I sit on the door step of my grandmother’s old house enveloped in gloom, glazing far into the distant foggy hills, but neither seeing them, nor other splendours of nature surrounding me. I sit in the same spot everyday, thinking about my life, crying and wiping away the ever flowing tears from my always red, sore eyes. I gnash my teeth, I sniffle, I whimper, I regret and I ask myself the same question all over. Why?
Though my environment is joyful, and the people around me are always happy and boisterous, I am still very sad. Since my first day in Owo, a small town in Ondo state, Nigeria, I have always been sad. From sunrise to sunset, I sit here wondering why my life could take such a sad sudden turn. I ask myself, I ask God, I ask anybody who cares to listen, why?
Often times, this period of the morning when the day is just breaking, I have only the chirping birds, the croaking frogs and the stillness of the quiet village to keep me company. I tremour with the spasm of emotions rocking my body, and the sadness eating away at my heart. I don’t sleep at all, my heart is filled with sadness. I sit in a secluded corner, my own world, where happiness is a mirage.
I am 16 years, pregnant, desolate and a drop-out from secondary school. My grandmother, with whom I am living, and my parents are ashamed of me, and that was the reason I was ‘shipped’ from Lagos to Owo. They want to safe themselves from the disgrace and the heart wrenching agonies, and allow me have my baby quietly without anybody knowing. I was told I would be allowed to go back to school, a new school, either in Owo or Lagos, once my baby is weaned. But this is not the reason for my deepening sorrow, nor is it the grave offence or ungratefulness of letting my parents and siblings down. My sorrow lies in the fact that I am HIV positive!
My name is Adetutu George. Allow me share my life with you, let me unburden my soul to you and please listen to me with rapt attention; let me tell you how it all started and probably how it will end. I am going to tell you about people, places, events, secrets, moments, decisions, mistakes, sadness, happiness and every other thing bottled up inside my 16 year old mind.
I know that teenagers and other people in their early twenties are peculiar and special people, especially because we are driven by a new force growing inside us, that no other person in the world understands but us. At least, that is what we think. The problem however is we need help, more help than any other group, and from my experience we often reject the helps. Our feelings are we are grown and all knowing, but unfortunately we are young adult who still need to be taught how to fly like the young birds. We need the experience of those older than us, they will hold our hands as we try to walk through our life, especially with our first unstable steps.
The most important aspect of any teenager’s life or anybody at all is to avoid making mistakes that will ruin the future, just as the most fulfilling part is to continue to triumph and achieve goals as the years roll by. Contacting HIV could be a deadly mistake, especially as it is incurable, but since it is avoidable, by all means we should avoid it. You can safe yourself a lot of pains, it all depends on you.
Now you will get to know about Emeka a.k.a. (James Bond), Vivian a.k.a. (Sweet pie), Dare a.k.a. (Dr. Dre), Jamil a.k.a. (G Money), Zainab (Zee baby), Ngozi (Miss World) and many of my friends both in school and at home. Again, I will tell you about Mr. Orji, the Physics teacher nick named ‘‘Keep Lagos Clean’’, the English teacher Mr. Akindele (Mr. Akins) an ever smiling young man and our Principal, a no-nonsense middle age woman we nicknamed ‘‘Extra Large’’ because she was big and fat. There is Miss Williams, the pretty Biology teacher, nicknamed ‘’Beyonce’’ the boys never stop talking about, Mrs. Okeowo, the agric science teacher (the one we nicknamed farm manageress) and many more teachers we never liked but are always trying to help us. We believe they love to prevent us from having fun.
In my young age I have been to many places, these are locations my parents would never imagine I could be in twenty years. There is the ‘Blue Club’, which is our party venue and the ‘Republic of Morocco’ a spot behind our school, slightly inside the bush where only the tough seniors can ‘hangout’. It is where all the smoking, the drinking and all the immoral acts are done. If you are not part of the crowd at Morocco, then you are not ‘hip’ or ‘cool’. It is the place for the popular boys and girls in school. I wanted to be popular, and I was part of the crowds at Morocco, where I also get to meet other students from neigbouring schools. It was there I met Emeka, the boy who eventually got me pregnant, and probably infected me with HIV.
