Ronke stared continuously at the bottle of Fanta she was supposed to be sipping. She stroked the table gently as she stared emphatically. She had thought this through a hundred times, yet, there was still that resistance, that odd voice that told her to call this off now. She shrugged off the voice, again.
She tried to concentrate on the music video playing on the Plasma television which was centrally placed on the wall of the cafeteria. The cafeteria was not too tidy today and it was very scanty; students had just resumed, their foodstuff were still sufficiently stocked. It was a fairly big place; Jummy’s delicacy, posters of promo’s and events hung all over the walls, handbills of some student fellowships and various stickers were on most of the tables. She sipped from her bottle of drink again, still rummaging about the bold move she was about to pull off.
A semi-clad girl was swaying her hips raunchily in the music video on the screen now; she couldn’t tell if she wore any panties of if the colour of the panties she wore were nude. It was very hard to tell.
She thought about how things had changed. While she was little she had always wondered why it was just the American music videos that exclusively showed semi-clad ladies. That was all in the past, now, you could hardly tell which was which, Nigerian or American. That was how much the industry had grown, Lade always said. She had been ambivalent on Lade’s answer for a long time now.
She thought about her article on the feminist blog she recently featured on, how she thought them, feminists were going about this fight the wrong way.
‘’Them’’ she smiled briskly as she thought of the word again.
She was mildly smitten about how fast she had associated herself with them, like a certain colleague. She had written to them many times but she had only been published once on their site. She knew why. Her articles were too over the border, were too controversial. She had questioned the farcical attention given to feminism in the country by the “women leaders’’ who were continuously embezzling funds meant for sponsoring the returnee trafficked girls. She had questioned the morality of Nigerians who were quick to lend support to the criminalization of homosexuals but do nothing while the country continues to rank high in the unsavoury indices of underage marriage.
She looked at her watch now, it was almost 8pm, Udinyinwe would be close now and he always kept to time. Her heart skipped a bit. She closed her eyes for a second and took a deep breath. There was no going back. She had pondered on this a long time. She had to reduce the weight of the secret. She had borne it alone for too long now, it was time to let go, to at least tell Udinyinwe. She trusted him.
‘’I trust him’’ she almost said it loud, almost reassuring herself. The boy and girl at the other table looked at her. She looked away, slightly embarrassed. She thought of what they would think; ‘’crase’
Her phone rang almost immediately; it was Julian calling.
Udinyinwe walked faster now, he hoped Ronke would still be there at the cafeteria. They always met there to stock their bags with light snacks to eat through the night when they would be reading or to have a quick meal before going off to ‘’night class’’. It was their rendezvous spot. He checked his pocket again to be sure the money was still there. He wasn’t too comfortable when she bought him things. He knew her pocket was much more buoyant than his, still he did not feel comfortable, even if she always seemed to do it innocuously. She would tell him of his sexist view if he argued against her buying.
He brought out his phone and read her ‘’where are you, need to talk’’ text again. He was going to tell her about Julian tonight. He had kept it to himself a while now, he felt a shade of guilt. He paused. What if she knew already? What if Julian had even told her that he knew all this while? What if this was the reason she ‘’needed to talk’’?
He liked the way she always seemed happy with Julian, when she wasn’t bundled up in her feminists, morality and world peace arguments. He didn’t want to be the harbinger of bad news. He didn’t want to be her killjoy. He didn’t like Julian much, he almost disliked him. Sometimes he couldn’t tell if it was plain jealousy or dislike. That line was very thin for him. He didn’t want to be the one to tell her, but he needed to now, it was the right thing to do, especially after today. He had seen Julian come out of Ese’s hostel that afternoon. He was still seeing Ese. He was sure he was still sleeping with her, still sleeping with them both.
RONKE ignored Julian’s phone calls; she would only talk to him after she had talked to Udinyinwe. She felt confused. She felt tired, she was tired of touching herself at night, and she was tired of reading romantic novels to know how sex would feel like. She was tired of feeling lonely, even when she had a lover. She was running out of excuses to tell Julian. He was okay with the no-sex thing at first, but now the landscape had changed, he wanted more. It had been brewing for a while now, he had tried to go futher than their usual smooching that week like he did the week before, she had resisted and he had angrily called her stale.
