Friday, 4 January 2008

The Evening Programme

( This short story is about the ugly effects HIV/AIDS can have on people's lives, especially when the people in question are from poor families or/and have little or no access to adequate health care)

Jerry sat in the darkness behind the lit-up stage and surveyed the audience. It was mostly made up of young boys and girls. Just the right age, he thought, letting his thoughts drift. The coordinator of the programme was standing in the stage’s limelight, microphone in hand, trying to get the evening’s show afoot; the audience suddenly laughed, and Jerry guessed the man had made a joke.
He looked away.
He had once known a young boy like these ones here, looking at the coordinator with such happy and expectant faces. A young boy full of life and promise, newly discovering the joy and beauty of maturity. But the beautiful symphony of the young boy’s life had broken up abruptly, fragmenting into disengaged, jagged pieces…
The audience laughed again.
Jerry shook his head and sighed. There was a paper-flyer on the ground next to his feet – one of those distributed to advertise the evening’s programme – bold, screaming words that said something or the other about HIV/AIDS being real and having no cure. Jerry thought of the first time he’d heard of the deadly disease; that was some sixteen years ago. Thinking of this made him think again of the young boy he’d once known – the boy whose life symphony had broken up.
It was one dreary April afternoon many years ago when the young boy walked into a clinic, looking nervous, and asked to see the doctor. The receptionist – a poker-faced elderly female – took a long look at him and asked what he wanted the doctor for.
“I want to do a blood test,” the boy replied.
Ignoring his initial request, the receptionist directed him to a room where a nurse took down his name, sex, age, and all other whatnots. Obediently, the boy complied, supplying all the requested information. Then the nurse took a sample of his blood and told him to come back after two days – oh, and don’t forget to deposit two hundred naira with the receptionist.
The boy did as told and went away, his nervousness barely dispelled. Two days later, he came back. There, in a harshly lit room with peeling yellow paint and scary pictures of emaciated people – more like skeletons than like living human beings – the young boy received the bomb-shell that shattered his life.
He was HIV positive.

Abruptly, the stage went dark. The coordinator swore softly, and screamed at the technicians to do their jobs. Jerry scratched his head, and slowly slid back into his reverie…
The test result had been printed on an A4 paper. Hands shaking, the young boy read it again and again and again. Finally, he looked up with a strained look on his face. “Nurse, what is this?”
The nurse was visibly uncomfortable. “I’m – I’m sorry…”
“Sorry? I said, what is this?”
The nurse sighed. “I’m afraid you are HIV positive; you tested positive to the AIDS-causing virus. I’m sorry about that.” And she got up somewhat stiffly and left the room.
And that was it. He was HIV positive, and there was nothing she could about it – so, goodbye and have a good death! What about his life? His ambitions? His future? For God’s sake, he was only eighteen!
I’m afraid you are HIV positive…
What was he going to tell his parents? His friends? His relatives? His teachers? What would he say when they find out? And for that matter, how did he manage to contract the virus? Ah, but he already knew the answer to that one. A wrenching sensation seized his entire body as he remembered nights of burning passion. Biting back a painful cry, the young boy bowed his head, and felt his world – his entire world – go down in ashes.
An hour later, the young boy shuffled out of the clinic, ashen-faced. On his way out, he thought he overheard the poker-faced receptionist muttering about “irresponsible” boys – and the boy felt his heart constrict. That remark was a killing blow that marked the last note on his broken symphony.

As abruptly as it’d gone dark, the stage lit-up again; the audience cheered, and the coordinator threw in his two cent’s worth. Sitting in the darkness, Jerry ignored them – just thinking, thinking…
Shattered and devastated, the young boy went home. After three harrowing, horrible days and nights, he made a critical decision: He decided to tell his parents.
The young boy was lucky.
His parents were also devastated by the news. But being educated and enlightened, they eventually got over the shock, and diligently went to the task of helping their traumatized son. With the aid of caring friends, relatives, and a teacher who had a talent for seeing the silver lining behind every dark cloud, the young boy began to find joy in life again.
But it wasn’t easy; it wasn’t easy at all.

Time may not heal, but it mends.
Years passed, things changed, and the young boy became a young man who was now sitting in the darkness behind a lit-up stage. Jerry sighed and shook his head again, trying to push the thoughts away, but they wouldn’t go.
The audience of young boys and girls began to clap; it seemed the coordinator had made a pronouncement, because he was now looking earnestly at Jerry, making hand signs at him to come up the stage, that it was time.
Taking a deep breath, Jerry got up and walked into the stage’s limelight. The clapping intensified a little, and then faded out as the audience readied itself for the evening’s programme.
Such young faces – such young, young faces!
Jerry smiled, tapped the microphone slightly, and spoke into it: “I have a story to tell you.” He paused. “My name is Jerry Uzoma Obiezina, I am thirty-four years old, and I have AIDS.”
The audience went deathly still.
The Evening Programme had begun.

The End.

Wasted Days

There are some days that I like to call “wasted”. Days on which I wake up in the morning and know that there is absolutely nothing for me to do. And so, I spend that whole day doing nothing. Wasted.
Years ago, people in Nigeria used to think that being a university graduate was all a person needed to become established in life. Just flash your bachelor’s degree at any firm of your choice and they’ll go ga-ga trying to employ your services. Well, not so anymore. Nigeria has undergone a terrible metamorphosis since then. Now, you are just one in the thronging mob of unemployed graduates, milling around like soldier ants, with fat files of their credentials tucked under their elbows.
The most irritating part of it is that some of my relatives still don’t understand. They look at me, and at my corper’s uniform, and they exclaim, “Boy, you don’t have any problem! Soon you’ll get a job in an oil company and become a ‘big’ man!” I really don’t blame them. Most of them are traders at Onitsha and Aba, making their living from selling goods in little rows of segmented shops, which they call “sheds”. How do you explain to them that a university degree – a common university degree, for God’s sake! – doesn’t guarantee a job anymore, much less a livelihood. But I do wish they could all see me now, sitting in this empty room, doing nothing. Okay, maybe not absolutely nothing. I scribble a little sometimes, working on a novel I’ve been writing for the past eight months. But most times, I just lie very still on the bed, counting sheep.
I must point out, though, that I’m not actually in the labour market yet; I’m still serving as a Youth Corper. I’m only home for the Christmas holidays, which, I might add, accounts for the idleness. But I still can’t help thinking, what will happen when my service year is over? Will I be staying at home like this? Each morning, I sit by the window and watch young men like me going off to market. They probably spend the whole day at their “sheds”, selling retail goods to customers. And I think, these people are barely educated, but they are busy, busy earning a living – and here I am, a university graduate to boot, sitting idle. Who is better off?
Okay, okay, I can hear the snorts of disgust at my pessimism. Who knows, maybe I’m just being unnecessarily gloomy. Perhaps, I will get a job as soon as I finish my service. Perhaps it will even be with an oil-servicing firm, and I will become a “big” man, like my relatives are predicting. But in the mean time, I am just sitting here, wasting the day.