Hours were long and his days were stripped of any wee bits of happiness. His blue skies rained; the dark cloud shone and hung intimidatingly like a black tie on a white shirt. He couldn’t talk or face his mother, and wore a gruesome expression. He felt betrayed and abused on infinite levels. His mother just busied herself with house chores, but inside she was exploding. She kept scrubbing the aluminum surface absent-mindedly wearing it down. A lava of emotions burned inside her, leaving a taste of bile in her mouth. At one moment, Pete was angry at his mother, the next minute at God for the sake of completing the cycle. This brought so much anguish he thought he was already a visitor in hell.
There were a million questions plummeting on his brain, literally making an inferno and an ensuing meltdown just a hair’s breadth away. His end of primary education exam was fast approaching and instead of revising, he was sinking quickly into the hole of depression.
The day this all started was permanently imprinted in his memory. They had just made a hospital visit the previous day. He loved such days as they were the only moments he would accompany his mother to town, where the hospital was located. It was not a long distance from home – 30 km to be precise. It was also a day he could meet with friends his own age.
They would play various games and sing songs in a room that was set aside for that task alone. It was a child-friendly room with drawings and playing paraphernalia. He also longed for this day because they would get sausages and samosas at tea break and for lunch, they would get pilau.
So, that day was an ordinary day. And then he went back to school, relaxed and ready to “munch books” as the saying goes. There was this boy who liked to bully Pete, calling him names. Sometimes, he would take his bag and empty it in the class dustbin. That day, he announced to the whole class why Pete frequented the hospital. He told everyone that Pete was HIV positive, informed the class that he had heard his mother whispering with a neighbor.
Pete was thunderstruck by the betrayal. He was smart and knew exactly why he visited the hospital. He ran away from his school, towards home, leaving his bag perched on a chair and a sex education book open on the desk.
He found his mother watching some Nigerian movie on the TV; a witch had just made a king disappear from a bedroom – knitting what seemed like a tablecloth. He banged on the door with tears streaming down his eyes like the Chania River during long rains and confronted his mother.
At first, he rambled incoherently, a garbled mixture of words and sobs. His mother realized he had finally discovered the truth about his condition.. She decided to tell him everything. And that’s how Pete’s suspicion was confirmed, rubber stamped and sealed.
Although he refrained from talking to his mother, blaming her for everything, he felt the need to talk to someone. There was no one available. His father had left when Pete’s mother was still pregnant. A day Euny vividly recalls. Those pages in your life you wish to pluck out, chew, and throw at your worst enemy’s face. But can’t, because the past cannot be erased. It can be forgotten but never erased. Euny knew this. Hers wasn’t erasable nor was it forgettable. It hung heavily in her brain and burnt a hole each second in her heart. Her husband had come from the city where he worked as a clerk in a tire threading company located in an industrial area. He had cartons of groceries from the city: some milk chocolate, a digestive biscuit packet that his sweetheart loved along with a bottle of wine for her.Chicken stew and Chapattis were covered in hot dishes and placed on the table, a task Euny had undertaken with a fervor and a thumping heart.
Having cleared the table and placed the wine glasses he poured the wine.
After a few sips, Euny asked how he would feel about being a father.
The husband smiled slyly and biting his lower lip, said, “Aah….I like where you’re going with this.”
“I’m pregnant!” she exclaimed.
What followed doesn’t need to be elaborated. All that need to be said is there was a celebration.
The following day, after breakfast, their relationship animated by a newly-felt spirit of urgency, they decided to visit the nearest hospital. During the routine health checkup, a HIV test was required. They both underwent counseling as a couple and the test was done: the two lines were unmistakably visible on both strips; those two red lines that to this day flash before Euny’s eyes like two terrible shooting stars. Afterwards, nothing would ever be the same.
A month later, her husband walked out and never returned without a note or forwarding address. A bond had been severed by an unending blame-game which repeated every day. She was left alone to raise her child. Perhaps, that’s why she never thought of going back to the hospital. Maybe I’m assuming this. But just to be sure, I asked her. She said she didn’t know why she didn’t return again.
9 months later, a boy was born. He was underweight and ill. He had to be put in the nursery for 2 weeks. 4 months later, the hospital did an antibody test and Pete was found to be HIV positive. I give credit to the counselor who talked with her because after this, Euny never missed a clinic day. She made a decision and stuck to it. They will live; they will conquer the virus that became her anthem. She took all in stride but deep down she feared the day she would have to tell her son.
