after putting off her sexual advances for six months while they dated, tonight they were finally going to enjoy the intimacy of sex.

Dapo turned at last to look at her smiling face.

“Hi.”

There were lines around his eyes. Lines she wanted to reach out and caress. She couldn’t blame him for feeling tired. The marriage which was done with the usual pomp and pageantry of their traditional Yoruba culture had taken the whole day. If not for the knotted mass of anticipation her stomach had become, Ajoke was certainly as weary as her new husband.

“Come here.” She said simply, reaching out a hand for him. He sighed and looked down at her hand before wrapping it in his big hand. He pulled himself up to the bed and stretched beside her. She rose to her elbow to look down at him.

“I know you are tired. I am equally tired too.” She said, caressing his face softly with her fingers.

Dapo stared back into her eyes without saying anything. His attitude was beginning to worry her. She smiled harder.

“But I hope you are not too tired for this,” she said, motioning to her body.

“Well, maybe not, even though I feel quite sleepy.” Dapo said to her disappointment as he rolled off the bed to get out of his trouser. Ajoke watched the cloth made of traditional Aso-Oke material fall to the rug of the hotel room. She felt the stirrings of arousal as she stared at his body. His thumbs hooked to the band of his boxer short, he seemed to be contemplating something.

“What?”

Ajoke was getting impatient. Dapo didn’t feel like he shared the same space with her. His thoughts were somewhere else.

Why was he acting so strange?

She remembered how earlier in the day, he had been whispering sweet nothings in her ears much to the delight of her mother and his as they sat on the high cane chairs decked with ribbons. He had promised her that tonight would be special. She hoped he didn’t forget so easily. Ajoke watched him drop his hands to his side in growing trepidation.

Something is wrong, she thought as he collapsed to the bed, still in his shorts.

“I am really tired.” he said with regret in his thick American accent. Six months ago He had returned back to Nigeria from Boston, Massachusetts where he was born and raised to find a wife at the behest of his mother. Ajoke had been lucky to be at the right place, or rather been born at the right family. As the young beautiful daughter of the childhood friend of Dapo’s mother, she had been favoured with the profuse blessings of Dapo’s mother who was angling for a grandchild now that her only son was an accomplished doctor in America. Ajokes’s oval face with large doe eyes and full lips that former suitors had claimed to be distracting, creased in worry. She could feel an invisible wall around the man she had just married. She had no idea how to breach it. She couldn’t kid herself. She didn’t know much about the man she had married after six months of supervised courtship, but she couldn’t help feeling completely besotted to the point of wanting to please his every whim. He looked up at her with a rueful smile. Ajoke sighed and asked the next thing she thought of.

“Are we going to have sex tonight?”

Dapo managed a smile and a shrug at the same time. “Sure, why not?”

The hesitant quality of his voice sent Ajoke’s alarm clock ticking furiously. She was obviously the only enthusiastic party to their impending copulation. “Is everything okay?” she asked him in concern. He smiled again, but it was the same weak smile. Ajoke began to sit up, sobriety replacing any passion she had felt in the last twenty minutes of settling in their luxurious hotel suite. Dapo touched her hand lightly.

“I didn’t say nothing was going to happen tonight.”

Ajoke searched his eyes. “Are you sure?”

“I am.”

Men are like children, Iya Ropo, her seventy eight year old grandmother had whispered in her ears a fortnight ago as preparations for the wedding reached a fevered peach, a hint of mischief in her rheumy eyes. They like to be pampered, so learn to listen.

“Is there anything you would like to share?” Ajoke asked, taking her grandmother’s advice.

Eyes still on some distant place, he squeezed her hand gently and smiled into her eyes. “I am not sure there is anything I would like to share at the moment.” His eyes refocused once again on Ajoke. “You are a very beautiful woman. Any man would be lucky to have you.”

Ajoke felt her hope return. “Then I guess you are lucky.

”Dapo laughed, letting out a rich throaty cackle that both delighted and surprised Ajoke at the same time.

Now he was back to his old self. Ajoke relaxed as his fingers began to caress her upper arms, sending goose bumps sprouting all over her skin. Soon his fingers brushed the bumps at her waist.

“What is that?” he asked in surprise. Ajoke jerked in surprise.

“What?”

“This.” His finger ran across the bumps again and Ajoke smiled. She had not told him about the waist beads she wore under the coarse Aso Oke wrapper she wore during the wedding ceremony. Under the bright eyes and cajoling of her grandmother, she had worn the stringy red beads. Trailing Ajoke’s steps during the preparations for the wedding and eager to help train her granddaughter in the amorous traditions that was taught to her by her own mother, Iya Ropo had been unrelenting until Ajoke stood limply and allowed the red beads to sit on her wide hips as her grandmother crowed in praise of her nubile form and made prayers for Dapo’s virility.  Dapo pushed up her night dress.

