The Last Pill
It lay in her palm, as innocent as a piece of communion bread. She had discovered it minutes ago in a transparent brown medicine container. It stood out, surrounded by other multicolored multivitamin capsules and pink allergy tablets. She should not have looked, but thirty minutes was a long time to wait for someone, and she had nothing else to do.
“Wait for me in the apartment,” Oche had said over the telephone. “The gate man will let you in. He has a spare key. I will only be thirty minutes.”
Thirty minutes. She was used to waiting for him, but not like this. The first time she had waited was at his work place. He owned an upmarket French bistro in the savvy commercial district of the island suburb. He invited her not long after they started having sex. The gesture had surprised her.
- Jude Dibia
- Jude Dibia is a Nigerian author and human rights activist. In 2005 he published his debut novel, Walking with Shadows, recognized as the first Nigerian book with a gay protagonist. Since homosexuality is a taboo subject in Nigeria, bookstores refused to stock Walking with Shadows until they were swayed by popular demand. Dibia’s subsequent novels have twice been shortlisted for the Nigeria Literature Prize, and he is the recipient of the Ken Saro Wiwa Prose Prize. In 2014, the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act was instated, criminalizing homosexual relationships. Due to the increasingly threatening environment, Jude Dibia left Nigeria. He is the current ICORN writer-in-residence of the Malmö City of Refuge in Sweden.
She met him online, in one of those cyber chat rooms that allowed single, desperate people the luxury of reinventing themselves to be the “perfect” man or woman. Bald-headed forty year olds with drooping beer guts and halitosis transformed into six-foot, broad-shouldered twenty-somethings whose sweet talk could charm the pants off a nun. Overweight aunties with bad hair and squints suddenly became size fours with luscious bangs and hazel eyes. These age defying makeovers were achieved without the aid and financial burden of cosmetic surgery. A few taps on a computer keypad created an attractive profile. Matching this profile with equally deceptive pictures–either taken years ago, when they were either slimmer, or stolen from an obscure Internet site–was all it took.
WBM. That was his profile name. There had been no picture. Yet she was attracted to it. His profile had stated he was a Working Black Man (WBM); he was forty-one, single and was not looking for a long-term relationship. Short, simple, and as far as she could tell, honest. It was the kind of honesty that appealed to her. She had met many frogs disguised as princes since she first ventured online. She had learned that one thing connected these men: their lies.
She had been equally honest and to the point. She used only initials as well; ST. Southern Trees she told him after he responded to her message, explaining that she chose it because they bore strange fruits; she had been pleasantly shocked when he made the connection to the Billie Holiday song. She stated her real age as well, thirty-two and wasted no time trying to describe how she looked. She was hoping to make a connection, no matter how brief as long as it was real. She wondered about that, about how real any of this was!
It took them a month before they met each other physically. They had chatted online almost daily, each message they exchanged uncovering a new layer of their hidden identity; nothing specific like names or occupation, just traces of their human texture; traces of the personalities that hid behind the ambiguous initials, protected by the anonymity of cyber wavelengths.
He had initiated the meeting. He chose to meet her at her office. This was neutral ground, she felt. However, a part of her knew that it was his way of verifying that she indeed had a career and could take care of herself. This did not worry her. She worried instead that he would not find her attractive. Even after they exchanged telephone numbers so they could have actual conversation and assess how sophisticated the other sounded, they never discussed their appearances. He told her his name and she told him hers. She had been happy with his voice and guessed that no one with a voice like that could be unattractive.
She guessed he would come that Monday morning and had taken time to choose the outfit she would wear to work. She picked the one that most flattered her curves. When the receptionist called her extension and told her she had a visitor, her heartbeat gave her a mild headache. He sat alone in one of the couches in the waiting room. When she saw him, she could not believe her eyes. He was stunning. He had a touch of grey in his hair but had the youthful body of an athlete, the type of man you saw wearing dazzling suits in fashion magazines or strutting down a fashion runway. Why would a man like him look for a companion on the Internet? Men like him were not for women like her!
