I had some free time left on Sunday afternoon, after I decided not to pick my son from my folks, so I headed to a well known childrens home in the city. I had thought of going in the cover of a journalist, then thought of being a student on a research programme, but decided to go under no cover whatsoever, and knew that I needed not have to give personal details.
I arrived just in time for their afternoon cuppa and was invited to sit with the kids (after meeting with the day manager) and chat over the cup of tea.
This is a home catering for over 100 kids, most orphaned by HIV/AIDS, most being HIV positive, a couple in their 'last stages' of AIDS and afew brought here because their families cannot take up the burden of extra mouths to feed. The oldest of them was one Maina, a teen from a nearby shanty town. Maina has been here for most of his life, having arrived as a toddler, dropped by the gate by an unknown person and found there later by an official checking in for work. He was diagnosed as being HIV+ then but has lived to tell and re-tell his story.
Maina is now in his last year of secondary education and intends to enroll for a medical degree in one of the local universities. Though I kinda knew what was coming, I still asked him why medicine.
"Why not?" he replied in question.
"Have you been in touch with any relatives so far?" I asked him.
"I don't know them, but they know me. They brought me here, so they should come and seek me out. Why should I go out of my way and use precious time in search of people who didn't want me or don't care for me, yet I have a complete (he sweeps his hand across the room) family here that truly cares and loves me. This is enough for me. I am happy."
I was touched. So young yet so ready so life. He has taken what life has thrown at him, the good and the bad, and used it all to his advantage, with no self pity at all, and marching on.
I turned my attention to a little girl who sat on my left, a multi-racial girl who was playing with toys as she took her milk.
"Hi. What's your name?" I asked her with all tenderness.
"Naomi. And what's yours?" she asked in return.
"Why are you here? Have you come to live with us?" she went on, after I had given her my real name.
"I have come to visit you. Would you like me to live with you?"
"Yes, you are welcome. You can share my bed."
"That's very nice, thank-you. And why are you here?" I asked her.
"Because I am very sick and I need the nurse to give me medicine every day so that I don't die like mummy."
"Mummy is in heaven," I told her. "God is taking care of her and she watches over you every day." I tried to fight back the bloody tears.
"Mummy is very pretty. I will show you her photo. It is on my bed."
"And you are very pretty," I told her as I stood to go outside. No point having them see me cry.
I walked to the end of the field, not realising I was heading for the cemetry. There was a freshly dug grave... looked like the grounds were yawning for the next victim.
"That's for James. He passed on two nights ago. We bury him tomorrow. Sometimes the families claim for the bodies for burial, sometimes there is just no one and we rest them here." I heard the duty manager say behind me, as she pointed at the open grave.
"Great" I said. "Just great. Forsaken in life and even in death."
"Do you have any children?" She asked me.
"Yes. One son." Though I should be expecting my second, I said to myself.
"Does he know?"
I turned to face her, and I felt the tears well up again.
"Know what?" I knew I was now getting on the defensive, which was a clear give-away.
"Never mind." She said as she turned around to walk back to the buildings.
"No. He doesn't know." I said after her. She turned and smiled.
"I know it's difficult, but he will be fine. You will be fine."
"How can you be so sure? How do you know?"
She pointed at the kids who were now leaving the dining for the play grounds, then pointed at herself and said, "This is how I know."
I still felt like crying, but didn't. And I didn't feel too bad coz I hadn't been to church.