My Bro is a biweekly Zikoko series that interrogates and celebrates male friendships of different forms.
Bolu and Zen are polar opposites. While Zen is quiet, calculated and shy, Bolu is very much in your face and not afraid to tell you exactly what he thinks. The two met at university almost ten years ago, and despite their differences, have remained best friends since.
In this episode of My Bro, they talk about navigating their very different personalities, supporting each other through loss and heartbreak, and the health scare Zen was scared would drive Bolu away.
Our origin story
Zen: We met for the first time in university back in 2014 through a mutual friend of ours who’d sold me a shirt.
Zen: They sha introduced you as their friend and told me you were in my department at the University of Lagos. That’s how we met. I remember we said “hi”, and then, I started seeing you around the department.
Bolu: The first thing I noticed when we met was how quiet and reserved you are. Myself and my friends at the time were the complete opposite because we could be very loud and all over the place. Seeing how different your personality was from the other people I knew made me curious. It was like a gift I wanted to unwrap. I knew I wanted to be friends with you then, just out of curiosity.
Because we were in the same department, we kept running into each other, and over time, we started gisting. The more I got to know you, the more I realised how easy it is to connect with you despite our differences. You were easy to talk to and had no drama or baggage.
Zen: I thought you were intimidated by me the first time we met. I didn’t smile a lot back then, so I understand. My first impression was you were timid around me. It’s almost like you weren’t comfortable.
Bolu: Hell no, I wasn’t intimidated. See, I tried my best not to scare you with my madness. I really wanted to be your friend, but our personalities are different. I was worried you’d think I was too much and wouldn’t want to be friends if I showed you my true self. I wanted to go into the friendship slowly.
I only started being myself around you when I realised you had friends who were almost as wild as me. I also noticed you were more expressive when you were around these guys. You’d dance, give very detailed gist and just express yourself properly around them. That’s when I realised you weren’t just the mysterious quiet guy. It just added a layer of depth to your personality.
The moment we became friends
Zen: We actually became friends because of your parents. I fell ill the year we met, and my parents weren’t in Lagos to take care of me. Even though we weren’t really close yet, you invited me to stay in your house until I got better. I’ve met a lot of parents, but your mum and dad are the best. They didn’t even know me like that, but they took me in and made all my problems their own.
I remember your mum dedicated her weekend to making sure I got better. That was when I realised I wanted you to be a permanent part of my life. If your family could be that kind, then you’re a keeper.
Bolu: I honestly don’t remember any of this. I’m very open and trusting with my friends, and I remember inviting you to my place, but I can’t remember much about it.
Zen: I hope you know I’m the backbone of this friendship? You never remember anything. I’m the only one who keeps records of our experiences together.
Bolu: That’s because I’m a doer. I create the experiences; I don’t record them.
Bolu: Anyway, for me, our friendship became real after that night in your hostel when you had a seizure. Everyone in your room and nearby gathered when it happened, so I could tell you were really embarrassed. We took a long walk, and you talked about your medical history. You couldn’t even look me in the eye. A part of me felt you thought I wouldn’t want to be friends after that.
Watching you be so vulnerable and open only made me like you more. We’d finally crossed that line into having nothing to hide from each other.
Zen: Oh my God! I remember that night now. You even cried. LOL.
Bolu: Wow. Yes, I cried. I mean, it was all very emotional for me just thinking about all the friendships you might’ve lost in the past because of your health condition, and how that made you feel like I would walk away too.
Zen: I’ve lost a lot of friends. I’ve had seizures in front of them, then they started avoiding me because they thought it was contagious. People are ignorant, so they assume what they want. Looking back, I don’t even think I can call those people my friends.
Bolu: I could tell you didn’t really believe me when I said it wasn’t a problem. And that made me determined to prove I was a friend who’d stay. We all have things we’re dealing with, and this just made you more of a human being to me
Zen: I had doubts. But listening to you talk about how it wasn’t a big deal was reassuring.
