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You were born on a train, a product of miscegenation. Nineteen-seventy-five it was. You have a hair thick as the cumulus clouds. Not cauliflower-shaped, but thick enough. Your mom used to be a footloose traveler who lived most of her life in Australia. Gone were the days when people of your countryside used camels and horses. Gone with the wind was the natural beauty that your countryside boasted of. The winding roads, that sometimes passed through hills, were replaced with broad roads. Mud houses were replaced with brick houses with fine corrugated iron sheets or aluminum roofs. Everything has changed. Everything had changed so fast that you did not recognise your hometown when you returned from abroad. Tabalongo had changed beyond your recognition. Tabalongo did not change before your very own eyes; but even those who were around when the change was happening said they can't tell how it happened. They said it happened so fast that getting down to the nitty-gritty of the changing would be like scaling Everest. So, there you were trying to settle down in a countryside that wasn't the place you used to know. Everything had changed and you appreciated a few of the changes – the good roads, the megawatts of electricity and the boreholes. There were some things that fell into the category of things you wished were still much around – the fruit trees that used to be everywhere, the farmlands, etcetera. Your education did not stop you from appreciating the beauty of rural life, and you continued to wonder why the locals were surprised at your warm behaviour and familiarity – if not for any other thing, you grew up enjoying rural life. However, the changes have happenedand so you learned to get used to your new hometown. You settled with your heart. On Saturdays, you enjoyed hitchhiking – a habit that dated back to your days overseas. Your hometown had metamorphosed into a city, with the area where your father's house is situated being gentrified. You felt intimidated for long, even after you renovated the decrepit abode of your father. You became friends with the son of your neighbour who worked with a textile industry many miles away from Tabalongo. The young man was often away working with his father. But whenever he returned, you and him were often inseparable. You settled, you married.


Years later, with family, you are living your life. Working (for a living) and walking the Earth. You have sowed your seeds and you are reaping the fruits of your labour. You are reaping benefits. You cherish your only child Chibundu. You love her, but you mustn't let her fully know this lest you spoil her. You believe in African traditions. If not for the advent of Christianity, you would have comfortably been a traditionalist. You love culture and kola nuts. You love games, especially when it means hunting for bushmeat or wild animals. You are a perfect African man via education. You love quietude and hospitality, the architectural design of your house says it all. There is always a quadrant of vision that manifests in your mind whenever you stand in front of your house watching the amazing flora not too far away from your house – the scenery is poetic to you. You planted some of the trees. Your wife, when you used to have one, is a lawyer. The two of you are separated. She knows how much you love Chibundu and agreed to leave her with you. She visits from time to time. You want her back, but she's taking her time on considering your request. You are still hitchhiking. You still have energy and vigour. You can run, even more than people younger than you. You are athletic. Away from home for a walk, you thumb a lift and the pickup driver obliges. You first scan the face of the driver with your eyes for signs of proclivity for mischievousness or untrustworthiness. You think you can trust him. You step in to sit with him in the front. At the back are three men standing in the midst of logs of wood. A woman, the only woman with them, is sitting on the lower of the heaps. You smile at the driver and begin to exchange pleasantries with him. He seems to love your friendliness and gives you listening ears. You like him for this reason. You begin to tell him about how Tabalongo has changed. How you wish some things remained the same. Especially how you wish the water bodies stayed the same. He argues that the construction workers had to bypass or sand fill them in order to build roads, or houses in some cases. You are adamant about convincing him that you would do anything to have them back in their default forms. He tells you that's what industrialisation and urbanisation can do to landscape and anything in a locality. You like him the most because he is enlightened. You produce a burger from your waist bag and persuade him to share with you. He thanks you and refuses to have some. But there you are, at his neck, trying to cajole him into taking it. You win, you dragoon him into tasting your burger. You produce another one from your waist bag. He tells you how sweet it is and you begin another story. You tell him you made it. You lie! You lie!!, he says. You laugh and brag about how you can cook more than most women. Man, if you really made this, you are some amazing chef. This could pass as haute cuisine. You try to be modest and tell him not to flatter you. He asks you where you are going. You swallow and let him know you are heading to Flush Botanical Gardens. You can't be serious! That's where we are heading too. They want to build more shades with the logs of wood I'm carrying. Lucky ride, man! You smile and agree that it is a good coincidence. You like him the most – this time, you can't tell why. He says you look like someone who left home to jog. You state that he is right and that you decided to visit Flush on a whim. He rubs your leg, I like you. You look at him with a lopsided grin, somehow confused. You thank him. You like him too, but to voice something like that to a fellow man is what you consider an anomaly. You ask him his name. Matt! You tell him yours. You feel like you've known him all your life. You ask if he's a native of Tabalongo. I spent all my childhood here! It's my mom who's from here. But I can safely say I'm from Tabalongo since I did my nursery and secondary schooling here. You want to know if he can speak the native language well, so you engage him. You are impressed to discover he speaks your language fluently. You want to know about his conjugal family. Oh, marriage! Well, technically, I used to be married. But, you know, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Well, it's all in the past now. You look at him and feel the two of you almost have one thing in common. You refuse to press further, you think he may break down to tears. Needs must when the Devil drives. You don't understand why he spoke the idiom. You stare at him. I bet you've got a dozen running around your house. I know most men like having plenty of kids. You tell him you are not one of such men. Afraid he might begin to pry into your private affairs, you change the topic. The discussion is all Tabalongo again, and you want it to continue to be until you reach Flush Botanical Gardens.


