THEY

By Augustine Okam

Content Warnings: Loss.

They ask me what we are, and I am indecisive about my answer. Brothers? Friends? Soulmates? Two flowers caught in a vase? Bromance?

‘I don’t know,’ I say because I don’t know. Because I know you too closely, too intimately, too much soul-linking that I never bothered to put a name to it. Because it is hard to know, to attempt to know, to think to attempt to know what is going through the artist’s mind as he paints, when you are inside the painting.

They ask how we met, and I am about to go full five-hundred-page novel mode until they ask, more clearly, ‘How did you meet the first time?’ I smile before I answer. I tell them it was, is, the best day of my life, stressing the is so they know that nothing has changed for me, that no memory has ever come close. But I tell them the first time wasn’t the first time. It wasn’t even the tenth time. Before the first time, I saw you here and there, like the way you find your chest hairs everywhere after a deep, satisfying sleep. The first time we talked, you did most of the talking, and I did most of the smiling and laughing; the real first time, a Tuesday.

It was the first paper of our second MBBS examination – Human Anatomy. Everyone was panicking because everyone believed it was going to be difficult; because everyone was telling everyone to be scared. I was holding Inderbir Singh’s textbook on human embryology, trying to panic-memorise the third week of development. ‘It won’t help,’ you said, not looking at me, not looking like the other students. Your hands were folded, casual. And I envied your calmness. I said nothing to you because I thought you had the blackest hair, and I was still trying to figure out how that was possible.

‘Have you heard Nicki Minaj’s new song with Drake, from her new album?’ you asked, with enough enthusiasm that I thought, somehow, you must think we were about to write an exam on Nicki Minaj, not human anatomy. I smiled into the examination hall that day, out of the hall, and into my room.

‘That was the first time,’ I tell them. ‘The real first time.’

‘Were you lovers?’ they ask, tentatively, their voice suddenly lower than before, on the brink of apologising. And I laugh. I laugh because I find the question funny. Then I stop laughing because I find the question unfunny.

‘No,’ I say, too fast, meaning it. ‘No,’ I say again, this time unsure of the answer myself. ‘Not really.’ I am quiet for a second. ‘Maybe. Not like that.’ I shrug. ‘I don’t know. It’s not something we ever talked about. We are not lovers, but we are kinda close.’ But we are not ‘kinda’ close; we are closer than I considered humanly possible, so close that, here in the one-room apartment we share in Calabar, I feel the jolts of the bus driving you to Enugu to visit your family.

 ‘Do you want to spend your entire life with him?’ they ask. I don’t like where these questions are going. They are getting more intrusive, trying to force me to say things I did not plan to say.

‘Yes,’ I say. ‘Casually. You know, keeping in touch and all that,’ I say and know, immediately the words leave my mouth, they are lies. I don’t want casual, whatever that means. How do you link souls with someone, join roots, allow those roots to intermingle and dance with each other, and then settle for the falling leaves? It’s so unreasonable it can only be stupid. But I don’t tell them this. Now, I am not sure I want to answer any more questions from them.

‘Do you love him?’ they ask now, too bold, accusingly. I suck my teeth with the tip of my tongue and pretend they said nothing. I am beginning to find them very annoying because it seems they are simply looking for different ways to ask the same question – Lovers? Love? Spend the whole of eternity creating mind-blowing adventures? What is the difference? It is the kind of tautology that irritates you, that makes you furrow your eyebrows and turn your face to a ‘Who’s this one?’ expression. I choose not to answer this particular question because of you, because you would have hated it. I am doing this for you. This silence.

A car rushes past me, pushing the cool evening air onto my face, and I am reminded that I am alone in an open street. Dark, empty street. Dark, lonely, empty street. There are no they; they are the voices in my head. They are trying to figure out why your absence affects me so much.

Augustine Okam

Augustine Okam lives in Abakaliki, one of the hot parts of Southeastern Nigeria. He is currently in his third year in Medical school. He comes from a slightly strict Christian family. He loves love. He hopes to spend most of his life writing sad heartbreaking stories that are both beautiful and disturbing.