The boys have their secrets – their escapades, conquest, smoking, gambling, drugs and the like, same as the girls who like sharing adventures. Needless to say our secrets would make our parents scream! But of course we enjoy relating them to our friends, episodes by episodes. The darker the secret, the naughtier your friends think you are and the more popular you think you have become. We also relish in these delinquent acts until somebody gets into trouble, then we’re shaken, but then we soon go back to it all. I must say that our only reward for all these things we do, is to be able to say something during our tête-à-tête , see our friends’ eyes dilate and hear them gasp, and probably say ‘You naughty girl!’. That’s when you are ‘happening’.
Are you there? Let me have you know that like some of my friends who have also got into trouble, the scale is off my eyes now, but unfortunately things can’t just go back to being the same. Like a tree cut down, which of course cannot be clasped together by cellophane paper or welded together to be able to grow along with other trees, our lives and progress are disturbed or stalled when we make mistakes, and sadly others must leave us behind.
Now, I realised other people have been teenagers before me and that I am not necessarily smarter than they are because I am one now. Being a teenager means being very responsible, and focused, at least I owe that to myself. I also must be responsible because of my family and society.
I am here in Owo, mesmerised by what is happening to me. It all seems so hazy, and I keep hoping I am in a bad dream, praying to wake up soon enough. My friends in school would be rounding up their final examinations and they would be free. Feeling regal and eligible to find a place in the many Nigerian higher institutions or abroad ready to pursue a career, they are truly the ‘happening guys’. I can’t say the same for myself. I am the proverbial tree cut down, who can no longer grow along with the other trees. As I sit here gazing into the far hills, I am afraid. I am afraid not only for my pregnancy or my HIV status, but also for the baby growing inside me. Doctors already told me that about one third of babies born to mothers infected with HIV may become HIV positive too, especially through the placenta, during birth or through breast milk, if they try to breast feed. Please, I need you to pray fervently for me and my baby! I would not be able to forgive myself, if my innocent baby is infected, it deserves better a life.
‘Tutu! What are you doing outside crying your eyes out? Do you want to kill yourself? Now you must stop all this crying and do something to keep yourself busy’
That is my grandmother calling out to me, She wakes up every morning, finding me on the same spot, crying myself to death. She will hug me and continue to recite my ‘praise names’ until I stop crying. She has been very supportive and loving. She is the only one that can put a smile on my face now and probably make me laugh occasionally. Poor woman, I have caused her so much pains.
‘Tutu! Tutu …. How many times will I tell you not to stay outside?’
That’s my grandmother again, excuse me. I need to go and hug her and cry on her sympathetic shoulders, I need her re-assurance that everything would still be okay. My poor grandmother, the best grandmother in the world, so kind and understanding.
I wish I could turn the hands of time, at least for the sake of my poor grand mother.
I was preparing for school when the telephone in the sitting room rang. I dashed out from my bedroom to pick it up.
‘Is this you Tutu?’ A voice said from the other end. It was a little hushed and unsure, the caller identification is showing private number.
‘Who are you?’ I inquired, I knew it was my close friend Vivian, but I always love to play pranks on her, she does same to me too. I also knew she must be on one of her delinquent spree to have hidden her number.
‘Naughty girl don’t you recognize my voice’ Vivian retorted crossly. I could hear the television sounds at the background, I think it was ’big brother Africa’ Watching television so early in the morning! That’s Vivian for you.
‘There are over 150 million people in Nigeria, how do you get to differentiate all their voice? Who are you?’
‘It’s Vivian, you silly girl!’ she was very angry now
‘Oh Vivian it’s you? I’m sorry dear’ I said pretending, almost laughing out loud and giving my pranks away.
‘Sorry for yourself, nonsence’ She replied very quickly.
‘You didn’t call me up early this morning to insult me’ I feigned being angry.
