With more testing kits available to the NCDC the daily results kept coming and did not make for comfortable reading. Lagos recorded a high of 179 cases in one day. National figures surpassed 5000 and the death toll continued to rise.
High Chief Raymond Dokpesi came out of the Isolation Centre in Abuja after testing negative to the virus to state his miseducation at the state of things, especially with the fact that he was treated with malaria drugs. He asked ‘when did malaria become synonymous with COVID-19?’
“Is that not what we have been saying here all along? This thing na serious malaria!” Josiah said.
“The symptoms are similar. There is no known cure so if you treat with anything that will treat malaria symptoms then you must be on the right track.”
“My own advice is that if you suspect you have malaria you better not go for COVID-19 test. You will find yourself at the isolation centre. I hear that hospitals will test you and will just keep quiet and call the NCDC. While you are waiting for your result, an ambulance will just arrive and they will bundle you inside.”
“Ah ahn! Achike who told you that?”
“I heard it at God Dey hospital. Just go and drink Mama Cowbell’s Agbo if you feel anyhow. We know what to take if we have fever and cough and sore throat. Go and take it and shun all tests. After all, at the isolation centres it is symptoms they are treating. We have always done that.”
“Wrong. Get tested. Though it kind of gives comfort to know we are dealing with symptoms we have known all our lives being from a malaria endemic region. I can safely assume that many people have suffered this COVID-19 and recovered without even knowing. According to Dokpesi, a number of people who tested positive for COVID-19 were checked in reputable labs in Abuja and were found to have malaria parasites in their bloodstreams. Imagine that these people did not go for COVID-19 tests and went to the chemist and bought drugs for malaria and took them like we normally do, would they not have also recovered?
“It is happening every day I must tell you. We are already beating the coronavirus.” Mr. Zubi said.
“So what of the people that died?”
“Malaria is still the biggest killer on the African continent. It’s been killing people here every day from time immemorial. The white people are dying more because they never survive malaria.”
“Did you see the kind of fried rice and pomo they were eating at the isolation centre? One guy posted a picture. If that is the only way to enjoy this government’s money, I will go. I will just put my chloroquine in my back pocket.”
“You better go to the right isolation centre otherwise you go suffer. Did you not see the video of some patients in a Lekki centre? Or the ones in Gombe who said they had to be going out to buy their own paracetamol, not to talk of seeing fried rice and pomo to eat.”
“The Government there have instituted a probe on the matter.”
“I have said it that after this corona thing, EFCC will have plenty customers.”
“The WHO has said the virus will always be here. Just like all the other maladies that started one day. So the EFCC better start working.”
“I will urge everyone to go on the internet to find what Pastor Tony Akinyemi said about the prevention and treatment of the coronavirus with natural products. It’s the best thing I’ve seen on the subject.” Mr. Cosmas said.
“Meanwhile, football has begun this weekend in Germany. Others to follow soon. Who said life will not get back to normal one day?” Ndifreke said.
Before that conversation however, Papa Efe’s body had just been discovered. Things were about to change at number 225 Katakata Street.
Nurse Jo rushed to Irikefe’s side and took Papa Efe’s pulse. Indeed Papa Efe had died in his sleep.
“He knew! He knew he would die! Yesterday he was speaking to me somehow.”
“What did he say?” Mr. Zubi said.
“He was telling me to forgive him. He was asking me what I want to do with my life. He told me about his property in Delta. My father had never spoken like that before!”
“It may just be a coincidence. My own father said the same to me many times as soon as he started getting grey hair. It is not uncommon for parents to talk like that.”
“But see the result now! This one was not a coincidence!” Irikefe cried.
“What an irony. On the day a new baby is born, an old man exits. This life,” Josiah said.
“Okay, please everyone we have to respect Papa Efe and leave the room now. The nurse can stay. The rest of you please let’s meet outside. We need to discuss the way forward.”
They filed out but Mr. Cosmas and Mr. Zubi with the nurse stayed back with Irikefe.
Nurse Jo helped to lay the dead body out properly. She extended the legs, folded the arms and placed them on top of the chest and adjusted the head to face forward. She then asked for and got a white bedsheet with which she covered Papa Efe completely.
Irikefe would not stop crying. “Na my papa dem dey cover like dead body for television so?”
Mr. Cosmas put an arm around him and guided him out of the room.
