This should not be happening to you, and for the most part it does not, but today it’s different; you are having a hard time figuring out what to get all clad in for the proposed rendezvous. The interesting part is, the time and place has not really been decided, and as a matter of fact, everything is pretty much in the “suggestion” phase, but you are more than slightly anxious, to put it mildly.

No, you are nervous, uneasy, unsure of meeting someone who has not confirmed his willingness to shed a few hours of his weekend with you, the weekend you have always declared sacrosanct because your line of work does not afford you too many hours to relax, the weekend that sometimes even gets snatched from you no thanks to those evil office mails, the weekend you are now eager to give up all so freely. The T-shirt now seems too loose, your favourite pair of sneakers now appear too old, and since when did you begin to care about that short-sleeved chequered shirt being too rumpled?

**********

It had all began when he stepped into the banking hall three weeks earlier, with the intention of making a huge cash withdrawal. While your job required a significant display of courtesy (and sometimes incessant smiles laden with plasticity), the transaction had absolutely nothing to do with you. No, you were no teller, you couldn’t have been drafted to work alongside those HND holders who handled cash they could not own, earned significantly less and whose discomfort was evident in their frequent frowns. You were a customer service officer, never mind that your university degree was not remotely connected to any of the management sciences. You were tired of switching from one low-paying job after another anyways, and your parents had complained about your corporate instability, so you had clinched this one, absorbing all the pressure and demands and querying mails and verbal abuse from superiors and yelling from irate (and sometimes ignorant) customers, at least until Fate smiled widely enough to land the sort of gig and salary you felt your excellent university grades deserved.

His eyes came in contact with yours, and you would never know what prompted you to say that, but you found yourself blurting out:

“Hey sir, I think I like your beard”.

He grinned in a bid to suppress an embarrassed smile, and he thanked you, but not without adding the fact that his mother hated the semi-fullness of the beard and often asked that he shave the damn thing off. You were tempted to say “awww…..Mommy’s boy”, but you knew that such would sound so awkward coming from you, and besides, you did not want to get too informal with a customer who did not approach you directly in the first place, so the conversation switched to how ladies loved members of the beard gang, and how Nature could only afford you a moustache.

He left the hall minutes later, but as you sorted the transaction tickets on your table, you kept wondering what led you to resort to that kind of compliment. Even more, you quizzed yourself as to why you noticed the fact that the beard was dark and seemed well-oiled, that he smelt so good in spite of showing up around noon with the sun blazing outside, that the darkness of his skin seemed to blend perfectly with the light blue collar T-shirt he wore on that day. You were not supposed to notice these things, no, you were a man, a tall, broad-shouldered one at that, with a pile of broken hearts in your wake, and ladies lurking in your Facebook inbox and Twitter DM. You had no business “checking another nigger out”!

You treated yourself to a long, meditative bath when you got back home, forgot all about it and became a regular, working-class, straight Nigerian male again….but the man with the polished beard showed up the following week, and this time he made way straight to your table; he wanted to clear a cheque from another bank, and you stamped his deposit slip, informing him that he would get value on the next working day. You stealthily stared at his beard, and he seemed to notice. He also noticed that “I don’t know if i should, but I’d love to have a conversation” look in your eyes, and decided to inquire about securing huge bank loans.

You explained the process to him, and from there he began to ask you how you ended up in the banking industry, commending your warm disposition. You regaled him with your sorry tales of long unemployment stints, and he in turn told you that things would be fine. All at once, his foreign accent made an impression on your ears. No, not the “I just got back” or “Dubai vacation” varieties, his was actually genuine and unforced, to you at least. By then, the conversation had evolved to his long stay in the States, his attempt to stamp his foot in the nation’s volatile oil sector amidst a platinum spoon, his search for a lady to share his last name with, and his mother’s influence on his life. You had listened with rapt attention, chipping in the occasional “you will cope”, and when he went all emotional with an ill-fated long distance relationship with some Amaka, you played Barnabas, dropping the “there are still good girls out there” line. Work was relatively light at your desk that day, so you obliged him as he poured out his soul, but when the teller from another desk began to gaze curiously, you switched back to professional mode, causing him to drop his complimentary card with you.

Not wanting to appear too eager, you waited until the weekend to put a call across to Iyke – yea, that was his name, as deduced from the card. He sounded rather stoned when he answered the phone, coughing violently too, and you apologised for “distracting him”, promising to dial him up some other time, to which he replied with a promise of his own, to call you up for a rendezvous the following weekend.

You felt a bit worried by the way he had sounded on the phone, hoping that he did not choke himself….and then you wondered why you expressed so much concern for him the way you did. According to Section 16 subsection 5 of the Universal Guy Code, no male was allowed to be so warm, so endearing, so affectionately thoughtful of a fellow male. It was awkward, it was forbidden, it suggested wrong mental wiring. For a few moments, you felt like a lady smothering a guy she fancied with the “have you eaten?” question.

You began to wonder if somewhere in the inner recesses of your mental space, you did not harbour a teeny tiny bit of emotional attraction to your own gender. Maybe that was why you did not react so violently when years earlier in your undergraduate days, your butt was grabbed while you were ironing your clothes by that slender Anambra man who lived next door on the top floor of the stinkhouse you called a hostel. Maybe that was why when, earlier in the year, you did not scream when a soldier giving you a lift on a rainy Saturday night tried to caress your thighs on two occasions (good thing the pair of jeans was thick enough); you probably liked it, which was why all you did was push his right hand away. The other day you had to apologise to Linda, a curious Twitter follower who chose to pay you a visit, for driving too fast and too furious in and out of her nether regions, but you did not tell her that you navigated the cave the way you did in a bid to achieve some “mental purging”, to reassure yourself that you still played for the right team, to clear any self-doubts about your preferences……

But did it matter, really? Why did men have to be non-expressive with their emotions? From being unable to tell their fathers how they loved them over the phone, to adding the “no homo” suffix whenever they dared to say they loved a male friend, society mandated your gender to hold it all in, to be insensitive to be soulless. What was it to anyone, if the feelings actually crept it? Couldn’t people smile to sleep with the thoughts of whoever got them all warm and fuzzy inside, never mind that they shared the same genitalia?

**********

“Jesus! What the….?”

You wake up from a power nap, your face betraying a feeling of horror. In the mid-morning dream you just had, you saw yourself stroking Iyke’s beard with your right palm, then kissing him passionately while expertly unbuttoning his tight-fitting blue shirt with the thumb and index finger of your left hand, with his hands working on your belt and then your zipper. You cross yourself four times, head to the restroom and insert your fingers into your throat, causing you to puke.

Three hours pass, and Iyke’s call hasn’t come in. You are glad he hasn’t dialled you up, as you are not too sure of who you really are at the moment, but somewhere within you there is still the desire to have that phone ring; the thrill that comes with encountering something different cannot be denied. Noon fades away slowly without a word from Iyke, you chuckle and conclude that it was all in your head, you change into a t-shirt and a pair of shorts, and head for the door, eager to relive another sado-masochistic experience of watching your favourite team fail to win a football match in spite of its expensive ensemble of players……

And then the phone rings.

It’s Iyke.

You nod along as the ringtone plays out, but by the time you are ready to press the green button, a missed call is recorded.

Your abdomen is home to an army of butterflies.

You exhale and sink into your mattress.