“I’m so sorry. These are all we have.” My key-worker plops down in her chair, breathing heavily.
I reach for the paper bag but she clutches it to her chest.
“I checked with all my colleagues.”
“I went around the whole office. But no one has any other ones.”
“Right.” I raise my eyebrows.
“They’re glow in the dark.” She hands the bag to me. “All of them. That’s all we have.”
I peer at the jumble of condoms in my hands. The purple paper surrounding them is already disintegrating.
“Well, thanks. I guess.” I shove them in my handbag.
“A lot of people like them, apparently?!” She attempts a laugh.
“I’m thirty-eight years old.”
“I did check with my colleagues,” she repeats, frowning, and I feel sorry for her.
“It’s fine. Honestly. I mean, free condoms are free condoms, right? Thank you.”
The nurse wipes her forehead. “Have you had sex with any men from Africa, Asia or South America?”
“Wow. Um…. no.”
“How many men have you had sex with without using protection in the last three months?”
“Ummm.” I clear my throat. “Er. Well, I don’t really remember. I mean, I remember, but I don’t remember if …. I mean, um….”
The nurse smiles. “Shall I just put five plus in the last three months?”
She clicks the mouse. “Are you on contraception?”
“Good.” She clicks again.
“So, given your current situation, what we’re going to do is go ahead and test you for everything.” She holds up a small tube and a long, slim cotton bud. “You’ll take the swab yourself.”
I am given instructions and directed to the nearest toilet. When I return I see thigh marks on the chair I was sitting on.
“Sorry. I left the chair sweaty.”
“I wouldn’t worry about that – you should see some of the other stuff we deal with. Sweat is the least of my worries!” she says cheerfully. “Do you need any condoms?”
I think about the drain on the NHS that I already am. Appointments, referrals, more appointments, prescriptions, and glow in the dark condoms.
“No, I have some.”
“Great. We’ll contact you with the results of the tests in 7 to 10 days. Take care.” She is already turning back to the screen and tapping away.
I get up and then sit down in the chair again. “The thing is though, they’re glow in the dark.”
Her fingers hover over the keys. “What?”
“My key-worker gave them to me. I know they’re free and everything, but they’re glow in the dark.”
She turns towards me.
“They’re ridiculous,” I say, feeling ridiculous myself.
The nurse grins at me and leans back in her chair.
“I mean, I can’t use them! Who uses them?!”
She laughs. “Would you like some normal ones?”
“Yes, please. I don’t even understand what they’re made out of. And I really don’t want my vagina lit up from the inside.”
“I wouldn’t want to use those either. Here you go.”
We are both giggling like children as she hands me a small parcel and tells me to enjoy the rest of my day.
And this is how I know that I and my potentially neon, possibly infected vagina will be okay: because there are understanding nurses and kind key-workers and low cost prescriptions and free clinics with free contraception.
Thank God, thank God, THANK GOD for the NHS.