Previously on DOWN-LOW…
If I find out that you carried your two left legs to see him, I will personally beat you up.
Siji’s warning reverberated in Martin’s head as he walked briskly along Sanusi Fafunwa Street in Victoria Island on his way to Café Neo. He had arranged to meet up with Rotimi, his ex-boyfriend and very first lover, who had randomly sent him a Facebook message wanting to reconnect. Everything within him told him to ignore Rotimi’s message – heck, to even block him – but like the idiot that he was, he had responded. Rotimi responded back, eagerly sharing his BBM and WhatsApp details. Soon enough, the conversation had moved to BBM, and they had agreed to see today as Rotimi had a job interview on the island that afternoon and Martin worked on the island and could afford to sneak out of the office for a bit.
“I am a fool,” he muttered to himself for the umpteenth time that day, and all his inner voices chorused their agreement. Martin sighed, hating yet enjoying the slight butterfly-in-stomachy sensation in his insides. He had to admit, he was a bit excited to see Rotimi again, even though he knew he shouldn’t be. He shouldn’t even be meeting up with him in truth, in fact shouldn’t have responded to his initial Facebook message… There were a lot of shouldn’ts that concerned Rotimi actually but somehow they had all become Martin’s present reality.
I still have feelings for the bastard. There, I have admitted it to myself. Come and beat me, O Universe! Martin thought, mentally shaking a fist at the heavens. After all these years, and after what Rotimi put him through, he still couldn’t believe himself.
Martin sighed and crossed the street, walking over to the café. One side of the building was made of glass so Martin could see the patrons inside. Sure enough, there Rotimi was in a pristine white shirt and dark grey pants, with two other customers. Rotimi looked really good even from this distance. Abroad air must be really something.
Martin braced himself and walked in. Rotimi looked up and a wide white smile slowly broke across a face, a face that was even more ruggedly handsome than Martin remembered, but was still the same face of his first love.
“Yo! Martin!” Rotimi exclaimed rising to his intimidating height of 6 feet and four inches. He opened his arms for a hug. “It’s so freaking good to see you!”
Martin stepped into the hug shamelessly, embracing Rotimi back. His body was firmer, harder. Somebody had been working out in the abroad. Martin’s body began to tighten and get prickly with the warm contact and he hastily broke the hug.
“Good to see you too, Timi,” he said with a small cool smile, trying not to betray how hard and fast his heart was beating. He could only hope that Rotimi had not felt it when they hugged.
Rotimi ushered him to a seat across from him and he sat down, while observing the changes in his ex-boyfriend’s physical appearance.
His head was now shaved. Martin wasn’t sure he was a fan of that, but Rotimi still looked good anyway. His beard was fuller and had connected to his sideburns and mustache to form a lush thick shrubbery over the lower half of his face. His shoulders and chest were definitely broader and his arms were thicker too, evidence of a dedicated and effective gym membership. Martin’s eyes lingered on his biceps as they strained against Rotimi’s white shirt and his body tightened further. He quickly lifted his eyes to Rotimi’s face and caught him staring at him with hot eyes. Martin’s mouth suddenly felt very dry.
“You look really good, Martin,” Rotimi said. “You’re taking really good care of yourself.”
“Thank you,” Martin said, refusing to think about why his compliment felt so good. “You sef, you try. Oyibo air really is amazing.”
Rotimi guffawed, throwing his head back in mirth.
“But me, I don’t understand how you went for an interview with all this on your face.” Martin gestured at Rotimi’s beard.
“Well, the interviewers didn’t seem to mind,” Rotimi replied, grinning and running his fingers through his beard. “What? Isn’t it a good look?”
“It’s a look alright,” Martin muttered and Rotimi laughed heartily again.
“Gosh, I have missed you,” Rotimi said softly after his humour had abated.
“Of course you did, with zero contact in over five years. I’m getting you,” Martin replied wryly.
