FOREWORD: Dennis Macaulay has decided to take a little break off writing his weekly rants because of some study engagements. It’ll just be a few weeks. Until he returns, here’s a new series to occupy Wednesday’s foremost update.
WRITER’S NOTE: This story isn’t about what you’re going to learn at the end of this chapter. Secondly, I felt prompted to debut my writing on KD because of Bobby; after reading the ‘Before I Die’ series, I decided it was time. This story is fiction. All the characters and the plot are the works of my imagination, and any resemblance with real occurrences is purely coincidental.
It began with – “It might be HIV o!”
That was what Robert said to you.
And just like that, your life changed. For the first time in a long time, you experienced paralyzing fear – the kind that sent a cold shiver down your spine and rendered you immobile.
“But it’s just a small bump…” you said, touching the soft swelling behind your right ear. The words came out in a tone just north of a whisper. You knew Robert had heard the fear in those words.
“I know. It could be a number of things. But with the other signs you’ve noticed, there’s a chance it’s HIV. Your body is experiencing a serious viral attack, the inflammation of the lymph nodes is a testament of that…” Robert spoke as though he had memorized a page on Google Medic.
You suddenly sprang up from your seat. “I have to go,” you said, hastily packing up my books into your black shoulder bag.
“Go where?” Robert asked, startled by your sudden burst of energy. “Bruno, come on, relax. Where are you going?” Robert is a friend – okay, more accurately, he is your ex’s (former) fuck buddy. He is somewhat smart, good looking and sometimes, engaging. You two don’t get to see often, but when you run into each other in the campus, you always have a good chat. He’s a medical student, but even though his campus is in Enugu, he often comes over to the main campus in Agbani, to visit your ex. Your ex has told you a number of times that nothing sexual is going on between the two of them anymore, but you don’t believe him.
“I don’t know. I’ll talk to you later,” you said, before rushing out of the cafeteria.
You’d lied. You knew where you were going. You just didn’t want Robert to know. You got to the car park at the school – it was a short walking distance from the cafeteria – and you boarded the next bus going into town. Thankfully, it filled up fast, and in a few minutes, you were on your way to Enugu.
You tried to keep your gaze steadily forward and your mind clear, but it was a futile attempt. HIV… HIV… HIV… The word kept ringing through your head. And then, you felt that tingle run through your hand. It was an icy feeling, like a drop of chilled water travelling a course through your veins. It was one of the signs you noticed a little over a month ago. There were others – aching joints, slight itching, incessant coughs, headaches, and then the swelling behind your ear. At first, you dismissed the symptoms as malarial. Today, Robert had shattered that illusion.
You closed your eyes and let your head fall against the headrest of your seat. You slowly counted backward from five. That usually helped you relax. It didn’t work this time. You opened your eyes and raised your shaking hands to your face. To dispel the fear, you surfed through Google, hoping to discover that your symptoms pointed to anything but HIV. Herpes, staph, anything…
But before you could concentrate on your Google search, the driver pulled up at your bus stop, and you had to alight. You entered a keke, and told the driver your destination. You informed the driver that you were chartering him to take you there, so there would be no stops along the way to pick other passengers. You were in such a daze that you didn’t know when you got there. Feeling a spurt of absentminded generosity, you paid the driver his fare, with an extra 100 naira, and turned to walk into the Enugu State Teaching Hospital.
At first, you felt lost. With all the people bustling around and the buildings that sprawled about in the vast environment, you didn’t know where you were supposed to go. But after asking for directions from one or two pedestrians, you were finally able to locate the Special Clinic. You walked past the Ear, Nose and Throat section, and then the Breast Cancer section to the third floor.
“I want to take an HIV test,” you said dully to the first nurse you saw.
She acknowledged your request with a nod and said, “You came late o!”
You felt your heart drop three floors to your stomach. You were late? Was it that obvious now? Had it reached the stage where the medical professionals could tell just by looking at you? Did she really see it on your face?
“It’s almost 12 o’clock and we stop working at noon,” she continued.
Ah! You let out a breath you didn’t know you were holding, and proceeded to plead for some consideration from her, with the most earnest expression on your face. She relented and led you into the inner office, where she introduced you to a bunch of other nurses, informing the Head Nurse of the reason you were there. After some more imploring, you got their concession too. However, you had to submit yourself for some pre-counseling first.
