Coronavirus diary – Part 19
To live without hope is to cease to live. – Fyodor Dostoyevsky
In the middle of an unsettling pandemic, the world is gradually opening up. We can chorus along with Louis Armstrong, the jazz maestro: I see trees of green, red roses too/I see them blue before me and you/And I think to myself/What a wonderful world/I see skies of blue and clouds of white/The bright blessed day, the dark sacred night/And I think to myself/What a wonderful world/The colors of the rainbow so pretty in the sky/Or also on the faces of people going by/I see friends shaking hands, saying “How do you do?”/They’re really saying, I love you/I…
The COVID-19 made me contemplate the notion of humanity. I see two strands: one is humanity as the human race. And two, humanity as the nature of man. As I have noted elsewhere, “God created us as one family irrespective of racial differences. What affects one, affects all. Such is the nature of the COVID-19 pandemic”. Our innermost part, the repository of love, has been kindled in self-reflecting ways to push away the sorrows of the time. It has unleashed the songs of the soul that we call poetry. My ideological soul mate, Mahmud Aminu, who wrote under the nom de guerre, Obemata, had a collection he titled, Nineteen Ways of Writing about Corona, and I, The Wind of Wuhan. I present these in what follows.
(VIII). It is another day,/let’s wave hands,/not at each other/but at the wind constantly changing course/and bearing sad news,/the streams flowing awkwardly,/weeping for the earth and the sky/adorned in sackcloths./the streams aren’t tired of weeping,/nor is the wind tired of changing course./tears well up,/while the wind changes,/changes and changes course,/and roams endlessly/like a vagrant./let’s not forget the earth,/though innocence is now memory./there’s no hope of morning,/only the testaments of night,/sackcloths that spread/and gather in eyes,/where light should have been./this day is different./the wind’s footsteps fall/where tears drench the earth/and we wave hands/not at each other/but at the lone egret migrating to another future./now, let’s not count the white spots/on our nails/as we used to do as children -/counting is useless./rather, let the eyes of our hands/follow the egret’s flight/to the future,/safer than this present.
(XIV) ours is a festival of masks./look at us now: our noses, our mouths/covered and shaded by rainbow,/shuttered up like prisoners,/to protect us from infection. our uncovered eyes,/running the lengths of spaces,/ensure we keep the right distance./the measured lengths of all measured spaces/are wide enough, long enough, large enough /to contain the spread of virus./ours is a universe of rainbow masks./the universe in which faces arrive covered/with masks./ an old woman arrives,/covered with an old mask that survived/the Spanish flu. memory is alive./this is what i see in the mirror in front of me:/a slay queen trying her face mask on,/her face, like a two-face nebula./she is slaying, as if the mask offers/her beauty. picture her./look at us now, you will see/how our face masks mask our fears.
(XV) i want to count things/that endure the times fear inhabits:/the clock, dumb,/wounded by the silence/that surrounds time;/doors hinged on frames/i do not dare to prise open;/rooms wallowing in pale emptiness,/face masks,/bottles of hand sanitizer,/bottles of lemon juice,/ garlics, turmerics, and gingers/with aromas overhanging rooms,/the kettle forever boiling over./they said:/”to beat coronavirus, you have to/ stay at home. wash your hands”./though/i can’t count the number of times/i turned on the tap,/for water to soften/its voice between my lathered palms,/i can count the days/i have spent indoors,/the daggers of fear/stabbing at insomniac nights,/while thinking of the silence/that lives here.
The foregoing are from Obemata, and here is The Wind of Wuhan:
(I) In the year of the pig/ With the vive of yuletide,/No one smelled a rat,/No one expected a plague,/Not with all the best wishes for a new dawn,/Like a thief in the night,/ Or like a bolt from the blues/The wind of Wuhan began late in the year of the pig/Bearing a crowned plague in motion,/An ill-wind to the world/The year of the rat was soon upset by the wind of Wuhan/With harvest of death and sorrows./Ruffling beings and fomites/Locked in competitive social relations/Sired from the creative will of the creator/Isn’t it time for soul searching/For new meanings and humane performances/From inmost consciousness,/This place is a market/Like the floor of the stock exchange/We are traders /Sometimes borne on the back of the Bull/Other times borne on the back of the Bear/Our motto is to trade well/With a balance sheet of profits and losses/It’s farewell to the market place/With others left behind/Trailing the ancestral footpath.
(II) The wind of Wuhan arrives/With its poison/Harvesting deaths, and no goodwill to spare/A frightened humanity leans on new protocols/Nestled in a new normal/A generation of masquerade is spawned/Courting hypoxia with old habits in abeyance/So is production./A nightmare is born/With morgues of cadavers/Nonetheless,/With helpless state actors/Folks nudged to resignation/With echoes of distant solutions/To hold a ravaging microbe/No one knows when the trade will begin/Anew in the stock exchange/With exhortation of living in misery/Until the Wuhan wind blows into nothingness.
In the above, our existential drudgery, coping strategies, helplessness, the vanity of life, and the yearning for normalcy under COVID-19, are captured. Someday, the sorrows of the moment, like the Spanish Flu of 2018, will be told as a story. Our children and generation yet unborn will wonder if we had been through this path. This is the nature of our sojourn on planet earth. Now, we feel the triumphal procession in Dubai over the Chinese vaccine that has passed level 2 of clinical trials. What else can I say other than to re-echo the words of Armstrong, “What a wonderful world”.
Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.