“These are lovely beads,” he said, fingering the beads, the passion in his eyes dimming ever slightly. The heavy weight of disappointment settled again on Ajoke’s chest, but she shook it off. At least he was touching her. But after a few minutes of aimless touching, he seemed lost in his action. Ajoke writhed impatiently under him. He took her cue and his hands moved the flimsy material of her nightdress up. He touched the soft satin of her skin, pausing to look at her face. Ajoke stopped enjoying the moment, and looked into his eyes. Something is not right here. She caught his moving hand to stop him.

“Something is bothering you. We have to talk about it”

He averted his eyes and shook his head. Ajoke was determined to find out what his problem was. She pushed down her dress and sat up.

“Talk to me.” She told him gently, cupping his smooth shaven chin in her hand. He closed his eyes momentarily, breathing slowly. After a few minutes, he opened them again. They must have been staring at each other for eternity when he said. “I don’t think you can deal with this, so forget it.”

Ajoke shook her head. This wasn’t the wedding night she had looked forward. Dapo seemed a little different, and she could not relax with him so tightly wound up.“I can’t forget it if it is going to cost me my wedding night.”

Dapo sat cross legged on the bed looking forlorn. “I thought I could do this, but I obviously can’t.” He was looking at his open palms now. The room was charged this time, and not with passion. Ajoke felt suddenly cold.

“What are you talking about?” she asked, pulling the soft covers of the bed to her chest. Her husband mumbled something, and she strained to catch it.

“I am sorry, what did you just say?” she asked again, her heart stopping for a moment. She couldn’t be sure what she was hearing was true.

“I said I am not into women.”

Ajoke watched him in shock, unable to digest his words.

Not into women? What was he talking about?

She cocked her head and watched him, trying to see if he was joking. He looked pretty serious, but she waited with bated breath for him to laugh off his shocking words. He seemed to be taking his time as he looked at the bed. Then he looked up at her. “I convinced myself that I liked you and could go through this, but I can’t.” Like before, the words were low, but she wished she didn’t hear them at all.

“I am not quite sure I understand what you mean.”

“Joke, I don’t like sex with women.”

Ajoke laughed. The room took up her laughter and flung it hard against the walls, making it sound deranged even to her own ears. This has to be a joke! Dapo had always had a sense of humour, and she knew what lengths he could go with it. A smile still on her face, she looked at him.

“Okay, you had me. That was quite funny.”

“Joke, I am not joking.”

Ajoke sighed and looked at him in exasperation. “Seriously, Dapo, I have had enough of your jokes for one night.”

“Joke!” He grabbed her shoulders to shake her. “I am serious here.”

Ajoke waved him aside. “Oh please, you are not…a…homo…” she laughed again.   “What kind of joke is that?”

“I am.”

Her heart hammering away in her chest, Ajoke looked at her husband in shock. “But if you are a homo…”

“Please stop with the homo term already.”

“Okay, I mean if you are gay, how come we just got married?”

“That is one question I asked myself throughout today,” Dapo said somberly, “though in a different way.”

“What do you mean?”

“If I am straight, how come I haven’t been able to make love to you since we started seeing each other six months ago? How come I got married to you when I still think of my lover? How come I still of my ex?”

Ajoke shook her head and sat up straight. “Your lover…?”

Ajoke’s finger shook as she pointed at her husband. “Are we talking about a man here?”

“Yes.”

“So why did you do this?” she asked, waving her wedding band under his nose. Dapo looked at an identical band on his left hand with a sigh and a shake of his head. “I don’t know.”

“I need a second to understand how the normal man I married suddenly turned gay on our wedding night.”

“Are you saying I am not normal?”

Ajoke looked at him in disbelief. “Are you saying this…” she made swiping gestures around his body, “is normal?”

“I am perfectly normal Joke.”

“No you are not.” She was shaking now, her hand quivering as she tried to raise it to point accusingly at him. “No, you are not.” She said again as tears began to fall from her eyes.

“Okay.” Dapo looked sad now. “If it makes you happy to call me abnormal, knock yourself out. God knows, I have endured so many years trying to deal with the truth of who I really am.”

Ajoke scoffed. She wanted to lash out at him. She wanted him to feel the pain that was twisting through her gut. “You are just a sick man. A sick homo.” She spat at him, standing up from the bed. Pain flashed in his eyes but she was not satisfied. No name she called him could make her feel better. “I wonder what your mother would say if she discovered that the son she prayed for today to have many sons with his newly wedded wife sleeps with men.”

Dapo hung his head for a second, and raised it up again. “I am done pleasing my mother, so I don’t care anymore. And the world has moved past the common stereotypes of gay people. I can have children if I want.”

Joke laughed, hurting, and want to hurt him more. “Certainly, not in Nigeria. Not here. You have no idea what you are talking about.”

