At age twenty-five, Brenda moved into my neighborhood, renting a room in the house next door. She hadn’t a child or anyone with her; she did her cooking and laundry herself. One day we met at the neighborhood hand pump and chatted a bit. That’s how I got to know her. Soon we began visiting each other, and our friendship blossomed into intimacy. But Brenda was careful to keep it casual, especially when things became too emotional.
I didn’t force her or complained during these instances. Not even once. Sex wasn’t important. Love and care were all that mattered.
One day we sat in my living room talking one thing and another.
Finally I asked, "Brenda, have you got any brother or sister?"
"I’m an only child, Edward," she told me. "My father divorced my mother when I was two. I had to live with relatives."
"Were they nice to you?"
"No. They all treated me badly. They made me work like an ox, abusing me as best they could. The elder of my uncles used to force me in bed with him, shouting threats of physical punishment if I didn’t take off my clothes fast enough or raise my legs and open them to his liking."
"That was monstrous."
"Yes, but I didn’t have any choice."
"How old were you then?"
"Did your uncle’s wife know about all this?"
"Yes. But she was scared of him, kept her mouth closed. He often beat her for little or nothing, especially when he was drunk. And he drank like a fish."
"Folks who drink are mean and bad-tempered."
"My elder uncle’s the worst I have ever seen."
"You should have run away."
"That’s just what I did."
"Where did you go?"
"It’s a long story."
"I’m willing to hear it."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I’m sure."
"Okay, I will tell you.
"I ran away when I was fifteen. The night I left I slept in Red Light Market behind a pile of wooden tables. It rained heavy. The rain beat me while I slept.
"I got up early the next morning, shivering. I began loafing about the market. I couldn’t go to my mother. She often sent me back whenever I ran away. She thought she was too soft with me and that I needed someone else’s heavy-handed treatment to keep me from turning into a ‘little monster.’
"I helped a woman washed dishes in a cold bowl shop in the market. When she had finished selling, she gave me some food, asked where I lived. I told her I was a street kid. She took me to her house. We met her husband, Kollie, and she told him everything. Her husband felt sorry for me and I began living with them. The woman’s name was Lorpu.
"Well whenever Sister Lorpu left for the market, Mr. Kollie would call me into his room, gave me money, and ask me to have sex with him. I often said no. I didn’t want him to know that I had lost my virginity already; it made me shy. But whenever I refused him, he would give me a lot of money, sometimes as much as one thousand Liberian dollars. Finally, I let him have me. We did it everyday after that. But I soon quit when he stop giving me money. He threatened to throw me out of his house. I told him to go ahead. He threw me out.
"I began visiting whorehouses and nightclubs. I needed to eat and find somewhere to live. After a month, I moved into a room on Camp Johnson Road.
"One day I went to buy food at Jorkpeh Town market and met a man. He was seated in a BMW along the road. He told me he wanted me. Judging from his good looks and brand new car it was obvious he had money. I agreed. We felt in love; he began visiting me. But that last three months only. Suddenly, I didn’t see Dave any longer and haven’t seen him since. He just vanished.
"Two weeks after he left me, I became very ill. I went to JFK hospital and had my blood tested. You wouldn’t want to know what happened at the hospital. So that’s the end of the story."
"Go on and tell it all to me, please," I pleaded.
"No, you don’t want to know," she said, and got up.
"I really want to know, even if it’s fatal," I said. "I love you."
"I tested positive for HIV," she said, her voice barely above a whisper, her eyes filled with terror.
I was silent for a while, and then asked, "That’s why you’ve kept our relationship casual so you wouldn’t get me infected, right?"
"Yes. I couldn’t stand the guilt and remorse."
"Don’t worry, Brenda. I love you, and it’s all that matters."
Brenda stared at me in disbelief, transfixed.
Suddenly she asked, "Do you know what this means for you, Edward?"
"I don’t give a damn. You’ve been honest with me. You haven’t had sex with me so that you could get me infected deliberately, like a lot of girls are doing now. And for what? Only God knows. But we will all die someday, and those who want to spread HIV/AIDS gain nothing out of it. Come on, baby, I love you."
She ran toward me, throwing her arms around me, and burst into uncontrollable sobs.
Brenda and I have been married for twelve years now, healthy and full of life as ever. The secret of our success is simple: nothing conquers love.