Short Story: A Slow Death

July 13, 2007

Fatima thanked God. She thought herself lucky: Amin was a prize catch. He was young, handsome and had a steady job. She lazily tugged at the hem of her bridal skirt with her big toe. It had been a tiring day. The wedding had made the day tediously long, and the quiet night came as a relief. She heard footsteps. ‘It must be Amin’, she thought; her toe tugged at the hem a little harder.

They had polite conversation for a while, and then she felt his warm palms on her wrist. Terrified, she searched his face for expressions and thought she saw a tinge of love. This relieved her somewhat. They kissed. But a few minutes later, Faitma turned pale. As his warm palms moved up her legs, she froze. Her skin was taut, her muscles contracted, her neck was tense, and she wanted to push him away. But she felt paralyzed and numb; it was awful.

Days went by. They knew each other better. But the sex was awful-for Fatima, at least. Night after night, she would lie down and freeze in the act, essentially absent. After the first few times, Amin began to notice her face during sex. He would search her for any signs of pleasure or pain, but see none. Tonight, after the act, he asked her. “What is it?” He tried to sound as gentle as he could, and stroked her cheek. She didn’t move. He lay next to her and whispered in her ear, “Fatima, do you not like it?” She winced and answered in a deadpan monosyllable, “No”.

“No, as in, you don’t like it?” he prodded.

“No, it isn’t that”, she replied. Just as Amin thought she was opening up, she sealed the conversation, “I’ll be fine after some time.”

Her toe began to tug at the hem of her gown. She’d never expected this. Ever since she’d seen Amin, she’d wanted to kiss his boyish round face. This wasn’t right. Why did love making bring those memories back? How could a pain older than a decade deny her a pleasure now? Or was it forever? Why did Amin’s grip inevitably remind her of her mother holding her legs apart, while the other lady’s blade … She quivered. How could she tell him? This scar was too personal: you couldn’t just show it to someone. It was too much to bear: every time he made love, she wasn’t there. The pleasure she’d sought in love turned into the pain she’d fought to forget. A tear welled up in her eye. She must’ve sinned, she thought: all those desires that she felt for Amin-they were sins. That night, she fell asleep asking God’s forgiveness and mercy.

Amin, too, was suffering. He kissed and stroked her more than usual, as though compensating for her absence in sex. He felt guilty making love to her: how do you make love to an absence?

“How long have you been married?” the doctor asked.

“Little over a year now”, Fatima mumbled. It’d been three weeks since the fever hit her, and she was drained.

“Hmm”, the doctor continued, “are you the only wife?”

“Yes”. This made Fatima smile a bit.

“Have you given or received any blood?”


“Have you had relations with another man?”

“No!” Fatima was almost offended by this one.

“Do you have children?”

“No. But what…”

“Fatima, listen. You have tested positive for HIV. It is a virus that adversely affects your body’s resistance to illness. I think..”, the doctor paused and looked Fatima straight in the eye, “ if what you tell me is true, I think your husband may have it too ... from another woman.”

Fatima smiled wistfully. As a little girl, traumatized by that blade, Fatima had been sure she'd die. She hadn’t thought it would take so long.

A telecom engineer with an incorrigible itch to write.
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