Flamingo - Art, Craft & Culture - A priceless gift!
It’s now 12:30 pm. I stand by the mirror trying on clothes I can’t afford. I experiment with perfumes, applying them all down my neck until the scents run into each other. The mirror tells me I look great. I have a date at the hospital this lunchtime. It’s 12:50 pm. I’m now at the hospital and feel anonymous among a crowd of patients sitting on the pavements. Their eyes are yellow and shine like the sun’s brightness we always confuse with yellow. Remember, we always forget that the sun’s red hot and teach our children to paint it yellow. There’s a sharp smell of pills. It’s also a smell of looming danger. There are some patients whose lives are draining away from them, and that sad reality makes my stomach churn. It’s 12:55 pm. I dash down the corridor and almost fall on a young lady’s wheelchair. “Sorry,” I apologise several times to her. “It’s all right.” The girl straightens up and smiles. Inside, the corridor is lined with HIV/AIDS, polio and malaria posters. I reach Jesse’s office, hold my breath and tense for the inevitable challenge. “Please, come in,” says Jesse with a smile. She is a breathtakingly attractive lady, beautiful indeed. She looks like she’s not supposed to walk or talk like everyone else. “Welcome to my office, Cecil.” She offers not a hug but a warm handshake. “You may take a seat.” I make an effort to avoid her eyes. I look around the office and find it festooned with decorations. “I brought you some chocolates, except I didn’t know what your favourite flavour was and…” “Oh, you weren’t supposed to do that.” Her smile reveals perfect white teeth. “Thank you, anyhow.” My eyes pore over her as she slowly chews a chocolate. “What is it?” She notices that I’m transported. I’m incapable of saying anything, but smile bashfully, allowing a schoolboy blush to spread slowly across my face. “Would you like to tell me about yourself?” Jesse puts on a serious face. I dig deep into the bag of my childhood memories, deliberately omitting the naughty details. “That’s very interesting,” she smiles. “I was born in Poland in 19…” I’m as quiet as a photograph as the Polish lady recounts her buffet of childhood experiences. My imagination stretches beyond the sky and makes me feel a tickle in the groin. “Now that there are certain things we know about each other, there’s something special I would like you to do for me.” Jesse rises from the chair, making me feel that we’ve known each other for a lifetime. “Sure. You can count on me for anything.” I’m out of my mind with happiness, like someone running after bulls in the Spanish Festival of San Fermin. “Did you say you’ve been in Caprivi forever?” she asks. “Yeah, why?” “No big deal. There’s something you need to know about me.” She retains a serious face. “I’m an HIV/AIDS counsellor and would be very pleased if you allowed me to use the last 20 minutes of my lunch on counselling and testing you for HIV/A…” “But I’m not ready for the test,” I protest, worry tremors shivering through my body. “How about if I just counsel you and you get tested whenever you like? It’s important because…” “OK. You may go ahead.” I find the woman irresistible. Jesse begins the process by reminding me of the African names given to the deadly virus. In Caprivi, it is referred to as ‘Simbandembande’ or ‘hawk’, as it sweeps away the victims. In Kenya they call it a ‘worm’ because the virus is tiny and slowly devours the victim. In Zimbabwe it’s known as ‘Mukondombera’ because it is something outrageous that anyone can suffer. She reveals how grim the HIV/AIDS statistics are in Caprivi. I also get to know about a rowdy group of Caprivian girls who call themselves, the ‘Lovely Ladies of Negotiable Love’ and their notoriety in spreading the disease. “This has all been pre-test counselling,” Jesse wraps up. “With due respect to your rights, beliefs, opinions and choices, I think it’s up to you to…” “I’ve made up my mind. I’ll go on and do the testing.” I probably sound like Samson when he first met Delilah. “Really? I thought you would…” “Sure. I’ll do it right away.” My voice is firm. Jesse slowly pulls out the RDT (Rapid Diagnostic Tester) and pierces my thumb with the clean and sharp object. I watch closely as she drops a few drops onto some watery chemical that makes my blood flow easily inside the tester. “You may wait outside for 15 minutes and here’s a special present we give to the few courageous Caprivian men.” She smiles sweetly as she hands me a large box. I sit on the bench and decide to open the gift. Your guess is as good as mine. It’s a box of what Tunisians call ‘chapeaux Americas’ or ‘American hats’. Condoms!