An entry in the 2016 Crocodile Prize
THE inside walls of the building were spotlessly clean, as if a new coat of paint had just been applied.
A notice in bold print outside the door read, “ALL FOOTWARES OUTSIDE!”
The cleaner was busy mopping the floor and, as he entered the door, smiled shyly at Hades.
Then the cleaner continued with his task, sniffing at the familiar haus sik smel and whiff of antibacterial detergent.
Hades heard the door open slowly as if not to attract attention and knew it was his mum, who would be peering around to see if anybody else was in the room.
Conscious of the recently mopped floor, Hades’ mother tip-toed into the waiting room.
Six posters on the wall trumpeted awareness of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infection.
Hades’ mother descended into the double-seater sofa, the central feature of the simple arrangement of furniture in the waiting room.
There was a coffee table, four chairs, a pile of old Australian women’s magazines and two copies of The National Weekender from the previous week. A backless bench occupied one end of the room.
“Abstain, be faithful to one partner or use a condom.”
Hades recoiled at the inner turmoil. He wanted to vomit. He heart throbbed with an unusual beat. A shortness of breath threatened to overwhelm him.
A simple message on a poster had triggered this panic.
Some weeks before he had gone on a drinking spree with his mates after their final school exams and got senselessly drunk. One thing led to another, He thought he may have engaged in unprotected sex.
He knew he had no condom with him at the time. Now there was an itching and burning sensation in the urethra, especially when he used the loo.
After the shock realisation of what he may have stupidly done to himself, he had gone to his mother.
Now she was here and now someone else had pushed open the door. It was a smartly dressed lady in her mid-twenties. She was followed by a man in his forties.
They also noticed that the floor had been mopped and tip-toed across. Hades’ mum smiled at them and they returned her gesture.
The man picked up a newspaper and went to the bench. The young lady took a chair beside the coffee table and selected a magazine.
No one spoke. The soft splash of mop on floor was the only sound. Hades, feeling a bit dizzy went to sit with his mother on the sofa.
Everyone avoided eye contact.
The door opened again and a nurse entered. She was smartly dressed and looked beautiful in her blue uniform.
‘Hallo olgeta. Gutpla moning lo yupla,’ she smiled as if she was a close relative.
‘Yupla sindaun wet liklik na bai mi go sekim sapos dokta stap.’ Her voice was soothing.
‘OK, tenk yu.’
Hades’ mum signalled him to move closer.
‘Taim mipla go lukim dokta na em askim yu lo sik blo yu, yu mas stori gut lo em. Sapos em askim long wanem samting kamap, yu pilim olsem wanem, kain samting.
‘Noken haitim wanpla samting long dokta, em klia?’ she said in a low, insistent voice.
Hades nodded, and tears swelled in his eyes as the fear reurned.
‘Mi prei long yu long taim yet kam. Askim Papa God long lusim rong blong yu,’ she added, trying to reassure him.
The man with the newspaper was deep in thought, his arms folded as he looked at the posters on the walls. Occasionally, he stole a glance at the young woman, and at Hades and his mum on the sofa.
The woman seemed to be deeply engaged with a gossip piece in the magazine.
A door closed somewhere and the recognisable footsteps of the nurse approached.
‘OK, dokta wetim yupla stap. Yupla mas go wanwan. Wokabaut go daun. Lukim dua namba seven.
‘OK, nok pastaim, bihain opim dua na go insait. ‘Em klia?’ She gave them her warm smile again.
‘Tenk yu, em klia,’ Hades’ mum replied while the others nodded.
Hades’ mum stood up and beckoned for him to follow. As she walked alongside him down the corridor, Hades leg joints quivered under the weight of his stupidity and the unknown that lay beyond door number seven.
The cleaner lady passed them, mop in one hand, bucket of grey-brown water in the other.
This is a work of fiction and not based on real people or events. In Papua New Guinea, the Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) clinics were set up by the National AIDS Council Secretariat for private screening and testing of HIV and STIs.