Another Ebola headline. Boring. Why was she watching CNN anyway? A quick flick of the remote and she was on the next channel. BBC. Which had yet another Ebola headline. She rolled her eyes in deliberate slow motion and turned to the local television stations, resigned to the fact that she wasn’t going to watch international news channels without Ebola being shoved in her face. Couldn’t a girl watch a little news to keep up with the world and go back to the Food Network in peace, without being forced to think about crazy virus infections? Eh? She was even starting to believe that these big news networks exaggerated the extent of the infections to keep people glued to them. But she was above that sort of emotional manipulation.
On second thought, perhaps it was better to watch something else altogether. She threw herself into the couch in a lying position, one leg up on the arm rest and the other down, grazing the velvety maroon carpet. She stretched one arm to her laptop to log out of Twitter and turn the computer off before it began its normal routine of freezing like it too had a case of Computer Ebola. Just as she began to click, though, something caught her eye. A tweet mentioning that Marburg was apparently back in the country. She sat up and in the process almost slid and fell from the shiny leather of the sofa. The news was all over. How is it that it had come back right when Ebola was in full gear across Africa? Did these viruses sit down in a secret meeting and plan to all come at once? Somehow, though, this one made her scared. It was close to home and it spoke to her subconscious in a way she couldn’t quite explain. All thoughts of watching TV vanished, not with the speed with which her fingers were flying across the keyboard. She hit Enter and Google brought it all forth. Cases. Warnings. Uncertainty. Virus beginning to spread. But the words “Mengo Hospital” stood out like a sore thumb.
In the next two minutes she flew off the couch and halfway around the house to look for her phone while at the same time trying to remember where she had left it. When she found it on top of the microwave, she speed-dialed her father as smoothly as her fidgeting hands would let her.
“Dad! Where are you? Where did you say you were going today after work?”
“Just tell me,”
“I told you I’ll be visiting your uncle in Mengo. You should even be coming with me but you children don’t care about you family members and-”
“Dad, are you already there? Are you inside the hospital?”
“I’m actually getting out now. I’m almost at the gate. They’re acting all funny here and chasing out all the visitors……”
“Let me get out as fast as I can,”
For the next hour she was curled up on the carpet waiting for her dad to get home. He came with her mum, having picked her up from church fellowship on his way home. They couldn’t stop talking. “Anna, you mean Marburg has come back to Uganda?” “What?” “But how can the government let that happen?” “Is it worse than Ebola or not?” “I didn’t bother reading much about it the last time. But I know it’s bad.” “It spreads through contact, right? I didn’t touch anyone.” The maid kept staring at them in confusion.
All through supper it was the topic, but it soon grew cold and by bedtime there wasn’t much else to say. The excitement had simply exhausted them.
The next afternoon she was packing stuff into her sack-sized handbag to go back to campus and do some night-time catching up before her nasty Monday morning lecture when her dad received an unexpected phone call. He was in his usual jovial Sunday afternoon mood, which came from all the adoration he received at church because he and his wife were the chief contributors to all church projects. Hence, when he picked up and his voice suddenly changed from jovial to shocked, the whole house came to a standstill. Anna was listening from her room and immediately ran to her parents’. Her father was there, and along with her mother, had the most miserable face she had ever seen.
Before, it was all about numbers on the TV screen. It was all news and propaganda and conspiracy theories. Four thousand four hundred forty seven deaths look like an awfully small number till someone you know suffers a similar fate. Before, they were just statistics and she’d never seen them as real people. As they stood at the hospital’s outdoor reception area listening to the doctor say that her uncle had been unlucky, she wondered how a doctor could even use such a word as luck. Her uncle hadn’t been in the ward where the first cases had been found but somehow the disease had sought him out. No one else in his ward seemed to have got it yet, but that didn’t mean much because according to the doctor, symptoms take a while to show themselves. Now he was in isolation and they could not see him, or even enter the hospital itself.
The doctor produced a tiny old booklet about Marburg and handed it to them, promising to keep in touch with them on her uncle’s progress. They rushed to her dad’s Pajero and huddled over the booklet, reading more seriously than any of them had ever done. The symptoms were horrifying in themselves, severe headache and fever being just the least serious ones, but they were mainly looking for how it spreads, as if to reassure themselves. Body contact. Okay. Her dad swore he hadn’t touched her uncle and insisted that they stop fretting and just go home.
The moment they got home he announced that he was going to take a shower. Apparently it was so hot today and he felt like he had been placed in that famous furnace in the Bible: the one from which Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had been saved. Anna turned to her mum and they had the same exact thought. It wasn’t hot today. It was cold.