She did not expect him to call her back after their meeting. She would not have hated him if he hadn’t. But he did. He called her that night and they spoke for fifty-three minutes. She had checked the call log after he hung up. A week later, he picked her up from work and took her to his home. Like him, his apartment was perfect—polished wooden floors, imported furniture arranged like obedient children on display by proud parents.
They made love that night. He had insisted that they use protection. She was glad he was the one who suggested it. She doubted she would have had the strength of will to refuse him if he had wanted unprotected sex. They made love all through the night and most of the next morning. Each time, he carefully tore open a sealed condom and sheathed his penis. Each time, she was grateful for his love, for his attention. Because it made her feel wanted, less conscious of the reality of her fears; that after all someone could accept her just the way she was, without trying to probe deeper.
Apart from that one long phone call, he was not a big talker. He said little when they were together. He would pick her from work most Fridays and they would spend that night and most of Saturday morning making love. He promised her nothing. She asked for nothing in return.
But she had questions. Questions she needed answers to: what did he do for a living? Why was he so secretive about his past and his family? How come he was not married?
“You know what I do,” she said one Friday. “You know where I work, but I don’t know what you do?”
That was when he told her about the bistro and invited her over. She came one evening not knowing what to expect, but not anticipating sitting alone for over an hour waiting for him. He barely acknowledged her when she arrived and treated her with the same civility reserved for customers. He called her “madam” as she was seated and asked her if her order had been taken. She played along. He probably didn’t want his staff to know that he was sleeping with her. She endured the length of time as she sipped her drink for an hour and waited. He only sat with her after the last customer had left.
“This is what I do,” he said. “Always busy. No time to sit until everyone is satisfied.”
He never apologized. It was the same the other times she came. He left her alone until his staff started locking up. She did not want to complain. She did not want him to choose between her and his business. She feared she would lose. And she was grateful for his love. She would be patient. But even patience has its limits.
One night she waited for two hours; waited as she watched him cavort with different customers, attending to some personally and even sitting with one or two for long minutes chatting. Their eyes met a couple of times, but he always looked away. That was her limit. She did not wait for him to come to her. Instead, she got up and left.
“Why did you go?” he asked her over the phone later that night.
“I got tired of waiting for you,” she said. “You treat me like I don’t exist when I am there. I don’t like waiting.”
“I’m sorry.” He said. It was the first apology he had offered her. “We will only meet in my apartment from now on.”
She did not mind this. They had yet to define what they had. Where they a couple, or just sleeping together? They made no promises to each other and he always maintained that he was not looking for a long-term relationship. She was simply grateful for his love.
This was the first time she would wait for him in his apartment, alone. He did not like television, so his apartment did not have a TV set. She could have sat and waited like she always did at the bistro. She could have listened to his CD collection like she always did when they were together, making love to the sweet crooning of Luther Vandross. She could have done all those things, she supposed, but she did not. She still had unanswered questions.
She knew he took pills. He had explained he had allergies. Some nights when it was really bad he would sneeze and make awful sounds at the back of his throat, even when they slept. Those nights, she would lie awake and feign sleep because she was grateful for his love.
The medicine case sat on the dining table, partially concealed by an old newspaper. It was odd because she knew he was always too careful, too organized. Nothing was ever out of place in his perfect home. She emptied the contents onto her left palm. Several tablets dropped into it. She put the multivitamins back into the container. She picked out a tiny round allergy pill and placed it back in the container as well. The last pill was all that was left in her palm, the inscription on it as discernible as the markings on her palm—ARVED.
She heard the door open and smelled his cologne as soon as he entered. She turned round and her perfect man was standing by the door, smiling his gentle smile.
“I’m sorry I kept you waiting,” he said.
She stretched out her open palm to him, showing him the pill. His eyes moved to her hand and then back to her face in a motion that was as enduring as her waiting.
“I…I have allergies,” he said. “I can explain….”
She looked at him in sudden understanding. All her questions were finally answered. She saw that he was as afraid as her. That yes, he could love her.
“You don’t have to,” she said, wiping the tears from her eyes. “I take these too, every day.”