AIDS was… an illness in stages, a very long flight of steps that led assuredly to death, but whose every step represented a unique apprenticeship. It was a disease that gave death time to live and its victims time to die, time to discover time, and in the end to discover life.~ Hervé Guibert
Continued from… Going Home For Christmas
It was the twenty-fifth day of December.
Annie and her husband were up early. They wanted a head start with the preparations for the Christmas dinner. Annie’s mother, Jacques’ parents and Jacques’ sister with her husband and son would join them for dinner. They expected Annie’s mom to arrive early, as she was going to help them with the dinner preparations. The rest of the family was expected to arrive roundabout noon.
Dinner would have a South African touch to it, since Annie wanted to make some traditional dishes. Partly because of Isaac’s presence, and partly because up to now, she had never served her in-laws South African food. She planned to prepare a leg of lamb and turkey. The latter wasn’t particularly South African, but she knew not everyone was fond of lambs meat. Side dishes would be potato salad, rice salad, sweet and sour tomato salad and sweet and sour cucumber salad. Besides that, she would also serve French bread. For dessert, she had three different flavors of ice cream. Dutch ice cream, she later told everyone with a wink.
Annie’s mom took care of the leg of lamb and the turkey. The salads were Annie’s responsibility. Jacques soon left the ladies alone in the kitchen, since there was nothing left for him to do. Once his parents and his sister with her family arrived, he took care of the coffee and cakes they bought for this occasion.
Isaac, who had come downstairs just before Jacques’ family arrived, offered to help. Jacques told him he should relax. After everyone had coffee and cake — Annie and her mom were still busy in the kitchen — Jacques waited for a while and then offered everyone alcoholic beverages.Only Isaac, Annie and her mother declined a drink and had another cup of coffee.
The afternoon passed by with light chatter about a million of subjects. The children got impatient about unwrapping their Christmas presents. Earlier than normal, they had their Christmas dinner. Everyone dished up for themselves, and Annie was happy to see that Isaac returned to dish up for a second time. He had a healthy color on his face and seemed to be in good spirits.
After dinner, they all gathered around the Christmas tree and Jacques handed out the presents, waiting until a gift was unpacked before he handed over the next one. That way, especially the kids were kept in suspense almost longer than they could stand.
Annie noticed Isaac too could hardly wait for the gifts to go around. Not only was he curious to see the reactions to the gifts he had bought, but he felt as excited as a child when he unwrapped the gifts given to him by his dear friends. It was well into the evening by the time everyone had unwrapped all of their presents.
The kids were allowed to stay up for another hour, but then all of them had to go to bed. Priscilla had to be up again early the next morning, as she her mother would be there to pick her up to celebrate Christmas with them. Just after the children had gone to bed, Jacques’ family left to go home. They had an hour’s drive ahead of them and it was already later than the normal time they always left when they visited.
Soon, peace and quiet had returned.
Isaac, Annie and her mom were sprawled on the couches when Jacques returned from outside after waving the others goodbye. It was quiet for a while as everyone sat with his or her own thoughts. Isaac broke the silence.
“This is the best Christmas I had in a long time,” he said. “I felt like a child again. Somehow, I could feel the magic of Christmas inside me. It’s been years and years ago I felt it for the last time.”
“It’s been an honor to have you with us for Christmas this year, my friend,” Annie smiled.
“Oh, come on, Annie,” Isaac laughed, “I’m not that special!”
“To me you are,” Annie said as she got up to take some of the used glasses to the kitchen.
It was quiet for a while. When she returned, Isaac stared out ahead of him. His voice was filled with awe when he spoke again.
“I always wanted to experience a Christmas like this. Not only the gathering around the Christmas tree, but also the cold and snow outside. It is like Christmas in the movies. This is how Christmas is supposed to be. I will remember this Christmas as the best one I had in my life.”
Everyone but Jacques was up late on Boxing Day. Even though Jacques’s side of the family had not left terribly late, the rest of them stayed up until well after midnight. They exchanged stories about previous Christmases and about their wishes for Christmases to come. There were a lot of silences, which had not felt uncomfortable for any of them. After Annie’s mother had left, the rest of them had retired to bed too.
It was close to lunchtime before everyone was up and around. Isaac was the last to come downstairs. Since by now he knew his hosts didn’t mind, he didn’t apologize. When he declined any lunch, Annie frowned.
“Why don’t you want to eat, Isaac? Are you feeling okay?” she wanted to know.
“Why do you think I’m not feeling okay?” Isaac snapped, but then he continued in a softer voice: “I’m not hungry. I’ve eaten so much last night, I still feel full. Don’t worry,” he smiled, “I’m okay.”
Annie made both of them a cup of tea. She brought Isaac’s to the sitting room where he sat on what became ‘his’ spot. He had his feet pulled up under him and seemed to be relaxed. Annie sat down on the other end of the couch and pulled her feet under her too. Jacques joined them later.
Annie’s children played upstairs. Early that morning, Jacques had already taken Priscilla back to her mother. The three adults chatted and together watched a Christmas movie on television.
“I don’t think you have to cook,” Jacques said, looking at his wife. “There’s more than enough food left from yesterday.”
“Or do you want to eat something else?” he asked.
“And then what do we do with the leftover food?” Annie asked.
“I don’t know. You decide,” Jacques said, rubbing his forehead, a clear sign he didn’t know how to handle the situation. Annie felt irritation well up in her, since her husband always left the final decision to her.
“We’ll eat leftovers,” she said and, trying to hide her irritation from the others, she turned her attention to the television.
The children came downstairs later, both hungry. Annie got all the dishes from the fridge and put them on the table. There indeed was more than enough food left over from their Christmas dinner. The children helped themselves to food and then Annie called the men to dish up for themselves.
Jacques filled his plate, but Isaac only wanted a slice of bread. When Annie offered him salads, he declined. She said nothing about it.
Isaac only ate the one slice of bread with a thin spread of jam. Annie noticed this, but yet again she said nothing about it. Silently, she decided to keep a close eye on her dear friend, who retired to bed that evening even before Annie’s kids did.
To be continued… Viral letter
Note: This series is a rework of a self-published book (2009), rewritten for this blog, and in loving memory of a dear friend who suffered from and passed because of AIDS. Keep in mind this story happens in the late eighties and throughout the nineties. Names of characters have been changed to protect their privacy.
© Rebel’s Notes
Image from Pixabay