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By Tom Okafor

Content Warnings: None.

Timothy is seated in church on a sun-rid Sunday. The grey skies above the chapel’s corrugated roof reflect the listlessness sweeping the folds of his heart. This listlessness has a tune. And this tune is a valley, where only thorns grow. Where light would be humiliated if it dared show its face. Where tales of bliss can never find a way in. Where dreams are too big a dream to be dreamt. In this valley, he dwells, and I long to embrace him until all my colours steal into his heart and those colours quench the thirst of darkness.

In this church, I am painted white. I am adorned with linens: blue and red. I surround the congregation with my beauty, and everyone who walks in marvels at the brilliance of my brightness. Some dare run their fingers across my torso. Others stand in yawning awe. ‘What beautiful walls,’ they declare. And their eyes sparkle as they receive my radiance.

All this beauty, I will gladly bequeath to Timothy; if I can behold the light on his face, if I can find love blooming in that valley, then it’ll be beauty enough for me.

Timothy is crushing clay in his mind when the preacher asks the congregation to look at their neighbours. He does not look. He crushes clay to dust, and with the dust, he moulds a young man. The man has his face, and the man is smiling. Timothy has forgotten how to smile.

He does not hear when the preacher says, ‘Everyone, say “I love you” to your neighbour.’ But he jerks to reality when someone screams into his ear.

He flings his head to the side, and the first thing he sees is light. The brash light of a hearty smile. Then he sees the most beautiful dentition. A white so perfect even heaven would envy it. After that, he sees another light. This light: the warmth of two sparkling eyes. The last thing he notes is the face.

Makụọ? His eyes widen.

‘Everyone, look at your neighbour again!’ the preacher yells. ‘Say: I love you, neighbour!’

‘I love you, neighbour!’ Makụọ yells into Timothy’s face, smiling.

Timothy does not respond. He’s too shocked to respond. And that shock draws his eyelids apart and leaves his mouth hanging open.

The joy on Makụọ’s face stales. ‘Come on, Tim… Don’t you love me?’ He tilts his head and makes a sulking face.

‘I—of course. I, I love you. I love you, Makụọ.’

The light of Makụọ’s smile returns, unabashedly bright. ‘I love you too, brother.’ He embraces Timothy.

‘Everybody, shout Hallelujah,’ the preacher commands. And a roar follows. Makụọ roars too. Timothy does not. At least not his mouth. But his heart: it roars. Surges with inexplicable passion. I observe him. His feelings smash against my form, and I note every emotion, every desire, every hunger.

He wants Makụọ to hug him again. He wants to be looked upon afresh with such beautiful, blinding brightness. He wants the stirring he felt in his belly to go on forever. He wants the tune in his heart to morph into the smoothness of Makụọ’s voice. He wants to tell Makụọ he loves him again. He does not hear a word of the preacher’s exhortation. He focuses on the tune in his heart as it changes and lifts him from the valley. Higher, and higher, and higher…


At home, he leans his back against me, and though he does not know it, I soothe him. He slides down to the floor. He’s sinking. Without Makụọ’s light, he’s sinking once more into the valley. That deathly tune returns, resounding in his heart, and its echo is gloom.

In his house, I am a fading yellow. We commune a lot here. He leans on me time and time again, and I try to rid him of every crippling load. So heavy a load, no matter how much of it I carry, it never seems to be exhausted. 

I hold every unuttered groan. Every unspoken sigh. Every repressed desire. Every suppressed fire. As his mind roves his past, I pick up every pain and strain. The strain of homophobia ingrained deep into the fabrics of not just his family but his nation. 

As a child, his father flogged him for his effeminacy. His mother hurt him with her words.

He waded in an ocean of toxicity. They broke him. Into pieces. He has since tried to assemble those pieces, but all he finds is pulp. 

He tells himself he will never be loved. No. Love is not for a queer Nigerian boy. He will plod through life unnoticed. Unloved. Broken. Shredded and emptied of vigour. 

All these lies I try to carry, but they’re lodged too deeply into his mind.

