The room was dark. I could still hear him breathing. I was sitting in an armchair at the bottom of the bed, trying my best to remain awake, but eventually, I succumbed to exhaustion and fell asleep. For the three previous nights, I had slept on a mattress at the end of his bed, waking every hour or so to see if he wanted anything. Perhaps I had been asleep for no more than fifteen minutes when Neil, one of the night nurses, opened the door and shone a torch around the room, waking me up.
Initially, I was startled and then embarrassed that I had lapsed into sleep because I had agreed to take the first turn with two other carers. However, this soon subsided, and panic ensued when Neil said he was concerned and needed to switch on the light. My friend, Omari, was near to death. His breathing had become deep and laboured and he had lapsed into unconsciousness.
It is strange how death creeps up at the end. I had known that he was dying and had little time left, but nothing had prepared me for the actual death itself. I had never witnessed a deathbed scene before. In a way, I was beginning to experience a withering away of previous fears I held about death. However, this serene occasion was spoiled by the panic of those by his bedside – his brother, another friend, and myself.
We were almost pleading with Neil to do something to revive him. We even suggested he should call a doctor. However, Neil gently told us there was nothing that could be done. He told us this in such a soothing, caring, yet definite tone of voice that was impossible to either disbelieve or challenge.
The atmosphere thereafter became calm and dignified, and for the next five minutes or so, we watched as Omari’s breathing became less and less until it finally stopped. His ten months of acute suffering were over. I can still remember those final moments in the Lighthouse Hospice in Lancaster Gate, London. It had just gone 2am on Sunday 2nd October 1994 when Aids claimed another victory.
It is almost inexplicable what grief expects from a person. In my case, I think it made me more irrational. I now question why anyone would want to revive someone whose body had been eaten away by the most appalling and crippling illness known to the modern world. Believe me, there is no disease that comes more ravaging than Aids. The disease had broken down Omari’s immune system and allowed illness after illness to invade his body. He had thus suffered repeated bouts of pneumonia, cancer, infections and finally organ failure.
Aids is a disease that shows no mercy. It strips a person of their dignity and pursues its victim relentlessly until nothing is left except a ravaged skeletal body in agony. It has only one mission, and that is to kill.
I had first met Omari three years earlier in far more salubrious surroundings than the place in which we parted. The East India Club was a reputable gentleman’s club in St. James’s Square, London. At that time, the club had over a thousand members. It was also the headquarters of the Rugby Football Union. In the mid-eighties, I had returned from Australia and, apart from a few years’ employment as an airline steward, had been working in the club’s main dining room as a senior waiter since early 1991. In December of that year, Omari came to work in the dining room too. I hadn’t interviewed him for the post and hadn’t therefore known absolutely anything about his background.
Upon meeting Omari for the first time, I was immediately struck by his good looks, nice smile and impeccable English. He was fifteen months younger than me. Other than that, I paid little attention to him. However, our close working proximity changed this, and as time went by, we developed quite a friendly camaraderie. Omari confided in me that he was gay and that he found older men attractive. I found it very endearing that he had trusted me enough to confide his secret.
Later on, when I got to know Omari a bit better, I discovered that he was married and had a son. I became quite fascinated by this. I don’t know why because I had several friends who were married and had children. Not having children myself wasn’t something that bothered me because I had personally reconciled a long time before that I would never marry nor have children. But now I found myself in a position where I was surprisingly envious of him for being married and having a son.
The following year, I began having counselling. In the beginning, this was not in relation to Omari. I was feeling trapped in a job that I hated. The frustration of this and not being in a relationship prompted me to seek help. It wasn’t easy at first revealing personal information to a complete stranger, but I continued, nevertheless. I eventually told Michael, my therapist, all about the fascination that I held for Omari.
I was startled when during one of our sessions Michael asked me ‘What does Omari have that you want?’ I immediately denied wanting anything connected to him, but upon reflection deep down, I realised the truth was contrary to what I had said. I desired everything that was his, especially the kudos of him having a son, knowing this was something that I would never have.
