Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Virulent part 4 (pandemic)

“What do you mean they’d not apply the poison?” My wife asked for maybe the umpteenth time.

“Just that, Adunni. Chike asked me what poison we used and where we bought them. Why would he ask that question if they applied it?” I said, knowing that she was not exactly hot, but was warming up as her paranoia kicked in.

“Daddy twins, I can’t believe how easy you agree to his lies. He’s just trying to divert attention, especially since they left the cleaning to us?”

“No. He sounded very sincere to me.”

“He would, Dotun Akintoye, he would. You can so be gullible it hurts. Who would’ve spread the poison? Who else lives in this house with us? We didn’t apply it, so it must be them. I intend to speak to that condescending woman and her husband o. I don’t care if her father owns this house.”

“Calm down, Adunni,” I said, for she was already shouting, not caring if anyone was listening. “It could have come from any of the houses nearby. You know rats socialise a lot. One visit to a poisoned meat and the scourge spreads through the four legged kingdom.”

My intention was to diffuse the tension with some light humour. Her sour look at me told me humour would not work. I persisted, no humour though. My reward was the sight of her beautiful smile replacing her scowl. However, it would be much later that I found out my summary of the situation was right.

Life went back to normal, kind of, Adunni still refused to be on friendly terms with neighbours. We never saw another rat again, not inside the house, not within the compound. We felt that a good omen. We never talked much about the issue with the poison as my hypothesis of the poison’s source carried even with my cynical wife. Perhaps the neighbours had overheard my argument with Adunni about their culpability, because Chike never mentioned the issue to me again. Perhaps this was because there were no rats left to kill? Whatever the reason, I never asked.

We would have gone on living our lives, happy that the brief pauses and quick darts of the rats across the living room and those irksome scratches they inflict as they make their way across a sleeping body were now stories to be told with relief. We—I to be precise—maintained a somewhat cordial relationship with our neighbour, trading polite greetings and swallowing the anger of having to mow the lawn and care for the compound alone.

Things did not remain normal for too long. No, the rats did not come back, they never did. It was something worse that came.

It was late afternoon when I returned from picking the kids from school. Adunni’s car was in the car park but the silence of the house, despite the scent of fresh disinfectant, baffled me. The kids’ shriek of “mummy we’re home” went unanswered. I walked into the bedroom, checked the bathroom, the guest room, and kitchen too. Adunni was not in the house. A quick check at the backyard showed she had been weeding her vegetable patch. The old-style hoe she was very fond of was lying between the ridges she had made me dig for her beloved plants, beside the hoe where uprooted weeds with clumps of earth still attached.

I went back into the house, ignored the twins “where’s mummy” and stepped to the front yard. I was crossing the spiral stairs that led to the second floor when a faint whimper reached my ears. I paused, cups my hands to my ears. Sure enough, the sound came again, accompanied this time with soft whispers. I looked up. The window to the Nwaogu’s living room were open, the sounds came from there.

My legs where rubbery when I began walking up the stairs, and they got more so by the time I was turning the door handle to get into the room.

I opened the door and thrust my head in, the sight before me was enough to stop me in my tracks, and it did.
 Mrs. Bisi Nwaogu, Chike’s ajebuttter wife and my Adunni were in each other’s arms on the single settee in the Nwaogu’s sitting room.

I heard a noise behind me and turned to see the twins coming up the stairs. I pushed the door all the way open and stepped into the room, the twins came in behind me. I stood in the room, numb, saying nothing, staring at my wife and Chike’s wife.

 The twins stood beside me, silent, hanging to my hands as if staking territory, watching the scene.
“what’s going on here?” I asked.

The women, who until then were oblivious of my presence, turned to look at me.

No, not my Adunni, I know her well enough. There must be a reasonable explanation for what I am seeing, I thought.

I noticed tears on Bisi’s cheeks. Adunni was dry eyed, but I knew her enough to know that what I saw in her eyes was sorrow, tinged with something akin to fear.

“What is going on here?” I asked again.

Adunni did not pull away from the woman’s embrace. She opened her arms wide, beckoning on us to come to them. I held the Twins back, stood my ground, my eyebrows quirking, askance.

“Darling, did you not get my message?” Adunni asked.

Darling?  Could she be so brazen? She only calls me darling in the bedroom, the only place she lets go of that stern exterior of hers and lets me be boss. Yes, that is fear in her eyes.

“I did not, the twins were singing all through the drive back.” I said, throwing darts at her with my eyes, at least I thought I was.

Beside her, Mrs. Nwaogu went from gentile sobs to open wailing.

