'TIL DEATH DO US PART
Copyright © Ufuomaee
The ebook version is now available to read online HERE
Alicia took another look at the printed results in her hands and blinked a few times. She gulped through a lump that was forming in her throat. She couldn't believe what she was seeing. The results actually said "Positive!"
Jesus! I am HIV Positive! Jesus!
Her thoughts immediately shifted to her husband, who could be the only culprit. Though she hadn't been a virgin when they'd met, he was the only one she'd been with sexually for the last ten years!
A tear ran down her cheek, followed by another, and then the trickle became a flood. She had known this could happen! She'd been warned by her sister and her best friend about her husband's cheating ways, and that if she intended to stay with a man she knew was cheating on her, then she'd better insist on protection. But that only meant that she never got to have sex, ever!
Adrian had this small problem of erectile dysfunction, and whenever he strapped on a condom, he lost his hard-on. He grumbled all the time about it, and often used that as a reason to deny her of sexual pleasure, whenever he managed to keep his erection while strapped. He would come in a minute, and usually, she just wanted him to finish and be satisfied, because of the pain of not being lubricated enough, which meant that he didn't even have much time before she rejected his member from her body!
It had been a month since she'd approached him for sex. She was trying to work on her marriage. She was familiar with the saying that once sex goes down the drain, the marriage was sure to follow. Before that time, it had been three months since they’d had sex. And each time, she'd initiated it. Because she was lonely, and she had needs. Even though she knew she wasn't likely to be satisfied, at least she was making the effort to rekindle their spark.
He hadn't initiated sex with her in at least a year. And she knew it was because he really liked his new mistress. With the others, he'd tried to cover up his actions, pretending that she still meant something to him. But with Estelle, he made no pretence of his affair, and didn't try to deceive her that she had any part of his heart any longer. He was only in the marriage for his kids.
Three kids! Two girls and a boy, which she'd given him because she thought she could earn his love with them. She'd been pregnant when they got married and had given birth to Amy six months later. After a year's gap, she'd taken in again and given birth to Amanda. But Adrian wasn't satisfied. He wanted a boy.
By then, she already knew that he was having affairs. Her suspicions had been stirred since their first year, but peaked by rumours of him with other women. And one of them was from a direct source; her best friend, who was an acquaintance to one of the women he was "toasting"! She'd confronted him about it at the time and he'd lied through his teeth! Then she found a condom hidden in his shoe! And it wasn't the sort they bought! She knew then that he was a liar.
She'd confronted him about the condom, but he’d excused it away, saying he didn't know how it got there. And that was all the explanation she'd gotten. She'd stopped believing him then. And she knew he wasn't about to change either. But she had two toddlers and no money of her own.
She'd withdrawn then. Emotionally. That was the only way to survive the pain. She’d focused on her children, until Amanda turned four, and it was no longer enough that she was a mother. She wanted to work. But Adrian wouldn't hear of it.
Still, she'd opened an account with Fiverr to offer freelance work, so she could have some money of her own. It was slow at first, but she started getting some demand for her business. Then Adrian had come to her talking about how he wanted to fix their marriage and he was sorry and all that. He said he wanted to have another baby, and he wanted a boy, as if she was in control of the sex.
She'd agreed on the condition that he got tested first. And he was clean. She'd taken in quickly, and for a while, it seemed like the awful seven years of their marriage had never happened. He'd been so excited when he found out that it was a boy, and had showered her with so much love and attention.
After Andrew was born, Adrian gave Alicia another devastating news. He'd met someone. And he was in love. She was "the love of his life"; his ex-girlfriend, Estelle. Alicia almost lost it.
She remembered Estelle. She was all he'd spoken of in the early days of their relationship. The bitch had left him at the altar, saying that she needed to find herself, she wasn't ready for marriage, blah blah blah. Alicia, who had been in love with Adrian for years, had patiently nursed his broken heart. And six months later, she was pregnant.
She knew he didn't love her the same. But she believed that he would be happy with her. She was sure she knew how to love him and had enough love for both of them. And when she gave him children, he would love her. But now, after giving him the son he had craved, he was leaving her - for good. For the woman who'd left him at the altar to pursue her career!
Alicia cried. She cried so hard the nurse took her to a private room to cry freely, where she wouldn't scare the other patients. Alicia fell on her knees and cried.
"He gave me HIV, Lord!!! He gave me HIV!!!" She lamented. "I gave him the best of me, faithfulness and three beautiful children, and he gave me HIV!!! What am I going to do now???!"
