SHE came in from the rain. A tiny woman with too much bottled up inside her for too long to begin a conversation. But once she started, she talked almost non-stop for five hours, pausing for just one cup of tea. Only occasional fits of sobbing punctuated her story. But the release and relief were obvious. She had chosen a grim New Territories' restaurant. It was a no- man's land between the tiny flat where she hides the secret she has nursed for seven years and the outside world. She also chose the name Mrs Chu. For even though she wanted to tell her storyat last, she could not reveal her true identity. The result would be disastrous even by the standards of a life already filled with disaster. Just how this small, middle-aged woman had managed to keep so much so secret for so long without exploding in rage against the way the world had treated her is a mystery. But she had. And when she spoke, it was in a quiet, well- modulated, matter-of-fact voice. It was the story of a woman who bore a haemophiliac son who then became HIV-positive after receiving contaminated blood products; of a mother so concerned about the effects this news would have on her son, that she has not told him to this day, even though he is already 16. When he was thrown out of school and no one could find him another, she held him in their flat to protect him. It is the story of a wife so concerned that her husband should not be worried by additional burdens that she has yet to share the news with him, even though she learned it seven years ago. It is also the story of a woman who has had to bear all this alone. In other countries, where similar tragedies have occurred, families have been supported and surrounded by care, concern and attention. Mrs Chu takes it all on her $3,000-a-month factory wage. No trauma therapists. No expensive lawyers seeking compensation. ''Now that I am talking to you, my head is spinning,'' she said. ''It is an old wound that I do not want to open up. Nobody else can feel my pain. Only I know how much it hurts. ''I am so confused, so troubled, so unhappy. It is a feeling that even if I had the words to describe it, another person would never be able to understand.'' Last weekend, at a Christmas party organised by the AIDS Foundation for haemophiliac families, Mrs Chu recalls receiving some short but brutally frank advice. She met a father whose son was dying of AIDS. He told her she should start collecting ice-cream boxes. ''He said they would come in useful one day,'' Mrs Chu said. ''He told me when the time came, I would need to put them all over the flat - on the bed table, near the sofa - because the boy would be vomiting blood that could easily fill up one box at a time. I told him I did not want to hear anymore.'' However awful, it was also a rare moment shared by the parents whose haemophiliac children carry the HIV virus. The party at least allowed the families to share their darkest secret - a secret some of them have, like Mrs Chu, kept for years. ''It was a sad place to be,'' she said. ''No parents at the party smiled. ''That is why parents of HIV- infected children seldom see each other. We do not share our secret with people who know little about haemophilia and AIDS. We do not even like to talk about it among ourselves. We just want to keep our heads down. ''We do not want to remember what we and our children are suffering. If we start thinking about it, we will have many sleepless nights.'' But if other families are lying low, trying desperately to keep the truth known only to close family members, Mrs Chu has a bigger problem: there is nobody in the family she can turn to for help. As a mother who passed on the genetic blood disease of haemophilia to one of her two sons, Mrs Chu feels it is not right to trouble those dearest to her with the news that the child has contracted HIV through one of the many blood transfusions he, as a haemophiliac, requires to stay alive. ''I was not deliberately trying to hide it from my husband,'' she said. ''I have not told him because I thought what good would it do? It is enough to have myself worrying about it day and night. I do not want to get him worried as well. ''And I don't think he has ever suspected anything. It is not that he doesn't care about me or the family. We have two boys and he loves them all very much. He always says Ah-fai [not his real name: is a good boy, a very good- looking boy. ''But he has to work every day. He is a car mechanic. If I got him worried too and he could not sleep at night and he had an accident at work, who is going to support the family? In our family, if the hands stop the mouths stop.'' Now, the mother has a dilemma, deciding whether Ah-fai is old enough to find out the truth that he is an innocent victim who contracted the HIV virus through contaminated blood products imported from the US in the mid-1980s. ''I