Chapter 1

Well, he wasn’t HIV positive. Non-reactive, it said. His eyes scanned the page for more. For it to say something that would give him impetus. Charge.

Then giving it further elaboration, the result made him feel quite alright about himself. But was alright good enough? There was a nagging at the edge of his brain that wondered why it didn’t do more than that. If he wasn’t HIV positive, then what was that nagging worry?

He had drawn his blood for testing in the morning and for the rest of day a grey fog formed over his head casting large shadows on his psyche.

Maybe there had been no real reason for him to think he was infected in the first place? But he had worked himself down a road and couldn’t help but follow the line of reasoning to its logical end. Resultantly, he would take the test, find out he was positive, then carve a new life of meaning within that. Maybe cut off all ties to his family and friends. Venture off into the wilderness that was the Ghanaian countryside. Somewhere up north obviously, where he would farm shea or groundnuts for export and learn to use his hands to plough, harrow and plant. Where he would have time to read all the books one was supposed to have read to be a relevant person in society.

But he thought of the north, and was uncertain of its merits as a destination. The region was complicated with horrible drought, and there were frequent enough outburst of conflict to warrant strong suspicions that an all out war was on the horizon. In his mind, the test was to act as the tangible object that centred this new reality in his life. Somewhere north of Accra… But with the test results negative, there was no arch to his story. Instead he would have to be satisfied with the current his life was drudgingly rolling along in.

He thought he would feel relief at least. Knowing that that was to be expected as an emotional response to finding out he wasn’t HIV positive. He searched for that feeling, which would make him normal-ish. Dragged out every thought. Every passing emotion that would pop up for long enough for him to grasp it. He pulled at it all, but didn’t get relief. Simple and plain relief.

You know these thoughts you have serve an underlying motif, your subconscious trying to tell you something. The voice in his head said.

Well what the hell was his trying to tell him?

Why had he thought he was infected?

Alex Keatley spread out his line of thoughts, leading to the ultimate thesis question “am I HIV positive?” For this investigation he would need to write out his thoughts so he wouldn’t lose himself in the fog of his thoughts. But as he began to feint write over his tablet screen, he realised where it had all started from. With him uploading Tinder and matching with the Ever Tantalising Rosey Fynn…

Chapter 2

Tinder was one of many things Alex had a love-hate relationship with. It was the same with his family, his friends, his virtual reality console, college flat, mirror, etc. So much so, he constantly dwelled on what he purely just enjoyed for its own sake. Tinder in particular, was usually re-joined in a moment of pure hopeless wanting. Of anything close to companionship. Since his circle of friends had not been able to provide any likely candidates. Well it didn’t even really provide him any friends anyway. But once on it, having to swipe the countless women who simply reeked desperation, he would feel a deep bleeding sadness.

What happened to those people who never found love? Is that what they looked like? With names such as Bevy, a video of them shaking their ass. Or Barbie, blowing kisses from a downward facing angle. Almost every girl using multiple filters to dilute their real faces. It made him sad thinking of someone looking for love on the other end of the screen. But then he would think of himself, and feel more lonely, because he imagined they weren’t even sparing him as much thought.

Anyway, he was about getting over this spell on Tinder when the Ever Tantalising Rosey Fynn popped up as a match. A person he did not even remember swiping. Probably never did, given that Tinder updated its features to allow women first point of messaging. He had to admit she was tantalising. Aside her caramel skin, and platinum blond hair, the video clips on her wall were pretty hilarious. She had many lewd ones of her dry humping random animals which she edited to make raunchy noises every time she thrust at them.

The first message, or more accurately, essay, she left Alex was absurd. Not to read it out in full but here were some of the meaty parts:

“Alex, why does it feel like I know you? Is it your eyes that I have seen before? Searching for me? In some dark forest? In my dreams? Running away from a mangy wolf? And you were there to save me. Knowing I was in trouble?”

“Alex, why do I whine for you. Howling mad. Did it come over me so suddenly? As sickness plagues those feeble souls? I crave things Alex, and you are endearing to me.”

“Alex, if you find what I have written above in anyway disgusting. Please drop your number. X”

Alex found it horribly disgusting. So he not only gave his number, but all other possible means for Rosey to contact him, which she did instantly. She sent her Pikachu-esque avatar to convey her voice messages. Alex spent a good minute staring at her avatar, it’s folded arms waiting for him to click it into motion. He didn’t know what he was waiting for. Maybe it was the thought that something in his limp life was finally exciting. Bursting with energy. Ready to unbuckle and let loose. He didn’t want the moment spurned in any way. But rather savoured. As a child would savour the final licks of their ice cream only allowed them every-so-often by their diet fucked parents.

Finally, he sat himself on his bean-bag gamer chair in his student flat, ear piece on, goggles fixed, and let the Tantalising Rosey’s throaty voice deliver lengthy dramatic passage after dramatic passage in the virtual world.