‘You are very annoying Tutu , imagine you not knowing my voice’
‘Bush girl! Ignoramus! The first thing you do on a telephone is to identify yourself. Is this you Tutu?’ I said mimicking her ‘Nonsense!’
‘Now I’m sure something is really wrong with you. Anyway are you going to school today?’ she finally mentioned her purpose of calling me. Her questions are always unbelievable. It was a Monday, and everybody is expected to be in school.
‘Why not, aren’t you coming?
‘I don’t know’.
‘Stop quizzing me p-l-e-a-s-e, you are not my mother’
‘Sorry big girl, but remember ‘Keep Lagos Clean’ gave us an assignment’
‘I know and that’s why I’m calling you’ she hissed ‘Have you done yours?’
‘Why not?’ I’m actually surprised, Vivian is never interested in anything school. She hates school. I don’t think Vivian attends school half of the number of days she is supposed to in a year.
‘Look I won’t be coming to school, just copy your own assignment and submit for me’ She said in an instructive tone
‘But ‘Keep Lagos Clean’ might find out, he has a way of finding out’
‘ No … just use your left hand to write mine. The writing would be different, he won’t find out’
‘Vivian …’ I hesitated ‘You know ‘Keep Lagos Clean’ is so mean, if he ever finds out …’ My heart was already racing
‘It’s not that difficult common! He won’t find out … you know I’ll do the same thing for you, common be a spot’ Vivian reeled on.
I heaved a loud sigh. Twice last session, Vivian did put me into trouble then we were in Senior Secondary School One. She had copi.ed my English essay assignment ‘word for word’ which resulted to Mr. Akins punishing us. We wrote new essay topics everyday for one week. Again, she made me lie to her parents on the payment of Five Thousand Naira extra for Inter-House Sport, which the Principal punished us severely for too. I know Vivian is bad influence but I wanted to tag along with her. She is very lively, mischievous, and never seems to stop laughing in her high pitch squealing manner. She enjoys being naughty. All the girls wanted to be as ‘hip’ as Vivian, she is the authority on fashion, music, and parties.
I couldn’t have possibly been friendly with somebody like Bola – a quiet, and squeamish, but very brilliant classmate. She was easily the best student during our junior school days, and had won prizes for virtually all the subjects last session. She’s always squinting at her textbooks, though already she’s using recommended glasses, this was why she was nicknamed ‘windscreen’. She lives two houses away from me, but I didn’t want to be her friend. She’s not fun to be with, she’s very unlike Vivian at least that was my thinking. Being friends with Bola could have probably changed my life. Vivian actually called her a nerd, and said she would one day die of boredom.
‘Are you going to do it or not?’ Vivian asked impatiently, she must be very angry now.
‘Suppose mine is wrong, the calculation is so difficult’ It was actually on heat capacity, a dreaded topic.
‘Go over to windscreen’s house and copy from her’
‘You know she won’t allow me’ Bola is nobody’s fool in spite of her quietness.
‘Right or wrong, just copy for me. Bye’ Vivian cut the line before I could say anything further. Actually I was looking for a way to say no, without annoying her.
Once again she is placing her problems on my shoulders. She probably would stay home and watch home videos or cable television. Her parents like mine work on Lagos Island, and do not return until late in the night and they leave home so early. Even when they finally have their annual leave, they travel abroad, leaving Vivian and her equally mischievous brothers with the house maids, to do whatever is their whim. I can say Vivian is spoilt silly. Being the only girl in the family, she never does nothing at home except listen to music, read fashion and gossips magazines, watch television, take ice cream, sleep and attend parties, then laugh at her own mischief.
Like I predicted, we again got into trouble, and this time, ‘‘Keep Lagos Clean’’ really dealt with us.
He had stormed in during one of our HIV/AIDS lecture classes organised by a non-governmental organisation to help young students in our locality. Vivian, besides postponing ‘‘Keep Lagos Clean’’ wrath till the next day, also missed learning about some very important information about HIV/AIDS.
