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    Walt Shakes

    Walter Ude (@Walt_Shakes) is an award-winning Nigerian writer, poet and veteran blogger. He is a lover of the written word. the faint whiff of nature, the flashing vista of movies, the warmth of companionship and the happy sound of laughter. He blogs at mymindsnaps.wordpress.com.

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COUNTING IN THREES (Part 1) – An Easter Special

I walked past the security who were frisking the passengers about to ascend into the luxurious bus. I went up into the air-conditioned interior of the bus and walked down the aisle to my seat. I looked to confirm that Number 35 was by the window, before hefting my shoulder bag into the luggage compartment atop the seats, and then settled down on my seat. When I parted the curtains hanging over the window, I looked out and spotted Nkechi in the section cordoned off for the escorts of the travelers. The eight-year-old saw me immediately and waved exuberantly, as though she hadn’t seen me in ages. As though she hadn’t just accompanied me to the terminal and watched me board the Lagos-bound bus. Her enthusiastic wave disturbed the conversation Mummy and Daddy were having beside her, and they followed her gaze to me. A wan smile parted Mummy’s lips; it could have been a trick of the light, but I thought I saw the glint of tears in her eyes. Daddy’s face remained faintly grim. Both their expressions reflected determined hope and sinking despair – the very emotions that had been a part of our lives ever since I told them that I was HIV positive. Funny, after I heard the news from the clinic attendant, after I felt my world disintegrate upon hearing the words that afternoon, after I fell apart that first time, I thought I’d continue to fall apart. It was the fear that I wouldn’t be strong enough, the desperation for someone to lean on, to hold me up, that drove me to tell my parents. I told them and I watched their world fall apart. I watched the play of emotions on their faces – fear, hopelessness, despair, anger. They rallied, oh how they rallied, to be strong for me. But then I started hearing Mummy weep softly in the unlit parlour when I came out in the middle of the night to pee. Daddy started coming home from work with lots of fruits – doctor’s orders – and never failed to ask me tenderly, “Nna, kedu out idi?” If you know Daddy, you’ll understand that it’s alarming to put him and ‘tenderly’ in the same sentence.

And I found myself drawing strength from their combined weakness, and clawing for optimism in the face of the dismal business of my health. Besides, I was just HIV positive, not dying. I’d been for two consultations in the hospital in Lagos where I was diagnosed, and so far, I was still fit as a fiddle, not even a candidate for the antiretroviral medication yet.

The presence of a middle-aged woman in the aisle beside me roused me from my reflections. I looked up at her as she squinted at the bottom of the luggage compartment where the numbering of the seats was displayed. But either her eyesight was bad or she was taking her time locating the number she was looking for, because she stood hunched over where I sat for several moments.

“What’s your seat number, ma?” I asked.

She glanced down at me and chuckled with obvious embarrassment. “Oh, nna m, I’m sorry – I forgot my glasses at home. My daughter had to charter keke back to get it. I hope she will come back before we move. Otherwise, I will have to get a new pair in Lagos.”

A chatty-Kathy – Great! I thought with mild ungraciousness. Aloud, I said politely, “So what is the number of your seat?”

“I’m looking for number 34.” She peered again at the compartment. “But all these numbers are so small – I can’t even see a thing. Oh chi m, I really need my glasses. I hope Adaure can get them to me before our bus moves, otherwise I’ll have to get –”

“Number 34, right?” I cut in. “It’s right here.” I patted the seat beside me. “I’m number 35.” And God save me during this journey. I really didn’t like being engaged in conversations during long distance journeys; I preferred to lie supine in my seat, listening to music from my iPod or engaging in some light reading. I’d purchased a magazine outside the bus terminal for that purpose.

Amidst a flurry of thanks, the woman heaved her bulk down beside me. I turned away from her and sank back into my ruminations. The early Wednesday morning sun cast its faint blush over the glass of the window as I watched my folks give me one last wave before walking away. Daddy had to get to work at the insurance company where he worked, and Mummy had to get Nkechi to school before starting her day as the owner of a flourishing boutique in Wetheral Road. My family had to leave because they needed to start their respective days; I knew this – yet, watching them walk away caused a cold gust of loneliness to blow across my heart.

In many ways, this ailment made you walk a very solitary road, I thought dejectedly. I could not casually throw it into a conversation with friends, or tweet it, or update it on Facebook, the way one would talk about having malaria and having a legion of acquaintances commiserate with him. Despite the world’s supposed enlightenment, knowledge of one having HIV led to an ostracism of sorts. He is considered a dead man even when it’s evident he is living a vigorous and fruitful life. I suddenly recalled an instance of a distant relative back in my village whose HIV status had somehow become public knowledge. The news had spread like wildfire in the small settlement that was my hometown. I remembered the Christmas of that year; I remembered watching the young man walk past me and observing with some startle how healthy he looked. The talk that had filtered back to town, where we lived, had somehow distorted him into this wizened-looking person wasted away by his ailment. But he’d only had HIV, not AIDS. Yet, that hadn’t stopped the sidelong, sad looks, the furtive glances, eyes skittering away from his as though meeting his gaze would somehow make what he had communicable, the hushed talks when he walked past, and the incessant and sometimes blistering speculation that hung around him like an odious miasma.

