I was not even supposed to be at the lounge that night. It was not my shift, but Gina was so sure that her boyfriend would propose. So she begged me a few weeks ahead of that day and as the only male who was a huge fan of love stories, I agreed to take the shift.
I was early as usual, ready to serve the drinks like it was my calling. If I could, I would have been studying engineering in the university not too far from the lounge where I worked. However, I neither had the money nor the brains to get into the school. Three flunked aptitude tests and my father's unpaid pensions were proof enough. So that night, I reluctantly wore my rehearsed fake smile and started the shift.
I knew when she walked in and although I did not turn, I could tell when she approached me.
"Have you seen any tall man here?" she asked. "He is very fair with beards." It was obvious that she had not come for me, but it did not stop her words from shattering my heart.
She did the same thing thirty minutes later. Then an hour later. By the second hour, I knew Mr. Tall and Hairy had stood her up.
I would never do that to a girl.
"What did you just say?"
I looked up anxiously. I had no idea that I was thinking aloud.
"Sorry, " I murmured. "I did not mean for you to hear me."
"It's ok, " she replied. "He is not worth it anyway. I am Chikamara."
We became friends on that day. She would come on busy evenings and slow ones. She knew my schedule like her own. We got to know each other and she shared all her silly stories of other men with me. While she laughed at my terrible jokes, I fell hard and fast.
One night after I got free bottles on the house, we decided to take them to her apartment across the street and chill with movies too. I almost choked on my drink when she said she liked me. She had grown tired of all the men she had slept with over the years and she wanted to take it slow. She asked what I thought about it. I had no idea what my face said, but my heart threatened to come out of my chest. I shrugged and murmured a weak 'ok'.
"Don't you like me, Seyi?" She seemed scared and I had to prove to her how much I did. So I just went for her mouth like I knew what I was doing. It was so sloppy that she laughed. I laughed too. I had to hide my embarrassment and lack of experience.
"Don't you worry. We can always work on it, " she consoled. If her laughter killed me, then her pity buried me for sure. We did make out that night for hours until 'I got it right'. I swore in my heart that the sex, whenever we got to it, would be different.
Gina's proposal did not happen and she was hurt. Still I went to her. I needed all the help I could get. She told me of a friend who trained boys on how to become men. I did not hesitate for a second.
Her name was Lara. She was almost as beautiful as Chikamara, and she knew how to take a boy to heaven. She taught me for a full week, during which I tried to stop Kamara from going beyond second base. It was difficult especially since I was really attracted to her, but I won everytime. The condom broke one time with Lara, but she swore she was not sick. I believed her.
I was finally ready to go all the way with my new girlfriend and she was more than willing. When it was over, we both had to take minutes to catch our breaths.
"Who taught you that?" she asked when she could finally speak.
"TV, Internet." It was a lie, but it worked. After that day, we sexed more times than we talked and I had no complaints. I was in cloud nine.
Things got really sore when she started asking for things that I could not provide. I scarcely paid my rent on time, but she wanted to fly to a different country. She pestered me for hair worth more than my paycheck and clothes that I knew even celebrities could barely afford. I always had one dumb excuse or the other and when I could pool funds, I did. I did not want to lose my girl.
One day she just stopped asking. I assume that she had learned to love me and my broke self until I saw her in a car with Mr. Tall and Hairy. It was either he was the one or she had a thing for his type. Her explanation was that he would provide for both of us. I took this for a month until he proposed to her. It was funny when I got the text. I guess he was finally going to provide a home too and I was not invited.
I got sick in six months. It started with a silly cough that would not go away. Then my legs began to swell and I could no longer breathe easily. The hospital wasted no time in telling me that I had caught the virus. I panicked and my first thought was of Kamara. Lara was probably that genesis of the infection and I had given it to the love of my life. One voice told me that she deserved what she got while the other felt terrible for doing that to her. I had sleepless nights for a while until it occurred to me.
What if she had given it to me?
She was no saint either and we did a lot of skin to skin! I punched my pillow continuously until I could not breathe. Then I stopped and closed my eyes, taking slow conscious breaths. It did not matter who it came from. I already had it and I was going to live with it.
Or not live at all as I heard a young doctor whisper earlier when I was supposed to be catching a nap. The virus had already gotten to my kidneys and dialysis was way too expensive for a mere bartender and his unpaid pensonier father.
Did I mention that my father came to visit?
Nope. Because he never did. Neither did my mother. Their son was a disgrace to the family.
Please support those with HIV/AIDS. They are human beings too.
Meanwhile, abstain. If you cannot do this, use a condom. If you can’t or if something happens, post-exposure prophylaxis is an option.
Also, get tested today. IT IS FREE and can be managed if caught early.
Ubah Nneoma Rita