"I am HIV positive."
Adrian remembered the day Estelle had made that confession to him. It was like a sword through his heart to realise that his one true love was ill, and that they would never live happily ever after as he'd hoped.
They'd met on one of his international trips, while in transit at Los Angeles. She had a speaking engagement for Women Living With HIV, and he was on his way back home. She didn't have the look of a sufferer. She'd been living with the diagnosis for years, and thriving with support from her group, and also through the role she played as a mentor. Instead of feeling sorry for her, he found himself in awe of her, and so much more in love than ever.
They'd met up again, when she'd returned to Nigeria the following week. She'd asked about his marriage, and he'd told her plainly, "The worst mistake of my life!"
"It can't be that bad, surely!"
He'd sighed. "It's not her. It's me. It's you. I never got over you... Why did you leave me?"
Estelle had been shocked by his confession. Leaving him had been hard, but she didn't regret it. She needed to find herself, and she would have been miserable as his wife. She was far too independent to be controlled by a man. She'd swallowed.
"We were not meant to be..."
"That's a lie, Estelle. I'll never believe that."
"Look, I made a lot of bad choices after I left you, but I've never regretted leaving you. Apart from the fact that I'm now living with HIV, I love my life. I love what I've been able to achieve, and I want to make every last one of my days count. I loved you... I still do. But we wanted different things..."
"You still love me?"
"I never stopped."
Adrian closed his eyes, feeling emotional. Only Estelle could do this to him. He lost his head whenever he was near her. Maybe that was why he'd said to her, "Make love to me."
Estelle had been dumbfounded by his request. It was deeply touching, because she knew he was saying he was ready to die for her... She knew he was saying that he accepted her fully, sickness and all. And she knew he had no idea what he was saying too. He didn't know enough of the struggle, maybe because she carried herself so well. But she never ever wanted to be weak.
They'd made love at the hotel, and it had been beautiful. She'd insisted that they use protection, because whatever emotional high he was on, he'd soon come down when the realities of a HIV diagnosis hit him. Plus, he had a family to think about.
Adrian remembered that first night so well. He hadn't had the problem he usually had with his wife, and women in general, whenever he used a condom. It had just confirmed to him that Estelle was truly the only one for him. His wandering little man had found his home.
"I love you," he'd whispered to her, when they'd laid in each other's arms spent. "I'll love you forever."
From that time, they'd been almost inseparable. And he'd been over the moon. He did feel a little guilt about leaving Alicia on the lurch. Especially after his promise to love her and treat her right. And the birth of their son.
But she'd known from the start that she wasn't the one. He'd never lied about his feelings. Only his infidelity. But he was done lying to anyone and everyone. He was finally happy.
But Estelle was not. Like a caged bird, she wanted to be free. He couldn't understand why she wouldn't settle with him and let him love her, look after her the way he wanted to. She often chastised him for treating her like a wife, and whenever they fought, she'd leave the country and he would have no idea if he'd ever see her again. In those lovesick moments, he gave in to Alicia's pleas for attention.
But then she'd return to town and send him a text, and he'd be on the next flight to visit her in Abuja, Port Harcourt, Enugu...wherever she was staying. The last time, their make-up sex had been rough, and the condom had slipped off. He hadn't been able to control the gasp, when he'd realised that he could very well have contracted her disease, and had been frozen still.
Estelle had been shocked too by his fearful reaction. And he could see that her feelings had been hurt, even though she'd quickly covered it up by showing concern for him. He'd swallowed, before he'd pulled her in for a hug. "I'm sorry..." he'd said, because he'd realised that his reaction didn't show the acceptance of her condition and their relationship, as he'd led her to believe.
That was two months ago, and they'd discarded the use of condoms in their love making since. He'd accepted his fate. It wasn't a death sentence. As long as they lived well, they could live long together.
Still, he updated his will, for the sake of his children. And he hadn't thought much about it since, until the day Alicia had guilt-tripped him into having sex with her again.
"I am your wife! The mother of your children. Why do you hate me so much?!" she'd demanded to know.
Maybe because you took advantage of me when I was weak! Maybe because you'd trapped me in this God-forsaken marriage! Maybe because every time I am with you, I wish I was with her... Maybe because I hate myself whenever I think of us, because despite everything I've done to you, you're still a good wife. But I wish it was you who had HIV and not my darling Estelle...
