Francis and Babu

Francis and Babu

by Sr. Noeleen Mooney MMM            Ireland            16.09.2022

Ediitor’s Note: This reflection was written by Sr. Noeleen in 2005 when she worked in the Kitale AIDS Programme, Kenya.

I got to know him on his regular visits to the clinic. He was an orphan, always accompanied by his grandfather. He was his sole carer, a white-haired gentle man with pain and love in his care worn eyes. Francis was seven and sturdy. But Francis had AIDS. When he came for this blood tests, he braced himself and was brave.

A shoe buying expedition for him resulted in a treasured photograph. Here is a solemn Francis, running shoe on one foot, black-laced school shoe on the other and both pairs fitting well.

“What will happen to Francis when his grandfather dies?”, I asked. I was stunned by the response. “Hopefully they will die together”. I raged inside, but later understood that it was kindly meant. Who would look after this fragile boy with his simple, but nonetheless sometimes demanding, health needs?
Some time later, I heard he was beginning anti-retroviral therapy – that life-long, daily, demanding regime of drugs that do not cure, but, in so many cases, wonderfully improve the quality of life. Occasionally they do not…

Last week Francis returned to the clinic. Without his grandfather, I would not have recognised him. The sturdiness was gone, replaced by a transparent gauntness. I knew it was serious when he refused the tea and bread he usually enjoyed after the long journey to the clinic. When he stood up, there was no flesh to hold up his new denim trousers. He clutched them, and his eyes told me he knew. We sent him to the small cottage hospital, some twenty kilometres away, knowing he would be received with love. My last sight of him, hand in hand with his grandfather, bravely walking to the nearby bus stop.

Yesterday Francis died. Died quietly and peacefully in a caring place, a care which extended to transporting his body home, an otherwise daunting task for his 83-year-old babu. I was sure I would not see the old man again and regretted that I had not given him the photograph. But today, even before the burial, Grandfather made the lonely journey back to the clinic. He returned to give thanks for our care and kindness to his beloved grandson.
He didn’t ask for anything but marvelled at God’s ways. God, he told me solemnly, loves us so much to send us His own Son. He also told me he wasn’t a church-going man. He didn’t need to be. I gave him the photograph, most likely the only one he ever had. We cried together, and it was good.

I wonder if he has any idea of how deeply he has touched me, and shown me, through his gentle courage, that truly, with death, life has changed, not ended.