He falls asleep sitting on the floor. I stretch out my arms and wrap them around him. I pull out my head and lean my stale yellow face against his. When he wakes, he will feel a warmth in his chest, a stillness, a calm, at least for a while. He will never know it was my embrace. Yet, I will be satisfied.


It is a spring-perfect Monday evening, and the clouds chameleon Makụọ’s smile. Timothy has made his way to the market from the bank where he works. Everything reminds him of Makụọ. The oranges, neatly stacked on trays, remind him of the fairness of Makụọ’s skin. The breeze caressing his body testifies to the warmth of his embrace. Then he thinks of his name: Makụọ, which means Embrace. How apt. And he hopes to receive a hug from him for every time he has thought of him that day. 

He makes it to the vegetable stand, close to the part of my body that encloses the market. In the market, I am a bare concrete with algae climbing my feet. 

He picks up a bundle of pumpkin leaves and is about to pay for it when a voice sneaks into his ears.


Timothy gasps, and the vegetables fall from his hand. He knows that voice.

‘Hey... Makụọ, what’s… up?’

‘I’m great,’ Makụọ says. ‘I saw you and came to say hi, but… wow! Did you go to work today?’

‘Yes. I did?’ Timothy tilts his head, trying to understand Makụọ’s point.

‘I mean, you work in the busiest bank in town, yet your face looks… perfect. Even after a long day. Just… beautiful.’

Timothy’s knees buckle. The marketplace is a galaxy of noise, but a certain silence canoodles them. Their eyes hold each other’s; there’s something in their gaze. Something pure, raw. Something that can only be felt. And they feel it, both of them.

‘Thank you.’ Timothy breaks the silence. A mist gathers in his eyes.

‘Yeah, welcome. I have to go. Text me. Okay?’ Makụọ turns away and leaves. Timothy watches him get dissolved in a concoction of bodies. He wipes the tears collected in his eyes and buys his pumpkin leaves. As he goes home, there’s no abysmal tune, there are no thorns, there is no gloom. All there is, is an embrace of hearts, the scent of love, diffusing and filling up Timothy’s world.

Just two months ago, Makụọ was the agent who helped him find a house here in Port Harcourt City. Now, he is everything Timothy wants.

Timothy gets home and texts him.

I’m home. Can you come?

Almost immediately, Makụọ replies: Sure… On my way.

Timothy takes a deep breath and curls up on his sofa, waiting…


…And they dance. Hand in hand. Eye to eye. Breath against breath. Beyoncé belting out At Last in the background. The air is charged. If a seed were suspended in it, it would sprout in an instant. Such is the love in the room, love that gives life. Love that mends and heals.

I look away, and they kiss…

They have a great time. Makụọ pecks Timothy and says goodbye. Timothy leans against me, his joy washes over me, and I do not take it from him. I multiply it, and soon, he is overwhelmed. He falls asleep once again on the floor, his back against me.


Makụọ walks into the night. A smile ensconced on his face. He walks to the outskirts of town where no one dwells at night. His eyes zigzag to an abandoned building before the cul-de-sac. He walks to it. There’s a hole in its walls. He leans against the hole. And then, he changes form, shifts into a mass of bricks; a piece of me is restored. The hole in the wall closes. 

Tomorrow, a larger hole will be there. Timothy will be visiting Makụọ’s house. I will give every piece of me. As long as the child who leaned against me years ago and cried night after night finds his happiness, I shall give everything, whatever it takes, until there are no walls left in the world.

Tom Okafor

Tom Okafor is a Nigerian writer, a reckless daydreamer who loves to spend his time reading, writing, shuffling through Beyoncé's discography on Spotify, and—obviously—daydreaming. He won the Smile Calls Writing Contest in 2023, and made the Longlist for the 2023 Bold contest. His stories have been published and are forthcoming in Entropy Squared, National Flash Flood, and Ibua Publishing Journal.

You can reach him on Twitter [@tomnotes1] where you'll find him obsessing over The Queen, Beyoncé, and celebrating writers’ achievements.

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