When they finished eating, Yadichinma started to roll a joint.
‘Where is she getting all this from? In this Lagos?’ Kayode said.
‘I’ve been asking oh,’ Roland said.
‘Obalende, I got it from Obalende. There’s this guy there that sells it from a bookshop, which is actually very smart—a bookshop is the last place SARS will go to raid. I took a picture there and he was smoking a cigarette and I made a joke like, is it only cigarette he smokes, and he says no, he does marijuana too. I said, in an ambiguous manner, that since I returned from America I haven’t smoked weed, and he kind of looks at me for a while to figure out if I’m joking or being serious in the form of a joke. Then he says in a quiet voice that he sells it here if I’m really looking for some, and he went on about how it’s good that people can smoke weed in the streets of America anyhow, and I told him it’s not so and we talked about that for a while. It’s very sad that drugs are hard to find in this country. I mean most people are already convinced of the country’s nightmares, at least let them have that while high. I’m sure he’s scamming me on the price, but for now I don’t really care,’ Yadichinma said.
‘That’s true it’s very hard to get high, I had never got high until Sweden,’ Kayode said.
‘Wait, you got high in Sweden?’ Roland said.
‘Yes, I got high in Sweden,’ Kayode said. ‘I think it’s how we were raised you know, all of us were raised a bit on the middle-class line and you know how hampering that line is, it means conservative parents—conservative because they go to churches or mosques because they’re praying to God for more wealth, and since they realize that oh we’re not rich now, we may be later, but we’re not rich now in money, but we’re rich in our children. That’s why we see names with wealth in their meanings, this causes restrictions on the children because the parents want a certain kind of future for the child, it affects the life of the child, affects school. I mean my mother put me in science class at the beginning of secondary school because she wanted me to be a doctor, and I suffered every day.’
He said, ‘I’ve said this before and you guys didn’t agree with me then. To really exist—I don’t mean survive—in this country is to be very rich or very poor. The rich child has a certain step to his walk because that has been bred into him by parents that control this country, they’re not going to attempt to shape him into an idea, they’re not going to police him saying, oh if you don’t pass this Jamb you’re not going to get into that big university. The rich person has already decided that he’s going to send his kid abroad to MIT or something. The poor has it because he’s already hardened by what he’s been through, you know this is true, look at our friend Wale, they’re the ones that are the geniuses in secondary schools and university, while we’re the struggling ones. The poor parent already knows their kid might not even go to secondary school, this is true. And we don’t get anything, we don’t get it, we’re not connected to the zeitgeist of the country—take Lagos for example, isn’t that what we’ve always been sad about? That Lagos has always eluded us? Because middle-class parents like ours move to places that they want to become suburbs because they think the city will corrupt us, and they plant mango trees in the backyard and they destroy our lives because in schools the kids mock us and call us Ajebota thinking we’re rich, and say how can you be from Lagos and you don’t even know any place in Lagos or anything that’s happening. They speak and we don’t understand them and they laugh at us. The rich kid laughs because he knows he’s the rich one, not us, and the poor laugh and shake their heads and wonder how people can be and not know things about anything. They laugh because they own Lagos, the real Lagos.’
He said, ‘They talk about the Premier League and football and new dances and we don’t get it. We don’t know how to play sports because we’re not allowed to, and we always go to after-school lessons and when we come back they tell us go do your homework, there’s no TV. So when the people the next day are talking about Drogba and his chest pass, you just nod and avert your eyes. It’s people like us that later move abroad because we feel we don’t belong here, and when we get there, we find that they don’t want us and we don’t belong there. I’m looking at you, Yadichinma. How can you expect Nigerians to get drugs easily when most of us are like this? We’re in Lagos yet we don’t even know Lagos. Of course now, being independent, we’ve been around Lagos, but I’m talking about those seedy spots, those facial cues from the men hanging around the Mallam shops and football fields and Fuji music shops… Maybe all what I’m talking about is not true for everybody, but I think it’s true for the three of us. That’s part of why we were drawn to each other in the first place. I think this is distinctly a Nigerian problem, I don’t know. Maybe I’m crazy and I’m rambling, I don’t know. I just know I’m really sad when I think about it.’