But he couldn't say that. He hated himself for even thinking such. But it was the truth. She knew the risks of his promiscuity. And she was the one who'd asked for something he no longer wanted to give her.
"Did you hear me?" Alicia asked, looking at her husband, who looked back at her with cold dead eyes. "I said I am HIV positive!"
"Yes, I heard you," was all he said in return, before he walked past her and went to the bathroom to look at himself in the mirror, to check again if he hadn't grown demonic horns.
"Will you marry me?"
Estelle knew she wasn't the marrying kind. She was unlike most women in this regard. She didn't dream of a house with picket fences, a dog, a husband and some cute kids running around. She dreamt of travelling the world, eating all sorts of delicacies, leading companies and basically, living the life of a President. In her world, she was commander-in-chief and second to no one.
But Adrian made her want to give up that dream for the dream of having his babies and making his meals every night. And so, in her crazy love high, she'd said "Yes" to his proposal ten years ago. But as the plans and preparations were made for their wedding, her fear of entrapment grew. Even though they were madly in love, they fought often, because she longed for a reason to break their engagement. But he always came back begging, compromising and romantic, that she knew he wasn't ever going to let her go.
So, she'd ran. On her wedding day, she went AWOL. And decided to break the news to him over email. It wasn't him. It was her.
And even though it hurt to be alone, to never hold him in her arms again, or to imagine him with another woman, she knew from the ease of her breathing that she'd done the right thing for herself.
She'd met a few others like him over the years. Men who wanted to own her, to tie her down, to lead her. It became easier to spot the signs and she often broke off those relationships before they got too serious. And she always made it clear to her boyfriends that she wasn't in it for marriage.
Steven was the one she came the closest to giving it all up for. He was a brilliant, accomplished business man, who was as independent as she. They seemed perfect for each other, until she fell in love and became the needy woman she always hated. She'd told him she wasn't in it for marriage, but she was finally at a point in her life where she felt ready to settle down, after achieving success in her career and love life...but he had taken her profession seriously, and relied on her disinterest in marriage.
However, he hadn't told her that he was bisexual. She hadn't known that she had been his trophy girlfriend to his family, to cover up his homosexual tendencies.
Five years ago, she'd learnt the devastating news that she was HIV positive, when she'd gone to confirm that she was pregnant. She'd been happy to realise that she was pregnant and even hoped that it would lead to them settling down at last. But with the HIV positive status, she knew she couldn't keep the baby nor the man who had lied to her. It had been a double blow.
After she'd spent a month mourning the loss of her relationship, her baby and her perfect life, she'd risen more determined than ever never to be weak for a man or for anything. She'd had her tubes tied, after her abortion, so she never had to worry about conceiving again. And she joined a support group to learn how she could live with HIV and still enjoy a full life.
But, no matter her success, she couldn't deny that she missed love. Not sex. She could have sex anytime she wanted, with whomever took her fancy. She missed lying in the arms of a man she loved, who loved her in return. Since her diagnosis, she never imagined that she'd ever experience such pure love again, until Adrian, knowing full well her condition, said, "Make love to me."
He was indeed the sweetest. And she loved the power she had over him. It ran through her blood like a drug. And maybe in that sense, they were meant to be.
She did think of his wife. With pity. But it ended there. She'd known about Alicia's obsession with Adrian even while they were dating. The three of them went way back to the days of High School. Alicia had played best friends with Adrian, while Estelle had been his lover. She'd assumed that they would become an item when she travelled to the States for university, but Adrian and everyone confirmed that they were still only friends. Regardless, her woman's gut told her that Alicia couldn't be trusted.
Adrian and Estelle had continued their love when she'd returned to Nigeria to do her NYSC, and Alicia was clearly in the friend-zone then. She'd even pretended to be happy for them and tried to become best buddies with Estelle after their engagement was announced. But Estelle wasn't surprised when she learnt that just months after her no-show, Alicia was pregnant for Adrian, and they were soon to be married.
The bitch got what she deserved. Still, Estelle pitied her. She knew how good it felt to be loved, and felt sad that Alicia didn't give herself the opportunity to find her own true love. It had to hurt that her husband was cheating on her up and down Lagos. And now, Estelle couldn't believe what she was hearing...
"I left Alicia," Adrian said, looking at Estelle with puppy dog eyes. "It's you I want, Estelle. It's only ever been you."
Estelle swallowed. She loved this man, but he was a fool. He left his wife and three kids, to live with a woman who had given him HIV and could bear him no children. His type of love was in another dimension.
