The longer tine on the watch, the minute hand, is closer to the knob of the half-hour mark. As the seconds prong races through its perpetual circumnavigation, I confirm on my Gevril that it is almost 4:30 a.m. My workout is over for now. Time to start writing. I resist the urge to look at the time on my phone, to note how much time I have lost. I will see it on my notebook.
At a certain point in my life, I came to constantly count time. I could count on time to achieve anything I came to believe after reading many motivational books. ‘Redeeming the time, because the days are evil.’ The days were certainly evil under the terror of the treacherous military dictatorships in Nigeria. They controlled everything, even our time. They controlled what we could do, what we could say, when we could go to school. Many times, they shut down the schools, so that no-one could go to school. Every young person had to just sit down at home doing nothing. It did not matter if you had ability for college or none at all. We were all in the same boat back then in Nigeria. We just stayed at home. Everyone except the kids of the military cabal that ran Nigeria. It is ironic how the dumb military rulers sponsored their witless often drug-addicted kids abroad, to pursue their education and continue life freely while they put our lives on pause in the Nigerian concentration camp. At least it felt like some kind of cage.
And now, the coronavirus pandemic has leveled the playing field, and has us all on lockdown. I’ve had a leveling experience in New York, unlike my life in Lagos. There is nowhere for the ritzy rich in New York to go to, to breathe in un-poisoned Covid-19 air. We are all in this together. Under house arrest. But it’s different now. It is us doing the right thing to get through this. To help the health of others as we safeguard ours, by modifying our behavior. Because some of us could be asymptomatic and spread the virus to members of vulnerable groups through aerosolized coronavirus infected droplets. Therefore, we all comply with the law in New York, and wear masks.
It’s just mind-boggling that many people in Nigeria think it’s all a hoax. Or simply a rich man’s disease and God’s judgment on Nigeria’s politicians—or ‘politricksians’ as they are scornfully called in Nigeria. A former governor of the southwestern state of Oyo, died from the virus on June 25, 2020. Just ten days earlier, a senator in the 9th Nigerian National Assembly died in office after contracting Covid-19. The coronavirus had also taken the life of the man they said was the real president of Nigeria—Abba Kyari. He was the chief of staff to the frail septuagenarian President Buhari, who has remained coronavirus free. But I know the coronavirus pandemic is nothing to speculate over whether it is real or not. I have lost real friends to the disease, which takes life rapidly upon infection.
I still remember big Shola’s sonorous voice that erupted like thunder. I hadn’t seen or spoken to him in 14 years. I liked him a lot. Everyone who knew him did. I was stunned when Bob told me he’d passed away in Maryland. I still remember his advice to me after I had graduated from Alabama, and moved to Maryland: “With your MBA, you will make it anywhere you choose to live in,” said big Shola. He was a big guy, about six feet, three inches tall and he was heavy, too. Shola had predicted that I would be snatched up by a woman in a year. He was right.
Now he’s suddenly left behind his wife and kids. All hapless victims of the coronavirus pandemic, which has disproportionately impacted Black and Brown people in America, while barely causing a dent on the African continent with its enervated healthcare system. The contrast is telling—no race appears to be immune to the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the effect of racial disparities in casualty rates are a result of persistent racism in the delivery of healthcare in the West. Trouble comes in pairs. On May 25, 2020 a depraved Minneapolis cop, Derek Chauvin, pressed his knee into the neck of a handcuffed and prostrate unarmed Black man, George Floyd for an interminable period that had been captioned as 8 minutes and 46 seconds. The rogue cop never removed his knee even after it was evident that George Floyd had given up the ghost. The callous killer cop was apathetic about being recorded on the cameras of various pedestrians pleading for the life of George Floyd. It was the perfect storm as Generation Z, threw caution to the wind, taking to the streets to protest systemic racism and police brutality against Blacks. The gruesome killing of George Floyd, which went viral was the catalyst that led to global protests against racial injustice in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic that scared the bejesus out of the world.
What has been surprising is the sudden overwhelming support of white people calling out systemic racism and the iconoclasm of mainstream folks tearing down monuments raised in reverence of racists, to intimidate minorities. All of a sudden, the once seemingly fringe hashtag, Black Lives Matter, assumed iconic status, as almost 70 percent of Americans were now in support of their goals to end all racism. Reparations for descendants of African slaves in America suddenly appears plausible. And the people are not wasting a good crisis.
Perhaps, in their own vulnerability in the middle of poisonous air suffusing the globe, white people finally recognized the vulnerability of others and could empathize with them. And can finally do something about it. I am finally slowing down a bit. For four months, I have lived alone in my apartment, without a soul to talk to except over the phone. As a writer and high performer, I often crave isolation so I can work and think and write—without the distraction of people. But now I crave company. I have not touched a human being in four months. It is also as if coughing and sneezing became extinct.
