Safaya Story

Coronavirus: When the World Held Its Breath

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“ Coronavirus ke? Na person wey chop belefull fit buy sanitizer, abi you never receive the memo? Carry this yankee mentality comot for my face,” she laughed and continued to pluck the ugwu leaves from their stalk.

Her customers were waiting for her. Zinc Star Restaurant was just by the sharp corner that led to the farmer’s market.

A strategic position for a local eatery, Mama Nneka knew hell would first freeze over seven times before she closed down her shop. And what was that thing the man had said about bacteria and viruses? Mtchew! Na white man colonization still dey worry that one. Food wey don enter fire don sanitize. Dey your dey oga!

The ugwu leaves now plucked, she proceeded to cut them into tiny shreds. In the end, one could count the number of strands that would wind up in a customer’s plate of soup. She clapped her hands together to rid it of the remaining ugwu leaves that clung to it.
The man watched her for a while before he began  to walk away.

“You no wan buy the moi-moi again? I go tell aunty oh.” she called out.

This woman. “I will be back,” he promised. “Aunty wan make I buy something for her.”

It was true, his wife had sent a list of essentials they needed for the house. He walked for about 7 minutes and then stopped at a retail shop.

“Chidi how now? You get hand sanitizer?”
“Baba I dey oh! See how you don chop up. Ahhn! Na so marriage sweet? How madam nau?”

Someone coughed behind him; an indication that he was wasting too much time exchanging pleasantries with Chidi.

“Guy, cover your mouth! Coronavirus nau! Wetin dey worry you?” Chidi shot back.

“Chidi, hand sanitizer abeg,” the defaulting customer ignored the look of displeasure on the other man’s face as he dipped his hand into his pocket to remove the change he had collected from the tomato seller.

“Guy! This money dirty sha!” Chidi joked.

“Plus hand sanitizer na 1k now oh! You know say naira don fall.”

“1K!?” both customers chorused in unison.

Chid looked away, choosing to focus instead on the ceiling rather than their faces.

“Give me one,” the first man said again and on a second thought he added, “make it three so I can give Mama Nneka one. I stopped by her shop today and she didn’t have one.

“She said the food would be sanitized when it enters the stomach. God help us all. My wife is pregnant and the only moi-moi she wants is Mama Nneka’s. Who did I offend Chidi?”

Both men laughed as Chid packaged the sanitizer with a ‘thank-you-for-buying-three’ look. The man collected the sanitizer and headed back the way he had come.

On his way, he could not help but wonder why the market was unusually crowded on a Monday and then it hit him.  Coronavirus. Panic buying. People were storing food for the days ahead especially since that WhatsApp broadcast message about covid- 19 went viral, spreading fear across the entire nation. His mother had even called him to recommend salt and warm water. Nigerians and their love for saline solution.

Maami, I am a doctor. If corona virus were interested in your intestines alone, the acid in your stomach would destroy it in 24 hours.

“Wash your hands and stay at home. No women’s fellowship meeting too please. Tell them your son; the doctor said you should stay at home because of coronavirus.”

“Are you at home Dare? Answer me nau, are you in your house?”

He was about to answer when he noticed a crowd of people, a few feet from Chidi’s shop.

His medical sixth sense immediately told him to leave the market. Thank heavens there was another exit and thank God the government had finally banned large gatherings.

“Are you there?” his mother asked again.

“No maami; your daughter in-law said she wants to eat moi-moi and she specifically warned me not to buy from Chicken Republic. Maami I am tired. Yesterday it was dried fish. I was lucky the one you sent was still remaining.”

“Dare take care of my grandchild oh. I don’t want to hear stories that touch. Buy the entire beans farm if that is what she wants but don’t deny her of moi-moi. Ahhnnn! How much is moi-moi sef?”

“Maami, I know mama Nneka is a sucker for hygiene but she didn’t have a hand sanitizer in her shop today. It is not wise to go about buying moi-moi at this point – “

“Heysss! Do you know what I ate when I carried you? So because you went to America and schooled, you now know what a pregnant woman needs abi?

“Avoid me oh! Avoid me this morning Dare. Ehnnnn….so have you bought the moi-moi so I can pray over it?”

