From across the street, the sign at the clinic didn’t look as inviting as it did last week. It took a while before I could force myself to cross over to the other side. I walked in and said a muted “good morning” to the nurse/receptionist.
I guess she was used to people being apprehensive on the day they picked up their test results, and she replied with a cheery “Welcome sir, and how are you today?” I managed a smile and handed over my card.
“Sir, you will be required to see our counselor before picking up your test results”, she said without looking at the card.
“I already did, last week when I came for the test…she signed my card”
“Ah…alright then. Hmmm…your results have been ready since the last 4 days."
"Yeah..I was like, out of town". My excuse sounded lame.
"Please give me a couple of minutes sir, I’ll be right with you”
It turned out to be the longest 2 minutes of my life…I sat in the reception chair with my hands clasped between my knees. There were a 2 other people seated in the reception room but, as if by an unspoken agreement, we simply refused to acknowledge each other's presence. I guess everyone had a lot on our minds right about then.
I leaned my head back on the wall behind me and picked a spot on the white ceiling to keep my eyes locked on, allowing my mind to be flooded by the muted music coming from hidden speakers… “Gad…you gotta help me out here”, I prayed silently…
I tried to keep my mind focused on happy thoughts and on the other things I had to do for the rest of the day, just to while away time, but my mind kept going back to memories of how I got here in the first place.
My job used to take me around a lot…and I get to be “out of station” sometimes for months on end. I was in the old Energy city for about 3 months…sometimes for up to 3 weeks at a stretch, working on building a centre for one of the communication companies here. I stayed at a small hotel in a quieter part of town…just a place I could kick back after being on my feet for most of the day on site. Being a loner (usually), it was my kinda place: small, hidden and quiet. My cousin often came around to drag me out on weekends and take me around town though. Most other times I just stayed in my hotel room, watching movies on my laptop or working, creating a “sound wall” of loud rock music.
Towards the end of the building project, a number of the advance staff from the communications company started coming around, “to beta test the place”, like they said anyway.
That’s when I met Nancy.
Smallish, bookish, academic type…shrill voice, big eyes, wearing a shoulder-length weave, acrylic nails..legs that looked great in heels, her skirts were always cut above her knees...hmmm, not bad!
I actually didn’t notice when she came on site. I just started getting reports from some of the construction workers still on site doing remedial work that there was this “bitch of a woman” giving them hell…complaining about any and everything.
“Just do what you need to do, so we can get out of here”, I told them.
On that fateful day though, I was in my make-shift office, in the still-unfinished space meant for “phase 2” of the project, working on my snag-list for the building, when this cute chick walks up to my desk..
“Are you Mr. Obi?”
“Can you come with me for a minute; I need to show you something”
She led me towards the back of the building…I noticed the construction workers we passed on the way there, who usually gave nods of acknowledgement anytime I walked passed them, did their best to stay away from her path.
“How come there’s water in the underground tank, but no water in the bathrooms?” she asked, pointing to the full underground water storage tank..
“Excuse me, I REALLY must apologise for that”, I answered “we didn’t expect the company staff in till Monday. The booster pumps are being delivered tomorrow and will be installed and tested over the weekend”
“Well I hope so, my people are coming in on Monday, and we expect to have fully functioning offices”
“Promise, cross my heart” I said (or something to that effect).
I guess maybe it was the “authority” in her voice that intrigued me…or maybe I had been away from civilization for too long.
I hung out with my cousin that weekend...we both went out to the building site first. She wanted to see what I had been working on all this while and I wanted to make sure the pumps were installed.
“Nice work you’ve done here”
“Thanks, I should be out of your hair by next week-ish”
“Na wa o..will miss you jarey”
“Hey, I almost forgot…a friend of mine, we went to secondary school together, she called me last weekend that she’s been transferred here by her office, a communications company”
“..and her name is??” I asked, wrinkling my forehead.
“Nancy..you know her?”
I got in early on Monday to make sure everything was working right…I just HATE it when the advance staff comes to take over their building before I’m out of there...they complain about EVERYTHING…I want a socket here…My desk will be here, can I have a light point over it?...Do we have to share bathrooms with the HOD?...Can we have more power outlets in the kitchen…Can this window be widened??
Sheesh…if I remained here long enough, the ass-wipes will be asking for jacuzzi’s in their offices…
I don’t really know why, but I kept an eye out for Ms. Nancy…the place was getting busy with staffers sorting out their furniture and stuff. I spotted her waving at me from amidst her “people”, and she gave me a thumbs-up sign…I guess she knows the pumps are working now. I went off to my office to sort out my hand-over reports..
