The morning I met Apti was a typical winter morning in Delhi, India. Nonchalant sunshine filtered down through layers of smog and left a hint of chill in the polluted city air. I followed Shalom staff as they navigated the labyrinth of alleyways leading to Apti’s residence. As we walked, the staff began to tell me Apti’s story.
Originally from Nepal, Apti and her husband moved to Delhi in search of employment and a better future. Tragically though, Apti’s husband contracted HIV and, knowingly or unknowingly, passed the virus along toApti. From there the virus spread to three of their four children. The HIV virus proceeded to decimate Apti’s family; claiming the lives of her husband and two of their children. Already at rock bottom, Apti was somehow plunged deeper when she learned that she had cervical cancer – which had spread to other parts of her body.
When Shalom staff first visited Apti she was living in horrid conditions, bed ridden-unable to walk because of painful leg swelling. During visits to her home, Shalom’s Palliative care nurses would massage her legs, and clean her tiny apartment, at times even cook food for her. Her nineteen-year-old son works long hours in order to provide for his mother and younger brother. With her elder son gone all day, A must rely on her six-year-old son Suthiksh to cook food, help her take medications and use the restroom.
As we entered Apti’s tiny living space, I saw a curious head peaking up from a pile of blankets on the floor. This smiling youngster was Suthiksh, Apti’s third HIV+ child. I listened with building emotions as Shalom staff explained the kindness that Suthiksh shows towards his mother. On one occasion, he burned his hands while trying to heat bread for his mother. Suthiksh had tried to hold pieces of bread over an open flame. I was struck by the simple happiness and generosity of this little boy. We had brought a small package of crackers to give to Suthiksh. Upon opening them he immediately gave half of them back to me. How could I accept a gift from a child so poor? How could I refuse an offer so genuinely kind? I was saddened to think of the difficult road which lies ahead of Suthiksh. An innocent six-year old whose life is so deeply affected by HIV.
In such difficult circumstances, it is hard for Apti to show her affection for Suthiksh. Afraid she might spread some other disease; Apti had been avoiding contact with Suthiksh. After affirmation and encouragement from Shalom staff, Apti struggled to sit up and give her little son a hug and a kiss. As she embraced her son, Apti began to cry. Shalom staff wiped her tears away. Christ’s love on display through Shalom has begun to win over Apti’s heart. It is her desire that, when she passes away, Suthiksh would be raised in a Christian home.
(Written by a volunteer with Shalom)