"Please, go back to your wife..."
"No. I do not want to be party to this foolishness. What we have...had, was good as it was. Why did you have to go and ruin it?! I will never marry you."
"I'm not asking you to. I just don't want anyone else..."
"Adrian, I don't feel the same... If you can do this to another human being, I can't trust your love... Please, go back to your wife."
Adrian swallowed. How could Estelle be this cold to him? "I can't. She has HIV. And she knows about us."
And in that moment, Estelle saw Adrian for the pathetic man that he was. And she laughed.
Adrian couldn't understand what was happening. Why was she laughing? God, why is this woman laughing? Because I love her? With all my heart and soul?! What have I not given for her? Even to share in her suffering, I have done it, to show my pure love... And for that, she's taking me as a fool?!
"STOP! STOP IT!!!" he heard himself shout. "If you do not love me, say it. But don't laugh at me!"
"Oh, Adrian..." Estelle kept giggling. "I love you, but...you're selfish."
"Is that a surprise? Alicia has given you everything, and you can't even appreciate her love! You scare me! What is it about me that you love so much?!"
Adrian had to think. Right now, he didn't know. Looking at her, and the cold way she was looking at him, he tried to remember their love. When and how had he fallen for this woman who had kept her heart from him?! Why did he have to have her?!
And then he remembered that he'd first fallen head over heels for her when she'd shared with him her sad childhood story, which explained why she was so aloof about love and life. She was afraid of love, because love had made her mother weak and left Estelle motherless, after her father had battered his wife to death! She'd vowed never to give a man such power over her since. And it had been a challenge to him all his life to prove her wrong. To be the one that she was weak for. But instead, he’d been the putty in her hands... And now, he saw that her heart was as hard as ever. He'd never had it. And here he was, about to die for her...
He swallowed. "I never stood a chance, did I?"
Her cold stare gave him the answer he sought. And he shut his eyes to the pain. He had indeed been a fool. When he opened his eyes, they were red with vengeance.
He didn't know what had come over him, only that he didn't care and couldn't stand for this woman to breathe a second longer. She took from him his heart and hope and life... And she could never give it back nor give him what he'd sought in return. She was a cheat and a liar! And they were finally over!
Adrian looked down at the corpse of the woman he once loved with every fibre of his being and regretted his action. Why had she pushed him to do this?! He missed her so much... He would never kiss her again, lay with her again nor see her smile at him again... He cried over her body for a whole hour, before he thought of how he would get rid of the body and all evidence of his crime.
"Goodbye, my love," he said, as she set ablaze the dumpster bin, where he had thrown her dissected body parts and blood-stained sheets.
With his change of clothes from her house, he drove home to his wife. Thank goodness he hadn't told Alicia that he had left her. He'd wanted to tell Estelle first and had hoped for a different reaction from her tonight.
He thought of what Estelle had said about Alicia, that she had given him everything. Why hadn't that been enough? He knew now that it was his foolish love for Estelle that had blinded him and closed him off to love from any other woman. Alicia never stood a chance, until now...
But now, she had HIV. Had he taken much more than she was willing to give? Could she and would she forgive his betrayal?! How could he convince her that it was finally over between him and Estelle? And truthfully, did he even want her?
He knew he didn't. He still didn't know why she wasn't enough. But he wanted his family, his children. And she came in the package deal. He would have to try to love her. She deserved that much.
Adrian pulled into his driveway, and drew out a deep sigh. He wasn't ready for any emotional games tonight, and hoped that she wouldn't cause a fight. Tomorrow, he'd wake up repentant and with a new revelation about their love, and ask her forgiveness. He was sure he would get it.
Alicia had gotten religious since they got married. Funny how she hadn't thought about God's will when she'd connived to trap him in marriage. Then all of a sudden, she started talking about God hating divorce, and wanting their marriage to succeed, if she would faithfully obey Him. He'd found it amusing, but it was also a useful tool of control, whenever he pushed her too far.
Adrian let himself into the house and found his wife sitting at the dining table, which was set for two. He gulped.
"I thought you'd be sleeping..." he said, nervously.
"I can't sleep."
He thought to apologise, but hesitated. Why was she just sitting there?
“I’m scared, Adrian…” she said, her lips quivering.
He went to her. “Alicia, I’m so sorry…” he said at last.
