AS EXPECTED OF Saturday mornings, Freedom Park is almost deserted. Brown-coloured tattered leaves rustle on the ground as soft breeze sweeps them in an aimless, haphazard manner. The air is redolent of palmwine from the jamboree of the previous evening. Gliding through the park today, Chidi remembers everything she desperately wants to forget. It was at this park she met Nia two and a half years ago. She can’t feel regret, if she wanted to.
The day she met Nia, she could not have imagined she met heartache draped in comely womanly curves, warmth, and scent. All that womanly essence lured her to mark the clichéd beginning of the end. Her thoughts flit to the times she plummeted and crashed at the bottom of several bottles of whisky, thinking pain would crash as she crashed. Nia hit her in ways she could not imagine, in places she could not imagine. Even if she wanted, Nia could not have dealt kinder blows. She was destructive, breaking and crushing people her hands touched within months. Relieving those memories, Chidi blames herself. She blames herself for imagining she was the glue that would fix Nia. She decided to stay, even when pain and hurt wafted in the little space between them, even when the stench filled up her lungs until the point of asphyxiation, even when she could have taken a breather. She chose to stay. Chidi tasked love, made it a panacea, stretched it to limits it should not go. She made it omnipotent. She wondered: If love could do all things, why does it refuse to stitch torn people?
Her friend, Remi, had decided to spend the weekend at her place in Yaba. As they lay in bed that Saturday morning – lazy, aimless, with no form of entertainment – they went through Remi’s Instagram timeline. A picture of a woman, who could have easily passed off as Naomi Campbell if she was not two sizes on the plus side, showed up on the screen. Rolling her eyes at Remi’s smitten expression was all she could do to hold herself from gawking at the woman.
“I like this babe’s post,” Remi stared dreamily at her phone, a wistful smile on her lips. She tapped the screen twice, as though that would make her touch Naomi Campbell’s look alike. Her eyes still fixed on the screen, she went on, “Once-once, we chat. She stays in VI, sha. Shey we can hang out later in the evening?” Chidi came up with an excuse, because she had planned to stay in bed that weekend. If she were to be honest, she would have loved it if Remi had not come to spend the weekend at hers’. She knew her usually bubbly mood was dampened, but she was yet to place her finger on what it was. Now that she thought of it in retrospect, it made sense to her. Maybe fate was preventing her from crossing paths with Nia. What was at play: choice or predestination? Was she fated to choose to go out that evening? Maybe things would not have changed if they never met. Ultimately, Remi convinced her to accompany her to the park.
“Thirty minutes and she has not shown up,” Chidi fumed. “She probably wants to make a grand diva entrance. All these Instagram slay queens probably think they have to be extra in real life.”
“But she said there is traffic on Ozumba Mbadiwe,” Remi said soothingly, trying to placate her.
“She is in VI, and she could have taken Ahmadu Bello. Someone that lives in Lagos would consider the time to be spent in traffic before leaving his or her house. This girl has no excuse, honestly.”
Twenty minutes of gossiping trudged by before Nia graced them with her presence. Chidi masked hostility with the big smile that curved on her lips. On a good day, Nia’s comeliness would have thawed the ice in her heart. It was not a good day: the woman’s disregard for time ruined her mood.
Nia was a smooth orator: the way she stitched old words with new words she constructed on the go produced a tapestry of amazing sentences she wanted to wrap around herself. Was she besotted? Did Remi feel the same way? Chidi began to have a rethink. Maybe her Instagram persona was what it was – an annoying IG persona. She could not remain angry. Before parting ways that evening, Nia had asked for her Instagram handle. “Let me go and like all your pictures like a psycho.”
Chidi saw that Nia had followed her. She would be lying if she said that she followed back for the sake of niceness. There were other incentives: that day at the park, she loved hearing Nia talk and she loved listening to the things she had to say. It was refreshing and she was enchanted. She did not have friends who shared her views on certain issues like politics, abortion, and sex work. At a point, it would seem as though the woman was deliberately mirroring her thoughts.
They took their conversation from Instagram to Whatsapp when a hot topic ensued. Everyone on social media seemed to be raving at how a woman stabbed her cheating husband to death. Texting on Whatsapp and sending voice notes did not cut it and Nia voice-called her. She was against men who were abusive, and she plainly told Chidi that the dead man deserved what he got. That day, Nia was the only one who shared her sentiments.
“You know what? As tomorrow is Saturday, we should hangout.” Chidi should have refused. But who could resist the company of intellect wrapped up in beauty and grace?
