Chief Thomas Dejo winced as he got out of bed. The discomfort in his back was nothing new, he had grown accustomed to it. At his age, it was to be expected, but it did not stop him from feeling annoyed all the same. When Tony, his houseboy, came in to ask if he should bring his breakfast, he was about to growl at him, then he paused and nodded yes. Mama Femi, his wife, came in to say good morning. He knew Mama Femi was not happy with him because of how he had spoken to her the night before, but she was too good-natured to start making a fuss so early in the morning. She told him that she would be in the anteroom, if he needed anything.
Chief went into the main living room to watch television, starting with the news. He felt his chest tighten when he saw the number of COVID-19-infected persons in the United States. The figure was now over 1,000,000, with at least 60,000 dead. He had a son and daughter working in the United States as doctors, one married to a doctor, the other to a pharmacist. He also had a son in the United Kingdom who was a lawyer, married to an investment banker. He had successful children. He had grandchildren who were graduates. At the age of 85, he was in reasonably good health. Mama Femi was a retired university professor, one of those women who had blazed the trail for many after her. Even though her ‘women liberation’ ideas grated on his nerves in the early days, he grudgingly grew to understand and respect her point of view. In any case, he had no choice, since she was the darling of their children and he always lost anytime he went up against her in their presence. These days, he seemed to be in a bad mood on a permanent basis. He just could not shake a feeling of gloom and helplessness. He was not in need of anything. The house was very large, it had been built in order to accommodate all the children and grandchildren, should they all be home at once, which often happened every other year at Christmas. Now it was just him and Mama Femi, Bose the maid and Tony the Man Friday.
Last year, Chief Dejo lost his best friend, Chief Faramade. They had met in high school, went to England together, studied law together and had joint business ventures. His son in the UK married Chief Faramade’s daughter, after a lot of teasing about the relationship amounting to incest. The passing of Chief Faramade was a huge blow to Chief Dejo. It served as a reminder of his own mortality and he grieved the loss of his life-long friend in ways that he would never have thought possible. Even though a three week break in the US helped a bit, he still came back with sadness in his heart. Then COVID-19 struck. With it came stringent lock-down rules, which meant that he could not go out to church, visit the few friends he still had left or hang out with his club members at their clubhouse, where they played games and reminisced. He was confined to his large home, with only his wife, television and house staff for company. He took walks in the garden in the evening. Sometimes, he read, but would get tired of it and put the book down, his mind in many places, mostly focused on the safety of his children and grandchildren.
Mama Femi glanced at the clock up on the wall and stopped what she was doing. Assisted by Bose, she was making food packs with rice, Semovita, garri, oil and Maggi. The Landlords Association had decided to set up a food bank to help the less privileged around them. In addition to the large pile she was going to hand over to the food bank, she had some packs set aside for the few women who showed up at their gate on a daily basis, begging for food. Chief Dejo had warned her to stop encouraging people to come, but she kept on attending to them anyway. She always replied Chief with “Those who are blessed have to bless others.”
It had been two hours since she had left Chief watching TV. She went in to check on him, and found that his head was on his shoulder. She panicked for a split second and rushed up to him. She touched him gently and he opened his eyes. “Oh, you scared me for a minute.”
“Why, did you think I was dead?” he asked.
“Well, at least not now,” she smiled. Chief Dejo sat up and said, “I am sorry for snapping at you last night. I did not mean to offend you.”
Mama Femi knew that Chief hardly ever wanted to accept when he was wrong, but he knew when he had to. He was a good man. “It is okay. I was just concerned about you being in such a bad mood lately. You need to stop worrying. Everything will be alright.”
Chief nodded and then said, “What if everything is not alright? I am afraid Mama Femi. I am very afraid. What if one of us dies now and our children cannot come home? How or when will we be buried? What if our children get infected? What if one of them dies? What about the grandchildren?”
There. He had said it. He had voiced out their deepest fears. What is the point of living to a ripe old age, then you die and your children are not able to bury you? Or, God forbid, you have to bury your children? Or they have to bury theirs while you still live? Both of them had tears in their eyes. Mama Femi sighed deeply.
“Daddy Femi, these things are not in our hands, they are in God’s hands. God has been good to us. If this time is our time to go, then so be it. Let us do the best we can for those who need help. As for our children, we will keep praying for them. Now is the time for us to have peace of mind, not worry too much. We should be concerned, but not too worried. This is not a time for fear. It is a time for courage. Please, cheer up. Would you like some pounded yam?”
Chief Dejo smiled and said, “Yes my dear. I would like that very much. We should not be like the hunter who killed a deer and was complaining that his colleague killed an elephant. He forgot that a member of their group only managed to kill a bush rat. We will not be ungrateful to God. We will continue to pray for our children and our country.”
In a hospital in New York City, Dr. Femi Dejo got a text on his phone, “Negative.” It was his second test. He wondered how long his luck would hold. He dialed his sister Tami to check on her. She had been home for the past week, down with COVID-19. They had all agreed that their parents would not be told about any of it. None of them wanted to deal with having to bury aged parents right now. After talking to Tami, who had sounded upbeat, he got a text from his son Bade, who was a doctor in a hospital in Maryland. Femi froze when he read the words, “I don’t feel too good dad, but don’t worry.”
•Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a gender specialist, social entrepreneur and writer. She is the founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at [email protected]