Friday, August 8, 2014

Virulent: Part 1 (Dead cows on the street)

Dusk was playing a lullaby on the stained glass windows of the catholic cathedral across the street as I sit, pondering about life and death, in front of the blue and white tent that has served as home for my family for two weeks now. The tent, one of hundreds in an internally displaced refugee camp in Benin City, is part of a tent village. It started life as a screening centre but now houses more than a thousand families. The number will grow and this place will become crowded. We would have to move then, for more people would mean less hygiene and death would follow.

Death, that word that denotes a finality, decay, and hearts rubbed raw by sorrow, has become a constant expression. I see it in the crosses that find ample expression in the stained windows and the steeple that crowned the cathedral, in the promise of resurrection, but only after death. I see it on the net and see it scrolling through live feeds, where individual experiences give way to numbers that only grows. I look at interactive maps and see it crawling across place names, a black web that follows the roads and the rivers, moving from one town to the next, creating more numbers.

I wondered about what will become of the world if more than three quarters of us fall victim to the new scourge, as the wild eyed researcher had insisted would happen in the news yesterday. I am too scared to admit to myself that everything appears to prove him right—except blind faith.

I had looked at the interactive maps a few hours ago. It is creeping closer, maybe not as fast as it was a week ago, but it is coming. With our forward flight halted by stern faced Guardsmen, I try not to listen to my wife and kids talking inside the tent.

I threw my mind back to three weeks ago, back to that sun swept afternoon in Agege, three weeks ago, when we first encountered the death the is stalking us now.


“Fulani don’t eat carrion,” Adunni had said with that know-it-all air that I was still trying to get used after ten years of being married to her.

Wondering why she would drop a statement like that during what was a leisure drive along Old Capitol Road in Agege, I followed her eyes out the passenger side window to where two willowy men stood over two calves, arms akimbo. The calves were lying prone on a makeshift cattle pen and a bluish secretion seeped from their nostrils to mix with the dark green of droppings and muck. It was two days to Sallah and makeshift livestock markets tend to sprout like sudden sores to taint the environment until the festivities were over and the sanitation people found the will to act without fear of a divine punishment.

“They are too dark to be Fulani.” I said as I looked away from the dead animals and their distraught keepers: cattle were expensive, especially after the big drought two years ago.

I could feel Adunni’s eye boring into the side of my face, but I keep my eyes on the road. She does not like being challenged, but I didn’t care. I waited for her to say something, to tell me that she was the one who spent the first 20 years of her life in the North and as such knew the Fulani better.

We must have travelled for five minutes, without saying anything to each other when Adunni broke the silence. Not with a cutting remark, as I had expected.

“What do you think killed the cows?” she asked.

Surprised that she had let my jibe go unanswered, I shrugged, wondering why the sight of death had affected her that way. It was rare for Adunni’s tongue to lose its keen edge.

Silence, broken only by the horns of impatient drivers and the soft hum from the climate control system I had installed in the car the week before, followed us home.

 Two days after we drove past the dead calves, it was with a sense of panic that I couldn’t place that I side-stepped three large rats jerking in their death throes near the garbage collection point by the gate that lead into our estate.

I felt more pity for the cows than I did the rats. In the context of the war we declared on the rats since we moved into the compound at New Oko-Oba in December 2058, I was in no state to be charitable to them. To me, their demise was the welcome result of another round of poison baiting.

Later, I noticed a pair of dead rats outside the burrows they had honeycombed around the soak-away in our compound, I felt a sense of poetic justice—of a death well deserved. The buggers got what was coming to them. 

The saga continues tomorrow. Don't miss Part 2

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