They passed the joint around without talking for a while and Yadichinma noticed that there were a lot of cobwebs on the yellow walls.
The next day, Kayode awoke before Yadichinma and Roland. He slipped from the room where they’d slept—Yadichinma on her bed, Kayode on the floor because he preferred that and Roland beside him because he talked in his sleep. He went to wash his face in the bathroom. He realized he had started to grow a moustache—he’d never been able to grow one before and he felt that affected the way he wanted people to see him. He tiptoed back into the room to grab his phone and he watched Roland sleep for a while, marveling at the way a person completely changes when they’re asleep and you can’t see their eyes.
He slipped out of the room quietly, took a drink from the kitchen and then headed out the door.
The sky was like a Picasso painting—in that if you peered long enough at the grey sky, you could see a bit of yellow, like someone up there had previously under-painted yellow and the grey was starting to crack.
There was a shop that did hair in the corner as he passed and another one that sewed clothing. In the front of the clothing shop, he saw a mannequin that he thought resembled Roland—in the flare of the nose that made him look irreproachable, the full eyelashes, the aristocracy of his neck. Sometimes he thought it was a lie that Roland was Igbo, no Igbo man looked like that, or maybe all Igbo men looked like that and he just hadn’t noticed.
He flagged down a Keke Maruwa, entered and gave the driver directions. As the Keke picked up speed, he leaned back and held the seat. He’d always hated how Kekes seemed feeble, even a motorcycle seemed stronger on the street and looked like it could withstand the blast of air after a bus had sped by.
He thought of Plato and the utility of poets. He wondered what came first, Plato’s morally inclined reason to ban poets from his ideal state—since he thought Poets copied God’s revelations in their cadence—or the idea that they lacked utility—the notion that they contributed nothing, they were not good in war, they had no dignity and so on.
Everything was poetry in this country. There was poetry in the dance, at the market when the old women haggled, in the way the conductor called out routes, in the colours of the buses and taxis, in the people at the edges of the society, in their veined eyes, in the blistering tribal marks on the faces of children, in football, the way it skids and bounces on the dusty ground hitting stones and condom packets and Ribena cartons, in the way kids give themselves nicknames on the pitch.
Still, maybe Plato was right, what good had poetry done in this country, what good did the legends do? Wole Soyinka, JP Clark—and the rest.
Didn’t they fail? Didn’t they invent new mediums and still fail? Didn’t they fail to show the people that there was poetry in their blood?
Kayode recalled during one of the numerous strikes in university, he had gone to teach English at a secondary school and had asked one of the pupils, do you know the work of Wole Soyinka? The first black Nobel laureate in the world? And the pupil said, isn’t that the man who knows so much English that makes up his own dictionary?
They don’t even know him, he thought. They don’t even know him.
Is that the failure of poetry? The poet? Or the place where the poet hails from?
He thought of lines from Marianne Moore’s ‘Poetry’:
I too, dislike it: there are things that are important beyond
all this fiddle\.
Reading it, however, with a perfect contempt for it, one
discovers that there is in
it after all, a place for the genuine.
He too hated poetry, didn’t understand it sometimes, feared that it wouldn’t be enough, that it couldn’t save anybody, that it was worthless, that it would be his doom, why is he even trying, but he couldn’t do without it.
He was just getting off the Keke Maruwa when he got a text on his phone. He paid the man and checked his phone. It was Roland, you’ve gone for the usual abi? You could have at least woken me up
The usual? He hated the way Roland talked about it. He’d only started doing it when he came back from Sweden.
How Roland came to know about it was still befuddling to him.
