500 Years of Solitude
Dr. Lester Hazlewood-Simon
To tell the truth officer, my sister and I were simply taking a message to Jean and Dinah. We, the two of us, were not round the corner posing, or exposing, or selling anything. This warrant you have been carrying for the arrest of Rosita and Clementina, for over 50 years, is totally unwarranted.
We were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Wrongful association. Since then, countless diseases have despoiled our bodies and taken up chronic residency in my sister and me, as if we were indigent wards of an infirmary.
First, it was syphilis, which they wrongly claimed we gave to Christopher Columbus and his men, to take back to Europe, after they landed in our country in 1492. Are they claiming that that is what they and Europe got in return for greeting us with sounding brass and tinkling cymbals? How uncharitable.
Do you know how syphilis works? It uses a ploy seen in old, war movies. All the supplies lines are blocked off one by one until there is no bite to eat, no drop to drink. The isolated body consumes itself into a cannibal corpse.
Everyone talks about Tuskegee. Black men with syphilis left untreated. To study the natural course of syphilis. But who remembers our people in Guatemala? Deliberately and barefacedly injected with syphilis. To study how penicillin worked. The doctor in the Tuskegee study was the same boldfaced doctor in our Guatemala experiment. He became assistant surgeon general in the USA Public Health Service. Countless years it took us, to learn to trust doctors again, even after an apology from Hilary Clinton.
So you know how we felt when this local doctor came and took blood from over 75 of us in a room in a place called Stables. He came on a Sunday morning. No day of rest for us. He took vials of blood for HIV study. When the sun set and his eyes grew tired, he foolishly wondered aloud why the light in our room was so dim? How bright? He mocked our Pavlovian response to the mere sight and touch of any invading jab, telling us the hypodermic needle was only a little prick.
I have one apology. The streetwalker near the Yankee base in Antigua. Lost her head. First post-mortem at home for doctor. That headless corpse. His dear cousin, Ethlyn. More than 30 years. Head still not found. In 108 square miles. A very bad joke we made at the time: If you can keep your head when all about you are paying you for it. We were wrong to say that. And worse, we wondered if she was too obstinate with her price? We are truly sorry.
The Mighty Sparrow mashed up my family name. No one in my family can be called Rosita or Clementina again. We put up a good fight against gonorrhea. But our forces could neither kill it by firing guns nor by engaging it in hand-to-hand combat. Gonorrhea is protected, warding off our natural ammunitions, becoming resistant, and turning our genitals into fibrous barricades where neither spermatozoa can travel nor fertilized eggs can leave.
Chlamydia came with gonorrhea, like clapping hands. It too avoided our native, killing forces. Worse, it cannot live alone, so it inhabited us, seized our nutrients for its sustenance, and proliferated and colonized us like cockroaches. Where were extra-large condoms when we needed them?
When we discovered, too late, that we had been doubly infected and realized, after late remedies, that we could not bear children, tears walked down our barren faces like streams of molasses. We had become transitive verbs, gerunds, genitive and dative cases, all at once. Men punctuated body and soul.
Some of our clients joked to their friends that they had never seen a larger galleria of pictures of Mother Mary and Jesus, and of the crucifixion, in any other square meter, as in our room. But on whom should we call? When kilometer men are driving long, meters of nails into our flesh and forcing us to drink sponges of bubbling vinegar and gall at the end of wooden staff, on whom should we call?
Night falls. Garments tumble around our beds. HIV engages a dance of death, starting with deadly handshakes. One hand of HIV engages one hand of the host and the other hand of HIV fuses with the other hand of the host, leading to a warmhearted, penetrating embrace. No condoms in these condominiums?
When Sparrow said there were no more Yankees in Trinidad and that they were going to close down the base for good and girls like Jean and Dinah had to make out how they could, where do you think we went? No one made a row when the Mighty Sparrow took over then and we were sent back home. To meet whom? Not parents. Not friends. Not the assassinating and assassinated Trujillo. The same Yankees who left Trinidad greeted us. As the Mighty Sparrow predicted, we had to eat hard bread by the sweat of our brow; and by the toil of our temple.
HPV is on everyone’s lips these days. Its tactic is old and vulgar. Once, our bodies had legions of sentries, with a molecular policeman; rather like you officer, I dare say. He was the sentinel of forces and signals, sensing danger and damage to property. HPV simply disarms the molecular policeman. And showing no mercy, it does not kill the host. That’s too easy. It spares us so we can flourish in our altered, cancerous state, in living hell, infecting others.
Now officer, after over 50 years, you can arrest my sister and me. Take me first. I am hoary and tired after more than 500 years of solitude and confinement. Death to me, like men, is no maiden voyage. But hold my younger sister, Clementina, tight, tight. Don’t let her go. She wanton.