It was the 19th of March 2020, three weeks since Nigeria confirmed its first case. With only twelve confirmed cases at the time, the panic and fear were relatively mild. Many people still went about their normal lives, and a majority either hadn’t heard of it or didn’t believe it existed.
I was returning to school from Ibeju Lekki that evening. I had gone visiting my newly wedded sister when news came that the federal government had ordered that all tertiary institutions be closed. I had to go pack my things from the hostel for the unexpected and indefinite holiday. The car park was situated at the end of the market, and the thought of walking through a crowd was exhausting. I made my way into the market, carefully walking on the sidewalk littered by vendors with their wares on the floor for display. People walked up and down the market road, stopping to purchase items they needed, while sales people continuously promised to sell at best prices as they tried to get the attention of potential patrons.
In front of me, a mother spanked her child for wanting something the mother could not afford. I walked past carefully so I would not get hit by impatient motorcyclists as the little girl’s cries drowned in the noise of the market.
Finally, I got to the car park. Though less crowded, it was still as noisy as the market. Vehicles waiting for repair littered the park, and the stink of oil-soaked earth didn’t go unnoticed. Area boys roamed the place collecting their toll from bus owners, while bus conductors kept calling on passengers to board their buses, swearing that it would move immediately.
“Obalende, Obalende!” one of the bus conductors called out.
I entered the bus heading to Obalende. It was rusty and old. There were eight seats left, even though the conductor had vowed there were only two. I took the best unoccupied one and waited. While waiting for the bus to fill up, hawkers advertised cold drinks, snacks, gadgets, and even drugs that they vowed cured all ailments. Beggars weren’t left out; they offered all sorts of prayers while asking passengers to be merciful and kind.
After a short while, there was only a seat left beside mine, when the two fishmongers reached the bus with empty bowls on their heads.
“There is only a seat left, you might need to join the next bus,” I explained.
They ignored me. They were going to lap each other. They entered the bus, and their fishy odour enveloped me. I immediately wished I was sitting next to the window. It was going to be a long trip.
It was time to move. The driver got behind the steering wheel and tried to hot-wire the bus. After a few tries, it obliged. The bus started to move, jerking like a child with epileptic fits and leaving a cloud of smoke behind. The conductor started to collect our fare, and everybody else paid 800 naira. My fishmonger neighbours insisted on paying 700 naira.
“Na 700 we dey pay before,” they said.
The driver was furious and threatened to return to the car park. We had covered quite a distance and I needed to arrive at school early enough, and so I offered to pay their balance. They mumbled their thanks. We continued our journey, the bus moving at snail pace and the fishmongers chattering away, not caring how their stink affected the passengers.
“Driver, move this bus, make air enter abeg,” someone cried behind me. He had voiced my thoughts. The bus was hot, poorly ventilated, and the fishy stench was becoming unbearable. I was going to be sick.
About an hour later, the speed of the bus hadn’t gotten better, and neither had I. The driver bobbed his head, clearly enjoying the music playing from the radio he placed on his dented dashboard while the conductor started to arrange the notes according to their denominations. Most of the passengers had slept. A young lady was scrolling on her phone, and another who had a mole on her neck munched boiled groundnuts in front of me. But the fishmongers continued to discuss. I couldn’t take it anymore. I was going to puke the next minute if I remained in the bus.
“Driver, please park, I want to vomit,” I called out.
If he heard me, he didn’t show it. I called out again, this time with more urgency. He finally parked the bus after grumbling a few words. I hurried out of the bus ready to pour out my stomach’s contents, but I found myself retching without stop. Nothing was coming up. I had the attention of the passengers now, most of them, disgust evident on their faces. I had wasted their time. The driver kept expressing his regrets, wishing he hadn’t listened to me. I offered an apology and entered the bus.
“See as she dey do like say she no dey chop fish. Yeye,” the younger fishmonger whispered.
I pretended to not hear. At least they knew their stench affected me. Maybe they should have cared more. I mean, I balanced their fare.
We were getting close to our destination, and the conductor had not given me my ‘change.’
