“My name is Edidiong and I am HIV Positive”.
She was nervous, they could tell. Surely, she was expecting everyone to hurl stones at her or probably start running. They could also tell this was her first time of saying it out loud and she was still far from getting comfortable in her own skin.
“Hello Edidiong” “Hello Edidiong” resonated from all corners of the small classroom where everyone was seated. She kept her eyes fixed to the small Heart to Heart flex banner that hung against the blackboard. She could not look anyone in the eyes.
“Relax Edidiong”, the doctor said. “Everyone seated here is also HIV Positive, you are not alone”.
It was automatic the way tears came flowing down her eyes which were still fixated on the banner. James who was closest to her tried to comfort her but the minute his hand touched hers, she leapt out of her seat and headed straight for the door. The doctor sprang up and followed her.
“Edidiong, wait!” she screamed as she hurried after her as fast as her short legs could carry her. As if on second thought, Edidiong stood still. She was a very strange girl, the doctor thought to herself, but then the virus could turn even the most peculiar people to hollowed-out souls; broken, dark and obviously strange.
“Edidiong, why did you leave? I told you it was okay.”
Edidiong turned around like clockwork and faced the doctor but her eyes were no longer the timid ones fixed on the banner back at the classroom. These eyes were cold, dark and full of an emotion scarier than anything the doctor had ever seen.
“I thought you said it is a support group?”
The doctor nodded.
“Then why was that man trying to touch me?”
Touching Edidiong to reassure her could mean getting choked to death so the doctor decided to keep her hands to herself.
“He wasn’t trying to touch you, he just wanted to….”
“I know what he wanted”, Edidiong cut in, at the verge of screaming. “I know what they all want”.
The doctor knew arguing with her would be to no avail, the young lady obviously had it all figured out in her head.
“Don’t worry, I will take you as far away from him as possible. You will seat in between Franca and Isioma. Is that okay?”
The doctor took her silence for assent and led her back to the classroom. Edidiong was soon seated in between two ordinary looking ladies. The support group meeting proceeded as usual. Edidiong was marvelled by the testimonies of other people; there were different cases for different people. The person she felt the most pity for was a guy called David, he wasn’t like the rest of them who God was trying to punish for their wrongdoings; he contracted the virus from the barber’s shop in his village back at Uduma. That’s if he was telling the truth, no one could really know for sure. When it got to Edidiong’s turn, she looked helplessly at the doctor and slowly shook her head. The doctor, who by this time was already introduced as Dr. Elizabeth Ugwu, took the hint and re-assured the class that Edidiong would testify in the next meeting. Everyone could see Edidiong’s chest heave a heartfelt sigh of relief. Soon enough, the meeting was dismissed and they all went their separate ways. All except Dr Ugwu and Edidiong. There was still a lot of work to be done on the young lady and the doctor made it her duty to persuade her by all means to attend the next meeting.
The journey back to Nekede was stressful. She had to travel to Udi every week for the support group meeting; it had been 2 months now since she first joined. There were new people with new testimonies; some cases were alike, others were so bizarre, you’d wonder if anyone in the world was safe from the disease. She still had not gotten around to sharing her testimony. Even though she was far away from Nekede, she couldn’t shake the feeling that news will get back to the campus somehow and her life would be ruined. The irony; as if her life wasn’t ruined anyways.
She tried to hold back her tears, it seemed like the only thing she did nowadays: holding back tears. On the bright side she was getting better and better at it. All she had to do was focus on a spot and hold on tight to something, anything. Like the handbill in her hands. Isioma had invited everyone to a church program, she was in such a hurry to leave the meeting that she just grabbed the handbill and made for the door. She spread out the crumpled handbill and read. “ARK OF FIRE MINISTERIES” Blah. Blah. Blah. “DELIVER US FROM ALL EVIL”. Oh she needed delivering alright, from almost everything in her life. She looked at the Pastor on the handbill; the middle-aged man looked like the Pastor-est Pastor that ever Pastored; with his evangelical hand-under-chin pose and his shoulder pads. She decided to go for the program, she felt safe with Isioma and she had a good feeling about it. It had been a long time she talked to the big man upstairs and it was mostly because she was ashamed. It was a crusade after all, she hoped that among the hundreds of people who would gather, maybe (just maybe) he would barely notice her.
