A Covid-19 Story

21st March 2020: The day the words stopped.

I feel I’ve had better struggles, trying to slow a mind that can’t seem to stop, detangling these webbed voices into strings of anecdotes, in an attempt to leave my mark in blue and black; a whisper that ‘I was here’. Now my mind only fires blanks. As I dramatically stare into nothingness, in hope of discovery of a new path I can chart, a wave I can ride, just something to cut short my spectatorship… the mess inside just shies away in witnessing a world gone bonkers. Upon discovery that nothing it conjures can live up to the twists of the now.

The reality we subscribe to has me wanting to quit storytelling… seeing I am no match for the universe in intrigue that has everyone glued to their screens, the sheer horror, the stakes that have never been higher and just perfect comedic timing; the wake of a decade.

I clench tightly onto my travel bag praying for a rapture, as I try to disguise a cough for clearing my throat lest I feed into everyone’s paranoia. I’m seated centrefold, next to the conductor in this packed matatu as we snail through the Nairobi traffic. For a while, there was nothing to smile about. I was bummed out that the E.U had cancelled what was supposed to be the culmination of the writer’s residency, I had submitted my 2 stories I wasn’t satisfied with and just overwhelmed by that forlorn feeling of breaking a routine I was finally easing into. In other news, we were on the verge of a global pandemic and we had just confirmed our first cases. Anything to take me away from that would be a welcome change.

A middle-aged woman, a row in between us by the sound of her voice began to speak in a volume that was an open invitation for anyone to join in, or if part of the ‘anyone’ is me, be a fly on the wall in an interesting conversation. I do not look back, I draw everyone’s appearance in my imagination, their voices as the foundation, as they pile on words feigning an understanding that discerns the situation; experts in the wisdom of the crowds.

It started with the woman, the first confirmed case, who came out on twitter to insist that she does not have the coronavirus confirming everyone’s scepticism that perhaps this was a ploy of the government after all. Rumour had it that billions were to be allocated by the U.N to the nations combatting the virus and that’s when our country confirmed its first case. When the common citizen mistrusts it’s government to that degree, that says a lot about a nation.

Sasa alikuwa anafikiri atafichua siri ya nchi na pesa ishaingia,” a certain m’baba goes, “na aachwe tu hivyo!”

It goes quiet for a while before our lady takes the wheel. Now, I am not even sure that she was middle-aged but the way she spoke just matter-of-factly places her there, a middle-aged woman who frequents WhatsApp.

Kwanza mimi siamini kama iko that serious. Saahizi ni mafua tu na ndiyo wanataka tutumie sanitizer”

Yaani unaamini kuwa kuna corona?” the m’baba says, mockingly.

Kwani hujaona vile kumeekwa tight hadi kwa matatu.” She reaches out to the conductor. “Condaa, naskia wanataka hadi kupunguza watu kwa matatu.”

The conductor nods dejectedly, “Yes, they announced that yesterday that we’ll only be carrying 8 passengers.”

Wah, si fare basi itapanda,” says someone I honestly can’t place.”

“Noooo!” Goes the lady, “wamekatazwa kupandisha fare. Coz the situation is hitting everyone equally.”

Kwanzo unajuwa kuwa Ruto ndiyo alileta hii Corona Kenya.” She proceeds. “Becaause just imagine yeye ndiyo alisema ako na siri itakayouwa hii story ya BBI. Halafu hivyo tu, Corona. Out of nowhere. Wakatufungia makanisa.”

Kwanzo hata sijui walifkiria nini kwa hiyo,” the m’baba goes again, “Si kanisani ndiyo corona ingeombewa ikaisha.”

Exaactry, Kwanza atiiwanataka kufanya maombi statehouse. Kwani kuko na kanisa gani huko statehouse.”

Hii nakwambia ni vita tu ya China na Trump.”

Ni Museveni pekee ndiyo alikataa hii story. Hujajiuliza kwanini hakujapatikana kesi yoyote Uganda. Museveni amekataa hiyo upuzi.”

Ni hapa tu ndiyo Uhuru anaruhusu hizi ndege zinazocome na wachinese.”

I lost track of who was saying what and only remember in fragments, the words that were piling on, promising to whip my phone out and take notes the next time. Nothing of the situation was being taken seriously. We, at the front, were just chuckling bemused by everything. We veered into Westland as the discussion became more heated to encompass the pope, the Vatican, Makkah, Trump, the predictions of corona from the bible and how it came as no surprise.

And then I coughed.

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change, Corona virus, Covid-19, Nairobi, traffic


Hassan Kassim

Hassan Kassim is a Mombasa-based Creative non-fiction writer, recently longlisted for the Toyin Falola prize, blogger and translator of Kiswahili work. A beneficiary of the Penpen program by African Writers Development Trust(AWDT) commissioned by Culture at Work Africa and the European Union(E.U), and holds his Bachelor’s degree in Maritime Management. Hassan writes about the ill-documented Communities of Coastal Kenya. His work has appeared in Writers Space Africa; his 2 non-fiction stories published in the anthology 'Twaweza,' a collaborative effort of 12 African writers on the African identity and set to appear in the forthcoming anthology for the Toyin Falola prize.

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