“Conductor, my 100 naira change,” I said.
“I never get change. I go find change when we reach park,” he replied me.
The trip continued in silence after the fishmongers finally felt the need to keep quiet. I was grateful. I wished their stink stopped along with their noise, too. It didn’t. In twenty-five minutes, we reached Obalende, and I alighted ready to receive my balance.
“Thank you o, omoge. Make you baff if you reach house o,” the younger fishmonger advised mockingly. She must be very troublesome, I thought as she walked away.
“Fine girl, how much be your change?” The bus conductor asked me.
“You get 100 naira, collect two hundred?”
“No, I don’t.”
“Okay, make the three of you go share this two hundred,” he said, pairing me up with the lady with the mole and some other guy. The thought of walking around the park looking for 100 naira change wasn’t pleasant. Instead, I gave up the money and started on my way to Yaba bus park.
I was about crossing the road when the driver called out, “fine girl bye-bye ooo.“
For once in my life, I wished I had vomited. A part of me blamed the Coronavirus. It was the reason the government ordered that schools be closed, hence my decision to return to the campus.
Corona caused this, I thought to myself.
I was tired by the time I got to Yaba bus park, and I immediately got into the next bus. Asides the occasional noise typical of the streets of Lagos, the trip from Obalende to Yaba was hitch-free. I boarded the university’s campus shuttle from Yaba, and after a few minutes I arrived in school.
UNILAG was quiet and scanty as opposed to the norm. I appreciated the calm as I walked to my hostel which was quieter and almost empty, too. I went straight to bed.
Daybreak was a breath of fresh air. I woke up feeling refreshed. Yesterday’s gloom was gone, and everything looked beautiful. Friday could be my lucky day. I got ready and started my journey home. I boarded the campus shuttle to Yaba and got on the queue for the BRT public transport going to Ikorodu. Seeing no fishmonger in sight was a huge relief, and I got on the bus ready for the ride home. The drive was smooth and quiet in the air-conditioned bus. I had silently watched cars move slowly through the traffic, watched movies at intervals, and had short conversations with the man sitting by my side.
In fifty minutes, I alighted at my bus stop and trekked the short distance home. I was happy to be home. I had missed the warmth that came with it. I took a shower and had my breakfast with the thought that I didn’t take dinner the previous night. I really wanted to narrate the incident that happened the day before to my siblings, but I decided against it. They would make a jest and laugh at me. I wasn’t ready for that, so I kept it to myself. The rest of the day went by quickly. I had dinner with my family and retired to bed.
Saturdays are for sanitation at home. Although I didn’t want to work, I didn’t have a choice. I was instructed to clean the store, and I set out to work immediately after breakfast. Every item in the store was covered in a blanket of dust. It wasn’t going to be easy cleaning the store. I sneezed continuously while cleaning. I had breathed in too much dust. I finished up hurriedly and went to shower. I was free from work for the rest of the day, but the sneezing didn’t stop. I had developed a runny nose, and I could feel a headache coming up. It couldn’t be what I was thinking. I would be fine soon, I thought.
Panic set in when I started to cough the next day. I tried convincing myself it must be just a cold. I took some medication and hoped the symptoms subsided soon. They didn’t, and I had my heart in my mouth. Whenever I remembered how close I was sitting to the fishmongers, and every other person I sat with during my transit from Ibeju Lekki down to Ikorodu, my fear grew. I didn’t want to die.
My family assured me it was going to pass, but I saw how my baby sister looked at me. She wasn’t comfortable being so close to me. My mum was visibly worried about my watery eyes. My brother tried to be strong for everybody, but his face betrayed him. His fear was evident.
My friends said it was all in my head. It was just a cold, and I was overreacting, they said. I wanted to believe them, but I couldn’t. At the same time, I continued taking my medications, hoping the symptoms would disappear. There were just twenty-two infected people in the country, and I couldn’t have been in contact with them, I told myself. I would be fine again. I mean, I was just an undergraduate who hadn’t tasted lobsters. I couldn’t die yet.