“…it is only but public office holders, yet another, way of siphoning public fund. It doesn’t exist! Not in Nembe!”
The dark-eyed, v-shaped jaw man, who sat across the table, facing me and his friend who had his back to me, said, voice slightly raised. The air around him was that of gaucheness. He was garrulous in the manner of one who is supercilious.
I sat two tables away from the dark-eyed man and his friend, waiting for my friend, Laura, who I had met online and had planned to meet for lunch, after so many weeks of e-friendship. It was on facebook that we met. In a group called “writers connect”. She had made a post about Chinua Achebe’s anthills of the Savannah. I made a very long comment: a honest asseveration of my love for the novel and it’s author. She had, maybe because she loved my comment, sent me a friend request. We chatted into late-night, and only stopped chatting when we ran out of battery. We never lacked something to talk about. She was witty and it endeared me to her. We had planned to meet by 1pm, but I came an hour earlier than scheduled. She was too comely, from her pictures online, to be left waiting.
My eyes were glued to the screen of my smartphone, pretending to to be fiddling it’s screen whereas I was listening, with keen interest, to the conversation between the dark-eyed man and his friend who had his back to me, as I waited for Laura, a little bit tensed and nervous. I feel nervous whenever I’m meeting someone, especially a girl, for the first time.
“Absolute rubbish!” The voice of the dark-eyed man was hard.
“Since the outbreak of this virus, have you seen anyone suffering from it?”
“Masmos Okiri, the president’s special adviser on health matters,” his Friend quipped.
The dark-eyed man guffawed. “Oh my friend. How could you? How could you allow this people enmesh you in their web of lies and deceit? Can’t you see?”
The dark-eyed man asked, sadness underlying his tone.
“What do you mean?” His friend retorted, his shoulder sagged.
I could smell he was irked, from his voice.
“For everyone to believe their propaganda (covid-19 in Nembe), they needed to sacrifice one of their own, a respected and well-known member of the cabal, and they found in Masmos Okiri the perfect scapegoat; he was having some few medical complication at the time. I can tell you, without mincing word that Masmos Okiri, the president’s special adviser on health matters, didn’t die of the dreaded covid-19 pandemic.”
“I know you as someone who has this penchant for stupidity, but what I did not know is that it has gotten this far,” his friend said.
The dark-eyed man smiled and was about to answer him when his friend asked, “where did you hear that from?”
“I didn’t expect such ignominy. What happened to the rapport?” He asked and then continued, “That’s by the way. As for your question: everyone knows. It’s no longer news. I wonder why you haven’t heard of it or maybe you heard and debunked its credibility due to your skepticism. That’s one
thing with you intellectuals; you believe everything must make perfect sense before it passes to be called valid. It is, however, not so. Some things just need a few pointers for one to believe it’s authenticity.” His tone was soft, more like he was admonishing his friend, to open his eyes to see things the way he saw them.
“Since the outbreak of this pandemic in Nigeria, have you seen anyone that saw anyone that is suffering from the virus? Was it not the other day that Uwansa state declared that a total of 456 persons had recovered from the virus meanwhile the number of total recorded cases was 438? The other day Nembe disease control centre (NDCC) said Mansa state recorded 12 new case of those suffering from the virus and the state government countered saying it was just 5 persons. Isn’t it obvious that the federal government of Nembe are using this as a means to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor masses?” The dark-eyed man asked.
His friend shook his head. Out of disapproval or maybe pity for his dark-eyed friend, I couldn’t tell.
“I’m not skeptical, I’m only stating and working with facts and verified information, unlike you who goes about basking in the knowledge of things that are not true. People are truly suffering from the
virus, my brother. The other day, my cousin, you know him. The one working at Federal medical centre Pamde?”
The dark-eyed man nodded his head to the affirmative. “He told me last week that they had 3 new cases in their hospital and one had already died. You see, it’s no fluke, the virus is right here in this country. And as regards the mistake in the number of persons suffering from the virus and all that: you and I knows that right from time we have had problem with record-keeping in this country and what we are experiencing now shouldn’t have come as a surprise to us,” his friend retorted.
“Gibberish! The government of Nembe can do anything just to get the support, monetary of course, they are getting from the international community to help their acclaimed fight against the virus in the nation. All those things and people ain’t real…”
His friend interrupted. “Shut-up, my friend,” his friend commanded.
But the command was one coated with friendliness. “That’s actually a strong accusation against the
government, of which, you know that you’ve no proof to backup your claim. Covid-19 is real and they’re people suffering from the virus.”
“Then, let them show us, even if it is a picture, of those suffering from the virus, just like other nations does,” the dark-eyed man said.”
“If they should tell you that I’m suffering from covid-19 and I recover, will you accept to come close to me again?” His friend asked.
“Why not. Why won’t I?” He said, with little or no gusto, and as if not convinced himself, he added, “anyone who recovers from the virus can’t transmit the virus.”
His friend smirked. I read that through the back of his head. “But it would never be the same again. You would see me as that guy that once had that virus. People that don’t know me, when introducing or describing me to someone, will be like: ” here comes that guy that suffered from covid-19.
Sad. I think that’s what the government is trying to avoid. The aftermath – stigmatization.” The dark-eyed man was now listening with keen interest, not wanting to pursue the argument further. “The government can’t shut down everything if the virus isn’t real. Do you know how much the government loses per day because the nation is locked down? You don’t, but it’s big. The virus is very real,” he concluded.
I drifted a little bit, steeping myself in the wetness of the comfy engulfment of my own thought. I glanced at my wristwatch and saw that it was 12:50pm already. 10mins to my date with my friend, Laura. I became nervous.
Different thoughts began to run through my mind: Is she going to come? How am I going to to receive her. Hug or handshake or as the “spirit led”? Is she going to find me handsome and attractive? All these thought were running through my mind when I tilted my head to catch the last glimpse of their conversation, before they both left. It was from the dark-eyed man’s friend:
“…whatever be our perception of the global pandemic, keeping safe should be our utmost watch, and we keep watch by taking precautionary measures; in doing so, we’ve got nothing to lose but if otherwise, we might kiss the feet of it’s consequences.”
I allowed those words of his to surge through me and lay within me, keeping me company, until my friend, Laura, arrived.