“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.

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§ 5 Responses to “Always use a condom” said my dying uncle to me

  • I think its extraordinary how people who are dying of AIDS related diseases or people on their deathbeds in general are able to remind us to appreciate the value of our existence. The great tragedy is that people have to die to remind us of the value that lies within this simple lesson and that so many of us are unable to be aware and wary of the consequences of something so invaluable

  • onela dinga says:

    its sad how people will only take something seriously when someone is on their death bad. we have been told this a million times but we still want to town. i wish everyone were to be told by your dying uncle to always use a condom.

  • I lost my uncle the same way, although he didn’t have that talk with me, being with him on his days spoke louder and hit home harder than if I had heard it from him.

    If feel even though we didn’t talk about it, it was in the air for anyone to grab. My mom lost a lil bro, my cousins lost a dad, I lost an uncle, families lost a provider, but we all learnt a life saving lesson in his departure.

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Olwethu Sota says:

    Well I’m a girl and I’ve heard similar words from ma uncle. he did not say it directly. I remember on the 31st of December 2006 i was preparing to go to East London for the festive celebrations. He was lying on his death bed and I could tell that he was pissed that ma parents allowed me to go with friends (guess he knew what happens to girls in EL after all that was his playground) Anywhoo he called me in his room and told me that “I introduced you to the life of partying, whatever you do dont end up like me” Funny those are the words that stuck on ma mind.

  • Janda Radebe says:

    My Aunt’s Last Words

    I weep for the unrealised dreams, i weep for the years i spent trying to be someone else, trying to live someone else’s dreams. I weep for the time wasted doing fruitless deeds, i weep for my daughter’s graduation that i missed because i chose a man over her, i weep for the time i took a handful of pills trying to end my life, the time i wasted trying to fit in by putting on makeup and stufing my breasts, i weep for my toes that i pinchd with stiletos when i knew i was a converse girl.

    But now it is useless, my weeping, because im now bedridden living with AIDS. Do not be me. Live a life that best suits you. Love yourself enough to say no to unprotected sex.

    (she passed away just 2 days after she told me this)

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