” It was either the job or the medication. I stopped the medication.”
Nothing had ever been this final before. He felt empty. He didn’t want to cry. Men don’t cry. They suck it up then they sweat it. He wasn’t thinking; at least not about that.
The hospital corridors were almost empty. There was an echo every time someone walked or talked. A woman sat on a bench at the furthest end. She held her cheeks and leaned foward. She seemed thoughtful about something. But we can never have answers to everything.
For a minute, he forgot about himself. He wondered if his son had eaten since morning. He picks his phone and calls. His son is playing and wants a toy when he visits on the weekend. He wants a car that is yellow and goes mmmbbbbbbbrrrrr. He wants to show off to the neighbour’s child.
I arrive Kisumu city at 10a.m. Eric is waiting. He has been waiting since 8a.m. Kisumu is hot. The world’s greatest sinners must be living here. Typical hell. But I’m a nice girl. I shave my armpits often and wash my black bra as should; once a month. The gods will be pleased. The heat shall go down.
Eric is seated to my left. He looks like he swallowed me. He is 6ft tall, built and just ready to eat another human. On my right are a bunch of Masaai’s playing pool. You should have seen this. Aaargh those guys looked awesome.
Anyway, I’m curious. I want to press a play button on him. He is listening to the waiter for too long. I place an order for the two of us and let the waiter go.
“It was all fun and games with my two women until this day, on this bench, 5years ago as a 22 year old.”
” Kwani you killed? Or did they rape you? Can you hold your shit together? Is it fistula?” I ask.
Like any other young and energetic campus guy, Eric had a girl. No, he had two girls. Let’s call the first, “the original” and the other Ruth. Campo! You have as many girls as you can. He only has two! He would definitely see heaven. He met both on Facebook. It was those days. Human hair was not confusing guys in inboxes and girls had not known that the key to a working, lasting something-ship was money.
So he hits off with the original. He has some Helb money, has some academic writing money and has just sold his room at the hostels!(this is new to me). So the guy has some goodwill. He has money. He is the campus Don Korleone. He could easily afford a few dresses for his girl and pocket money. The relationship was shaky though so they had lots of breaks in between.
What does a guy do during a break? Find another girl. At least for the time being.So he goes back to facebook and the gods are gracious. They give him Ruth. They start cheating. But this particular cheat has Ruth pregnant in a span of two weeks of knowing each other.
I look at him.
“I know. I know, ” he says.
“You were fast! 2 weeks?”I ask.
” Must have been less. We knew at two weeks.”
“You almost became like chicken. Did you feel like a cock and her like a hen?”I ask.
Anyway, so Ruth is working and is independent. She says she earns a lot of money. Eric doesn’t see it though. So she invites Eric to a presentation over lunch. She says it will be quick and it will help both of them. A man has to please a girl, so he goes. Turns out to be GNLD.
“These GNLD people will never see heaven with mouths louder than their pockets. I wasn’t sure about what I was getting into.”
” You should have fixed your eyes on the prize. You’d be country managers by now owning apartments and flying globally.” I say.
He gives himself a breather. I want to know whether he bought that pregnancy vibe or not.
“Aaaiii. How? I wasn’t pregnant. She was and was the least of my concern at the time.” So he took a break with Ruth. While at it, the original came back so Ruth was ignored. He found a house, paid rent and started life with the original.
“We one day fought and reconciliation talks never worked so we parted ways.”
A man’s got to do what he’s got to do. So he calls Ruth again. I know. This human! Anyway, so he apologizes and plans to take brideprice which never happens. Their son is born and they lead normal lives.
Time passes and Ruth realizes Eric is not the type of husband he wanted. Ruth’s ideal husband wears a suit every morning, goes to work and comes back with bread and a newspaper. And here was Eric. Working from home. Changing from pyjamas to pyjamas. How would neighbours know that he was the man in the house.
So she pressures Eric into getting an 8-5 job. So our guy buys suits and starts going to work every morning in a suit and brings bread and gazet every evening. Infact, he sleeps in a suit! The bed must know that he is from work and brought bread and gazet.Happy family!
This was however short-lived.
Suits were not enough. She wanted to make her hair from a salon inside statehouse. She wanted to shop in Dubai. She suddenly didn’t want Ugali, she wanted lasagna, she would learn to pronounce it later. She wanted steak. Medium rare. She would deal with that raw feeling later. In short, life changed. They started living beyond their means. They sank into debts, they borrowed and borrowed from everyone until they couldn’t borrow again. It got bad. They started selling household items to sustain themselves.
“One morning, we received notice to vacate in 24 hours. We had been busy satiating a lifestyle and forgot to pay rent for months!”
They had to move. Smaller house, bigger problems…he became unhappy. His salary went to repaying debts. They barely had food.
