May 17, 2022
There was a lot of work going on when I arrived at the Kogi State Specialist Hospital. A total revamp. It looked finished from the outside, but there was still a lot going on inside. I hardly leave my house, but I had to go there; I was going abroad and needed to be double vaxxed before traveling.
I couldn’t go to my university clinic in Ilorin, as I had in early March for my first jab, because the staff there is on strike. No more vaccination till the strike is called off, the medical officer informed me. But are the clinic workers academic staff? Why are they stopping now? Unclear, like everything else in this country.
Back then, Justomilayo, Seyi and I made a joke of everything as we sat on the clinic’s long bench waiting to be injected. We exaggerated our anxiety into a display of cowardly panic. We’d melt away when the needle pricked us! We made videos of ourselves announcing to the world that we were about to do the risky. Send help!
Jesutomilayo and I had just shaved our heads bald. We looked like comedy skit actors. And then the needles came and the needles went and we were still us, cheery boys who knew how to live in the moment. This time around would not be much fun, sitting among strangers to get vaccinated. The AstraZeneca shot would be available, a neighbor had told me. Come by 10am, she said.
It had rained, bringing on the mysterious heat that overwhelms the dampened city. I took a tricycle to the hospital and the ride was muddy. When the road had improved, I gazed more calmly on the green hills that overlook the city like floating hedges.
At the hospital, a series of hallways and corridors led to the vaccination unit, a narrow room with a table at either end. I sat on a bench with perhaps five other men, most of them older. Older people in this city are said to be indifferent to COVID-19 vaccination—oh God, I have heard theories!—and I wondered who had talked them into coming. Maybe they too were planning to travel. Where the hell would these guys like these be going?
The hospital was rowdy, with voices competing to be heard and loud machines painfully whirring from behind the walls. I adjusted my baseball cap, tucked in one side of my earphones so I could hear my turn called, and began to scroll through my Twitter feeds.
But I couldn’t really remove myself from the atmosphere; I could hear almost everything that was said, the nurses and the men talking as if they’d known one another forever. Except one, who contributed only a weak smile. He looked as bored as I was. Just give me the damn thing and let me go! He too was here for his second dose. After his injection, he asked the nurse: I hope I don’t need any other thing? I can travel with this, right?
I took a quick glance at him and felt ashamed for what I’d thought about him and the other men.
The next man was here for the first dose; he had no card yet, and would have to give his details.
‘Your address?’ the nurse asked.
‘Number 7, Behind Girl’s College.’
He called it.
‘Number 7, Behind Girl’s—’
‘Okay no worry,’ the nurse said.
There was a burst of laughter and the man said, ‘I no know dat one o,’ with a matching amusement.
‘Any known medical condition?’ the nurse asked.
‘I no get any condition o!’
‘Do you have asthma?’
‘Oga no be fight na, just answer yes or no,’ the man seated next to him teased.
The nurse, trying to hold in a laugh, gestured for him to roll up his sleeves without completing the routine questions. After he was injected and his face captured in the database, he stood up and, before he left, said ‘Thank you’ to everyone. He’d enjoyed making us laugh.
But then he came back. He’d bought a pie at the entrance to the vaccination unit, and thought to share before leaving the hospital. In his ankara tunic that fluttered on his thin body, he went round the room, offering the pie in everyone’s face and repeating the words, ‘Come join me eat.’
Everyone declined. Some with a ‘Thank you’, some teasing that they would take the whole pie and not share. Then he offered the pie to me, me the youngest among them, who’d been acting a snob, me, who’d judged him and every other person in the room. As I raised my head to meet his dark face and cream-toothed smile, I saw beyond this man who knew how to live in the moment with people he might never share the same air with again. I put my phone down and smiled back. The other men smiled in our direction. Smiled at me. And for the first time, I was totally present, and felt welcomed.
‘Thank you,’ I said.