The man committed suicide before Easter the next year.

The various literatures that tried to educate the unknowing public preached vigorously about how HIV wasn’t a death sentence. You never really got to know how tight the noose was around your neck until you suffered the affliction.

My sudden depression sat like a rock in my heart, unmoving, heavy, dense, as my eyes slid away from the window and onto the magazine on my lap. People forgot that life wasn’t guaranteed for anyone, not even those who lived evident lives of health, wealth and vigor. People up and die all the time, I thought as my gaze flickered over the headlines splashed across the cover of the magazine. Tuface’s wedding to Annie Macaulay was still making entertainment buzz. Underneath the story’s headline was a recap of the messy episode involving Kim Kardashian and her alleged infamous tweets. And then, in a small bottom corner, Denrele Edun’s pouty-faced picture was etched, with a small title of him saying something reminiscent about Goldie. Ah yes, Goldie – the blond pop-star who had, if the commiserative tabloids were to be believed, been at the top of her game. One day, she’d been pouting for the cameras at the Grammys, and the next, she was dead. Dropped. Dead. Gone. Just like that. Her sudden demise had shocked the country, with people asking how it could be possible that one so young, hale and hearty could have her life snuffed out like so.

That was such a presumptuous assertion, I thought some more, for people to believe that Death had no right to come for those who looked fit and full of life, while ascertaining the end for those ailing from HIV/AIDS. It was most unfair. An inequitable double standard. Then again, Life had always been touted for its unfairness to all those who inhabit it.

The startlingly booming sound of the bus’s horn resonating in the morning shook me out of my ruminations this time. I sat up on my seat, feeling some surprise when I blinked and felt dew drops of scant tears skitter down my cheeks. I quickly rubbed them off. I didn’t want to be feeling melancholic. The psychologist at the hospital, during one of my appointments, had stressed the importance of staying positive at all times in the face of my ailment. A dispirited state of mind, she said, was an often-underestimated, slow-moving but powerful agent that hastened one’s transition from the amenable HIV to the indestructible AIDS.

The bus juddered slightly with the strength of the thrumming engine, and the noise of so many people talking at once ripped through the atmosphere in the terminal outside.

“Do not look so sad, my son,” the voice of my seatmate cut into my preoccupation.

“Excuse me?” I turned to face her.

Her eyes twinkled at me, and a small smile hung over her doughy face. We were about to start our journey, and it didn’t seem as though her daughter would make it in time to give her her glasses. But the woman didn’t seem to mind. She reiterated, “I said, don’t look so sad. I’ve been watching you a bit. And you seemed to be thinking so many thoughts, none of them very pleasant.” She stretched out a hand and placed it gently over mine. “Don’t let whatever you’re thinking, or whatever you’re going through get you down. Especially not now. Easter makes everything that went wrong since Christmas right again.” Her smile widened at that. It was a nice smile. Full and open. I felt warmed by it. Then she added, “Happy Easter, nna.”

The bus’s horn blasted through the air again, and the bus jerked into motion.

“Happy Easter, ma,” I replied.

And so it started – Our Lord’s journey into hell, to take dominion over Death and the devil. Good Friday.

TO BE CONTINUED.   HIV+

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13 Comments

  1. Edeeth Ajunwa

     /  March 29, 2013

    *sniff, sniff*….. 😥
    Happy Easter y’all!

    Reply
  2. excellency

     /  March 29, 2013

    Very emotional piece this one. I have always shared the opinion that there are several pathways to death, HIV is one out of the lot, though like all other ailments it is never to be desired. Happy Easter!

    P.S: If you believe in Easter, then you should as well believe that by His strips you were healed…

    Reply
  3. Doris

     /  March 29, 2013

    Itz going 2 be a beautiful story.and heart touching.hp u aint gonna mk me cry. . .

    Reply
  4. Happy easter to evrybody

    Reply
  5. One of my most dreaded topics, d biggest scare of our existence! Gud one thr bro!

    Reply
  6. nik

     /  March 29, 2013

    Counting in threes indeed, you just had to choose a sober story for a sober day

    Reply
  7. manny

     /  March 30, 2013

    Bold, lovely and touching…

    Reply
  8. kachi

     /  March 31, 2013

    My oh my! Gets me thinking and reminescing now…. Oh!!

    Reply
  9. yemie

     /  November 16, 2013

    Just started on this series and am loving it. No surprises there, right Walter? Lol! I hope there are no awkward moments or tragic endings otherwise am gonna scream ‘blue murder’.

    Reply

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