Previously on Down Low…
Martin woke with a start to find Ayo regarding him with an unreadable expression from his perch on an armchair across from the L-shaped couch in Siji and Ayo’s living room that had served as Martin’s bed for the night. Martin stared at Ayo immobile, still trying to gauge the exactness of the situation and formulate an appropriate response from his still-sleepy brain.
Ayo noticed Martin’s awakening, partly from him sighting the whites of Martin’s large eyes in the pre-dawn gloom of the living room, and partly from the stiffening of Martin’s reclined form.
“I don’t bite so early in the morning, you know,” Ayo said softly. “You don’t have to look so tense.”
He cocked his head to side and smiled coyly. “Well, I only bite Siji this early, and on some quite yummy body parts…”
Martin rolled his eyes and straightened himself to a sitting position. “T.M.I., Ayo. T.M.I.”
Ayo scoffed. “As if Siji doesn’t tell you more about what goes on in our bedroom than I just did.”
“He doesn’t actually,” Martin said. “All I know is that you both have frequent and steamy sex, which really is not a surprise, seeing as you are both warm-blooded males in a loving relationship.”
“Hmmm,” Ayo responded.
“If you don’t believe me, ask your boyfriend.” Martin was beginning to get annoyed. “He told me he has never lied to you – hundred percent disclosure and all that jazz.”
“Is that what he said?” Ayo said, raising a quizzical eyebrow, trying not to betray how suddenly his insides felt like a warm loaf of fresh bread.
“I know it’s still early but that shouldn’t affect your hearing, and I know I didn’t stutter,” Martin responded glibly and Ayo frowned.
“There’s really no need for that attitude. It’s way too early,” Ayo said, his eyes narrowed in annoyance.
Martin groaned and threw up his arms in exasperation. “Look, Ayo, what do you want? I know that you loathe me and want to spit in my eyes every chance you get. Yet I wake up and your face is the first thing I see. What is it?”
Ayo blinked several times, clearly taken aback by Martin’s brashness.
“Loathe?” he whispered. “That’s quite a strong word, Martin. I don’t loathe you.”
“Oh yeah? You definitely could have fooled me.”
Ayo sighed and rubbed his hands across his face.
“I don’t hate you Martin, honestly,” Ayo said, then raised a hand as he saw Martin’s eyebrow rise in scornful disbelief. “Ehn-ehn, wait first. I know I am not always at my best behavior when you’re around–”
“Well that’s putting it lightly…” Martin mumbled.
“BUUUT…” Ayo continued, ignoring him. “It’s not really my fault. I really do not know how to feel towards you.”
Martin regarded him with pursed lips. “Erm, Okay, so…why?”
Ayo stood up and came to sit down beside him, and Martin noticed a sheen of something that looked like tears in his eyes.
“I love Siji so much – much more than I have ever loved anyone or anything,” Ayo said in a fierce whisper.
The fervent emotion in his voice and the truth shining from his eyes tugged at a deep place inside Martin, and he found himself reaching for Ayo’s hands and giving them a reassuring squeeze.
“Siji loves you too, you know. He loves you very much.”
“I know!” Ayo said, and the tears fell, one bead from each eye. “I just don’t understand why he would choose me when he has someone like you in his life.”
Martin was nonplussed. “What? I’m sorry, you lost me.”
Ayo sighed and looked away. “All of you fake modest people irritate me, I swear to God.”
He turned back and faced Martin with a sour look, all traces of vulnerability gone, like morning dew under hot sunlight.
“You are everything a man like Siji would want. I know you enjoy fishing for compliments, but let me just say this: you are immensely attractive – tall, caramel skin, pretty face, cheek bones like kitchen knives. Sometimes, it appears as if you glow. Then you are considerably financially comfortable, with a career about to take off. Those are everybody’s checklist, my dear Martin, and you tick off all the boxes.”
Martin pursed his lips, extremely flattered and taken aback at the same time. This was Ayo, a person that had only previously spoken ten sentences to him, seven of which were some form of insult, pouring out his insecurities to him. He made a mental note to check his horoscope later that day to see which heavenly bodies were in alignment.
“You said that I am everything a man like Siji would want,” he said softly. “But Siji is a man like Siji, yet he is in love with and in a relationship with you. You are clearly very wrong about something.”
Ayo sighed and looked away again. “I am afraid that I am just a second choice, that he is with me because he can’t be with you. He does love me, yes, I know. But he would rather love you.”
“What are you even saying?” Martin snapped, getting quite irritated. “Did he tell you all this nonsense? “
“He did not. He doesn’t need to. I know.” Ayo proceeded to drop to his knees in front of a bewildered Martin. “I do not hate you, Martin, but I can’t see myself being friends with you because you remind me of everything I am not and can’t be.”
He reached out to clasp both of Martin’s hands in his.
“But I just need you to promise me one thing. Do not take Siji away from me. Please. I know that if you decide that you want him, you would take him with ease and I would not be able to stop you. Please just leave Siji for me because…I would die without him.”
Then he burst into tears, burying his face in Martin’s lap.
Written by Santa Diaba