Sotonye and I were friends first. I forget now, how we met, that memory superseded by memories of our friendship: the innocence of it. We walked around town and hopped on buses to places too far to walk like the old amphitheatre at the university. One afternoon, we sat together on a leather beanbag, shoulders rubbing, while we fiddled with the controls of my parent’s Panasonic sound system. We took turns to put our cassettes into the tape deck and listen to each other’s mix tape.
“Sit apart!” my mother’s voice startled us. Before I could understand the implication of her words, Sotonye had sprung to the chair farthest from the beanbag, and from me, in the living room. That day heralded the beginning of the end of our friendship, I think.
After I met his best friends, Charles and Karibi, I saw Sotonye less and less. He caved under my persistent interrogation and admitted that he had kept a distance because Charles had warned him that girls like me could derail a guy’s destiny.
I should have told him that I was hurt, but I did not. I could have pointed out that in his stead, Charles was now spending more time with me, the destiny-stealer, and Karibi was a close second, borrowing books from the library to feed my love for books, but I did not. Universities were on strike and Sotonye was convinced that his future lay in the United Kingdom. His plans to relocate consumed his focus.
Ten years have passed since the alliance—three boys, then two boys and one girl— we formed crumbled because we grew up and went to discover ourselves on the map.
Presently, Charles and I are having lunch after a chance encounter earlier in the week, and I am reminding him of how we met. He is laughing so hard, he begins to cough.
“That’s not how it happened, didn’t I meet you first?”
“You wish,” I say, rolling my eyes.
“I can’t believe I did my guy like that!” He slaps his thigh, still amused.
“Better believe it; do you know where Sotonye is now?”
“Last I heard he’s still in the UK, directing theatre productions or something weird like that. That’s what Karibi said when I bumped into him, last year.”
“Karibi . . .” I say wistfully.
“You always liked him. That traitor who swooped in when I left for school—”
“No, it wasn’t like that at all. He was like a big brother to me.”
“Go away joor. He was the sweetest boy I’ve ever known.”
“That’s because he didn’t shave your head. Abeg, leave that thing!”
“We all were great friends . . .”
“Yes,” he agrees, “but you did not understand boys.”
We distill years past by exchanging phones and swiping photos, who’s this and where’s that, make our puzzle pieces fit faster. But photographs cannot capture all. Suddenly, Charles looks down at his drink and admits to being a closet alcoholic.
“It’s not so bad,” he says, looking up at me.
I nod. In the movement of my head and the steady gaze of my eyes, there is no judgement.
“Why don’t you tell someone who can hold you accountable on the road to recovery—”
“What! You haven’t changed! You’re still naïve . . . like back then . . .”
I trace the rim of my glass with my finger, uneasy and unsure of what he means.
“You still think everyone is like you, and everything is black and white,” he answers my unspoken question.
“No not really—”
“You trust easily. Haven’t people hurt you . . . enough?”
I sigh. Maybe I should not have let him look at all my photos.
“I am no longer afraid of getting hurt. But this isn’t about me. Isn’t your secret too heavy to bear alone?”
“I’ll survive. I haven’t told anyone . . . I don’t even know why I told you.”
I know why he told me. In just two hours, we have travelled back to the road leading to my parent’s house, where, unable to stop his voice trembling, he confided in me about his parent’s impending divorce.
The moment passes and we reminisce about happier times, about the place near the overhead bridge where we met in the evenings after Sotonye left. Charles would arrive with a packet of cigarettes and after he dragged on a cigarette a bit, he passed it round. I took tentative puffs while Karibi backed away as if it were a snake, reminding Charles of his asthma and me of the dangers of lung cancer.
“I gave up smoking,” Charles says. “Best thing I ever did.”
I nod again.
“You were the glue . . .” he begins.
“Nah,” I say, “Sotonye—”
“It’s true, everything was centred around you.”
He signals to the waiter for another drink. I shake my head, no.
“Do you think . . . answer me honestly, Charles . . . that boys and girls can just be friends?”
His answer is slow to come.
“I don’t know,” he says at last. “Even back then, Sotonye, Karibi, and I, wanted more.”
© Timi Yeseibo 2017
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