Alicia had been livid that morning after she'd confronted Adrian with her test results, and he'd acted nonchalantly, as though it was a normal thing for someone to contract the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)! His reaction neither confirmed that he had the virus nor that he was worried about contracting it from her. He wasn't even concerned how she had gotten it.
However, she was in no doubt that he had given it to her. And now she suspected that he'd done so knowingly. Did he hate her so much?
She'd watched as he'd gotten dressed for the day and went out without another word to her. Was this marriage?! Was this her future? To live with someone who didn't care if she was dead or alive? Even though she was the mother of his children?!
She'd had Andrew tested, because she'd only stopped breastfeeding him six months ago. He was clean. She was thankful for that at least. She didn't know what she would have done if she'd passed on the virus to her son unknowingly.
She paced up and down her living room, trying to think of what to do next. She couldn't stay home today and do what she usually did, which was care for her children and cook meals for her husband. She couldn't just go on as if he hadn't started a fire in her body. She called her sister and told her she was coming over with the kids.
Amelia received her sister in a big hug, and rubbed her back as she released all her emotions in sobs. She was so sad for her. That Adrian was no good, but Alicia had been too in love to listen to anyone. And after they'd married, it was hard to tell her the truth about her husband. But she'd done so because if the roles were reversed, she'd want to know.
"I'm so sorry, Alicia. I'm so sorry. What are you going to do?"
Alicia wiped her face with the tissues on the coffee table. "I don't know... But I want to ask you something..."
Amelia swallowed. "What is it?"
"Will you and Michael take the kids...in case of anything...?"
"What do you mean? As guardians? Please, stop being morbid. It's HIV, not AIDS. You've still got years to live...and these days, you can live long with good treatment."
"Just say you'll take them if anything happens to us...will you?"
Amelia nodded. "Of course, you know we will. But nothing's going to happen."
Alicia was happy to hear that. It made her feel better about what she wanted to do. Amelia agreed to keep the kids over the weekend, while she sought an opportunity to talk to her husband about their marriage.
She'd stayed and had lunch with her sister before leaving to go home. She had nowhere else to go. Her best friend, Yinka, had travelled to have her baby in the States, and she really didn't want to upset her with this news.
Adrian was not prone to return home on a Saturday night, but something told her that today was different. He would come home. If for nothing but to face the music he'd avoided this morning. She held her vigil until at 11:00pm, she heard his key in the door.
By then, she'd had enough time to think about what she would do. She'd imagined so many scenarios, including welcoming him with a knife behind her back. But she'd chosen the less confrontational approach.
He said he was sorry, like she expected he would. He wouldn't do it again. He had seen the light now, blah blah blah. Too little, too late. She'd seen the light too. She knew the truth about him. He’d never and would never love her.
While they’d had dinner, she’d watched him. Something was different about him that she couldn’t place. It was like he was in pain. But she knew, when he looked at her, that it had nothing to do with her. It was at that moment that she stopped loving him.
Alicia arose to get the chilled white wine from the fridge, and turned back in time to see Adrian switch their glasses. She shook her head. So, he thought she'd poisoned his glass? She would have laughed, but for the pit of sorrow within her.
She hadn’t missed his hesitation when she’d invited him to eat. She’d eased his fear by taking the first spoonful from the bowl she’d dished from. Still, he picked at his food.
She returned with the bottle of wine and poured into his glass first, and then hers.
"What should we toast to?" Adrian asked.
"'Til death do us part," she said with a big smile, and he returned her smile and drank.
She watched him as he drank, and as he paused and looked at her. "Aren't you drinking?" he asked, and she just looked back at him and smiled.
He gulped. "You poisoned my glass, didn't you?"
"Drink!" he insisted.
Alicia shook her head and took a swig from the bottle instead.
"Why won't you use the glass?! Did you see...?"
Alicia smiled and nodded. "You switch them? Yes, I did..."
"So, you meant to poison me? You bitch! I knew it!"
"How does the wine taste, honey?"
Adrian began to feel choked. He pushed back his chair suddenly and dropped his glass to the floor. It shattered into a thousand pieces on the marble tiles. He was feeling dizzy. She'd poisoned him?! But he'd switched the glasses!
"You see, I knew what a scumbag you were, and was sure you would switch our glasses, so I had them both tainted. And to ensure that you get enough toxin, I tainted the bottle too. We're going down together. But I get to watch you go first! Goodnight, asshole!" Alicia said, as she took another swig of the bottle, laughing sleepily.
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