“Oh Alex!” She breathed, her avatar throwing itself on the floor, letting its arms flail above its head. “You should see the woman I am! I am a horse, with a mane of gold, and heels that click in triumph over the yielding world. I am a lion, fierce and rare, standing on my haunches saluting the mid day sun. The star my equal. I am the olive, stunted and shunned from flourishing in my natural climate, but having to live within an artificial one.” Each thing she mentioned briefly materialised in the star dome world they were inhabiting in the virtual reality system. A planet she had invited Alex to.

Alex imagined Rosey to be a Writing major. How else could someone possess such an inflated ego?To the extent of reciting paragraphs of spoken word in an endless stream to a complete stranger? Not allowing the other to exist as a being capable of reciprocation? Just absorption.

But in a weird way he enjoyed not having to actively participate. But rather just allow the event that was Rosey to unfold before him, as she was doing through her haughty avatar. She was possibly the only person out of the nine billion in the world that could do this for Alex. Strangely, he felt he knew her. The way you know an old friend and can talk to them without ever asking them ‘how was your day.’ That was Rosey to him. But she wasn’t even a friend.

“So you wanna meet up or what?”

The question was like swallowing a shot of ginger first thing in the morning. It’s content flared his throat, and rose to his head like steam. Caught off guard he fumbled with his words, but then finally got to the “yeh lets do it! I go out with my friends on Thursdays for live band shows at Carbon. See you there?”

“Of course.”

Pulling the VR goggles off his head, he couldn’t quite comprehend the last hour of his life. The hour, that seemed more spectacle than actual reality. He made himself run through Rosey’s pictures again, trying to spot something that would give it away as some huge joke, or scam. But it wasn’t. She was real.

Chapter 3

“Random question!”

“Chale go!” The boys hooted, tipping their cocktails to the brim of their lips.

“Johnny Rogan-“

“Oh dear…” Johnny’s white face flushed even redder as he apprehensively awaited his question.

“It’s an easy one. How many times do you masturbate in a weekend?”

The boys exploded into a raucous laughter, tipping their drinks on the floor of the Uber-van, and into their mouths. Some were shoving Johnny to hurry up with a reply. Looking reluctant to say anything at all, his face stamped with a smile as wide as the sea. His eyes goggly, Johnny mustered a brave face, sucking in his lower lip then lifted his hand to show five fingers.

“Not fucking possible! You blast.”

But freckled face Johnny wasn’t done. He slowly lifted his other hand to show another five fingers, and all the boys in the car lost their heads, roaring with laughter. All except Alex who giggled lightly. He felt sorry that Johnny on his first visit to Accra should endure such pressure. Especially to the stupidest drinking game in the World! Literally called “The Stupidest Drinking Game!” Johnny was Chris’s cousin from Scotland, Chris being one of Alex’s long time friends. They were best buds in Ghana International School primary school, but Chris switched to Tema International and became virtually blood brothers with Jamie, Giani, and Kojo, the other guys in the van.

They were minutes away from their destination when the stolid voice of the automated vehicle reminded them to dispose of their loose trash and collect their belongings.

“Do they have automated vehicles in Glasgow, Johnny?” Giani was definitely the more accommodating to Johnny’s freshness. However, Johnny at this point was too flustered for audible communication so chose to shake his head, then finally rumbled out “Government said t’was stupid. Didn’t wan drivers lose jobs.”

“You know what our government said? Fuck em!” Another course of laughter rang around the car.

“Not exactly.” Alex intervened, and there was a long sigh from the collective and a dry cough. “It was Accra’s municipal assembly that instigated it. Mayor Ofriyie collected huge bribes from Uber, allegedly. They promised that there would be multiple infrastructure projects for ministers to contract to their people. And then it was done.”

The mood in the van dipped a bit and it took the vehicle’s instruction for the boys to get out of the car to reinvigorate them. Alex silently noted to himself not to interject again.

On the sidewalk, a gang of street children rushed the van outside of the Stanbic Heights complex. Jamie got out the car first, dangling a few ten Ghana Cedi notes over the kids dusty unbrushed heads, singing at them to follow him as the others paced up into the sleek, brightly lit Stanbic premise. Jamie finally tossed the notes and bolted up joining the crew again. Alex spared a glance at the street kids shoving and punching each other to get their hands on the note and felt a wound in his heart tear open.

Blood seeping.

Dripping.

***

Carbon was one of three clubs in the Stanbic Heights building, the other two were Toxic, and Fantasia. Carbon was a straight up club. Neon lights, bumping afro-pop and hiphop jams, bikini clad waitresses, and bottled tables waiting for the big men across Accra to dump their money on. It was only every other Thursday that Carbon hosted a live performance, which almost always built up to another club night. Even on Thursdays with people having work the next day. Alex observed that most of the patrons of Carbon were either the CEO of their businesses, or owned them. And most of the time, their business didn’t involve them getting up early. Especially since their clients were most likely in the club as well!

