By Anikpe Chidera Solomon
I watch him recognize me, see as knowingness flares in his eyes, his shoulders tense, his eyes darting, his mouth almost agape. I watch as his face morphs into shock, small pixels gathering and gathering until his features are smothered in panicked surprise.
His reaction is what I would ordinarily call 'dramatic shock,' but now, with his eyes on me, I find that he is lacking theatre, of melodrama. The corset around my waist seems to heave with a startling force, tightening and tightening until I am sure that all the air will suddenly be squeezed out of my lungs, that I will spontaneously drop to the floor and die. The wig on my head settles with a new heaviness, causing my neck to ache and my back to sting. The flamboyantly extravagant gown on my body seems to lull me against my will, pushing, pulling, and twirling me as it sees fit, a master puppeteer and its senseless puppet.
I am acutely aware of everything around me, of the light that blares down on me from the ceiling, of the hardness of the chair on which I am seated, of the many eyes that watch me in awed expectance, waiting for me, yearning for me, beckoning me. I am aware of his eyes on me, of the way his surprise finally melts into curiosity. I am too aware. But at the same time, I am dissociated from the things around me, existing outside of a bubble in delirious oblivion, there but not there, surviving but not living.
When I start to sing, my voice is a sentient being of its own, flying and falling and deepening and softening on its own accord, as oblivious to my existence as I am to its own. My limbs accompany the song, hands flailing softly, a thing reminiscent of sensuality and allure but, in reality, a call for help, a drowning reflex.
Noir carries a gentleness that should have settled me, the club and the people seem to me like a lifeline wound safely around me, and yet I find myself flailing, endlessly drowning.
The eyes of the club's exclusive guest list follow me, men in suits and agbadas and men in gowns and crop tops and bum shorts. Men in the arms of other men, kissing other men, men with eyes that sing of sin, lust, and fiery desire. Politicians and conglomerates, who bid their wives and children goodnight and find solace in Noir.
They will fuck each other this night, laugh and live and love in the safety of the club's walls, and in the morning, they will find their way back home into the arms of unsuspecting wives and oblivious children. They will guard this secret well.
But he sits there with fierce confidence, a separateness that does not smell of fear. He does not fear tomorrow; he will not fear tomorrow. He had always been like this. It is only when the audience rises from their seats in thunderous applause that I realize I am done singing.
My limbs are free, my voice returns, and so does my will. I bow to the audience, a gentle, graceful dip of my upper body, an acknowledgment, not gratitude. Then I turn from the stage and walk away. And I pray to God that I am walking fast enough.
He visits me backstage just as I am unlatching the heavy afro wig from my head and undoing the zipper of my gown. Of course, I expected that he would come, but I am still surprised by his presence, by his solidness, the deepness of his breaths, the quickness of his smile, and the one hand he hides in his pocket, probably because a wedding band now sits on his finger. I am stunned by him.
"You still sing so beautifully, Diora." So he says, the words simple and easy and lacking the stiffness I had expected.
I watch him from the reflection of my dressing mirror, almost afraid to turn around and fully behold him, settling for a familiar reflection, an easily disappearing thing.
"Thank you," I answer, and I am also careful not to register any stiffness in my voice as I speak. He closes the door behind him and takes three steps towards me. I count.
He is an arm's length away from me, but I am wholly aware of his presence as though my spine is pressed against his chest.
"It's been so long." He says, and standing closer to me, I am newly surprised by the increased deepness of his voice, the richness of his baritone.
"Seven years," I respond, and I can swear that the smile falters on his face, his façade almost crumbling. Yet, he retains the smile, reinforces its foundation, and stands his ground. I am almost impressed by his unrelenting commitment.
"Let me take you out for dinner. For old time's sake." Something in his voice, in his eyes, signals a knowingness of my decline, an expectance of my refusal. I am mildly annoyed by the rightness of his assumption.
So I say, "Yeah, sure, let me just change out of these clothes." And the flare of surprise in his eyes causes me to almost smile.
When I leave the doors of Noir, I do not expect to see him waiting for me, so the emptiness before me does not necessarily surprise me. I turn to leave, and I see him getting out of a black Honda Accord, a new smile plastered on his face, his suit jacket discarded so that he is only in black dress pants and a neatly tucked-in shirt with the sleeves rolled up, casual and unassuming but at the same time, sexy and ensnaring.
He walks to the other end of the car and opens the door invitingly, a dare.
I walk up to him in slow, steady steps, and I try not to be enticed by the heady smell of his cologne as I enter the car. He closes the door gently and enters back into the driver's seat.
"So, do you have anywhere in mind?" He asks as he carefully rolls the car into drive.
I notice his bare ring finger.
I do not answer.
He takes me to a restaurant on the Island, 'Liquor and Grill,' and I find myself wondering how many other men he had brought here before me, after me. The servers seem to know him well, offering pleasant and shy smiles, and he returns the gesture with a cheeky grin, playful but still sexy. I notice one of the servers, a girl, continue to cast shy glances at him from across the room, and I imagine he had fucked her before, maybe somewhere crude like in the back of his car, quick and rough and teeming with intense lust. I imagine after they are done, he throws a careless bundle of thousand naira notes at her and asks her to leave. I can almost picture the shock on her face, the morphing of surprise into pain and loss, and I pity her.
His eyes draw my attention back to him, the intenseness of his gaze, the sheer beauty that he carries.
"You still have such an amazing hairline." He says.
The laugh that bubbles from my throat is utterly out of my control. He joins in the laughter.
"You see me again after seven years, and the first thing you notice is my hairline?"
He shrugs, and I take the time to appreciate the thickness of his muscles, the sharpness of his jawline, and the sexy fuzz of beard that now sits on his face.
"You aged well." He says again, and I am almost annoyed by the stutter of my heart.
"You married well," I answer.
His surprise is a fleeting thing on his face.
He hums under his breath. "You know."
His words are not a question, but his tone invites me to answer.
I shrug in a perfect imitation of him. "You are a famous man, Mide."
I look down at his ring finger again, and he chuckles.
"I did not want to make you feel uncomfortable."
"You can not make me uncomfortable."
Later that night, he will push me against my bed and fuck me senselessly into the morning, and I will know that he has a wife and two children even as I sit astride him and ride him to orgasm. I will know he belongs to someone else, and I will not feel even an inkling of shame.
But at that moment, with the two of us sitting across from each other in the restaurant, he smiles and says, "I missed you," and I search for the urge not to say it back.
Anikpe Chidera Solomon is a twenty-year-old, queer Nigerian storyteller. He loves contemporary music, abstract arts, and pantheon deities. Chidera's career as a storyteller is solely driven by the need to tell the stories of queer persons from a personal lens while actively rejecting the untrue narratives and stereotypes propagated by most of the world's population.
He is a big lover of fantasy-themed literature and can often be found revisiting his favorite books from authors like Tomi Adeyemi, Eloghosa Osunde, Akwaeke Emezi, and many others. When he is not reading or writing, Chidera can be found binge-watching an unhealthy ton of Korean dramas. His fictive and poetic works have been published in Brittle Paper magazine, Iskanchi Press, the Kalahari Review, and others.