“Tell my mother what?” Chidi asked. He was still looking at me, daring me to speak something into existence.
“That you’re … gay?” I took a step back.
“I am not gay.” The tension went out of his shoulders. As they dropped, the corners of his mouth lifted. “I am like you, really.”
“You are…like me?” I took another step back.
“Yes. I am a woman.”
“Oh-kaay. Listen, I was just trying to help your mother, you know in case she was an angel or an ancestor or something…” I trailed off. “The point is I’m going now. Good luck.”
“Seriously, wait!” His hands encircled my wrists. Chidi dropped them as if they burned. “Wait,” he said again.
“I can’t explain it, but it’s just….there is something about you…you’re right, I need to tell her. Just stay. I feel like I can do it with you around.”
“Are you joking? We only just met. In fact, we haven’t really met…this is ridiculous.”
“Lower your voice, she will hear you. Just stay for drinks. A glass of juice? You can’t just leave like that.”
“You’ll hurt my mother’s feelings.”
“I don’t care.”
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I don’t. You don’t know me. Oh my God, what am I doing here?”
“You have to stay. You have to help me. All my life I have been wanting to tell her. Now you show up and everything just seems right. I have to tell her now, don’t you see? And you have to help me,” he repeated.
“This is madness. I don’t know you!”
“I could be an angel or an ancestor. You don’t know.”
“It doesn’t work like that. You have to be old…”
“An ancestor trapped in the wrong body.” Chidi smiled, doing the light-in-eye thing. His joviality clashed with the gravity of the situation. I studied his face. The brightness in his eye seemed somehow forced, his eyebrows raised slightly too high.
“How long have you known?” I asked, cursing my curiosity. Chidi took a deep breath.
“Since I was three, maybe before that. I used to be quite fond of my mother’s things; her perfumes, hats, shoes….I loved her dresses and her lipstick. Once she caught me stuffing her bra with toilet roll. She thought it was funny so she took a photo on her Polaroid.” Chidi’s lowered his voice. “I still have that photo. I found it when I turned 18. I looked so happy. I haven’t been that happy in a long time.” He sat down on the last step. “Of course, when you’re three, it’s cute. She let me try on a few more things when I wanted…well, technically she didn’t let me but she didn’t stop me either. When I was eight, my father walked in on me trying on one of my mother’s wigs with some clip-on earrings. I still have scars on my back.” He rubbed his eyes with the heels of his palms. “She just stood there and let him do it. After that, she started locking her door for a while.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” He shrugged.
“I just never felt like I belonged, in here.” He touched his heart. “Or in here.” He touched his head. “Even in my dreams, I was female.” His voice shook. “You should see me in my dreams. I look spectacular.”
“I’ll bet you do.” Chidi beamed at me. His
complexion was doing the hypnotic thing again, making me dizzy. “How are you doing that?”
“Nothing. Listen, the good news is, you don’t need me at all. Your mother already knows that you’re a…ah…”
“Right. I wasn’t sure whether to say ‘transgender’ because doesn’t that mean something different to ‘cross dresser?’ Anyway, she knows. You are just dancing around each other waiting for who’ll say it first. Com’on. Look at you. Is there another reason you’re not married?”
“Yeah, I’m pretty perfect, aren’t I? I’m such a catch.”
“Stop beating yourself up. You’re probably right to want to tell her, that’s the only way you can start living the life you want. But…can I leave first before you do? I really shouldn’t be advising you either. It’s not my life. I walk out the door and you never have to see me again, but your mother is your mother. You’re linked forever. You’ll need to handle it delicately.” A sigh whooshed out of me. “I’ll shut up now. And I really must go.”
“Where are you going?” The woman eyed me. “The corn is almost ready. I peeled off the husk and put it in some water in the microwave. This country, eh?” She looked at Chidi. “How can you keep someone standing like this eh? Take her coat now. My daughter, oche dikwa. We have seats.”
“Eh, Mama, you know that I can’t stay. I have to get home to…I have a date with my friend.”
“He can join us, the more the merrier. Call him. Let me see this person who my Chi-boy does not measure up to.” The woman started tugging at my coat-sleeves.
“Mama, I’m sorry but you’re being a bit…I hate to be rude but…”
“LEAVE HER ALONE!”
Chidi stood to his full height. The woman froze. In the silence that followed I could hear my heart making its painful way back down from my throat. ‘No,’ I thought. ‘Please God, no.’
“Is something wrong with you? How can you raise your voice to me?” The woman’s hands were still on my sleeves. She started tugging again. “I am trying to do what’s best for you. I will not be the only woman in my age group not to have grandchildren because her only child is picky…”
Chidi wasn’t finished. “Leave her alone, Mama. And leave me alone too. I am tired of all these girls you keep shoving in my face. A WOMAN DOES NOT MARRY A WOMAN WHERE WE COME FROM! Let me be who I was born to be!” Just like that, he stopped. He dropped down on the step again. I imagined I could hear a ‘Pffffft’ sound as air went out of him. It was as if he was folding in on himself.
As Chidi spoke, the woman fell against the wall as if she had been struck. Now I could see her swelling, filling up as her son seemed to be deflating. She opened her mouth.
“WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!! Chim o!!!! Chidi alaputa m o!!!! Alu emee m o!!!! Ndi ilo m!” She jumped up and let herself fall to the ground. I could not get my feet to move. The woman stood up again, jumped as high as she could and bashed herself upon the floor again. Chidi reached her at the same time I did. She punched him in the stomach and spat on his head. “Ewoooooooo!!!!!”
I couldn’t identify which fluid shone the most on her face; spit, snot or tears. They all mingled in one soupy mess, gluing her eyelashes, running into her mouth.
“So you are still talking this rubbish? You are talking like a drowning man, oooooo Chidi nwa m anwu oooooo!” She started singing a song of mourning: ‘My child is dead, lost, gone forever.’
“Mama, I am not dead.” Chidi looked as if he would throw up. The woman continued screaming. “Mama, please keep your voice down, we can discuss it.” She lobbed spittle in his direction.
“Oh, Papa Chidi why did you leave me? Now they have taken the food prepared for me and they have eaten it. What will I tell our people?”
“Mama, I am still here. I am still your child. I am just not your son.”
The woman got up, untying and tying her wrapper. I looked away. There was a clattering of crockery in the kitchen and she came out again. She had a meat cleaver in her hand.
“Since you say you don’t want to be a man, let me cut it off. Aga m ebe gi amu kitaa! Give it to me. I will bury it at home and mourn my son.”
“Mama! What are you doing…!”
In a leap, I was outside the door and running down the street. I slowed to a jog when I hit the side street, surprised to have come to the bus stop quickly. I put my hands on my knees, my guts threatening to spill from my nose. I felt a disturbance on my thigh and reached inside my pocket.
“Hello? Nwunye? You were supposed to be here ages ago. Where are you?” I said the name of the street. “Another bus should be along right about now. If you get on it I’ll see you in 7 minutes.”
I craned my neck. “It is.” The red smear was getting larger and larger, taking the shape of a bus as it approached. “But you know, I think I’ll walk. I’ve had enough of buses for one day.”