However, Omari was never the type of person who told the whole story in one go. Instead, he fed his tales in pieces. As I got to know him a little better, I discovered that his marriage wasn’t really what it had first seemed. He had paid his wife Vicky, who was much younger than him, £2,000 to get married, allowing him to obtain a visa that permitted his permanent residency in the UK.
I also found out that the girl whom he had married had a son, but Omari was not the father. I believed him when he explained he was cautious about sharing this information with someone he didn’t know too well in case of repercussions from immigration if they discovered the truth. However, our friendship had advanced more by the time I learnt the truth about his marriage.
I often visited Omari’s flat on Edgeware Road where he still lived with his wife and her son. He was obliged to remain in this situation as he was waiting for documentation that would allow him permanent residency. Omari was never particularly pleasant to Vicky and judged her constantly for failing to look after her son properly. None of what he said seemed to matter much to me. On the surface, she appeared nice enough, and we often chatted in friendly terms if Omari wasn’t in when I called. Once the necessary paperwork for the visa was processed Vicky and her son moved out. Shortly afterwards, Omari’s brother and two other Moroccan friends moved into the flat.
Omari had great elegance with clothes and only bought the best. Shopping at Selfridges was a frequent passion and most of his wardrobe consisted of designer labels. Omari’s jewellery consisted of a Patek Philippe watch and a gold signet ring. It was Omari who introduced me to Cartier aftershave.
I remember buying him a tie in Simpson’s in Piccadilly once for his birthday. He didn’t like it and asked if I could accompany him to exchange it. I was none too pleased about this rejection but relented. I was further miffed to discover that the tie he chose instead was similar to my present. I wondered if it was just a matter of him trying to prove to me that his taste was better than mine.
These outer signs of flamboyance concealed emotional insecurity. I remember Omari’s Christmas and birthday cards. After writing ‘Happy Christmas’ or ‘Happy Birthday’ on a card, the greeting would be followed with a message ‘And I really mean this, Declan’. It was a bizarre thing to write as if to reassure me of the sincerity of his greetings. Why he did this, I have no idea. Indeed the chances of me or anyone else that I have ever known questioning the genuineness of a Christmas or birthday card greeting were, in my estimation, entirely nil.
As time went by, I got to know Omari better and began to see glimpses of his lifestyle more clearly. He told me he found men of his own age to be unattractive, and because of this, he preferred older men. However, fancying older men came with strict guidelines. The suitors had to be aged between 45 and 60, overweight and financially secure. He always denied the latter requirement, but I have chosen to include it since all his conquests were financially secure. He never failed to fulfil these requirements. I was privy to listening to all his exploits. I could see why older men who weren’t necessarily attractive, were mainly obese and who had passed their prime would be flattered to suddenly receive attention from a young, attractive and vibrant Arab.
Men were constantly entering and leaving Omari’s life. It didn’t seem to matter to him because they were in plentiful supply in the pubs and clubs that he frequented in central London. Some of the men turned out to be mean. The solution to this was easy, and they were quickly dumped. Others became possessive. Whilst he said he disliked this attribute, especially if it jeopardised him seeing several men at any one time, he had developed a strategy to rectify this problem. Provided sex was good with someone who had become a menace, Omari would suggest that they could go on holiday together. Hence a couple of men on his cards found their time being alternated with trips to Germany, Italy, Holland, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus, Greece and many other European destinations. Omari was furious that he constantly got denied a visa to enter America, as he desperately wanted to add this destination to his travel log.
Omari became friends with Julian, an older man in a senior position at the East India Club. I was also a friend of Julian’s and often went drinking with him and another mutual friend, Charles, who also worked at the club. The three of us spoke to each other daily and confided in one another with everyday tittle-tattle and gossip.
Julian more or less met Omari’s liaison criteria though he was perhaps slightly younger and thinner than the guidelines warranted. They had a brief sexual relationship but this suddenly turned problematic because Julian became too smitten with his conquest and was even willing to leave his partner. But it quickly became evident that he didn’t have the financial means to sustain the relationship. Besides, Omari wasn’t interested in commitment and was seeing other men. When it became evident that Julian couldn’t provide what Omari wanted, they drifted apart and eventually stopped speaking to each other.
