Fiction

Daisy Died of AIDS: Excerpt from a Novel by Tambu Kahari

Daisy died of AIDS. She died a week after her wedding. From the reception hall, to her parents’ home to the hospital. From the hospital she went to the grave. There was no honeymoon for her which her husband Nkosilathi had paid for, months in advance. The airline tickets to Italy lay among the unopened wedding gifts for months signifying the utter destruction of her life.

The wedding guests were the funeral guests. The very tent that housed the relatives on the night of revelry and celebration of their daughter’s wedding, housed the mourners. The same food was served, from the same paper and plastic plates that Daisy herself bought for her wedding. Her colours were red and white. The paper and plastic plates were red and white. The plastic spoons and plastic forks and knives were white. The paper serviettes were all red. Daisy bought them eight months previously, when Nkosilathi asked her to be his bride.

She wanted everything to be perfect. And why not? Every Shona girl is born and bred to be married. From the moment you realize you are a girl, you also know that you have to get married. It is your first degree. It is your entrance into society. It is difficult to attain and only the privileged few get to be owned. Daisy had beat all her compatriots. She would be the first to get married and gain prestige within Shona society.

 She wanted a wedding out of a picture book. She knew she had limited resources, but if she planned in advance and budgeted, she could make her dream come true. Daisy was not super intelligent, but she had been bestowed with more than her share of common sense. And so, she immediately started buying for her wedding and hording the stuff at her parents house in Avondale. She was detail orientated and knew that the little things would be forgotten when it came for time to really prepare for the wedding. She decided that the smart thing to do, was to create a list and then shop for all the small stuff, such as plastic plates, spoons, forks and knives. She would buy real table clothes so that the reception hall would sparkle with white. She would immediately start paying the florist for the centerpieces of her reception. She wanted lots of red and white on them too. She knew who was going to design her flowers, her mother’s best friend. She would do it and she would allow Daisy to pay her every month. The cake, the wedding dress, the bridesmaid dresses and all the big things that were needed at a wedding could wait for Nkosilathi to get a loan from his company.

She brought the paper plates from Bulawayo the very week Nkosilathi proposed and bought her a diamond engagement ring. She drove eight hours to Harare in excitement because she wanted to share her good fortune with her mother and four sisters. She was the first born and her mother would be so happy that her first daughter was getting a wedding. It meant her mother had instilled high moral values in her daughters and by Daisy getting married, it told the world that her daughters were worthy of wifedom. Surely, her younger sisters would  have no trouble when it came to finding men who would want weddings. They wouldn’t be satisfied with dowry alone. They would also want to wear a wedding dress. Daisy had set a terrific example.

For Daisy, this marriage thing was not going to be real until her mother shared the news with her and congratulated her.  The long drive was nothing compared to what was waiting for her at home that day. She brought the plastic and paper cutlery to her mother who promptly warned anyone who touched the cutlery with death. It was for Daisy’s wedding. It was precious.

She never thought red and white would be the colours used at her daughter’s funeral. Had she known that those plates would feed mourners, there is no doubt in my mind that she would have burnt them. Death came to her door and she had let it in with welcoming arms.

Daisy, Daisy, Daisy. I am obsessed with Daisy’s death. Yet, she was not even my friend. We met in junior school, so many years back. It was a nothing meeting. She was a year ahead of me and therefore was a senior. In junior school, we didn’t talk at all, even when we were on the same netball team of which she was captain. She thought I was the weak link in her team, but had the class and good breeding to not say so.  I didn’t really enjoy netball, and without a doubt, if my junior school had a choice back then, they would not have picked me for the team. Daisy lived and breathed sports, of any kind as long as they had a ball to catch or hit, she was there! How then, would we have had anything in common?

I remember, trying to say something to her many times in junior school, and being tongue tied. She had an overwhelming personality and mine was just starting to sprout. I was this skinny, dark little thing without a single quality of beauty to her astonishing curves at such an early age. She had friends who were more outgoing than mine and therefore had more to say than little old lonely me. Yes! I envied Daisy.

If I could have, I would have insinuated myself into her life and not stood on the periphery of it. But, I didn’t know how. Perhaps it was for the best.

By the time I could talk to her, in high school, I had discovered myself and realized that we could never be friends. I wanted an extremely different existence from hers. Obviously, in high school, I turned my back on all that nonsense of netball, basketball and any kind of ball! Daisy made the high school team and won colours and everything!

In high school, we still didn’t move in the same circles. Daisy’s circle was that of strong, athletic girls who dated the popular sports boys and my circle was that of the nerdy kind of girls who weren’t too bright to begin with nor too good looking. So we had to claim fame somewhere!

Daisy played basketball, was in the hockey team and was the netball team captain in high school. I saw her, many times, in the hockey fields, wearing the required maroon skirt and white t-shirt, chasing a ball at the speed of light with her hockey stick held high. It was a beautiful sight to behold. She was healthy, strong, beautiful and alive! Someone should have captured that moment for eternity. Instead, my mind is probably the only one that still has that picture.

