Shaun Kalu: Pretty Man
Why were you glad when Aunt Jemima stabbed your father? Maybe because it brought some respite, because you knew, everyone knew. You weren’t sure if your mother became intentionally deaf when the soft moans of ecstasy oozed from Aunty Jemima’s room, or she decided to be blind as she watched your father walk clumsily out of her room and return to the living room where he slept on his raggedy, leather sofa.
You wondered whether the gripping pressure that clogged onto your throat was that of hate or anger. You weren’t even sure who to be mad at – your father? Or your mother? She knew, but she nursed the wounds. They decayed right under her nose, but she kept nursing, and nursing and nursing.
When your father died, you weren’t sure of what you felt. You ran to your childhood friends Chimobi and Jamiu for comfort. You were the first and only son, “Guy, you don rich!” Jamie sang these words as a chorus. You wish he knew that you cared little or you didn’t care at all. The next morning you were leaving home for your best friend, Yusuf’s apartment. You had stolen your father’s wooden safe and taken all the money in it.
The first day you met Hauwa, you felt a tingle in your ear. You weren’t sure if it was the fact that you had never been inside a woman, or the fact that her buttocks clapped when she walked, or the fact that she looked you directly in the eye when she spoke. Hauwa called you a pretty boy, she always said “Pretty boys like you, are all the same- you are just a beautiful vase with a dirty interior”. You weren’t sure if she knew you got angry whenever she said that, or if she knew that you also had an impression of her, that she was one of those “Lagos runs girls” that slept with only men that had money. You had assumed by her long, cherry red painted artificial nails, by her latest iPhone device, by her voluminous, deep black weave that she flipped every minute.
You felt elated when Hauwa offered to pass the night at Yusuf’s place, as she claimed her hostel at Unilag would have closed. Hausa remained silent while you pleasured her. You moaned and screamed; you couldn’t believe the passion you felt. You wondered why your mother always told you stay away entering women thighs, when it was so pleasurable. Hauwa said “Come inside me”, and you jumped up. Those words propelled you back to reality.
You felt like a newcomer in Lagos. You had lived in Lagos for 21 years, but you never really knew beyond the walls of your home at Ikorodu. You always got lost in the scenery when you boarded a cab from Surulere to your workplace at V.I. You would imagine diving into the ocean and take handfuls of the ocean breeze and pretend to swallow it. You would picture people and imagine what their lives were like- You would see a woman and wonder if she was like Aunt Jemima, maybe she also sleeps with her elder sister’s husband and gloats about it ? Or maybe she’s a fool like your mother who pretends to be ignorant.
Your mother would call you and you’d ignore. Why was she calling anyway? After all she had all your father’s money to probably share with Aunt Jemima. Your only sister was out of the picture – she lived in the Illinois with her family.
Did Hauwa know that she played on your innocence? Hadn’t she turned you into a man? She seemed to have so much experience for a 20 year old. She was going to Dubai next month. She will return with bags of gifts for you and write a note that ended with “I love you my sunshine”. She catered for you, she sent money to your account and fed you whenever she visited Yusuf’s apartment. You saved your little salary, as you didn’t need to spend from it. Hauwa bought the Unilag Diploma form for you as she said “I want to you be a pretty boy that went to school”.
You would always say little; you stared at her a lot and smiled like someone who had been given love potion. You wondered if she knew that you saw her as your mother. Did she know that you had stopped enjoying sex with her? Did she know that you loved her deeply, but not intimately? Did she know you were scared of her? Or the fact that she belittled you made you feel small?
When you recited your poem about “Pretty Men” why did she laugh out so loud? Why did she mock you? She knew that you were a little boy who hadn’t seen life. She knew that you still got scared by everything. You were still scared of your mother. You dreaded the day she’ll finally see you and give you a huge slap in public like she did 4 years ago in front of the whole church.
When you sat on the plane with Hauwa on your way to South Africa, you kept pinching yourself to know if it was real. She had lied to one of her rich lovers that you were her younger brother, and he bought a ticket for you both.
The day Aunt Jemima called you, you decided to pick. You hadn’t spoken to anyone from your family since you left home three years ago. Maybe they had seen your spoken word poem reading that was broadcast of National TV?
“Does the fact that I am a man and I am beautiful make you uncomfortable? Are you frightened by the way I magnet attention? Men ought to be whatever they want to be- Pretty, erudite, carefree, fragile, tough, emotional, brave, vulnerable or wild.”– Excerpt from “Pretty Men”.
“We watched you on TeeVee Nnam!” Aunty Jemima spoke in her Igbo caressed English. She spoke about how she had been wanting to reach you, she spoke about how she had given birth to a child as she found out she was pregnant two months after your father died. She took a deep breath and continued: “Nna, a gallant soldier has fallen o! Your mother kissed the earth goodbye yesterday.” You had remained silent for some minutes before cutting the call on her.
You sat there wondering, what was wrong with you. There you were, sat comfortably in your own state-of-art two bedroom, well furnished apartment in Dolphin Estate. You had a budding career as a poet and storyteller after your poem “Pretty Men” went viral.
You had Hauwa, who you didn’t love intimately, but you wouldn’t tell her; you enjoyed the benefits of being with her. Why did you not cry when you found out your mother died? Why didn’t you feel sad? Did you hate your mother? Had she offended you? Why did you cry when you father died and not your mother? You wondered whether your parents were together finally, without Aunt Jemima coming in between. Maybe they were looking down at you now and shaking their heads, because they can see what you’re about to do.