It happened on a Friday night. Those were her first words once she settled on the couch opposite me. Her eyes darted here and there alert. They didn’t once turn to stare at mine as if scared to look at me. I studied her features, lined with nervousness and fear. I felt very sorry for her. Her eyes finally stayed, settling on space. Emptiness dulled her eyes. Her beautiful black eyes; they pierced the air as if she blamed the unseen for her problem. I felt like holding her the way I felt like holding people who came to see me. I didn’t like to call them patients. It made them feel sick. Instead, I made them feel normal, like a client, a friend or something in the category.
She wrung her fingers together and at the same time twisted her lips. Her grief was obvious, in the bags under her eyes, in the untidiness of her long hair, in her unpressed clothing. I felt once again as bad as I usually felt. But I had to be strong for her. The hospital referred her to me. But that was all. They didn’t tell me her story. I was eager to know why or how such a beauty would have the disease.
I can’t do this. She mumbled weakly. She was about carrying her bags, fidgeting and making a fuss about how she shouldn’t have bothered coming. I didn’t want to talk, it wasn’t in the nature of this line of my profession to compel anything out of my clients but I did. My voice was straight, harsh, devoid of any emotion. I wanted it to hit her like a slap against her cheeks. A cold hard slap. You can go now, you don’t have to talk, but you should talk. I said folding my arms, matter-of-factly it helps. You don’t have to come back after today, but spilling it would help you have better days.
You have to understand that it’s not my fault. Her eyes were filled with tears. She looked at me for a second before taking her shy eyes to her feet. I didn’t do anything wrong, I’m just a normal human being, things like this aren’t supposed to happen to me.
Yes, those words I had heard in the not too distant past. It shouldn’t be me. This only happens in movies. But who deserved it? Who deserved to be decorated with a life threatening disease? Certainly nobody. Not even the worst villains.
Halima and I were going back to the halls of residence. We had just finished a meeting with the Campus Press club executive. We planned to cover events on Valentine’s night the next day. It was late, say 11. Yes, it must have been 11. But the campus is always safe and I had been that late before like when I did overnights. I wasn’t the party type. No that wasn’t me. I was, I was, more of the inside person. I didn’t even go to parties, not even to cover an event, I was that much of an introvert. So yeah, it wasn’t supposed to happen to me this way—I mean, I didn’t keep late nights to do unworthy things, I attended fellowship on invitation—I did all the right things; even had an ok relationship with boys and a non sexual relationship with boyfriends, so tell me why! She got more violent as she spoke, pacing the room with her hands folded to the back. She gesticulated now and then but overall, she was worried, angry. I wanted to beg her to calm down but I knew it was better for her to express the pent-up anger and emotions.
So really why did I have to be raped. Why did it have to be me and not Halima?
At these words my heart broke for her. Rape was very one in five since I began my career and my heart usually bled for them. Innocent in every way, the universe somehow conspired against them and made them angry, bitter and plagued. Most clients were either promiscuous, had a cheating lover, careless about needles and the rest. Once in a year or two years, a girl like this would tell me they were raped and my heart would bleed.
But worse still was the unsaid of this mad woman before me.
She rubbed her swollen belly a few times as she paced, and I couldn’t help but try to feel her pain. I couldn’t. Raped, with child and infected with the deadly disease of the century. My eyes filled with tears but I made sure she didn’t once see it. I thrust out a box of M& M’s and asked her to help herself. She quit pacing, her eyes taking on a sullen look, totally ignoring my offer. I could just go over there and hug her but I restrained myself.
Halima remembered she left some books in class and told me to go on without her, start editing the work she said. I shrugged. It wasn’t a big deal. It wasn’t supposed to be a big deal anyway. I just walked on, the street lights were on, few cars raced by, few lovers made out under trees and efikos raced to reading rooms and study meetings. The air of the night was a general anticipation for the Valentine’s Day the next day. I wasn’t seeing anyone at the time and I didn’t care to. The most important thing for me was my education and the university’s press club.
She sank into the settee. They came from nowhere, five in number and they tore my clothes after dragging me into an enclosed area in the bush. No one was there to see and the culprits were never found, I myself didn’t and wouldn’t recognize them if I saw them now. But only a few people believe me. Some think it’s a lie I made up to cover up unprotected sex I had with my boyfriend.
I walked up to her and held her shoulders. She was stiff.
Especially my parents. They only think that because I didn’t tell them until I knew I was pregnant. I was too ashamed to even visit the school clinic. I was hurt, defiled, and angry at the world. Some friends suggested counseling but I refused. I went home; the school was no longer my place. And just as I was recovering, just as I was feeling better, thinking that it wasn’t such a big deal to carry a child, a friend decided to take me out. It was a harmless date. Harmless because no one recognized me or cared to know why a nineteen year old girl was 6 months far along with no ring on her finger. People usually stared at me, it was why I hardly went out but where we were, no one gave a damn about who I was.
Then we saw the truck with the inbuilt lab. Strolling with ice cream in hands, giggling and laughing, I could almost say it was a beautiful day. Then she suggested we take HIV tests. I was mostly indifferent at first. It was a free one, sponsored by the local government of that area. I was like I’m a normal person. Normal people don’t get HIV and die I told myself. Normal people have normal lives. They might get raped but they get back up and stuff. It’s the abnormal people that get HIV. They were already poor or bad before then. They were destined to have bad things happen to them. Oh how wrong I was to think that..
Her hands caressed her nose. Tears danced around her fair cheeks. And that was how I found out I had HIV. A further lab test revealed that. They referred me to you. Do I deserve this? No really, what did I ever do wrong?
Her sobs were loud; she couldn’t even try to hide her emotions further. She spoke amidst them. What did I do, she cried out, what did I do?
We talked about it. Lengthily. I cancelled all other appointments. We talked. She listened, I listened. I told her it wasn’t the end. The key was healthy living I said. it was still a matter of years before she could get AIDS. She nodded furiously at times and from the way she stared at me, finally, I could tell she was a fighter. Though it was the very last time I was to see this client as she committed suicide days later, I told her there was hope. She told me she had nothing to live for anymore. If only she could have seen it, there was hope. Once there was life, there was hope.
I would tell my client and at forums that early discovery was key.
I mourn people like her. People who feel it’s the end of the world.People who are vaguely aware. I am sorry she didn’t give life a chance.
Lets Say no to premarital sex and if you just have to, have protected sex. Go for checkups regularly. Do not share other IV drug paraphernalia such as cookers cottons/filters, or water glasses. Use new needles. etc.
On this note, Happy #WorldAidsDay.
(ps please take away the notion that everyone who has the disease compulsorily had sex. also there are several ways you cant get the disease from them while coexisting with them.do your research so you wont make them inferior)
A moment of silence please for everyone who has lost their life because of this; this disease and prayers for everyone struggling with it..
Thanks for reading.