Fallen Scabs and Dried Sores
by Ohaka Thelma
The prevalent bustling in Òkè-ìlá was driven by fear and the constant need to survive.
Mama Ayo walked briskly in an attempt to get home before six pm. Her bag of food items was light enough to be clutched to her side with both arms. She was aware that they could be stolen, which would mean water throughout the next week for her family.
She greeted her neighbour and proceeded to enter her home, she could hear her children noisily playing a game called Ten-ten.
“Ayobami!” She called for her first child.
“Yes, mummy?” The 15-year-old ran to her.
“Put these things in the kitchen and boil water. Where are your brothers?”
“They are inside playing. Mummy, is it Eba again? Let us eat rice na.” Ayobami pleaded with her eyes.
“Rice? Don’t you know we need money for other things, ehn? Abi, you don’t want to resume school again?” Granting their desires was essential, but their education was the most important.
“No, I want to go to school. I’ll go and boil the water.” She sighed and left, wondering when her education would stop hindering her wants.
Sirens wailed at a distance, informing everyone what time it was.
Mama Ayo shook her children from their slumber.
“Wake up, wake up. Ayobami stands up and wash your brothers’ faces.”
Ayobami wiped her face filled with confusion. “Mummy, what is happening?”
“It’s time for the weekly inspection, let’s go.” She ushered them outside the house. Neighbours were already outside, their faces clouded with fear.
A loud screeching sound was heard accompanied by a man’s voice on a megaphone.
“Good evening everyone, please remain at the front of your houses. If any family member is not found there, consequences will follow.” Everyone knew the drill. Since the outbreak of smallpox in the past year, the army deployed soldiers for routine checks nationwide to weed out the infected persons and move them to an isolation camp.
When the search ended, Mama Ayo was happy. For every inspection her family survives, her fighting chance increases.
“Ah, Mama Ayo. Did you hear what happened in the Oladele family?” Mama Sade, her neighbor, asked her before she returned inside.
“What happened? Did they take anybody?” This was everyone’s fear in the village; if one person was found, more people could get infected.
“They took one of the children oh, the mother has been crying since she begged them to take her too. It was very sad.”
“It is well. I just pray they find a cure soon. “See ehn, if they take me to the isolation place, I will never take any cure they give me. Who knows if it will kill you faster sef.” She wasn’t surprised at Mama Sade’s beliefs, she heard most people talk like this in the market.
“But what if it can cure you and your children?”
“And what if it kills us faster? Abeg oh! My cousin in another state told me they are doing something called vario-something, do you know what it is? Mama Sade always had the happening news.
“No, what is it?”
She moved closer and reduced her voice. “They will cut you open and infect you with smallpox on purpose! Can you imagine? Olorun maje!” Her shoulders shook in disbelief.
“Ehen? But why? Will the person not be infected too?”
“My dear, that’s what I asked too, they said it will make you immune to the virus. They think we don’t have sense, they want to make us die faster.”
“Ah, it is well o. May we never experience it.” They chorused ‘Amen’ and returned to their homes.
Mama Ayo was infected with smallpox.
At first, she thought it was malaria as the symptoms were alike; she sent Ayobami to buy some herbal tonic, but when she began to notice red spots on her tongue, it was clear what it was.
Knowing that her children could get infected, she decided to report herself to the isolation camp.
What about her children? She thought long and hard about who to keep them with, someone who would take care of them on her behalf. She concluded that Mama Sade was the closest possible candidate.
She asked Mama Sade for a favour that would allow her children to live on the little savings she had. She entrusted Ayobami some amount of money for emergencies of any kind. Mama Sade felt sorry for her, but didn’t judge or try to influence her decision. Mama Ayo then sat her children down and informed them of her condition and that she was going to get treated, they all cried and eventually agreed. Still, the youngest of the Ayo’s insisted on following her with tearful eyes.
Only after promising her safe return was she allowed to leave her children.
She arrived at the isolation camp the same day she set out. It looked like a military base as it was heavily fenced with barbed wires. It was a terrifying sight. A bright light appeared on her face blinding her momentarily. She hid her face in her arms to protect her from the brightness.
“Who goes there?” A loud voice questioned and made her jump with anxiety. She saw a man kitted in soldier’s attire.
“Good evening, sir. My name is Mama Ayo, and I came to report myself here, I think I have smallpox.” She watched as the man’s expression changed from fear to shock. He probably did not expect anyone to come willingly, but mama Ayo didn’t live for her, she needed to stay alive for her children.
The soldier ushered her into the gates and left her with some other soldiers. She was taken to an area with dozens of makeshift corners scattered around. It seemed as though each corner was supposed to be a personal space of some kind. Her information was collected; she was given a bag of living items constituting materials for sleeping and bathing, the basic types.
A health worker clad in a surgical gown assigned her a corner with a bed. The beds were far from each other and the entire room was structured in a maze-like way, so that you couldn’t see anything from the entrance. As the health worker left her, she also noticed that she couldn’t see other people’s beds — bricks were used to block the sides; it was probably to prevent them from interacting with others.