No, I definitely did not measure up when it came to her circle, nor did I want to be a part of her circle of friends. I was content and happy with my girlfriends, who were more like me.

The idea of hitting hard hockey balls without a care in the world was too much for my friends and I. We cringed when that ball came our way and in my case, I would run in the opposite direction of the ball for dear life. I loved my teeth. I could see them falling out of my mouth in blood, guts and gore when that ball forgot it had to remain on the ground and came for my teeth! The wisest course of action as far as I was concerned was to stay away from any field that had any rock hard ball! My friends wholeheartedly agreed with me.

I could not even imagine being part of Daisy’s circle of friends. No doubt, she could not imagine being part of my circle of friends. I don’t think she could see herself wearing a frilly blue skirt and cheer leading by the pool. I was a cheerleader. Besides cheer leading, I was in the swimming team.  I could swim like a fish, but I never excelled at it enough to be in the swimming team, although I tried out many times. It didn’t matter though. Water made me happy.  Daisy was allergic to water.

It wasn’t that we hated each other either. Far from it. We talked when it was convenient and polite to do so as two people who had grown up in the same neighbourhood and went to the same junior school.  We would wave at one another as we changed classes. We would stop and ask after mutual friends, who weren’t many and gossip a bit here and there. There was no chemistry between us.

We always had a smile for each other though.  Sometimes she would ask me to take her satchel back home if she had a hockey match. I would gladly do it.

I would ask her for her geography notes if I missed something in the class and she would generously share them with me.

We just had nothing in common. We lived in the same neighbourhood and went to the same schools, but after that, we had nothing.

Yet, day and night, I remember that Daisy died the same week she got married. She died of AIDS.

Daisy was beautiful. She was a heavy set girl with the big boobs and the big backside and thighs. She was so light in complexion, her father could have been white and she had jet black hair. Her hair was such a contrast to her complexion that she stood out even more. She had the thick lips and vibrant complexion, enhanced by eyes that danced with mirth and glee. She enjoyed life. She had a great footing on this earth and whipped it for all it had.

It was not difficult to notice Daisy, especially if you were a skinny, dark, ugly thing that I was. She had all the body parts I wanted, but most of all, she seemed to exude a peace, a serenity like a cool brook in the middle of the desert that my eyes were drawn to her every time she was in my vicinity. I envied her that peace, that acceptance of herself and her life. She was serene. It radiated from the depths of her soul and broke out when she smiled. Her parents aptly named her Daisy. That is what she was. A daisy. An African daisy is the star of the veldt. It is a sunny, long blooming flower. It thrives in the sun and grows long and tall and splendid. It lives for just one year!  Daisy was aptly named indeed except for the fact that the daisy comes every year. It dies with the seasons and grows again the following year. It is a resilient plant. Daisy could not do it. She was human.

The adults loved her too. She was popular with them because she was traditionally dignified. She was the image of the desired Shona girl in her manners. She didn’t cause waves. She didn’t want to change the world. She just lived in it and her space was a good one.

All through junior school, she never said a word to me and I never said a word to her. In her presence, I was tongue tied. She made me feel shy, inadequate. Don’t get me wrong, she was not popular, she was not the gorgeous one, boys didn’t salivate over her. She was just Daisy.

High school changed our icy acknowledgment to a friendship of sorts. We began by smiling at one another as we exchanged classes. We graduated to saying, “hi” with enthusiasm and enjoyment. We would smile at each other because now, we had memories. We had memories of being in the same netball team in junior school. We were each other’s familiar face in a big high school. We brought a sense of continuity to each other’s lives, a sense of reality. In high school, we were definitely nonentities, and so we said hello to one another.

Eventually, we would ask the other for favours. She would ask me to take her satchel home if she was staying for a sport. I would ask her for her geography notes from the previous year so that I could be ahead of my class. We talked sometimes but very rarely.

I can tell you that I outgrew the envy of Daisy. I came into my own. I grew up. I got curves and learnt to curl my little bits of hair. I realized that I was considered more beautiful than Daisy. I had legs that could be a national monument and wasn’t I lucky to be born in a world where men appreciated fine legs?

Now, I saw Daisy as someone who could be improved.

I hated her friends. I thought they were beneath her. Her social outings were suspect to me. I heard stories about Daisy’s wild ways but it did not show on her face or manner. There were whispers that she was sexually active.

You know that for a girl to give up her virginity is one of the most stupid things she can do.

It was rumoured that she met a boy from a boy’s high school who played First team Rugby player at Prince Edward Boys High School.. His name was David. He was handsome. Before he met Daisy, he had many girlfriends and he slept with them all. Apparently, he gave Daisy an ultimatum. It wasn’t his thing to go without sex. If she wanted to be his girl, she had to put out or get out. Since he was in demand, girls were not a problem to him. Daisy put out.

 She didn’t want to lose her very first fine boyfriend. Boy was he fine, or so the girls said.  He was the type of boy who sent shivers of awareness down little girls’ spines. Daisy paid the price and lucky Daisy, it worked out for her.  She gave up her virtue to get him and to keep him and she got both.

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