Josh laughed. It felt good to hear his throaty chuckle after a long time. (For someone who I was constantly in communication with, a few days without speaking or chatting with him always seemed like an eternity)
“Road trip ke? Where we dey go?” Josh replied with a yawn.
“Egbeda,” I deadpanned.
“Mumu!” he burst out with another laugh. “You have started throwing shade again ba, this early morning.”
“Haba! I am not throwing darkness of any sorts, oga. But really, anything beyond the Third Mainland Bridge is a road trip and I will not apologize for it!” I retorted.
“For your mind, you sef, you are forming Island Big Gehz, ba? You don’t even live in Old Ikoyi, Parkview or Phase 1 o! Your house and Epe, no difference. Dey there dey deceive yourself.”
I let out a hearty guffaw. It indeed felt good, talking to Josh.
“Wetin de happen for Egbeda? You don get new market for that side?”
“For what now? I am too old for cross country affairs, my darling. We are going to the lab.”
Josh was silent for a short moment at the other end of the phone. I prayed he would not probe any further, at least not over this telephone conversation.
“Ok, no problem. When are we going?” he finally said.
“Ai, I’d come over to yours on Friday night, and we will head out the next day.”
“Cool! See you then!”
I’d withdrawn into a cocoon after I hung up on Daberechi on Saturday. Somewhere in between restless slumber and the long stretches of time I spent staring into blank spaces, I seemed to find myself wondering frequently about the possibility of my new status. I wondered who I had contracted it from, how long I’d been living with it, and who I may have possibly passed it unto. I made a mental list of people I had bare-backed with over the last couple of months. I wondered if there would be the need to inform them so that they could get tested too as soon as possible. I wondered if I had also put people around me at risk, for all the instances I forgot to go to barbershop with my clipper. People I’d kissed with cold sores. Those little things I would have taken for granted on most days now burdened me.
I went back to the internet, and began researching various subjects – living with HIV, HIV1 and 2, immigration and HIV, HIV support groups in Africa. I remember skimming over the pages a few minutes, then I would drift away into a daydream, and then read some more and dream again.
I was glad when Monday came. It felt good to head out early in the morning and work till sundown, create new tasks to keep my mind occupied. But every now and again, the test result would flash through my mind and my heart would skip a beat or two. I was still suspended somewhere in disbelief. Beneath all of this, there was a dulling optimism that come Saturday, the results would be different and the first test I’d taken was defective. I held on to this, even when Friday night came by.
Josh and I hung out at our usual spot; we ate suya and guzzled cold bottles of Heineken while swapping stories of the week gone by and telling raunchy jokes. I assumed he wanted to enquire about the circumstances that surrounded our intended visit to the Lab tomorrow, but he respected boundaries. Like other things, he knew I would tell him when I was ready.
He was the one who pushed and ensured that we leave on Saturday as planned, when I developed cold feet and decided not to go. He volunteered to drive when I said I was too tired to make that journey; he even suggested we enter a cab (he would pay for) if I did not trust his driving. I grudgingly packed a couple of snacks, my sunglasses and a half-read book in anticipation of the long drive ahead of us. I never got to read much because as we drove, we nibbled on cashew nuts and sang our favourite tunes from our 90s Playlist.
Eventually, after a few missed turns and asking for direction, we found Daberechi’s place. It was a bungalow with fading paint, tucked away in a serene neighbourhood. She was waiting for us outside. We hugged, laughed and bickered like siblings who had not seen each other in a while. We lounged in her office and engaged in mild chitchat about work, the LGBT community and projects she was presently working on. Eventually she placed a call to the Lab, and I followed her out of the office, while Josh settled down to watch the League match showing.
I felt like a child being sent to the Principal’s office for bad behaviour as we walked to the Lab. I was thankful the hallways were empty that day, so that I did not have to worry about judging and accusing stares that would follow me to the Judgment Room.
Daberechi introduced me to the Lab Scientist. His name was Demilade, and he had the most beautifulest eyes I’d ever seen; they were soft brown, warmer because of the glow of the yellow bulb that reflected against them. They were framed by the fullest lashes, which I wanted to immediately pluck out and add as extensions to mine. Even amidst my fears, I found myself thinking very, very inappropriate thoughts of me and this brown-eyed boy. I instinctively started humming Destiny’s Child’s Brown Eyes.
I had to nudge myself back to reality when I realized he was now speaking to me. Daberechi was gone.
“Please come again…” I said with my most sultry smile. (For my mind o)
He smiled back. “I did not come before,” he said with a wink.
I laughed. I knew he was not really flirting; he was probably doing his best to make me feel comfortable.
“I was explaining the entire procedure to you… I’ll be running two tests, maybe three. Dabz said you ran a home test. The tests I am going to run are very similar to the one you did.” He was snapping on gloves now. He stretched forward and reached for my hands, for my index finger, and pricked at it with a lancet.
I giggled nervously.
He smiled apologetically. “Sorry, does it hurt?”
“No,” I mumbled, then wondered if perhaps I should have said yes, so that he would give my finger more attention. “I am just remembering what an idiot I was when I was trying to figure out how to use the lancet at home last weekend. And see how simple it was for you.”
“You are not an idiot, Mr. Cole,” Demilade said softly. “I do this every day, so it comes pretty easily. I am sure you are great at what you do at your place of work.”
This was beyond making me comfortable; I was feeling mushy now. And I found myself wishing that the results would turn out negative, just so that Demilade and I would go out to celebrate, and it would end up with us waking up together with entangled legs and him staring into my eyes with those honey-coloured eyes of his…
“You seem to be smiling a lot,” he said as he placed droplets of my blood into the sample well. “It is nice.”