Later, they would analyse that it was not a date, even though it had all the elements of a date – time, place, ambience, conversation, food, and flirting. Nia flirted with her, hit on her like an angry person hitting a wall. It was aggressive, bordering on violent: it was in the way Nia’s gaze unabashedly lingered on her cleavage; it was in the way she would reach across the table to encase her hand with hers’ while tilting her head, a smug smile tugging at the sides of her lips. Then, the red lights at the section of the park shone a certain magic. It took every ounce of self-control in Chidi to restrain her body from acting out the desires the other woman had stirred in her. Holding hands, having eye-sex and the occasional footsies were not enough, but she coped.
Being with Nia was not necessarily easy, but there were perks: they could hold hands and have few PDA moments without anyone frowning at them. Once, at a supermarket, while Chidi was making payment, Nia had wrapped her arms around her torso. Soft, warm air fanned her nape. It would seem as though her lover were daring everyone to say anything, something. Albeit not wanting to lose the softness and warmth of the breast pressed against her shoulder blades, she spoke softly under her breath, “You should not be doing this here.”
“We have a happy audience. Your one o’clock… those two men have a look on their faces. They were meant to be on their way out. Just look,” Chidi felt throaty laughter peal against her back.
She could see the two men leering and smiling roguishly at them. In that moment, something bubbled in her belly. It hit the back of her throat, but she managed to swallow it down. For a minute, she wanted to pry herself out of Nia’s arms, walk up to them, and smack the smirk off their faces.
“We are okay with two women, not two men.” Chidi had said as she took a turn off Ozumba Mbadiwe into Akin Adesola.
“We live in a society that equates femininity with fuckability. We are both feminine. One feminine woman is sexy; two feminine women together is oh-la-lamazing.” Nia shrugged, taking a sip from the can of malt.
Chidi briefly turned away from the road, stealing a brief glance at her girlfriend. The wheels turning in her head made her eyebrows form a giant M on the upper part of her face. “That’s a lot to take in,” she rasped.
“But why do we think two women together are hot, not two men together. Have you seen men? Men are gorgeous, even if I won’t date them, can’t date them, again.” She giggled and continued. “Being a straight woman is a dangerous game. How do you love someone who has been programmed to be misogynistic? Do you think women would marry men if they had money and there was zero stigma attached to being single?”
“Babe, I don’t know,” Chidi stared blankly at the stretch of road ahead.
Later in the evening, as Chidi was polishing Nia’s nails on the sofa, the talk about their experience at the supermarket came up. Staring at her almost done nails, Nia said quietly, “It is selective homophobia. Same men who flip out at gay men are willing to jerk off to lesbian porn. It is not acceptance; it is fetishising. Acceptance is not fetishisation.” Nia rambled on about how she felt heterosexual men were scared gay and bisexual men would treat them (heterosexual men) the same way they treated women. “They think gays and bisexual men do not understand ‘no’ just like them.” Chidi felt it was intriguing how Nia gave her a new perspective.
CHIDI SOON FINDS her way to the courtyard. She looks beyond and sees a sculpting she had never seen. She reckons she and Nia never wandered to this part of the park. It is serene, except for the giggling couple sitting opposite to her. They are reckless with the way they show affection. Heterosexual privileges, she smiles to herself and moves on. They do not know they have an audience. There were times Nia behaved as though she were performing their relationship for the gaze of her many Instagram and Snapchat followers.
“Let’s take this for the gram,” Nia would say in the middle of a conversation. Initially, Chidi did not mind posing and pouting for pictures that ended up on social media. But with time, she became bothered. People would piece two and two and arrive at the truth. “Ahn-na! You’re my bestie. I can take so many pictures of my bestie and me, ba?” Chidi did not find solace in those words.
“I want my relationship private. It’s no one business. If I were with a guy, I’d still not want this.”
A steamy argument ensued in the wake of Chidi’s assertion.
Combing through her memory, she figures she would do things differently given the chance. She would learn how to differentiate a disagreement from an argument. She would teach Nia the same.
ONE BRISK MOVEMENT and an elongated shadow crosses the ground. Looking up, Chidi sees a dark-skinned young man towering above her. His eyelids, heavy with suspicion, bat against each other as he appraises the seat. Soon enough, he sits. He adjusts, although awkwardly on the seat, fishes out his phone, and he makes a call. “Madam, you are not here,” laughter rumbles in his chest, vibrating on the seat he is sharing with Chidi. “What will happen if you keep to time? You have been on your way since Buhari’s military regime.” He talks some more reminding her how much he adores her. “Asa bekee!” he hangs up and Chidi can’t help but smile at his happiness, how forgiving he is of her, and how he is staring at the trees, not paying heed to the nature around him, as he is lost in his mind. The happy thoughts in his mind drift to hers’.
