I look across the window and I stare at the view from my penthouse… Wow, the entire city, what a view to behold. So many things to observe, from the rush-hour traffic to the rustling of trees in the wind. It’s winter time now, and you could easy tell. Johannesburg. It’s 2044 now, 31 years after Tata Madiba died…
As I stand with my face resting against the window, I ponder. If he were here to experience South Africa today, would he be proud or satisfied? Yes, racial equality is the norm now. Whites, blacks, and all other races are granted equal opportunities and the same treatment by authority and institutions like schools or companies at least. The world in general though, has not improved much.
Poverty is prevalent, technology basically controls the world now, pollution is damaging Mother Earth at an alarming rate, HIV and STD’s are rampant and the global climate is unbelievably unpredictable. Johannesburg is no exception: In summer it’s basically an urban dessert, but when winter comes along, it’s colder than a snowman’s heart. This is the sporadic climate that the great city of Jozi (and ultimately the world) has become susceptible to.
This city is definitely an acquired taste, it’s not for the faint hearted. However, none of this seems to bother me, as my beautiful wife, my shining light, is what I care about most. She was my high school sweetheart. I’ve loved her ever since I first laid eyes on her all the way back in 2017. I love her so much that sometimes it scares me.
If love is a drug, then I am definitely addicted to the point of no return… and sometimes that can turn out to be a bad thing. She should be coming home anytime now to put a smile on my face, I think to myself. I am unaware, though, that the news she is about to come home with will bring me something far from a smile.
The door opens. I stare and wait, like an impatient schoolchild waiting for the school bell to ring. The door opens, and Thabi, the love of my life, walks through the door. Her make-up is smeared, almost as much as her facial expression. She drops her bags and runs to give me a huge, tight hug. She starts crying.
“Thabi? Thabi? What’s wrong, dear?” I ask her, worried and confused.
“Emmy… please don’t blame me. It’s not my fault, I don’t know how this happened!”
After minutes of sobbing, she clears the air.
“They did the weekly testing for us nurses at the hospital today, Emmanuel. I don’t know when, how, or why, but I was diagnosed with HIV.”
It is a bolt from the blue, and it is at this moment that my world almost shatters.
Three weeks have passed now. I sit in the study, checking my email. I think to myself: It was always a risk, Thabi and I, the perfect Doctor and Nurse couple, doing what we do. It was always a possibility that something like this could happen. After days of fighting and confusion (I even accused her of cheating), we come to the conclusion that she must’ve contracted the virus from an unclean needle or accidental contact with an infected patient’s blood.
Now we needed a solution.
“Thabi?” I call for her. She comes and sits on the couch. After a long, deep discussion, I say to her, “Thabi. I love you. I love you to the point that I only want what’s best for you, and I will even put my health at risk to help you.”
“Emmy, I am so proud to call you my husband. Know that I will always love you, no matter what happens. But what do you mean by that, love?” She asks.
“Thabi, remember my friend, Michael, who I said was a biologist?” I respond. “Well, for the past few days, we have been working together. We think we might have developed a possible vaccine for this virus. It’s risky though.”
“Really Emmy!? That’s wonderful!” she exclaims. “But wait…” She pauses. “You said this is a ‘vaccine’. A vaccine is only helpful for people who don’t want to contract a disease. I already have it.”
“Yes baby, I’m afraid so.” I respond. “It’s not a cure, but just imagine how amazing this could be for the millions of people around the world who are bound to contract this virus… this could save their life!”
“Well, Emmy.” She pauses for a second, almost as to think of what to say next. She unsuccessfully tries to hide her disappointment, but I can tell she is still happy. “I can’t say I’m not a little bit disappointed, but this sounds absolutely brilliant! How will you pull it off, though? Many people have tried and ultimately failed.” She continues.
“Well, Thabi,” I reply. “This vaccine works by injecting a miniscule amount of the virus into your system, and then your body does the rest of the work, by producing a natural immunity to the virus.” I explain.
“Wow, Emmanuel. This is intriguing. Wait… but this sounds like someone has to volunteer for this risky experiment. I mean, how else will you know if the potential vaccine works without attempting to contract the virus? So who did you manage to find to volunteer?” She asks.
“Well, Thabi, considering that you already have the disease, I have nothing to lose. I am doing this for the benefit of many others… I had the virus injected into myself last week. I will attempt to catch the virus and see if the vaccine will work.” I explain.
“Emmanuel! This is so risky! How could you put yourself and your health at risk like this!? It’s bad enough that I already have this disease!” She complains.
“Well, baby, I’m doing my bit to help this problem-stricken Earth. I want to be like Tata Madiba, I want to use my abilities to help mankind in any way I can. I also want to prevent others from feeling the heartache of having a loved one go through this… She looks at me briefly, with intent. She says nothing, but tears fill her eyes and a smile occupies her face. We make pure love…
It was a risk worth taking. A month later, after failing to contract the disease with the unprotected love-making I had with Thabi, we do more tests and use more volunteers to assure ourselves of the vaccine’s effectiveness. Eventually, it is confirmed that we have successfully created a vaccine for HIV/AIDS.
Three months after news of the vaccine reaches the world, Michael and I find ourselves proudly accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in Norway for our work. I become a global hero. I walk up with Thabi to accept the award. The sadness I feel on the stage as Thabi’s health deteriorates, and the warmth of relief of knowing that this situation can be prevented in the future, is a striking juxtaposition.
Four days after the ceremony, Thabi dies. I become depressed for weeks on end, but I eventually make peace with it, as I know that not many people will have to feel the pain that I feel, from losing a loved one to this wretched disease.
Three months and a fortnight have passed since Thabi’s unfortunate death. Although it is ineffective for people who already have the virus, the vaccine has already been an immense advantage in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Ever since the global roll-out of the vaccine, infection of HIV has gone down by 69% and the disease is now much less prevalent than it was before.
Bearing the eerie atmosphere that surrounds the cemetery, as I sit here at midnight, I pay my respects to the only woman I have ever been in love with. I smile upon her grave, knowing that she is resting in peace.