The Saddest Song I Ever Heard – May It Never Be Repeated

The saddest song I ever heard is actually a song I don’t know. I must have been 14 or 15 years old when I heard it. Night after night, day after day I heard it play in the bedroom across to mine. It was sad. On repeat. It gutted your soul and you could feel the pain in it. The only three words I remember from that song are:

“Baby come back”

It was my parents female friend playing it. It was on repeat because she could not sleep. She could not sleep because she was in excruciating physical pain that she could never escape. But that song spoke of a pain beyond the physical. An intense emotional pain. I was young, and had never experienced love nor that level of pain, but I felt it. It has haunted me since.

She came to visit us as a last hope to stay alive. She had come to Malawi in the hopes of finding a traditional healer that could cure or help her. Stories were rife in those days about such cures for her condition.  Her legs were severely swollen. She could barely walk. In my medical school days years later I realised she must have had Kaposi’s sarcoma. It was one of the opportunistic infections brought on by HIV.

I knew then in my teens that she had lost her husband a while back. She had also lost her daughter, a beautiful girl who had been born blind due to German measles infection. Her greatest pain was no doubt losing them more than the physical pain she was enduring.

I had brief memories of her in my younger days – cheerful and full of life. I remember Mum going to visit her in her days in the UK with another friend of hers. The pictures looked like they had fun.

But here she was – in pain and unable to sleep. Unfortunately she came when my parents were out of the country. As the oldest child, they had left me some money to use for emergencies and cautioned me not to use it for any other purpose. When she asked me for some of it in order to go and get help for her condition I could not find it in me not to give it to her. She got the money and went on her quest before my parents came back home.  I remember taking a scolding for that when they returned. But I was glad I helped her, even though something in me told me it was futile.

She only stayed a few days with us. I heard that she died barely a week or so later. That song echoed in my head and in my heart.

“Baby come back”

In my thirties when I suffered from severe nerve pain in my legs and could not sleep for days, weeks, months, those words haunted me in the night. I could relate to her pain, though something told me hers was so much worse. I heard the words:

“Baby come back”

That song has come to symbolise suffering to me. Torment. Melodious yet inciting so much dark emotion. I have never heard it since I was a teen. Searched for it, but cannot find it.

Which is just as well. I am not sure that when I hear it, I will be able to hold back the tears.

“Baby come back”

Yet, there was hope. Not for her, but for so many after her. That was in the days before antiretroviral therapy for HIV. It has prevented so many people from suffering the same fate. One can only be grateful for the progress that has been made in this area and the fact that for many who are HIV positive now, life is almost as normal as before. What a change.

Thinking of her just brings the reality of HIV in those early years. Behind those statistics are very personal and touching stories – people and their lives, hopes and dreams. The countless others affected by their loss.

I my work, I try to remember that always. These are not just numbers. I have found in traveling across the world that there are many professionals who see it this way too. You can see it in their passion and dedication to this work, often in tough conditions.

I was young and did not know what to do or say to help. If I could go back, I would go in that room, hold her hand and say:

“It will be alright.”

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