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Journey into Darkness Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by May Fawaz, Lebanon Sep 11, 2005
Health , Human Rights   Short Stories
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The first time I saw Fatima was on a TV show called “People’s Talk”, where she had appeared to describe her experience with AIDS. Her face was covered and her voice distorted so that she would remain anonymous. She spoke shamefully, cried, and begged for mercy. It was then that I resolved to meet with Fatima. I called the show and asked for her number. The next day, I contacted her and surprisingly, she agreed to meet with me at my earliest convenience.

I was really intrigued by the fact that I was about to meet with an Arab AIDS patient, a case not so common in my region. AIDS is known to be very alarming in Africa, mostly, while the Arab world is concerned with different kinds of tribulations. While it is true that the AIDS pandemic does not constitute a priority concern in the Arab world as compared to its urgency in other regions, it is a fact that it is spreading, and its severity carries social and ethical dimensions. The main problem with AIDS is the shame associated with it, a fact which prevents patients from talking about it openly, and thus makes research on the virus and attempts at reversing it very complicated. I realized later that Fatima was uniquely brave to appear on TV and share her experience with so “shameful” an affliction. However, it was only when she had lost all hope of life and had nothing more to lose that she decided to expose herself and her dignity.

On the morning of July 1, I headed towards Fatima’s dwelling, a small house situated in a slum area of the capital city. I was ardent to meet a woman who had plenty to tell me about life, human nature, culture, pain, suffering and fear. I knew that it would be an incredible learning experience, a journey of discovery and passion. However, no sooner had my eyes fallen upon the dread of that wretched home with its hostess greeting me with tearful eyes, than my heart was invaded by immense consternation. I felt anguish, desperation, and moroseness. I soon realized that I was going to discover the essence of pain. It was clear at that very moment that I was starting a morbid journey, a journey into darkness.

“Welcome”, she said, with arms wide open. “I hope it wasn’t a tiring trip for you.”

“Not at all”, I answered, “I am very happy to be here.”

“Do you live alone?” I asked inquisitively.

“Yes, I do”, she uttered. She ushered me to my seat, lay down on the sofa, and resumed: “Ever since I was afflicted, my family deserted me. I used to live with my mother and two daughters. My daughters are now married, thank God, and they live abroad with their husbands. My mother left this house because she feared to catch the virus. However, she comes once a week to bring me medicine and food.”

“You mentioned daughters; this means you must have a husband. Is he around you?”

“My husband is dead”, she replied. “He died of AIDS. He gave me the disease and forsook me to my tragic fate. He left me to die alone.”

I enquired how her husband caught the virus. I wanted to know whether it was the result of a local incident or an outside factor. She explained to me that he caught it from a sexual relation that he had in one of his business trips abroad.

“He accused me, though, of giving him the virus”, she exclaimed sardonically. “He insisted I had not been faithful to him.”

“What? Why did he do that??” I asked with dismay.

“All tragedies are female generated in our society”, she replied. “No man will tolerate to admit guilt.”

I was shaken upon hearing her words, for I had always believed that cruelty and injustice are conquered by love and mercy in times of affliction and distress. In Fatima’s world, however, love and mercy have always been scarcities. Fatima had to bear the blame of a mistake she never committed. I continued though:

“So you discovered the disease together at the same time?”

“Yes, after my husband was diagnosed with AIDS, I took tests and discovered that I was also infected.”

“How did you deal with this news?” I asked interestedly.

“It was a shock to us both”, she said. “At first, I was outraged. I screamed, shrieked, broke the window glass, and I cursed him with all the passion I had in me. He denied it, of course, blamed me for it, and left the house. After three weeks, he came back imploring for help, like a bird with broken wings. There was nothing I could do. I felt powerless. However, I realized that I should stand by him, for after all, we both had to face the same fate. We agreed to support each other. Our daughters knew, but their husbands didn’t.

“What about other kin? Do you have cousins?”

“My cousins deny me. In their eyes, I am a source of shame, a symbol of sin and decadence.”

Signs of exhaustion started showing on Fatima’s pallid face. She took a deep breath and gazed at her daughters’ picture. She looked pensive and remained silent for some time. Then, she continued, with tears in her eyes:

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