“Always use a condom” said my dying uncle to me
June 15, 2011 § 5 Comments
Many years ago, in 2000 an uncle of mine was dying from HIV AIDS related complications. He was as thin as an anorexic. He had summoned me from Cape Town where I was studying to see him all the way back home in East London. I knew he was dying. We all did, although no one ever talked about what it was he was dying from. I took a bus that very day to East London as matter of urgency, for all I knew, he could have died while I was on my way home.
When I saw him, he was frail. Thin. Gaunt. Everything about him was the opposite of what I remembered. The once proud, loud Xhosa man who could keep any room spellbound with his stories was no more. He needed a walking stick and used the walls of the house to help him keep his balance as he walked around the house.
I’d been in the house for two days before he said what he called me for. We were in the TV room together watching something. I call it something because that’s what it was. Something. Watching but not really watching. We both pretended to be unaware of death’s shadow written on him. Then he spoke to me. Not that he never spoke to me during the two days in the house. He had, he’d joked many times too. His sense of humour hadn’t left him.
When he spoke to me, he didn’t turn to look at me, instead he carried on watching the TV I knew he wasn’t watching. He said to me in Xhosa, “Kwedini.” The Kwedini was said in that commanding, authoritative Xhosa that Xhosa men of his generation seem to summon at a whim. “Kwedi,” he paused, “Usebenzise icondom.” (“My boy. Always use condom.”) I kept quiet. I didn’t really know what to say. Should I tell him that I haven’t had sex in years anyway? It seemed inappropriate. But all I said was, “Ewe malume.” Then he got up, his cane next to him, his hand against the wall. He went to the bedroom. I was left alone to watch the TV I wasn’t watching.
“The best advice I got from my dad? Wear a condom.” That’s what Richard Branson says his dad told him. That’s what reminded me of my uncle. My uncle told me the same thing. Except my uncle was dying when he told me. But I guess it means something different when your dying uncle tells you the same thing.
I went back to Cape Town the next day, only to return the following week after he died.
I didn’t really use his advice. I only used it seven years after he told me; after I could no longer resist my vow of celibacy. Am I still celibate? I plead the fifth.