By Kemboi Victor
The neighborhood was unusually restrained that morning. Very few vehicles and motorbikes roared on the road and only a few people were seen walking quietly, most of them heading to the shops. The whole country was now scared of the pandemic and most people had opted to stay at home.
I thought about my friend Protus who had just been discharged from hospital after recovering from the virus. This was the second day since his release and I felt guilty for not checking on him. Apparently people, except a few, still feared to interact with him fearing to contract the virus from him.
Protus had contracted the virus about a month earlier, I presume when he had gone to Nairobi to see Angela, his girlfriend who was arriving from Italy. Nyundo our mutual friend and I had advised him against flying to Nairobi, bearing in mind the dangers we had heard about crowded places, but Protus could not listen.
Few days later we would learn that he had contracted the virus. And now, I mulled over the thought of visiting him despite the closeness of our homes. Few times I had feigned ignorance about his illness and like Nyundo I avoided seeing him.
Actually, these fears started even before he was admitted in hospital. It had been rumored that the last person you needed to meet before death was Protus who had developed ‘the deadly’ disease symptoms namely coughing and breathing with difficulty.
In fact, some of the villagers even started counting the days they thought it will take before Protus died. Then we had never known much about the virus although we understood partly how it attacked a patient and I prayed that our comrade was just having the normal cold or flu. But soon it was confirmed. An ambulance had emerged one morning revving with extreme speed towards Protus’ house.
Protus was being carried in to the ambulance
I proceeded to Protus’ house only to find him being carried into the ambulance by hurrying doctors. Indeed I could tell from far that our comrade was gravely ill. He was taken immediately leaving us sad and wondering what the world had come to be. We only waited to hear whether it was real or he was suffering from another deadly disease. Few days later he confirmed positive for the virus. Sadness engulfed me and I concluded that I would never see Protus again.
I remembered that evening when Protus and I had met at Mwembe Moja over a cup of tea at Mama Rhoda tea shop. If only he had taken my advice on the disease seriously we would be together happy now.
He had travelled that night wondering why we were worrying of a disease that had not even been reported in Eldoret. By then, some cases had been reported in Nairobi and we had watched on the television few times how people had died in other countries.
“Don’t be a coward Simiyu, this disease is not yet here. It is still in China where it was created,” he had told me at the restaurant, forcing a handshake the moment we met, which bothered me so much that I looked at my hand as if I had touched the disease itself. The way my colleagues in the office had talked about the new virus in town so frighteningly, you would think it killed immediately when you came to contact with it.
Just call it corona virus
“Brother don’t joke, I heard that this disease is deadly and there are people around town already rumored to have just come from the overseas and are carriers,” I said, as Protus chuckled at how I was so serious and frightened.
“That gonorrhea virus?” he asked, of course joking.
“Don’t even joke with it brother. Just call it corona virus,” I said. He laughed knowing that he had achieved his mischief on me and we entered the tea shop to have tea on his bill as he had promised. “It is now in Kenya, in Eldoret. Rumors say they have isolated a patient at the Eldoret Referral Hospital.”
“Who?” And he broke to a deafening laughter.
“The doctors of course, it is said that they got him early enough and we never know. I have just come from Eldoret. What if I have met him, won’t you get infected? Won’t you infect someone else, and that person will continue spreading it? Remember we are not still sure if it is airborne too.”
There was a rumor that there was a patient that was being quarantined at the hospital and had at first run out of hospital before he was caught early enough and that it was likely that he had spread the disease to many people especially those that had gone to Eldoret that day. It had been said the virus was spreading quickly like a wild fire too especially in towns.
By the time we sat down at the tea kiosk Protus had told me a bit of what he had learnt about the virus through stories. He complained the fact that the disease was in Kenya, and said it wasn’t meant for Africans.
“You remember the rumors about the third world war?”
“It might be serious but not so much to the Africans. I have read in internet that this disease doesn’t affect blacks and so it will not do much harm on us than the whites. The Chinese created it to attack the Americans but unfortunately it erupted and started to eat them before it was released.”
I wondered why Protus would take that assumption seriously yet the Chinese themselves were dying of the pandemic.
“But how comrade, how do you suppose the Chinese created it?” I asked.
“You remember last year there were rumors about the third world war?”
“Now hear it is like this: the Chinese created the virus to eliminate their enemies. You know China is growing so fast economically and I heard that it now wants to be a superpower, which is why they want to finish Americans to show their strength. This virus is intended to destroy everything in the world. The economy will dwindle, the world would be struggling to find a cure, the people will continue to die and all that. This is technically another world war,” Protus said confidently.
That seemed to me like a worst joke that had occurred to my ears after so many years in my life.
“So you want to say this is what people said was the insurrection?”
“Absolutely Simiyu, if it isn’t then what is it? Tell me. Ask yourself why it is so serious only in countries allied to America and not in Africa.”
