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I’ve seen it once. A person’s face just after being told that she has tested positive. But I didn’t see it just in her face. The pain and the shock was all over her body. Her feet were screaming, her arms were flailing desperately so as not to go berserk, despite the fact that they were hanging down by her sides.

It was a woman, and she can’t have been more than twenty. It was in Maputo, in a private clinic of the simpler kind. I was there to check my blood pressure. I waited outside the closed door to the doctor’s consulting room. It opened and the woman emerged. I knew immediately even though I didn’t know: this young African woman had just been told that she was HIV-positive. She was just setting out on life, but had found that her time had been brutally cut short. Her life was coming to an end almost before it had started.

She walked away down the corridor. When they measured my blood pressure it was extremely high. The doctor frowned. But I told him it was only temporary. Something had happened shortly before I entered his room that had forced up my blood pressure. Now it was on its way down again.

I keep some people very close at hand, easily accessible in my memory. Aida is one, that nameless woman is another. I wonder very often what became of her, whether she is still alive.

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