Pete was filled with a giant love. If his heart was Kenya, his love for his mother would be Mt Kenya: towering and visible with a snow cap of hope. He was angry at his mother for only a week, after which they started talking like nothing had occurred. She had tried to apologize, tried to mend the situation, but I assure you there was no denying his love for her. I learned this from Pete while speaking with him to understand the rest of his story.
At the time I spoke with him, he was a 30-year-old successful banker – which was not by the stroke of luck, but rather because he loved numbers and was good with calculations. He was also a well-spoken narrator.
In college, he met and fell in love with Connie. It was one of those lazy afternoons when a person feels the need to take a walk. He had decided to visit a popular park near his college, and in his hand was a book titled When the Whirlwind Passes by Alexander Nderitu. He had intended to put a dent in it because the person he borrowed it from needed it back soon. He sat down on a bench in a secluded corner of the park. He was deep in the story when he heard a soft voice over him say, “Hey, that’s my spot.”
“Oh! Should I move?” he asked, coyly.
“I guess you don’t have to as long as you promise to keep quiet,” she answered firmly.
“I promise,” he said, and smiling to himself, turned his attention back to his book.
The promise didn’t last very long; two minutes at best. It was as though Pete and Connie had known each other since childhood. They became best of friends and, shortly after, lovers. Their courtship lasted for 5 years. For that entire duration they restrained themselves, all the while sharing the most intimate of conversations and embraces.Pete’s secret was threatening to bore a hole in the back of his brain. Although inside, he felt empty and confused, he did his best to show how much he desired Connie every time they met. He needed urgently to talk to someone and his only confidante was his mother. He called his mother and spoke with her for some time, in an honest consultation for a resolution.
The two lovers met at a serene place Pete had chosen especially for this moment. He thought if this was meant to be the end of them, it ought to be at a scenic place, where an air of tranquility mixed with a soft rosy aroma that could blow away any tears
They met some minutes past 7 p.m under the shade of a mango tree. The sun was setting, causing an orange glow to directly light all around them. A waiter took their orders and for a while they sat in silence, holding hands and enjoying the calm.
Connie knew something was wrong. She could tell by his sweaty palms. It was unlike Pete to be this quiet for so long. But she waited, giving him time to sort out his thoughts.
“Honey, I have something important to tell you,” he quietly said.
Connie was aware of his nervousness and she reassuringly asked, “What is it? You seem troubled”.
Pellets of sweat were starting to form quickly on his brow and his breathing was heavy. He didn’t want to waste any more time. It was now or never. Summoning all of his willpower, he said in a barely audible whisper, “I’m HIV positive”. He then proceeded to tell Connie his mother’s story, from start to finish.
He let go of Connie’s hand and waited for her response. Stinging tears began flowing freely down his cheeks. Connie sat there a moment, her hands fidgeting around her coffee mug. Without a word, she stood up, pulled her seat back and took two steps. That was enough; it was all she needed to cover the distance between them.
She pulled him close and put her arms around him. She whispered in his ear,“When did you know? When did you test positive?”
Pete was stunned by that question, but he answered amid sobs, “The 4th of July 1992″.
Connie pulled up his chin and looked him deeply in the eyes and softly asked, “Pete, will you marry me on the 4th of July next year?”
The wedding ceremony was at St. Andrews Church in Nairobi and was presided over by Reverend James. There was a reception just near Norfolk at hotel Boulevard. Pete and Connie danced like their lives depended on it and if my opinion was to be sought by anyone of you, I would say they literally broke a leg.
Connie chose that date because she wanted to erase that part of Pete’s past for him. She knew that every time that date came along, Pete saw it as the day his fate was sealed. He saw it as the day a heavy burden was put on him. He saw it as the beginning of a long wait towards an ending that many thought was inevitable. She did it for love. I would say it was destiny that brought them together. And the 4th of July had a whole new meaning for both of them. It was a new beginning and definitely not a beginning of the end. That day became their wedding anniversary.
Gerald Gatheru Githinji says about himself, “I’m an avid reader, and currently working on my first novel which should be out by next year. I also run a personal blog where I post short stories and articles I call scattered thoughts. I’m a graduate of information technology and a Certified Public Accountant. I currently work as Monitoring and Evaluation person in an organization supporting HIV and TB services in Kenya. I’m passionate about the written word and aspire to be one the renown writers from Kenya.I should tell stories to earn a living, instead, I do it for sanity”