RUTH LIKED to sew and knit baby clothes, read the Bible and hold her children on her lap to watch the television before it was sold. She attended three years of secondary school and wrote every day in a private diary that disappeared before she died.
In a photo of her and Richard, he cocks his head and grins, best side toward the camera, shirt splayed open disco-style. Ruth smiles primly, her blouse buttoned to the very top. It's her favorite, a gift from Richard, white with red roses embroidered on the collar.
Her best friend claims Ruth was happy and that the couple never fought.
Her younger sister Mercy says there were fights, but Richard always brought gifts clothes and cookware afterward. Ruth wore one of the forgive-me blouses the day we met, a maroon polyester button-down.
Older sister Regina says Ruth didn't like conflict. When Regina wanted to complain to the parents of neighbor kids who bullied their children, Ruth said kids are kids and they'd be playing together again tomorrow.
And so it was with Ruth's marriage. Richard would transgress. Ruth would forgive. Men are men.
|BETTY UDESEN / THE SEATTLE TIMES|
|Ruth was a round-faced, healthy schoolgirl when she married, unknowingly, into AIDS. "Ruth didnít know her husband was HIV-positive when she made love with him," says her sister Mercy. Richard continued to stray. Ruth continued to forgive him, nursing him through AIDS and tuberculosis until he died in 2000.|
Ruth was 17, Richard older than 30, when they met. She broke up with a boy from church to walk with him. He was suave, handsome, funny, a fine storyteller. He made good money trucking building materials for a multinational joint venture. He brought groceries for her mother, money for her father, a cassette player for her sisters.
After a year, Richard paid Ruth's parents a bride price of 9,000 Zimbabwean dollars and took her to Kuwadzana, a township about 15 minutes from Mabvuku by car. Ruth became pregnant with Martha. That's when she found out Richard had four children by two other wives even though he said he'd been married only once before. He hung around bars, had girlfriends on the side and rarely allowed Ruth to visit home because he was jealous of her old boyfriend.
All this came as a surprise, but was not without precedent. Each of Ruth's three older sisters had become pregnant by men who tricked them and soon fled or died. Besides, Richard was a driver.
Long-haul truckers, often called the "cowboys of Africa," are believed to have spread AIDS across the continent during lengthy journeys away from their families. Richard drove mostly short routes, in and around Harare. But in a country where few can afford cars, any man with wheels is prime.
"Drivers, you know, they have many girlfriends. They pick and choose," Mercy explains. "Ruth didn't know her husband was HIV-positive when she made love with him."
Ruth's father, Robert: "I was very much worried and pained when I heard about Richard's girlfriends, but we just kept quiet and thought maybe her husband would leave his bad behavior. We thought: Let's leave it in God's guidance."
Richard continued to stray; Ruth continued to forgive. Martha was born, then almost two years later, Tafadzwa. When the baby was just weeks old, Ruth and Richard came down with tuberculosis. Ruth responded to treatment and, with Tafadzwa swaddled on her back and Martha toddling at her feet, she cooked and cared for her husband for more than a year until he wasted to death in 2000.