Chukwuebuka Ibeh

June 21, 2024 
The following is from Chukwuebuka Ibeh's Blessings. Ibeh is a writer from Port Harcourt, Nigeria, born in 2000. His writing has appeared in McSweeneys, New England Review of Books and Lolwe, amongst others, and he is a staff writer at Brittle Paper. He has studied creative writing under Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Dave Eggers, and Tash Aw, and recently received his MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Sparrow liked him. It seemed incredulous to Obiefuna, almost surreal, and, as the days lengthened into a week, with striking up conversation with him when they crossed paths in public, Obiefuna anticipated that something would go wrong, something would snap and return things to their usual place; sometimes, unconsciously, he willed it. Once, as he ascended the classroom staircase, he made out Sparrow and his friends at the base and tried to walk past stealthily, not making it awkward for anyone, but Sparrow spotted him and called out to him, moving over to shake his hand in full view of his friends, and Obiefuna did not miss the puzzled glances they exchanged with each other. He wondered what they made of this new friendship, even as Sparrow took to stopping by his seat during prep to talk to him, sometimes throughout the night. It deprived Obiefuna of precious study time, yet he looked forward to those visits and worried when Sparrow was late in coming. Mostly, Sparrow talked about his relationships at home, the movies he loved, the song lyrics he knew by heart. They bonded over their mutual fascination for the Lord of the Rings series, disagreed over which Michael Jackson album was the best. Sparrow gave rapturous monologues on his adoration of Lil Wayne and his YMCMB crew. He dreamed of becoming a rapper like Lil Wayne, his body studded with similar tattoos, exuding a similar extravagance.

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He sometimes complained about his friends. They were all the same, he said, bloody pretenders, the most annoying set of people he knew. They acted conceited when there was really nothing to be conceited about. It surprised Obiefuna, Sparrow’s ability to criticize the conceited nature of his friends while being fundamentally enshrouded in the same conceit himself. But he listened all the same and made empathetic sounds of agreement, relishing the time when Sparrow said, “They think they are special but they are just blockheads. Look at you, for instance, you’re very smart but you don’t even make noise.”

Sometimes, Sparrow turned up with exercises for Obiefuna to solve, listening with vague interest as Obiefuna explained. He updated Sparrow’s notes, thrilled when Sparrow complimented his clean, rounded handwriting. He liked it when Sparrow said, after he scored high in an assignment, with Obiefuna’s help, “I don’t know what I would have done without you, Obi.”

On some nights, he taught Sparrow complex calculations, even though Sparrow never seemed to comprehend, waiting eagerly for a pause to chip in a random fact about Lil Wayne, a new tat­ too idea he thought cool, the Illuminati.

“I don’t know why we have so many ‘masses’ in this chemistry,” Sparrow complained once as Obiefuna tried to explain atomic molecular mass to him. Obiefuna retorted that someone had once said he didn’t know chemistry teachers were Catholics, what with all the mass—a lame joke, and so he was startled when Sparrow burst into laughter, his shoulders rocking back and forth from the force of the sound. Obiefuna was conscious, too conscious, of Sparrow’s right palm spread out lightly on Obiefuna’s left thigh and moving around without control the more he laughed. Obiefuna’s own hands had gone to sleep and twitched almost painfully when he moved them. He wondered if Sparrow felt the same spark when he placed his palm on Sparrow’s thigh. It was a stilted moment, mired in uncertainty, while they sat in silence after that laugh, feeling each other’s thighs through their trousers, aware and yet feigning ignorance of their true intent. Sparrow’s hand found Obiefuna’s erection first, hard and aching within the tight space. He withdrew slightly as though it had been a mistake and Obiefuna was partly grateful for the dim light that hid his blush. They sat in silence for a long time, their hands still on each other’s thigh, and then Sparrow found his erection again, and this time there was nothing gentle about the grip, nothing subtle or pretentious. Obiefuna’s hands were slower, hovering around Sparrow’s belt, fumbling unsuccessfully with the hook, until he felt Sparrow’s fingers tapping the back of his palm. “Let’s go to the house,” he said.

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Obiefuna found him on the staircase of Amadi House in ten minutes, the time interval necessary to quell suspicion. Sparrow pulled him close with a force that momentarily alarmed him, as did the expertise with which Sparrow undid all his buttons at once and yet somehow managed to leave them intact. But Sparrow gave him no time to process this—his hands were already tugging at Obiefuna’s belt, his tongue making its way into Obiefuna’s mouth. The sensation was new and consequently revolting and Obiefuna backed away, suddenly terrified by the thought of losing something of himself that he could not get back. “No.”

Sparrow’s hands hung for seconds in mid-air before he dropped them. His breathing was laboured and heavy. Even with his head bowed, Obiefuna was acutely aware of Sparrow’s bewildered eyes on him.

“I’m sorry,” Obiefuna said. He wished Sparrow would say something, but he was quietly buckling his belt and humming under his breath. Obiefuna expected him to walk away after­ wards and not speak to him again, but he moved over when he was done to help Obiefuna button his shirt, his hum becoming louder.


It became a routine. They would slip out of class simultaneously, midway into prep, to meet under the staircase, rubbing up against each other for long minutes in the dark, until Obiefuna succumbed to the electrifying force that led to the stickiness in his underwear. Sparrow laughed every time this happened, prompting Obiefuna, himself unsure about what was particularly funny, to laugh along. Sparrow had an intoxicating effect on him; he felt with Sparrow a delirious happiness that sometimes made his eyes spin. He looked forward to the nights when he would melt into Sparrow’s hands. The noises that came from him on such nights were loud and strange to his own ears, and Sparrow would clasp a hand around his mouth sometimes and later ask him, teasingly, if he was trying to get them caught. And they did get caught, on a rainy Saturday night. They had braved the rains to meet and had arrived at the spot dripping water, laughing together.

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“See how I just got myself wet because of you,” Sparrow said, and Obiefuna laughed harder. He felt a light-headed sweetness, as though he had just got drunk on sweet wine. Sparrow drew close to cover the space between them and placed a hand on the side of Obiefuna’s face to hold it in position, so that Obiefuna’s eyes were focused squarely on his. It was not the usual frenzy they were accustomed to. This was the poignancy of two people who were beginning to fall in love; people who could derive satisfaction just from looking at each other. Sparrow’s hands were on his chest, his waist, his arm, and when Sparrow slipped a tongue into his mouth, it left him breathless. Obiefuna’s eyes were closed, as were his ears, so he did not immediately see the torchlight reflecting on his back, on Sparrow’s face, did not hear the familiar voice that yelled from afar, “Stop there!”

In retrospect, Obiefuna would marvel at his own skillfulness. He ran before he could fully comprehend what had just happened, past the grove of plantain trees around the tap, past the mould of concrete blocks that lay in untidy heaps around the school compound, arriving, finally, at the classroom. They had been discovered. He heard footsteps behind him and turned sharply, causing the smallish junior boy to scurry away. Sparrow had not come with him. Sparrow had been apprehended. He would be taken to the disciplinary committee and made to reveal who the other person was. Obiefuna would be exposed to the whole world. He sat on a step and tried to still the trembling of his hands, the painful throbbing of his neck, the loud thudding of his chest. From behind him, the concerned voice of the junior boy wanted to know if he was all right. From upstairs, the jarring sound of the bell for prep dismissal filled the stairwell.


From Blessings by Chukwuebuka Ibeh. Used with permission of the publisher, Doubleday Books. Copyright © 2024 by Chukwuebuka Ibeh.

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