Occasionally, KBC would air a movie about an AIDS victim. I cried painfully as I stared in horror at the woman who had smelly wounds all over her body. KBC by then did not censor anything. It was literally black and white. Her tongue had boils and lesions and her lips bleeding. Soon, her body was decaying and nobody would come near her. Her children watched with fear, crying. The entire village avoided her compound like a plague and children were severely warned by their ignorant parents not to have contact with the victim’s kids. I asked my father what kind of disease that was. He told me it was called ukimwi and that it had no cure. Then I asked him why the villagers did not want any contact with her. He explained that they did not understand how AIDs is spread. He tried explaining but these concepts never made sense to me. However, few years later, everything made sense.
My father was a truck driver and would come home after three months with tales of a foreign land. We would gaze at him with wide eyes and a longing to see those lands. He talked about Malindi and Vasco Da Gama pillar, he would talk about DRC, and sometimes he would speak of a black group of the tallest people in Africa. He would gesture that their height was same as his, with my brother standing on his neck. We were smitten and wanted to meet them. He would speak of a free Uganda, whose women always knelt. Then he would bring lessos for my mother and cashew nuts, coconuts and shoes for us. Sometimes, he took six months before coming home. The last time he was home was when I was in class 4. He and mother had argued loudly and from the closed doors, we could hear my mother sobbing. My father bellowed repeatedly that my mother was to blame for the disease. My siblings and I looked at each other nervously. That was the last time father was home.
Many months later, my mother stopped going to work. She would lock herself in her room and we would hear her cry. We would knock on her door for hours on end but she did not open. After what seemed like eternity, she would emerge and tell us she was unwell. We asked her to take hedex or eno. She would smile weakly and say she had already taken them. She constantly locked herself in her room and wouldn’t come out for a whole day. Soon, her weight loss struck in and gave her a ghostly look. She lost weight at an alarming rate and before long; she couldn’t walk without supporting herself. Her lips cracked deeply, like gullies.
“But where is father?”
We would ask and she would say he had gone to DRC.
“When will he come back?” My sister would ask.
“I don’t know, but DRC is very far away.” She would say.
At first, our neighbors came home to check on her, but as she lost more weight, they avoided coming home. When we went to their homes, they would be alarmed, terrified and we could see them panicking. They were afraid to serve us food. You know as a child, innocence saves you a lot of agony.
Then, her lips changed color and developed wounds. My mother wasted away and with every second was an impending death ready to snatch her away. Every ticking second reminded me of her nearness to the grave. I stopped going to school. I would stay at home next to mum. She smelt awful. By the 8th month, she was confined to her bed. Alone. Rejected. She would ask me to sing to her a certain hymn, nearer my God to thee. I would sing sadly and she would smile weakly and attempt to touch me. I would “spongebathe” her. Her body had shrunk massively and extremely wrinkled. You could almost see the heart beating, just near the skin. The sight of her body was grotesque. She looked too old for her age. “But mum, why doesn’t father come anymore?”
“He will come. He will come.”
She would whisper amidst failing breathe. I would sit by her bedside, afraid every time she closed her eyes, that her time was nigh. Our home became haunted. It was a place where death loomed and disease dwelt.
It took long before I realized she actually was infected with HIV. One of the neighbors’ kids told me that my mother had the disease called ukimwi. He further said that disease was the one that a certain artiste we both knew sings about. The song was called dunia mbaya. I froze. The lyrics played in my head, Utahara mbaya, Utakufa kama mbwa, Utakonda sana. I crept with fear and deeply cursed Princess Jully. Everything she sang made sense now. I ran home and asked my mother if it was true she had ukimwi. She touched my hand and said yes. Plainly. Yes.
“No. No. That is not true mother. You are just sick, but you don’t have that disease which has no cure.”
I protested. I wept for her and wished my relatives came to her aid.
I came home one evening from the pharmacy and found my sister crying on the door steps. I burst inside the house and found 2 people standing on the side of the bed, holding a bible and a candle, mumbling inaudibly. I pushed them aside and looked at my mother, now a bag of bones and lifeless. Her eyes had deeply sunk into their sockets sadly and thus her cheeks bones protruded like two ridges. Her lips now thin pieces of flesh and her teeth sticking out. I reached to touch her but the two strangers held me tightly. “You will get sick.” One of them whispered. I screamt, trying to free myself from their strong grip. I did not want to imagine what would become of the three of us. Motherless now. And fatherless.
2 days later, the catechist and few church members and my two siblings stood by her graveside and buried her amidst gloom and precaution by the church members. There was barely any flesh on her body and her coffin was light. The undertakers wore gloves and covered their nostrils. All that wasn’t necessary. When she was alive, she didn’t infect us through touch, nor through air.
My mother is happier where she went for sure. She found rest. She was welcomed happily in heaven where nobody avoided her, where there was no pain and above all, where she would cry no more.
Today, 1st December, marks World’s AIDS day. Take time to visit the victims, encourage them and assure them of your support. It is not easy living under stigma from people. Besides, there are now ways to live positively with HIV/AIDS.
The story is fictional, written to commemorate WORLD’S AIDS DAY.