The ‘usual’ was the fact that Kayode every day, from 7: 30 to 12:00, excluding Mondays, regularly performed sexual acts—including and not limited to fisting, deep-throating an eight-inch red dildo, spanking himself, gagging himself with a cloth in his mouth, oiling himself from head to toe literally, stripping, spitting, farting (once), inserting a butt plug deep into his ass, using nipple clamps to hold his coal-dark, short stubby inadequate nipples—for tips (Tokens, which converted into Dollars, which he then converted into Naira) on camera, on a site called Chaturbate, an adult webcam website. Plainly put, he was a cam model, a cam boy. And he liked it. He liked how it changed him, how it showed him, to himself, how it taught him things about humans and their desires, about hypocrisy, about eroticism, about how the black skin was fetishised and yet also vilified.
It excited him—sexually and anthropologically—that people were watching him. He liked watching the counter at the left corner of the website rise: 200, 201, 400, 800 people are watching me?
The first day he felt there was an openness in his head—an elongated feeling that seemed to stretch even through time—that propelled him to fill in the details on the website and to strip down to only yellow Chelsea football club shorts and take different pictures, posing in alternating stances to upload in the picture tab on the website.
It all began with poetry.
After his poem ‘Machinations of Malice’ was published on the African literary virtual space Brittle Paper, he started receiving emails. One of them was from someone named Mercadante:
Date: 7/12/2015 12:30
Subject: PRIMAL RESPONSE
Hello, I read your poem in Brittle Paper and I felt something I’ve not felt in years. The last time I felt this was when I was reading Don Delillo’s Underworld. It’s a kind of recognition you know? Like something is so far away from you but you still recognize it. I’m gay also, so your work really affected me. Your work is very rich and I just wanted to message you to tell you what it did to me. You don’t have to reply.
Kayode, who didn’t usually know what to say to responses to his work, supposed he was feeling a bit bold the next day, so he replied:
Date: 8/12/2015 9:00
Subject: Re: PRIMAL RESPONSE
Hey man, Thanks for your comment on the poem. I understand completely what you mean. I’ve not read underworld, but I’ve read Mao II, I found it in a carpenter’s shop just laying there, I take it everywhere now. My work is very ‘rich’, who talks like this? Where are you from? My work is rich but I’m not, so if you have a few Euros you’re not using—or is it Dollars where you’re from? Send them my way. The artist is poor but his work is very rich. It’s funny.
Date: 10/12/2015 5:00
Subject: On the theme of having one’s own
Now you’re sounding like a Nigerian prince that I hear on the news that scams Europeans out of their money. Send me money, send me money, that’s the Nigerian prince. Are you a Nigerian prince? I would have sent you money, but I’m not rich. Have you heard of camming? I know a guy that does that—he’s my nephew actually and he’s on camera and he’s naked and he’s doing all sorts and he’s making money. He’s making money. He’s naked and people are watching and paying him money. So maybe you can give this a try. I’m not serious or maybe I am. I’m from Norway, a real Viking me, I don’t know probably, my dad migrated from Russia, so maybe I have some Asian in me too, who knows, the globe is a tennis ball of interconnected lines.
Not serious, seriously, Kayode went to the Chaturbate website and read through it. He liked the layout of the site, the sleek yellow-coloured minimalism.
He clicked the tabs, absentmindedly imagining himself stripping in front of a camera, expectant men—and maybe some women who knows—fondling their genitals, and the thought made his dick hard.
He read the columns: Female, Male, Couple, Trans, Login, Broadcast yourself.
He clicked on Broadcast yourself. The window that came up asked for authorization to access his camera and microphone. When he saw his face on the computer, he shrank back and peered at himself. He closed the website after a while, then he cleaned his house, moved the furniture around.
He had a bath. He felt he wanted to propagate an image when camming, that of a cool bookish youngster—someone that knew what to do with a dick and could recite passages from Infinite Jest offhand.
He oiled himself more than normal. He put on a yellow shirt—which he’d always felt was made especially for the black skin. He went to the kitchen to drink some water. He came back to stand in front of the laptop. He felt so nervous and very self-conscious standing there; the feeling that he would soon be exposed to the world threatened to flatten him.
He walked to the bathroom, locked the door and paced around. He liked doing this because the small space calmed him.
