At the heart of the COVID-19 crisis is the quarantine issue. And from my lockdown experience, it is an unprecedented disruption of life.
I am a consultant and my routine has been leaving the house for office daily at seven in the morning and back at about 8 o’clock in the evening, a warm shower follows before I settle down on my favourite armchair for a spot of news on television while taking supper. I normally go to bed at exactly 11 o’clock in the evening.
I need to add that I have only one wife- a corporate employee- tottering towards retirement and a father of four two young male adults and two teenagers, boy and girl. Pre- COVID-19, I can’t really recall when we last had a meaningful family conversation with the four products of my loins.
What I experienced on Good Friday was bound to happen. You see, every home has a seat where the head of the house sits. I have a seat reserved for me, it sits in a domineering position with the perfect view of the television and a small side table next to where my reading glasses and mobile phone rests. Everybody in the house knows that the house help knows that even the family pet cat knows that!
So, on Good Friday, at exactly 34 minutes after eight in the evening, I walk in from my shower and dressed in a gown and I find my 21-year-old son on my seat. Even by the strange, elastic standards of this time. It is an abomination.
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I am surprised, as he knew I was in the house; so I give a long steady gaze to this partly grown human being, hoping that it would chill his blood. He gazes back at me his jaws rhythmically clamping on a piece of chewing gum and slowly stands up from the seat still holding my gaze.
I now notice that he is broad on the shoulders and beef has piled up on the biceps and the neck. I also notice that he has a tattoo of a Nanga on his inner arms. The calf has grown into a young bull. I could not have noticed this, I thank quarantine for this. I find myself thinking that if this was a real bull, then this was the appropriate time to put it down for prime veal beef.
I imagine that he is smiling inwardly, Our eyes meet and the young bull throws a subtle challenge to the old bull, the challenge is so subtle that it goes unnoticed by everyone in the room save for me. It seems to say-Old man, your time is up.
I have willingly taken the challenge; it will be a nice long fight, a long drawn fight. I have the experience and the resources to make it a long and interesting fight. The young bull will win, of course, he has the energy, the time and yes he is also stupid.
Yes, it will be a nice long fight and I will love every minute of this.
The lockdown conversation
Given my view that the COVID-19 crisis is an extreme form of adversity, but it is our attitude toward and response to the COVID-19 crisis that can either make or break our experience of it.
I am a consultant therefore within limits capable of working from home. My better half is a corporate employee retiring within the year. She had been home in the lake region following up on her retirement project she was setting up at home. Her argument was valid.
“We need to start preparing to relocate back home when retirement happens”
Talk is easy. Re-entry back home after decades of sojourning in the city not so easy. As if on cue, the president granted her the wish and announced the sudden lockdown of Nairobi for at least three weeks.
Following the presidential directive, suddenly my missus found that the would-be retiring home is not so interesting especially when the hubby remained in Nairobi. This is a paraphrase of the conversation we have had in the last four days:
Missus: “I am leaving home headed to Nairobi tomorrow morning” This is said from an audibly strained voice
Me: “But why you have only been home for two days, you are on official leave and because of the lockdown, you can’t make it back here to the city” I answer back trying to follow an interesting part in an on-going movie on Television.
Missus: “I must come”
Me: “But why the urgency, hang around until this lockdown passes.”
Missus: “Who mentioned urgency” She assaults. “Why do I have a feeling that you don’t want me back to the city?”
Me: “It is not that way, you see, even if you come, you can’t make it to the city. There are roadblocks to ensure you don’t make it”
Missus: “Were the roadblocks made for me?”
Me: “…No, but you see…”
Missus: “Are you aware that the toilet in farmhouse is not flushing?
Me: “Er… I am not aware, but I Hope the pit latrine is serviceable”
Missus: Are you suggesting, I share the outside pit latrine with the farmhands?”
Me: “Why don’t you talk to Abele, he will know what to do”.
Abele is the farm manager and the odd jobs man, very dexterous with his hands.
Missus: Call him and instruct him on the same” My temper is starting to rise.
Missus: “Then talk to that government spokesperson friend of yours to organise for me to pass through the lockdown roadblocks. Am coming to Nairobi tomorrow”.
She hangs up.
The conversation is forgotten as I go back to follow the series on Netflix.
Twenty-four hours later, at about 9 in the night, missus calls me.
Missus: “Hi! Am in Nakuru, at Josephine’s place” Josephine is her sister, living in Nakuru and married to a doctor.” When are you coming to pick me” She adds.
Me: “Pick you?” I ask, puzzled.
Missus: “But you had promised you will organise for my coming to Nairobi today?”
Me: “Look, there is a lockdown”.
Missus: “Are you suggesting that you made no arrangements for me to come to Nairobi?” “You never bother about my requests and you know how I cannot stand David”
David is his brother in law, Josephine’s husband.