Even when my father died two years ago, I did not slow down. I had exams to write in Milan, while I was in law school. But now on lockdown, I could allow my emotions to bubble up. Just after I heard big Shola had died, I heard my first cousin had lost her life while delivering her first child. Her newborn son survived, but now I knew for a fact that Black women are still more likely than any other group to die in childbirth.
Now I had time to listen to my notifications from WhatsApp. It is Norris who has sent me a voicemail. He has recorded his daily reading of the Holy Bible. I’d spoken with him just yesterday and he told me how he tries to get his Polish partner to read the Bible with him every morning now. It is how Norris has tried to make sense in a meaningless time. I have known Norris for about 30 years. He lives in the United Kingdom now. On May 1, his 2-year-old son, Adam, complained of chronic stomach pains, which escalated to vomiting. He was rushed to the hospital, and after some tests were done, the hospital staff were said to have instructed the parents to return home with their son and to treat his symptoms with paracetamol. However, Adam’s symptoms only grew worse at home, and he was soon returned to the hospital. Norris became rightly aggravated as he felt that the hospital’s staff were not appropriately addressing their problem or showing the level of attention their son deserved. It was even more frustrating that the hospital staff had requested that he no longer come along with his family. They requested that only his European partner come in with their son, for further treatment.
On May 18, little Adam died in pain, after his organs were said to have failed as a result of an inflammatory illness related to ‘Kawasaki Disease/Toxic Shock Syndrome’ which was not diagnosed early. I called Norris once I heard, a few days after his son died. He was in pain, confused and I could hear the anger in his voice:
“I just threw a party for him last year, thanking God for his good health. Over 100 people came,” said Norris struck with anguish.
His first son had not been fortunate to enjoy good health so far, and so he had rejoiced that Adam had been blessed with good health. But now he was suddenly dead within a few days of falling sick from an unknown illness. I could hear Norris cry in our conversation two months ago. He seemed far away.
And so, when he returned my phone call yesterday, and seemed more upbeat, I was glad that he’d found strength to move forward from the irredeemable loss of his son. But Norris was now telling me of the fragility of life. He talked of his experience in his two decades in the UK, which for him seemingly amounted to taking one step forward, only to be taken two steps back. He said he thought his son was all he had, and now he’s gone. Norris told me he could not seem to find meaning in life in the UK right now, and he needed to find that meaning somewhere else. He told me he would have returned to Nigeria, just to clear his head, had he not been barred by the nationwide lockdown and travel ban due to the coronavirus pandemic.
I was glad to hear Norris return to his jovial comedian self again, as he tried to crack a few jokes about the life he’d left behind in Nigeria, wistful for the old days. When I got off the phone, I realized that our phone conversation had lasted for about 2 hours. But I do not mind. He sees the glass half full. That’s good. He still has hope.
I think of home and my mother. About two weeks ago, I’d received a scare. I was told my almost 80-year-old mother was not feeling well. I’d tried to warn her to have my niece and young relatives stay far away from her and to wear a mask all the time. I just could not explain to them that there was something in America killing a lot of people. About 150,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus pandemic in a span of about 5 months. The constant burr of ambulance sirens are now part of the atmosphere in New York.
I got my cousin to check on her. Some good news. She was much better. It had been an allergic reaction from something she ate. Her grandmother lived to be over 115 years old, they say. More importantly, my mother had taught me to eat right and take care of myself. But we are learning that neither longevity, nor life is guaranteed in these times. And we know that people over 65 years old are vulnerable to the coronavirus. At one time we had been told that children were not so much at risk. But my friend Norris, unfortunately happens to be one of the families vulnerable to the outlier effect. His healthy two-year-old boy appears to have died from Covid-19 related illness.
It is still uncertain. Norris informed me that his son has still not been buried after two months of his passing, because the coroners are still running tests to determine the exact cause of death. We all still know so little about the coronavirus or what it could mutate to. That is why it is called ‘novel’, because its etiology and pathogenesis are still yet to be fully studied and understood. We are all learning in real time. Norris says he is thinking of letting them have his son’s body so they can understand the disease that took his life and help others with that knowledge.
I am glad we have people like Norris, who can look beyond their own personal grief and wish to still look out for others. The charity of people like Norris, means we humans do not have to always reinvent the wheel, as others can provide us with knowledge and instruction from their experience as guides to protect us. After an aggressive and protracted lockdown in New York, the city that once never slept, we are finally seeing signs of the New York hustle trickle in cautiously. New York is no longer the inglorious epicenter of the coronavirus epidemic. The Sun belt now has that infamy. Florida and California now have more coronavirus cases than New York. Recent data from Johns Hopkins University indicate that 423,855 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Florida, while 450,242 cases in California have been confirmed, compared to New York’s 411,736 confirmed cases.
Florida had scoffed at the precautions taken by New York to contain the coronavirus pandemic, and to flatten the curve.
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