As I approach the clinic the itching starts again. I take slow steps forward and bring my thighs together to increase the contact between them so that I can feel relief. It still continues to itch. I’m in an open space with only a few cars parked side by side.
I think it will not be too obvious if I move to one corner and set down to really scratch properly. I shift to a small shrub on my right, marking the end of one edge of the open space. There is a Toyota Camry packed beside it. I look into the car like someone fixing to steal, to make sure there is no one sitting in the car. The car is empty. I stand still and put my hands against my trouser zip, look around again and scratch and scratch and scratch till I ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ in relief before I feel the tingling.
God will punish that Silifat girl for me. She knew she had craw craw or whatever and she did not say anything and now she has transmitted it to me. But I myself am very stupid; I know. It was the last condom I had and she begged that we should do again. Me sef I wanted us to do again. Who will not want to when it is Silifat? I told her I did not have another condom.
She said no wahala we will just reuse it. It was when the action started that the condom broke. The thing pained me a lot but I quickly withdrew out of her. But now the problem is ever since that yesterday now I have been scratching everywhere. Not just in my private part; inside my lips, on my tongue, in my armpits.
There are sores all over my body and I am scared. So I have decided to come to do a HIV test. They said HIV does not show on the face. I have been suspecting that Silifat girl for a very long time. If I do a test and they say I am positive, I swear I will kill myself, but that is after I have killed Silifat. But what will happen to my wife and our four children. I’m really pissed at myself. What have I been thinking? I should be more careful. If God let’s me HIV negative, I swear I will stop all this play play and stick to my wife. It’s just that with this my travel travel kind of work, a man must survive na. Afterall, like they say ‘body no be wood’.
I am now close to the canopy, where the HIV positive and prospective HIV positive people are sitting. I say prospective, because I am sure that there are people like me who are sitting there, and have only just come to check their status and are not here for treatment, because some of them look too fine to have HIV. I shift around taking slow steps, my head hung and I bump into a few people, two of which spit out impatient insults, one of them implying that I am blind for not watching my way.
When I am close to the gate that leads into the clinic, I amble the way down to the security man wearing a red shirt and black trouser faded with over-washing and glossing at different places from over-ironing. The patients behind me are many and there is a woman standing there holding a pile of papers with colours ranging from light green to blue and pink. She is calling out names.
One woman has just pushed another woman off her seat as she hurries to the front to answer the call of her name. The other woman spits at her “idiot”, the woman replies back “ode”. The woman calling the names intervenes and says she will not allow the woman who has been called to go in if she does not stop being abusive and after all, she was the one who had started the fight initially. The woman opens her mouth to protest, but the woman calling names raises her hand to signal the finality of her warning and waves her inside as she proceeds to call the next name.
I can feel my heart running a marathon against my chest. What have I gotten myself into? This crowd, these people, the possibility of infection just by coming in contact with them. They say it on TV; you cannot get HIV by shaking hands with or touching HIV positive people. But, just being here and surrounded by them, I am scared that if I didn’t actually have HIV when I woke up this morning, I have contracted it now.
“Oga can I help you?” I am jolted out of my thoughts by the security man sneering up at me with an impatient look
My heart is beating now as I tell the security man what I have come here for.
“Sir I want to do HIV test” I whisper
I can bet he has a smile forming at the corner of his lips as he waves me to another canopy close by, with people waiting to know their status. I am given a card with a number written on it. I am no 73. I grimace and then look up as number 24 is being called in. Today na today.
I turn to my left and right and then crane my neck to the back. My eyes catch the eyes of a beautiful damsel. I turn properly to put her face into full view. She stares at me pointedly, as her lips move rhythmically as she chews gum. Her eyelids are splashed with an edgy combination of blue and black eye shadow. Her powder makes her look like an oyinbo. The difference in skin tone of her face and hands is too obvious. Her lips are a striking red and very tempting. This one cannot have HIV; she is too clean, too fresh, I think
“What?” she finally blurts out.
“Nothing na. I cannot look at fine girl again”
She hisses and I smile. I turn back to my front and promise myself that if my test turns out negative and she too has a negative test, I will follow her up and we can continue enjoyment together. Negative on top of negative. Call me crazy. I know I promised, but as I said before, body no be wood.
I have already dozed on and my head is hanging to the back on my white chair when someone strikes a heavy blow on my lap.
I shake violently and my eyes widen with anger.
“Ahn, ahn. Which kian sleep be that? Since dem they call number 73, you no answer” The man is bigger than me and looks ready for a fight, so I tuck my anger back in and swallow the insults I had prepared in those brief seconds of sudden mental alertness.
