The sun was up but heatless in the sky. The breeze that blew through the windows was laced with the faint remains of rain from the previous night. It was a lovely day; the world stretched before us in shameless beauty. At the time, we thought that the splendidness of the morning must have contributed something to the strange boy’s high spirits. When we heard him singing in the bathroom, his voice rising like the steam of his bathing water to reach us in our beds, we remarked how strange it was. We knew it was his voice because six months had passed since he started living in this apartment building, and we had become familiar with its grating edges from laughter and loud conversations.
“Isn’t that the strange boy?” we whispered to our spouses, turning in bed and arching our necks to get a better listen. “Singing in the bathroom, how strange.”
“The strange boy is known to do strange things,” our sleepy spouses replied.
“It must be the weather,” we said then, “look how beautiful the sky is. What a day!”
Later, we were hanging about the building when he stepped out of his apartment, astride his bike and zoomed off, his black backpack a dark spot fading slowly away on the horizon. It was the weekend, and there was not much to do but loll about. Before he rode away, the strange boy greeted us with a bright grin and an enthusiastic “Have a lovely day!”
Have a lovely day? Tch, that was why we called him the strange boy! He did strange things like that, had these strange ways too, under that facade of brawn. Always rolling his eyes, fluttering his hands. It was subtle, but we picked it. Sometimes he wore really short shorts that showed the skin of his slender thighs and flitted about the neighbourhood making deliveries. One time he turned up with a dangling pearl earring in his left ear. Suddenly. The same way he turned up on that first day with his backpack and that mess of hair, and became a recurrent face in the building. Recurrent but nameless. By the time we finally learned his name, we had already taken to calling him the strange boy, and it was so fitting we could not think of a reason to stop.
It was easy to figure him out. Simply by watching him, observing his manners, overhearing his conversations, we put together that he was from Lagos, raised in a wealthy family but did not appear to have any relationship with them anymore. We didn’t know the details of his life or what he did before he came to live here, but we knew about his business which he did underground with the students from the campus in the neighbourhood.
We were still lolling about when he returned in the late afternoon. The clouds had replaced the sun in the sky, and the air still smelled wet, so we felt lucky not to have done laundry that day, since rain was coming again. We went in then, finally, and closed our windows in preparation for it. But the strange boy merely drew his curtains, then started playing his music on his loudspeakers. His songs drifted through the thin walls and set the rhythm for the evening.
That was the last we saw of him that day. It was the other boy, the new one, that told the rest of it later:
The new boy knocked on the strange boy’s door sometime around early evening and asked to buy a bag. The strange boy was in the middle of crushing. He let him in with a smile and shut the door behind them.
“I’m just crushing,” he said, “but I’ll soon be done; you can hang around,” sweeping his hand across the room.
The new boy said okay and perched himself delicately on the strange boy’s bed. He watched as his host went to work at his desk, humming along to the music playing from the speakers.
“So did you have a lovely day?” the strange boy asked cheerfully after a while.
The new boy took a moment to think before he answered. “There wasn’t much of a choice. A day as beautiful as this could hardly go wrong.”
The strange boy’s interest was piqued, “You are the new boy everyone has been talking about, aren’t you?”
“Hopefully, not as much as they’ve been talking about you.”
The strange boy smiled in quiet pleasure. Later, when he was done crushing and had filled a bag, he said to the other boy, “You know what, it’s my birthday, and I’m in a good mood. I’ll give you this bag for free, but only if you stay and tell me what they’ve been saying about me. We can smoke the rest”—he nodded at the small pile on his desk—“while we talk.”
His guest smiled. “I wish I could, but I have other plans.”
“Ugh, if you had much of a plan except to smoke sad and alone in your room, you wouldn’t have agreed to wait for me to finish crushing. Come on. You crashed my private party, so you owe me this.”
The new boy chuckled and shook his head. “Okay,” he said, “I’ll stay. But you’ll have to cook something. There’s no party without food.”
“Deal. I’ll get to rolling.”
