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Monday, September 04, 2017

By the river side - Princely X

(First published in Of-love-and-other-tales - an anthology by Victor Daniel)





Awero!


The very first time I saw her, the sun was riding home atop brown rusty roofs at the Akesan market. Her rich skin was glowing against the setting sun when I first noticed her. Awero would wet the pants of any man with her well-carved buttocks that sat like my grandmother’s water pots. Her breasts, two huge pointy palm wine gourds were struggling with space under the ofi she was putting on. I had asked Bankole, my friend with whom I burned childhood twigs, and he had told me Awero was a luxury only a few could afford to be with. I hadn’t cared much because I wasn’t in the position to care.


Bankole!
He couldn’t wet the pants of every man not because he was incapable of wetting it, but because it was a taboo for a man to make another man feel desires. Bankole’s height and form competed with the Iroko tree at the village square. He was the tallest person I had seen until I went to the city. Bankole and I grew through every phase of childhood–together. His mother and mine were traders of Cocoa, products of our fathers’ farms. My father and his had adjoining farms that made it almost impossible for them to not communicate. When I was afraid of climbing trees, Bankole was there to inspire me with a dead snake, in fact, he had taught me to kill snakes and hunt rodents. Bankole was the reason I represented our region at a sports festival for swimming events because he had helped me take my first dive. In the innocence of childhood, he would remove all of his clothes to show me how sincere he was with the training, to show me he didn’t have any special skill hidden in his underpants, it was then that I saw his manliness in its full. Even as boys then, Bankole’s ‘thing’ could only remind me every night of a big, old Python we had killed together. Bankole and I had an affair that the village couldn’t understand, neither did we.


Our fathers didn’t value western education much, but because baale –chief– of our village  had made it compulsory for every household to have at least a child learning ways of the white man, our fathers had sent us both to the village school, one Akesan market day, that we learned much later to be a Wednesday. They had calculated our ages with when the school was founded, our fathers said we were both born around that time, so it was the only logical thing to calculate it with. We were eleven years both. We moved from home to school and back home before joining our parents on their farms in a routine that was as stable as planting seasons. I was the one fascinated by the ways of the white man, Bankole had not cared much. He only cared about being a village boy and having time for us to do what we did on the backs of crumpled grasses and inside the secrecy of the river before we would hurry to meet our parents in their farms.


It was during the eighteenth birthday of the church that things started to change. The village had converged at the square to celebrate the light the white men brought to our village, on a day whose sun radiated differently. We had gone together; dressed in matching Dansiki –festive regalia– to watch our headmaster – a sturdy man with sideburns that stood separately from his goatee – appreciate the village. Bankole’s huge form had been made then and he was a contrast to my skinny figure. I looked like the perfect parasite –wasn’t that what I was? – With not as much as a strand of hair for sideburn, nor the goatee that glued perfectly under Bankole’s chin. It was at that square, with Awero, some paces away from us, that headmaster Cole had announced that he would be taking three brilliant students from our ‘form’ – class– with him to Ibadan.


My name had rolled out of the white man’s mouth in the same sluggish pattern my few clothes and books rolled out of the village days after. Bankole had run from the square to the river in the North Pole to South Pole distance without stopping. I met his eyes, wet as the river, begging me to not go. It was only after I had mirrored his tears, begging and promising under the intoxication of our emotions, that he had told me to go, but to come back for him afterwards. The river banks lay silent as I lay on my chest to be toppled by Bankole’s affection. I swore under the darkness that clad us that night to return someday for him. I did return.


AH! My mother asked me from a corner in her mud plastered room with walls that opened to more lizards than prostitutes in Ibadan opened their legs to ‘customers,’ why I had shouted ah when she told me Bankole and Awero got married a few years after I left for Ibadan. It had been just four years and he couldn’t wait for me to come back. “Shortly after you left, we discovered that Awero was carrying his child, and the marriage had to happen fast to protect the families from shame.” Mother had told me in her smooth Yoruba accent that hasn’t suffered a dent, like the roof of my father’s house that needed immediate repair. I left when the sun was walking back home, to where mama described as Bankole’s farm. I raced the sun until I got to the well groomed farm that was supposed to be his, after getting lost in a couple of paths.




***********


In the gathering darkness, his body, a tusk, sharp and strong, was rounding up the day’s work. Seeing him returned me to the weakling I was, the weakling he protected from harm till I abandoned him. My eyes went in the way of my courage and fell, for him. Tears ran down the asphalt of my cheeks in a rage that saw each tear try to overtake the other. My knees couldn’t hold my betrayal as it went into a ridge, and in his ways, he was there to hold me before hitting the ground.
It was only when I looked into his eyes that I had had the courage to stress a muscle. I attacked him with all ferociousness. His lips, then his beards, his lips again, till I found my way down his navel. I saw him from years ago, in the river, on the grass, and the love we made then. I was about to pull down my trousers when he pushed me off. “I do not do this anymore” he had said.
AT the dawn of October 1, 1960, I left the ruins and heartbreak and never returned. I loved Bankole, our love making sessions were memories that could not be stolen. But we had been a taboo and our love could never have been, legitimately.


In the silence that echoed my heart years after leaving, I still wake up daily to say I love Bankole. Had he?

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