I was caught in the middle of this tryst and listened to both sides of the story. The air was full of animosity for weeks. Then over time, Julian and Charles began to challenge me about the effect Omari was having on me. They constantly warned me against him. They knew as well as I did that the chances of me ever having a proper relationship with him were zero. However, I’m not sure if they realised the power that an emotional relationship without sex was having on me. I kept denying that Omari was fooling me whilst they reiterated evidence that he was the type of person who used people. They constantly pinpointed this as the reason that he preyed on older men so that he could get expensive clothes, gifts and holidays out of them.
None of what Julian or Charles told me about Omari persuaded me to take a step back from the situation. I carried on continuously denying my emotions and said that I had everything under control, but deep down, I knew this was a big lie. It was as if I had become completely hypnotised by him. The reality was that I had fallen hook, line and sinker in love with him. Whilst I never admitted this to either Julian or Charles, they were certain this was the case. Omari became such a bone of contention amongst us we concluded that in order to remain friends with each other, we would never mention his name in our circle again.
However, Omari left the East India Club in the late autumn of 1992 after growing tired of catering work and the usual daily faces who frequented the club. He said he wanted a fresh start in a new environment that would open up new contacts and found work in a private hospital in Marylebone as a nursing assistant.
I really tried my best to forget about him and attempted to put all thoughts of him out of my mind after he left the club. But I missed him and despite my endeavours to move on, I found myself contacting him and either going around to his flat or meeting him in restaurants or in his favourite gay pub, ‘The City of Quebec’ in Marble Arch, colloquially known as ‘The Elephant’s Graveyard’ because of the age of most of its patrons.
But as time progressed, Omari’s luck at finding rich conquests at the hospital failed to materialise. I don’t believe I ever once heard him describe any liaison with any of the patients or staff. I fear his plans of meeting rich, sick and vulnerable old men backfired because in August the following year, he wrote to the East India Club enquiring if there were any jobs available – citing redundancy at the hospital as the reason for wanting to return. By chance, there was a job free at the club as a steward in the ladies drawing-room.
Shortly before Omari’s return, Charles left his job at the club, but suddenly died a couple of weeks later of septicaemia poisoning from a recurring ulcer problem. His death was a tremendous shock and deeply upsetting to those of us closest to him. My mind was too occupied with his death to think unduly about Omari’s ‘homecoming’ back to the club. Charles had always held Omari in disdain and invariably blanked him in social situations. This annoyed Omari, who disliked Charles immensely because of the unfriendliness towards him and therefore, it came as no surprise that he wasn’t remotely upset when he heard of his death.
Instead, he announced to me that he had returned to the club with new vigour and determination to catch ‘the big fish in the pond’. By this, he meant getting associated with richer clientele – because he now believed his new role as the drawing-room steward would provide him with greater access to members, providing regular opportunities to make new acquaintances. But little did he know that his time was quickly running out and that the blood in his veins was about to reveal a hidden secret.
Omari had only been sick for a short time before he was hospitalised. His illness, to begin with, was nothing out of the ordinary. It was the month of December and he was off sick with a cold. A little while later, this turned into a chest infection. I took every Friday off from the East India Club to do my voluntary work with Centrepoint, working with young homeless people in the West End. It was approaching Christmas, and I was looking forward to going away to spend Christmas and New Year with my parents in Ireland.
It was the Friday before Christmas, and I decided to visit Omari at his flat. I had telephoned in advance to say that I would be going around. He asked me to get him a dozen eggs. I thought this was an odd thing to ask but went and bought them anyway. I instantly noticed how wretched he looked. He was unshaven and had a blue pallor. He said that his flatmates indicated to him the possibility of having pneumonia. We debated the possibility of this and veered towards thinking it unlikely since he had already visited his GP earlier in the week. We concluded that it was probably just a bad chest infection for which he was taking medication. Besides, he was due to see the GP again that evening and would probably have his fears alleviated.