He grabbed his backpack from the bed, and out came a lighter and a rizla pack. He set himself on the bed beside the new boy, so close they could smell the sweat off each other, and started rolling. The boy watched him in silence. He poured the thing into the cusp of his left palm, then, closing his palm on it, retrieved the sheet of rizla already lodged between his compressed lips. Brushed this down repeatedly between the thumbs and forefingers of both hands, ironing it out before finally cupping it in the free palm and emptying the other one in it. That was his last explicable act. After that, he devolved into the tortuous finger dance that had always dazed the boy.
“Do you know how to roll? the strange boy asked him, licking the sticky side.”
“You don’t exactly look like the stone head type, with your glasses and all.”
“Well, you don’t exactly look like a kush plug either, with your perfect English and all.”
“I’m not just a kush plug, I’m a drug dealer. I don’t afford my luxury lifestyle,” he swept his hand across his room again, “by selling just kush.”
The new boy followed his gesture: a fairly large space, the bed, a little drawer by its side, by that a black 25-litre keg. In one corner, a small travelling bag, in another, the desk. Spare and neat.
“Whatever,” he said.
“So, how do you do it? Cook with it, I imagine.”
“My roommate. She rolls.”
The strange boy finished rolling the joint. He passed it to the new boy who promptly lit it and took two drags before passing it back to his host who had begun to roll another one.
“You know, there is an unspoken rule amongst kush smokers: whoever rolls the joint gets the first drag,” the strange boy said.
“Oh. I didn’t know that.”
“Wow, shocker!” he laughed.
The new boy rolled his eyes.
“Anyway, I let you have the first drag.”
“It was just a nice thing to do. It’s my birthday so I’m in a good mood. You know?”
The strange boy passed the joint back to him.
“So when did you move in?”
“About two weeks ago.”
“Ah, that’s enough time to have picked up some rumours about me. Tell me, what are they saying out there?”
“You don’t seem like someone who cares.”
“I don’t care.” The new boy rolled his eyes, and the strange boy chuckled. “I’m just vaguely curious.”
“They say your parents are rich and you probably ran away from home because you’re gay. That’s what I’m able to put together, at least.”
The strange boy laughed again.
They smoked the rest of the joint in silence.
He lit the second joint. “Well, is that it? Is that all they say?”
“Do you know that they call you ‘the strange boy’?”
The new boy chuckled.
The two boys took a few more drags of this second joint before the strange one decided it was time to cook. From the floor beside the bed came a carton and a small gas cooker he lit with the lighter. Then he searched under the bed for the pot and pan, after which he reached again beside the bed for a half tuber of yam. This he cut up promptly and cooked on the gas with water from the black keg. From the carton came eggs and a few frying things. They ate together, listening to the songs playing from the speakers. Along the line, it started to rain. Light and tender. They ignored it, left the window open to enjoy the breeze. The strange boy had this incredible look on his face, like he was in perfect bliss. His eyes were half-open, and a smile played on his lips.
“You know, this is like the best moment ever,” he said. “You, the rain, the music, the kush. Best moment ever.”
“Yeah,” the new boy said.
“Would it be weird,” the strange boy asked, “if I kissed you right now? I mean, you’re not like homophobic or anything, right?”
“No, I’m not homophobic.”
“Great. Would it be weird if I kissed you?”
“I don’t know. Do you want to kiss me?”
“Yeah. I mean, I feel like we’re having a moment.”
The new boy reached for the joint again. He lit it with the accompaniment of the thunder, took a long drag and exhaled slowly. He shook the ash into the empty plates.
“I’m seeing someone,” he said.
“Oh. Cool cool.”
After that, the new boy connected the loudspeakers to his phone and played his own music. The strange boy let him. He still had that look of bliss on his face.
The new boy smoked the rest of the joint alone, his host falling into half-sleep. When he was done, the strange boy asked, “Should I roll another one?”
The new boy nodded.
“Are they right? Is it because your parents knew?” he asked.
“My mum knew. But that’s not why. She’s just a shitty parent.”
“What did you do after you left?”