don't know whether I should tell him,'' she said. ''He is a smart boy but I don't know what is in his mind. I am not sure how he will take it. ''I am all confused: at times when he is really naughty and he makes me angry I will tell him to his face that he should die tomorrow. I want him to die before I do because once I am gone there will be nobody who can look after him. ''But then what if I told him and he could not handle it? What if he jumped out of the window and I came home after work to find my son a bloody mess? ''At the Christmas party there were some children who have already developed full-blown AIDS. And then these past weeks we have heard about the disease in the media. I asked my son the other day whether he saw the children in the party, he said yes but nothing more. ''I always wonder how much he knows and how much he doesn't know. I need somebody to tell me what is the best way to handle it.'' Advice is something Mrs Chu definitely needs, although she has little doubt that she has done her best for Ah-fai. She is also certain that despite the fact that Ah-fai knows little of his condition, there is no danger that he will spread his disease. Ah-fai spends most of his time in his tiny public housing estate flat. His parents will keep him shut away for at least seven hours each day to stop him roaming the streets and the neighbourhood's game centres while they are away at work. He is only allowed out when his mother returns from a factory at about 4 pm. Lunch is taken to Ah-fai by his neighbour, a schoolboy, when he finishes his primary classes. Ah-fai sometimes goes without a proper meal if his little friend is not around to buy him a lunch box. For about a year Ah-fai has had to spend his day home alone with the goldfish he keeps in the flat. Sometimes he pleads with his mother to let him go to the movies. His mother obliges on the condition that he does not drag his friends along. ''I have had rows with him many times on whether he should be allowed out while we are at work,'' she said. But in his desperation to meet other people Ah-fai has stayed out all night on a few occasions, not returning home until the next morning. ''He stole my money and spent it all in one night,'' Mrs Chu said. ''He has stolen as much as $2,000, and spent it with friends in karaoke bars. And there have also been strangers who have rung up claiming my son owes them money.'' Mrs Chu said her son would not have gone astray had the school not kicked him out two years ago, when he was just finishing first form. ''The headmaster said my son was poor in his work,'' she said. ''But considering the fact that he is always in and out of hospital and had a high absentee rate, how could one expect too much of him? ''He had no time for Ah-fai and kicked him out as soon as he finished Form One. Then he was only about 13. I went to see the Education Department many times afterwards. ''They said my son needed special education. They said he would be given a place in a special school in our neighbourhood. I pleaded with them to give me a place in a different district so our neighbours would not look at him as an abnormal child. The department would not. ''Then when my son passed 15, the Education Department said he should be assessed . . . so much time has been wasted. I have seen many Government officials for a school place for my son and nobody can give me a satisfactory answer. Two years have been wasted. ''I feel the Education Department has failed completely. Nobody could give me real help. Only last week they sent me a letter saying I should send my son for more assessment tests. I do not intend to reply to it, because it has been shown to be a waste oftime. ''They only make me angry. When I saw in the news something similar is happening to another child, I thought I should speak out. ''I really want to ask them why has it taken them so long to achieve nothing? They only know how to pass the buck. If they had given me a definite no I would have sought help elsewhere. Now so much time has been wasted and he is still sitting at home.'' Mrs Chu believes it is because Ah-fai has been deprived of education for so long that he has the attitudes of a 13-year-old. ''He is naive and has no concept about money,'' she said. ''But he is not stupid. I would not call him stupid, only he has not been given a chance to develop himself.'' Mrs Chu said she felt enormous pain every time she thought about Ah-fai and the state he was in. ''He is left alone with nothing much to do all day,'' she said. ''That is why no matter how tired I am, I will plead with him to go for a walk with me.'' Mrs Chu wonders how things would have been different if Ah- fai died as an infant. ''My son had gastritis when he was about four months old and he had to be rushed to the hospital and stayed there for a night,'' she said. ''I always think if I had not