by Aisha Mohammed
Sometimes, I remind myself that I am only 18, that I have an old woman’s mind. That the spirit living inside my body is too impatient as it waits for my age and spirit to align. I know I am old. I accepted it a long time ago and this coronavirus pandemic has aged me even more.
My brother and I spent the first weeks in oblivion, unaware of what was to come. Zaria is a place frozen in time. I guess this is how local governments in Nigeria are supposed to be. Growing up, my life was woven around state capitals — Lokoja, Benin and Abuja. It explains why my hometown feels out of sync whenever I am in it.
COVID-19 was still a western problem. Esther and I would laugh about it with the rest of the members of the study group we joined at the beginning of the semester. We would mock the people of the west, their panic buying of tissues and their hysteric rants on twitter. We reduced their pain and the deaths the virus caused to mere hysteria. We did not care, we referenced the Ebola outbreak, the west didn’t care about it then. That’s what we were made to believe. It was easy to believe this. How could the descendants of colonizers care about Africa? It didn’t make sense to begin caring for somewhere you perceived a waste land, only good for raw materials.
Three weeks pre-COVID-19, I volunteered for the first-ever university SDGs summit in Nigeria. It had been a success. I was happy I got to be a part of it. Just after I came back from the mid-semester break, my lover called after deserting me a few days before valentine’s day- the worst day of 2020 I had ordered a cake and wanted to pay for it, only to find out my bank account had been wiped clean of all of the money in it, including the poetry prize I won. I would spend the rest of the year wondering and questioning bank records and my memory on how I could have spent 20,000 Naira in a day. Then, there was the two-week strike, a needed break from the overwhelming schedule of the third-year law schedule. My old spirit was as free as the wind. I attended Open Mics in Samaru, ate ice cream and walked barefoot to my hostel from the gates of Kongo campus on some days. I watched the third season of “Stranger Things” with my brother and befriended solitude. It was a strange friendship because I never thought I would experience such faux happiness. My small room on the second floor of hostel 3 became my haven, although solitude held me prisoner I never wanted to leave. I could move in and out of the room whenever I wanted. My spirit was able to fill up my emptiness with new experiences.
The coronavirus arrived in Lagos on the second day of the USDGS, a day after Murkthar said,
“Coronavirus coronavirus that’s in Lagos already, it’s on a danfo bus to Zaria sef” and we all laughed, we didn’t talk about the magnitude of damage it would bring in, perhaps some of us thought about it, but we assumed it would be another Ebola. It would remain in Lagos and become a Lagos problem. But the virus didn’t stop in Lagos, it became our problem, the federal government shut down schools and places of worship and I had to pack my purple suitcase to prison. I was supposed to spend the weekend in Kaduna with my lover. My father called, and I had to travel on Friday, no farewell ceremony to Kaduna or the lover.
Prison (Abuja) is a soulless place. Its tall skyscraper towered over the hills, and the rocks bordering its edges, serving as walls around the sprinklings of shrubs and greenery spread unevenly between and around the clusters of buildings and hills. I did not like what this place did to me and so I hated coming back to it, but it was home. This place ripped a hole in my chest with its smooth roads and pristine buildings. This time though, I came back slightly excited, resting from my busy schedule seemed nice at the time, the good sleep and proper food I had access to, was something my weary body needed. But two weeks in prison, I no longer had the choice of leaving my house to eat ice cream or visit any of my friends. I was forced to learn to distance myself from people. To be alone occasionally. February whispered to my spirit that my mind wasn’t okay. I began to relapse. Up until then, I never thought I had an anxiety disorder. A school counsellor once told me that I might have one, but I never gave it much thought. I would spend the days after in the pool of frequent panic attacks and finally, I would agree with the counsellor.
I eventually found a way to sate my spirit. I got a new counsellor; I got her contact from a friend on the team of She Writes Woman. A movement created to give safe spaces. I told this one everything- the pregnancy scare that almost became an abortion and my abuse at 13. I started praying properly again. Luckily, I started this during Ramadan, and I could no longer procrastinate and push Fajr prayer to 12 o’clock. My spirit stopped craving freedom; it came to terms with sitting in the semidetached flat on Chingola Street for long periods. It wasn’t easy sating my spirit, it didn’t like mingling and preferred solitude and being in the same house with 5 other people 3 younger than I am didn’t give me this. I had to always be there. I was responsible for everyone’s wellbeing; food, emotional support and my father’s daily fresh ginger tea. Controlling my spirit made my mind more stable I worked diligently to sew up its loose ends. One night amid the rising COVID-19 cases and insomnia. I realized what had broken my mind in the first place. After five years, my mind was no longer a puzzle of unnaturally scattered pieces.
Source: From the Isolation Issue (September 2020)
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AISHA KABIRU MOHAMMED is a law student who spends most of her time writing and volunteering. She is the 2019 winner of the Andrew Nok Poetry Prize. She enjoys literature and watering her plant, Godiya.