Of course, the older man was thirty-five years old and, of course, one day he told the younger man that he was getting married to a woman. He said this while they were in the older man’s three-bedroom high-rise apartment in Ikoyi. They were in the older man’s kitchen, making breakfast together. The older man had said this to the younger man who, at the time, was wearing the older man’s shorts, the same one the younger man had worn for the last seven months since visiting for the first time.
When the older man said what he said, he did not look up from the egg he was making. A sunny side up. He was very good at it and the younger man told him that all the time. The ends were always perfectly fried and the yolk never too gooey. The younger man, however, looked up from the dinner plates he was washing from the previous night to ask the older man to repeat what he had said.
Of course, the younger man had heard, but of course, those minutes between hearing and hearing was necessary to savor, and so he asked again when the older man ignored the question and continued to fry the eggs—flipping a perfectly done one out the frying pan and breaking another in.
The older man repeated that, indeed, he was getting married and asked the younger man if he wanted baked beans, making a comment about how the younger man was a local champion for not liking baked beans that much.
Before the older man said what he said, the comment about the baked beans would have been a joke. But in the moment’s context—the light pouring in like fanged monsters from the kitchen window; the kitchen itself growing hotter; the younger man searching his insides for anger that was calculated, logical and fair but turning up, instead with a sad, string of cold acceptance—the comment was just a comment. Something anyone could have made as a passing observation.
The older man never looked up as he left the plates unwashed. He stood watching the eggs as the younger man ran water over his hands, fingers shaking as he wiped their wetness on his shorts, and walked over to the older man, who he leaned into and hugged him from the back.
This memory of the younger man placing his head on the older man’s slightly broad back and hearing the older man’s body shrivel and the eggs bend to his crafty, specific means was, at first, the easiest to forget.
Over breakfast, the younger man asked questions. The younger man, with a mental diagnosis that had overthinking as one of its primal symptoms, wanted to know how long the older man had been seriously working towards it, this marriage to this woman, the process of becoming a domesticated Nigerian man who could not possibly be suspected of having ever loved men.
The younger man wanted to know when the older man had been talking to the woman he intended to marry. He realised how selfish that might sound, so he asked the older man not to answer that either. He asked many other twists and variations of the same questions, often catching himself and asking the older man not to answer. After a while, the younger man stopped asking. They ate the well-made eggs and the younger man said it was lovely, creamy even. The older man offered to do the dishes afterward and the younger man stood behind him as he did them.
Later in the day, they had sex in the older man’s sitting room. They were watching a crime documentary on Netflix and, soon enough, they began to burrow into each other’s bodies. The older man let the younger man sit on top of him when they fucked and, when they’d both cum, the older man let his tongue linger on the nipples of the younger man. Back and forth, from the right one to the left. The documentary was still on, the neighborhood as quiet as it always was. Out of nowhere, the older man began to snore.
The younger man thought about why the older man was getting married on his Uber ride home. He thought about Nigeria. He hated thinking about Nigeria. He hated the way thinking about Nigeria twisted him into a desperate, sometimes dreadfully wimpy, circumstance. He hated that he couldn’t ask the older man to marry him instead. Even more, he hated the chilling certainty that Nigeria would stretch out its clawed hands and tear them apart if they decided to marry. He hated that even though he despised the concept of marriage, Nigeria was making him consider it. Theoretically. But the older man was still getting married and, that evening, he thought about Nigeria within the scope of what it was about to do to him. It was a perfectly designed cruelty, complete with all the features needed to make its undoing impossible.
Of course, the younger man liked the older man. He liked him very much. He met him on Tinder and most Friday evenings they took a drive around Ikoyi in the older man’s Mercedes. It was a C-class, but it still worked better than the older man’s other cars.
Their conversation on Tinder had been brisk. The older man had been in the mood for sex and luckily, the younger man was too. The older man asked the younger man to come over and the younger man found that it was easy to say yes, but, first, he asked for a quick video call. The video call would go on for much longer than expected and the younger man would end up not going over that night.
They talked a lot, by the standards of a man in his mid-thirties, whose relationship with texting was precise and intentional. The older man did not often understand the younger man’s need to share constant, deconstructed updates about his life. The younger man did not like that the older man sometimes forgot to respond to messages and left him on read.
The day they met, the older man took him to the Garden Bar in Ikoyi. The music was loud there and all the flowers, including the grass on the ground, were fake. But they could hear each other as they talked. In person, they did not have very much to talk about, but the company was abiding and the silence comfortable. They ate, stopping to occasionally ask if the other was enjoying themselves. More than once, the younger man caught the older man staring intensely, and then he would find himself feeling an acceptable, thrilling kind of warmth. On their drive home they began to talk a bit more. They talked about the music on the radio: they both did not like the kind of Afropop being made at the time. They talked about the traffic jam because everybody talks about the traffic jams in Lagos. They talked about family—the older man had two siblings who were married with kids. He had said he wasn’t married but, perhaps, if things fell into place, he would.