Women! Whether 70 or 7, they were the same everywhere. “Maami, I have to go now. I need to sleep. I have been at the hospital all night. Please tell everyone to wash their hands and stay indoors.”

“And pray,” she stubbornly added.

“Yes. Wash, pray and don’t attend women’s fellowship meeting. Stay at home I beg you.”

“What about my shop in the market Dare? Who will buy all the fabrics I just brought for my customers to come and select? Aunty coronavirus?”

“Maami…how many fabrics did you buy and how much?”

“Fifty. 250k. Ehen?”

“I will send you the money when I get home. Shebi if I send you the money, you will stay at home?”

“The wrappers nko? They will stay in the shop laidat? Ah-ahn Dare. Are you ok?”

“The wrappers are mine now. You shall have your 350k maami. Buy hand sanitizer too.”

“Buy moi-moi for my wife too.”

***
“Babe! I’m home. Where are you?”
He heard her heavy footstep coming from the kitchen. As an administrative assistant for an NGO in the country, she was lucky the pregnancy had come just when she the office had closed down for a restructuring.

“No hugs baby! I have to take a shower first. And yes, I got your moi-moi. No, you are not having it until I microwave it myself.”

She laughed then; a sound that he had grown to like hearing in their home.

He was  in the bathroom but that pearly and crystal clear sound almost made him  step out of the bathtub, naked and covered in soapsuds until he realized it was unsafe to do so. He changed tactics instead.

“Hun, you know it is unsafe to go about eating street food. I know you are pregnant, I know you have weird cravings but we have to put them under control. Listen to me, this coronavirus is real…”

By the time Dare was done with the bathroom, he had delivered a WHO-standard lecture on the potential risks, impact and harmful consequences of contracting the virus to his wife.

“So in essence, I cannot eat my moi-moi because of coronavirus?” she stood at akimbo. 

He rolled his eyes. “I’ll microwave it but you have to promise me this will be the last time.”

“Ok.”

“Why is it in a Ziploc bag?” she raised a cute eyebrow?

“I have two endangered species to protect. I am not about to take any chances,” he winked.

***

Ahmad had been experiencing mild chills and fatigue since he came back from Lagos. After the ban on motorcycles, he had decided to come back to the North and set up shop as a roadside vulcanizer. He had procrastinated until news had broken out about a “birus”. What had they called it? Covik-one-nine ko?

He thought about his 3 wives and 12 children. It was time to leave Lagos. First, it was Sanwo Olu and his motorcycle ban. Now a deadly virus from China? Wai Crona birus. Innalillahi! What was happening? It did not take him long to decide to get a loan from his friend Emeka who had been in the motorcycle business before Allah had smiled on his fortunes.

Emeka was now a big time trader of tailoring supplies. Just recently, he had even told Ahmad of his recent trip to China that was cut short because of the outbreak of this covik birus. If anyone could help his business with start-up capital, it would be Emeka. Ahmad called before visiting and Emeka’s wife had answered the phone to say her husband was down with a serious case of catarrh.

“Catarrh kuma? In this Lagos heat? Haba madam. I go still kwam see oga,” he had replied her.

And so here, he was. Emeka was truly down with catarrh but he had managed to give Ahmad the loan and within three days, Ahmad packed his meagre belongings and waved goodbye to Lagos.

Almost two weeks later, he had set up shop at the market back home. Today, a man who had a flat tyre while on errand for his madam had parked in front of Ahmad’s vulcanizer’s workshop to have it repaired. In no time, Ahmad fixed the errant tyre and was about to collect the fee he charged when he sneezed.

Ahnnn…oga take am easy oh,” the man said as he removed a hand sanitizer, squirted a generous amount in his hand before collecting the change from Ahmad. His phone was vibrating. It was madam.

Before he could answer the phone however, Ahmad who had tried all week to suppress the catarrh symptoms with over the counter flu medications finally succumbed to a dizzy spell and collapsed in front of his customer.

The other man stepped back in shock as he tried to get the attention of passers-by. Common sense told him not to touch the man but then again, he could not leave. The apprentice in the shop had began to shout and soon, a crowd gathered at the scene.
The apprentice narrated what transpired and two men assisted to lift Ahmad’s heavy body to a sitting position.