She sees that he is now palming a little velvety black box. He opens it. Curiosity makes her lean. It is a key. A house key. She had only seen this gesture in a movie. She regards his profile – his eyes are sunken in their sockets, his nose is crooked at the bridge – like the shape of an index finger beckoning, and his lips are thick – they remind her of sausages, sensuous even. Chidi imagines he is an eccentric romantic; one who lives and believes in the idea of how things should be; based on notions he has gotten from artists who express unattainably lofty thoughts through grand works. If she were ever going to be with a man, it would be with a man like him. He would probably be uninterested in getting married. Might be why he is giving her the key to his house.
“WE SHOULD MOVE in together at this point,” Nia said, sounding offhandedly. Chidi laughed when one of the characters in the movie screamed as the masked killer approached her.
“We do not have to,” Chidi smiled, her eyes fixed on the screen, not wanting to miss a thing. She was feigning concentration, too. This conversation had taken place in various forms and she had found ways to weasel out of it. Hopefully, her faux concentration would be enough to dissuade her lover from pushing the matter.
“What do I do to convince you? This is like two years of dating you.”
“Can you live with me?” Chidi asked. She meant to ask herself if she could live with Nia.
“Of course. I should be asking you. Or are you scared of anything? Are you scared of me?”
Occasionally, a Nia-filled eternity dangled in her mind, but she cringed from the horror that filled her guts, which found a way to the back of her throat, leaving a bilious taste in its wake. She was not sure if she could swallow the bitter pills the other woman shoved into her mouth for as long as it would take. If she dared mentioned the workings of her dynamics with her lover to anyone, there were chances she would be dismissed. “You are two women; it is not as if it is a guy.” “Two of you will snap out of it.” She knew there was no point staying; lengthening the duration of a love that singed her flesh most times it touched her.
In the event she left, what would she leave to? Nia was like crack. There were moments that made her blood burn; moments when love mingled with lust to produce euphoria she could not recall feeling with anyone.
Valentine’s Day in 2017 came on a Tuesday and they decided to have date night regardless. They chose a restaurant on Awolowo Road. In typical Nia fashion, she kept Chidi waiting. She had resorted to scrolling through her Instagram timeline to loosen the grip boredom had on her. Besides, distracting herself would prevent her from getting irked. Today, like other times, she stirred up excuses for Nia: there was traffic coming in from Victoria Island that evening. She convinced herself that she got to the restaurant too early. Her office was on Okotie Eboh – it was an easy distance to trek, and she could do without driving to the restaurant. She could have waited in her office until Nia came around.
Nia showed up later – almost twenty minutes late, wearing a pink camisole with a navy blue skirt. Her makeup looked fresh. The soft light in the restaurant bounced off on her, accentuating her mocha skin. Chidi smiled to herself when she noticed some men had paused to stare at Nia. Not giving it any thought, Chidi stood when she approached the table, and pulled her into an embrace that lingered longer than was socially acceptable of people who were just friends. Tracing light circles on the small of Nia’s back, she slightly tilted away to appraise the other woman. “You are late, but who could stay mad at you? Not when you look like you stepped out of a photo shoot.”
“Darling,” she muttered. “I’m just few minutes late.”
“Few,” Chidi chuckled softly. They let go of each other, albeit reluctantly. Chidi caught Nia’s lust-laden gaze raking her torso. A slightly prickling sensation danced on her nerves, flushed through her system, and stopped at the warm, moist, space between her thighs. “You keep looking at me like that and we’ll give these men something to watch.”
“You know what? I’m parked in one dark corner like that.” Nia smiled mischievously. “Where are you parked, sha?” Leaning into her, she held her gaze and added sotto voce, “I want to have my way with you, woman.”
Those moments were replaced by an aftermath of sadness caused by drawn-out series of pain akin to her emotions being on a rollercoaster violently controlled by a maniacal sociopath. She clutched her fears to her bosom, thinking they would ruin that Friday movie night, if she dared to air them. There were chances that Nia would tell her she was insecure.
Chidi was scared of Nia and her proclivities to cheat. It amazed her how her girlfriend had mastered the art of spinning the narrative to write her out as the partner who was never there. On her own, Chidi would ruminate on how she was inadequate, not enough, for Nia. She felt they spoke different love languages. Learning Nia’s language did not stop her the next time she cheated. “It’s just sex,” Nia had owned up that she was curious.
