The sun has become the source of such scalding pain these days. My mother has taken to saying that there would come a time when we wouldn’t need to use our gas cooker to fry. “Just pour a generous amount of your vegetable oil into the pan,” she says, “put in whatever meal it is you want to brown and place under the sun. It will do justice to it.”
The sun was at its cruelest peak that afternoon, scalding everything it fell upon with the kind of heat that made me wish I hadn’t come out as my friend, Kacee and I trekked our way through Yaba that afternoon.
Population Council, I’d heard, is like a TIERs outstation, a safe abode for the countless gay individuals in this country. As a member of the rainbow family, it’s pertinent you go there and register with them. Free counseling, free STI tests, voluntary aids and so on are amongst the many benefits accrued to you. Prior to this time, I had been postponing any visit to the clinic. I always had an excuse ready whenever the issue of going to PC was raised. I didn’t know why I didn’t want to know, except that something about being in a place where you could be made to be part of tests whose results you don’t care for made me uncomfortable.
But then, there was this guy who works there that my friend used to go on and on about. She constantly told me how the guy wanted to meet me, how nice he is, how I should really meet with him and all of that. (For the purpose of this story, let’s call him Joel) So I finally made up my mind: here was a good reason to go to PC.
The place wasn’t bad at all. The environment it is situated in is really serene, the building itself very well thought-out. The demography, I noted, is pretty wide ranged. Kacee and I walked into the lounge and I felt immediately at home: the warm reception from fellow ‘sisters’ (we just can’t go unnoticed), the refreshing whoosh of the air conditioner, which took the sting of the scorcher we’d just endured, the lively environment – everything was pleasing to me.
A few minutes after we’d made our entrance, Kacee jerked my arm. “There’s Joel.” She pointed.
I turned around and spotted a chocolate-skinned man of average height with a well carved beard and a face that had known smiles. He had an unmistakable warmth and aura of hospitability about him, and when he came to meet us, I noticed he had these cheerful, piercing eyes that kept moving from me to my friend.
“Hello Kacee,” he greeted as he hugged her. He disengaged from her hugging and hugged me too. “You must be Delle,” he said. “I’ve heard a lot about you from Kacee here. I’m Joel.”
He had such an easygoing air that getting acquainted with, conversing with him was effortless. His personality was totally beautiful. The secretary who I would have to meet for my registration wasn’t presently on seat, so we chatted while we waited for her. She soon returned and I was directed over to her for my registration. Afterwards, Joel said I should follow him upstairs to another section of the building where they run tests and all.
I didn’t want to go for a HIV test. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I had been up and about having random unprotected sex. I don’t even share nail-cutters. But I’m human. I was nervous. I don’t think there’s anyone who would take popsicles and blow a thousand kisses at the announcement of a HIV check-up.
“Umm Joel,” I said hesitantly, “I don’t think I want to do a HIV test. I just had one two months ago in school and the spacing is three months or thereabouts, right?”
“Well yes, that’s true,” he replied. “But it’s advisable you have a HIV test as often as possible, you should limit yourself. Don’t be scared, dear,” he cajoled. “I know you are but there’s really nothing to be scared of, in so far as you always use protection.” He was smiling as he worked on convincing me.
This guy smiles a lot, I thought distractedly.
I tried to make Kacee have the test with me, before I caved to Joel’s cajolery. But the bitch said no.
Why again am I doing this biko nu? I wanted to wail. I needed some form of support, and no matter how shabby this may seem, having Kacee do the test with me was going to make me feel more at ease.
But she declined, and I followed after Joel, feeling slightly panicked and alone.
We got into the air-conditioned room where my blood sample would be taken. Joel dropped me off there and went out, promising to come back when I was done. The clinic attendant promptly took charge. After pricking my finger (even the needle prick was painful because at that point, my entire body was taut and extra sensitive), the clinic attendant told me to wait just outside. He said the result would be ready in ten minutes. As I got up to step outside, my legs felt suddenly heavy and shaky.
Yes, I really had done a HIV test two months ago in school, but I wasn’t really sure of its credibility. Some pharmacy students had been designated at various stations in the school premises, perched inside tents and attending to hundreds of nervy students who wanted to know their HIV statuses. I’d been negative and I didn’t doubt the result then, but you know there’s more value attached to something well-packaged. A result from a clinic in a well-structured building can’t be compared to that which you get in a tent on your way to get food from a popular quadrangle in school.
“Are you done?”
I was startled out of my reverie by Joel’s enquiry.
“Yes I am. The guy said to wait here for the result,” I replied, reflexively running my wet palms over my thighs in a bid to calm my raging nerves. I heaved as he looked at me with his warm eyes.
“Stop being scared,” he said. “You have an edge because you’ve done the test just recently.” He patted my back gently. “Oga, the test never ready?” he called to the clinic attendant.
“It’s almost done,” the man called back. “Why you dey disturb my work sef, ehn Joel? Abi na your…”
I tuned their banter off my head. At that point, all I could think of was my result. Joel stuck around for a minute and then left. After some more time had passed, the door of the clinic opened.
“Oya follow me,” the clinic attendant said to me as he began walking to another room.
Oya follow you? What is this? I suddenly had this urge to scream.
“Am I not meant to have the result now, sir?” I asked him impatiently as we made our way to an unknown destination.
