NEW FICTION: ‘Light From Hung Bottles’ by Okolo Edwin
Its four pm, that time of the day where you are divorced from the daylight but not quite ready for night, a halfway point. I like halfway points.
I lie in bed; ‘bed’ is a bit misleading, it’s really a mattress tucked into a corner of the room, my boxer shorts pulled low, a little bit of bush peeking over the waist band. I don’t like boxer shorts, I prefer briefs. If I could I’d be naked all the time, free. But I live with men so, boxer shorts. From my bed the only thing to look at is my window. My window is beautiful. There are bottles hung from the rail, my own avant-garde curtain. My gaze shifts between the translucent green and the distorted clear of bottles lining the sill. It’s beautiful what they do to the light, transforming it, taking something so ordinary and bending it in exciting ways. I could lie here all day. Oh shit, I’m so fucking high. I can hear them like the soul of the house stirring, I can hear her susurrating whimpers, his mewling. LOL. Weed tends to make me pretentious, and susurrating is too good a word to languish in a dictionary. The girls in the flat next to ours are giggling, they can hear her too.
“Oh god! Oh god! Thereeeee, Yes! Yesss! UHHHMMMMM! Eat me the fuck out!”
This new one, she’s a screamer. Entertains everyone whenever she’s around. I listen carefully for the lower register on which her squeaks ride. There is only silence and wet slurping between her moans. I sigh. I wait. Tobi is a silent fucker, that one. I sit up, put my back to the wall that separates our rooms and wait. I know I won’t have to wait long.
Thump! Thump! Thump!
Their bodies beat against the wall; vibrations reach me on the other side. She is silent now, whimpering as Tobi thrusts, knocking the wind out of her. I put my hand into my pants, pet my bush lovingly, snake lower, gather my fingers into a loose fist around my limp self. Tobi starts to growl, and the thumps accelerate. I feel blood rush to both heads. My fist tightens. I close my eyes; imagine me in her stead, in the dark, dampness of the room, my head hitting the cold cement wall, swooning as Tobi drives himself deeper. My fist pistons inside my pants and small moans escape my lips. Tobi is grunting, Neanderthal words jumbling out of his open mouth; I can see it in my mind’s eye. I am arching my back to meet mind-eye Tobi, stretching my limbs around Tobi’s supine waist, letting go of myself. The orgasm comes in a wave that puts a quiver in my thighs and leaves me cockeyed.
Shame douses me, cold on the back of my spine, chasing away the euphoria of the stolen high. The evidence of my shame is sticky between my fingers. I rise quickly to my feet, pull off my boxer shorts and clean myself up with them. I can hear Tobi, grunting as he peaks inside the girl. Subconsciously my body turns towards the sound, my penis still erect, a dowsing rod. I slip into new underwear. I hide the soiled pair underneath my bag. My room feels small, claustrophobic. We’re in the time of shorter days and evening light has passed; without it my glass curtain is no more art, just liquor bottles hanging by their necks. I escape to the living room, splay myself on our ratty sofa, the only piece of furniture we have. I move my legs around a bit, till I find a position that will pass as natural.
The door of the other room swings open and out walks Tobi, fingers intertwined with number 22. He’s in low riding pants and a vest slung over his shoulder, Number 22 is in a dress that draws my eyes to her tits. I call her ‘Number 22’ because there’s a steady stream of them, usually Tiv. Tobi has a type, everyone around me does. I don’t want to look, at least not overtly, but I can’t seem to control my extremities around Tobi. Our eyes lock. Number 22 is surprised to see me sitting in full view; usually I spare her the indignity of having to go past me post coitus.
I cannot hide the look on my face, the one that says ‘I heard you screaming as he put his mouth to your sex’. (This is why I write more than I speak, you can call someone’s vagina ‘sex’ and have it sound scientific instead of vulgar). We glare at each other, then her eyes fall away from me, roving instead around our living room.
If you were nice, you’d describe our house as ‘lived in’ or ‘well worn’. My father isn’t nice. He calls it a shithole that I wasted his money on. I have just neglected to tell him I haven’t moved out. He doesn’t care either way. Not anymore. Right opposite us is a block of single rooms that look right into our front door, and decrepit flats on either side sharing our walls; a proper face-me-I-face-you. She is looking at the cigarette burns on our shag carpet and the clumps of ash that stain its cream grey. Tobi guides her to the door, stopping to pick up a roach and light it. I’m supposed to be looking at their faces but my eyes seem to stop at his crotch and refuse to move. He lights the blunt and inhales, his flat belly caves in, bringing his belly muscles and the V that leads into his pants into profile. I stop breathing. She exits the front door. He hovers in the threshold and stretches out his hand, smiles.
