sometimes in life, it is only through darkness we find light – like he has discovered, since falling ill, it was easier to urinate sitting than standing. in the end the two must come together – thorn and rose, night and day – like pain and relief …

they are in a queue at the o.r. tambo international airport on their way home from a two-week holiday in dubai. he turns around and she is at least two meters behind him. looking everywhere, but at him. she has let others come between them. this wasn’t the first time she would do this – in fact, this has become staple with them. lately his mind has been mealing with emptiness. as he stands watching her, he recalls words he wrote in his latest posting on hiv/aids in his weekly newspaper health column. “sometimes, what kills you when you are ill, is not the illness but the way those who claim they love you treat you. his mind is in turmoil – funny how in a society where weight loss is synonymous with aids, my first stigmatizer is my lover, he muses. and right now, the space between them is driving a carving knife repeatedly into his pained soul. as if guessing his thoughts, she moves closer. it is awkward moving past those she had let between them. they look at her, look at him, and then back at her – they didn’t need to say anything, he can guess their thoughts.

            “you know how they have different tribal organizations here who meet regularly –” she trails off. she has come too close. she steps back. “that woman is xhosa.”

she isn’t making any sense – she hasn’t been making sense for a long time now. but this has become their regular – of late, they hardly went out together, but when they did it was always gossip in queues or waiting lounges or shopping malls that drew her close. then.

            “do you think i have lost weight … my face feels tight … these zits are killing me … maybe i should go and see my dermatologist … i need new clothes and shoes.” he smiles, remembering the last thing they did late yesterday evening was raid the zara store in the mall of the emirates, returning to their hotel room with shoulders-hurting haul of bags. then the distance returns. he has become her receptacle of gossip and self-doubts.

as she steps back, he reaches inside his mind to find where she loves from. she keeps telling him she loves him, but her actions, even when they are alone, show that this is not her reality – like the text she mistakenly sent to him describing him as husk. so many times since his illness began, he has found himself feasting with emptiness.

             “you go on. i’ll catch the next flight home.”

             “are you crazy? why?”

            “we’ll talk when i get back. make sure our bags arrive safely. bye. he starts to walk off. she reaches out and holds his frail hand. he turns and stares straight at her. his heart, his mind, his soul a collective dark void. as she stares back at him, she knew he knew everything.

silence.

she starts to say something. he raises his hand to stop her. he is not interested in what lies or truths those words may contain. she has made him touch emptiness and anything else was a fairer trade than the valley of emotional death that was his home for six months. he is grateful to her for one thing – her shame and consequent withdrawal have helped him focus on getting well – and made him find relief through pain.

fkregie 2017.