By Tashinga Wazara, Zimbabwe:
I remember that when I was young, it was something that people never talked about. It was barely even acknowledged. But as I got older, it was something that people began to whisper about amongst themselves although it was something that was regarded as some kind of taboo. If you had it, you better not talk about it in public because it was a terrible thing, and it meant that you were a terrible person.
When I was in my late teens the attitude about it was slowly changing and it was spoken about in the press, people who had it would come out and talk about it openly, saying that it wasn't a death sentence and that they could live normal lives as long as they looked after themselves. But nobody bought that. We all knew they were lying. How could you live a normal life when you had to take a million tablets a day and you knew that you were dying? In some ways the increased publicity helped in getting people to talk about it and warn people of its dangers and how to prevent it. My grandparents would constantly preach the 'no sex before marriage' gospel to me every time I saw them and my parents, who were less naïve, would tell me that they knew that I wasn't having sex but that if I ever did then I must always use protection.
All of these sermons on HIV/AIDS helped and I made sure that I stayed well clear of situations in which I might be compromised. I ascertained that the HIV gospel of my parents was pragmatic but too risky in the face of such a deadly disease and so I opted to be a devout follower of my grandparents' HIV gospel. I thus stayed clear of situations in which I might be compromised to engage in the almost suicidal act of sexual intercourse given the fact that where I come from, one in every three people has it. Even when I started dating Cynthia, it was one of the first conversations we ever had. She was a virgin, just like me, and we agreed that we would keep it that way until we got married.
Cynthia was such a beautiful girl. She was tall and slim and she looked like she belonged on a runway. I had met her at a church conference in Harare where she was one of the ushers welcoming people in at the door. I remember her beaming smile as she said, 'Hello. Welcome to church. I hope you enjoy the service' and from then I was hooked. There was just something distinctly special about her genuineness and warmth as she greeted me. I don't think I heard anything the Pastor preached on that day because all I could think about was her and how I simply had to go and talk to her after the service. When the service ended, I looked for her and I saw her cleaning up with the other ushers so I waited until she was done and I walked up to her and said, 'Hello. My name is Max and I would like to take you out for coffee next week.' She looked at me, flashed that beaming smile of hers at me and kindly declined my offer. Instead of her refusal discouraging me, it strengthened my resolve. The following Sundays after that I would go to her church and I would look for her and talk to her, and ask her to go on a date with me but each time she would refuse. It was only two months later that she eventually said yes and we became friends and eventually started dating.
Cynthia and I got married two years later and it was a really special wedding. We both cried as we exchanged our vows because of the sheer delight that we both felt. We had made a conscious decision to save ourselves for marriage and although it had been really difficult we had managed to do it and our wedding was a culmination of our commitment to purity and faithfulness. We had been able to honour God, our families and ourselves in our relationship. More importantly, for me, I had managed to successfully obey my grandparents' gospel of HIV/AIDS by not having sex before marriage.
Cynthia and I were very happy together, in spite of the fights and disagreements that happen between married people. However, something big happened a year into our marriage when she was pregnant with our first child.
After one of her routine checkups, the doctor told Cynthia that there were complications with the pregnancy and that she needed to call me in first and he would tell us what was wrong together. So when Cynthia asked me to come to the hospital I rushed there, fearing the worst. My heart was literally beating in my throat as I entered his office. He sat us down and said, 'We ran tests on Cynthia and we have found out that Cynthia is HIV positive. As a result we need to have the father of the baby tested for HIV as well as is the standard procedure in such situations, which is why I called you in'. My head began spinning and I started shaking in my chair. I just couldn't wrap my head around what the doctor had just said. Cynthia? HIV positive? How? I had never slept with another woman before and I was certain that she had never been with another man. She just wasn't that type of a person. Or maybe I was wrong about her? How could she have done this to me? This didn't make sense.
I was still shaking as the doctor took me into another room to have my blood taken. I was in shock and I didn't say a word. My mind kept trying to figure out how and when Cynthia could have been having an affair but the more I thought about it, the more I just couldn't see how she could have done it. She had deceived me so comprehensively that even with the evidence of the HIV I still couldn't believe that she had cheated.
The doctor then told me to go back into the room where my wife was and when I got there I couldn't even look at her. She looked at me and tried to hold my shoulder but I pushed her hand away then she said, 'Max, I never cheated on you. I promise.' I then motioned to her and told her not to say another word. I was so angry and confused and for the next half an hour my thoughts were vacillating between whether I was HIV positive too and how my wife had gotten it. As I was sitting there something then dawned on me. Cynthia had been calm the whole time since the doctor had given us the news. When the doctor said she was HIV positive she didn't even flinch. Even now she was just sitting there. She looked worried but not the same as someone who had just been given a death sentence. How could she be so calm when she had just been told that she's HIV positive? I then thought about it some more and realized that she must have known already. This couldn't have been the first time she was hearing this. At this point I started going crazy in my head and I asked her, 'Cynthia, before today did you know that you were HIV positive?' and she looked at me and started crying.
The doctor then walked in with the test results and said, 'I'm sorry Max but you're HIV positive too.'
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