Mr. Zubi telephoned Alhaji Sirika. The landlord left his house for number 225 at once.
The council of elders then sat for the first time without Papa Efe.
“This is sad,” Josiah said. “The man was never sick. He was full of life. There is nothing in this life o! One can just be breathing like this and the next moment they are gone! What could have killed Papa Efe?”
“He may have suffered a heart attack or a stroke in his sleep. The new Coroner’s System Law of Lagos State demands an autopsy for every death so this will be done and we will get to know. But my guess will be a heart attack,” Mr Zubi said.
“Or maybe na him village people,” Mkpoikanna offered.
“This is not the time for this sort of talk gentlemen. Irikefe is here. We should instead be talking about what to do now.”
“We can’t do much without his relatives.”
“Papa Efe has no relatives in Lagos. It is just him and his son.”
“There is also a ban on interstate travel so no one can even come down.”
“It means he will be buried here in Lagos.”
“Most likely. Unless things change in the coming days.”
“You know they will test him for COVID-19 as well. This one that they are looking for figures, they might just say it is covid that killed poor Papa Efe and they will cease the body and cremate it.”
“No one will do that. We all saw that he was not physically sick. He helped us help the Inspector just yesterday. There was nothing wrong with the man.”
“So now that his relatives cannot come what do we do?”
“Alhaji Sirika is on his way. They were friends. He will guide us.”
“Meanwhile Ndifreke, Castro, you boys need to get tighter with Irikefe. He needs you now.”
“No problem. He will move in with me for some days. I know it will be difficult for him to sleep in the same room just yet,” Ndifreke said.
“Great. Please do so.”
“Please let us not forget Achike’s good news. We have a new baby in the compound.”
That brought a little cheer.
“ I don’t know if with Papa Efe’s passing we will have our normal new baby entrance ritual.”
“No need,” Achike said. “We should honour Papa Efe. Thank you, everyone. My wife and baby will be discharged later today and I will bring them home quietly. We will dance when Kingsley’s baby is born.”
Mr. Kingsley shifted in his seat and stroked his beard.
Alhaji Sirika’s red jeep ground to a halt in front of the compound and he alighted and walked straight into the meeting. Many seated rose to greet him.
“Please take me to go and see him,” he said.
Mr.Zubi led him into the house while the others waited for them to return.
“Ah, this is unfortunate o. Sorry all of you ehn,” Alhaji Sirika said when he came out of Papa Efe’s room.
“And you say he was not sick?”
“No he wasn’t.”
“Pele all of you. Where is his son?”
“I am here sir” A teary Irikefe said and stood up.
“Pele my son. Don’t worry you will be alright. You will be fine.”
“Thank you Alhaji.”
“I will send an ambulance when I leave and they will take him to the mortuary at LASUTH while we contact his family. He is not a Muslim so he will stay there for a while so that we can plan.”
“That will be very kind of you Alhaji.”
“It is nothing. You people do not know but I will tell you now. Papa Efe and I were good friends from youth. We played on the same football team. I was a goalkeeper and he was a striker. We did things together as young men if you know what I mean. It just turned out that I made more money . He was a loyal friend.”
Many hissed and sighed and shook their heads.
“Efe!” Alhaji Sirika called out.
“Yes Alhaji” Irikefe said and stood up again.
“How old are you now?”
“I’m twenty sir.”
“Ah, that is nice. You are a man now. You will become the new caretaker.”
That drew gasps of surprise from all. They all looked at each other and then at the Alhaji.
Irikefe also looked confused.
“What did you people think I would do? None of you is qualified because you are all strangers. You will pack your load and leave one day. Efe was born here. He has nowhere to go. So he gets the job. Yes he is young. But as I am seeing him so, if they give him woman he will impregnate her!”
That brought smiles to some faces.
“It is the least I can do for my friend. I will place you on ten thousand naira monthly stipend as well and you will continue to live here rent free.
“Your job is simple. Put your eyes down in this compound. Anything goes wrong, you let me know and I will fix it. Someone moves out, let me know. Someone we need to throw out, you let me know. Someone new comes, you assess them and if you accept them you tell me and they will make payment to me. You are not to collect any money on my behalf o. Did you hear that?” Alhaji Sirika said pulling one of his own ears for emphasis.
“Yes, Alhaji” Irikefe said.
