COUNTING IN THREES (Part 3)

“Sa-ailen-nait! Ho-oly-nait! All is calm –!”

“Chiamaka, what are you singing?” my aunt’s husband, Uncle Ben, cut in laughingly as he steered the car down Ogunlana Drive in Surulere.

“Al is bright! Round yo vaaygin – mother and chaid–!” My seven-year-old cousin didn’t answer him. She continued singing, her childlike voice strong, and her verve for the song causing her to strain against the seatbelt strapping her down on the front seat beside her father.

“Mimi, that’s a Christmas song,” Uncle Ben interrupted again. “This is Easter Sunday. You don’t sing Christmas songs on Easter.”

“What song should I sing, daddy?” She turned her big, doe eyes to her father.

“What about…” – he thought for a second, and then continued in a singsong voice – “Jesus Christ is risen to-da-ay! Ha-a-a-a-hallelujah! Our triumphant holy da-ay–”

“Ha-a-a-a-hallelujah!” Chiamaka quickly joined in. Her wide smile revealed her incomplete milk dentition and she lifted her small, chubby hands to clap an excited beat to the tune of the song.

A chuckle beside me dragged my attention from the musical duo to my aunt who was seated with me on the back seat. “Oh you two, you’re making noise oh,” she chided softly, her indulgent smile betraying her pleasure at the shenanigans of her husband and daughter. She is a beautiful woman, my aunt – Amara is her name, my mother’s younger sister. Her eyes, so like her daughter’s, were perfectly proportioned beneath penciled brows in an oval face; straight black hair framed the face and softened the broad nose and full lips. Her arms were wrapped around a satin-draped bundle that was her eight-week-old son. The baby cuddled contentedly against her and suckled on his fists. He made loud, slurping sounds, interrupted only by an occasional yawn.

As the ruckus perpetuated by Uncle Ben and Chiamaka stretched, the baby gurgled and writhed about a bit in his mother’s arms.

“Oya, shush, you two,” she said, dialing up the I-am-now-serious tone in her voice a bit. “You’re disturbing Obinna.”

Amidst unrepentant giggles, father and daughter stopped singing.

A beautiful woman. Her beautiful family. Their beautiful life.

The thought of this much beauty made me want to throw up. In the hours between yesterday and now, I’d been battered by so much anger and rancor, so much so that now, as we drove to church on this fine Sunday morning, I felt wearied by all the negativity I was feeling. My anger was spent and my bitterness settled. All I felt was a dull pain, one that quietly boomed inside me, though I couldn’t tell from where it originated. My limbs felt heavy and my chest felt encased in lead.

“Mike, are you alright?” Aunt Amara’s voice cut into my reverie with offhand concern. I looked at her. She looked back at me, and then briefly at the baby, rocking him gently as he moved in his sleep.

“Yes, aunty, I’m fine.”

“Well, you don’t look it. I’ve noticed you looking moody ever since you came back from your interview on Thursday.” She didn’t know about my ailment. No one but my parents did. All my aunt and her family knew about my visit to Lagos was that I came for yet another job interview. One she apparently thought hadn’t gone well. “You really shouldn’t let this job search get to you, ok?” she continued. “God will provide the job you’re meant to have at the right time, ok?”

Will He also take this HIV away from me? I thought snidely before looking away from my aunt, facing the wound-up window and staring blankly at the scenery flashing by.

Soon, Uncle Ben was pulling up into the parking lot of their church, a Pentecostal affair. Exiting the vehicle was a mild bustle, with Chiamaka skipping about, Aunt Amara taking charge of the baby, and Uncle Ben and I handling everything else, which included the baby things, Aunt Amara’s handbag and our bibles. We looked like a small – very small – children of Israel starting out on the journey to the Promised Land.

Because I felt weighted down by my depression, I didn’t hustle on alongside them. I lagged behind. They didn’t seem to notice. Even if they got in and got seated before me, I knew where to find them.

“Hey – hello, nna, how are you?”

I recognized the fruity voice before I turned and saw her waddling toward me. It was the woman in the bus. She was decked in a cream-coloured blouse and wrapper and a headscarf that was tied in a fashion that stretched heavenward. She had her requisite smile in place, and her eyes twinkled behind her spectacles.

A new pair, I presumed, as I dug up a reluctant smile as she came to stand before me, and said, “Good morning, ma.”

“Good morning?” Her brows lifted. “It’s Easter, my good son. “Happy Easter, nwa m.”

Same to you, I wanted to say. Happy Easter to you, ma. But the words got stuck in the strictures of agony clogging my throat. What is happy about the Easter? I felt instead like asking.

The angst I felt must have been stamped on my face, because the woman’s face clouded with instant empathy. “You’re still thinking your unhappy thoughts, aren’t you? Those thoughts that are making you so sad, so depressed, so” – her hesitation was infinitesimal – “angry. You’re still thinking them, aren’t you?”

“With all due respect, ma,” I began, a snap in my voice, “you don’t know anything about me.”

“I don’t need to know anything about you, except for what is obvious to me. That you seem like a nice young man who is afflicted by something painful.” Her eyes were butter soft and her voice a gentle caress. “You don’t have to be. Especially not on this day, a day when we were given victory over all that has plagued us since the birth of Christ.” She lifted a hand and placed it on my shoulder, and smiled again. “Cheer up, my son. Celebrate today. I told you before, Easter makes right all that has gone wrong since Christmas.”