“Wear a shirt.” He says.
Tobi is beautiful.
I know, I use that word a lot, but that’s the only thing that describes him. It’s not just a physical thing, though he has those kind of eyes, tear drops lain on their sides, set in a face that’s two things at once; part heart part oval. It’s in the way he actually looks at you when he talks to you; he holds your gaze, ears cocked, like you’re the single most important person in the world in that moment. I wilt when he does that to me, every time. Then I curse myself for not looking back. So when he asks me to walk ‘Number 22’ with him, my mind immediately goes to the fact that we will have to walk the ten minutes it takes to get back to our house from the main road together, alone.
“Nah, I’m good.” I say.
He beckons; he’s not falling for that. ‘Number 22’ groans from outside the house.
“We don’t keep ladies waiting.” He says, and winks at me.
Haha. Our inside joke. You might be a lady when you come into our house but you don’t leave as one. Get it? Like it? I thought that one up myself. It’s a very manly thing to say. Not that I actually believe any of the things I say to him. Like ‘you’re just a friend to me’ or ‘I have this girl I want to fuck different ways till sun…”
He comes back in and grabs my arm. I stiffen and clench my fingers so he doesn’t notice my palms have become slick with sweat. He tries to drag me off the chair and I let myself become deadweight, digging frantically under the cushions of the sofa. My hands touch square shaped plastic and I tighten my grip and stop fighting. He pulls and I fly to my feet. He sees what’s in my hand and laughs.
“Alcoholic.” He says.
I smile and twist the cap of the bottle of Alomo, put it to my lips. It stings, Alomo. It’s like drinking bitter-leaf water. My eyes water but I keep gulping till all of it is gone down my throat. Four hundred millilitres, it burns down my gut, leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. I feel the flush in my belly radiating out, warming my chest, my arms and my legs. The stiffness in my spine eases. I feel fluid, like I could do cartwheels right here in the living room. I sway a little but Tobi doesn’t notice. I twist my wrist so my hand is around his wrist and pull him out the front door. We don’t lock it, apart from weed and alcohol we have nothing anyone would want to steal. ‘Number 22’ is fidgeting, it’s twilight and she needs to be back in the hostel, she’s already missed her evening lectures. I grab both their hands and mash them together. It takes her by surprise.
“I now pronounce you man and wife.” I say.
I belly laugh, I feel invincible.
There are six of us, Tobi and James and John and Lotachi and Franklyn and me, all from different departments. We waited for them after ‘Number 22’ left and came home with them. James and John brought fuel, Lotachi brought weed, and Franklyn brought two bottles. We are huddled around the living room, lined up like sausages around the laptop. The carpet feels like a pockmarked warzone underneath my belly. Naruto does his Kage-bunshin no jutsu and the screen fills with hundreds of shaggy blonde haired boys with claw marks on their cheeks gathering to protect Sasuke, the brooding black haired guy with red eyes. Tobi is lying beside me, Lotachi on my other side. Tobi always lies beside me, or I lie beside him. There is a bottle of Gordon’s dry gin and a blunt with a soggy lip passing between us. I take an extra drag each time the blunt reaches me, but only a swig every third time. I already feel bleary eyed from the Alomo, and I want to remember feeling this.
Tobi’s intertwined his calf with mine. He’s like a cat when he’s engrossed in something audio-visual. He just rubs and rubs on you. I rub back but slowly, like a slug. My eyes are watching Naruto but my interest only peaks when Naruto and Sasuke share screen. The chemistry between them is ridiculous for a cartoon. Sorry, anime. I know, I know.
Naruto is bleeding from everywhere and he is still standing in front of Sasuke, he won’t let him pass. He wants to save him from himself. I can relate to that.
“All these faggot things, Naruto no dey tire?”
Franklyn, lips loosened after a few swigs. Everyone laughs, I freeze still as death.
“If you leave Naruto ehn, e for don fuck this Sasuke tey-tey, burst him nyash.”
