Went to have my hair cut on New Year’s Eve by my regular barber. His name is Emenike. Good looking, average height, well-groomed beard, with a lean physique you get from hard labour – he hardly has any fat on him. Naturally, I have checked out his butt and he has absolutely nothing to be ashamed about.
When I go to see him, I tell him what I want done and he does it. We never have any conversations. He hardly talks anyway; he just gets on with it, unlike other barbers who like to give their unsolicited opinion of everything they see on TV, Nigerian Politics and outside the shop window.
Half way through cutting my hair the following conversation ensued:
Emenike: You no travel?
This is not an unusual question to ask between Nigerians around the Christmas holidays as it is customary we travel home to celebrate with our families. It is also an opportunity to show real or often imagined affluence and showcase ourselves. In the process single straight Nigerians get future spouses. Being a gay man and not being out to my village, I am not prepared to spend £££ on a 2 week trip to be bombarded with questions about my marital status and be subjected to a long array of potential brides to choose from. So I use Skype to stay in touch during the festive season and feign bad connection when the question of marriage comes up.
Me: No, I didn’t. Work has been too busy.
Em: What part of Nigeria are you from?
Me: The East. Imo state.
Em: Eziokwu!!? E na su Igbo? Really? Do you speak Igbo?
He said this with the joy of a proverbial shepard who has just found his long lost sheep. Igbo is the language spoken by the Igbos from the Eastern part of Nigeria, where I come from.
Me: Ehe nu. Ofuma ofuma (Of course I do. Very well for that matter)
The rest of our conversation is held in Igbo.
Em: Did you know I am Igbo? Why haven’t you spoken it to me before all this time you have been coming here?
Me: No real reason. Most times I just want to cut my hair and go. Ndo biko. I am sorry.
Em: Ok, no problem. When was the last time you went home?
Another question we tend to ask each other to ascertain if we have the correct documentation to allow us back into Britain or we just don’t have that many family ties left at home.
Me: 2008. My family (brother and sister) are here. My parents visit every year.
Em: Are you married?
Em: Eh? Why?!?
There was shock in his voice. Like it is a mortal sin to be male, Igbo and living in South London.
Me: It just hasn’t happened.
Em: You have a girlfriend?
Em: Ah ah? Why now?!?
Now he is really worried for my existence on this earth
Me: Women don’t interest me.
WTF?!! Did I just say that in a testosterone filled Nigerian Barbers’ shop??
Em: What interests you then?
Em: Ok. I wouldn’t have guessed. You don’t look it.
Em: Are you proud? Do you hide it?
Me: I am telling you now, aren’t I? If anyone asks me I will tell them. I have come too far to start denying.
Em: Are you male or female?
Wow…that threw me a bit…He is asking if I am top or bottom. Is he interested? Going by all my escapades both published and unpublished on this blog and my recent failed attempt to bottom, my response wasn’t a lie.
Em: There is a guy from my village who lives around here. He is like a brother to me, so we talk. Everyone knows he is a female. The way he carries himself, but he is still hiding it. I told him he is here now in the UK, he can live freely. He got married to a white girl and got his papers then the marriage ended. The other day he told me he went home and got married and the girl is pregnant(!) I really don’t know why he did it?
There was even more disappointment in his voice than when I told him women didn’t interest me. He was genuinely concerned. This touched me.
He took out his phone and showed me the guy’s picture. Yup he is fem. I recognised him. I have seen him sashaying on the high street. A blind dog would know he is gay. Not that there is anything wrong with that. It is just the way he is built.
Me: As long as our people continue to demonise homosexuality, you will find people like your kinsman all over the place. They will continue to hide because they are scared of the fall out and the shame they might bring to their family.
Em: Do your parents know?
Me: They know but we don’t discuss it. They have stopped asking me about a girlfriend or when I am getting married.
Em: Are they happy about it?
Me: Probably not. A few years ago my mother asked me again, I told her I wasn’t getting married to a woman just to make her (my mum)happy? It would be unfair on the woman and I wouldn’t be happy. So she just has to deal with it.
Em: Hmmm. Have you had girlfriend’s before? Don’t women “move” you? Isn’t it a choice?
Me: Nwokem, my friend, it is not a choice. It is how God made me. Yes, I have been with women, but they don’t ‘move’ me as much as men do. What is a choice is how I have decided to live my life. I can either be happy being myself or unhappy trying to make my mother happy and my ‘wife’ unhappy.
Em: Do you go to church?
Em: But not our Nigerian Pentecostal church?
Me: No. I attend Church of England. In Nigerian Pentecostal churches, everyone wants to know your business and being gay is not acceptable. They will start binding and casting out demons on my behalf. Meanwhile the church elders are either in the closet or committing adultery. I have no time or offering for closet cases or blatant hypocrisy.
Em: Nna, I hear you. Our people hide the thing well.
Me: Please continue to support your kinsman. Let him know you are there for him. With open minded Nigerians like you there would be hope for us all.
With that I paid him and shook his hand and left.
I thought to myself, he is quite open-minded and reasonably vast in the ways of western ways of life. He mentioned a couple of other gay Nigerians clients of his, so he is reasonably comfortable and exposed to the gay way of life. He is not saying “we do not have gays in Nigeria”
I just wonder if he would be the same if he went back to Nigeria and settled down. Society has a way of changing us. Maybe I am just being cynical.
Time will tell…..
9 thoughts on “Conversation with the Barber”
This is an awesome story.
Great story, I totally agree. Its not any better here in the UK, ever since I moved here last year. I had very high expectations about meeting people and eventually going into a relationship. But everyone seems to only be interested in sex. Oh well, I don’t want to get jaded.
It can be ironic to say that a gay life style is even easier in Nigeria than in Uk. Sometimes location still dont change perceptions particularly among most africans
Thanks for your comment Femi. What you say is correct, but i think in the UK, Africans due to their exposure to the gay life style, are more understanding. They see that gays come in all shapes and sizes and go about their business like straight people. And if the (straight) Africans are forthright, they will begin to realise with hindsight that they know a few gays back home.