There was once a little boy named Ali who lived in a small village with his mother and father. His days were spent helping his father in the fields. At night, after dinner, he would sit with his family outside their front door and talk.
His house was small but comfortable. Next door lived a man and a woman. They always smiled and said hello. The man would often talk to Ali’s father. His father said the neighbours had a child of their own. He was grown up and worked in the city.
One day the boy noticed a car at his neighbour’s home. A young man dressed in a suit opened the door and got out. He opened the hood of the car and took out three big suitcases and a few other bags. Then he went in the house.
At dinner the boy heard his father saying that the neighbour’s son was home. He was not feeling well and decided to come home for a rest. Later that evening, while outside, the boy noticed a man sitting next door. He thought that he must be the neighbour’s son. He was reading something. The boy was curious. He himself didn’t know how to read or write that well. His father had told him that his school was the field where he learned to plant and cultivate crops. The young man looked up at him. He waved and smiled. Ali waved back.
Several days went by. One day the boy decided to introduce himself.
Hello,” he said, “I’m Ali. I live next door.”
“Pleased to meet you Ali. I’m John.” John looked tired. “You must be Tukah’s son.”
“Yes, I am. My father tells me you are from the city.”
“I’m back for a visit. I am not feeling well these days.”
“What’s wrong?”, asked Ali.
“It’s hard to explain. I feel tired and weak. Sometimes my body aches.”
“You need a good rest.”
“Yes, Ali I do.”
“What are you reading?”
“It’s a story about two brothers.”
“I don’t know how to read,” said Ali. “I don’t go to school. I work in the fields to help my father. I’d like to read one day.”
“Would you like to hear a bit of the story?”
“I would like that very much,” said Ali.
“Well sit down and listen.” John read for an hour before Ali heard his mother calling.
“Goodnight John.” John smiled and waved.
Later that evening Ali heard his mother and father talking. “I see nothing wrong with it, the boy loves stories,” the father said.
“I know, but it scares me,” the mother replied. “I don’t want Ali to go over there again.”
“You were at that play those people from the clinic put on last year. You can’t get infected from talking to someone.”
“I’ve never seen anybody with AIDS. It makes me uncomfortable.”
“You know Ali can’t get AIDS from John. He used to be a teacher in the city. It’s good for Ali,” the father said.
“AIDS?” Ali thought. He remembered the play. He felt bad for John. Why was his mother acting this way?
The next day he talked to his father. “Father, does John have AIDS?”
“Yes, Ali he does.”
“What will happen to him Father?”
“You know there is no cure for AIDS. I suppose one day he will get very sick and die.”
“Father, why don’t you want me going over there.”
“You heard us talking? Ali, your mother is scared. People are frightened of things they don’t understand.”
“Well, I know you can’t get AIDS from talking to someone who has it. Father, can I still go over and hear John’s stories?”
“We’ll talk to your mother. I think it will be alright. Sometimes parents can be a little silly.”
Several months passed and Ali went to see John almost everyday.
Some days John was just too sick to see Ali. John would tell him about life in the city and the children he taught. Ali would tell John about his family, friends and his life in the village. John had started teaching Ali to write. Even Ali’s mother got to know John and would bring him some of the delicious things she cooked.
One night, Ali went to see John. Ali had to ask: “John, do you have AIDS?”
John replied, “Yes I do.”
“I feel bad for you.”
“There’s no reason to feel bad, I feel happy.”
“I’m getting the chance to know you. Besides, I can still teach. And you are giving me the chance to do that. You’ve learned a lot and you have also taught me.”
“Yes. You’ve taught me that people do care about others and can be kind. You know I have AIDS and you still talk to me.” John gave Ali a hug and they carried on with the lesson.
As time went on, John became even weaker. The lessons stopped. John’s parents decided to take him back to the city to be closer to his doctor. Ali felt very sad. He was going to miss his friend. He went to say goodbye. John said, “Ali you are a true friend. I will miss you. John gave Ali a hug, gathered his bags and got in the car. “Before I forget, Ali this is for you.” He passed a book out the window and before Ali could answer the car drove off. There was a note on the inside cover:
Ali, you have made my time here very special. I cannot thank you enough for that. I hope you continue to read and write. I have done something very important the last few months, I have made a great friend. I won’t forget you.
That was the last time Ali saw John. Just before he died, John sent a letter to Ali which he was able to read by himself.
To the best student I ever had. I hope you are well. Continue to learn. One day you too can become a teacher and share with others the most important lesson in life – how to be kind to others.”
The next year Ali went to school.
This story was written by Isaac Rashid, a freelance writer in Hamilton, Canada. It was reviewed by Iain McLellan, Communications Consultant, Montreal, Canada.
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AIDS: Towards 2000, Panos AIDS Media Briefing No. 1, 1994, 18 pages. Panos Institute, 8 Alfred Place, London, WC1E 7EB, U.K.