by Audrey Obuobisa-Darko
A faint wisp of smoke escapes the corners of my lips, a heavenly marriage of scents between peppermint, dried rose petals, and cannabis. My eyes are red, but it’s not from the weed. A shrill notification from my phone cuts through the dulcet melody of sea waves ebbing shy of my feet.
“I thought I blocked you here too,” I mutter.
New Telegram message from Jo.
Aaliyah I’m sorry. Oh, God. What can I say to make you believe me? It meant nothing. I was drunk. It meant nothing. Please pick up my calls Aaliyah. Aaliyah I love you. Please.
A new film of tears burns my eyes and I blink them away. Grief spreads throughout my body, tearing at my insides for a means to break free. I have no more tears left to cry, so it takes the form of a scream that shatters my chest. The sea shouts back with a sudden crash of her waves on my legs. I nod in understanding, and return to smoking my blunt.
What stage of grief is it, when your thoughts shake you awake, at 2:20 a.m.? What stage of grief is it, when you sit on the edge of your bed and stare into the darkness of night, your eyes searching, searching for nothing, at 2:24 a.m.? What stage of grief is it, when a random stranger online texts you and says “I like you, show me your pussy,” and you strip off your clothes and show her all you are, at 2:32 a.m.?
“Come see me tomorrow, Aaliyah,” the stranger says. “GA-000-288. Liberation Road.”
“The Jubilee House?”
“11 p.m. Wear something official.”
What stage of grief is it, when you lie to your parents about a Pentecostal all-night service the next day, scratch up the last of your cedis for an Uber, your strap-on tucked between your thighs on the way to the President’s residence, at 10:43 p.m.?
The night is biting cold. I shiver, despite my oversized trousers, long-sleeved button-up shirt, and a spandex binder underneath. My chest tightens as the Golden Jubilee House comes into view. It’s an unbelievable edifice this up close, having undergone several reconstructions worth money the average Ghanaian will never see in their lifetime. The palace is architected after the Akan golden stool, Sika Dwa Kofi, so they can sit atop our heads, or so we can kiss their asses, or some other fucking symbolism like that. Its aureate glow renders everything around it – the entire country, really – dim and desolate.
A convoy of black V8s is lined up behind the gate. A tall, full-figured woman steps out of the car in the middle, her suit stark white against the night. She takes a few steps towards me with three policewomen close marking her. The monumental gates draw open and I walk in, feet laden with anxiety, until my face is an unholy distance from her breasts. I lift my eyes slowly to meet hers.
“Yahkol.” Her voice is alluring, her extended hand even more so. A ravaging hunger besieges my body, to consume wholly, devour, but also to release- an agonising outpouring of self. It has become my principal vice since Jo. Since Jo. I fucking miss Jo.
I offer a clammy hand in return, which she gently takes in hers, leading me to the car. The fleet moves slowly through the driveway towards the presidential building. All is a blur once we walk through the door. Two policewomen march briskly towards us. A quick handshake here, a swift signing of some paper I can barely read, and we’re escorted down an endless hallway, past offices, boardrooms, libraries, parlors, rooms and rooms and rooms. The air is busy, even at such an odd time of day, several sharply-dressed people wearing grave faces walking to god-knows-where to do god-knows-what. We’re ushered into what seems like a secret office. Shortly, Yahkol and I are left alone.
Hers is a large, nondescript office with generic paintings dotting the walls. A silver nameplate labelled ‘Yahkol Issah – Recruiter,’ sits on the desk. My eyes scan the commonplace details of the space, and finally, land on her.
I clear my throat. “So… are you going to tell me what’s going on now or what? Why are we in the fucking Jubilee House?”
A smile forms on her face, coquettish. “Quite the biter, aren’t you?”
“You said we’re meeting to fuck.” I run my hand instinctively over the bulge on my crotch. The pent-up tension since last night has me on the brink of exploding. She notices it and laughs, a deep rumble in her throat that tips me over.
I sigh. “I don’t mean to sound so brash. I’m just full of so much angst, that’s all.”
Yahkol nods and steps closer, pushes a slender, manicured nail into my shoulder, edging my back towards the wall. With her other hand, eyes never leaving mine, she slowly unbuttons her blazer. There is nothing underneath. She grabs my hand and runs it over her breasts, across her hardened, pierced nipples, down her stomach, to her zipper. The hankering within me widens, black hole consuming, consuming. I close my eyes and breathe deeply to slow my thumping heart.
She backs away before I can unzip it. “This is not why I called you here, Aaliyah.”
God, this a fucking joke?
She catwalks to the desk and takes off her trousers. There is nothing underneath. Beholding her bare body, my mouth turns dry, thirsty, silicone balls blue against my groyne. She picks out lipstick red lingerie from a drawer and puts it on. It matches the underside of her sleek Louboutins. She pushes the large table aside to reveal a small trapdoor on the floor. Flashing lights and loud music rush out when she opens it, like the ground has been holding its breath all night. A flight of stairs leads a long way down, its bottom nowhere in sight.
My heart crawls up to my throat, pounding, pounding. What the fuck is going on? “So… maybe I should go-”
“Go down, Aaliyah.” Yahkol places a firm hand on the small of my back and pushes me, following closely behind, pulling the trapdoor closed.
Here, in this place, you’ll see all the worldly pleasures they warn you about, in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over. The hall unfolds itself before us, rife with a multitude of bodies. The bodies communicate with one another, in languages that put words to shame. These are faces I have seen before, on my television screen, in the papers, online, condemning the very existence of people like me. Yet here they are, those faces, attached to bodies loving and being loved on by the condemned.