Rotimi sighed. “I know. You know what – let’s order our drinks and food before we get into it. We need to talk about a lot of things.”
Martin nodded mutely and stood up, following Rotimi to the counter. In minutes, they were both seated again, each with a Panini sandwich and a smoothie in front of them.
“So,” Martin began after taking a sip of his coco-pineapple smoothie. “Welcome back to Naija.”
“Thanks,” Rotimi replied drily. “I wish it really did feel good to be back. I have not missed how wack this country can be.”
“I hear you loud and clear. You should have gone to the US to study. It would be easier to assimilate into their society after school. Not like the UK – after your education is up, straight back to the airport.”
“I know, but that’s where I had scholarship na.”
“Mmhmm – scholarship that I had to find out about from your mother, even though I was supposed to be your boyfriend.”
Rotimi winced and Martin looked away coolly, not betraying the pain in his chest as bitter memories came flooding back to his mind.
He had just turned eighteen when he met Rotimi, who was a year older. They’d followed each other on Twitter via anonymous but explicitly homosexual accounts and got to talking via DM for months. They talked about everything: movies, TV, family, sexuality and how they felt about it, fears, dreams, hopes… Everything! Martin was just beginning to understand and accept that he liked men at that time, and he did not have any friends who he could freely discuss his sexuality with, so the blooming virtual friendship with Rotimi was a dream come through.
Of course they’d exchanged pictures, phone numbers and flirted and sexted heavily, and soon enough, Martin began to fancy himself halfway in love. Rotimi however was the one who declared his feelings first. Martin could never forget the words that stared back at him from his phone screen.
I think I love you, Martin. The way I feel when we talk, when I think about you…I have never felt it before.
Martin was overjoyed and happily declared his feelings as well. Yes, he loved Rotimi and wanted him to be a part of his world. They arranged to meet up, and their love deepened at first sight. They were both physically what the other had been expecting, no catfish. It was a sign. That night, Rotimi’s mother was away from the house. His father lived with his other family and he had no siblings – well, none from his mother anyway. They made love. Martin could never forget the instant Rotimi gingerly slid into him; the initial pain, the pause, the heavy fullness that had slowly filled him, the mind-numbing pleasure as Rotimi’s member caressed his insides, the climax that tore a scream from his throat as he came, spewing semen halfway across Rotimi’s room. Yes, this was it. This was love. Martin’s heart was full.
Their relationship progressed happily. They went on dates, shared experiences, met each other’s relatives, talked, planned, made love, and shared each other’s world. It was perfect. The only dark cloud in their relationship was Rotimi’s resistance and sometimes outright disapproval of Martin making any LGBT friends. “Am I not enough for you?” was Rotimi’s usual argument, and Martin, young, innocent and malleable always acquiesced. Of course, his love was enough.
The true reason for Rotimi’s feelings was made evident almost a year later when Martin met Siji. Somehow they began to talk about relationships and Martin happily declared that he was in one, proudly sharing details of his significant other. Siji, sensitive and shrewd, recognized details about Rotimi that someone he knew had also recently gushed about. He went back to crosscheck his references and was astonished. Rotimi had two boyfriends. Siji asked another friend of his for advice and was even more surprised and disgusted by his findings. “Oh, you don’t know Rotimi Williams? That man whore! A friend of mine broke up with him last month when he found out he was screwing other boys on the side.”
Siji promptly disclosed his findings to his two friends – Martina and the other guy Rotimi was dating – giving them both the contact of the person who had irrefutable proof of their boyfriend’s unfaithfulness. Martin was shattered. In his devastated state, he cut Rotimi off in an attempt to try to figure things out by himself. It wasn’t until a week had passed that he tried reaching out to Rotimi. There had to be an explanation. In that time, Martin did not dwell too much on the fact that there had been no contact from his so-called boyfriend in the week he’d stopped interacting with him. When he tried to reach him, he was unavailable. His phone was off. His WhatsApp and BBM messages weren’t delivering.