I clean the sleepy crust from my eyes and wipe my mouth as I walk past the barrier into the clinic. I am directed to a room which I enter. The lady with dark rimmed glasses sitting on a pig-snout shaped nose asks me to sit down in the chair in front of her.
“Thank you ma” I mumble through clenched teeth. I just want us to get over with it. Fear dey worry me.
She picks up a cotton wool soaked in spirit and tosses it into a jar.
“I will start with counselling first.” She smiles at me and I cringe. She is too ugly. “What is this on your lips?” she stops and stares at my face, I feel too conscious of myself
“I’m here for HIV test”
“Of course, I know. I’m asking what is all over your lips”
I sigh. “I don’t know. That is why I have come”
“But why would sores all over your lips make you come for HIV test. I mean—“
“See madam, if you will not do test for me. Let me know. I have been waiting since morning”
“Sorry about that”
“So have you done anything recently that would make you concerned that you have HIV?”
“Well...yes. I slept with my girl yesterday and we used the same condom for two rounds. It broke the second time”
“I would not even have been bothered if I did not have these sores all over my body. I tell you it is in my private part sef. It has to be HIV”
“Okay.” She drags the last ‘y’ and I can bet I can smell sarcasm in her tone
I take one look at her and I decided I would tell her off if she says ‘okay’ again.
She starts one boring lecture about HIV and ends with “Just know that whatever the result turns out to be, HIV is not a death sentence”
I clear my throat and feel my heart beating fast. Reality dawns on me and I know I would not be able to take it if it is positive, the test. I will kill myself. I feel the headache I have been feeling since yesterday build up around my temples and settle around my left eye. I wince in pain
“What is it sir?”
“It’s just this headache jare. I have been feeling it since after meeting my girl. I went to one chemist and he gave me paracematol and septrin tablet”
“Okay. And no improvement?”
“None at all o”
She takes a moistened cotton wool and starts to wipe the tip of my finger.
She takes one of the blue things from her desk and removes the small head. The sharp point of a needle comes into view.
“It won’t hurt sir. I promise”
I hate to be wimp, so I form boldness and allow her prick me. It doesn’t hurt at all.
She presses my finger lightly and lets a drop of blood start to fill one of the strips on her desk. And the next step is waiting. She smiles and I smile back, uncomfortably. The world seems to pass by very slowly. I see my wife; her face when I tell her. Or I won’t tell her. I would just go to my apartment silent, take that fat rope from where I kept it, and attach it to the fan and hang myself. Perfect. No need for wahala.
“You said what?”
I am jerked back to the present. I can only see the lady’s mouth moving but I cannot hear what she is saying.
“Yeepa” I scream. I jump up from the chair and lose my balance. By the time I regain my balance and am now facing the lady, I can see the mixed shock and amusement on her face.
“What do you mean congratulations? When I am positive” my jaws start to shake and I can feel a pain behind my throat. I clear my throat and look at the lady, my eyes pleading.
She smiles and then her smile grows into a light-hearted laugh. “Who said anything about you being positive? You are HIV-negative”
“Say true!” I scream.
She chuckles on her seat, her fat breasts bobbing up and down and answers, “True sir”
I look about me and bend my back a bit to dance a little etighi before taking my seat.
She laughs and regards me the same way one will regard an unserious child.
“You would need to come back for another test in 3 months”
“For what? Abeg madam leave that thing”
“There is a window period between new HIV infection and when the body starts to show signs of infection”
“Shebi you have just said I am negative. HIV is not my portion in Jesus’ name” I cut her off and watch her look at me. “Can I go?”
“Yes you can” she hides back a smile.
I get up hastily and make for the door. I hear her speak and I stop just as I am about to turn the door handle.
“I didn’t want to mention it before, since I am not a doctor or pharmacist, but I think these things on your lips and everywhere else could be from you using that septrin tablet you talked about. It might be that you are allergic to septrin. My father had such a reaction once”
“Yes, I think so”
I barge out of the office and set my mind on finding the fine girl I saw before. I spot her close to the area marked ‘Pharmacy’, with her back to me. She is bent over and at first all I can see is the roundness of her buttocks in her tight blue jeans, but then I realise that she looks like she is crying. As I move closer, I bump into a lady and ask her if she knows what is wrong with the fine girl.
“E be like say dem don confirm am”
“HIV na” she whispers and sneers at me as if I am an illiterate.
I remain standing on the spot, then after scanning the area well, I make for the gates, careful not to allow fine girl see me and walk as fast as my legs can carry me to my car so that I can zoom off sharp sharp.
This night I must see Silifa.
Article by Olubayo Paul