Chidi was scared of Nia and her bouts of anger that birthed violent tantrums. On few occasions, her partner had hit her across the face. Chidi was always too shocked to react. Taking advantage of her shock, Nia would launch into a tirade explaining how it was Chidi’s fault for hitting her, how Chidi had pushed her to make her overact in the manner she did.
The last time Chidi was the receiving end of Nia venom was on a Friday night when they were in the shower. The talk revolved around where they were to go for the night. Nia wanted to watch a live band perform. Chidi wanted to go to a bar.
“We keep going to watch that band. Are you not tired?”
“Because bars and clubs are noisy,” Nia glowered at her. “I can’t go to a bar today.”
“We keep doing things your way,” Chidi spat.
“That is the only thing making sense. Don’t get mad because you don’t contribute sensibly to our relationship.”
Something in the atmosphere tilted. Warm water incessantly fell on her face with a force she had not felt before, producing a blurry vision of her partner. Bewilderment seeped through her pores to paralyse her limbs. Nia still stared her down. Her mouth might have been moving. She might have been talking about how Chidi was making her talk in the way she did not want.
When she could move, she stepped away from the water. Her body coordinated itself with mechanical precision. She walked to Nia’s bedroom, picked her clothes, wore them, and stuffed her big tote bag with her toiletries. She walked to the closet and shuffled through the clothes draped on the hangers. Chidi yanked two flannel shirts and a turquoise blouse off.
“Baby, what are you doing?” She could hear the quaver in Nia’s voice. Chidi knew another question would follow in its wake. “Chidi, what did I say?” The sound of wet footsteps approached her. “Bae, are you angry?” Water trickled through Chidi’s tee-shirt when Nia embraced her, pressing her nude, warm, wet body into her back.
“I have to leave this night. I can’t stay. I am going home to think.”
“When did you start going home to think?” she stepped away from Chidi and tugged at her hand, a look of bafflement on her face.
Chidi exhaled. Her shoulders relaxed. Turning sideways, she caught their reflection in the mirror. They had made love standing before this mirror. Did great sex hold her back all this while? Was she so dumb to misconstrue the heat from toxicity as the warmth of love? They looked so good together: did the ideation of them together make her seem stuck on her lover? Whatever it was, it had lost its hold on her that night. The rose-tinted glasses through which she saw them had fallen off her face and shattered into tiny unrecognisable splinters on the ground. Even if she was tempted to pick it up, it would be pointless. Staring at their reflection, she could see them for what they were: A woman in love with another woman who did not know how to love. If she did, her idea of love was warped.
“Niniola, I can’t spend the night here.”
“So we are going to have a fight, and the next thing is that you will leave?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
“Damn!” Nia’s hand reached past Chidi’s head to smack the space above the mirror. Chidi flinched. On recovering from the shock, she shook her head.
“This is best for us: I am going to my house.”
“You are going to drive to Yaba at this time, for real.” Chidi nodded. “I don’t want to sleep alone. I didn’t plan to sleep alone.”
Something cracked inside Chidi. Years of enduring the weight of Nia’s bullshit on her mind, pretending to be pacifist for the sake of peace, and letting it fester, gave way to her venting. She could not care any less than she did that the neighbours would hear her outburst.
“You can’t even apologise. You never apologise! It is always about you, what you want. Do you even care about my feelings?!! No, God forbid that you think of another person that is not Ninola Ifeyinwa Anucha-Ojo. It has always been about you. I have had it to fever pitch! You are so entitled and spoilt that you cannot act unprivileged. In all your thirty-two years on earth, have you ever been contrite? You know what? Fuck you and fuck off, Nia!”
It was Nia’s turn to standstill. Chidi picked her car keys from the dresser and dashed out of the door. Not a word from Nia.
This time around, Nia had pushed her to the edge, and she was unsure if she was ever going to return from it. Fighting off tears was a chore as she got on Eko Bridge. Her vision was blurry. As she convulsed hard from the sobs wracking her body, her grip on the steering was feeble. She should have parked her car, cried out to her heart’s content. Maybe she would not have panicked when the trailer honked. Blinding yellow light gave way to white – somewhat soothing – light in a jiffy.
CHIDI FLOATS TO another part of the park. It is somewhat secluded. She knows Nia would be there, as she had always been for several months on Saturday mornings. She sees her lover staring listlessly. Gently, she lowers herself to sit by her side. Chidi gingerly moves her hand to hold Nia’s, even when she know her lover would not feel it.