You have lived in three skins but none fits you.
In your first skin, you’re an egg, a delicate grace cradled in the hands of those who cherish you with fervent admiration. They perceive a child, a son destined to carry forth the ancestral name.
“It’s a beautiful boy.” You perceive a phlegmatic voice in the guise of being enthusiastic.
“Thanks to Amadioha. You shame them.” A sympathetic tone resonates, cosseting you in an aged mannerism.
“Thanks to the God above. He never forsakes me,” your mother’s never-ending zealous voice echoes, emitting a snort as a reply.
“Which God? The one that refuses to give you a child for eight years? He doesn’t exist.”
In the second skin, you transform into a caterpillar, a voracious observer of the world. It begins when you’re inexplicably drawn to Chike, a life so different from the one you imagine for yourself. Chike embodies knowledge and freedom you can’t envisage for yourself, the antithesis of the traditional expectations placed upon you.
“Hey, want some?” you hear the familiar lilt of his voice beside you, and you instinctively recoil, as if his presence makes your stomach flutter like a trapped butterfly.
You gaze into his brown eyes as he settles beside you on the edge of the field, where you watch the seniors play football. You decline the offerings he extends, a can of Fanta and biscuits.
“I’m good. I just had some gala a few minutes ago,” you lie. You were never given money to purchase anything during break time, except for the food your mother packed in an ostentatious food flask, hidden in your bag and consumed in the old building away from the school grounds, to shield yourself from potential ridicule by your classmates. You think you glimpse a hint of hurt in his eyes, but it vanishes before you can be sure.
“It’s alright. Can you remind me of your name?” his voice turns detached, as though he might never recover from your rejection of his gesture.
“Was it given to you for a special reason?”
You introspect: so much has been said about your name, how it carries the weight of your family’s legacy, a responsibility to produce sons. When you were six, your grandmother had told you that you must bear more sons to uphold the family name, a duty as vital as your own life.
“Afamefula, you don’t live just for yourself. You live for all of us, for the family’s legacy that rests on your shoulders. Always remember, Inugo?” she had said a year before she passed away, and you concluded you didn’t like her.
You clear your throat and reply Chike: “No, it’s just the name my parents gave me.”
Someday, your closeness to him will redefine you, reshaping you into another skin, another identity. When he eventually asks, “Will you be my boyfriend?” you accept, thinking he means ‘boy-friend’ as in a male friend, donning the skin he desires: a facade that contradicts the vision your grandmother had held for you.
Someday after series of laying your thighs on his shoulders as he glides in and out of you, after he has given you kisses that give you orgasm, after he has whitewashed you into trying to look more feminine because he wants to see you as the woman he can’t get attracted to. You realize this skin doesn’t fit you. Desperately, you yearn to shed it.
In the third skin, you transform into a chrysalis, undergoing a profound metamorphosis, drifting through the world as a mere spectre of your former self, until you encounter Cletus.
“Ike and Justin were caught having sex at the school toilet,” Cletus remarks with a sardonic tone, the words wafting around you as he perches on the edge of your desk, drawing a chair close as he sits. You’ve now ascended to the senior class, with Cletus a grade above. You fix your gaze on his almond eyes and exquisite red lips, occasionally envisioning yourself kissing them. “And they’ve been expelled, I heard.”
“Hmm… Why expel them? They should have been disciplined, not expelled,” you mutter in a single breath, a mix of disbelief and frustration. Cletus studies you intently.
“They’re having sex and how is it even possible for two boys to do that? Ew!” You ignore the reprobation In his tone and say nothing. Later, when you recount the incident to your parents, your mother will flick her fingers and swipe them over her head thrice. “Tufiakwa! What kind of abominations is this? Afam, stay away from people like this, they don’t always end well. ”
Someday, Cletus will become ‘the Shoulder’ you lean on. He’ll express his affection for you, desiring more than just friendship. Because in your last skin, you have learned what he meant, you’ll accept it. He’ll tell you to meet him at his home. You’ll go and he’ll smile when you arrive, groping you, pulling off your clothes from the door. Because you want it, you’ll allow it, your body ravaging with pleasure so different from your last skin.
Because you haven’t noticed figures sneaking in, pinning you on the floor and beginning to beat you, calling you: “Fag”, “Homo”.
You’ll scream for help, for mercy.
You yearn to transmute into another skin, a butterfly capable of flight, but it remains unattainable. Your ambition to become the man who preserves the family name, bearing sons through whom it lives on, feels futile. When your mother learns of your assault, you can envisage her rolling on the ground, shrieking that they want to kill her only son, gesturing her fingers and uttering ‘Tufiakwa!’ You can also hear the voices of your parents in your mind, questioning the life you’ve chosen and the path you’re on.
“Afamefula, is this how you wish to uphold the family name?”
You keep floating because the three skins you have worn never fit you.
Ikechukwu Henry (he/him) is a Nigerian writer and a student who loves to explore the adversities and darkness of human minds and his surroundings, along with his fervour for books. His hobbies include reading, stuffing through websites for Kdrama/Cdrama movies or browsing the latest magazine to submit to. He’s a myth enthusiast and when he’s less busy, he could be found beta reading for writers. He was the first runner-up in the Ro-novella Writing Contest First Edition 2022 and was Longlisted for the SEVHAGE Prize For Short Fiction 2023. His works have appeared in Kahalari Review, Afrihill Press, Swim Press, The AfterPast Review, Icreative Review, Synchronized Chaos and others. He tweets at @ Ikechukwuhenry_.