Omari also showed me a spot on his left hand that he was worried about. It was purplish in colour. I had never seen a spot like this before but whilst mystified, I didn’t think it was anything serious because he said it wasn’t painful.
I asked him why he wanted so many eggs. The reason behind this request was some simple quack recipe from Morocco that entailed whisking three or four eggs and blending them with milk and sugar as a remedy for a cold. The thoughts of drinking such a concoction almost made me heave.
Later that evening, Omari rang me at my voluntary workplace and told me that his GP had confirmed his fears. He was going to be admitted to hospital immediately with suspected pneumonia. It was a brief conversation. I told him that I would visit him in hospital that weekend. I doubt whether he suspected that his world was about to come tumbling down at any given moment.
My shifts at the East India Club were busy in the run-up to Christmas. The club closed on Sundays after lunch, so once I finished my shift, I set about going to St. Mary’s Hospital in Paddington. Upon entering the hospital, I bumped into George, an older friend of Omari. I had socialised with him a few times with Omari. I found his wry sense of humour a little irritating. He constantly spoke with a sarcastic attitude towards Irish people, which deterred me from liking him. This, combined with envy that he was a closer friend to Omari than I was, didn’t help matters. Even though George met the criteria as a suitor for Omari, both denied their association ever passed a platonic stage. It wasn’t until much later on that I figured out the purpose of their relationship. George played a mentoring role in Omari’s life and provided him with advice and insight into how older men think and rationalise thoughts and beliefs.
Alan appeared flustered in the hospital corridor. He said in our brief conversation that Omari was OK or words to that effect. When I reached the ward, I initially did not find anything to be untoward. Omari was sitting up in bed reading the sports pages of the Independent on Sunday. Initially I thought he looked better than he had two days previously and was therefore unprepared for his shock announcement.
Omari told me he was being treated for pneumonia, and then after another few words said that his blood tests confirmed he was HIV positive. I doubt that I concealed my disbelief as I murmured how sorry I was to hear his news. The story continued, and the news just seemed to get worse and worse. The doctors told him that his pneumonia was a rare kind known medically by the name of Pneumocystis Pneumonia. Developing this strain of pneumonia had indicated a very impaired immune system, thus indicating the onset of Aids. Furthermore, they confirmed the lesion on his hand to be cancerous. Again this type of cancer, known as Kaposi Sarcoma, was rare and usually associated with Aids. A second lesion had started to develop on his stomach. Lastly, blood tests also showed that Omari had syphilis. Years of promiscuous sex had finally caught up with a vengeance.
I remember returning to St. James’s Square that night. The East India Club was more to me than a workplace. In some ways, it was like a second home. I made tea and took it into the dining room. The lights were switched off, but the street lighting provided me the necessary visibility to make my way to the big bay window that overlooked St. James’s Square. I often sat here in the dark and found it blissful and quiet as I smoked cheroots to unwind.
However, on this occasion I wasn’t able to relax. My mind was totally consumed with the events of that day. I knew I loved Omari, and despite any of his shortcomings, decided that I would help him in any way I could. I had promised him this in the hospital, and I knew that I wasn’t a person to break promises.
I visited Omari again the next day to say goodbye before going away to Ireland for the Christmas holidays. His brother and another one of his Moroccan flatmates were there also. Omari had concealed his true illness from the friend – making him believe that he was just being treated for pneumonia. His brother, on the other hand, knew the truth but was sworn to secrecy – just as George and I had also been sworn. In fact, we were the only three people that Omari told in the immediate aftermath of the bombshell, and this was the case for the remaining nine months of his life.
Admittedly, there was no logic to this, and the lies that I colluded with in the intervening months were sometimes ill-prepared and ridiculous. I will describe them a little further on in the story, but at this stage, it is worth mentioning a word or two about Omari’s brother. Omari initially introduced Abdul to me as his cousin but retracted this later. He said he had originally told me his brother was a cousin to deter me from asking him questions about their family, which was a bit odd considering that as a cousin, he would still have been a close relative.