Normally, when I am stressed, a tic starts somewhere in my right eye and I suspect travels through the nerves to the heart. Because by now, I feel the tic making a resounding tap and my heart has somersaulted with a thud.
I hereby declare, should I collapse and suddenly die during this quarantine period. COVID-19 is not to blame.
I have been thinking...
“I have been thinking” …
The words are repeated again from a deep voice; slowly, I remove my reading glasses and place the novel I have been reading on the side table. I am deliberate in all these manoeuvres because the person who has muttered those words has not been known to be so strong in that department.
He is nineteen and set to join the university in May. He has never in my life attempted to address me using a full statement. I looked at him again, I noticed he has had a sudden growth spurt and hey! Yes! He has a tuft of hair on the chin. Why Hadn’t I noticed this before? I suppose because our circadian rhythm is vastly different.
Young Julio wakes up at midday. Yes, Midday, takes a hurried combined breakfast and lunch before ceremoniously combing his hair for four hours and jumping back to bed for another round of sleep.
He takes his dinner at two o’clock in the morning.
So understand my attention when he says “I have been thinking”
Finally, he speaks- “You know that old house we have in Kitengela” I keep quiet, trying to get the drift of the thinking
“It is big, with open spaces and fresh air” He continues “Why can’t you convert it to be an old people’s home”.
My glasses go back to the bridge of my nose and the novel I have been reading goes back to hide my face.
Thinking indeed. Am I being tapped to be the first customer of that open airy place in Kitengela?
During this quarantine period, God, take care of my friends. I will take care of my enemies.
In vino veritas
Due to the Lockdown, I followed the Easter vigil mass from satellite television. It was moving and I felt that my Easter spiritual gap had been nourished by the ceremony.
On Sunday Mid-morning, a neighbour in the gated estate invited me for a drink. It was a happy surprise, considering that we have never been particularly close. I do not even know his name. Sauntering over to the neighbours’ house, I found three other faces seated under an erected umbrella in the compound. I recognised the three as neighbours in the estate; they were nodding acquaintances. But had never exchanged pleasantries with them.
In Wine, there is truth. Our initial suspicions mellowed as we realised that we had so much in common as we got roaring drunk on the Easter afternoon. By early evening, I recall we were considering the many synonyms for being drunk: tipsy, pickled, soused, stoned, inebriated, juiced, sluiced, under the table, bombed, plastered, smashed and sloshed. Each lexicon was found to be humorous and was accompanied by peals of drunken laughter.
We also got spiritual and found that we could share so many biblical quotes off the head from the holy book:
“Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and valiant men in mixing strong drink” One Intoned from Prophet Isaiah’s writing.
“Wine and new wine take away the understanding” another rejoinder drawing from the prophet Hosea.
I chanted from the book of Proverbs- “Do not look at wine when it is red when it sparkles in the cup and goes down smoothly. At the last, it bites like a serpent and stings like a puff adder.”
Finally, we felt comforted with the eternal words from Saint Paul “A little wine is good for your stomach”
Lockdown brought us together and wine united us.
A visit to the doctor
After the escapades of the Easter Sunday, I woke up tired and hangover, spending the Monday on a short fuse. I was –later - told by my granddaughter that I had prowled around the house, thumping into furniture, rummaging in the kitchen, slamming doors, turning the pages of the daily newspaper with some savage crackles.
On the second day, I could not contain the wretched feeling of malaise and strolled over to the local shopping centre where I have always seen a sign reading, Doctors place.
The doctor was alone; and lacked that finesse you would expect from a member of such a distinguished profession. At least he had a stethoscope over his neck.
I suspected that he could have been sixty but looked eighty.
I explained my feeling of malaise to the doctor; he smiled broadly, put a gag on my arm and told me that my blood pressure was high, higher-his words-than a cat’s back.
“Be careful, with what you eat, live quietly, avoid excitement or you may pop off at a sudden”
He then broke off in a sudden guffaw.
I looked at him in askance and told him that I was aware of my high-pressure issue and the management of it.
He looked at me and finally gazed at the window before remarking:
“In that case, I would not be too much alarmed about your condition; I can tell you definitely that you are suffering from psychoneurosis attributed to the Coronavirus”
He saw the look on my face and continued.
“It is not life-threatening, just a form of ennui from the expected layoff in your job. Don’t get into a panic hysteria. Get regular exercise, eat plenty of good plain food and be sure to get eight hours of uninterrupted sleep”
“What is Ennui? what is psychoneurosis?” – I asked him.
“I suggest you google and confirm, there is nothing as great as the power of suggestion” Another guffaw “Give me one thousand shillings please.”
I later learnt that he was a retired psychiatrist.