“Then, I will just go back to the states if my sexual orientation bothers anybody here.”

“You disgust me!” Ajoke declared, jumping off the bed and towering above her husband. Dapo raised his hands, palms facing towards her. “I am sorry about leading you on, but I was under pressure from my parents to marry you.”

Ajoke wiped at another tear at the corner of her eyes. Dapo sighed, looking contrite now. “I really like you Joke. These past months of getting to know you were among the best of my entire life, but I realize that it would be cruel to put you through the torture of sharing me with other men.”

“So you are saying you waited till this night to make up your mind about your sexuality. You waited courted me for six months and held back, only to announce that you are gay on our wedding night?” Ajoke almost screamed. Dapo gave another heavy sigh.

“I am sorry.”

Ajoke closed her eyes to the image of him sitting on the edge of the bed. It was like a bad dream. She tried to replay his words in her mind. The man she had married was not a homosexual. It was impossible.

“But you kissed me…,” she said, unwilling to believe him.

“Yes and I thought my desire for men would go away after I sleep with you, but I still can’t bring myself to do it. I no longer find women sexually attractive Joke.”

“Oh God!” Ajoke exclaimed quietly, feeling the fight leave her body. She bent over and began sobbing quietly.

“I am sorry.” She heard Dapo say softly again.

Ajoke straightened with difficulty and made for the bathroom. In the bathroom, she collapsed to the floor as her mind reeled. She wanted to call her mother, but could not go back to the bedroom where her phone was. She could not bear to be anywhere near Dapo again.

“I am ruined.” She whispered to herself over and over as tears fell down her cheeks. The waist beads cut into her skin as she bent over. She reached under her nightgown and grabbed the beads. With a gut wrenching cry, she pulled at them with all her might. The string holding the beads snapped, and they fell to the ground, rolling around on the cold tiles of the bathroom floor. Ajoke watched them through her tears. Those beads once represented the promise of another life. Now, they were just broken like her dreams. Dapo began to knock on the bathroom door.

“Joke, I am sorry, please forgive me. You deserve better than this.”

Ajoke shook her head as the tears came down in torrents. I do, she thought brokenly. And you don’t deserve to be alive for what you have done to me!

“I thought of breaking our engagement off several times, but everything happened too fast.”

It was six months. Joke shook her head at the thought. You could have walked away at the first month.

“Please let us talk Joke. I care about you.”

“Go away.” Ajoke moaned softly, hugging her knees to her chest as the cold from the bathroom floor crept up along her spine. “Go away.” She repeated, shivering slightly. The knocking stopped, and she closed her eyes and tried to think. To remember if there was a time that she missed the signs of her husband’s homosexual lifestyle. Her brain was mush, but she plowed on in determination.

“Which of his friends could have been his lover?” she whispered to herself. She shook her head. Dapo didn’t have that much friends in Nigeria. He had spent the entire six months he had been in the country in her company. She sniffed and shook her head. “No, he was too perfect. Nothing to make me suspect this was going to happen.”

Ajoke suddenly remembered that she had once overheard him talking to someone on the phone. Then, she had thought it was a woman and had even confronted him about it. He had laughed and called her jealous before giving her a deep sensual kiss to shut her up, but she continued to pester him when she eventually came up for air that evening in the living room of his parent’s home…..

“So how come you tell your friends that you love them?” she asked, sitting across his legs as he sat on the sofa. Dapo laughed, cradling her backside with his hand.

“Why is it such a big deal here in Nigeria when people say I love you?”

“Please, don’t give me that American attitude.” She scoffed, rolling her eyes. “What makes you think we don’t use those words here?”

“So why are you making a fuss about it?”

“Because you said them to a male friend”

“So?”

“Sounds a little strange if you ask me.”

“See? I am not asking you.” He said, and then began to plant kisses all over her face and neck. Ajoke giggled, collapsing against his chest.

…..Ajoke looked upwards at the bathroom sink that towered high above her. “I should have known. I should have listened to my intuition.”

She was left with no choice than to end the marriage. It was odd how quickly the promise of her new life had ended.

“Oh my poor mother!” she whispered, thinking of the shame of her parents would have to face. Her mother in particular had been floating on cloud nine that afternoon. Now, she would have to answer questions as to why her accomplished lawyer daughter who was well into her thirties was only married for one day. Ibadan had an active rumour mill and it wouldn’t be long before her story spread far and wide. She didn’t know if she could expose Dapo’s little secret to save face. She still felt loyal to him despite her pain. They had been more than friends these last months and she couldn’t bring herself to put him out to world to ridicule.