She wanted it more than him, she longed for it, and she was literally tired of being a virgin; that much he didn’t know. That much she knew so well.
For a brief moment, she hated herself, hated her life again.
Memories from her secondary school days littered her mind now, memories of how she felt barricaded from life around her. How she hated her super caged life. Memories of when her mum had told her why she couldn’t participate in extra curricula activities in school, how she was not able to attend a boarding school she so craved for, even when she finally did attend one, she was one of the few exemptions, she was one of the few day students in the boarding school. She recalled the stern warnings of her mum on why she had to steer clear of boys, how she always felt alone in the big house, how she had to change to an all-girls school when her mother found out she had kissed a boy, how she had felt divided from the world around her. She lived up the proverbial saying of “feeling lonely in a crowded ballroom”. She remembered the look on her mums face when she told her that evening. The pain in her eyes when she knew she had to bear a certain cross throughout life.
That evening, she had joyfully told her mum she had been accepted to the Red Cross society and had to donate blood as a requirement the next day. That was the day the little girl in her died!. The day her mum told her she was HIV–positive. She had been born positive. She still kept her anti-retroviral drugs in the vitamin container. That she had a vitamin deficiency was the lie she had been telling all her life. The lie her mum had told her principals, teachers and friends in school. The lie her mum was still telling to her own friends about herself, it was going to end today. She would tell Udinyinwe, it would lessen the load and he would advise her on Julian. She needed that. Besides he was the only one she could tell, not Julian, not Lade, only Udin.
Udinyinwe saw Ronke through the window before he entered. He thought about how she always looked prettier on braids. Her skin colour was a blend of chocolate and rich milk. She was not tall, but had a kind of body which masked that truth. Her breasts were big and no type of clothing she wore could mask this truth. She had the perfect set of teeth, they were seamlessly white. Udinyinwe always thought it was because of her rich background which she always seemed to play down. She probably flossed a lot when she was young, maybe a lot of scaling and polishing too. He knew she didn’t know her dad and that her mum owned a couple of magazines in Lagos and worked at the same time as a permenant secretary in the federal ministry of information. That was the much he knew, she hardly talked about her family.
‘’One bottle of coke please’’ Udinyinwe ordered as he sat, trying to figure out if she was mad at him. Her countenance was strange. She looked a little downtrodden.
Udinyinwe felt guilt. She knew already, he thought.
‘’Hope you brought my sociology textbook along’’ Ronke asked, she was still deciding on how to tell him, she sipped her now warm bottle of Fanta, trying to avoid his piercing eyes.
‘’Ronke, see…’’ Udinyinwe was trying to muster his words when she blurted it to him.
“I’m HIV positive”
Ronke was telling him everything now, and she sobbed as she did. There and then he saw it; he now knew what he felt. He cared for Ronke, in a way he had not noticed before, no he had known, he had tried to brush it aside because of Stella-Maris, but he had known about these feelings for a while now.
He touched her face and didn’t know what to say. He didn’t know the appropriate thing to say. He hadn’t expected this in the least, the weight of the occasion was inuandating him. He felt half confused, half embarrassed. He held her hands, tightly. She started talking about Julian, and then he snapped.
“Ronke, Julian’s cheating on you. He’s sleeping with Ese’’
The canteen was almost empty now. They had been silent for a while now. They understood the silence; they understood each other, sometimes, too well.
“So did you and Julian ever…..” Udinyinwe was asking when she shook her head, half smiling.
“You know, you should have…….. Crazy boy” Udinyinwe said. They both laughed. He squeezed her hands again.
Immediately her phone rang, it was Julian again, she picked up this time and he asked for where she kept his flash drive. He was already inside her room. She had refused to pick up and he opened the room; he had seen her once or twice keep the key by the side of the old brick near her room.
Her mind immediately went to the anti-retroviral drugs she left on her table; she hadn’t switched them to the vitamins container yet. She thought immidiately about julian seeing them, she whithrew her hands from Udinyinwe’s grip.There and then, she thought of the worst.