I always perceived Abdul to be homophobic. It’s not that he ever vocalised his prejudice. He didn’t have to because I could see the depth of his hatred in his eyes. Omari never discussed any aspect of his lifestyle with his brother. I don’t believe that any reference to his sexual orientation was ever discussed or indeed hinted at during their conversations. Omari’s illness was never referred to by name between him and his brother, and this denial only allowed any conversation to mention symptoms and medication.
The trip to Ireland provided me with temporary relief away from the pain that I left behind in London. I had made a prior arrangement to stop off in Dublin overnight to complete my Christmas shopping before travelling on to County Sligo, where my parents lived. I stayed in the Kildare Street University Club on St. Stephen’s Green. This was like taking a step back to a bygone era. The East India Club was modern throughout, but the club in Dublin remained a relic of the 1920s with the exception of perhaps a few modern-day accessories such as a television and telephone.
Everything else – the furniture, décor, carpets and bathroom suite remained old- fashioned and gave the instinctive appearance of being well used. There was a blackboard and chalk on the landing where guests had to write what time they required their morning tea to be delivered to their rooms. If I had known what this entailed, I would have refrained from writing my request on the board.
Denis, the butler, knocked on my door at 8am as he made his entrance to my room with the tea tray. He was full of officious greetings – he wanted to know how I was, did I sleep well, would I like the curtains drawn. I murmured ‘yes’ to the latter question. Whilst he was tying them back, I was given a full account of the weather forecast, not just for that day but also for the entire Christmas period. Just when I thought he would leave the room, he piped up and asked would I like my bath run and if I required any help shaving? ‘No thank you,’ I replied. Where were my slippers? I didn’t have any.
This must have appeared odd to Denis because it was becoming clear that he was accustomed to looking after very elderly or fastidious men. He switched the heater on and then finally made his exit with my shoes, which were being taken away to be polished. I knew it wouldn’t be long before he would be back with these, so I quickly crawled out from under the bedclothes. I would not have dared to move whilst he was in the room because despite having pyjamas in my suitcase, I wasn’t wearing them. The room was still freezing cold; I hastily drank the tea and fled to the bathroom as a refuge from Denis, should he return too promptly with my shoes.
I did a lot of thinking whilst travelling from Dublin to Sligo on the train. The weary Irish winter landscape proved to be almost as melancholic as my mood. The next two weeks would see me in a position where I was unable to confide and discuss my worries and anxieties with anyone. I was never able to open up to my parents and family about my private life, so it was a matter of just getting on with things. The fear of rejection was a price that I could never summon up enough courage to pay. There was a great deal of resentment behind this, though, because I did feel let down and unsupported by them in some ways. I had lived through every drama and intrigue with nearly every member of my family over the years, and now I had to go through the awfullest time of my life alone. I had no alternative but to carry on as best I could, unable to escape from the traditions of my Catholic background. I think what made this particularly difficult was that I couldn’t confide in any of my friends at the East India Club or discuss Omari’s illness with anyone else who personally knew him. Apart from my counsellor, I could not confide my anxieties in anyone.
By the time I returned from Ireland, Omari was out of hospital. The pneumonia had cleared up and he was feeling better. He hadn’t decided if he would return to work or not. The East India Club’s staff party was always held in early January. We both decided to go. People were friendly towards Omari and wished him a speedy return to work following his hospitalisation.
However, there was an Algerian colleague at the club who didn’t like Omari for some reason or other. Whilst we were at the buffet table getting something to eat, he approached us and, after asking Omari how he was feeling, announced in a crude, jestful tone of voice, ‘Hope you haven’t caught something that the doctor can’t cure’. These pivotal words made Omari become paranoid that people were beginning to suspect what was wrong with him. From that moment onwards, he started making changes to his life. It was like a delayed reaction to the shock of realising he really had Aids and that his future was slowly ebbing away.
The following week more Kaposi Sarcoma lesions started to develop on Omari’s chest and back. This prompted him to resign from his job, stating in his resignation letter that he had developed cancer. He decided that by saying this, people would be pacified indefinitely, whereas them believing he was still recuperating from pneumonia was losing momentum. Furthermore, it could be argued that he wasn’t lying. Although he hadn’t lung cancer, which he had fabricated in the letter, he had Kaposi Sarcoma, which was cancer.
