Confessions 1920 1440 Olajide A. Omojarabi

The fluorescent bulb blinks every second, and each time it flashes my mind races. Udemz comes from behind, a mind reader, and bends to meet my gaze in the mirror. He straightens my slumped shoulders and whispers into my ears what a husband would say when reassuring his wife of her beauty.

“Just press your lips together,” he says. “It spreads the red of the lipstick.”

Chike is by the window, catching winks of a receding sun, struggling to draw lines underneath his eyes with his eyeliner. He is facing the junior boys outside the window who are saying, “Sister Mary, you fine o. I swear, I fit marry you.”

We are boys playing flirtatious girls in a drama on Lit Day in our Catholic school. We had to get our costumes, the drama instructor, Mr. Iyere, had said, because this is a boys’ school, you know. Yesterday, I snuck into my sister’s portmanteau and shoe rack. Today, I am seated the way statues pose: hands clenched between my clasped knees, frozen by the sacred silence that will shroud the hall when our drama begins. 

Chike and Udemz are Catholic boys. Chike tells us that Mary was added to his name some years ago after joining the Confraternity of Mary at Our Lady of Fatima, Bamaina. Udemz wears a silver chain with tiny links under two rosaries. He fondles it when talking and singing. I am Muslim and the Hadeeth warns that it is haram for men to imitate women and women to imitate men with regard to clothing that is unique to one sex. Tomorrow, I will do penance when I follow Udemz to the Minor Seminary of St. John Vianney for confessions.

Chike’s eye lining extends to the outer corner of his eyes. I see this when he turns to me with smiling eyes that say, “How do I look?’ I notice the early shadows of mustache and the stipple of white and black pebbles that are his eyes. His nose bridge is thin and long. He looks like a preteen boy dressed as a girl. He and Udemz are wearing fringe wigs that remind me of Chinese girls.

My sister doesn’t wear wigs and my frail nerves wouldn’t let me take my mother’s. So, I tie my head with a thick scarf and curl what would have been its ponytails round its edges the way I’d seen my mother do it, making me look like her pictures from the 90s.

I had used my mother’s costume the first time I dressed as a girl, behind locked doors. I painted my face with her brown powder, hiding the early signs of puberty heralded by baby pimples. The red lipstick left a bland taste on my tongue. I tied my head the way it is tied today, catwalked as if on the runway, and blew kisses to the imaginary crowd on the left and right, all thundering into a round of applause.

Mr. Iyere towers into the backstage like a walking pole, shooing away the boys by the window. His forehead gleams with beads of sweat. He claps his hands for us to huddle, even though there are only four of us.

“See as all of una resemble women,” he says, smiling, “especially Udemz. Chai! Ok. So, have you all practiced your catwalks?” 

The three of us stole quick glances at each other, as if to mock the silliness of the question, before nodding.

“It’s almost our turn,” he says. The earth is beginning to shudder beneath my feet. I hold Udemz’s arm and it is as sturdy as a branch of an old tree. He is unfazed by the ugly words the other boys will hurl at us after the drama, unbothered by how his transition would incense his family into a rabid attack if they were in the audience. And I long for a slice of his radiance if it would give me a grace so comfortable it’d feel like my body. Under the strobing white light, his complexion glows as though he’d just shed a skin. His lips are the colours of pink petals. So, he had used lip gloss that smelt of mint and they are now like shiny shards of glass. His eyes are dark with clouds of promises that only Catholic boys could brew. He senses my fear and tells me to stay close to him on stage.

There is a Catholic school approximately ten miles from our school. Immaculate Girls, Zawang. The girls wear white pinafores on Wednesdays during confessions. Last week, the principal, Rev. Sister Patricia Pwajock, expelled three girls for sneaking candles into the dormitories. Nobody, it seems, cares about girls who walk like boys in the school, just as long as they aren’t carrying contraband. In our school, the way you walk gets more attention than the things you or others do to your body.

The morning Mr. Iyere came to select us for the drama, I fizzled with the blur of the day as the other boys rumbled into big, fat peals of laughter like children whose jibes were being validated by adults. Today is longer than yesterday but tomorrow will be shorter. Tomorrow, during my confession, I will tell the priest about my sin, despite the Hadeeth’s warning. The next day, I will keep my gait straight and walk past the swarm of boys in our school.

Header photograph © Elle Danbury.

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