I opened my mouth to make a crushing retort. My mouth hung open, its purpose unachieved. I knew nothing to say. I had nothing to say. And in that moment, as the warmth of this woman’s smile bathed me, I wanted to believe in what she was saying. I wanted to. But the cold clutch of rancour was tight over my heart.

“Michael!” a male voice hollered. “Michael Iheme!”

The woman lifted her hand from my shoulder. I felt colder still. We turned to see doctor Adewale striding toward us. He was clad in a well-tailored native wear, and the shine of his black leather shoes caught the sun’s glare as he walked.

“Michael, I had no idea you go to this church too…how are you today? He said with uncharacteristic effusiveness. Without waiting for my answer, he turned to my companion and said in a respectful tone, “and you must be Mrs. Iheme, Michael’s mother. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

“The pleasure is mine,” the woman said with unabashed aplomb. I stared at her. “And you are?”

“Doctor Adewale. I’m Michael’s doctor – he saw me during his appointment on Thursday.”

“Really…”

“Yes. And I want to apologize” – his gaze swung back to me – “for how I acted that day in my office. I must have really made you very worried. It’s just that – well, your test results revealed an anomaly, a sudden rise in your CD4 count, a very, sharp increment, as a matter of fact. And that isn’t supposed to be so. With HIV patients, the CD4 count is supposed to be on a steady decline as the HIV viral load increases. I was surprised by that development. I mean, it’s not an unusual occurrence in such cases as yours, but it isn’t very often you see a patient who has been positive for a while and been for more than one hospital appointments suddenly turning up negative.”

“Negative…” The word gusted out of me.

Doctor Adewale didn’t hear me. He barreled on, “So I decided to run some more confirmatory tests on the blood sample you gave that morning. And it confirmed my suspicion. Your CD4 count was indeed on the rise, which can only mean two things. That you are truly positive and somehow got miraculously healed –”

“Doctor…” I began in a breathless voice.

“Or you were falsely positive – again, another occurrence that isn’t uncommon, what with the possibility that your body system produced antibodies in reaction to a mild viral infection you may have had at the time you were first diagnosed, antibodies which reacted with the test to show you positive for HIV –”

“Doctor,” I cut in with a clearer tone. My eyes were widened and my breathing had started coming in deep swallows. “What are you saying?”

Doctor Adewale took in a deep breath. Upon letting it out, he said slowly, as though weighing his words before putting them out, “I am saying that you are HIV negative. At the moment, you are. I’ll need you to come back to the hospital in three months for another test. But for now” – a brief, calming pause – “you don’t have HIV.”

I stared blankly at him, my thought process jammed at first, making it a slow journey my understanding of his words. Then, a look of shock, followed by one of comprehension, passed over my face.

“I don’t have HIV anymore?” I choked out.

He nodded.

“I don’t have HIV anymore?” I repeated as I felt something give way inside me.

“No, you don’t,” Doctor Adewale answered.

“I don’t have HIV anymore.”

It wasn’t a question this time, and he didn’t supply an answer.

I don’t have HIV anymore. As the words ricocheted inside me, my eyes moistened and two globules of tears trickled down my cheeks. I felt at once overwhelmed by a tidal wave of relief and empty without the familiar cloak of bitterness. More tears spilled. The doctor turned into a miragy image before my overflowing eyes.

“Congratulations, Michael. Everything turned out well for you,” he said.

I didn’t hear him. I didn’t notice him walk away. I turned and I didn’t see the woman beside me. She was gone. Sometime, during the time Doctor Adewale was speaking to me, she had vanished from my side. The woman with the warming smile, whose name I never got to know. Who never failed to assure me that no matter what I was going through, everything would be alright. Easter makes right everything that has gone wrong since Christmas.

And I’d been righted. On this day that the Lord conquered Death, he set me free of my affliction. I was HIV negative. Whether false positive or human error, it didn’t matter. I was healed. And I stood there alone, beside the church, shedding tears of joy and believing anew how happy this Easter day was.

Where man sees but withered leaves, God sees sweet flowers growing. Easter Sunday.

THE ENDtear of joy

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11 Comments

  1. mis Lane

     /  April 1, 2013

    Alleluia!

    Reply
  2. Doris

     /  April 1, 2013

    *sniffs*

    Reply
  3. excellency

     /  April 1, 2013

    You nailed this like He was nailed on the cross, just like Easter is a perfect ending… This story just has the perfect ending. Very well told. Good one sire! *bowswithhatinhand*

    Reply
  4. nik

     /  April 1, 2013

    Hmmm

    Reply
  5. chukarudy

     /  April 1, 2013

    Wow!!!! Wali dis is beautiful I am touched….

    Reply
  6. anderson

     /  April 2, 2013

    Walter!! Stop making *sniff* people cry!

    Reply
  7. gbemmy

     /  April 2, 2013

    Ah, *breath in*
    I’ve been anxious all these days. Thank God for miracles. Thumbs up to u walter

    Reply
  8. mesi

     /  April 2, 2013

    Beautiful ending indeed. I’m glad he got healed.

    Reply
  9. Ini

     /  April 14, 2013

    Thank God 4 ya. Very touching story

    Reply
  10. yemie

     /  November 16, 2013

    Easter makes right everything that has gone wrong since Christmas. How I love the sweet sound of that .Lol! You do have a way with words that’s rather uncanny. Walter, the Master of wits. This is awesomeness!

    Reply

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