had him treated then, he would have died and I would not be left to suffer all this.'' Ah-fai was diagnosed as a haemophiliac about a month later. ''I discovered he was a haemophiliac when he started to use the walker,'' she said. ''He was knocking his chest on the front of it and suddenly there were bruises all over his body.'' Mrs Chu had to watch Ah-fai day and night to protect him from falling or getting hurt. ''Sometimes in the middle of the night - out of nowhere - his joints would suddenly swell up or he would hurt himself and I would have to rush him to hospital for an injection. ''From then on, it was a life in and out of the hospital. If he was bleeding severely, he might have to stay for a night. ''It was a nightmare. Even to this day . . . I have to carry him on my back to the hospital because if his bruises are on his ankle he is unable to walk.'' But the nightmare grew darker in the mid-1980s when AIDS and the danger faced by haemophiliacs through blood transfusions flared up. ''I could not remember exactly what happened,'' she said. ''After all these years, I have learned to forget and I have become really forgetful. ''The only thing I can remember is there was one time when our doctor at Queen Mary Hospital said all the haemophiliacs should have a blood test. We were never told of the results. ''I remember asking the doctor and the doctor would not say. I never thought I should press him although I already thought my son had contracted the disease. ''The doctor was telling us how we should handle the needles. He said they should be disinfected and wrapped up before we threw them away and suggested they should be put in a tin and returned to the hospital for disposal. He also said we should be wearing gloves when handling blood. ''Then I was already having doubts: I thought the doctor should have told us, because if my son was not a carrier, there would be no need for me to have taken all this trouble handling the stuff he used. ''But on the other hand, I thought it was only for the best that the doctor did not tell us. He was a caring doctor and he had a lot of time for us. I have the feeling that he was not revealing my son's condition because he did not want us to abandon him,or at least treat him badly.'' Mrs Chu said it was not until Ah-fai was in the first form that his condition was confirmed by a doctor at the Prince of Wales Hospital. ''He hurt himself badly either cycling or roller skating . . . he never told me . . . but he had to be put in the hospital for two months,'' Mrs Chu said. ''The doctor suggested he should have a blood test. It was confirmed . . . and it was the doctor whosaid there was no need to tell Ah-fai. He was only 13 years old.'' Mrs Chu said since he was a little boy, he had been taught the precautions he should take. ''I have always told him he has to be careful with his blood, or even the food he eats,'' she said. ''He knows how to handle the needles; that he should have his own cup and if he goes to another person's house he should wash the cup he has used. ''I have always treated him as a normal person. His elder brother, who is about 20, knows he is HIV- positive - they are very close to each other. We eat together on the same table and dip our chopsticks into the same dishes. We have never tested positive. ''I think we - and other families like us - have proved there is really no danger of contracting the disease socially.'' Mrs Chu said after all these years of living with the stigma of HIV she had learned to lie. ''When your son does not go to school but stays at home all day, neighbours naturally wonder,'' she said. ''I just have to think up some feeble excuses. Sometimes I will laugh at those excuses, thinking how unconvincing they are. ''There is nothing much I can do. The reality is you cannot tell the truth. There are people out there who fear HIV so much they will not go near a carrier for anything. With all this publicity, there are some people who will even think once you are a haemophiliac you will automatically have AIDS or HIV, which is nonsense. ''There are about 200 haemophiliacs in Hongkong but less than 70 of them have HIV or full blown AIDS.'' Mrs Chu said sometimes even close relatives, who had known the child since he was born, would not readily accept the child. ''I know a mother whose son is a haemophiliac and HIV carrier but their relatives only know for a fact that he is a haemophiliac,'' she said. ''Lately, when this mother invited them along for a meal, they did not turn up because they thought he must be a carrier too. They will not go near them now.'' What Mrs Chu cannot accept are the irrational and groundless fears, that even the some doctors have. ''My son requires injections frequently; some of the parents have learned to inject their children at home,'' Mrs Chu said. ''I could never do that myself. There were times when