He looked at himself in the mirror. He took out a comb from the bottom drawer and combed his beard. He had not cut his beard in six months, because he wanted to grow a beard, because he hated how people still mistook him for a teenager, how people judged him with their eyes when he smoked cigarettes in bus stops, some even got to the point of saying: Ahan, Ma wo omo yi sha, on fa cigar ehn?
He went out to the kitchen and ate something from the pot. He drank water from the tap and went into the room.
He stood in front of the laptop again. He grazed the touchpad with his finger to wake the sleeping laptop and he went to the website and clicked Broadcast yourself.
This time he did shrink back but he didn’t close the site, he just admired how the room looked spotless. He chose a username: Kyleyeswhy, because Kyle Xy was his favorite TV show.
The text below his username said: For us to age verify your account so you can receive tokens, you and any other person who will appear on your cam must complete an age verification agreement.
He clicked the Tokens breakdown page and a list came on the screen:
100 tokens = $10.99
200 tokens = $20.99
500 tokens = $44.99
750 tokens = $62.99
1000 tokens = $79.99
In his mind, he calculated, $10.99=3000 naira. Not bad for the minimum baseline.
He was doing this for the tokens, was he not? For the money? But in some part of himself—that part that revealed him to himself—he thought he wanted to also do this because he would like it.
So, when he gave the site access to his camera and microphone, and the counter on the left side started to rise, he raised his eyebrows and waved at the camera, feeling stupid, yet excited. He thought he could feel something at the base of his chest, some sort of wobble.
1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 53—it went on increasing until it was finally 79.
ratface12: What’s he doing? Why is he not naked?
starsndbanners: Nigga dick!
justindon: Is that the new Paul Auster novel in the back?
roisinman: Do something man
Kayode waved at the camera and said, Yes that’s a Paul Auster, but it’s not a new one, here we don’t get new books early. Hey guys!
pleasecallmez: It talks!!
spicymeatballs: English motherfucker! You speak it?
justindon: What accent is that?
Kayode said, Nigerian, where are you guys from? I’m new to this so you might notice the outward face of confusion.
aquaman: The sea, jk. Australia
pleasecallmez: Do you have a mod? I can mod for you if you want.
So it began.
It came as a shock when Roland texted him one evening: I saw you online
My poems? *Kayode texted back. *What website is that? Rumpus accepted my new stuff so I don’t know maybe they’ve uploaded it.
No I saw you on this cam site
He was trying to decipher the message, wondering if this was real and not a dream, when Roland called. The ringtone, his favorite song, sounded jarring and stupid. He realized right there that he very much cared what Roland thought about him.
‘Yes, Hello,’ Kayode said.
‘You know now.’
‘How did you know?’
‘I was on the site, so…’
‘You were on Chaturbate?’
‘Oh, that’s how it’s pronounced? I was.’
‘What were you doing there?’
‘What people do when they go on there?’
‘What’s that?’ Kayode swallowed. ‘What’s that,’ he asked again.
‘See, why are you making this about me? Well, I was there cause that’s what I like, you know, I don’t like the lavish kind of porn where everything is gleaming and you kind of see how many takes they did to actualize that certain position. I like a certain realism, so cam I feel is a bit real. You know it’s live, so I was there and since you know I’m attracted to Africans, there was a hashtag there that said Nigerian and I was like that’s more real, a Nigerian person that’s camming. I feel I can imagine myself with her, you know, instead of a porn star, you know? So, I clicked it and different people came up. I was trying to decide who to click and who did I see, you, you there, you were wearing a shirt and nothing at all, my shirt, the one you wore and have not returned… and yeah…’
‘What did you see, how long?’
‘Quite a lot man.’
‘How do you feel about that?’
‘Well, you’re quite a maverick.’
‘Are you being sarcastic?’
‘No hmph, come on, you know I don’t mind, I’m just saying it was interesting. You had a thousand-plus people in there, even more than some rooms I visit, and you were funny and… many… things I didn’t know a… body could do, so.’
‘You don’t mind? You’re not disgusted?’
‘No, why would I be? If I was attracted to you I would have probably enjoyed it sexually and I hope you’re getting tokens! Cause there’s people like me on those sites, people that just go there to masturbate and watch everything for free without tipping the models.’