Stretching down the hallway on my left are open booths separated by thin walls. Yahkol holds my hand as we walk past them. In the first booth, a short, pudgy man is shackled high up by his ankles and wrists, bare-buttocked against the wall. Two young, muscular men flank him, a black dragon tail whip in one’s hand, the other with a calabash of hot wax. The second booth is deluged with moaning. A woman is seated on a low stool, her head thrown back, another woman’s head between her thighs. Behind them, an Anglican cassock hangs by its stiff white collar. The third booth is a massage room, the fourth a haven of glory holes, the fifth a dark cubicle, people doing white lines on a spanking bench, the sixth a narrow room with a high stool, which Yahkol pushes me into, drawing the curtain behind her.
My voice finally finds me. “What the fuck is this?” I run my hands through my hair and over my face. I’m sweating heavily, despite the freezing air in the dungeon. “What on earth is going on, Yahkol?”
She ignores me and begins to strip. It’s the first time tonight I fully consider her. She could be thirty, thirty-four maybe. A thin tribal mark adorns her right cheekbone. Her eyes are oddly small, intense nonetheless. A long, wiry tattoo snakes from her right hip down to her ankle. She runs a finger lightly across my lips, then turns her back to me and bends over.
I grab her waist impulsively, then I push her away, blinking my sensibilities back. “Tell me what the fuck is going on, Yahkol. What is this place? Who are you really?”
She rolls her eyes and sighs. “I run this place.” She notices my face fold into itself, and lets out a cynical laugh. “Don’t tell me this shocks you.”
I throw my arms up in the air. “Oh, sorry o, please explain to me like I’m fucking two years old, which part of being in a fucking homosexual dungeon, with a fucking stranger, underneath my fucking president’s House, with my fucking ministers’ genitals in my face, isn’t fucking shocking.” I’m out of breath, panting as I watch her, chest rising with my temper.
It’s her turn to get angry. “Were you not the one texting me, begging for something ‘wild and different’?” She draws inverted commas in the air with her long nails.
My eyes widen. “This? I did not ask for this? This?” I point my finger behind me. “We are out there getting killed every motherfucking day, and y’all are here doing this? This?” Jesus fucking Christ.
“I’m sorry, this is all wrong.” I shake my head frantically, hoping that just maybe, I’d be shaking myself awake from a dream. “You have the wrong person. I’m sorry. I’m leaving.” My rubber dick slaps my thigh sharply as I turn to leave. I wince, more from shame than from the sting on my skin.
Yahkol places a tender hand on my shoulder, and presses something cold and metallic into my neck. “Who said anything about leaving?” she whispers softly into my ear. “We’ve barely started what you came here for.”
My feet melt into the floor. She drags me back by my hair, cocks the gun, and points it below my waist. “Take off your trousers.”
My trembling hands fumble at my zipper. She clears her throat impatiently. My trousers fall weakly at my feet. A smile spreads across her face, the same coy smile from before, but this time, it does not beguile me. She goes down on her knees and beckons me forward. Pressing the weapon into my abdomen, she grabs the harness of my strap-on tight and spits on the dildo. Her smile grows wider, the glint in her eyes along with it. She spreads the wetness along the shaft with her free hand, and then takes it into her mouth.
“Yahkol please- Please don’t do this.”
She looks up at me, giggling mouthful, uncocks the gun, and cocks it again. A satisfied look on her face, she stands up. “Put your legs close together, Aaliyah,” she seems to say, but I barely hear her over my heartbeat breaking my body apart.
That’s when she strikes my head with the grip of the gun. “Legs together!”
My eyes roll back and do not return. A dull pain radiates through my head, down my spine. The room grows dark, her figure an apparition of colours blurred together. I wish to move, but my body no longer knows my will. My consciousness drifts farther, but I feel her straddle me, I hear the afterglow of soft moans, I taste blood, I smell the musk of a pleasured body, I see a flash of white light as something strikes my head again, and then, I sense nothing.
“She don wake! She don wake!”
A million eyes stare keenly into mine when I open them. I scream and jerk myself off the dusty ground. I’m in the middle of a lonely, untarred road. A crowd surrounds me, whispering, laughing, frowning, pointing, taking pictures. I look down to see my dildo hanging out of my trousers, and then, I remember.
Oh, my fucking god.
“Yoo-nuu!” a woman says. She steps forward and spits on my face. Her action stirs up the crowd, and they begin to shout, hooting, clapping their hands, hurling insults, threatening me. My body remains riveted to the ground.
A police van pulls up at the scene. Two men step out and shove me roughly into the back. There’s a woman in the front passenger seat. Yahkol.
“Good morning, Aaliyah.” That smile again. Those eyes again, full of evil, and evil, and evil.
Memories from the night before flicker before my eyes in a dizzying fashion. I vomit into the policeman’s lap. The van stops in front of a private hospital. Yahkol talks in low undertones to a doctor and two nurses. They carry my beaten-up body on a stretcher just as Yahkol presses a note into my hand. The small paper is branded with the Coat of Arms and a stamp.
Don’t bother telling anyone, love. We have your signature, remember? So you owe us your silence. We know your every move. Besides, you know how easily we can waste you miserable homosexuals. See you again soon. – Yahkol.
I chew the note and spit it at the doctor.
What stage of grief is it, when Jo shows up at your hospital ward, and you forget all your denial, your rage, your bargaining, your sadness, and you cry, and cry, and cry into her arms as she whispers, “I’m sorry, Aaliyah, I’m sorry.”?