It is transmitted through shaking hands
Tea was brought and we continued to argue until Nyundo arrived with his other stories too. He coughed like someone with flu as he arrived to alert us, to which we moved away from him. We later knew that he was just scaring us.
“Don’t infect us Nyundo. And you look like one of the victims today,” Protus joked as he moved to give Nyundo space. Nyundo had started speaking as he sat down too.
“Guys, Corona is real. It is transmitted through shaking hands. I have decided that from today I am not shaking hands. And two, keep distance, at least four meters from whoever you meet,” Nyundo said, evoking laughter in us, much to Protus who felt Nyundo was worse than me in cowardice. I had heard that a meter was the least distance you could be away from someone but not four, which Nyundo had asserted. Ironically, he had just sat next to Protus without minding the half meter distance away from him.
“But you’re not observing that social distance at the moment,” I said and Protus interjected that no one among us had the virus and we had to trust each other.
“That thing is not going to catch us. Besides, our God cannot allow that to happen,” Protus said. “Look, apart from what I had told you Simiyu, here we don’t eat snakes, we don’t eat bats or snails or any reptile and amphibians like the Chinese and Americans. We also know God more than them,” he said.
So he started to quote scriptures especially those in Revelation
Nyundo was one of those ardent believers of eschatology and he had spent much of his time reading about the end of the world. He had mastered those books in the Bible that speak about end times so well that he could even mention some verses without confirming from the Bible.
So he started to quote scriptures especially those in Revelation to us and said soon the virus will hit Kenya terribly and we shall all die because we had sinned a lot. He gave examples like corruption in our country, murder and suicide cases and infidelity before saying those that had straightened up their ways shall sit in the right hand side of the Lord when rapture came and those that had sinned shall go through the Lord’s judgment, and one by one be burned in the eternal fire.
Well, I knew Nyundo having a line of lovers that always pretended to know God but at times tasted ‘the forbidden fruit’. But beside that I was not only distressed but also threatened. I found myself reeling over thoughts. I had dated so many girls since I knew what love was, and later broke up with them. I also knew few scriptures about how God hated sex before marriage. God, if the pandemic spared us, I would marry immediately and go to church daily!
I was getting late and no longer wanted to hear stories from Protus and Nyundo again and decided to cut my stay and go home. But before that happened, Nyundo quoted another verse in the Bible, in the book of 2nd Chronicles 7: 13-14.
Whenever I hold back the rain or send locusts to eat up the crops or send an epidemic on my people, if they pray to me and repent and turn away from the evil they have been doing, then I will hear them in Heaven, forgive their sin, and make their land prosperous again.
“If we shall only repent and return to the Lord He will forgive us,” Nyundo reiterated lastly after I reminded him that I wanted to leave. Protus alerted the waiter and paid the bill. We all left. As we parted, Protus took a ride to Eldoret Airport to catch a flight to Nairobi.
Protus was basking in the sun reading a newspaper when I arrived in his house. He was so engrossed on a page with covid19 news that he didn’t even realize my presence until I cleared my throat. This time round he didn’t want any kind of handshake and he waved at me as I took a seat few meters away from him.
“I should have listened bro. And people are never seen nowadays, do they fear me?” Protus welcomed me with that statement. It was true, but how would I have brought myself to confirming that to him? I lied.
“Not really, perhaps most of them have not heard that you returned,” I said.
“This village, I tell you. One time you have so many friends; another time you are alone after the storm. I hope you are not scared of me friend.”
I kept quiet. Of course I had deliberated so many times against visiting him and recently there was extreme fear for covid-19 patients in the village. Coughing had now become like a crime and you would even suppress it by every means possible when it came by chance to avoid being doubted. I had succeeded in doing so several times but I didn’t understand why these symptoms that were said only appeared to everyone when you met someone. Perhaps it was because of anxiety and panic?
“Unfortunately we could not visit you at the hospital brother,” I told him. People were in fact worried that he had infected some people in the village and most, although with fear, started going to hospital to confirm their status. They never returned until after a fortnight when each was confirmed negative. “But I hope you got my quick recovery messages through phone.”
“I got them comrade, thanks,” he said feeling thankful. “If it wasn’t for God, the hospital, and prayers from friends and family, perhaps I would be dead by now,” he added. I was so touched.
For the hours that I was with Protus I realized that he had learned his lessons. He only wanted to stay at home. But that as it were, he said there was a flicker of hope for us if we stayed home and observe the hygiene: wash hands, keep the social distance, wear a face mask and never panic and fear patients.
I learnt later that Protus would spend most of his time reading the Bible and praying, especially for his girlfriend that had not been released from hospital. He had explained how the disease was so serious wishing everyone took caution. He wished no one got infected. For now he feared contracting it again. He had decided to forever stay at home until the pandemic ended. He had learnt his lessons! And as for me, Eldoret town where I rarely missed, and other social places and I would be like heaven and earth. I was not going to go there or travel to any place until God knows when.
After The Storm © 28/3/2020