‘I get tokens.’
‘That’s good,’ Roland said.
‘It takes a while to enter my account, but yeah.’
‘Don’t tell her,’ Kayode said.
‘Don’t tell Yadichinma.’
‘I don’t know, I suppose I want to tell her myself or something, I don’t know man, just don’t tell her,’ Kayode said.
‘For what man?’ Roland said.
‘You know, not judging me.’
‘Stop that jor, why would I do that, that would be stupid.’
‘Okay, sha if you want to really thank me, you’ll treat me to something with your Chaturbate money, abi?’ Roland said.
‘Chaturbate money—sounds so weird when you say it.’
‘You’re weird, you know?’
‘In what way?’
‘With your porn tastes, I don’t know. It’s kind of weird now,’ Kayode said.
‘I just feel really connected to the kind of stuff I like. Like before I discovered places like Chaturbate, right? On Pornhub, I’d search Nigeria or Ghana in that white box and it just made me feel connected. Part of watching and masturbating is the act of creating a story in your head you know? Transporting, connecting yourself through the virtual space to the physical one, you know, so I click a result that the search brings up and in the background as the girl is rubbing herself or something, I hear a Wizkid song, that’s connection. Or maybe on the walls I see a calendar that has NNPC on it, connection. I can imagine myself there and then in the video, I can imagine what she would sound like to me, cause I can already hear her and because when a Nigerian person records a video or does porn, you know there’s no fancy equipment there that’s recording, it’s just as it is and it’s very stimulating to me, you know? That’s why I like the cam rooms I guess, the simplicity of it and the starkness, so I don’t… I really don’t think it’s weird. There’s this thing I want to say but I’m feeling weird about it.’
‘What’s that?’ Kayode said.
‘You know this girl in Lasu that we knew? Like I know I’m not supposed to be watching that shit, you know, it’s revenge porn, and I know it’s dehumanizing to the women, without them giving consent, and it’s all part of the hegemonic patriarchy but I don’t know. You know the girl I’m talking about, Anu?’ Roland said.
‘Oh yeah, the one with the lecturer, that had sex with the lecturer?’
‘Yeah, yeah, it made her famous and the lecturer leaked a video of it and people were sharing it around then. I still see her, you know, in the bus park or in the streets and I go home and there she is on Xnxx. And sometimes I click it and it really makes me feel guilty and I feel like I’m part of the oppressive system, I mean, I am part of the oppressive system, as a man, but I feel like I’m an active part of it, if you get what I mean.’
‘Then stop watching it.’
‘It’s easier said than done. It’s there and I’m seeing it and I click it and I’m seeing her face, I’m not even seeing the lecturer you know, I’m seeing her—and in a paradoxical way, it’s very exciting yet I’m also feeling guilty. That’s part of the reason why I looked for something else, like cam sites, because I know if I continue on Xnxx, I would click on that video. Why do you think writers masturbate so much? I read something online about a famous writer, I’ve forgotten his name but it was about masturbation and writing.’ Roland said.
‘I think it’s therapeutic,’ Kayode said.
‘Probably. I do it when I’m blocked, like I’m writing a story now ehn and like, I know what I want to write, but I can’t write, nothing’s coming. I hate being blocked.’
They talked long into the night, and Kayode thought the reason he’d told Roland not to tell Yadichinma was because he liked this—liked having a secret with Roland, a sexual secret. He liked that Roland had watched him and whatever Roland may have said, he told himself that Roland must have liked it, must have liked what he saw.
He went to the kitchen to drink water. He looked outside the window. The moon hung blue and big, like in Spielberg’s ET.
He stood near the entrance to his room. He could hear his neighbor’s dog barking, the sound mixing with the sound of his own generator. He thought he had read the article Roland was talking about, the one about masturbation. He thought: I can remember the writer’s name. He trailed his fingers across the panel of his room’s door.
‘It’s Mark Twain, I think,’ he said to Roland. ‘It’s Mark Twain.’