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Short Story: Witness

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by Jude Dibia

Write down what happened, the officer was saying to me. He gave me a pen and worn police report sheet which, earlier before, he had made me sum up my entire identity as though I was just data to be fed into a machine—name, age, religion, address. This was after the questioning, after the interrogation—after he let me know what I am expected to write. The police is your friend, he said with a smirk.

Another officer entered the room; he was the one who had watched listlessly as we were beaten up by the mob. He still held his police rifle, the one he could have used to dispel the crowd, scare them off before things got out of hand, but he chose not to. He chose instead to do nothing. His brutish face was clad with thick sunglasses. Even then. He was sucking on a cigarette. Even then. I saw the reflection of the sun on his shades or was it fire? It must have been fire! We had been beaten with sticks and stoned until we were blinded by our blood. I kept looking at the police man with his gun and cigarette, waiting for him to intervene. And then I waited for it to be over. I waited for death.

Write down what happened, the officer said again. His tone had a placating effect, yet tinged with warning.

I went to Table Top restaurant on Adebayo Street on the 14th of February to have lunch. I got there by about noon. There was no empty table so I sat on a table that was already occupied by another man who was eating. I have never met the man before but I asked him if the seat was taken before I sat down. He said it was free. I sat down and waited for my order. Later the man asked me what the name of the book I was reading was and asked if he could see it. I gave him the book. The name of the book is Harmful Intent, a medical thriller. It was then the man told me that he was a doctor. When he returned the book to me our hands mistakenly touched…

ȢȢȢ

Please leave; we don’t want your kind here.

The voice was cold and angry-like. You’d think I knew the speaker. I looked up; clutching the brown bag Dr. Dare had just given me. The woman standing before me, arms folded and scowling looked like someone with some authority born out of a self importance—the same variety of importance I had seen countless times displayed by security guards in established companies who felt their station was the only place they had the opportunity to exhibit a level of arrogance and power. This woman looked like the supervisor or the manager of the branch.

You better leave, she continued; she was shouting now, attracting attention and gesturing at us to leave the fast-food place.

We don’t entertain homosexuals here, she continued. That seemed to be the trigger. People sighed and turned to look at us. Some of them got up from where they were seated and began to approach our table. They looked angry. They had smelt blood and wanted their piece.

It is not what you think, Dr. Dare began to explain, but the woman—the supervisor woman shut him down. Homosexuals! Homosexuals! She kept shouting as though that word was on its own a litany of death. Her eyes were shinning now, lit by a passion and excitement that could only be explained if one had just discovered the solution to a long persistent problem.

Let’s just go, I say and Dr. Dare and I get up. We made to leave but realised that the people had formed a barrier before us. They jeered at us and pushed us back.

Are you a homosexual? What are you two doing here together on Valentine’s Day? Why was he touching you? What’s in the bag he gave you? Homosexual! Homosexual!

Their voices rang out nonstop. Chanting, chanting, fuelling rage, frustration and lethal curiosity.

I’m his doctor, Dr. Dare said. His face managed an uncertain smile. It was a smile that aimed to reassure them that our meeting was innocent. See, he continued, I only brought him his medicine; he’s my patient. He showed them the content of the brown bag but someone knocked it out of his hand.

Homosexual! Homosexual!

Doctors see patients in hospitals not restaurants, someone shouted. They touched, didn’t they? Another said. Homosexual! Homosexual!

ȢȢȢ

I did not know if he was making a pass at me. I have never met him before today. People started shouting when he was about to leave, calling him homosexual. I was surprised and confused…

ȢȢȢ

My antiretroviral meds had run low. I only had enough for the next three days. I called Dr. Dare and begged him to send a month’s supply to me. Since the new law targeting same-sex loving people had been passed getting my meds had been difficult. The NGO clinic that used to attend to people in my condition had been shut down. For days I had battled depression—losing weight, losing appetite and constantly thinking of killing myself. I told Dr. Dare this. Many times in the past he had talked me through my worst hours; those days I feel life isn’t worth it anymore, moments I had contemplated finding my way to Third Mainland Bridge and jumping into the ocean.

I will come to you, he had said. Where is the closest place to reach you?

I described how he could get to Table Top. It was not so far from my house. It was the perfect landmark, one he would have no problem locating. He said he could get there around 1 pm. I told him I did not have enough money for the drugs; that I would pay in two instalments.

Don’t worry about money now, he said. He was like that; he had always been kind to me. He was the doctor who had counselled me before I took the HIV test. He was the same one to give me my result and tell me that I was going to be alright. Being HIV positive is not a death sentence anymore, he had said reassuringly.

His encouraging words were like nourishment to my soul. People like him made me believe that there was indeed hope in this world. Even though he was not like me, he accepted me.

You know you have to eat and keep your immune levels up, Dr. Dare said when he saw me. If concern was a tangible thing, then his eyes were the closest to it that I had ever witnessed.

ȢȢȢ

We were sitting on the same table, so they also started shouting at me, calling me homosexual. I tried to leave, but they started hitting me and the man. They tore our clothes and beat us as if we stole something.

Someone in the crowd was shouting that they should burn us. They found some old tyres and just before they could put it around our necks and light it, the police officer stopped them.

ȢȢȢ

I really wanted to die. I who have been invisible all my life. I who dared not be my true self in public, was now the focus of so much interest, hate—curiosity. Every single time they screamed the word homosexual I cringed as if the word itself was hot coal that singed my skin.

Bring the tyre, someone was shouting. I looked up, not sure what I was looking for and my eyes found the police officer. He stood not quite five feet away. But he did nothing. He smoked on his cigarette, his eyes hidden by dark shades. It felt like he was waiting. Perhaps, it was his cigarette that would end it.

There was so much noise, so much movement and so much pain. Dr. Dare was rolled up in a ball beside me. He was crying and begging and screaming. I felt sorry for him, more than I did for myself. But this was what it was like to be me—the crying, the begging, the screaming—only that it was internal, hidden.

And then everything went blank.

ȢȢȢ

When I came to, Dr. Dare and I were bundled up behind a police van. We were both drenched in blood and huddled so close together in the van. I was worried I would infect him, but he didn’t seem to care. He just kept staring at me with his swollen eyes.

What ever happens, he mouthed so only I could hear him, you don’t know me. Just maintain we are strangers, he whispered.

I nodded and understood.

ȢȢȢ

This is what happened and this is how I got here. I just went to have lunch and I was mistaken for a homosexual.

ȢȢȢ

Sign and write the date beside your signature, the police officer said. I did as was told. I watched him read my statement. He looked at me a couple of times while he read. When he was done, he passed it on to the cigarette smoking policeman to read.

They left me alone in the small office and all I could think of was how much more invisible I would have to become.

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