24 November 2012

Nigeria: No Needless Mourning


'Your friend is very brave indeed. She is so calm you wouldn't believe she's just been widowed. She's probably the type that only cries in her heart or when the crowd has dispersed.' I said, steering the car off the main road towards Khadija's house.

'Or maybe she has cried so much before now that she no longer has tears to shed.' Khadija answered drily.

'It's true you did say her husband had been sick for quite some time. It's possible she had cried a lot while caring for him that she has run out of tears. May God have mercy on him, and may He reward her for all her care and attention during his illness.' I prayed.

'Amin to that, though I have a feeling her lack of tears has more to do with anger than any tears fatigue. I was with her two nights ago you know. I went when I heard about their return from India where he went for treatment. I had no idea he was worse off than when they left. When I commented about how he seemed to have lost more weight and looked even weaker than before, she could not wait to tell me the whole story. Apparently, her husband had been HIV-positive for a long time, but he never mentioned it. They lived together as husband and wife, you know in a normal relationship. And by this I mean having unprotected conjugal relations.' She explained.

'But that was horrible, how could he endanger her so?' I protested before I added 'don't tell me she is HIV-positive too?'

'Well, that's the interesting part really. While he was undergoing treatment here, there was no such indication from either the doctors or the patient. Then they got referred to India for liver-related complications. The day after they got there he was given a thorough investigation, with all necessary tests conducted. The following morning the doctor overseeing his case sent for her. The moment she arrived he began to complain that she wasn't helping matters by hiding things from them. She said she had no idea what he was talking about because she definitely did not hide any information they had asked of her.

"Then why did you not tell us your husband has AIDS?" The doctor demanded.

"My husband has what??" Tabawa could not believe her ears. "Are you sure you have the right case notes?" She asked.

"Is this not your husband's name?" he lifted the case file to show her. She nodded in shock. "Well it says here that he has been HIV positive for about five years. He was even on Anti-retroviral drugs at some point.

Then last year he fell ill and in the course of the treatment they found out that he had developed full-blown AIDS. You can't tell me you are totally unaware of this Madam?" The Indian doctor challenged her. By now Tabawa could only shake her head in amazement; she could not believe her husband was capable of such deception. Even before the tears began to fall, the doctor had accepted her ignorance of her husband's true situation.

In a totally sympathetic tone he advised her to go and have herself screened for HIV immediately. He also asked to see her that evening so they can assess her situation and also plan what to do about her husband. It was at this point that Tabawa lost her fight to control the tears.

They began to stream down her face while she sobbed. The doctor again expressed his sympathy at her plight and asked a nurse who was with him to take her for HIV-screening. While they walked, Tabawa kept wishing she was in a nightmare from which she will wake up. But with each step towards the lab the reality of her situation was becoming clearer.

She was still crying when they reached the lab and had her blood sample taken. She was advised to return in three hours for the result. According to her, those were the longest three hours of her life.

She was also besieged by a whirlwind of emotions. She moved from shock at what she just discovered to pain of betrayal by the man she loved and married, to anger and then to fear. Fear that she and her husband will soon die and live behind four young children totally orphaned. It was a horrible day for her.' Khadijah concluded.

'I can imagine it was.' I concurred, while still driving towards her house. 'What did she do while she waited?' I asked.

'At first she kept walking aimlessly around the hospital, totally confused. Then she decided to confront her husband in the room and give him a piece of her mind. While she walked towards the room her anger was growing, and she planned to ask his younger brother, who had come along with them to help her take care of him, to leave the room so that she can speak to him alone. In her anger she had forgotten that as a very sick man, her husband was always on strong drugs which sometimes sedate him.

Tabawa reached the room to find him deep asleep. Additionally, a look at his frail, disease-stricken frame greatly weakened her resolve to scold him. She felt nothing but pity for the very sick man who had nevertheless deceived her. Leaving him in the care of his brother, she went and made ablution, then moved to her side of the room to pray. Luckily for her it was almost Zuhr, while she waited she supplicated to Allah like she had never done before. She kept praying and calling on Almighty Allah to come to her aid.

After saying her prayers she told her brother in-law to go out and pray. But she still didn't have the heart to wake her husband up and confront him. She kept looking at him and wondering how he had contracted the disease and why he never told her. When his brother returned she went back to the lab for her result. By now she has resolved that whatever the result was she will have to accept it as God's will.

It took her time to open the paper but by the time she did, lo and behold she was HIV negative. She took it to the doctor who insisted that she re-do the test twice more in the next two days. After the third day he congratulated her and said it was nothing short of a miracle that she wasn't infected. When she finally confronted her husband, he only asked for her forgiveness, saying that he had no idea how he got infected and was too ashamed to tell her.' Khadija explained.

'Poor guy, maybe he got it through blood transfusion or from a barbing saloon, anything could have been the cause apart from the sinful ones.' I observed.

'I was ready to believe that too Bint, until I told my husband after she had confided in me. You know her husband and mine were very close friends right from secondary school, they were the reasons we became friends actually.

His first response when I said his friend had been diagnosed with AIDS was "Really, I've always told him to use condom. Now look at what it has landed him." I couldn't believe what I heard, so in total shock I asked him "You have always what?" And he replied "Look, I knew his weakness and I never tried to hide the truth from him. One day I said if he should persist in chasing other women, let him at least take pity on his poor wife and be using condom." "But as a good friend I expected you to advise him to desist from adultery or to take other wives, if he isn't satisfied with one, I didn't expect you to condone his behaviour and only urge him to play safe.

Frankly, I am disappointed in you" I told him. But he defended his actions by saying that they men are not like us, they are not judgemental and they don't go round preaching to one another; they only give advice, suitable advice. "Well, look at what effect your suitable advice had, the man is dying of AIDS, it's a miracle that Tabawa is not infected." This is why I wasn't surprised at all when I saw her unable to cry after his death. She probably thinks he's good riddance.' Khadija observed. By now we were directly in front of her house.

'May Allah forgive him and grant her more health to take care of their children. It is truly a sad story. I hope men with such adulterous inclinations will all learn from this.' I said.

'I hope so too, but with men you can't be sure.' She replied stepping out of the car.

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