Several other radical changes took place. In a firm attempt to remove himself from public life, he asked me to write, cancel and seek refunds from all his social club and gym memberships. He also had no inclination to resume socialising in any form and therefore ceased all contact with previous lovers. All of this was completed by the end of January. He became a recluse and decided that it was time for him to reignite his faith in Islam and start praying again.
A prayer mat was purchased for the devotions that took place three times a day. A special compass was also bought to determine the easterly direction and assist the prayer ritual. Omari’s illness allowed him special dispensation from participating in Ramadan, which was both a source of frustration and relief. Frustration in the sense that he witnessed other Muslims in his environment participating in this special event – but he was relieved that he was able to eat and drink, which eased the burdens of his illness. All in all, he settled down to his new religious regime. It was a way of life that he was born into in Morocco but had lapsed during his stay in Britain.
Omari once told me that he began Islamic studies at university in Tangiers but only completed a year of this before coming to live in the UK. However, I noticed a self-righteousness creeping into his conversations that he hadn’t previously shown. Omari became very disapproving of other socially disadvantaged groups. An example of this was he couldn’t understand why I wanted to help young homeless people. He felt that the money would be better spent helping hospital patients suffering from similar plights to his own. This was merely an indication of his self-absorption and his illness which didn’t allow him to see further than what was going on in his own life.
I visited Omari almost every day in his flat. I did his shopping, cleaning and laundry. Some days we would talk, and other days, the conversation would be sparse. His moods varied. Sometimes depression would render him speechless, and on these occasions he would stay in bed all day. At other times he would be vocal and cantankerous. It wasn’t unusual for us to argue, especially when he was frequently critical over something minor. He saw me once drinking ginger beer and was appalled. He refused to accept my explanation that it didn’t contain alcohol. Life went on like this for several months, with me paying daily visits to the flat, interspersed with hospital appointments. Of course, there were a few occasions when he went into the Lighthouse for either a week or a fortnight’s respite. I would still visit him several times a week during these periods.
I recall visiting him in the Lighthouse one Saturday night. During our conversation, he talked about how long he would like to live. Ideally, he said this would be for another five years. This may have been a round figure that he formed. Deeper thought would have told him that another five years would have brought him up to 1999 pre-millennium mania. I cannot help wondering what retrospection would have said about this. I didn’t think about it either at the time, but let’s say that if Omari had lived until 1999, what a disappointment it would have been to arrive at a point in history where everyone would be celebrating a new era, a new century, and for Omari, death would be looming.
Instead, I remember reassuring him about the research that was going on daily in St. Mary’s Hospital to find a cure for Aids. Every day scientists carried out experiments, which would bring them nearer to the solution of what could cure this wretched disease. I believed that a cure would be found in time to save Omari, imagining it being announced any day that the miracle cure had finally been discovered.
Omari, too, believed this whilst continuing to take his AZT medication, which was the only drug given to Aids patients in the early 1990s to slow down the progress of the disease as current antiretroviral combination therapy drugs were not available at that time.
Life dragged on with little happiness or hope. As time went by, he began to become more afraid that some of his Moroccan friends in London would discover the truth about his illness. He believed that as long as his brother, George and I supported his charade, the lies would be believed. In reality, I doubt if anyone could be so stupid as to miss the tell-tale signs of Aids, even if they were only based on how wretched his appearance had become.
Somewhere in between all of this, Omari decided it was time to visit his family in Morocco, who he hadn’t seen since becoming ill. He invited me to accompany him and his brother to Tangiers. I accepted, and off we went on a two-week vacation. Thankfully, the family home was large because Omari had ten siblings. In Arabic terms, he had come from the equivalent of a western middle-class background. We arrived in time for the Eid celebrations marking the end of Ramadan. His family were gracious towards me and made me feel welcome. Delicious meals were prepared, and his brothers took me on sightseeing excursions.