AMEN! AMEN! HOLY GHOST……… FIRE!!!!! Edidiong thought she would go deaf at the end of the night. For people who came to be delivered, they seemed awfully excited. The pastor, on his own, was hopping from one end of the stage to another like there was fire in his shoes. He could have used up a whole packet of handkerchiefs by now, judging from how the sweat drew out the map of the world on his sky blue shirt. Edidiong was so uncomfortable, she kept adjusting herself on the plastic chair so much that the legs of the chair began to bend under her weight. She caught the eye of an old lady who was staring at her suspiciously, what with the way she was adjusting on her seat after every chant of Holy Ghost Fire. Edidiong laughed out loud. She couldn’t hear the sound of her laughter amidst all the fire brand chants of the congregation but it felt good to laugh again. Maybe the excitement was rubbing off on her after all. Soon the hulabaloo died down and the pastor began to prophesy;
“There is a brother here that is about to lose his job…”
“There is a lady here with the issue of blood…”
“There is a barren woman here…”
“I see a sister here that is HIV Positive…” Edidiong shot up from her chair, she could not believe it. He noticed her! The big man upstairs noticed her! She listened intently for the remaining half of the prophecy. “The bible says that he was bruised for our transgressions, wounded for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him and by his stripes you are healed in JESUS Name” The crowd erupted with thundering Amens and Halleluias and a few people fell onto the floor leaving broken plastic chairs in their wake.
“Go back to the clinic that diagnosed you, don’t go to a new clinic. Oh Jesus, I said go back to the same clinic that diagnosed you, God is delivering you from that evil tonight. I. can’t. Hear. Your. Amen!” The crowd thundered their Amen with Edidiong’s voice mixed up in the jamboree. It wasn’t a coincidence, it wasn’t a coincidence. Isioma was also jumping up and about and it occurred to Edidiong that she wasn’t the only sister in the grounds diagnosed with HIV; there could be hundreds of them even. All the same, she had made up her mind, she was going to take the chance and head back to the primary health clinic in Nekede.
The clinic smelt the same. A mixture of drugs, cheap antiseptic and crushed dreams. Yes, same old, same old. She walked into the clinic presented her card and got processed. She headed over to the lab and took her seat amongst the sick, the old and the probably dying. It was a crowded place, she was only lucky enough to find a seat at the edge of the bench facing the entrance. It had been a little over an hour that she sat when she saw a very round nurse approaching. It might have been six months since she was sentenced to death but she would never forget the face of the nurse who dealt the blow. She tried to hide her face and she was doing a very good job of it when she suddenly heard “you there, yellow paw paw, follow me” She looked up at the nurse, wondering what other life shattering news she came to bring. Her eyes met the nurse’s and the nurse gasped.
“Oh my God. She is here o, Dr. Obinna, she came”
Luckily, Dr.Obinna was nearby and he appeared in the hallway in no time. He looked up at her, hardly believing his eyes. There was something in his eyes that seemed like a mixture of relief and something else, maybe regret? Soon some nurses gathered and were whispering to each other, shaking up a frenzy. Edidiong was bewildered as the doctor led her into the office and closed the door behind them.
“Doctor I don’t understand. What happened? Am I going to die today?”
“Nobody is dying here today, my dear. What’s your name? Your full name”, the doctor asked shifting in his seat.
“Edidiong Bassey sir”
“Not Etim Edidiong”
“No, Edidiong Bassey sir”.
She sat through at least a half-hour long lecture about human beings and their fallible nature. How technology isn’t what it is in Nigeria compared to other countries and how stressful hospital work could be. Edidiong listened very carefully but was restless all the same. Did she also have cancer? Was the HIV not enough?
“We made a mistake ma. The test results we gave you was for one Etim Edidiong. Funny enough, Nurse Ethel brought up your name in the ward prayers yesterday morning. We all thought that since you didn’t attend your heart to heart sessions in the clinic; it could have happened that maybe you made a rash decision and took your life. Words cannot express how deeply sorry I am, how deeply sorry we all are”
Edidiong was still having a hard time processing all that she had heard
“Doctor, I don’t understand what are you saying? What is going on?”
“Edidiong, you don’t have the virus, you’re not going to die. You are a healthy woman”
The world was spinning, the hospital was moving round in circles. The doctor was not surprised when she fell to the floor.
Edidiong was leaving the hospital a different person. It didn’t matter that she had thought of killing herself and tried it twice to no avail; she was healthy. It didn’t matter anymore when the taxi guy and his cohorts had their way with her and left her for dead; she was healthy. It didn’t matter that she spent years dealing with her uncle sneaking into her room with his sons at night; she was healthy. It didn’t matter that she was still broken, battered and ashamed. It didn’t matter that she would miss Franca and Isioma and all the others at the Heart to Heart center; it didn’t matter that her testimonies were left unspoken. None of that mattered, she was going to live.
Bright light; End of the tunnel.
Author’s Note: Hello Everyone. Thank you all for reading and commenting and sharing. I am so grateful. Well, this is to inform you all that the TalesInARose (TIAR) will begin an art anthology series in July. That is, a series of stories centered around a theme conveyed by a cover art; merging stories and art. The art anthology series will be called ST’ART. The first ST’ART will be premiering on the first wednesday of July; July 3rd which also happens to be my birthday! Yay! I look forward to sharing these stories with you all and please don’t forget to share your thoughts as well. Finally, Please follow TIAR so you can get notified about new stories. Thank you all so much.
Love, Rosie (xoxo)