I tried to stop myself from smiling wider. If I were fair skinned, I would be red as a beet at this moment. I pushed the dreamy thoughts as far back from my mind as I could. And while we waited, we talked about work and life; he told me about his commitment to the LGBT community, his no-condom-no-sex principles. I listened with rapt attention, smiled from time to time, and asked what I felt were intelligent questions. I teased him about giving me one of those wooden penises I had seen in a corner of the office.
We both stared at the two tests on his table, whose results were now similar to the one I had seen at home. He looked into my eyes, and it was the first time I saw what I would see in many eyes – sympathy lurking somewhere within. As he began to speak, I felt my head constrict. And as it grew smaller, my hopes and budding optimism dwindled, till it was snuffed out.
“Unfortunately – er… rather, it would seem like both tests have confirmed Positive, Mr. Cole…” he was saying.
I started smiling,
“I am sure you know this does not mean that you are going to die. If it is well managed, you can live as long as the average human being. As you know, there is presently no cure for HIV. Your new status will demand a lifestyle change. Do you drink? Smoke?”
“Yes. Yes,” I said, still smiling. The smirk felt frozen on my face. Looking back, I’m sure Demilade most have thought I was in a deep state of shock or hysteria, which could only justify the silly smile etched on my face throughout our conversation.
“Will you share this with any members of your family? Friends?” he queried.
“No, at least not for now.”
He nodded. “Well, you have to gradually stop the drinking and smoking. You have to modify your diet to include more fruit and vegetables and exercise frequently. We will refer you to another clinic for your CD4 count and viral load tests. We will particularly recommend one for you on the mainland; they are LGBT friendly and I feel like you would be comfortable and fare better there.”
No. I would fare better if I did not have the virus! I wanted to scream. Instead, I said with my smile still intact, “Do they open on weekends?”
“No. I don’t think so… but I’ll give you a number to speak to someone there.”
“Ok. Thank you, Demilade. You have been such tremendous help. Thanks for taking time out to see me.”
Thank you for also confirming that my life is ruined, Brown-eyes! I silently shrieked.
I hoped he would not see the slouch of defeat in my shoulders or the mist in my eyes as I stood up to leave the laboratory. I prayed I would not falter as he filled a form and handed it over to me. He seemed like he wanted to say something else but decided against it.
I walked away, down the corridor which seemed shorter now. I was not ready to face Daberechi or Josh. But I had to. I took a deep breath and stepped in. Daberechi was typing away on her computer while Josh was still watching the match. He looked up at me, smiled and refocused on the TV. I sat with Daberechi, and we engaged in some idle chatter. I promised to call her soon so we could talk about it all.
After a few minutes, I manage to peel Josh off the chair and bundled him into the car. Soon we were meandering our way through the Lagos traffic back home.
“So how did it go?”
I took a deep breath, sighed and began to relay it all to Josh. I told him everything, the happenings from last weekend, my conversation with Daberechi, the rollercoaster of emotions I had felt through the course of the week, and the way forward as Demilade had proposed.
He was silent for a while, looking out of the window, seemingly gazing at passersby. Then he said, “I don’t really like that LGBT friendly clinic. I feel like your privacy would be jeopardized there, so let’s keep our options open.”
I was touched that he used the word ‘our’. I did not feel so alone in that very moment.
“Oh really, I haven’t really had the time to think and wrap my head around it or what I would do. I am coming to terms with it gradually, but I would like my normal life and work routine to continue as much as possible…”
“Yeah, I sort of understand where you are coming from and what you are feeling at this moment –”
I laughed. “I doubt that you do.”
“I do,” he said, his voice at once firm and soft. “I used to have a friend. Two years ago, we got tested together at some function. We just say make we check, like play-play. I was even scared because I had been a bit reckless over the past months, but he convinced me to get tested. I was Negative but he turned out Positive. I felt horrible, Temi. He was a good guy and I don’t feel like he deserved it, and me and my nasty trail got out free… I promised him we would pull through it together, and I tried. I tried and tried, but the harder I did, the more I seemed to lose him, the further away he drifted. Eventually I had to let go. I stopped trying, and decided to wait, hoping that he would return to me… But he never did. Today he lives in the States and I believe he is doing well, but we are no longer friends. We are barely even acquaintances. I feel like I failed him as a friend. And it still haunts me… I still wish I could make it right…”
I thought I saw the corner of Josh’s eyes dampen at this point, but I couldn’t be sure, because he wasn’t looking directly at me. I could not assure him that I would not drift away too, but I knew that right now, I needed to fill my head with positive thoughts and optimism and strength, as I was certain I would need them in the weeks that would come.
“Well, for what it’s worth,” I said, “I find the weather for most parts of the year over there dreadful, and there are too many beautiful roughies here that I can’t leave for you alone. So you are not getting rid of me any time soon!”
He managed a weak laugh. “Temi, I don’t want to sound preachy, but it’s not the end. You will adjust and life will go on. Most importantly, we are in it together. And thanks for sharing this with me.”
“Ok, since you are so keen on taking care of me, you are buying us dinner tonight. And right now, I am thirsty, so you’re buying me five packs of Tampico!” I said with a grin.
He laughed and stopped the car long enough to holler at a little boy selling frozen yoghurt, ice-cream and juice. He bought us five packs of Tampico. The moment felt cheesy, like a low-budget Hollywood chick flick, but it left me feeling warm and fuzzy. (It must have been like when Olanna felt like she had swallowed a sliver of light after making up with Kainene) And I believed that everything would be okay… eventually.
We laughed and chatted about every other thing on our ride back home, holding on to this moment for as long as it would last.
Written by Temi-D