John, I think. I’m not sure, the twins sound exactly the same and I don’t dare raise my head to look and make sure. I steal the bottle of gin out of Lotachi’s hand and take a heavy swig. My throat constricts in protest. The world swims, and when it rights itself, I am no longer frightened. I laugh and string words together, pour them out, utterly meaningless to me like classwork.
“No oh, na Sasuke be the faggot,” I hear myself say, “See as Sakura dey give am face but e no gree look the girl. Instead na to dey tempt Naruto be him work.”
A murmur of approval moves through us. Tobi’s leg untwines from mine and I notice but I have more important problems, like how my eyes feel like they’re floating in my eye sockets. We laugh and continue watching Naruto and Sasuke pummel each other in the name of ‘filial’ love. I shake my head a few times to right myself and feel a sudden surge of Dutch courage. I lean into him, all of my length from calf to shoulder; I let him put his hand around my waist.
“Which one you dey rub Tobi body like this, Naruto don dey corrupt you abi?”
Franklyn. His voice has gone reedy, it’s directed at me. I look over at him, on the far end of our huddle. He’s sitting up, his eyes narrowed, a strain of malice threaded into his playful tone. I can’t make myself rise out of the puddle of drunkenness I’m in to get adequately worried. I just feel warm all over and my head is swimming from the high, you could bury a knife in my gut and I probably won’t feel it. Tobi raises his head, my knight in shining armour and glares at Franklyn.
“Can we just watch Naruto in peace for God’s sake?”
Franklyn just smirks at Tobi and the sober part of me, small and drowning in the more magnanimous drunken me, panics. Franklyn climbs over James and Lotachi and straddles me. I try to buck him off but Franklyn is heavy and he pins me easily. Everyone abandons Naruto and turns to us. I look up at Tobi, bleary eyed, hoping he can see how scared I am. He just sits up and starts to laugh. Franklyn grins at me, then twists around and de-pants me.
Tobi’s smile wavers. “Wetin be this one again Franklyn.”
Franklyn leers at him. “I just test am na. See as him ass big full everywhere. I don dey suspect you oh, this one wey na only the two of una dey stay this house. If you don dey burst am for secret I no go surprise.”
He raises his palm, drives it down. The slap hurts like hell. I try not howl. Even drunk I know the drill; any protest will stir them up like wolves at the sight of blood.
My silence annoys him, I can tell. He spanks me, alternating between butt cheeks, cackling. He slaps till I go numb. He laughs, they follow suit.
“Oya touch him ass. See as e soft.”
Reluctantly they do. First the twins, James and John clutching each globe like halves of a whole. Then Lotachi, pulling my shorts lowers so he can get a better grip, kneading me like pressure balls. I hate that in spite of my fear I get aroused. I thank everything that I’m laid out on my stomach. Tobi comes last, reluctant. He let Franklyn guide his hands, doesn’t protest when Franklyn helps him cop a feel. I understand, culpable deniability.
“If to say Bobo na woman I for don fuck am tire.” Franklyn exclaims.
The room tenses, then devolves into silence. Franklyn climbs off of me. I make myself decent and rise to a kneeling position. I reach for the bottle, my buttocks flaming on top of my ankles. I don’t even feel a burn as I knock back the bottle and swallow, all of me is numb with fright and shock and high and drunk. When my head comes up, I see them standing around me, waiting in awkward silence. The guys are waiting, I realise. They need me to qualify what just happened, to name it. My cheeks are small pits of warmth, my forehead is hot like I have a fever, I’m flushed and they’re my friends. So I laugh, a wild guffaw that bowls me over.
“Closet faggots!” I say.
I’ve given permission so they laugh with me, Franklyn laughs loudest. We’re back to being friends. He’s drunk, we’re all drunk. And high. This is how drunk guys work through questionable sexuality.
This is how you hide in plain sight.
Copyright © Okolo Edwin 2015.
Okolo Edwin writes to explore concepts that he wrestles with but cannot directly experience as a result of his gender. He used to run the experimental fiction column ‘The Alchemist’s Corner’ at www.thenakedconvos.com. Okolo participated in the Chimamanda Adichie-led Farafina Trust Creative Writer’s Workshop in 2011 and has written one and collaborated on another experimental fantasy novel on www.wattpad.com under the username psielementobliterate.