Managing our different personalities
Zen: You’re the kind of guy who’d dance in public even when he doesn’t know how to dance. For me, I’d be too bothered about what people would say about me. I can only be myself when I’m around people I know.
Regarding our differences, we meet each other… maybe not halfway sha because your idea of meeting me halfway is just 30 per cent. LOL. I just let you shine when we’re outside and stay in my shell.
Bolu: But you dull my vibe sometimes. I remember one time in school, we’d stepped out to Ikeja City Mall (ICM) in Lagos. I was driving, we looked good, and we were just shoulder-popping in the car. Only for us to get to the mall, and all your energy disappeared. Like, the moment we stepped out and there were people around, you started looking at the floor. It actually brought me down from the high I was on too.
All of this your shyness is ironic because you’re the one who knows all the bad, bad things, the latest songs and pop culture gist. You’re also a really good dancer. I always shout like I know stuff, but I don’t know anything. You feed me with information.
I, however, like how your calm and reserved nature is a check and balance for me. Sometimes, I need to tone it down, and observing you helps me reflect on it. These days, I behave like you sometimes, sitting in a corner, watching and moving more strategically.
Zen: I don’t think you’re ever too loud. I live through you. Seeing you express yourself makes me happy because I want to do it, but I can’t because I’m too worried about what people think. You don’t give a fuck about anything, but I give a million fucks.
Coming through for one another
Zen: You always come through for me, but one moment that sticks out for me was how you showed up after I lost my brother in 2017. I’d told you about it and expected you to come maybe later, but first thing in the next morning, you were in my house with your mum. It’s not like I was running away or my house was going to disappear, so you could’ve come at any time. But the way you made it an urgent thing is a gesture that’s stayed with me. Plus, it was the first time our mums met and formed their own friendship.
Bolu: When your brother died, I already saw you as my brother. I wanted to be there for you and remind you that even though you lost a brother, I’m still here for you. My mum understood how painful it must’ve been for your mum to lose a child, so we decided to show up super early to remind you both that we share in your pain and love you.
You also come through for me when it comes to relationship issues. You always warn me about them, but I still pursue those relationships. And when they fail, you’re there to support me. You’re the person I can always count on and talk to.
Zen: LOL. Even when I advise you against these relationships, I’m lowkey rooting for you and hoping they work out. It’s not like I’m a hater just waiting for your relationships to fail. What I think about when these issues start happening is how I can be there for you. I try not to go into “I told you so” mode because if I constantly did that, we’d both get offended and have issues.
What holds this friendship together
Bolu: Our family values and principles. We both grew up in families that prioritise honesty and love, so we don’t do hanky panky or anything like that. We respect each other and bring these values to our friendship.
Zen: I agree with what you said. But for me, what makes our friendship different is your sensitivity. You were the first man I met who wasn’t afraid to connect with his emotions. I don’t have to be strong or ooze masculinity to be around you. I just have to be myself. You’re not afraid to cry if you feel like it. You express yourself, no matter what.
It wasn’t like I was super into being masculine or anything like that, but you helped me understand there’s nothing wrong with being a sensitive man. Who you are and how you’ve influenced me is what makes our friendship work. I can talk to you about any and everything.
I want you to know
Zen: First off, I’m grateful to your mum for raising you to be a sensitive man. She deserves all the flowers.
I’m grateful you’re in my life. I’m thankful you’ve been there for my losses as well. Even when you didn’t know what to say, you stuck by my side and made your presence known. I’m grateful that you’ve intentionally included yourself in my family. I love you so much, and I don’t take your friendship for granted. Like your mum says, we’re more than friends at this point; we’re brothers.
Bolu: Now, you’re going to make me cry.
Zen: Of course!
Bolu: I’m so grateful to know you and happy you’re who you are. I can’t really put words together, but thanks for being you and being a part of my life. Thank you for opening your heart and space to me. I love that we’re family, and my cousins call you “our Igbo cousin”, LOL. You make me see things differently, and I’m grateful you’re my friend.
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