I went to school with Jennifer*, although she was a class ahead of me. She was beautiful, had akiller smile, the works. She was more mature and physically bigger than the rest of us, so boys never bullied her.
I envied her for this and it was the only reason I befriended her, hoping that she would occasionally save my skin.
With time, our friendship of convenience developed into true friendship and we spent a lot of time together. And then one day she left home. I got to meet her years later through gossip from a mutual friend.
“Have you met Jennifer lately?” She whispered. I had not, and told her so. She then informed me that Aids had “eaten” my friend to the bones. I thought that was mean of her. This friend believes that I am not HIV-infected. “It’s just work you do, or you think we don’t know this?” she once told me.
I traced Jennifer to an estate in Eastlands, Nairobi, where she had bought a piece of land and built rental houses. She lived in one of them.
I could immediately see that she was no longer the jovial Jennifer I had known. She looked unhappy. She told me that she got married immediately after school, but the marriage lasted only five years.
Reason? She failed to give birth to boys. What was eating her was bitterness. Bitterness that gave birth to stress and finally, depression, not Aids, per se, as rumours had it.
She informed me that her in-laws informed her that if she was not going to give birth to a boy, her husband would marry another wife.
“Asunta, I was satisfied with my three girls, but I couldn’t stomach sharing my husband with another woman, and so I opted out of the marriage,” she informed me. Soon after this, she found out that she was infected with HIV.
“The only person I’ve been intimate with is my husband. I just can’t accept that I am dying from something I didn’t look for.
“I befriended one man and married him. How come I’m now HIV-infected? Every morning I wake up, sit on this chair, and I just can’t think straight,” she continued bitterly. I tried to counsel her.
“Forgive yourself and him. Move on. Have hope and accept what happened. What doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger, deal with it. I know you can do this.” Still, I could see that her bitterness had gone too deep and had robbed her of her beauty and smile.
“The only way out is getting out of this country. I don’t want to breathe the same air with my ex-husband. I want to go far away where nobody knows me. I already have plans in place. I’ll sell my flat and fly far away, where no one knows me.”
A few years later, that is exactly what she did. Unfortunately, the better life she had envisioned in the foreign country did not materialise. The grass was not greener on the other side. Besides, the virus was taking a toll on her health.
“Asunta, I’m very sick, and I don’t think I’ll make it back to Kenya alive.” This was Jennifer’s last email to me.
She was right. She arrived back home in a casket. It was a painful experience for her family, especially her three beautiful daughters. We all avoided eye contact with the girls.
At such times, no words, however uplifting, can restore hope. One lesson I have learnt from Jennifer’s story is that bitterness eventually destroys us and takes away everything that we value.
For crying out loud, Jennifer’s ex-husband, the man who infected her with the virus, is still alive and well, still going on with his life.
Asked if she felt bitter about her experiences, Maya Angelou had this to say: “I get angry, which keeps me from being bitter. There’s an absolute difference. Bitterness is like cancer, it just stays with you and eats and eats and it comes out like lashes, like putrescent explosions.”
One more thing. Do not sell your assets in anticipation of the big bucks you will make abroad. Whatever you get abroad should augment what you already have. That is, if things go well.
This is the diary of Asunta Wagura, a mother-of-three who tested HIV-positive 25 years ago. She is the executive director of the Kenya Network of Women with Aids (KENWA). Email: firstname.lastname@example.org