Happy to have escaped the scene without being lynched out of suspicion that he might have done something diabolic to the man, the flat-tyre-man happily offered to drive them to the hospital. He was grateful he had already concluded madam’s errand.

***

As Dare headed for the kitchen to microwave his wife’s moi-moi, he got a call from the hospital.

“Middle-aged man, symptoms of covid, collapsed at the market,” the doctor on call had rattled off the information as if he rehearsed it.

A sweat broke out on Dare’s forehead.

“Where is Alfred? He asked his wife?” not wanting to leave her home alone.

“You were taking too much time so I sent him to get the moi-moi.”

The blood froze in his head. Alfred? Jesus!

“Lara, please tell me he’s not back. Tell me you did not eat any moi-moi in my absence.“ His medical training kicked into full gear. His wife! His unborn child!

“No, no…calm down. Alfred is not back.”

“Doc?” He had forgotten  his colleague was still on the phone.

“I was in the market earlier today, Saheed. In fact, I just got back home now. My wife is pregnant, Saheed. I just kissed my wife. Jesus!”

“I told you to go home, didn’t I?”

“She wanted moi-moi!”

“Ok. Calm down bro. We will come get the both of you. Anybody else you may have been exposed to?”

“No. Oh! Wait! Chidi at the retail shop, Mama Nneka at the restaurant and –“Dare’s voice broke. “The entire restaurant was brimming with people man.”

“Ok…stay with me. Can we reach Mama Nneka? Now?”

“Yes, my wife has her number.”

“Ok. That’s good. Now send me that number and stay in the house until the guys and I come to get you. Where is your driver?”

“Alfred went to the market too. He’s not back yet. Who brought in the patient?”

“Oh, two men and some man who had a flat tyre and had stopped to repair it at the place the patient collapsed. Wait. I see your driver. What is he doing at the hospital? They are escorting him to the isolation room. I will call you back.”

The moi-moi now forgotten, all Dare and Lara could do was wait for evacuation.

***

The TV in the background was still playing. A religious channel. Divine Mission Church of God was announcing that church services henceforth would be streamed live in order to curb the spread of the virus.

The man hissed, switched to another channel.

“For coronavirus, you will receive a corolla 2019,” the preacher said.

That’s what I am talking about! he grinned. He peeped out of the window and wondered why an ambulance had suddenly appeared in front of the new couple’s beautiful home but then local gossip had said the husband was a doctor. Maybe it was an emergency and they had come to pick him up. It wasn’t his business…

He stepped out and the street greeted him with an eerie emptiness. No traffic, no noise, not even a single soul on the street. It was like a giant hand swept the street clean of its inhabitants. The world was holding its breath.

Stay in your house…it was the voice of the pastor from the TV ringing in his head.

He bent to tie his shoelaces. It was time to go the gym. Perhaps he would even pass by Mama Nneka’s restaurant on his way back and buy her delicious moi-moi. Na person wey get food for house fit do quarantine. And then there was the car to pick from the vulcanizer’s shop. Whoever said people should stay at home did not understand how things work in Nigeria. He headed for the vulcanizer’s shop to pick his old corolla.

***

Inside the old corrolla, an innocent handkerchief Ahmad had used to wipe sweat while he fixed the car was draped across the steering wheel….it was brimming with the virus.

Mama Nneka was still serving food happily while she walked around the restaurant, armed with the sanitizer when members of the Nigerian Police Force and National Centre for Disease Control arrived.

The lone stranger noticed the furor of activities and decided he could work out at home after all. He turned and headed back in the direction he had come. And that was how a single decision to stay at home saved the day.

The virus thrives in an atmosphere of disobedience. Stay at home today!

***

Epilogue

Ahmad, his apprentice, and Alfred and his moi-moi tested positive for the coronavirus.

Maami no longer attends women’s fellowship. The wrappers are still in the shop but she has her 250k in the bank.

Dare now makes moi-moi for Lara whenever he’s not on call. They both tested negative.

And you….my reader. I hope you’re sitting at home.  Coronavirus is real but nevertheless, spread hope, not the virus.🤸

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