Toxic was a super exclusive lounge, littered with high end models and top of the line call girls. It was on the roof top of the complex, allowing its esteemed clients to feel even more on top of the world than they should.

Then finally, Fantasia. Fantasia was a more experimental club which worked in themes of what clubs of the future would be. The walls were always covered in rolling projected images of classic Disney films such as Aladdin, or Beauty and the Beast, and if you wore one of the VR goggles before entering, you would be cast into this magical world where the music, the ambience and the people were all augmented to the world’s features. This was by far Alex’s most favoured of the three clubs. But many drug-binged nights had accompanied the Fantasia experience, plunging Alex into multiple episodes of extreme loneliness and depression afterward. Aside, Chris and the guys didn’t spare too much thought for it, since the girls didn’t, and it was as simple as that.

At the top of stairs to Carbon, just beside the fluorescent “No Clothes Beyond this Point” sign was Rosey. She was standing with hightop leather boots, a checkered plaid skirt, black leather jacket and her golden hair tied in one big ponytail, with the sides of her head buzzed. Her head had been bent down, but she lifted it as Alex reached the top of the staircase. Bubble gum in her mouth, and golden retro sun-glasses covering her eyes, she smiled weakly at Alex.

“Sup?” She tossed her pony-tail over to her back.

“Just got here with my friends-“

“Those are your friends,” she interrupted.

“Yeh well the people I hang around with-“

“You hang with them?”

“Yes, on odd occasions. Sometimes for laughs. Drinks.” Alex stammered.

“Do they know you are here?”

“I — I came with them.”

Rosey looked at him with a flat expression on her face, and Alex didn’t know what to feel, but suddenly had to laugh, which he did, and Rosey joined him. A soft but honest laugh.

“Let’s get one drink with your friends then we go to Fantasia; I heard DJ Bosco is playing.”

She pivoted on the spot, leaving her long golden pony-tail trailing in her wake, Alex following just behind into the bashing sounds of Carbon.

Chapter 4

Alex didn’t like how close Jamie was leaning over to Rosey. His face was a mere couple inches away. The flashing strobe light momentarily exposing his sharp eyes and stretching eyebrows. Rosey half faced Jamie. Her back was to the bar’s counter, elbows angled with one knee posted up. Alex caught Jamie’s lips mouthing the words “Alex.” Or he thought he did. The music dissolved every other sound. It rattled the floor. Shook the glasses on the tables. But everyone didn’t seem to pay much attention to the earthquake-like experience. What seemed to be muted conversations continued on in the drowning beat.

Why did this always happen? What was he thinking bringing Rosey here with the guys? He was never in anyway the most sought after of the lot. Not sought after at all. Just smiled at. Maybe awkwardly hugged. Then back turned. Like he didn’t exist. Fucking Jamie! The worst thing about it was Alex was in no shape to do anything about it. He had thought of every possible action. But putting it to practice. Making it real. Impossible. He couldn’t bring himself to do it. And he remained in the rut that was quickly undermining all the self-worth he had thought he had now that Rosey was with him. But just when despair was threatening to spill over and cloud his senses in grey, Rosey caught his eyes and gave him one knowing wink which threw Alex off his feet and over the moon. She finished the last sips of Jamie’s drink, then hers, then casually spun away from Jamie, who was aghast, onward to Alex. She locked arms with him and sweetly sang in his ear.

“Let’s go to Fantasia. Your friends are a bore.”

Alex wasn’t able to look Rosey in the eye as they danced in the ball room alongside Bell and the Beast and the other china and cutlery from the film. His eyes drifted to every corner of Fantasia’s large warehouse-like space, willing himself to indulge in his child-like intrigue of the club’s curated fantasy. Shying away from the person he was ever so closely dancing with.

A cluster of three-sixty degree projectors mounted on the ceiling’s centre beamed images of the augmented world on the otherwise featureless walls. There were laser sensors that picked up every movement in the club so as to allow the virtual characters to react accordingly. The whole setup wasn’t augmented. There were designated areas that were free of the mirage-

“Ouch!” Alex snapped at Rosey, who had pinched him.

“What you do that for?!” His gaze focused on her light brown eyes staring at him through her augmented reality goggles. He didn’t know if it was the distortion from the goggles, but the way she looked at him made him feel more ‘there’ than anything else he had felt in a while. In those light brown eyes there was an allure. He felt himself falling, like in one of those bottomless pit nightmares. The rushing air suffocating him. But the rush bringing new air to his lungs. The corners of her lips turned upward. A dry smile. Her nimble hands made their way to the back of Alex’s head. Gently, pulling his ear toward her red lips.