The younger man had a huge family he had worked most of his life to get away from. His older brother was his only sibling who knew he was gay, the only person who the younger man might be closest to in his family. But that wasn’t the case because they didn’t talk very much.
The younger man had chuckled when the older man talked about marriage. It seemed far away. Something a gay man living in Nigeria might eventually find themselves participating in. The younger man asked the older man if he would be open to his prospective wife about his sexuality. The older man said he did not know, perhaps if he found someone open-minded, but it wasn’t happening tomorrow so the younger man should stop worrying.
The younger man tried not to worry. It was difficult. He was about to ask something else before the older man switched the conversation to sex. As the older man waited behind other cars looking to drive under the Falomo bridge, they learned that, in bed, the older man liked to top and the younger man was versatile. The older man commented on how versatility was very common with the younger man’s generation.
They learned, just as the older man began to drive out from under the bridge, that they wanted to sleep with each other and that if there were a place they could do that (of which the younger man’s place was the closest) they would take up the opportunity. So, the older man drove to the next roundabout, missing the turn to the seaside bar he’d wanted the younger man to try, and drove straight to the younger man’s house.
Of course, a week after the older man told the younger man he was getting married, he also told the younger man that it would be happening in two months’ time and that the younger man couldn’t come around as much because his fiancé would be around. Of course, the older man did not tell the younger man this in a long, unbroken streak, devoid of emotion. He mentioned it after sex, his black eyes looking down at the younger man, asking for ease.
The younger man liked the relationship with the older man because it was easy. Taking stock of his world, that was enough. The younger man was twenty-three and had a mental illness that made men his age impatient with him. The younger man had never been in a relationship; he’d come close so many times that he had stopped trying for a while. The younger man enjoyed how the older man offered affection with a firm, unbending certainty. It was something the younger man had to confirm many times with the men he’d been with. The older man was gentle and ideal. They never formally talked about a relationship because the younger man didn’t want to push it in a quest for definition. But notwithstanding, it felt committed and unmoving.
They spent time at each other’s houses, more at the older man’s because of his cooking. Their Friday drives usually ended the way their first date did. They knew some of each other’s friends and had once taken a trip back to Ilorin where the younger man grew up but hadn’t returned to for over six years since his family had moved out of there. They were beginning to form habits and behaviors that would be hard to get rid of.
Oftentimes, the younger man would think about how he knew the temperature the older man liked his baths, or the fact he drank coffee with too much milk and almost no sugar. He’d wonder about how much he had observed and how much the older man had intentionally shared. The space between was liminal: it was too late to figure that out.
The moving was quick. The younger man hadn’t kept anything in the older man’s wardrobe, so there was nothing to pack. The older man let the younger man turn up at his house more often in the week preceding the move. They did not have sex or do very much; they both existed in different places around the house in pretense, in hope. The younger man remembered the older man telling him that the neighbors certainly had questions about them. The older man often told the neighbors who asked that the younger man was his cousin. It was plausible because the older man had never brought a man as young as this around.
The first time the older man’s neighbors asked him about the younger man was during a Saturday Environmental. When the older man told the younger man about it, he told the younger man to place his worry on the older man’s left nipple and nibble at it, till there was nothing left. The older man had declared that he wasn’t bothered by his neighbors’ curiosity. He said that they weren’t paying his rent so they could fuck off.
In the week preceding the move, the younger man thought about those moments. They made him feel as if he were in a low-budget film whose script was being changed and retouched without warning. In the week of the end, the younger man often asked if the older man could hold him. And always, the older man would say, come, lie here. I’ll hold you.
And then it ended. It was a Saturday, and the younger man woke up to the sun filling his apartment, his street unusually quiet, as though waiting, like he was, for his first move. Everything seemed otherworldly and dreamlike. He wanted to puke. But he didn’t. The younger man scowled as though the morning cared what the younger man thought of it. Of course, the sun kept shining.
The younger man blocked the older man on all his socials, and each morning he took an Adderall. There was no hurt, only gawking emptiness.
The younger man would often remember telling the older man that he did not support using women as a beard without their knowledge or consent. The younger man did not know if the older man had a choice, but what he knew was that if you had flicked the situation around, like a coin in the middle of a tough decision, it might be possible that their days could remain ordinary. They could be in the older man’s sitting room, watching crime documentaries that they never finish. They could be driving in Lagos’ traffic jams while taking turns to yell at bad drivers. They could be talking about this situation with tons of people who’ve managed to escape family pressure, nosy neighbors, a wicked country.
Exceptions, exceptions, exceptions?
Nelson C J is a culture writer with works in The New York Times, TIME Magazine, Rollingstone, Architectural Digest, BuzzFeed, Eater, and other places.
Image: (c) Abdullah Ögük/Unsplash