Matlapeng blames himself for her death. Things might have been different if only he had done the right thing from the beginning. She came to him that icy day in a controlled panic. “I’ve got the results,” she said.” I’m positive.” It meant he was likely positive too. They’d been lovers for more than five years, but she was the one who was sick. “I’ve thought about it. Mosadi knows of a church. It’s up north near the border.”
“Tebby, you know it’s not like that.” He took her small pretty face in his hands. He loved her with desperation at that moment, like a favourite toy that he’d soon have to give away. “It’s a virus. Didn’t they speak about ARV’s at the clinic?”
She stood up and began pacing, annoyed that he couldn’t see it her way. “Yes, they told me all about that, but Mosadi knows better. She’s been HIV positive for three years. She says those medicines are poison. We need to go to her church, the African Church of Hope. There’s a minister there, he has magic. Mosadi’s healthy now; she’s cured!” She was so hopeful and he was too sad and lost, so he gave in.
A week later, they were in the car pulling up to the church, a white painted cinderblock building in the middle of the mophane bush. The parking lot was packed with cars - from shiny Land Rovers to rusted out Hiluxes - people from all over had come to Pastor Nkgonne. They were searching for the answer they wanted; the truth of it had no relevancy.
“They say there’s no cure, but God has a cure!” he preached from the front.
“Amen!” the crowd shouted.
“I am here to tell you that God is almighty. There is nothing that he won’t fix if only you believe completely.”
“Hallelujah!” People rushed up to the front throwing money into the overflowing basket. Their payment for salvation.
Mosadi led Tebogo to the front of the excited crowd. Pastor Nkgonne placed his huge hands on Tebogo’s head, nearly covering it. He lowered his face and spoke quickly in a mumble that couldn’t be heard from where Matlapeng sat. Then he pushed her away, and she fell back into Mosadi’s arms. “She’s cured!” the Pastor declared. “She’s a believer, my sisters and brothers. For believers, there is nothing like illness.” The church erupted into ululations.
He ran to Mosadi and they carried Tebogo to the car. She slept until they arrived home at their flat in Gaborone. She looked radiant when she woke. For a few hours, Matlapeng was sure that Pastor Nkgonne had cured her that they would be okay, that she wouldn’t die.
“Let’s pray,” she said as the TB wracked her body and he would kneel on the floor next to her bed taking her skeletal hand in his. While praying, his mind drifted to how he needed to get her to the clinic, how he needed to get her to take the medicines that he was convinced would save her. “Amen,” she said weakly.
She opened her eyes and looked down at him next to her bed. “Please, Matlapeng, you need to have faith. I know what you want me to do, but Pastor Nkgonne says that I’ll be insulting God, not believing in His powers if I take the medicine. He’ll cure me. It’s only that my faith is not strong enough. Will you help me? Have faith Matlapeng and we’ll be cured.”
On a lovely September morning when the blue sky echoed with birdsong and Matlapeng was sure all would be well, Tebogo died.
Four months gone and the guilt still weighs heavy on his heart. It eats at him. He’s losing weight and coughing non-stop. He knows what he must do. He needs to take the action that he should have; the action that would have saved Tebogo’s life. This time, he’ll do the right thing. He parks the car. He has complete faith in his choice. This time a life would be saved.
Opening the heavy door, he walks towards the front of the church where Pastor Nkgonne waits.
For another tribute to this day, stop by NoViolet Bulawayo's blog.