Three people crowded an intimate space barely big enough for one.
One of us was dying, but it wasn’t me. Beyond this room that smelt like body fluids and floor cleaner – the kind they use in hospitals – was The Shadow, lurking by the door.
It was The Shadow’s fault we were here. The Film Maker and The Pubescent Girl who was willing herself to die, but despite her best intentions kept on living.The Film Maker and I were there to record this story – to capture this narrative, but the girl was unwilling.
The Shadow wanted to use the film to tell the girl’s story. When she was 12 or 13 the Zulu girl had been gang-raped in the streets near her village. Well not a street – more like a path. This brought shame to the girl’s family. The girl was only barely hanging on to outer orbit of her familial constellation when she got sick. When it was confirmed that the teen was ‘infected’ with AIDS, the child was flung from the rural village she called home, and put on a bus alone headed for Johannesburg.
There she was to live out her days with an Aunt who had a job in the city, and could ostensibly better provide for her. But the girl was abandoned within days of seeing the first smoke. She spent time living on the streets before someone found her and brought her to one of the many AIDS hospices that started sprouting up all over the country when the ‘epidemic’ was more fashionable, and donor money was flowing.
The shadow wanted to tell the girl’s story.
I tried to leave because the silence felt like pain. It was so uncomfortable for me. The Film Maker lingered, bewildered, as I repeatedly edged toward the twilight of the door where The Shadow propelled me ever backwards by convincing me that I was doing good. This was a story that had to be told.
In my heart I knew that it was merely an evil to try and convince this girl to tell her story when patently she didn’t want to. But Jesus, what a story. Each time I tried to exit the room I looked into The Shadow’s eyes I saw her thoughts. She was going to use this movie to make more money, the same way she did when she pushed that young girl onto a stage to speak to an audience of donors in some or other hall in Roodeport. The girl was consumed by a dress that once was worn by me – it was a flood of black chiffon ruffles. But she looked beautiful. I gave her that dress. It used to belong to me.
Yes I meant beautiful. I deliberately used that word. She was beautiful in the same way those heroin chic runway models of the nineties looked so good. But she didn’t even need to try and look beautiful.