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In the gents, James did his business, zipped up and walked to the sink to wash his hands. He stared at his reflection in the mirror.
He wore a short-sleeved pure cotton navy T-shirt with a crew neckline, black slim-fit chinos and brown suede chukka boots with white soles. His hair was cut and shaped close-to-scalp on the back and sides and left a little longer at the top.
Not conceited enough to claim to be the most handsome man around, James would admit to being blessed with the good looks that ran in his family—the high cheekbones, Nubian nose and dark skin.
His mouth soured. Thinking about the Danladi clan always agitated him.
He reached in his trouser pocket, pulled out the stick of Mentos and popped an orb into his mouth.
He chewed the sticky mint and scrubbed the damp patch on his clothes as if he could cleanse the horrible memories of his family history away.
Focusing on pleasant thoughts, a smile curled his mouth as he remembered how he’d met the Nwobodo twins.
James had first become friends with Kezie and Gozie in boarding school back when he’d been fourteen years old. Older and ahead of him by two years, the twins had been famous teenagers, the children of a well-known industrialist father.
James had been a quiet, shy boy whose mother and brother had been working hard to make sure he had a good education while his supposed father hadn’t wanted anything to do with him.
Kezie had intervened once when another older boy had tried to bully James. The Nwobodo twins had taken him under their wings and later had invited James to join them in their dormitory.
The brothers had fascinated James. Cocky, unabashed, and stylish—to his adolescent mind, they had been mavericks, living by their own rules, while James struggled to conform.
Gozie was the fun-loving animal, always ready to party and be the centre of attention.
Kezie remained the robust twin, with a no-nonsense protective attitude.
He’d looked out for James and had shared his provisions with James, making sure his locker was always fully stocked. Even after he’d left high school and James had still been there, Kezie had visited him a few more times.
James became enamoured with Kezie, a teenage infatuation that had blossomed since they reconnected in later years, perhaps because James had lost his innocence to Kezie.
In those old school days, James hadn’t known much about intercourse. Hadn’t even known two boys could have sex.
Their first time, in the darkness of an empty dorm, while everyone else had gone to evening prep, Kezie had placed little kisses all over James, sending alien responsiveness down his spine all the way to his toes. His body had contorted every time Kezie caressed or pecked his skin. They had rubbed against each other prick-to-prick, and James had fallen into the deep throes of ecstasy.
The whole thing had been new to James that Kezie had been the one to explain his ejaculate as sperm.
Kezie had been more experienced and had told him about other boys that he’d dated.
It had taken James a long time to accept his peculiarity, this desire for other men.
Raised in a home with his mother as a devout Christian, James had been in church every Sunday and had been subjected to sermons that condemned him and his cravings.
He’d lived through various phases of guilt, and had prayed hard for God to take away the cross that he bore.
For a time, he’d even tried to avoid other men and had succeeded, somewhat.
The period when he’d been separated from Kezie during his university years, he had dated women. Emotional relationships, yes, but none of his encounters with girls became sexual.
Then, Kezie had returned to Nigeria and brought his own brand of enticement.
Like a moth to a flame, James had been drawn to the boy that had become a man.
Perhaps it was because Kezie was his first love, his first kiss, his first sexual encounter that made him too tempting for James to resist.
He’d finally come to accept that he was a gay man. A man who was attracted to other men. He didn’t fancy women. No female he’d encountered in his twenty-eight years of life had stirred sexual desire within him, including the women he’d dated during his university days when having a girlfriend had been a requirement of sorts.
None of that mattered, anyway.
These days, he wanted to be able to introduce Kezie as his boyfriend to his family and friends.
It didn’t help that Kezie was almost paranoid when it came to their relationship.
The man was warm and loving when they were alone. In public, he maintained some distance which James found cold and a contrast to the Kezie he’d known in his high school days.
It seemed the years apart had changed Kezie. He’d transformed into a man that James didn’t sometimes recognise, losing some of that maverick streak that had awed James as a teenager.
The squeaking door drew James’s attention to the new arrival who had entered the gents.
“Hello,” the man said as he strode across to the urinals.
