Wednesday 1 April 2015


Diana Gitau

I couldn't wait for my book launch party. It had taken me six years to write a second book and this party would be a celebrations of those years. My editors were excited and assured me that it would be a bestseller like my first book.I couldn’t wait to be on the spotlight again. My first book had brought me recognition, TV and radio appearances, speaking engagements and travel around the world for book signing. The fame had given me a high that kept me longing for my next fix.

After the success of the book, people asked or rather demanded for another book. My editor kept pushing me and the fans asked for more. After a while, they got tired of waiting and turned against me. I read online comments where I was referred to as a one hit wonder. People asked whether I had written the first book or used a ghost writer. By the third year, the attention stopped. Nobody recognized me on the streets anymore. I thirsted for the attention and wanted to have the fame back. Still, I couldn’t get my second book out fast enough.

Five years after my first book, I met Marco and we got married. Shortly afterwards, I published my second book. I had found my muse in Marco. He was older, well traveled, exotic and he inspired me. Marco was the only man that I had ever been with and he opened my eyes to the world. With this awakening, I got back to the keyboard and words just seemed to flow effortlessly. Rebirth was the new book’s title. It was my ticket back to fame. My life seemed perfect at that moment.

A week to the book launch party, I got this nasty persistent cough that made me feel weak. I tried all the home remedies but it still wouldn’t go away. I rushed to the doctor’s office eager to get rid of my little problem. Little did I know that my life was just about to take a huge turn?
I remember sitting at the doctor’s office after my tests were back. I absentmindedly stared at him as he sympathetically tried encouraging me. He said something about medication for the rest of my life but I was hardly listening. Living positively is what he called it.

“Your spouse will need to be tested too.”For the first time since the test, I thought of Marco, my handsome husband, my muse.

 HIV had such finality to it and this being a society that stigmatized everyone with HIV, it really did sound like the end for me. The doctor explained that I could have gotten it through numerous ways but I still couldn’t believe that I had gotten it. Things like that don’t happen to people like me. Life seemed so unfair; everything that I had worked for meant nothing at the moment.

At home, I couldn’t bring to tell Marco but a million questions ran through my mind. Did he know? If he didn’t know, am I the one who had brought it to him? Where could I have gotten the infection from? I couldn’t bring myself to thinking that he had strayed out our marriage and brought home the infection. I started thinking about his travels, could it be that he was bored? We had only been married for a few months. I watched him prepare our dinner as usual. All I saw was Marco, my muse who had brought me back to life. How could he be the one who was taking that life away at the same time? He was cheerful as usual, going about life oblivious to the fact that we had just received what I considered to be our death sentence. 

Zombie-like, I went through the motions of preparing for the party. Nevertheless, no matter what the doctors said, I couldn’t stop thinking about dying. I assumed that everyone saw the same thing when they looked at me. Rebirth may turn out to be a best seller after all because it will forever be that book written by that writer who had HIV.

I felt people staring at me a little bit longer than usual. They must have known my status and just like me were probably trying to guess how I got infected. I could feel the pity from their stares and their fear. I was contiguous with a deadly disease. People probably thought that any contact from me would get them infected.

I remember going to my favorite coffee shop a day after finding out about my status. I had always been fond of the attendant at that shop but that day, I noticed that she was a little too quick in serving me. Did she see it too? Was it the only thing that everyone saw?

On the day of the book launch, I chose not to wear the beautiful expensive red gown that I had bought for the occasion. It felt futile to dress up whistle having one foot in the grave. I thought that everyone would see through it all and laugh at my attempts at being normal. I had lost a considerable amount of weight since my diagnosis because of the stress. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to take my medication. It was pointless to try and get better, I was dying anyway. 

People congratulated me on the new book, they fawned upon me and the reporters milled around taking photos.

“Are you okay?”

They kept asking all evening. I knew they could see it, the concern was feigned but secretly they were all judging me. I was angry at the world and at them all. I didn’t deserve that. I never slept around, I exercised, ate healthy, went to church every Sunday. I was a good girl and I was the one being punished.

“Would you like to sit down, you don’t look so well?”

I couldn’t live the rest of my life like that, people treating me like an invalid one minute and the next; keeping their distance afraid that they may catch what I had. I sat down and watched them. They kept their distance alright and whispered.

At some point, tired and frustrated, I stumbled into the bathroom grateful for the escape. I walked to the mirror afraid of looking at myself and seeing the transformation. Hesitantly, I lifted my head and finally faced the woman looking back at me. Nothing had changed. My hair was still dark, long and silky like it had always been. My skin was the same. There was no label on my forehead identifying me by my illness.
Yet, the only thing that was quite visible was the anger and sadness masking my face. My eyes looked sunken and lifeless. Even I was scared of looking at the woman in the mirror. Her lips curled up in a snarl with an ugly frown which creased her whole face. She looked ready to fight the world though not what was afflicting her. For the first time since my diagnosis, I found out why everyone had changed towards me.

I was not defined by status. 

This realization hit me as I sadly looked back at the past week. Here I was on my big day but instead I was wallowing in self pity judging myself and expecting everyone else to judge me too. I was pushing people away before they turned on me. I had stopped living before my death. I didn’t want to be that weak, defeated person anymore.

I stood up straight, fixed my makeup and went back to the party, forcing myself to relax and smile. Like a charm; I felt the warmth around me. When I smiled, people naturally smiled back at me. The universe was giving me back exactly what I was giving out.

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