I would take my son to the hospital for injections. But there were also timeswhen a doctor nearby would inject my son at his clinic for $50. ''Several years ago, just when the problem of AIDS and haemophiliacs became a hot issue, a doctor who all along had been happy to inject my son refused to do it anymore. He said I should go to the hospital instead. ''Sometimes I think a lot of so- called educated people are cold-blooded.'' One recollection that has not left her was when she visited her son's primary school one day and witnessed the sort of treatment he got at school. ''Ah-fai was then only a haemophiliac, not a HIV-carrier,'' she said. ''I remember clearly this teacher was standing there, with all the parents and schoolchildren watching, scolding another parent whose boy had failed a test. She pointed to my son, who had done better and said: 'This is a boy with a terminal disease and he has higher scores'. ''My heart bled when I heard that. Is she qualified to be a teacher, to be so ignorant and so tactless? She made me so angry. I wanted to complain but then I decided to swallow it because my son was still a student there.'' But Mrs Chu said some of her relatives knew about Ah-fai's problem and had been very supportive, although they were not without fears. ''The other day, they invited Ah-fai around for a hot pot,'' Mrs Chu said. ''I did not go. When Ah- fai returned he said he really enjoyed the meal because he did not need to cook the food himself. His cousins had done it for him. What he did not know is they had done it because they did not want him to stick his chopsticks in the pot.'' Mrs Chu believes her life would be easier if AIDS in Hongkong was rid of the taboo and prejudice and families like hers were compensated. ''Ah-fai told me he wanted a Polo jumper for Christmas, saying it would only cost me $800,'' she said. ''The other day he said I should have the house redecorated because he was the one who had to stay there all the time. ''Of course I cannot afford it. I earn $3,000 a month. His father does not have a steady income. He is a good father and when he has work to do he will give me $6,000 a month. But if it is a bad month . . . then money will not come in. I have not got a cent from him for six months now. ''It is true that my other son is working, but he is just a factory worker and what he earns is just enough to support himself. Sometimes, he comes to me for money. My salary is only enough to support Ah-fai.'' It was at this point during the interview that Mrs Chu began to cry. ''Sometimes I have only $100 left in my purse and I need it for food for the family,'' she said. ''But I have learned not to touch the $100 no matter what happens. The money is for my son. I need it for taxis when he has to be rushed to hospital. I will never use that money for other purposes. It will only be used when Ah-fai needs help.'' Financially, Mrs Chu has received little help from the Government, except for a monthly allowance of $1,650 for Ah-fai's disability. ''I have always thought if I had money I could open a little store and my husband and I, together with Ah-fai, could earn a living selling newspapers and magazines or stationery,'' she said. ''Then Ah-fai could meet people and we would be there to look after him.'' Mrs Chu believes haemophiliacs, who have contracted the deadly HIV virus through blood transfusions in public hospitals, should be compensated. ''Mrs Elizabeth Wong [the Secretary for Health and Welfare: said there would be no compensation before a court case, that we would have to wait for the outcome of an inquiry,'' Mrs Chu said. ''And Mrs Peggy Lam [chairwoman] of the AIDS Foundation told us we might have to come forward to fight our case. ''But I think everyone involved in the case should ensure our identity is protected. We have relatives; some mothers have married daughters whose in-laws may despise them once they find out about their family members having HIV or AIDS. When people have so much misunderstanding about haemophiliacs and AIDS, anonymity should be guaranteed.'' She said it was not acceptable for Mrs Wong to have said in the Legislative Council there was no record as to whether haemophiliacs had contracted HIV through blood transfusions in public hospitals: ''How else could the children have contracted the disease?'' Mrs Chu said the Government should also guarantee free medical treatment in hospitals even when compensation was paid. ''They could not say: 'Now I have paid you so you are rich enough to pay for your children's hospital treatment'. A lot of the mothers dread the day when this happens because the treatment for haemophilia and HIV are very expensive. ''God has not been fair to our children; it is tough enough being a haemophiliac, now they have got HIV as well,'' she said. ''I think it is not too much to ask for someone to be kind to them.''