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By Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema

Saturday, April 02, 2011.


Three years ago, while I was on the staff of an NGO that worked on HIV/AIDS programmes, I attended a Behaviour Change Communication workshop in Awka, Anambra State . It was my first BCC workshop.

During the lunch break I got together with some of my colleagues. One of them caught my eye. There is no need denying that I have an eye for women with the three Bs: beauty, brains and.I leave the third to your imagination. Decked out in jeans and a well cut sports shirt, her lustrous hair arrested by a bandeau, her smooth, beautifully round face an artist's dream, her lips a lover's delight, Aina Omoleye held my attention.

''Ben, your eyes betray you.'' That was Chike, my co-representative from 'Save the World' NGO. He had noticed my interest in the vivacious angel.

 ''So this is what you guys enjoy at these workshops,'' I murmured. We had moved away from the small group to the bar. ''Wish 'Save the World' had employed me earlier.''

 Chike smiled. ''If you like her let me introduce you.''

 ''Man, won't her hubby cut off my genitals?''

 ''She is single.''

 I was in luck. ''What are you waiting for? I told you I must join you in the married club this year.''

Aina was just as friendly on a one-on-one basis as she was gregarious in a group setting. We became inseparable throughout the four-week workshop. We did assignments together and spent much of our free time as a couple either by the hotel swimming pool, in the lounge or in the cinema. She loved my company and I knew I had found the girl of my dreams.

Every often, when alone beneath a star-studded sky, we looked into each other's eyes and passion made my heart pound. I nearly swept her off to my room but she gently resisted, though the throbbing of her heart betrayed her desire.

On the last Saturday night before the workshop ended Aina entered my room. It was unusual; she never came to my room unaccompanied by me. She sat beside me on the bed and took my right hand in both of hers.

''Ben, is this a fling or the real thing?'' Her voice was soft; her raven eyes bored into mine with a soulful indication that this was no game for her.

 ''It is for real, Na baby.'' I had knocked off 'Ai' from her name.

 ''Then you must know the truth.''

 My heart leaped into my mouth but somehow I remained calm. She is engaged to someone; she is bearing another man's baby; she is .The thoughts sizzled in my head.

 But her news was worse. ''Ben, I have HIV. I have been living with it for the past five years.''

 I was shaken. Aina's eyes brimmed with wrenching tears but her voice was steady as she looked at me.

 ''Guess I can get out of your life now.''

 My head swam. I had come astonishingly close to touching death. My heart kept quaking in spite of all my efforts to wrench my eyes from hers.

 ''How did you get it?'' I asked quietly.

 For a second savage pain turned her face into an ugly mask. With an effort she got a grip on herself.

 ''It was at the Polytechnic, Ibadan ,'' she began conversationally. ''I was two weeks away from my HND Finals when my hostel got caught in the middle of cult warfare. Members of the Black Axe burst into my hall. Four boys held me down. I passed out. Wish I never regained consciousness.''  Then the dam burst and sobs shook her body.

 Not knowing what to do I held her in my arms and let her tears soak my shirt. When she was spent she gently disengaged herself. ''Thank you for the best four weeks of my life. But I can't hurt you.'' She walked to the door as if she was being marched to the gallows. As she took the door knob I called:

 '' Na.'' She turned.

 “Don't close the door, please. Wait for me.''

 ''Till when?''

 ''Tomorrow morning.''

 She sniffed back her grief and left.

I did not sleep a wink that night. I fought the biggest battle of my thirty-year old life. My people say that a stranger's corpse seems insignificant till death hits your doorstep. My head was full of knowledge about HIVAIDS; I had trained Peer Educators; I had mobilized marches against discriminations against PLWHAs; I had even met and worked with a few. But to fall in love with one? God.what would Dad say? I am his first son.

Five a.m. and I was tapping on Aina's door. One look in her big eyes and I knew I had made the right decision. I closed the door and took her in my arms. ''You are my woman and I will make it official.''

Aina's eyes shone as she put her arms around me.

 ''Can you handle it? God, I don't want to hurt you.''

 ''Your leaving me will hurt me. So let us face the challenge together.''

 ''Thank you,'' she whispered and kissed me long and hard. When she let go our eyes were dark with unspoken messages. ''We have an hour before today's session,'' she whispered.

I reached in my pocket and took out a pack of condoms. With a smile she led me to her bed.

Henry C. Onyema is a writer and teacher. He lives in Lagos, Nigeria.

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