Omari’s parents were shocked at how thin and ill he appeared, particularly as he had some lesions on his face at the time. The charade continued with his parents and siblings duly informed that he was being treated for cancer. What was even more peculiar was that one of Omari’s sisters was married to a doctor who had done his medical training in Germany. Surely he must have had grave suspicions about the real nature of the illness based on the symptoms? The interesting thing about living life in a bubble is that you fail to grasp any sense of actual reality, and instead, you gradually start training your mind to believe that others share your illusions – or at least this is how I felt it was for Omari.
A faith healer was summoned to the family home. An elderly, frail mountain woman shabbily dressed with no front teeth gently made her way into the family living room. Omari wanted me to remain present, but his brother, Abdul, didn’t want this and quickly ushered me out of the room without giving a reason. Perhaps he was embarrassed by the woman’s appearance, or maybe he was trying to preserve Omari’s privacy.
Anyway, Omari gave me a full account of the encounter afterwards. Apparently, the woman was also some type of clairvoyant as well as a faith healer. She told Omari she could see him in a dark place with somebody who had a knife. With this information, he recalled a time after he first arrived in London when he was mugged in a subway off Bayswater Road. Seemingly, the man who mugged him had left a slight stab wound in Omari’s thigh. What made this story incredulous wasn’t Omari’s recollection of the mugging that he associated with the faith healer’s vision but his sudden belief that he had contracted HIV from the stab wound. It was his steadfast refusal to accept responsibility for his promiscuous behaviour that had undoubtedly led to his misfortune.
The faith healer had taken along some herbs and mixed them with some type of mud concoction before spreading the mixture over his chest and back and then tightly applying a poultice to his body. The entire house stunk of this very unpleasant odour. She returned the following day to remove the poultice. Her healing had made no difference to either Omari’s short or long term well-being.
Ideally, I would have liked to have told the faith healer the truth. This would have enabled her to undertake more accurate healing. However, with hindsight, I wondered if she was too primitive to understand much about Aids. I even reflected afterwards that I should have sought an opportunity to see her privately to explain the truth about Omari’s’s illness. I told this to Abdul who, in turn, told Omari a variation of what I had said. A huge argument developed on the plane back to Heathrow with Omari assuming that I had attempted to persuade Abdul to tell his family the truth, which wasn’t the case at all. By the time we arrived back in London, I felt totally drained with stress.
Life back in London during the final few months of Omari’s life continued in much the same vein as before, with the only exception being the World Cup, which kept Omari occupied, being the avid football fan that he was. You would be correct in guessing that he thoroughly disapproved of my complete lack of interest in the final match that year between Brazil and Italy. Apart from this, the mundane daily and weekly routines remained the same, and we plodded along with almost a resigned sense of hopelessness. However, it was a consolation of sorts that Omari had begun to accept that he was nearing the end of his life. He had to be hospitalised for fluid retention, which had become so problematic that even his testicles were badly swollen. And it was at this point that the doctors gave him less than six months to live.
Respite periods at the Lighthouse became more frequent. These didn’t become any easier, though. Part of the ethos in the Lighthouse was that patients shouldn’t be shielded from death. Therefore, it wasn’t unusual to share the lift up to the residential unit with a coffin. Funerals and memorial services were also held in the chapel. Seeing these things upset Omari as it inevitably made him stare mortality in the eye. The stench of death was also upsetting. There was simply no escaping this as sightings of frail and sick bodies living out their remaining days and hours, were transparent throughout the Lighthouse.
Omari’s quality of life had become non-existent in the weeks before his death. There were no pleasures anymore. He couldn’t walk and could barely eat and sleep. Even though I knew he was dying I still found myself craving for a part of him that I wanted to keep alive. I only fathomed why this was the case through the help of a spiritualist friend who provided me with emotional help during the entire traumatic experience. I sought comfort from the belief that we shared a spiritual connection, which was the reason that I found myself helping to care for this sick man. There were times, though, when I wished I were a million miles away from the unremitting misery I constantly observed. The disease pursued with its deadly aim until eventually it killed Omari approximately nine-and-a-half months after he was diagnosed with Aids.