Thursday: I was supposed to be back in the Lagos office by Friday morning and I was waiting for the driver to come take me to the airport today. I had confirmed my flight for 4:30pm and called him, asking him to come pick me up by 1:30pm..it would take a two and a half hour speed drive to the airport and it was still 11:30am, so I still had a couple of hours to burn. I decided to stroll around the site one last time before I leave, maybe take a few final “after” pictures. Again, I don’t really know why, but I ended up in Ms. Nancy’s office. They were having an early lunch, or celebrating their new offices…a bunch of food packs were on a table at one corner of the office.
“Hey, Obi…you hungry? Join us na”
I grabbed a food-pack and a coke, then sat in her “visitors’” chair and we ended up talking for a while..about the building, about my cousin, her secondary school, varsity, MY secondary school and varsity…she turned out not to be such a hard-nosed bitch after all. The driver finally showed up at about 1:00pm and waited in the car downstairs. I sent him a food pack down to keep him busy. As I was about to leave Nancy, I leaned forward to plant a kiss on her cheek..I noticed she moved her head away just a tad, but stilled allowed the kiss..hmmmm..
Plane touched down in Lagos about 5:45pm...flight was a bit rough, but I guess around here these days, any flight that lands in one piece was a good one. I had just switched my phone on when a text message came in..
“Did u hav to kiss me in front of my workers? I dont tink dat was necessary, did u? Hope u had a safe trip– Nancy”
Hmph, drama…well, at least now I had her number (it hit me just then that I forgot to ask her for it...how the heck did she get mine?)
Stressed out with Lagos traffic and the “no light” wahala when I got home, I had almost forgotten about her till just after midnight. Bored with writing my report, I wondered if it was too ungodly an hour to be calling her…decided on sending a text..
“Sorry if I embarrassed u in front of ur subordinates..wasnt my intention. Got back 2 Lag ok. Thanx 4 d rice”
Reply came in half a minute later
“Dats ok..glad u got home safe”
Hmmm….a fellow night owl..cool..!!
Anyway, what followed was about 2-3 months of all-day text messages and funny/generic emails, late night hours long calls, phone sex..and this was before happy-hour was invented (hey, she worked with a cell-phone service company, they get free air-time) etc.
She called quite early one Saturday morning...
“Hey, Obi…a colleague of mine is on leave in Lagos…could you text me your address so I can send it to her. I gave her a something for you, she needs to know where she can drop it off”
The cute chick lying next to me groaned as she turned to face me..
“Who was that?", she whispered sleepily.
“Shit..it’s still dark…wake me up at 7:00 jo..I’ve got lectures today”
Mandy was a “friend”…met her a few years earlier, and she went to Varsity close to where I lived. She had come over to hang out for the weekend. I sauntered off to the living room to watch early Saturday morning cartoons (at least we had light now; I better enjoy it while it lasts). Slumped on the couch and sent off the text to Nancy.
Woke Mandy up at 7:15, made her breakfast while she showered, and she later left for campus. It was almost noon while I was taking a shower when Nancy’s call came in..
“Hi Obi..my friend’s having a little trouble finding your place, I’m gonna ask her to call you now, so you can you give her directions..??”
Her friend called me thirty seconds later (she seemed to be giggling a tad too much). I asked her to hand her phone over to the cab-driver and I gave him directions. It wasn’t till I hung up that it occurred to me that Nancy might actually be with her in the car…and they were both on their way to my place!!
They arrived at my door about 15 minutes later, with Nancy carrying a suitcase (Uh-oh!)
“Yeah right” I thought…“Heeeey, welcome to Lagos” I said.
We all hung out at my place for a while…gisting and laughing…for about an hour before seeing her friend off.
We were hardly through the door when we got back before we practically went at each other like starved pit-bulls…she was every inch as crazy as I imagined and more.
Second time around was less frenzied…but just as mind-blowing, she was quite the gymnast.
Doorbell rang about 3 hours later (Shit...I had forgotten about Mandy!!)
Long story short…plenty of drama that night with Mandy throwing a SERIOUS tantrum and me having to do a suicide watch over her all night, and then Nancy having a girl-talk with her at 5am in the morning about the “unreliability of men” and the “need NOT to take any of them seriously” (What the heck…was THAT supposed to be helping??)...I mean, I sat there and watched them have a conversation about me like I wasn’t even in the room…weird!!
I had gone back to Energy city about 3 months later to see about starting phase 2 of the building project. Not surprisingly I stayed at Nancy’s place this time, and not at the hotel. I stayed only one night though.
