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Last year, 580,000 children under the age of 15 died of AIDS worldwide.

IN THE DAYS AFTER her mother's funeral, Martha plays in a brand new flowered dress. She waggles her tongue and runs hand-in-hand with neighbor pals under the hanging laundry. She tosses stones into a circle drawn in dirt. When the sun beats hot on her head, she snuggles against her aunt Mercy in the shade.

"My mother cooked my breakfast. My mother plaited my hair. My mother ... Iím forgetting."
— MARTHA, RUTHíS DAUGHTER

Of all the sisters, Mercy looks the most like Ruth when Ruth was well. Soft wide cheeks, full lips, a shy smile. She wears Ruth's clothes now. Today it's the maroon polyester forgive-me blouse and Ruth's heavy black sandals. They are tight on Mercy's swollen feet and the straps leave indents in her flesh when she eases them off.

Who will take care of my daughter? Ruth had asked.

I will, Mercy had promised.

Now she styles Martha's hair, each day a different way: zigzag braids, vertical plaits, tiny twists springing from her head. The day after the funeral, Martha asked her aunt, "Would you please make me a dress?"

They choose the fabric together, 1.5 meters of cotton with coral flowers, berries and brown leaves the same chocolate hue as Martha's skin. The dress has a scooped neck, a bow that loops at the waist and a matching kerchief for Martha to cover her hair and tie at the nape of her neck, just like her grandmother.

Martha leans against Mercy, tracing the brown leaves on her dress. "My mother," she says. "My mother cooked my breakfast. My mother plaited my hair. My mother ...

"I'm forgetting."

For a long while, she says nothing. She watches a bug crawl over a crack. She wiggles her toes. She notices her mother's sandals askew next to Mercy's ankles, and slips her small feet into them. They're way too big.

Hopefully she won't grow into them anytime soon.

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AFRICA
and
AIDS
WOMEN

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The story in pictures

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