Adunni looked at her for a moment and shook her head sadly. I flexed my fingers, my hands felt limp. The bewildered twins squirmed out of my grasp and ran to their mother.

What the hell is going on?

 “Eko Atlantic City is under quarantine, Chike is there,” Adunni’s voice was flat and devoid of emotion, as if she announcing yet another curfew for the twins.

“Quarantine, what quarantine?” I asked, wondering what game they were playing at.

Adunni did not answer; she instead managed to free one hand from a twin and pointed. I followed her finger to the left and saw a hologram that filled one part of the sitting room.

All my attention, when we walked in, had been on the women on the couch. I had not even noticed the hologram.

In the projected image, men in protective gear were leading several sickly looking people into tents, others, too weak to walk, or perhaps dead, lay limp on stretchers. However, that was not what struck me. I stood there, stunned, trying, but failing to deny the suggestion that came to mind. The sick people all had bluish secretion coming out of their noses.

Captivated by what I was seeing, I moved closer. “How are you getting this?” I asked, noticing that the screen was without a media logo, so it could not be coming from a mainstream news outlet.

“Chike planted a spy camera yesterday. He suspected that something is going on and wanted to get first hand information. He says an epidemic is upon us. I told him not to go, I told him not to go.” Mrs Nwaogu said through her sobs.

“How come this is not on the news then?” I asked no one in particular.

“Chike’s camera’s streams to Bisi’s allincom, those are real-time images from his camera. I’ve tried reaching my colleagues in Eko Atlantic but the connection’s busy,” Adunni said, finally coming to stand beside me. The ever-perceptive twins stayed with the sobbing Mrs. Nwaogu.

To be continued...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Virulent Part 3 (car envy)

Never in all my years of rat baiting, poisoning and outright stumping, had I seen such secretions on dead rats.

“Don’t know,” Adunni turned to look at me, a worried look on her face, “Think this must be a reaction to the poison they ate, though I’ve never seen or heard of any substance that could cause this.”

“Neither have I,” I said, but I was sure I felt a twinge of recognition somewhere at the back of my mind. Not being much of the analytic thinker my wife and children are, I did not dwell on it.

I do not recall who suggested we check the rats already collected in the plastic bucket inside, but I recall it was my wife who suggested sending the twins back indoors, away from the excitement, but not before they had thoroughly scrubbed their hands with soap and rinsed it with water.

“Know what,” Adunni said to me as she closed the door behind the protesting twins she had just scolded thoroughly for acting naughty and not shutting up and doing what they were told, “What pains me is not that someone killed off these damn pests, but that that person is calmly watching behind a curtain while I clean the smelly mess.”

I did not respond, not that she expected me to. I know enough about the neighbours to know that the wife was not one to get her manicured nails dirty carrying garbage or smelly rats. Although the petite woman had not been wearing a surgical mask when I spied her earlier, I had expected to find if cupping her face. Without doubt, the stench would have reached their floor—it was that strong. Anyway, my wife insisted she was responsible for the bunch of dead rats thrown from the top floor towards the general direction of the bins. The husband would not be callous enough to not bring the rats down to the garbage, she said.

The husband, a jolly fellow with a taste for flashy cars, was a cyber journalist. Though I worked for myself as a building contractor, I made it a point of duty to leave home at the same time with the blue collars. As such, we ran into each other now and then as we readied our cars for the day. We do not talk about much–sports, a little bit of politics, how exorbitant car parts were getting, and of course, the newest 4X4s.

Anyway, it was on one of those mornings a few days after we had buried the last of the rats that I ran into the neighbour. Like me, he was on his way to work and had left the spiral staircase leading to their flat a few moments after I walked by. I turned at the sound of footsteps behind me to behold his sheepish grin. Why does that guy always appear to be laughing at something?

“Good morning Mr. Dotun,” he said with more enthusiasm than I had ever noticed in him.

“Good morning, Chike,” I responded, not willing to endure his habitual frown at any use of the officious ‘Mr.’ for him.

“Well,” that annoying smile crossed his face again, “we haven’t had the time to thank you for what you did with the rats.”

Despite myself, I felt a touch of anger. Not only was the guy trying to apologise for letting us clean up their mess, he even had the audacity to tell me “we haven’t had the time to thank you.” I bite down my anger and turned to him (yes, I had looked away to hide any tell tale sign).

“No problem Chike, the rats constituted a serious nuisance to us too, it was no bother.” I managed to say this with more civility than I had hoped possible in the circumstance. Anger and its attendant violence are so tedious. So, while the grimy job of finding and burying all the dead vermin was a lot of bother, I did not say so, couldn’t say so. I tend to leave all the heavy lifting to my wife. I am used to it.