“But I don’t deserve ridicule either.” She told herself, wiping her tear streaked face. She sobered at the thought of the whispers and taunts that would follow Dapo everywhere. Homosexuality was viewed with the same lens used for the H.I.V virus. It was a stigma of the worst kind. She couldn’t help feeling sorry for the man she had married. Drawing in a deep breath, she rose to her feet. She had to go out there and put on her more human face. As she reached for the bathroom door handle, she saw her face in the mirror. She was surprised to see the swollen face that stared back at her. She opened the faucet over the sink and rinsed her face with the water that poured out to the sink. Satisfied that she looked presentable enough to face the man who had just dashed her dreams with his announcement, she left the bathroom for the room.

The room was quiet. She checked the balcony but met only the powerful evening breeze blowing the soft satin curtains of the balcony glass sliding door into the air.

“Dapo?”

No one answered her. She walked back into the room and sat on the bed. Maybe he had gone out for a walk to give her time to get used to the shock of his words. She was settling back into the bed to rest when her outstretched hand touched a piece of paper under the pillow. Turning around on the bed to lie on her stomach, she pulled the paper and held it up.

Checked out. I am afraid I can’t stand to explain tonight to anyone else. Not even my parents. I will be traveling back to the states tomorrow. Once again, I am sorry.

Ajoke felt a new rage as she stood up to check for the suitcases they had brought with them to the hotel. She recognized her brown Chanel suitcases packed together beside the door soon enough, but his black leather suitcase that was beside them was missing.

“The coward!” she said fuming. “How dare he leave me to explain what happened tonight to everyone?”

She sat back on the bed with the paper still in her hand. She couldn’t believe that Dapo could be so insensitive. He wanted her understanding over his shocking announcement that he was gay on their wedding night, and he didn’t think anything of leaving her all by herself to answer questions. What was she supposed to tell the people who had watched them pledge to spend the rest of their lives together?

“You leave me with no choice Dapo. Everyone has to know.”

Even though he was running away from his own shadow, she knew he couldn’t run away forever. The truth would follow him wherever he went. She wouldn’t be made the scapegoat while he ran back to the arms of his lover. People would know. They had to. Ajoke lay back on the bed and closed her eyes, wishing again that she was only in a nightmare.

…… “Ajoke! Ajoke!”

Ajoke woke up with a start. The smiling face of Dapo hovered over her. She squinted at him, wondering why he came back to the hotel again.

“I am so sorry I took time downstairs with my friends. I have forgotten how things can be in Nigeria.” He climbed into bed beside her as she sat watching him in surprise, unable to believe he had come back. He picked the remote control of the television on the bed, lines on his forehead as he looked as the television screen.

“Interesting choice of a movie,” he said, an amused smile on his face.

Ajoke turned to the television to see two guys locked in a deep kiss. He turned to her with a curious smile.

“Why are you watching that?”

Ajoke shook her head, trying to clear it. “Wait, so I was just dreaming?”

Dapo cocked his head, appearing to contemplate her question. “I guess. I mean, people have dreams when they sleep.”

“Oh.” Ajoke said, touching his face in joy. “So you are not erm…gay?”

Dapo drew back in surprise. “What?”

Ajoke continued to stare at him in awe. “I can’t believe this!” she exclaimed, dropping her hands from his neck and rubbing her eyes.

“I just had a very weird dream.”

“And I was gay in your dream?”

“Yes.”

Dapo looked back at the television. The two men were holding hands now as they talked and laughed together. “I guess you made me into one of the characters in the movie you fell asleep watching.”

Ajoke gave him a sheepish smile. “I guess.”

Dapo looked down at her nightdress before giving her a slow sexy smile. “Do I get a chance to convince you now that I am not gay?” Ajoke tugged at his shirt made of Aso-oke. “Not while you are still in these clothes.”

Her husband pulled off his shirt and reached for his trousers. “I can’t believe my luck.” He pulled her close. “After six months of begging to catch a glimpse of your ankle.”

“What?”

Dapo shot her a perplexed look. “Like you don’t know how much torture you put me through for six months.”

Ajoke remembered her dream. “In the dream, it was the other way round. I was the tortured.”

Dapo laughed. “What a weird dream.”

“So you don’t like men?”

“I like my father, my uncles, my friends…” Dapo counted, tongue in cheek. Ajoke laughed, more in relief than anything else.

So there would be no hurried explanations to meddling housewives and rumoour mongers?

Dapo smiled down at her, “but to answer your question, I don’t like men the way you mean.” He caressed her thighs, pushing the nightdress up till he could see the red beads. His eyebrow rose in surprise.

“Nice.”

“It doesn’t mean I discriminate against those who do,” he added with a wink and a gesture at the television. Ajoke smiled, her heart bursting with happiness.  Dapo picked up the remote control and pressed a button on it, silencing the voices on the television as he switched it off.

“Enough of dream inducing movies, time to have that wedding night you always talked about,” he said as his lips came down to claim her own in a passionate kiss.

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