September 2009 Cover
Outside my room, the boy looked up
at me with piercing yet puppy-dog
eyes. He was bent over an air-
conditioner unit, the dry African
sunshine beating down on his sweaty
brow. He had on tight jeans and a
white T-shirt and was on his haunches
working alongside another man.
Although I'm used to being stared at as
the token white person when I'm
in certain countries, this boy's gaze
seemed to last a few sexual beats
When I returned later, he was
still there, even sweatier and
nearly done with his work on the air
conditioner. His gaze seemed even
more intent this time, like he was
trying to see through me. I went
over and struck up some inane
conversation in my high school French.
just smiled and nodded and answered back
in his heavily accented
Senegalese French. I loved the depth and
valleys of his voice,
especially coming from a thin but
masculine young man in his early
"Do you want to go for a walk
around the village later?" he
suggested. I agreed. Around dusk he
picked me up at my room in a fresh
pair of jeans and we sauntered around
his tiny hamlet. The streets were
all hard dirt, and fluorescent lights
and lanterns flickered in open
windows as African pop music floated
about. I had been to Africa enough
times to know that my newfound friend
was amiable and innocent. And
We stopped at his house, and I
gingerly met his parents and
siblings who were watching a Muslim
sermon on a TV on the front porch.
The night was bone-dry and warm and
dusty and restless. We were light
years away from any bright cities, and
the dark sky pressed down
After a spell, we left his
parents and sauntered to the local
tailor shop, run by an English-speaking
young man who wore a
His face lit up when I entered the small
brick room. "Ah, you are from
America, everything is very free there,"
he said with a wink. He kept
smiling, looking at me and the air-
conditioner boy. Another somewhat
effeminate young man appeared in another
shirt with flashy patterns. I
quickly realized that in this tiny
village in the arid Sahel region of
West Africa, I was in the midst of a gay
gathering of smiles and nods
and oblique understanding that
transcended all distance.
After the tailor shop, we seemed
to be finished with the
village's social screening process. He
led me to a small, empty pier at
the edge of town. We were finally alone.
The jetty silently jutted out
into the Atlantic. Cricket chirps and
the low, nearly unheard drum
beats of the continent created a wall of
sound behind us.
I put my hand on his shoulder and
squeezed it. He quickly
grabbed me and pressed his lips hard
against mine, like he was trying
to breathe something in. He fumbled with
his clothes and mine, in a
frantic race against the falling night.
He came quickly and zealously,
finally expelling something he had
bottled up inside, with a type of
anger and relief and excitement a small-
town gay boy anywhere in the
world would tacitly comprehend.
On the way home I took a picture
of him and we exchanged email
addresses. I handed him a small cadeau
of a few dollars. In Africa, one
always gives gifts regardless of the
circumstances, so there was
nothing inappropriate about the gesture.
In fact, the dark night of
Africa had given me a gift of
understanding how important a foreign
stranger's presence can mean for the
world's remote and exiled.
|Author Profile: Matthew Link
Matthew Link has written for numerous magazines and has appeared on many television and radio shows. His documentaries have aired on PBS stations and in international film festivals.
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