“I used to walk from lucky summer to town. I had to walk one way otherwise we wouldn’t eat and we had a child. So I’d leave 20 or 30bob to fix the next day’s meal.”
Problems beat you! He sold his suits and shoes and went back to his normal pyjama self. Ruth must have gotten tired of the broke man without a suit.
“One evening we argued and she asked me what kind of a man I was who couldn’t provide. It was all because she had not made her hair. I was expecting some money sobit was just a matter of waiting. It wasn’t the 1st time she was bruising my ego. I’d had that question enough times.”
He had been reminded umpteen times that he had not paid brideprice so she is not his wife. You know how we women talk when angry. We remind you that you have not oiled your bum since age 4. That you pee loudly in the loo. And we have just been keeping quiet.
He did not look for money for her hair to be made.
“I asked her to pack and leave. To go to that man who would pay her bills and pay her brideprice.”
It was the last of the two and for a long time.
This come we stay thingy can be a dangerous game. One minute you have a wife, next you don’t because you didn’t pay for her nails or lashes. Next, you need to borrow a wife.
He looked for the original again.
Bagger! I know, I know. Right?
So the two humans got back together but she was now married. Wait. So she is married, but has another side nigga who is a doctor and Eric is a side nigga also and maybe there is more side humans. Obviously, in a relationship of many, mistrust, jealosy and wild thoughts are inevitable. They always fight. In one of their fights, it becomes very heated and she says “by the way go test yourself!”
Eric hasn’t been sick. He hasn’t felt sick also. He thinks she is just yapping because she is mad. She says it again. “Go test yourself. Go check your status before you start yelling at me.”
You can’t keep arguing with a repeat of those words. He shut up. He thought of himself. He hoped it would just be an utterance. Morning comes and he goes to hospital. As he waits to get tested, he remembers of times the original had T.B. he remembers of times she got so sick and almost succumbed but she has nine lives. She always rose back and fit back in like she never got sick.
“I was convinced that I was sick. Her married men, the doctor, others, excuses, there was no way I was not ending up with the virus.”
His turn came. He got in to the testing room.
“It was confirmed. I was HIV positive.”
There’s silence between us. I want to ask him what color of boxers he was wearing that day and if he had seen any blue chicken on his way out of hospital. I didn’t know where yo lead the conversation to.
“Tatu, I couldn’t go lower than I already was. Was I foolish? I was knowledgeable. What happened?”
Anyway, the tough task was to find Ruth, tell her the truth and talk her into getting her and the baby tested. He gathered courage and reached out. Not for reconciliation. She was hesitant but he gave her reason to test.
Ruth was HIV positive.
The baby was HIV negative.
“I knew I’d caused her pain because she was angry and bitter. I knew we would never reconcile but I wanted to walk this journey with her. That’s why I reached out.”
Eric got a new job and started. He also started on his medication.
“Id faint at work many times. I was on medication but no appetite so wasn’t eating. My colleagues were curious. My boss threatened to fire me. I was sicker than I’d ever been.”
Absenteeism started and he received warning letters.
“It was either the job or medication. I stopped the medication.”
So heasked Ruth to agree to co-parenting. He accessed the kid for a while but Ruth never spoke to him.
“I was unavailable emotionally. Self regrets, thoughts on stigma, suicidal thoughts…I was losing it.”
He had seen family die of this. He now felt he was next..
“Friends are good. Friends are good Tatu.”
One of his friends talked to him. He quit his job and the very friend hosted him. He even gave him money to continue supporting Ruth and the child. When he was emotionally stable, he moved out and got back on medication.
The co-parenting didn’t end well. One time he delayed paying fee for the child, but he had an arrangement with the school. Ruth couldn’t hear any of this. So she and her parents stopped him from seeing his child.
He regrets it. He wishes he could reverse life but he is not even a small god covered in a pot.
“It takes something from you. You always want that void to be filled but the boundaries. You can’t have relationships like everyone else.”
He seems a bit broken still. I want to hold him close and tell him to just live his best now. I keep looking at him.
“Most of us are emotionally damaged already then people want to damage us further. People don’t care about the how. ”
He gulps his drink. A call comes in. Its Jackie, his new wife. She is HIV positive as well. She is at the doctor’s for routine check up. They met at one of those encouragement groups and hit it off.
He looks straight in my eyes, holds my hands and says “my family doesn’t know. It’s been 5 years. No one knows. I will one day tell them.”
Jackie calls again. She is done and asks where we are at.
“I want kids. 1 or 2. But let’s understand first how to get a virus free child.”
“You are going to have sex again?” I ask
“Yes. But you Tatu, protect. Use protection. Most of these people we randomly see are seeing other people. In your horny state, you choose to trust than protect. Most of us don’t look like we are sick.”
“Eric, I will have him wear three at one go. I will wear extras on my fingers and toes. We have to protect, I say.
Jackie walks in.