Omari’s funeral arrangements were made in line with Islam culture. I took no part in this. George and Abdul organised for his body to be taken back to Tangiers two days after he died. Even though it is customary for Muslims to be buried within twenty-four hours of their death, an exception can be made when the person dies overseas and formalities are unable to be completed within this timeframe. Neither George nor I went to Tangiers for the funeral. Apart from not being invited, I doubt anyway that I would have been able to go as I was struggling to keep my job at the East India Club owing to the vast amount of time I had taken off all year caring for Omari.
Accompanying Omari’s body on the plane were all his earthly possessions. All the expensive gifts he was given by his lovers, along with suitcases full of Savile Row suits and other expensive clothing. Abdul’s intention, or so he said, was for the belongings to be distributed amongst his family to ease their grief. It wouldn’t be entirely correct to say that he forgot about my grief. Bizarrely, Omari had asked Abdul to get photographs of him processed for both George and I before he died, lest we forgot him.
Omari’s memorial service was held at Toynbee Hall in London’s East End. Complete secrecy had to be maintained about Omari’s illness, or at least this is what I had wanted. A furious clash took place between Alan and I whilst organising the event because he believed we should be more open about Omari’s death. But I argued and stipulated that we should honour Omari’s wishes and refrain from telling people the truth as he had requested.
I asked Fr. William Pearsall, a Catholic priest from Farm Street Church in Mayfair, and with whom I was friendly, to conduct the service, which consisted of readings from the Qu’ran and the Bible.
I chose William Butler Yeats’ poem, The Wild Swans at Coole, for the service and asked Father Pearsall to recite it for me. The poem appealed to me because it described beauty and loss, which was something I wanted to be conveyed in the service owing to Omari’s age and untimely death. The last verse of the poem goes like this:
But now they drift on the still water, Mysterious, beautiful; Among what rushes will they build, By what lake’s edge or pool Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day To find they have flown away?
In my mind’s eye I was associating Omari with mystery and beauty. This was what I felt at the time. However, I haven’t been so sure about that sentiment since and have often wondered whether it was actually the case. Neither have I been sure that he was the ‘champion’ that I compared him to in my memorial address. He was wearing a Champion Sports t-shirt when he died, and it was this piece of clothing that had prompted me to come to this conclusion.
I can never be certain what Omari’s thoughts were about me because he never expressed them. I do know that he knew that I loved him because he had on occasion made covert references expressing disbelief that I would consider it possible we could have any kind of physical relationship. If I were honest, a part of me would like to think he thought of me at least as being a special person in his life who stuck by him in his biggest trial. But, on the other hand, if I’m brutally honest, I know that he considered me no different from a pawn. I was just someone in his environment he saw at a loose end and, because of my feelings for him, he decided to use me to his advantage. In the end, I was no different to the ex-lovers who had become too possessive and in order to balance out the difficulty, he had to find a solution to the problem.
There is no trace of Omari in my present life. After his death, I became a mature student at university, changed my career to social work and eventually moved to live in Kent. I have never told any of my new friends about Omari. When I meet old friends and acquaintances, they still refrain from mentioning his name. It is almost as if his existence has never been known. Furthermore, Omari’s picture, given to me by Abdul, is neatly gathering dust in my attic, along with one or two of the cards I kept of his memorable wordings.
Abdul is now married and living in France. I hope I never see him again. Whether he has changed or not, I have no desire to ever have any future contact. For a couple of years after Omari died, we occasionally bumped into each other, but our conversations were always mundanely superficial. Neither have I any desire to meet George again, who has been shunned by friends after serving a one-year prison sentence for abusing four young boys in a children’s home back in the early 1970s. I believe he is living somewhere in Devon and, according to a source who knows him, is living in denial of his abusive past.
Despite not wanting to have any contact again with either of these two individuals, I know deep in my heart that our three lives are indelibly linked together forever, since that final night in the Lighthouse when the three of us were united in love for one man – Omari.
I know that nothing in this lifetime or beyond can ever change that moment in time.