I knew Jefri* for only a few years, but I came to like him very much. I originally met him through my husband Danial*. They went to school together, and later, when Danial went overseas to pursue his engineering degree, Jefri stayed in Malaysia and attended a local university.
Jefri became addicted to drugs and never completed his studies. During those years his father disowned him and he lived, penniless, on the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Another old school friend bumped into him one day and was overcome with pity. He bought Jefri new clothes, fed him, gave him some money and put him on a bus back to his family.
In time, with the help of his family, Jefri overcame his addiction, found regular work, and got married. Life was good, but in reality his fate was sealed – he had contracted HIV during his drug-taking years, most likely by sharing a dirty needle.
When I met Jefri more than 15 years later, he did not look sick at all. He had a warm, smiling face and was quite a chatterbox. I knew nothing about his former life as a drug addict. Danial, who had run into Jefri during a get-together with some old school friends, took me to his place in 2001 to meet him, his wife Siti* and their four-year-old daughter Ayu*. I fell in love with them all.
Jefri and I clicked immediately. We both loved to fish, so Jefri took me to a fishpond near his house, where he taught me new fishing techniques and what kind of baits to use. Siti was a typical kampung (Malay for village) girl – shy yet friendly. She was years younger than me, but that did not stop us from being friends. Ayu was so cute and cheeky. She would often get in our way while fishing, but I couldn’t get angry with her because she was so lovable.
We spent a lot of time at the fishpond. It was a beautiful, isolated spot. The water in the pond was cool and clear, fed by a river from the nearby hills. Tall, shady fruit trees stood nearby. Further away in the jungle we could hear monkeys calling out to one another and birds chirping.
In the following months, I would often go fishing there with my son and daughter, sometimes with my parents and other times with friends.
Around this time, Danial found out from a mutual friend who is a doctor that Jefri had AIDS. Danial and I were both very sad – our good friend was dying. However, it never occurred to us that we should stop seeing him. He needed our friendship and support.
The first year I knew Jefri, he looked healthy and full of life. In the second year, he started talking about going to the hospital regularly. We never asked why, though Siti mentioned that Jefri had special dental problems.
By the third year it became even more obvious that he was very sick. He would tire easily and took lots of naps. He walked slowly and hardly ate. Whenever he talked about his health problems, he gave a sketchy explanation. It was as if we had a mutual understanding – we accepted whatever he said and left it at that.
In other ways, he was the same old Jefri, friendly and cheerful. As we sat for hours fishing, he would chat and joke about anything and everything. He often discussed current issues – Malaysian politics, the Palestinian situation and such.
Then, suddenly, everything changed. Jefri’s brother owned the land where they lived. Jefri and Siti took care of the property, which was rented out to campers on weekends and school holidays. There were disagreements with the brother over the management of the property, and they were told to leave.
Jefri and Siti decided to move to her family home in neighbouring Thailand. She would work while he stayed home. Things did not work out in Thailand because Jefri needed medication that wasn’t readily available there. So after just a couple of months they trudged back to Malaysia, and he was admitted to the local general hospital.
When we visited Jefri, he was looking worse than before – his skin and lips were painfully dry and his head was covered in scabs. But his manner was as cheerful as ever. He talked about the hospital, the doctors, nurses, other patients, his daughter and his old school chums. Eventually Jefri moved to the house Siti had rented near the hospital.
Jefri’s health deteriorated quickly. His skin turned black, then became so dry that it looked as if it was peeling off. He told us that he felt like he was burning up inside.
Our final visit to their house was heart-wrenching. Jefri was weak and emaciated. I could not bear to look at him. I knew that he was slipping away and with heavy hearts we said our final goodbyes.
A few days later, in May 2004, we were at my brother’s wedding. Minutes before the ceremony started, Siti called Danial’s mobile. “My husband is gone,” Siti blurted out when I took the phone. We cried together for a short time. I told her that she had to take care of her daughter and be strong.
After I said goodbye, I pulled myself together for the wedding. Only later did I have the chance to cry for my friend.
Jefri died penniless but he had other things that many people lack – a loyal, dedicated wife and many true friends. They came to his funeral – doctors, engineers, company directors and accountants, paying their last respects to a friend who had died of AIDS.
I still think of Jefri often. He had a fighting spirit and zest for life. He was a good husband, a good father and a good friend. He never said anything bad about anyone except politicians. Although he never showed any signs of pain, I know he suffered terribly.
Jefri taught me many lessons about perseverance, friendship, family and living with a positive attitude. I also know, thanks to
Jefri, that it is safe to be friends with someone who has AIDS. Indeed, that is what people with AIDS need most: the support and love of family and friends.
* All names, including the author’s, have been changed to protect Jefri’s identity.
|joymi on 16 July 2010 ,22:35 |
it touched my heart............
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