“You mess up, you lose the job and I’ll find someone else. An outsider even. If you mess up very big, you lose the accommodation altogether. As I already said I am doing it for my friend. What you will do for yourself is to be responsible.”
“I will Alhaji. Thank you Alhaji” Irikefe said and prostrated.
“Don’t mention,” Alhaji Sirika said and marched back to his vehicle.
“The ambulance is coming,” he said as his driver put the jeep in gear.
“Congratulations Efe,” the men said to him. “You are now a man with responsibility. This also makes you a vital member of this council of elders. Dry your eyes son. You will be alright. You know you can count on all of us here if you need anything.”
“I will sirs. Thank you.”
Ndifreke went upstairs and walked into the room where Maya lay on the bed.
“You have to leave Maya.”
“What? I’m pregnant Ndi!”
“I know. Irikefe is bereaved and cannot stay alone. The council of elders asked me to take care of him.”
Maya sat up and said: “I was listening from the balcony Ndi. They did not tell you to take him to your room.”
“But I want him here.”
“Why are you doing this Ndi?”
“Because of my friend Irikefe.”
“What about me?”
“Your father did not just die Maya.”
Maya sat still and thought, even as tears welled up in her eyes.
Then quietly, she stood and put all her things in her bag and went over to Josephine’s.
“He threw me out. Please let me stay until tomorrow at least. I want to think.”
“No problem my friend. You can stay for as long as you wish. I get lonely sometimes.”
“I don’t wish to invade your space. Chisco may want to come around.”
“I don’t think so. He was acting funny yesterday and he slept in this compound when he was not supposed to. I think he may not be needing me soon.”
“Why is that?” Maya said. Then realization hit her.
“I think so.”
“God, why are men like this?”
“Scum. That’s what they are.”
They were quiet for a while and then Maya said: “Truly I am baffled. If I did not witness the good time you two had together just like forty-eight hours ago! What really propels men?”
Josephine was arranging clothes she had brought back inside from the airer. She chuckled when she saw how pained Maya was.
“Are you not bothered?” Maya said.
“Bothered ke? Over Chisco? No man is worth it, my sis. I imagine you have only known two. Wait until your body count reaches mine.”
“Don’t exaggerate nurse. You like to make it look like you are so bad but I know you are not. You only had Donnie, Chisco now and the doctor.”
“You forgot Wasiu.”
“That was rape.”
“I enjoyed it.”
“You didn’t ask for it.”
“And it is not like cars line up here every night for you. You have a job and you live within your means. I actually do admire you, nurse.”
“Thanks for making me feel good Maya. But I know I’m a bad girl. I wanted to fuck your man.”
“I’d have forgiven you if you did.”
“That is quite charming dear.”
“He threw me out because of that old woman. She called him while we were cooking and he went to her house for three hours and returned a different person.”
“Shame. But she is stunning I must say, Maya. I don’t know anyone who looks like that after four children.”
“She should look for someone her age, preferably a widower. She has lived her life. She should leave Ndi for me.”
“Life is not always fair, beautiful. But do not lose hope. I know he loves you. His brain will reset. Give him time.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes I am my friend.”
“Okay. Thank you nurse.”
Ndifreke and Castro led Irikefe upstairs.
“Stay here with me my friend. We will go downstairs for your things later.”
“What of Maya?” Irikefe said weakly.
“She is gone.”
Irikefe managed a smile.
“Omo cheer up na. Me wey dey pray since say make my papa kpai. But the man no wan go anywhere!”
“Don’t be stupid Castro” Ndifreke said.
“Papa Efe is the real G. The man bow out like boss. Left you with an inheritance sef. You inherit him job. If my papa die na only rubber slippers I go get.”
“You have started smoking again abi Castro?” Ndifreke said.
“But I know he will not die. Ugly people don’t die quick. He will stay and continue to cause confusion in the council of elders.”
“You are being silly Castro.”
“My man, you be caretaker now o! Alhaji said if you don’t like somebody you should tell him and he will throw the person out. He said it is only the person you want that he will put in the house. Guy, you know the kind power wey you get so?”
Irikefe could only manage a smile.
“If you like anybody daughter, you go just tell him papa to bring am come your room. Otherwise, quit notice!”
“You are a fool Castro.”
“And now wey your papa no dey again, no more fornicating under the staircase or for backyard. Guy, you go dey nack for your room steady overnight!”