We had gone back to phone calls...emails and text messages for more than another year, and it seemed like the long-distance relationship syndrome was taking effect. No expectations, no promises, no nothing (drama free, just like I preferred it).
Then one night she called me and asked if I was driving…
I said yes, I was still on my way home from work. She said she’d call me again later that night and hung up.
That was strange…she wasn’t sounding like her usual cheery self.
She called again at about 10:30pm..
“Hey Nancy…yeah, I’m home. Are you ok?”
“No…not really...was at my doctor’s a couple of weeks ago”
It turned out that she was supposed to have a surgical procedure done, and had taken preliminary blood tests 2 weeks earlier which turned up showing that she was HIV positive…she confirmed it a week later and decided to call and tell me about it…Now THAT was a total mind-fuck for me. Torn between having to console her about the discovery, asking her about the up-coming surgery, and worrying about whether I was also infected, I only managed to fumble through my words on the phone. I could hardly put a coherent thought together, much less a sentence. The rest of our conversation was more of a blur…all I could hear was the blood pounding in my head.
She seemed to sense the turmoil I was going through at the time and started telling me words I would later hear almost verbatim from a counselor a week later. She encouraged me not to space out, to go take a test and take it from there. Needless to say, there was NO sleep for me that night.
First thing was to get a test done, right? Shit..I had NEVER had an HIV test done before...I know where they had a clinic close to a pal’s place at Yaba, but I’ve never been in there before.. it took me 2 days and 3 visits to the clinic before I could work up the nerve to walk through the door. I tried to look cheerful as I approached the nurse. Told her what I came for and she gave me a 2-page form to fill. Then had a counseling session…the counselor seemed to have assumed I already tested positive…and advised me on “appropriate behaviour”, diet, exercise and attitude “in case I tested positive”. Then it was off to the little room..a nurse came to take a blood sample from my arm. She seemed to be trying not to look me straight in the eye…quite disconcerting, that.
“Ok..that’s it”, said the counselor when I went back to her office, cotton swab on the needle entry point. “The results should be ready in a couple of days, you can come back then to pick it up”.
I said my thanks and stepped out into the street. Everything was different from then on. Work, play, eating, sleeping…nothing felt the same anymore.
It took me another week to finally go down to the clinic again….
“Mr. Obi Eze?”
The nurse had finally come back to the reception…
“This way sir”
She led me back to the counselor’s office…who waited till the receptionist left before addressing me. I noticed my pulse had become fast, heavy thuds in my ears..
“Mr. Obi, I wont mince words with you sir, your results are out and they don’t look too good. I’m afraid it came back positive”
I almost didn’t hear the words she said…my heart was pounding so loud in my ears, I felt it was going to explode right there...the room seemed to sway a bit. My forehead became instantly wet.
“Are you sure”, I said when I finally trusted myself to speak; I couldn’t even recognize my own voice…
“We triple-check these things, sir..it’s totally fool-proof”
She then went on to repeat most of what she said in the earlier counseling sessions, consoling me as best she could (or rather, as best her training could afford her)…I didn’t catch most of what she was saying, anyway…it was all a blur.
“Do you have any idea how you could have been infected”
I thought about Nancy then, but just shook my head…still in shock
“Have you had any intimate contact with anyone in the last 3 months?”
Still all I could do was shake my head. She didn’t seem convinced though…I’m sure she thought I wasn’t even listening to her (she was right).
“You might have to call anyone whom you feel you might have infected, and tell them to get tested…even if it’s just a routine test”
I nodded this time, looking at the floor…
She wrote out prescription drugs, re-emphasising the need for proper diet and exercise.
“There’s still life Mr. Obi…and so there’s still hope, you HAVE to live your life as carefully as you can from now on... Come back in another month for some more tests and evaluations, and we’ll see..ok?”
She said a few more practiced words of encouragement and even saw me to the door (I guess that was a gesture reserved for the VIP patients).
I stopped at the receptionist’s to make an appointment for the next month. Funny...she no longer seemed as cheery as she was when I came in.
The sun was bright when I stepped onto the street…people were walking along without cares in the world, kids playing on the street. It would have been a perfect day…if only..if only…
Everything was different now, plans I had might have to change, promises I made to people…things I wanted to do…ALL that has to change now.
“Damn”, I thought, as I crossed the street to where I parked.
Stopping at a phone card shop on my way home, I loaded my phone with air-time.
I had a few long calls to make…
My thoughts: The above piece, titled 'HIV+...so what next..??' was written by today's featured author Obi Eze