by Jide Sowemimo
The end of my life began precisely three thousand days ago. It began, with the suddenness of death, in a doctor’s consulting room.
I had gone to see the doctor because of the rashes that erupted all over my trunk like the tale-bearers of puberty which mar adolescent faces. My groins too were swollen, and when I touched them, they revolted with the pain-pleasure sensation one gets from inadvertently dipping one’s hand into lukewarm water.
“How old are you, young man?” The doctor asked.
I noticed that three ridges formed on her forehead as she spoke, and the words driveled out of her mouth rather uneasily.
“Nineteen”, I replied with disinterest.
All I wanted her to do was to give me drugs. I had grumbled almost too loudly when, after so many questions, she sent me for a couple of tests. I would never understand why a doctor should use so many words and tests. Is a doctor not supposed to be a diviner of the human body who could decipher what was wrong and what the remedy was with a mere glance?
Tonight, I shall write an ode to us. On my death bed
What transpired soon after, effectively robbed my mind of the details of her winding speech before she dropped the bombshell. I can only recall now, that in between glances at the report she held in her right hand and my seemingly indifferent face, she pontificated on the virtues of faith, courage and the need to comply strictly with instructions. Then, with her hand slowly rising to her face to remove her glasses, she pronounced, “I’m sorry. You see. You are HIV positive.”
Those words unhinged my mind for several hours. The streams that flowed haphazardly through it were those of dying and abandoned people on bug-infested beds in dilapidated hospitals; burial grounds and tombs; shrouds; faces of long dead relatives; and an amorphous figure so grotesque that I am certain must have been death himself. My mind was fixed on death. It never occurred to me that death was only trying to pass a message to me through life.
That was the beginning of my end, but I had other beginnings too. At least I was born, and I went to school. Above all, at some point, I began to make friends. I had several acquaintances but no more than three friends whom I referred to as ‘The good, the bad, and the ugly’.
I told ‘The good’ about my calamity just because I felt he was good. Perhaps I should not have. I never mentioned it to ‘The bad’ and ‘The ugly’ probably because I was mad at their better luck. We toured brothels together. There were times when ‘The bad’ went on a foursome rumble in which that immodestly muscular and lengthy appendage between his groins ravaged the loose, deep pits – which we unanimously agreed to be their centre of gravity – of three luscious roscos.
So why me? Often times, memories of some of my reckless moments when I ignored the protection of a condom would haunt me but I always found ways of beating that down.
My rage at their better luck partly accounts for why I didn’t tell them but the more important reason was that I really wished that they continued threading that dangerous path till they became my comrades in the carriage of the deadly virus. Espirit de corps?
But I laid everything bare to ‘The good’.
“Sorry. You would be fine. But how did you? Never mind. Sorry. God would take control. Let us pray about it.”
That was ‘The good’ addressing me. Two films of tears sprinted, Usain Bolt-like, on parallel lanes from his eyes to his cheeks within an instance of hearing my story.
He made me bear my burden with more dignity and optimism. But I was soon to observe that his visits to me fizzled from once a day to once fortnightly, till I didn’t set eyes on him in a period of four months. Worse still, I never saw ‘The bad’ or ‘The ugly’ within the same time frame. That was most unnatural.
I decided to seek them out. I headed for ‘The good’s’. At his door, I was hit by the clatter of three familiar voices.
“Ha ha ha, that guy is a bastard! He loves roscos. He goes for a foursome at times”, said one.
Another replied, “when is the fool gonna die? I learnt people with HIV die in a matter of months.”
“But you know we have to visit and support him.”
“Visit? You must be crazy! You want the leper to infect me. He should be thankful for civilisation. Lepers are meant to live in forests you know.”
“The only thing we owe him is a befitting burial.”
“Yeah, you are right.”
“I would suggest we get three beautiful wreaths. And then one of us can write an ode.”
“Ode to a fool who hung by his penis!”
A unanimous barrel of laughter followed.
There and then, death, the detective, by hanging over my head, exposed the ruse that I had embraced as friendship, still, death, the teacher, passed an even greater message to me the day I laid wreaths on the tomb of my erstwhile friends, a thousand days later after they died in an auto-crash.
Tonight, I shall write an ode to us. On my death bed.