Six years ago, I was accepted to medical school in Blantyre, Malawi. I had never visited the city before because it was far away from Mzuzu, where I lived. My sister had completed her studies at law school, and she was now working as a lawyer in Blantyre. She came home for the holidays, after which she was going to take me with her to the city. She decided we should travel at night so that we would arrive early in the morning. It was a chilly evening in December. The sky was overcast and it looked as though at any moment it might rain as we hurried to the depot. I was going to miss Mzuzu, I thought, as I smelled the dampness of the soil. When we got to the bus depot, my sister said, “Steve, be sure to check your bags every time the bus stops.” She warned me that bags sometimes get stolen. It was my first time traveling a long distance. Despite my repeated assurances that I would be fine, my frightened sister continued to give me instructions.
I couldn’t hide my teenage embarrassment. I wasn’t completely fine, of course. I was excited but also anxious. I wanted to give my sister another embrace, but I had to appear like a man, so I didn’t. My sister was still standing in the aisle when a lovely girl who appeared to be a little older than us got onto the bus and asked if the seat next to me was available. I was overjoyed and couldn’t help but smile. The girl’s name was Hilda, and she was a friend of my sister’s. They had gotten to know each other in college. Despite studying different subjects, they had maintained their friendship.
My sister asked her to monitor her baby brother on her behalf. “When the bus arrives in Blantyre,” she added, “could you assist him in getting to the College of Health Sciences?” Hilda had graduated from the same school.
“Don’t worry, dear,” Hilda replied.
Did she really say “baby brother”? “Monitor” me? I wanted the ground to open up and swallow me. The bus engine made a noise as it revved up and started spewing smoke into the air. A fresh start awaited me. We left Mzuzu at exactly 6:00 p.m. I was eighteen years old and going to begin medical school. With a lovely diamond sitting next to me, the trip was going to be enjoyable. Hilda struck up a conversation and told me about her first year in college. She also told me a few things about medical school. She was going to Blantyre to begin her first job as a medical assistant at Queen Elizabeth Hospital, a government hospital. I liked and admired her. She was five years older than I was—it was a shame that she treated me like a little brother!
We arrived in Blantyre sometime around eight in the morning. My sister told me to go with Hilda and not to worry. “I’ll come visit you next week,” she said, “so make sure to be on your best behavior for Hilda.”
“Okay,” I replied. I felt like she was treating me like a five-year-old boy.
My relationship with Hilda grew stronger in Blantyre. She would frequently drop by my school and bring me meals. I felt quite lucky. She even occasionally gave me her spare money. Such a kind soul. I loved going for walks with her. She was so stunning that men were constantly staring at us while we were out in public. I detested the fact that I resembled her younger brother. She introduced me as “a boy from our neighborhood.” I fought to hide my irritation as I muttered, “If only you knew how much I love you.”
At the time, she was living at her aunt’s. One evening, when her aunt was away, her aunt’s husband attempted to assault her. She managed to escape and called me at around 11 p.m. to ask if she could spend the night at my dorm. I went with my roommate to pick her up. Our room only had two beds. I volunteered to sleep with my roommate, and Hilda slept on my bed. We went house hunting together the next morning, even though it was a school day. As it happened, it was the end of the month, and we were successful in finding her a place in Nkolokosa. But she had to wait three days before she could move into her new house, so she decided to rent a room until then. She said my room made her feel uneasy. Three days later, I helped her move her things. I stayed afterwards and spent the night with her. We kissed each other for the first time that evening. Even though it was only the third time I kissed a girl, it was a long, passionate kiss. I was still a virgin and still quite innocent. I wanted to have sex with her, but she declined. I felt incredibly let down. I left for class early the following morning.
The next morning, Hilda wrote me an SMS telling me we should stop seeing each other. She hadn’t wanted that to happen because she saw me as a younger brother. I was inconsolable. That entire week, I didn’t even go to class once. I couldn’t understand it. I tried calling her the next morning to apologize, but she didn’t pick up. I tried calling her for a week, and she blocked my number. After a few months, we lost touch, and I eventually forgot about her.
Years later, in 2020, a few months after I finished my undergraduate studies, we met in Lilongwe. Hilda was truthful with me. She told me that she’d discontinued our relationship because she was HIV positive. She’d contracted it from her lover in college. She said she’d actually been smitten with me, but I was a child to her, and she was afraid of making me sick. All at once, my hatred for her dissipated and gave way to respect. Another person might have had unprotected sex with me because at the time I was too young to know better. Still, I was curious as to why she had said nothing. She explained to me that she was more worried about my judging and ignoring her than she was about offending me. I couldn’t blame her. And I won’t lie: I have no idea how I would have reacted if she had told me.
27 October, 2023