“I grabbed a protective suit that I stole from the local market. It consisted of a trash bag, duct tape, goggles, gloves, and a swimming cap. I slipped the suit on very quickly and crawled up to my brother Abioye, who had been fighting the Boag virus.”
“Afia, go tend to your sick brother!” my mother shouted, as she plucked the chicken whose distinct smell filled our crumbling mud brick home.
As I sat on the quilt that was temporarily my and my mother’s bed, I listened to the sound of ambulances carrying more corpses to their burial area. My heart began to sink. I wish this were a dream…
I grabbed a protective suit that I stole from the local market. It consisted of a trash bag, duct tape, goggles, gloves, and a swimming cap. I slipped the suit on very quickly and crawled up to my brother Abioye, who had been fighting the Boag virus. I did this with extra precaution because I didn’t want to disturb him in his sleep. I crept in closer and closer until I was right above him. I put one hand on his shoulder and whispered Réveillez-vous in his ear – that means “wake up.”
My brother didn’t move. He just lay there, lifelessly. I let out a shriek and ran to the village’s spigot – or doctor – where my mother was washing the chicken for dinner.
“Maman, Abioye is lifeless! He… he… he… died.”
“What?!” she screamed, falling backwards onto the bumpy dirt road and bursting into tears, which made an ocean around her. As soon as we got home that night, she ran into Abioye’s room and kissed him, hoping that it would wake him up.
I stood a great distance away and shouted, “Maman, don’t do that! It’s very dangerous – you could get the virus!”
She turned and hit me with one of Abioye’s wooden dolls. I gasped for air. The pain was almost unbearable as I ran to the makeshift bathroom, and I rubbed my cheek with the backs of my cracked hands. My palms were aching for some oil. As I pondered how Maman could do such a horrible thing, I realized that her anger was actually grief and despair.
That night, I woke to the sound of my mother’s extreme gagging. Oh no, I thought, my mother has contracted the Boag virus…
Ever since my father was killed trying to fight Islamic Rebels, my mother has become very protective of her kids. I have tried to step up by taking on more responsibility in our home, such as doing more house chores, helping watch over Abioye, and being a sort of village doctor. Even though I am 16 years old and have no professional medical experience, numerous hospitals in the area have rejected our sick due to overcrowding, and I must help in any way I can.
Before the outbreak, president Aimee Bello didn’t prepare us; she only prepared the wealthier towns. Everyday, when tending to the “rejects,” I pose a serious health risk myself.
I was sitting on the floor in the sparse room that I shared with Abioye before he fell ill. I realized that I should not reuse the same protective suit, because it had Abioye’s germs on it and, consequently, the virus too. I would have to bleach it to kill the virus, but, since I don’t have the resources, I would have to burn it instead. I grabbed the oil and the match and gathered the grass in one pile. I lit the match and then dumped the oil in one area. A big wave of heat blew towards me. I grabbed a nearby stick and tossed it on the suit, and then I got a cloth to cover my mouth with so that I would not breathe in the fumes. After the suit was done burning, I had to figure out how to get another one…
I crept up to the market door that creaked every time somebody opened it…This would make the task a whole lot harder. While I was grabbing all of the items, I began to get frantic. I bumped into a crate of coconuts and made a loud thud noise, which caused the owner to notice me.
“Arrêtez! Arrêtez! Arrêtez! Stop!” screamed the enraged owner.
I ran and ran until I got to my doorstep, where my mother was wearily washing our well-worn clothes by hand.
“Maman, go inside! You are in the early stages of the Boag Virus!” I said, alarmed.
“Afia, these clothes won’t wash themselves.” she responded, clearly determined.
“Hey, Afia,” she hesitated. “I have a question. Why were you at the market?” my mother asked in a firm voice.
“Um, Maman, I had to get the protective gear to cure the ill villagers.”
“Where did you get the money from?”
I felt like I was getting interrogated, little droplets of sweat rolled down my thin face. I took a big gulp, and in a crackly unsure voice I answered her.
“I stole again…It was for a good cause, though.” I responded in a guilty voice.
“Shame on you…”
I convinced Maman to lay in Abioye’s shady room. I slowly backed into our cooking area and suited up for the day’s work.
I walked down a light brown dirt road that led me to Ms. Okafor’s round house. I walked right in because Ms. Okafor was not able to get up. In a weak voice, Ms. Okafor asked me for a glass of guava juice.
While I was hooking up medication to her arm, a young villager, who was very skinny and had big round eyes, came to the door and said that Maman was in deep distress and coughing up clots of blood. My Maman was knocking on death’s door.