She began unpacking her things and wondered what her children ate for dinner and how they were coping without her. A figure appeared before her. It was a young woman dressed in clothes that resembled the ones she was given. She was probably a patient too.
“Good evening.” She smiled.
“Good evening,” Mama Ayo replied.
“My name is Olamide. I saw when you came in, we were curious about you since it is not yet time for the night inspection. Were you caught or what?”
“No, I came myself. I have symptoms of smallpox.”
The woman, ‘Olamide,’ looked at her in disbelief. “You came by yourself? Why? You could have hidden or bribed them.”
Mama Ayo laughed. “Hide where? Bribe them with what? I do not have the means for any of those. Besides, I came here to be cured.”
“Cured? You’re funny o! Who told you there is a cure? You don’t even know anything. We are being left here so that when the disease kills us, it will be easy to throw us away. You just came here like a sacrificial lamb; I wish you knew the truth before coming. I would rather die in my own house than being abandoned here.” “Well, I believe what I believe.”
“Hmm, okay. You didn’t tell me your name.”
“You can call me Mama Ayo.”
Mama Ayo had spent a week but was not getting better. The rashes on her skin had spread over the parts of her body and become bumps. The others looked worse than she did. As they waited for death, they sang hymns.
Everywhere seemed solemn as each day went by but she kept her faith strong. Suddenly, there was a loud bang, followed by loud footsteps. Mama Ayo couldn’t see anything or anyone from her bed, so she assumed it was one of the younger ones playing around. She hummed a song from her childhood and used the bedside table as a drum.
“Mama Ayo! Mama Ayo!” Olamide rushed to the front of her corner. “It has finally happened!” She placed her hands on top of her head.
“What has finally happened?” “The cure o! They said they have found the cure to smallpox, and they will give everybody here. Can you imagine? Just like that, not even to ask us-“
“Calm down.” Mama Ayo stopped her venting. “Who told you they found it? How do you know it is true?” She didn’t want to base her hopes on a rumour.
“One of the patients has a sister that is a doctor here, she told her a cure was coming soon, and she should not tell anybody yet, but one of the children heard it and told us. This one is true, ehn, it is not a rumour. I swear.” She placed her index finger on her tongue and put it in the air. She swore it was true.
“Okay, if it is true, I am so happy.” She smiled at the thought of seeing her Ayos again. Ironic that Ayo also means joy. “But you’re not looking too happy with the news.”
“Ah! I’m not happy at all. What if something happens to us? They want to use us like we are experiments. I’m sure it’s the white men that brought this cure, they want to eliminate us and it is not fair.” She was slowly becoming hysterical and Mama Ayo noticed that her condition was actually worsening like hers.
“Olamide dear, calm down. This cure may be an advantage for all of us, and we are going to die anytime soon, why don’t we just try and have faith that we will be cured? “She attempted to reassure her as she was fond of her.
“Faith? Mama Ayo, you need to face the reality that we will probably all die with this disease.” She turned left and right to check if anyone was within earshot “Some of us have planned something to escape this place, we’re gathering people. If you want to leave, just follow us.”
“There are soldiers around, so how will you escape?” Mama Ayo knew it was a suicide attempt, the only way is if they were handed the keys which was unlikely.?
“One of the men knows the soldiers, he will help us escape. I’m so happy; I can’t wait to go home.” She looked blissfully ignorant, and it was sad.
Mama Ayo knew the night for the planned escape. Before that night, the isolation center was quiet. Conversations occurred in hush tones. She feigned ignorance, feeling sorry for them. The day after their escape was the day the cure was to be administered, or vaccine as one of the nurses called it.
The next day was warm. Mama Ayo packed her things because she believed she would be leaving after being given the cure. She hoped and wondered if the fugitives made it in one piece, the previous night. Hours later, a health worker selected Mama Ayo and a few others to be escorted to the clinic by soldiers, some people looked frightened like they were off to a slaughterhouse, but she was happy.
Before they arrived at the clinic, one of the women screamed, everyone turned to her wondering the reason for her sudden fright, she pointed in a direction, and they were met with a horrible sight. Bodies were piled on several wheelbarrows pushed by some soldiers, and she instantly knew it was them. All of them were dead, none was spared, and as unfair as it seemed, this was how most of them would’ve preferred to die, especially Olamide. Mama Ayo thought of how truly their ignorance led to their early demise, despite the fact she was ecstatic for the cure, her heart tugged at the waste of lives, she felt somewhat guilty for not being persistently convincing to them. Maybe if she actively prevented them from attempting the escape, she may have succeeded, they would’ve resented her but at least they would be alive.
With another glance at the dead, she entered the clinic, thinking of her three joys.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
OHAKA THELMA is a fiction writer that has been writing since 2018. She has an educational background in Banking and finance from a reputable university in Nigeria. Her works are extremely diverse in genre and could be found in sites such as Medium and Wattpad.