Second Prize winner in the English Category of the 2008 Creative Writing Competition of the eThekwini Municipal Library.
By Ashveer Devnarain
This is a true story and it saddens me to write about our employee who has worked in the family business for many years. Lillian has been a very dedicated and honest worker. She always took her tasks seriously and was very responsible. She was punctual and always gave of her best at work. She never complained of hard work and had always been of service to the company.
She lived with her husband and her son Siyanda not very far off from where we live. I have known her to be a very happy and jovial person, always smiling and always had encouraging things to say to others. I guess that is what had brought her so close to our family. She and her son spent weekends at our home and she was always looking forward to being with us as her immediate family was in Transkei. We never had a dull moment with her at home. She had taught us to prepare many Zulu meals such as the steam bread pancakes and uphuthu. She made fun of everything we pronounced wrong in isiZulu.
I thought there will be never ending happiness in her life as she was so content with life until tragedy stuck. Lillian was pregnant with her second child when her husband took ill. She tried her best to help him recover but it was unsuccessful. His health started to deteriorate until he was hospitalised. It was sad to see her depressed, but she never failed to put on a brave smile on her face. Three days after her husband was hospitalised, he passed away. Lillian was very bitter when she came back from the hospital as she was not notified of his death until she went to the hospital during visiting hours. I heard her talking to my parents about her husband’s death. Everyone and everything was quiet at home. It felt as if tragedy had struck our family.
I wanted to see her cry, but she was strong for her unborn child and for Siyanda too. I knew deep down that if she cried she would feel some relief of the pain she was feeling. As for Siyanda, he was oblivious of what she was going on around him. Lillian said something to him in Zulu and he nodded his head and just said, “Oh Oh”. With the help of family and friends, arrangements were made for her husband to be laid to rest in his homestead in Transkei. Two months later Lillian and Siyanda returned from Transkei. She had never known the cause of her husband’s death. Our family was very excited about having her back home and did everything possible to keep her happy. She returned to work and always kept herself occupied as she did not want to show her grief. She was five months pregnant and started visiting the clinic. I could see the sadness in her eyes as she had no-one to share her happiness with, but us.
As the months went by she became tired, but did not want to go on leave. Finally it was time for her second child to be born. I remember her being rushed to hospital by my family. The next day she had a bouncing baby boy. Everyone was excited, our staff, my family, Siyanda and even me knowing that we had another addition to your family. She was discharged from hospital and brought to our house first. Her baby was dressed with warm and beautiful clothes and a blanket which was bought by our family. After a good hot meal she was taken back home. I knew she was sad because her children didn’t have a father and I just wished that we could have done more to make her pain less. I also knew that her baby would bring joy into her life again but I was so wrong. She named baby “Sbonelo” and after three months she returned to work again. She carried her baby on her back everyday to work. He was placed in his basket and slept throughout the day in our office. We helped her to feed him his bottle milk and his purity. He seemed to be a healthy baby and was always smiling and very happy. We became very attached to him as he was to us. We took him every where we went and introduced Sbonelo as our baby. I thought that Lillian would overcome her grief and find happiness again, until one day she became weak and tired. We thought it could have been stress related, or it must have been a flu bug. Weeks went into months and Lillian became very sick. We forced her to see a doctor but she always refused. She became slow in her work, she was not punctual anymore and she did not carry her baby to work anymore as she did not have the strength to do so.
Six months later it became unbearable, to see her suffer anymore. We took her to our family doctor. He prescribed some medication for her and told her to have lots of water. Two weeks after his visit to the doctor her health became worse. She started to have night sweats, continuously coughing, loss of appetite, diarrhoea and loss of weight. She became very thin and my family became very concerned about her. We decided to take her to another doctor for a second opinion. She was given almost the same medication, but none of these doctors had suggested any tests to be done. Two months later her health became even worse, but she refused to leave work. She was given the privileges that no other staff had at work and she was still trying to give of her best. She could no longer carry Sbonelo and he was then taken care of by our family. At least that was a relief for Lillian. Three months passed and there was no improvement with her health. She was again taken to the first doctor who had suggested that she be taken to the hospital. Lillian was taken to the hospital in a wheelchair by six o’clock that evening. She was made to wait in the waiting area for almost 3 hours before she was seen. She was in a lot of pain and was vomiting continuously. The first thought that came to mind was: Are Siyanda and Sbonelo going to lose a mother too? Some three hours later she was then inserted with a drip and more tests were done. We had to leave her at the hospital and retire for the night.
Next morning before my parents could go to work, they decided to go to the hospital first to see how she was doing, only to find her sleeping on a bench in the passage way. They wanted to know what was wrong with her, but the night doctors were already off duty. She was asked to come back to the hospital after a month, but by then her health got even more worse and she was already in and out of hospital. We waited for her results anxiously only to find out that she was HIV positive and had full blown Aids. The news was devastating to use because her children were stuck with another blow. Our love for Lillian had never become any less. She came to work although she was very sick. We did not want to dismiss her because of her loyalty to the family and discrimination in the work place. There was not much the hospital could do for her. Everyone at our workplace started to reject her but this did not dampen her spirits. She was the same beautiful person on the inside who never wanted to give up. She wanted to live on just for her two sons. Finally she became so ill that she had to give up. She decided to stay at home and her mother came to live with her. She was 88 years and very old. Two weeks later we decided to visit Lillian. Her children were overjoyed to see us. We went with a bag of goodies but Lillian could no longer eat. She was confined to her bed. The sight of her, shocked me to such an extent that I could not believe what I saw. Her body had deteriorated to skin and bones. One could see the skin stretched over the structure of her face. She could not move, neither could she speak. Her only wish was for us to give her a dignified funeral service.
Three days later Lillian sadly passed away. Her funeral arrangements were made by our family as her mother was helpless. We chose the most beautiful blanket to cover her coffin according to the Zulu culture. According to the Zulu culture a blanket must be bought by the loved ones to drape the coffin and no doubt we were one of them. Six months later Sbonelo was admitted to hospital and was diagnosed with the killer disease Aids. He was very unhappy there and he cried a lot as he missed his mother very much. We visited him as often as possible and when he saw us he was overjoyed. Sbonelo played with the children in his ward and he seemed happy, but when it was time for us to leave him he would hug us as if there was no tomorrow. I could see the tears trickling down his cheeks and I just wished that there was more I could do for him besides bringing him goodies. Two months later he became very sick and his body was rejecting all medication because he had a very weak immune system. A week later his face was full of sores. It seemed as if he was burnt. Week s later he was confined to his cot. No smiles, no laughter, no more running and playing around. As I looked at his small and frail body lying there I just wished I could have taken him home for just one more weekend or even see him smile again, but that was just another dream. As I hugged him for the very last time, he lifted his small hands and put them around me.
Two days later he died and was laid to rest beside his mother. There’s something I have learned from this experience, which is that by hugging, holding and caring for someone with HIV you cannot contract the disease. HIV and Aids is only caused by body fluids. The only remembrance of Lillian is her beautiful smile, her loyalty to our family and her son Siyanda. May they both rest in eternal peace. Aids does not choose colour or creed and even age. Aids does not give you a second chance at life. Be safe and make the right choices in life. THE END!