“Crashed with friends for a while. It’s always good to have friends in the school area. We used to have these kush hangouts, smoke till you’re knocked out, wake up and continue that stuff. Did that for a while. It was wild.”
He felt around for the lighter. The new boy passed it to him. He lit the new joint. After a few drags, he shook his head and said, “Wild, I swear. Like, you get completely baked. One time, a friend of mine got so high he started introducing himself to us”—laughing—“as like, Hiii, my name is Ali. It’s so nice to meet you. Can you believe that?” Laughing again.
The new boy smiled at his host’s pleasure in telling this story.
“He was our friend, but he was introducing himself to us!”
The strange boy told the new boy more stories, snatches, basically, of his lives, ending with the story of his X, who called him a butterfly and whom he had lived with for a while before moving into this apartment building.
At the end, he erupted in laughter and smoky coughs, tapping his chest repeatedly with his palm. He said, “That went in the wrong way,” as he passed the joint to the new boy.
“Pele,” the new boy said softly, somberly.
They were silent for a while; the rain continued to do its thing outside, pattering about. The strange boy went back into his half-asleep state, a blissful smile on his lips and his eyes playing around under their lids, and the new boy watched him in silence.
Finally, he said, “The food was really good, by the way. Thank you.”
“The first proper meal I ate in a while.”
“Ugh, I can’t cook. I mostly just eat junk.”
“That’s crazy,” the strange boy said, “my mum taught me how to cook.”
They continued to make small talk like that until the strange boy took one long last drag that ended the joint. Then they talked without smoking, the strange boy looking sad even as he smiled.
When the rain had considerably lightened, the new boy looked at his phone, then put his free bag of marijuana in his pocket, thanked his host and said he had to go. They walked together to the door. It was close to midnight. Before the strange boy closed the door on himself, he said, “Thanks. This was really nice.”
That was the last the new boy heard of him that day.
The rain fell light and tender through the night. At some point after midnight, it picked up vigour and began to pour with a new ambition. It roared, waking us from sleep, slamming our windows in our faces. Later, we thought that must have been God trying to scrub His crime scene clean. The next morning, the compound of the apartment building was flooded over; by noon, most of the water had dried up or receded, leaving behind all the dirt it had brought in. The compound was a mess. Busy with cleaning, we did not stop to think about the strange boy or his weird ways all day. In fact, it was not until afternoon when his good friend came with flowers (although we had never seen him before, we thought that the flower-bearing boy, who paused to ask for directions to the strange boy’s apartment and called him his name in full, had to be his good friend) and knocked on his door and, hearing no response but seeing the lights on inside the apartment, and the windows open, continued to knock, drawing our attention, that we remembered that we had not seen the strange boy all day, or heard his music. That was strange indeed.
We found him dead on the floor beside his bed. A true shock. Filled himself with so much synthetic joy it leaked from every opening in his body and messed up the floor. Some of his friends and the customers he had seen the previous day, when they heard later, admitted that they had guessed it, that he had been unusually chatty, seemed so happy, but then the pull of fantasy had been stronger, and even they had put it down in the end to the day which had broken with such exquisite beauty anyone could be fooled. Was all ready to be fooled. Which was what really broke our hearts, that the strange boy’s high spirits had nothing, in the end, to do with the loveliness of the day, yes, but also that such loveliness of day, such beauty, such magic, could portend such devastation, be so deceptive.
The new boy accused the flower-bearing boy of murder and caused a messy scene. After that, he went about in rage and self-absorbed gloom until finally, he moved out of the apartment building. We, too, remained sad for a long time, surprised to find that we missed the strange boy and his weird ways, but now it’s better. Even though it has grown quiet here, no more of the strange boy’s music or loud conversations with friends. So quiet we have begun to hear the snore in our spouses’ sleep. And we lay awake trying to listen to it, through it, for something.
Ìjàpá O is a gender queer essayist, fiction writer, and performance artist working out of Ibadan, Nigeria. They are interested in the realities of the conditions of youth and queerness in a hateful world, as well as in the tensions that occur between the young and the old. They are a preacher of Love.