It’s 9:30 a.m. at Whitman Walker’s Max Robinson Center in Anacostia. In the HIV testing area, a woman and a man are filling out their sexual histories on a piece of paper. Some of the questions:

Have you used IV drugs in the last 12 months?
Have you had sex while intoxicated?
When having anal receptive sex (was penetrated), I practice safe sex always/sometimes/never/doesn’t apply.

A sign in the lobby tells patients to stay put until they’re called.

The man goes upstairs for the test. Once he’s up there, the woman cranes her neck around the staircase, in full eavesdropping mode. “That’s my husband,” she says. “He better not be telling any lies.”

After ten minutes, the man comes downstairs with a Band-Aid wrapped around his middle finger. “Ain’t nothing wrong with that,” he says. “I know I’m all right.”

The woman heads up for her test. The man, meanwhile, has been told he has to wait 20 minutes for his results, so he heads out to get something to drink. He tells me, “Tell my fiancee I’ll be right back.”

The man returns moments later carrying a paper bag. Then the buzzer rings three times; the man’s test is ready. He goes upstairs, while I wait with his wife/fiancee/whatever. “We need an ‘N,’ not a ‘P,’ “she tells me. “Or I’m going to kill him.”

Then he comes back downstairs with his head in his hands. He looks crushed. “I’m going to kill somebody,” he whispers. “Let’s go,” the woman says. The man laughs and lifts his head. “Now you gotta buy me breakfast—salmon cakes,” he says.

But the woman still has to await her results, which gives the man a moment for commentary. “You know, a lot of African Americans don’t want to know. You know, she told me all the five ways you can catch it,” he says. Those five ways are via blood, semen, pre-cum, breastmilk, and vaginal fluid. “All the info I’ve been getting here is A+.”

The man and woman make plans to get high later. “You like to get high?” the man asks me. “There’s nothing wrong with it. You ever get high?”

I tell him I have.

“What’s your drug of choice?” he asks.

“Not crack,” I tell him.

“Needles? Needles can give you HIV, too. That’s how my mother passed—took a needle from someone else”

—By Amanda Hess