Every woman I am with is like a sister to me, he says to you as you stand close to him watching his boys offloading the logs of wood. You laugh because you think you understood the statement, but you didn't. I like men, they are women to me. You think he is drunk or crazy. Seriously, I have been like this since I was a kid. Well, we grew up all boys in my house and I went to a boarding school. I know the whole Jupiter about boys. But girls? Oh, I know they are like books that can never be finished or understood. Men are like device manuals, they are easy to understand. You get me, don't you? You think you have just met a misogynist. You are afraid you might get uncomfortable if he continues. I hope you are not judging me, my friend. You look him in the face and assure him that you are not a judgemental person. Every minute or so you could hear a snap, a crack and a crash as old trees were felled at the farthest part of the garden. He holds your shoulder. You are a gentleman. You think it is what it is, but you refuse to believe it. Not like you have not met gays twice or thrice, but this has to do with an African man. You know how your people perceive gays, but your own perception is quite different. But you try to convince yourself he's not.  He holds your hand. You think any moment from now you will snap because you feel he is about to profess his undying affection for you. You are not gay and you are technically married. You smile at him and let him know you have to go take a look at some of the indigenous and exotic plants that Flush has. He allows you to go. I'll soon join you. I promise not to be long. You want him to tarry or never even come. You want your peace of mind. You walk around admiring the flora in Flush Botanical Gardens. You wish you had enough money on you so you could have a pass to the viewing area for guests. There are so many wonderful exotic flora that you wish you came with a camera. I told you I won't be long, he says, holding your waist. You almost yell at him. You comfort yourself with tolerance. You compose yourself. I hope you don't mind if I show you something. Would you? You tell him you don't mind. He asks you to follow him. You follow. He takes you towards the restroom. You are nervous. You look around to know if there are eyes that are seeing you walking with him in case disaster comes upon you. You think you can get away anyways. Or shout. He stops when he feels you two are in a safe place. I hope you don't mind. You ask him to go ahead with whatever he has to show you. He pulls down his trousers.


You want to run, but you manage to compose yourself. He is naked from his waist down. He is staring at you calmly. You are confused. I am a hermaphrodite. You are stunned. You think you just walked out of yourself and are watching the man and your standing body. I've always been like this. I'm not really a man. You can see the unique genitalia yourself. Outwardly, I am a man. But I'm more feminine than I am masculine. Sometimes the hormonal competition hurts me emotionally. I have not been able to maintain any relationship. You think of Klinefelter's Syndrome, but this is not it. You know what hermaphroditism is. You have not seen a hermaphrodite human before. You watch him calmly. You beg him to pull up his trousers. I need you to help me. Can you? You are more educated than I am. Actually, I think I am a woman. You ask him to be quiet for a minute so you can think. You are not a medical doctor. The sight of the congenital problem alone is disturbing you. You produce a bottle, a bottle of water, from your waist bag. You forgot you had finished the water. You are thirsty and anxious. Don't worry, I have a bottle of water in the vehicle. I'll drop you off. You hesitate before you walk with him to his vehicle. He gives you the bottle of water and you two hit the road. You are a courteous guy, others would have denigrated me. Even though it was your first experience, you still cared about me as a human. Well, I am a healed person – not like it would have bothered me much. I once killed myself in the past because of rejection, stigma and depression – but never again. I have sworn never to let that weigh me down again, making it a point of duty to heal from any mental wound when they come. If I could survive ethnic cleansing while growing up, I think I can survive anything. The world needs people like you anyways. Thank you. But what do you think I should do? Get surgery? You are thinking if he knows about surgery he shouldn't be complaining. You want to help him, but what you saw is highly disturbing to you. You exchange phone numbers with him and promise to consult your doctor on his behalf. He seems to be very happy. The two of you are still on the road. He turns on his radio and a party jam begins to play. You are uncomfortable. You ask him to stop by the roadside so you can urinate. He obliges. When you are done, you think your education is no match for what you have seen. You ran into the bush so you could get away from him. You can hear him blowing his horn. You don't care. You just want to have peace of mind, even if it's inside a bush. You check the money in your pocket to know if it is enough to get you a real transport. You gasp:

"It will do. Oh, goodness, it will do!"

Later that day, you put a call across to your doctor who soon obliges to help. You thank him and set about to call your newfound friend whom you owe an apology for going "AWOL".


Marvel Chukwudi Pephel, also known as Poet Panda, is a Nigerian biochemist, writer and poet. He has contributed research papers to the field of Biochemistry as Nwachukwu Godslove Pephel. As a poet, Pephel's work explores themes of love, life, nature, and social issues, with a unique blend of creativity and scientific insight. His poetry is characterized by its lyrical style, depth, and emotional resonance. His work is a testament to the intersection of art and science. He is a fan of the surrealist painter Salvador Dali, and writers Helen Oyeyemi, Ray Bradbury, Irving Washington, Edgar Allan Poe, Frank G. Slaughter and Philip K. Dick. He calculates what he calls "Creative Functions", an experimental but effective way of writing short story endings before their beginnings.


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