“Why do you do this Alex?” The music of the ballroom suddenly was faint and distant. Rosey’s raspy voice rung like a shout in a hollow shell. Reverberating.

“Why do you make me call for you? As a wolf howls at the moon. Beckoning it to deliver it moonlight. So that it turns itself to its true form?” She pulled away. Allowing those hazel eyes to rest on his own dark brown ones. As if there was nothing in the world but him. Just Alex. Naked in the forest underneath the luminous light. His body became stiff. His eyes again searching for distraction.

“Have you ever had sex?” Caught off guard, Alex returned to Rosey. Her hot liquored breath suddenly on his lips. He could count the individual hairs on her manicured eyebrow. Otherwise her face was hardly touched by any cosmetics.

“I say we go to my place then? You don’t have to be afraid.” And he trusted that. There was no reason to. The Ever Tantalising Rosey Fynn could be a murderer. Could be a trafficker. Sakawa. But for fuck’s sake, he believed her.

There was no point in denying her. He was a virgin after all. He probably reeked of it. Who was he supposed to have had sex with? How did you even get to the point of having sex? He knew being in uni meant that the chances were higher. But midway through sophomore year and for Alex sex seemed like something other people did. People who somehow knew how to make words turn into action. The only words he knew were those he typed. Those he mentioned for Lexa to forward. But even dancing slowly in this curated world seemed too real for him.

Rosey slipped a pill onto his tongue. Then planted her lips on his. The liquor hot in her mouth. Hot in his mouth. Her body warm. Her kiss tender. The pill dissolved. Alex’s pupils widened. Everything vivid. Within reach but strangely out of touch. Lurid. Alex being tugged along out of the club. Out into a cab. With Rosey, dryly smiling by his side.

Chapter 5

The letters read in black and white Non-reactive and with that, the notion of he being HIV positive was quelled. There was nothing to it but to accept it.

The day rolled on itself. The greyness clouding as a rainstorm hovers over a city. Not outside. The outside world was blinding hot. In fact, Ghana Meteorological society had issued an emergency broadcast warning people to stay in-doors because of searing heat. And now the fucking world was finally ending Alex thought meekly. His scrambled handwriting was illegible. Was that really what he had been writing this whole time? The ever rolling, amassing greyness was impeding his mental state. If not HIV then what? The grey continued to press on him. Squeeze him. His body squished against the earth. Flattening him with its sheer mass. His limbs spread out flat. He thought he was going insane. He looked down at his hands. Bloody blue ink splashed on his palm and round his wrist. The deep blue blotted on the page. His hand spasming. His thoughts speeding into high gear. Madness. That’s what it was. Madness. Clinical. Then what? Homelessness. Under bridges. In front of stores. Crumpled newspapers. Matted hair. Lost brain. Lost sense of self. Among other mad. Rounded up. Tossed. But always under the grey. No matter where. When. Looked at through tinted windows by children. Pitied. Excused as one of those. Those that lost money. NAM one-two-four. Those that lost everything. Except a body. The one he inhabited.

Was it Rosey?

That night?

The night she gave to Alex something he thought only he could have. Should have. Feeling that possessiveness. What else was his?

No condom. Her ponytail to the side. Flicked to the other. On top of him. Her firm breast. Her tensed torso. Winding over him. A wetness. Extravagant feminine. Space unbounded. Pace unrelenting. Then, the splooge. Erupted. Then deflation. Satisfaction. And then every second he ticked at the back of his mind, with Rosey sleeping with her head rested in between his chest and arm. The moment of a life time.

But then a message. From Chris. And it turned to rot. Chris said “Jamie’s been with her mate. Giani too. Apparently, she’s been around. Be strapped.”

“Be strapped?” “Chris?” And “Giani?” “But how?” She didn’t say anything. There was no familiarity.

Shot. Shot in the heart. The bullet tearing through. Piercing. Shards of flesh scattered. Blood flying. His blood. His heart. Deep laceration. Doctor would say ‘terminal.’ No chance.

Was what he was feeling? Heartbreak? But didn’t you need a montage of moments first? There was no montage between he and Rosey. Nothing. Days had passed since that night. Since then he had stuffed himself in his room, in his apartment, in Aburi, refusing to go to uni. Refusing to respond to phone calls, texts, prompts from his videogames. All of it. He wanted himself shut out. There was something wrong with him, and he needed to be quarantined for everyone to remain safe. It was infectious what he had. This disease. This spreading greyness. Clouding his thoughts. Narrowing his perspective. Until it was just a sliver of an opening. Squeezing himself through, because somehow the other side, there would be light. Luminous light.

The stories we tell have a life of their own and they work between the realm of what is real and how we conceive that reality.

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