He awoke feeling nauseous, with his head pounding inside. In these days of the deadly Ebola outbreak, he knew the danger that surrounded on anyone who would vomit in public, and prayed silently that whatever were the cause of his headache and the feeling of vomiting was not due to the Ebola virus.
Fifteen minutes later, he was ready to journey to downtown Monrovia, as his usual routine indicated. He worried about causing panic, especially since he had had the urge to throw up. Earlier, he had rushed to the bathroom, locked the door, and forced himself to vomit, and because he had not eaten that morning, he could only throw out a little or nothing else could happen for him to worry about.
Reports of Ebola and the symptoms had been aired on every radio station, and newspapers had been doing a lot more. He wanted to tell someone about his discomfort, but who would not suggest the symptoms were not those of Ebola. What about going to any of the mushrooming quarantine places in Monrovia to tell them his situation? The best they could do would be to quarantine or isolate him while they treat the fever and then the vomiting. And maybe after some days, say nine or fourteen days, he would be issued with a certificate that he was Ebola free, as it was being done. He wondered if that was an honest declaration! Though the idea of being infected with the Ebola virus was a major fear, he had not done anything or not been involved with anyone who might have had the virus. And to always be on the safe side, he had washed his hands with chlorine water daily. With such an examination, he could not convince himself that he was infected, but just the ordinary experience of fever.
At the Duala Bus Station, he walked briskly to a Car Boy, and inquired about the destination.
“How far you going?”
“Waterside,” the Car Boy replied without interest, “but no space.” Joe looked around him and saw many more people gathering around, ostensibly waiting for the next available bus to town.
So far, things had been doing fine with him. He had not experienced any sign of vomiting or ‘throwing up’ and that was wonderful but there was an inner feeling of fear. He prayed he would not face any such embarrassment. He could not imagine what it would mean if he were to vomit among the crowd. He began to fantasize about what could happen:
He could see himself bent at the corner, vomiting and while he would expect someone with medical knowledge to come to his rescue, someone would shout Ebola and would point a finger at him.
He could see people running helter-skelter for dear life since Ebola had become one of the stubborn killers in the country. Now, as people ran here and there, there would still be others watching him from a safe distance.
Somewhere, while his vomit increases, many in the crowd would pull out their mobile phones and call 4455, the main contact number of the Ebola Response Team, to come get him. With that done, he would realize that he would be on his way to somewhere beyond tomorrow.
He was not aware about how many people had apparently vomited and removed to a quarantine area, but he would imagine people with white gowns and protective gears coming for him, after one more than six hours waiting for help. Normally, the Response Team would not come readily, that is as soon as the team is called. There are instances where Ebola Response Team had delayed its appearance, due to the fear that some ‘crazy’ people in the area would prevent their work, until it was after three days. With such fear, Joe knew after many calls, the team would eventually arrive on the third day, and the team would spray him from head to toe with chlorine water. He could see a large number of people watching the exercise like watching a movie.
Suddenly, Joe came out of his reverie when a blue bus came around and he saw people dashing to get a seat. As many of people rushed to the windows, others dashed to the main door, and he saw people rubbing their bodies against each other.
Someone behind him said, “See how they are on each other!” Joe turned with a rumble in his stomach, and managed to smile at the speaker with a nod. He was too much involved with his thoughts and in his own problems to be concerned about how others were rubbing themselves against each other in their desperate effort to secure a seat on a bus. Then a taxi also screeched to a stop and many people rushed towards it.
“Even taxis are not even better,” he murmured to himself.
Then a voice that sounded like a woman’s replied to the first one, “What can we do?” Turning around, Joe saw her. She was about twenty six, with a light red blouse; hair weaved with an attachment and with attractive legs, smiling.
The man said, “If one can get Ebola by torching another, I can bet you that many of us would get the virus.” The woman kept her smile in place and swept her face behind with a blush.
She said, “I thank God that we don’t get simply by torching.” Joe did not feel too much concern to make a contribution and kept his eyes focus on his problems but he wondered about the difference between shaking hands and torching another. Joe was not feeling worse, but he was afraid that like it happened early in the morning when he was forced to dash into the bathroom to honor the pressure to throw up which nothing much happened. That was his trump card.
What had stabilized his condition was what he did last night. He had rushed to one of the many drug stores and told the attendant he wanted something to relief his fever. The attendant did not really had much to tell him and recommended ‘Sulfadoxine’ and ‘Pyrimethamine’ (Malafil), a three in one dose, along with Ibuprofen and Paracetamol tablets. Taken the tablets did not solve the problem immediately, as he struggled the entire night with fearful dreams. He woke up several times, sweating. Though by the morning, there was a level of stability but his headache lingered on.
He had been praying not to create any scene like he had fantasized earlier and so far everything seemed to have gone on well. But deep down his heart he had the fear that anything could happen. All he wanted to do was getting away from Point 4 Junction as quickly as he could but that was not possible since there were more commuters than cars and the bad road made it difficult for vehicles to get to their destinations quicker.
The next two hours went without any incident but Joe did not feel comfortable because he knew he was not completely well. He then remembered that he still had a couple of tablets in his breast pocket but he would have to reach in town, take in some food before taking them.
Two buses screeched to a stop, and he rushed to grab at the front door of one of the buses nearest to him, as the driver drove on. Many commuters jostled each other to enter the bus from the main door.
He made it.
He held a smaller bag with his computer inside in front of him, and remained calm, always praying that he would not throw up to create a scene. As the bus crawled towards downtown Monrovia, Joe kept himself focus. He knew many other Liberians would have to go through life with an experience such like his. He had been fortunate not to throw out or vomit, but he could not imagine any Liberian who had had the experience to vomit on a bus or in a taxi.
These were not normal times; he had long concluded. He knew it was not even the right time to die, if one could determine that. Why? Many, who had died in this period, were sent to a crematorium, somewhere in Boys Town with no one to cry for them. Joe felt a sense of revulsion about being cremated, or in a lay man’s terms, to be burned into ashes.
However, he was not concerned about it since he was still alive and kicking and convinced that he did not have the Ebola virus, just that he was suffering from fever and its attendant vomiting that he was determined to treat to the end.
It was a nightmare all right. “I don’t want any of the health workers to pronounce me of having the virus, simply because I am vomiting,” he said, when the bus arrived on Johnson Street parking, and he alighted.
Thirty minutes later, Joe felt more relief after he had taken a second dose of tablets. He knew that self medication was a dangerous exercise but with a community in which every symptom of headache or vomiting could be diagnosed as the deadly Ebola virus, he could not help but choose the course he took that brought him the much needed relief to wait and fight another day.