Next of Kin
I had only came out for the shoes. A week before after speaking on the BBC news, I met my mother and we killed time in Liberty. One of my favourite past times is trying on things I can’t currently afford and feeling the premature joy of what will happen when I can.
Perambulating around the shoe section, I found myself slipping my foot into the midnight blue Manolo Hangisi. You know, the Sex And The City One.
Back and forth I limped in front of the mirror.
‘Ah Candice, they are so you.’ my mother cooed, propped up on a chair as if she were sat front row at a fashion show.
‘I know mum, I know.’ I sighed. They were gorgeous and even though I knew that my card wouldn’t decline the purchase, I went with my head and not my heart and returned them back to their plexiglass stand.
And for the next two weeks, I thought about them each day until I returned to Liberty.
But what had begun as a day away from the kids and Papa B, will become a day I never forget.
’You know, I just want to have an honest conversation about how I’m feeling and where my health is at.’ Mum began as we sat down at her favourite Thai place.
She has been HIV+ for eleven years so the course of the conversation didn’t scare me. She has come through three bouts of pneumonia, fibromyalgia and a osteoarthritis diagnosis and I was unfortunately present when she was diagnosed. I am virtually un-shockable as it seems as if I live with the scent of death lingering behind me every day. But there was a change to her cadence that particularly warm bank holiday weekend. Even though she was discussing what most people fear the most, she seemed…upbeat.
‘Now I don’t want too much fuss. But you must wear those Manolos!’ she demanded in between stolen bites of a quickly disappearing deep fried spring roll.
She went on to tell me that she’s already had a friend make her funeral outfit and where I would be able to find it in my wardrobe. She expressed which pieces of jewellery were to be handed to which grandchild. And she made sure to express how important it was that I specifically kept an eye on my baby brother.
I had to fight back tears.
‘Don’t cry.’ she scolded holding back tears of her own.
‘This is my gift to you. You had no say in how your Dad went out. That won’t happen again. I’m telling you right now that as my firstborn, you get full creative control.’ she winked, reaching for one of the sweating goblets holding a gin and tonic.
And it was like a gift that arrived in terrible packaging but then turns out to be the one you needed the most even though it wasn’t listed on the registry. I’m unique in the sense that not only do I not mind talking about death, but I also enjoy it. In a parallel universe, I run a cute boutique funeral home who specialise in chemical-free burials (embalming is overrated) and who have a post mortem make up artist who will beat that face to death - pardon the pun. And yet it hadn't occurred to me to go deep with my sole surviving parent because in the black community we’re often discouraged from speaking about certain things as we don’t want to be seen to be ‘inviting’ that energy into our lives.
But an illness like HIV is like residing with the shadow of death itself. And death, he is that roommate you hate but can’t get rid of because without his assistance, meeting that monthly rent would be near impossible. So instead you live with the toilet seat being left up and the film from the top of milk bottle being set aside and not discarded of because instead of rocking the boat, you just want to make it to the end of the month. HIV is a savage reminder that we are living on borrowed time for its entire duration. To watch a loved one's body to be challenged and contoured by a virus which can only be suppressed and never displaced is a life sentence for all involved. Whilst I’m negative, I swear I often feel physically burdened by its unwillingness to not compromise its grip over the life of my mother and those of us closest to her.
So the end is really the only thing we can count on, plan, celebrate.
And yes, I could perhaps die before her but this is not likely. So being able to have a final meeting of sorts means so much to me because it’s perhaps the only thing I would like to undo in my fathers passing.
My knees are blackened and bloodied from kneeling at before Her asking for a do-over. A few more days. A gap in time for me to rush home and fill the space that a clock has been unable to close.
But this isn’t Game Of Thrones and there is no raising of the dead.
So instead I promised to wear the shoes she encouraged me to buy. I agreed to set aside differences and allow all to come and celebrate her. I made sure to note down that instead of flowers she would like friends and family to donate to the Terrance Higgins Trust. I acknowledged the pain of her giving and received it in love so that by the time the final transaction comes around, be that in five months or five years, I won’t be at all overdrawn but feel as in a way dipped in satire and lightly dusted with sadness, my cup runneth over.