The following weekend, they met at a bar. Tatyana immediately announced that her husband was taking care of her daughter that night; therefore she was free to enjoy herself. About an hour later, Bianca’s phone began beeping. She sighed wearily, switched it off and began rummaging through her handbag. She took out two tablets -one pink and the other dark blue- and popped them into her mouth.
Tatyana wondered if she should ask Bianca about her medication or if she should ignore it and just mind her own business. Her curiosity won out eventually so she asked, ‘Bianca are you feeling unwell?’
Bianca took a deep breath and thought for a long moment, battling within herself whether or not to tell Tatyana the complete truth. On one hand, she was afraid of being judged by someone she was beginning to like but on the other hand, Tatyana’s reaction would be an indication of how deep their friendship would be.
Tatyana could see that she was worried about something; a myriad of emotions flitted across her face rapidly and Tatyana wondered if she had said something wrong. Finally Bianca let out a pent-up breath. ‘Actually on the contrary, I am well. Those pills are antiretroviral medication that I take daily because I have HIV.’
For a split second Tatyana wondered if she had heard correctly, she had often heard about HIV/AIDS but she had never met anyone who had revealed that they had the virus. Her mind immediately flashed back to HIV/AIDS campaigns she had attended as a teen which advocated abstinence as a method of preventing HIV transmission. She also remembered that while growing up she had often heard that people with the virus had only five years to live. Tatyana looked over at the woman sitting opposite her and blurted out ‘Really? You certainly look healthier than me!’
Bianca laughed and explained that the antiretroviral treatment repressed the virus in such a way that she could function as an average person on the street. As Bianca explained how the treatment worked, Tatyana could not help but wonder how Bianca had contracted the virus. She decided, however, not to ask her as that might be intrusive. After all, she thought; she will tell me if she chooses to.
‘Wow!’ Tatyana confessed, ‘I really envy your optimistic attitude. I’m sure that if I were in your shoes, I would have been really depressed or might have even committed suicide.’
‘Honestly,’ Bianca admitted, ‘it took me quite a while to think positively about my future. For about six months after I had found out, I was inconsolable and depressed; I could not believe that this had happened to me. I felt like my life was over and that I could never be happy again.’
‘I’m really sorry to hear that,’ Tatyana said, ‘How were you able to pull yourself together?’
In a nostalgic tone Bianca replied, ‘fortunately, my family doctor introduced me to a weekly support group which consisted of five other people infected with HIV. We not only talked about our personal challenges but also had fun activities on weekends amongst ourselves and sometimes with our families. I truly believe that my relationships with the members of that group saved my life.’
‘That sounds really nice; do you all still keep in touch?’
‘Yeah,’ Bianca answered, ‘as a matter of fact we do. Although not as much as we used to. I and another lady have travelled abroad and the others have their families. But we send emails and sometimes skype each other. We always make sure, however to check up on each other at least twice a month.’
Tatyana wasn’t sure if it was the alcohol that had gotten to her brain but suddenly she found herself wondering if Bianca had sex. I cannot ask her that! she told herself, I would appear nosy or maybe I should…nothing ventured, nothing gained right?