“Hi.” James tilted his head in recognition.
The man was the barman who had served their drinks, and the name tag read ‘Damola.’
James finished at the sink and walked over to the hot air hand dryer. He hated those things, believing they dispersed germs rather than killed them. But he had no other solution for dealing with the damp shirt.
“I can help you with that.”
“Pardon?” James glanced back to see Damola staring at him.
“I said I can help you dry the shirt,” the man repeated.
“Oh. It’s okay. I can use this.” James pointed at the contraption on the wall.
Damola twisted his face in a grimace. “I don’t trust those things. I have something better.” The waiter walked back to the door and opened it. “Come on.”
James didn’t need another prompt. He followed the man down the corridor and through a door marked ‘Staff Only.’
“Are you sure it’s okay to be in here?” James asked.
“Sure. You’re with me.” Damola winked at him. The man had a lovely smile brightened by even white teeth.
They walked into another space that looked like a changing room with grey metal lockers stacked against the wall. On a wooden counter above the sinks were two black hair dryers.
“There you go.” Damola plugged one in, and hot air blasted out.
James tugged his shirt out and held it while Damola directed dryer.
“I’m James, by the way,” James spoke loud to be heard above the whirring sound.
“I know. I’m Damola.” The man pointed at the tag with his free hand. He was good-looking with afro hair cropped short at the sides and stacked at the top. His bulging muscles stretched his shirt and made him look like a gym rat.
“You know my name? How?” James asked. He’d never spoken to the man before except to order drinks and he’d never mentioned his name.
“I heard your friends, the twins, say it,” Damola replied as that Pepsodent smile returned.
“You must be very observant,” James commented.
How many other strangers knew his name just from overhearing it or seeing him with Kezie and Gozie?
A slight chill blanketed his back.
The Nwobodo twins were media celebrities. But James had kept out of the limelight. He avoided public scrutiny as much as possible.
“It comes as part of the job.” The man’s shoulders rose and fell.
“Still,” James said, trying to quell the uneasiness making his stomach quiver. “I’m only one person out of hundreds, possibly thousands that visit this club. Don’t tell me you remember every name.”
“Of course not.” Damola shook his head as his grin widened. “I noticed you from the first time you came in with the twins. They are loud and like to show off, always with different girls at the club. But you’re different. You don’t play their games. For me, you stand out from the crowd. And of course, you’re a fine boy.”
James’s head jerked back as he glanced at the man’s face.
Damola stared at him with intensity, his gaze not wavering.
Heat streaked across James' face as the man’s words sank in.
Was the guy flirting with him?
James took a step back, feeling a little awkward. “Thanks for this.” He tucked his shirt back into the trousers. The damp spot was gone. “I better get back to my friends.”
He stepped back again, creating distance between them.
“Wait.” Damola pulled a card out of his back pocket. “I know I’m not in your league for friendship or whatever.” He sounded a little bitter in the way he said ‘whatever.’ “But I think we have something in common. If you ever want to talk or go out for a drink, call me.”
Damola shoved the card into James’s hand.
Yep, the guy was definitely propositioning James.
James opened his mouth and closed it. He was caught between being flattered and freaked out.
This wouldn’t be the first time someone had asked him out. But the others had been friends or existing acquaintances. Not a stranger.
He wasn’t openly gay. There was no reason Damola should I identify him as one.
The waiter’s gaydar proved to be on point. And the man was attractive if James allowed himself to go there.
However, James’s relationship with Kezie mattered, and he’d never cheated. He would not start now. He couldn’t tell the man that he was already seeing someone else for fear of outing Kezie inadvertently.
Neither could he berate the man for expressing himself. Every person should be able to do so without fear. And James wasn’t going to openly deny his sexuality.
The only option was to retreat without revealing anything one way or the other.
“Ehm,” James muttered as he backed up to the door, twisted the handle and stepped into the corridor. “Thanks, again, for your help.”
Shoving the card into his pocket absently, he hurried out to his friends, a smile playing on his lips even as his unease remained.
That had been surreal.
To be continued...
Copyright 2018 Kai Tyler / Kiru Taye
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