Dr. Aisha Abubakar the HIV/AIDS programme lecturer, who is also a medical doctor, taught us that HIV means Human Immune Virus, and that AIDS means Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome. She again explained that HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, and that AIDS means collection of diseases that a person has when HIV has destroyed the body’s protective system. For example, the white blood cell we were told in our biology class, protects our body from many diseases.
Dr. Aisha is ever so friendly, and she answers all our questions so nicely that we really want to understand everything she talks about on HIV/AIDS. When she said a person with HIV finally becomes very ill and bed ridden with such illness as fever, tuberculosis, pneumonia and severe diarrhea, we were all very afraid. The picture that came to our mind was that of a thin, fragile looking person, locked down on the bed with all sorts of diseases, coughing and groaning in pain. She however made us realise that HIV destroys the body defense system slowly, and that from the time of infection to full down AIDS may take 2 to 10 years.
When she told us that we should tell our parents to let us have HIV/AIDS test to know our status, we all argued that we do not need to do the test, especially as many of us are not sexually active, but Dr. Aisha only smiled and nodded her head disapprovingly. She told us promptly that anybody can get infected with HIV and not necessarily through sex and that we really need to be very careful. She explained that beside sex, in which the transmission is carried out through sexual fluids e.g. Semen, when people have unprotected sex (not using condoms), HIV can also be contacted through blood, or cutting ourselves with sharp objects like syringes or blades which contains infected bloods. She also informed us that HIV is also transmitted from mother to infant.
‘Since you all know how you can contact HIV, how do you guide yourself against getting infected?’ Dr. Aisha had asked the class that afternoon moving away from the board to sit amongst us.
I think one of the reasons everybody like her is because she treats all of us like adults, and she always takes her time to explain difficult parts of her lectures. We all wished our teachers could be like her. She once said the word ‘young adult’ gives us a whole lots of responsibiltity.
‘You are advised to use condoms when you are having sex, right?’ She asked smiling, and easily we all echoed ‘yes’ not realising where she was heading to. She nodded her head mockingly.
‘Please, raise up your hands if you are married in this class’ she asked again in her usual smiling, quiet attitude, but the question really shocked us. For a long time there was quiet and hands were raised. Nobody is married in my class. Then she delivered another question.
‘Which of you here can get his or her parents’ permission to have sex, or can tell the parents that he just had sex?’
Funny. Once again there was quiet, the question was strange, no hands were raised, and we were all wondering where she was heading. We were all probably trying to figure the relationship between sex and parents.
She sighed out loudly after sometime, and then walked back to the front of the class, studying all our faces closely. Her arms were akimbo.
‘Sex is for adult who are married, and who have their parents and God’s permission to have sex and that is because they are married. Condom is for married people when they do not want to have children. It is not for spoilt boys and girls who do not want to get pregnant or contact HIV. Don’t forget that there is a possibility that even with condoms you can still contact the virus or get pregnant’
We were all surprised, because we believe the ultimate solution is condom. And she must have seen it on our faces.
‘It is better not to start having sex until you’re married. If your boyfriend or girlfriend wants sex, it means he or she does not love you and only wants to sleep with you. Tell them to wait till the proper time. If they can’t wait, they can leave. Don’t allow anybody to pressure you, having sex when you are not married is not cool, rather it is stupid. Zip up’
I wish I had really listened to Dr. Aisha or practiced what she told us, but I had allowed an avoidable mistake to put me in the position that I am right now. Now I remember one of the things Dr. Aisha said, that no matter how many times you used condoms, there will come a day you will get careless by not using it, and that will really cost you a lot. ABSTENANCE is the safest.
Just before the bell rang, Dr. Aisha glanced at her wristwatch, and then she promised to finish off the topic the next class, as it was almost break time. That was exactly the time ‘Keep Lagos Clean’ furiously stormed inside the class. I wanted to faint when he called out Vivian’s name? He had discovered she was not in school and somebody had submitted for her. God help my soul!