We walked together to our cars. Mine was closer. I stood by and watched as the door of his opened on auto as the installed AI responded to his sub-vocalised command. I know I shouldn’t feel envy, but I couldn’t help myself when the cool smell of real leather hit me. Chike’s car was brand new, equipped with auto-nav and full body protective cocoon. It was the type of car the guys in my club were all salivating over. I looked away. I thumbed my remote, and my ever-reliable Tokunbo’s door slide open, silent as a night hunter, a conventional door, unlike Chike’s eagle wing affair. Yes, we did not have the “in vogue” feel of Chike’s Benz, but we are not far off—even if the look was of a third model Toyota Catcher, from five years back. Chai, it is not easy to not envy, not when the thing in question was parked opposite the disused storeroom I call my home office.

I was trying my best not to look back at Chike and his very becoming car interior when his voice forced me to turn again to behold that wonder on wheels, with its wing doors, now extended to their full height, appearing to kiss the skies. “By the way Mr. Dotun,” he began, eager like, “what kind of poison did you guys use? My wife and I had wondered for long whether it is a new variety. It sure doesn’t work like those stocked by rat-keller hawkers.”

I cannot exactly remember what I mumbled to Chike, whatever it was, it must have been satisfying for I recall stepping aside for him to edge past and with a cheerful wave of his hands, drive out of the auto-gate.

They did not apply the poison?

To be continued...

New to Virulent? Catch read the previous chapters via the links below. 

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Virulent Part 2 'What the rats foretold'

I did not think anything was amiss when rats no longer scurried across our living room, their movement only captured by the corner of the eyes.

This was because the rats tended to disappear, or reduce in number, from time to time: victims of poison or the stray cats that now and again made their home under the water tank at our backyard. Perhaps I should have been alarmed when less and less rats darted away from my headlights as my car felt its way into its customary parking space beside the large water tank where the charging units stood, regal, blinking in an electronic symphony. I was also not alarmed when first the compound and then the house proper was saturated by the stench of putrefying meat. I was not too bothered and easily laid the reason for the deaths squarely on a highly efficient poison.

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.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The life of a Soldier: Kabir Salisu, a Candle in the Wind

I don’t recall when I first met Kabir Salisu. It is very difficult to put dates to when you met people that you encountered when you were a kid. For Kabir Salisu, I could mention any date in the late 80s and it would be true. This is because at the time I was a student of Army Children School, New Cantonment ‘A’, Kabir was in Government Day Secondary School, a school that shared the same land with Army Children School and Command Children School. However, the more definite meeting came later when he was courting the lady that later became his wife. The then Miss Ofuoma Obruche lived at EB 2 Dutse Close, Angwa Shanu, Kaduna, the same house where I and my siblings were raised and which tend to find ample mention in my fiction and nonfiction.

I still recall, like it was yesterday, the group of dashing cadets that hung around the compound waiting to see Miss Obruche—I think a friend of his was at that time also courting another lady in our rather large tenement building.

I also recall that we danced all night when Kabir and Ufoma finally tied the knot in a simple ceremony that rightfully took place in Eb 2 Dutse Close.

So celebrated was the love the 2 couple shared that even when many of us moved away from Kaduna as life happened, we still kept in touch, still looked out for news of births, of marriages and… deaths.

With the coming of gsm and social media, keeping in touch became easier and one by one we all somehow reconnected on Facebook. Of the several success stories that this rekindling of contacts highlighted, Kabir’s growth as an army officer was the least surprising. A man whose humility and intelligence was obvious as first glance, his high flying career was no fluke.

I recall communicating with Kabir on Facebook when he was serving in Sudan and jokingly requesting for a Janjaweed scarf and him laughing and telling me: “ok, if that’s what you want, you will get it”. I recall him sending me his phone number when he returned to Nigeria, without my asking, and asking that I come and see him. It is to my eternal regret that I never took up that invitation, that I stayed away, luxuriating in the semi-closeness that is social media connectivity.

I can’t claim to be close to Kabir Salisu—his wife, family, colleagues and a host of others rightfully holds that distinction—but I knew him and followed his career keenly and fully expected him to reach the pinnacle of his profession.

I believed him to be one of the bright lights in a nation fighting to beat the encroaching dark. It is this light that has now been extinguished.

The much I know about him tells me that this humble man was a patriot and if we had more like him in Nigeria, we will do better as a country.

Kabir Salisu was killed fighting for his country on Monday, April 7 2014. He was a Colonel in the Nigerian Army. The last post under his name on Facebook was on the same day he died, it read: ‘The life of a soldier’.