My name is Stephy Llalmura. I am the last born in a family of seven and the only girl. The first four siblings were married by the time I was born. When I was in grade six, my eldest brother passed on leaving behind his two wives and five children. I come from a marginalised community where water, food and medication is a problem. The transport in the region too is a huge challenge.
In our village, we usually see the sun from January to January. I hoped to study hard and get a chance to explore other areas later on. So after my brother’s death, few relatives and friends who could manage to visit us came and we buried him two days later, to cut down the costs of feeding the daily mourners who came. My brothers, were the breadwinners of the family now that our parents had grown old and spent all their time lying in the huts.
As a tradition, after the death of a man, all his wealth; includes wives and children, should be inherited and taken care of by the next brother. So the without much ado, the two young widows became the wife of my next brother who already had two wives too. Life moved on after and we hoped death would not strike again in our family. By then a year passed and I was now a class seven pupil but our school did not take us up to class eight.
We were told either to transfer to another school or quit schooling. Poor me, I had no option but to quit school and stay at home tending to my old parents; washing them and basking them in the sun in the morning.
One morning, one of the widows inherited by my brother came to my father claiming that the husband had not been feeling well for almost a week. I ran down to his hut to see what really happened. There he lay thin and emaciated. He was too weak to stand up by himself. We had no medicine man around and the district hospital was about forty kilometres away in the nearest urban centre.
We watched him succumb to the sickness the same way the firstborn died. It was a painful ordeal burying our second brother. I noted all the wives of my two elder brothers we also growing thin. As usual, the widows became many and had to be shared amongst the remaining brothers except the last one who was almost my age.
At this time, my parents were too old and sickly. They were attacked by all sorts of small illness which weakened them too much. I recalled what our teacher told us, “There is a disease with no cure, once you get it, you weaken until you die,” rang the words of Teacher Lemanyan in my mind.
I thought my parents had the same but it was not the case. Just then real disaster stroke, two of the elder widows died one after another in one week. All the other family members were weak and could not do much. I miss words to explain that the rest of the family suffered due to insufficient food from our struggle. All died one after another in the same year leaving all the nephews and nieces in our hands.
Were it not for a distant relative who came to our rescue, we would have died too. He took me to school and I came to learn my family was wiped out by HIV/AIDS, a deadly virus.