Danladi was the first to die. Amariya said he slumped. Who slumps and dies just like that? His big eyes zoomed out of the socket before Alfa Sule shut them with his palm. When they put his body in the ground, it fitted perfectly with the soil. The earth melted into his pale skin and subdued him, till his scrawny legs were gone, then his big nose, then his bloated tummy. Grandma once said that a body being buried is the same as one drowning in the middle of an ocean, just that this time you’re not fighting the water. Your body just takes it all in with ease, expanding till it explodes into a mass of nothing and that is when you find peace. I believed her.
By the time death came for Ahmed, half of the boys who huddled together and smoked grass at Tungamaje junction were dead. Isa. Mutiu. Aminu. Dead. The ground was fattening on the bodies of the people I know. Dutse became a ghost town. The last batch of nurses at the local health center left a fortnight ago. They never came back. One day I asked mama, “Why do we pray to Allah?”
“To guide us, to protect us, to provide for us,” she replied in an affirming tone.
“Do you think he listens?”
“Yes Baba, Allah listens. He never fails his followers. He has plans for everyone.” Her voice began to shake.
“Does his plan include people suffering and dying like chickens?”
“You can’t question Allah. He knows all.”
Who creates the world, then sits and watch it all come down in ruins. If truly Allah is a beneficent creator, I don’t think he can see us. I don’t think his angels ever make it to our tiny village.
The councilor didn’t show up, until the Chief finally died. He came in an entourage of masked men. They walked carefully as if they could feel death, as if they knew that everything in Dutse has been cursed and that somehow a touch could kill you. They buried the Chief quickly and alone.
“May Allah guide his soul home,” he said, his Hausa a bit watered.
He gave a long talk about how we should all stay indoor and wash our hands regularly and cover our noses with masks. I wondered how he expected us to breathe with our noses covered or how these men in masks breathed. His words seemed to increase our panic. Father said, it is not just in our village. He said people are dying too in the city. He said schools and mosques and roads have been closed.
I thought about Bada who went to the city a year ago. I wondered how he would survive a lockdown. The last time he came, he looked different. His face blackened by the sun, his kinky hair, brown and fried. He looked pale but contented. He smiled like a farmer whose yams had formed well. When I asked how he had been surviving in the city, he said amid a pair of strutting shoulders, “The city is big place with plenty people and cars and motorcycles. You walk around, ask people for money or food. Some give and some don’t. Whichever way it goes, if you walk long enough, your daily meal is not a problem.”
I wanted to follow him, but Mama said I was too young. I missed Bada. Now that everyone was locked in their houses, I wondered how he would walk out to beg or even if he had a house to be locked in. I wanted to pray to Allah to keep Bada safe but I was not sure he would answer.
Few days after the death of the chief, people began to stay in their houses. The councilor sent boys who beat anyone who went out. Mama Aisha whose house was just beside ours told my mother how they beat her husband mercilessly for going to the farm to get them cassava for supper. Slowly, everywhere became quiet. The monday din that wafts across the whole village became a soft whistle resonated by the wind. The sinister grew. People only came out to bury their dead. Soon it became difficult to decide whether it was the strange disease that killed them or it was something else.
I overheard Baba telling Mama that they called the disease “Kwaironai baires”. I stood up all night thinking about it. I wondered if we had done something wrong and Allah was punishing us by taking away the ones we loved.
The next morning, Baba fell ill. Mama cried and cried. Her chest lost the steady heartbeat, she prayed but I knew her faith was gone. I saw the despair in her eyes grow into a mist of tears and force its way down her cheeks. When Baba died, she had mourned him enough. She kept mute for days sometimes smiling at nothing.
Bada returned one night. It was almost a month after they had told us all to stay indoor. He looked leaner and terrified. He told me how he had smuggled himself out of the city on a truck transporting tomatoes. He told me about the “baires” in the city. He said according to the news one hundred people have been confirmed dead in Kano. I wanted to tell him that over two hundred people had died in our village alone. I wanted to tell him that I do not think it is this same “kwaironai baires” that’s killing people here. I wanted to say a lot of things, but I kept quiet. I convinced myself that in this part of the country we could never make it to the statistics except it was time for us to vote for a leader we would never see.
About the Author:
Falade Kolawole popularly known as Pariolodo is a multiple slam winning spoken word poet, playwright, and writer who graduated from University of Abuja where he studied English and Literary Studies. He is a versatile writer whose works have been featured in several blogs. He is passionate about influencing the society with his art and has written both poems and short stories on issues relating to us as humans. He plays mobile games when he is not too busy playing a literary vigilante.