“Hello? Mrs. Williams,” he found himself eventually speaking on the phone to Rotimi’s mother, “I’m trying to reach Rotimi but I can’t get through to him. Is everything ok?”
“Oh, didn’t Rotimi tell you? He left for the UK two nights ago. He got that Westminster scholarship…”
Martin wanted to die. How could Rotimi do this to him? Cheat on him then discard him like a forgotten toy?
“I was not important to you, Rotimi,” Martin said now, as he toyed with his smoothie straw. “Your actions more than reflected that.”
“I am really sorry, Martin. I really did you dirty, I know,” Rotimi said gently. “That is why I reached out to you. I want to make amends.”
“Just tell me why, Rotimi,” Martin said, ignoring his stab at an apology. “I came here mostly for the sake of closure. Just explain to me: was I not enough for you?” He deliberately used the words whose power Rotimi had wielded over him in the heyday of their relationship, and judging from Rotimi’s wince, he’d recognized Martin’s tactic.
“Martin, please, forgive me. I am so sorry for everything,” he said, seeming distraught and leaning forward earnestly.
But Martin was not having it. The initial wave of lust had been drowned in the pain of bitter memories. “I think I have forgiven you, somehow,” he said coolly. “I don’t think I would have replied your Facebook message if I hadn’t. It still hurts though.”
“I know –”
“No, you do not,” Martin hissed, suddenly angry. “If you did, you wouldn’t have done what you did, unless of course you actually intended to hurt me.”
“I didn’t know how to say goodbye, Martin…”
“How to say goodbye or who to say goodbye to?” Martin said, laughing caustically.
“I told you, those other guys meant nothing to me. It was always you.” With this, Rotimi reached for Martin’s hands across the table.
“Bull-fucking-shit!” Martin snapped, pulling his hands back. “You really are a piece of work, aren’t you?” He leaned back and regarded Rotimi’s dejected form disdainfully over the rim of his glasses. “OK, so tell me. What did you hope to accomplish today? Did you think we could pick up where we left off or what?””’
“No! Come on, Martin,” Rotimi protested, looking completely miserable. “That would be crazy. I told you I came to make amends.”
“OK, how do you plan on doing that?”
“By apologizing sincerely, which I have” – he cut himself off when Martin rolled his eyes – “or at least that’s what I’m trying to do. I also have something for you.” He reached into his suit jacket that was draped over the back of his chair and pulled out a small black box. He placed it gingerly on the table.
“What is that?” Martin asked, a brow arched in inquiry.
“It’s for you.” Rotimi slid the box across the table towards Martin. “Open it.”
Martin opened the box to see the most exquisite watch staring back at him from a bed of navy blue velvet. Oh shit, this man knows me well.
“It’s a Hublot,” Rotimi said, searching his face for a reaction. “I remember how much you love watches.”
“This is lovely, Rotimi. Amazing actually. But even though this must have cost a pretty penny, it doesn’t make up for the damage you did.”
“I know, I’m not trying to –”
Martin cut him off as he continued, “I have actually not been able to be in a meaningful relationship since you left, you know. You broke something fundamentally deep inside of me. A watch can’t fix that.”
“You can never begin to understand how sorry I am, Martin,” Rotimi whispered, his eyes gleaming with moisture that looked suspiciously like tears. “I fully understand the pain I caused, even if you don’t believe me. I am truly deeply sorry. Please forgive me.” He reached for Martin’s hands and this time Martin didn’t withdraw them.
“It’s OK, Timi,” Martin said. His fingers intertwined with Rotimi’s across the table and it felt like an electric current passed over his skin.
“I want us to start over,” Rotimi said, “from the very beginning, not even as friends. Let me win your friendship, Martin. Please.”
Martin nodded solemnly. “Alright then, sounds like a plan. Give it your best shot.”
Written by Santa Diaba