“It is not AIDS that kills us. It is everyone else,"

Updated: Oct 24

A short story about AIDS and what it shows about feminism through intersectionality.


By Megan Balani

Edited by Morgan Jenkins


“Hold my hand”.


Neera reaches her hand out to Jamal. With the remaining strength he has, he reaches out to her. “I’m feeling scared, Neera”


She caresses his hand, patiently tracing the life lines, and the colonies of red bumps that trace all the way to his face. The reddened valleys of flat skin make his chest look like the rusted copper on the hospital heater. “I understand that this is not easy for you. It has never been fair for your community”.


“It is not AIDS that kills us. It is everyone else," Jamal faintly murmurs, trying to swallow the pain of his sore throat.


A loud silence overcomes the room.


“What you mean by that,” Neera asks.


“People don’t understand that anyone can get what I have. It’s a question of how they are treated because of it”.


He loosens his grip, pushing and cradling himself up to the window. He watches all the white dots of people, going to stable jobs, hugging their friends and family, and kissing their lovers without having the hairs on their necks stand up from the breaths of the police.


He continues, “I used to have some parts of all their lives, but I could never fully have theirs, since they don’t look like me. I am enough of a target already”.


A flutter in his eyes contradicts his cold tone. “Ever since the diagnosis, I’ve really been trying to pick all the pieces up. I’m still trying to find that glue of intimacy to hold myself together”.


“Where are the people you need?” Neera asks.


“My mom is gone, and she was one of the only people who accepted me. I appreciated her even more for the smaller things she did for me. Every day, the tension I carried from the day would be released as I melted into her arms. As for my dad, he does not understand and pushes me away. He thinks I am a sissy for being with men. But when my mom was still here, she would defend me, even when I was not there.”


“I bet your mom is still with you even if she is not physically here”.


“I like to believe that. I believe that even for my friends who left too early due to the same conditions I’m in. But they had access to antiviral pills”.


------------


“You’re lucky you get to live," he continues.


“I am privileged, but I am not spared. The pain that affects one of us affects all of us. There are still eyes on the both of us, eagerly waiting for us to lose”


“How?," he asks dubiously.


“When I came out as a lesbian, my relatives in India cut off ties with the whole family. My parents were affected but kept denying it, and still are not understanding me. So I pour my energy and attention into people I can learn from and help. My friends and I run the blood drive a few blocks from here to donate blood to HIV-infected patients…”


A pounding in her throat slowly turns into a welling in her eyes. “But not everyone can be saved”.


Jamal stares at her, allowing the silence to help her pick herself up.


“I was with one of them who was 17 years old. His name was Santiago, but I called him Santi for short. He got kicked out of the house a week before the transfusion. We didn’t get to save him. His complexion, his smile, and his love remind me of yours, and we aren’t letting anyone take that away.”


“It is hard to see the light at the end when everyone has treated me like shit.”


“I am not going to deny that politicians, police, and private companies will not care. You can’t deny the history they influence because you are a product and victim of it. But it is utterly impossible for you to keep someone from loving you. And that is us. Just because we are hidden doesn’t mean we aren’t there”.


Jamal clenches her hand, veins popping up from his grip.


--------


An hour of unnerving silence passes by. The only noises in the room are a conjoined heartbeat between their palms, and the silent blare of sexual oppression.


The sun finally peaks through the window, gently laying down on Jamal’s rib encrusted chest. It is the closest thing to a hug he has received in months. The heat produces an encompassing texture similar to the feeling of the last hug he got from his mother.


----------


Scrubs start shuffling towards the curtain. A cart with instruments shaking like maracas compliments the stutter of the cart wheels. A delicate hand pulls it to the side. “Mr. Abara?," the doctor asks.


“Yes, that is right”


“It is great to meet you. Are you ready for the transfusion?”


Neera looks at Jamal, who is still staring at the window and getting kisses from the sun. Look to the light, look to the light. That is what you are. Jamal’s mom’s voice engulfs his mind. Those kisses were from her. He reaches out his hand to Neera.


The blood container is now attached to the handle. A strangled tension from the nylon band is squeezing out the last few particles of air between the band and the skin. “Let me know when you are ready to start”. He nods. The butterfly needle slowly inserts into his pulse point. His hand bitterly tenses from the nerves, but slowly releases after the pain reduces.


“You are doing great, Jamal!” Neera exclaims. “I’m proud to share this step to recovery with you.”


No words come out of him - just a nod…a nod that acknowledges all the past pain and hope for the opportunities to recover, to put the pieces back together. But he realizes that Neera was with him the whole time. That is another step forward.


A glow of peace glazes over his eyes, knowing that he is safe at this moment.








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