And so, you found yourself suffering through a ten-minute talk, during which the student nurse, as it turned out, told you things you already knew about HIV and its mode of contraction. After the talk, you were directed to see the hospital staff in charge of sample collection. Before he started to work on you, he slipped on a pair of rubber gloves. Even though you repeatedly told yourself that he was just operating with good work ethics, your mind was nagged with the thought that he was handling you like some contaminated material.
A prick and a pinch later, you were told to wait outside the room whilst he runs the test. You dutifully walked out to the corridor and sat on one of the benches reserved for patients. And then, for the first time, you noticed the other people seated there. There were just three of them – two men and a woman. The men looked…normal. But the woman, she was frail. She was so thin her bones were stark against her paper-thin skin. You looked at her and you thought, ‘That is you in three years time.’ The thought wasn’t comforting, and you felt a shiver race through your body.
You began to get impatient. The minutes were slowly ticking by, but you wanted them to hurry up. you couldn’t take it – just sitting here, staring at walls, staring at the woman, left with nothing but time and all the ways it tortured your mind with images and possibilities.
‘I’m going to die…’ you thought again. ‘I am going to die, sooner than I thought. My life is over…’ There you were, at twenty years of age, already staring death in the face, again.
The nurses walked out and past you a few times, and that was the first inclination you had. They would pass you, pretending not to look at you, but you’d catch them sneaking a peek out of the corners of their eyes. One even dared cast on you a look of an emotion you could only interpret as pity. Your heart began to drop, heavy as stone, as you considered what this could mean for you.
Eventually, they came to call you. You were led into the Head nurse’s office. You didn’t waste time on preliminaries. You said at once to her, “It’s positive, right? I have it, don’t I?”
The stoutly-built woman looked at you with what you imagined was her best straight face, but was really an automatic response to people like you. “Yes,” she said shortly.
You knew then that you were going to like her. “Okay… When do I start medication?” you said.
She smiled. “You’re…different.”
You didn’t say anything. You maintained a deadpan expression over your warring emotions, giving nothing away.
She continued, “You won’t start on the drugs immediately. Firstly, we’ll have to conduct tests – check your CD4 Count, Vitals and such stuff. You’ll have to be registered. We could recommend other hospitals that offer this service, and you’ll have to choose one of your liking –”
“I already chose here,” you cut in.
“Okay… Then, you’ll have to go through classes. If your CD4 Count proves to be low, we’ll start you on the medication as soon as you get a relative to come and sign for you.”
The anxiety quadrupled inside you at what she said. Get a relative?! Major would kill you with his hands if he heard this. Your uncles and aunts would be disappointed. Grandma would be hurt. Mom… Oh Mom – she’d be devastated. No, that couldn’t happen! You couldn’t tell them!
“I don’t plan on telling my people. I’m not comfortable with that arrangement,” you said, trying not to let your disquiet at the thought leak into your voice. You were most certainly not going to break down here.
The Head Nurse looked straight at you and said, “That’s not an option. For your safety and for us to not be liable for any mess, you must tell one of your relatives and bring him or her here. He or she will be your sponsor. If for some reason we can’t contact you, we’ll reach for him or her. Two months ago, we had an incident where a woman was sick. She collapsed and was rushed to a hospital. She hadn’t taken her drugs for two weeks. That was a serious issue. The virus became immune, so to speak, to the drugs.”
“But I can’t… I won’t…”
She cut you off with a sigh, and said, “Look, I know this is a big deal. You’re scared and confused and even paranoid. But it’s okay. With your drugs, you’ll live a long, healthy life. So, if you can’t tell your relative by yourself, just bring him or her here. We recommend mothers or elder siblings. We’ll talk to whomever you get here. Just think about it, okay?”
You were numb. The fact that you had to tell your family proved to be a more frightening prospect than the fact that you had HIV. But you pushed the thought away as you left the hospital. You’d been scheduled to return on Monday – that was in three days time. And until Monday, you were determined not to think about all this.
You went to the mall and got a new charger for your phone. The mall was crowded with shoppers and sightseers. Several times, people bumped into you, but you apologized first. Someone stepped on my shod feet, and you smiled at him, even before he began profusely apologizing. The cashier at Fine Brothers sneered at you over some minor sales issue, and you grinned back at her. As you headed home, you thought about how those reactions of yours had been strange. You had just found out that life as you knew it had being altered. You should be mad, anguished, grieving. But you were not. Instead, you were strangely content. And you listened to Yanni all the way home.
TO BE CONTINUED
Written by Uziel