“Yes, you’ll have the result.” He stopped and turned to me. “The doctor is the one to tell you your result, and then he’ll counsel you.”
Huh? Doctor? Counsel?! This wasn’t how the first one went. Oh God, I knew it! I knew that was a fake test procedure I did in school. I felt my world begin to crumble around me. My mind began to race with possibilities and probabilities. I know how much I’d read about HIV not being a death sentence, and yet I wondered wrathfully how one can live a happy, fulfilled life as a HIV positive individual. I thought of Kenny Badmus and his achievements, the inspiring stories from Bobby, Dubem and Temi Cole here on Kito Diaries. Would I start having entries like those too? I felt panicked. I said a silent prayer. I wanted to remain negative. Heck, I needed to be negative!
Why did I have sex recently, God? I questioned with quiet panic. Why did You allow me have sex, God?
I’d just had sex, the first time this year, a few days before the trip to PC. And now this clinic attendant didn’t want to tell me my result? It’s finished. I’m done for.
We got into the room, and there he was, seated comfortably in his spring chair, the doctor. He looked too young to be a doctor. With a firm face and a poise I almost found irritating, he had this aura of one who’d been there and done that. He gestured for me to sit as the clinic attendant dropped the paper (obviously my result) on the table and left.
Gingerly, I took my seat and looked at him with impatient eyes. If I’m positive, you might as well just tell me now, I thought.
Well, that wasn’t to be. We didn’t get right down to business. The doctor started chattering with a female nurse who was sprawled on a carrier in his office. The devil. They talked about the most irrelevant things (or maybe everything aside my result just then was irrelevant).
My wrath blossomed inside me. What was this guy doing? I thought. Was he trying to lighten the mood so that when he dropped the bomb on me, it won’t feel so disastrous? Was that even possible, such news not feeling disastrous because of preliminary chatter?
Suddenly, I heard the low guttural sound of someone clearing his throat. It was him. My mouth went dry. I couldn’t find a drop of saliva to lubricate my burning oesophagus. I did a mental check of myself. So many questions tumbled through my head with the speed of light. Why did I now go and have sex, protected or not? Couldn’t I just have waited just one week extra, having waited four months already? Shebi Dr. Francis on KD said sometimes you may test negative only to check again and it’d become positive? What would be the best way to break the news to my parents because I couldn’t imagine myself living with this without letting them know? Would I be strong enough like others to live through this?
My heart was pounding so ferociously, I don’t think I was breathing in those few seconds. Unconsciously, I started having an internal argument within myself.
I had sex recently quite alright, but it was with protection, so there was nothing to be scared of…right?
No, there’s everything to be scared of, you moron. Remember you once had sex without a condom, your very first time having sex (sometime late last year).
But that had been negated with the HIV test I did in school, yea?
No! How accurate can those tent tests really be? Ask yourself!
“You’re posi – sorry, negative,” the doctor cut into my thoughts just then in a casual tone.
I said almost fainted. Had he just make a mistake in calling out my test result? Imagine?! And he was so relaxed about it sef. Silly!
“Sorry?” I said, wanting him to repeat himself.
“I said you’re negative.”
And just like that, I was alive again. Sensation came rushing back to me, sights and sounds. The walls of his office were glass painted, such a lovely office. He had a tie loosely hanging around his neck. The nurse in the room had on a turquoise coloured shirt and a flower-printed skirt. All of a sudden, I noticed just how handsome the doctor was. He was going on and on about how to prevent HIV, how I should maintain my status and what-have-you. I didn’t pay any attention, but I was overwrought no more. The sweat beads that had broken out on my forehead evaporated in seconds. A while ago I was just breathing, now I was alive! Christ, that was something.
The doctor handed me some sachets of condoms. I got up, wanting so much to hug him but restraining my very ecstatic self. I thanked him instead as I flashed him a beatific smile and then made my way out of his office.
I saw my very beautiful Kacee and the gorgeous Joel sitting across from each other and waiting me. Everyone was just beautiful, just beautiful. I might have even kissed Mugabe, had he walked into PC then. My countenance told them all they needed to know. Kacee made a very funny quip of unfriending me had my result turned out positive. I laughed harder than everyone else at the joke. After chatting with a couple of acquaintances for a while, the three of us left the building to a good treat of pizza and soft drinks, courtesy of the amiable Joel.
As we enjoyed our repast, I began to think back to the events that had just happened. In those moments I was seated across from the doctor, I realised that although the sensitization and awareness on HIV is strong, the stigma and phobia hasn’t been totally erased. Look at me who does my bit in encouraging people I know on how to stay positive as a HIV positive person; I had absolutely fallen to pieces at the first hint of strain. I realised just how pleasant “Delle, you got an F in EE423” would have sounded to me compared to the news that I am HIV positive. Maybe that’s why this ailment is still King of STDs. Maybe that’s why condoms should be a man’s best friend (if you can’t help abstinence). I made a mental note to make use of the condoms given to me no matter the circumstances. It’s either condom or no sex!
Here’s a note from me to you. If you haven’t gotten tested, if you’re in the habit of going months before checking for your status, I urge you to go do a HIV test. It is important to know your status. Knowledge is key. You’d not only be saving your life, you’d be saving others too.
Written by Delle