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I’ve experienced this before.

People who are shortly going to die want to know that they are still alive. Often with a desperate and at times ferocious intensity.

Once I had a friend who had bone cancer. He suppressed to the very end the fact that he was in great pain and had only months to live. He wouldn’t even reach forty. We had known each other for a long time. The sad thing was, he had always imagined that when he retired, he would sail round the world. One day when I went to see him he insisted on examining his face in a mirror and then asked me if I thought his face had grown more mature-looking in recent years. I agreed with him, naturally. Now, many years after he died, I can’t remember talking about anything else on that occasion, just that his face had grown more mature and signalled a man on his way to his prime. That’s how it was too with the people with Aids that I met in the villages north of Kampala. They showed me things all the time. Photographs, a newly painted room, a knitted sweater. Everything was significant because they thought it confirmed their existence, was a sign that they were still alive. They were somehow protected by these objects. Despite the fact that many of them were already so acutely ill that they would very soon die, the objects gave them the illusion of being a safe distance away from cold death.

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