I stand at the doorway and look at the children hurrying off to school. I envy them. I wish I could go to school. Am stuck at home looking after my ailing mother. Besides, there is no money for school uniform or those other fees they ask for in school. My brother gush has gone already, trekking to town to go sell some groundnuts.
My name is Kamau and I am 8 years old. I am a skinny short boy. Chocolate brown in complexion and curly hair. There is nothing special about me. Nothing that would set me apart from any other boy you’d see on the streets. Oh, did I mention I have HIV!
I can see you’re shocked. You didn’t think a young boy like me would have it. I do. We only found out after dad died of AIDS. Mum got sick and went to be tested. She was also advised to have us tested. Njuguna was found to be negative. The rest of us were found to be positive.
Apparently, children of a HIV positive mother can be born without HIV. But it can be passed through breast milk or during childbirth if there is contact of the mother’s blood to the infant. Because my mum did not know she had HIV when my sister and I were born she was unable to prevent us from getting HIV by not breastfeeding.
I am not sick. Well, at least not right now. Sometimes I get sick. Especially when it is flu season. I get really sick because my immunity to fight disease is really low. At the health centre, some caring donors have given out nutritional supplements for children. I take this to boost my immunity. I am not on ARV’s though my sister Njeri was taking some before she died.
I miss her. Njeri. She was so full of life. She loved to play and laugh. Even when she got sick she would joke and laugh. She died two months ago. Her body had become too weak and when she got pneumonia her body could not fight it. One minute she was sick and the next she was gone.
I am scared. I know I am healthy but if Njeri could die just like that after an infection so could I. mum is dying. I know. I stay home to take care of her. She has given up on life. It’s like when Njeri died, mum’ spirit to live died and was buried with my sister.
I go in to check on her. “Mum, mum. Please take some fruits.” I try to persuade her as I seat by her bedside. She was once very beautiful, my mum. She had the most beautiful smile. She used to be fat, round but now she is a skeleton. She does not want to eat and it hard to make her eat. But she has to eat in order to take the drugs she is given at the health centre.
I force her to eat something then I give her medicine. Then I go get my books and go over what Njuguna taught me this morning. Usually we wake at 4 o’clock. That’s the time mum is to take her first dose of medicine. Njuguna makes tea and washed the house and I wash the clothes. We alternate duties on different weeks.
After that Njuguna roasts groundnuts. At around 5 O’clock to 8 O’clock we study. Njuguna does not want me to lose out because we can’t go to school. Since he learnt for three more years then me he teaches me what he learnt. We do maths, geography, english and a few other things. Sometimes the kerosene lamp makes our eyes sting but there is nothing we can do about that.
After that Njuguna goes off to the city. I used to teach Njeri’s her ABC’s when Njuguna was gone. Then we would colour pictures and play games. I look over at Njeri’s stool. I find it so hard to accept she is gone. That I will never see her and play with her again.
Looking around I look for something to do. There is nothing much to do in the house apart from take care of mum. We do not have a TV or radio. Actually, we barely have anything. After dad died we had to sell almost everything to get money for food and rent. Our house is bare. All there is are one bed. The one mum used to sleep in with Njeri. There is a mattress on the floor that I share with Njuguna. Then there is the jiko, a small table, one chair and three stools for us.
I wish sometimes that gush would let me go with him. I used to go with him you know. That was until something happened to some of our friends. Our friends Martin and Otieno used to sell groundnuts with us. One day, a man came with a car and offered them a lift. He asked them where they were going. He offered them a lift because he was going in the same direction.
Martin and Otieno were never seen alive again. They were found five days later. Their bodies dumped in the river. I heard whispers that bad things had been done to them but I didn’t know what. The man was never caught. But after that Njuguna decided it was not safe for me to keep selling. Njeri was also very sick at the time so I went to help out with looking after her because mum was still working at the market.
I spend the day daydreaming about how good it used to be. Checking up on mum as the day progresses. I have to give her medicine on time as the doctor instructed. I also have to try and turn her as she gets sores when she stays in one spot for two long. She already has them even though we try to prevent them. Ugly white sores that remove pus and blood. I have to keep cleaning them and applying a salt solution. We are supposed to use disinfectants like dettol but we aint got no money for that.
Its 5 O’ clock. Time for me to make way to the other side of the slum to go to the market. There I look for fruits and vegetables that are going bad that are going to be thrown away. Most times you have to buy even these from the market women. But they are my mum’s friends. They understand how it is. How things are at home. So they keep some just for me. I don’t have to buy. But I have to clean up for them their spots. Make sure there is no rubbish. Help them repack the produce.
Once in a while we get fresh fruit. We have a friend. Her name is Carol. I sometimes find her at the market. She gives me some fruits and vegetables sometimes. She used to be our neighbour but her parents died in a car accident. There was no one to look after her. Another lady whom people fear called Mama Salma took her in. I don’t know what she does but she seems to have a lot of money. Carol is usually dressed well. Better then when her parents were alive.
There is something different about Carol nowadays. I can’t put my finger on it. She is different. She smiles but it doesn’t reach her eyes. I don’t think she is happy. I don’t understand why and she seems to have everything. Good clothes and she is taken to the salon frequently.
I guess am too young. I don’t understand that there are some things that an eight year old boy would not understand. That the world is a much crueller place then I thought. That some times the things you are forced to do to get money are very bad things.
Today Carol is not at the market so I go home with what I have. I pick some unga ya kupimwa at the kiosk near home. Gush will pay when he comes home. Today the pickings are not some good. I didn’t get any sukuma’s. They are being sold at a premium because there is no supply. I have a rotting cabbage, some over ripe bananas and some half rotten mangoes. I guess this will have to do.
I enter the house to start cooking. I feel hopeless about our situation but I guess there is nothing I can do about it. I don’t think anything will change in the near future. I don’t want to think about mum dying because I don’t know what will happen to us then.
We do the best we can, I and Njuguna with the cards life has dealt us.