Ndifreke noticed that Castro’s words were having a lifting effect on Irikefe. It was the sort of thing they discussed every day. So he just sat there and listened with a big smile.
“Abeg I hear say Alfa wan come back. I take God beg you my friend, the man children too dey shit. Tell Alhaji say we no want am again.”
Now Irikefe’s eyes lit up and he chuckled.
“Also make we go threaten Mama Cowbell say if hin no send two plates of rice and beans and orishirishi come your room every morning, quit notice!”
“At this rate Castro, you are going to get him fired in one month,” Ndifreke said.
“You lie bros. You think Alhaji cares? We will not see him here again until an earthquake happens. Now that he has said it openly that Irikefe is in charge, everyone will do as he says.”
Then quite unexpectedly Irikefe said: “Relax my man. I know what I want to do first as caretaker. Help me put am for group chat say meeting dey tomorrow morning.”
“Chai! See my guy!” Castro enthused and jumped on his feet and did a little legwork and gbese.
“Consider it done boss!”
They heard a knock on the door and Ndifreke said “come in,” and after a brief hesitation, Funbi entered the room.
No one was expecting her. The three boys all found themselves on their feet at once.
Funbi was wearing a simple flowery top and plain skirt that was a few inches above her knees and flattered her long legs and striking curves. She had recently had a haircut and had made her hair into baby curls. She did not wear prominent makeup. There was only a hint of brown powder on her and plain gloss on her lips.
Irikefe found the strength to grab Castro’s hand and said, “Guy, make we waka.”
“No. It is you I came to see.”
“Oh. Castro. I and you will have to leave then.” Ndifreke said.
“Why, stay,” Irikefe said.
“No. They should leave us alone for a while.”
As they stepped out Castro said to Ndifreke “you see your new caretaker? It is happening already!”
“I thought you came to see Ndifreke,” Irikefe said when Funbi sat opposite him.
“No. I came to see you.”
“I heard about your father. Accept my condolences.”
“Thank you Funbi.”
They were quiet for a while and then Irikefe said: “Did you think about what I told you?”
“I haven’t stopped thinking about everything.”
“Good. Ndifreke is a good guy. He has thrown Maya out. I told you she was not going to be a problem.”
“Even as you just lost your father you are still only concerned about someone else,” Funbi said.
“What do you mean?”
Funbi sighed and said “You know, when you finished talking to me that day, all I thought about was you.”
Irikefe’s eyes widened.
“I found it quite charming that one could do that for a friend. I could have been rude to you because your mission was frankly stupid.”
“But I saw where you were coming from. You cared about your friend’s happiness and wanted what you thought was good for him.”
“Erm” Irikefe muttered scratching his head.
“So I concluded you are a good guy. Selfless. So I want to be your friend.”
“Is this a prank? Irikefe said and looked around the room as if he was looking for a camera.”
“Yes or no?”
“Why, yes, of course. What about Ndifreke?”
“Now I want you to think about yourself Irikefe. If Ndifreke wants me, he will have to tell me himself. But then why would I want him? I know his girlfriend and I have also heard things.”
“Oh. So that means you will be my girlfriend instead?” His eyes had become so wide Funbi feared they may pop out of their sockets.
“I said friends,” Funbi said and laughed softly. “I have seen too much unkindness. I like a person like you.”
“Have you eaten?” Funbi said.
“No I’m not hungry. The old man…”
“I understand” Funbi said and stood up and went and sat beside Irikefe and held his hands.”
“Is this because my father just died?”
“No. I told you I liked you already before today.”
“You don’t want Ndifreke?”
“If you say that again I will leave.”
“No please. Sorry.”
“Can I ask you a favour?”
“Yes go ahead.”
“Can I cry on your chest?”
“Naughty boy,” she chuckled and shifted away from him.
“But we are friends. What are friends for?’
“I am your friend, not your girlfriend.”
“Yet,” Irikefe said.
“Na you sabi.”
“Alright. Just for today because of what happened.”
Irikefe shifted closer and placed his head on Funbi’s bosom.
It was soft and comfortable. He could hear her heart beating.
“How long can I stay like this?”
He closed his eyes and began to think. But he was ashamed of what he was thinking.
He was wondering when the ambulance was going to come and take away Papa Efe’s body.
TO BE CONTINUED.