As the toll rises
As the toll rises

By Muyiwa Adetiba

I had this irresistible urge to go out on Tuesday that was quite unlike me. The ease in lockdown was just a day old and the normal me would have skipped the week just to test the waters. I tried to justify this itch by rationalising that I had been on personal lockdown long before the official one.

I also rationalised that journalists should get first hand reports whenever possible. The picture of denial and defiance I saw on the social media needed to be seen I thought. And I am still a journalist ain’t I? Finally, I wanted to get to my office. I hadn’t been away from my office for that long ever.

I wanted to see how much of my space had been taken over by spiders; whether my personal things were still as I left them or if an intruder had visited; and whether the security would be caught off guard – sentinels caught napping at the coming of the master. I realised as I dressed up that I was wearing trousers for the first time in over six weeks.

My attire for the period had been pyjamas, sweatshirts, running shorts and trainers with the occasional face cap. I looked at the array of clothes that hadn’t seen the sun in months and shoes slowly wearing out on the racks even when unused. The cars haven’t left the estate in close to two months. How many of these things do we really need when the chips are down? Vanity upon vanity says the Preacher.

And so I exercised my right to be on the road. I saw people valiantly trying to comply with the rules of social distancing and face masks. I saw where improvements would be made and where improvements would be impossible. I saw efforts that made me smile; but mostly, I saw denials that were alarming. The death toll would rise.

Of that, there can be little doubt. If the need for existential living can be adduced as the excuse for those who trooped out and lumped themselves together even before the gate was opened on Monday, how does one explain the attitude of some people in God’s own country, the richest country in the world?

The US had paid people to stay at home. It had promised generous stimulus packages for businesses anytime the lockdown was lifted. Yet some people are in a defiant mood. These people are insisting on the right to work, the right to socialise and the right to do things that are sheer luxuries to people in our part of the world. Many people here would gladly stay home if someone would pay them for the priviledge. Unfortunately, COVID 19 does not recognise rights. It does not read. And some of them would become statistics.

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COVID 19 is another example of the perennial conflict between science and the desires of the flesh where science has lost. Science usually loses against the flesh, albeit temporarily. How many people for example, have ignored science to their regret when told that their lifestyles would lead to death? Governments after governments are being pressured to ease lockdown in spite of scientific predictions that it will increase the death toll. It is not surprising that governments after governments are ignoring those predictions.

But it is not only the dead that is tolling up. COVID 19 is taking its toll on living too. The people most vulnerable to the scourge are said to be those above 65 years. These people are required to stay home until the scourge blows away. Unfortunately, these are the people who do not have the luxury of time. I once called an 85 year old to ask how he was coping and he jokingly told me that the little bonus God had given him was being taken away by the virus. Another said she was going to ask God to take 2020 away from her years because she did not live it.

An eighty year old needs the outdoor to be active. They need the companionship of peers if they can find them to live longer and happier. Every social club I know in Lagos has days set aside for the octogenarians and septuagenarians in their midst to meet and share time and memories. The last time I saw General Momoh, the former Director General of the NYSC who died a couple of weeks ago, was at the Ikeja Golf Club. He was part of a small group of elderly people which meets every Tuesday. It keeps them going with or without a round of golf and it is considered a priviledge if you are invited to join them. Many would now be wondering if they would ever meet again.

Nothing pleases a woman more than being with her grandchildren. But these days, COVID 19 says it is hazardous to health. And so a grandmother is denied one of the little joys left. There is a sorry story of a woman who went to the UK to help a child out and has been locked down since then. The worst part is that she is now locked down in a room like a prisoner. She goes to bathe in the night when her grandchildren are asleep. During the day, she hears their voices as they indulge in pranks which she would have loved to join if the times were normal.

They hear hers only when she prays out loud. It’s not the best way to pass one’s twilight years. These are limited, and therefore precious years. Another grandmother was in the US with one child when another gave birth. It had been part of her plans to kill two birds with the proverbial stone anyway. But that was before the scourge which made social distancing imperative. Her assistance was reduced to e-help. Worse, she had a new grandchild she could not see, cuddle or hold.

It’s not only the biological age that is counting. What about the sporting age? Stars like Federer (tennis), Gatlin (athletes), Gayle (cricket), Pacquiao (boxing) who are singing their swan songs and probably looking forward to one more productive year before retiring have had that vital year taken away from them. They may not have the energy or the motivation to try one more year. So as the physical death is tolling. So does the spiritual. Many dreams, many aspirations are running out of time. No matter how you look at it, COVID 19 is not kind on the aging or the aged.



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