Ken cringed, pushing deeper into the sofa. His heart hammered away in his rib cage. He set his hands on the couch and tried to push himself to his feet. His trembling hands could not support his weight, so he fell back on the couch. He hated himself. After all he was the one who was supposed to be fearless in these kinds of situations. He was the one who was supposed to calm the public and manage the disaster. But here he was, utterly struck by fear and unable to do anything. Even his friends who knew nothing about disaster management were holding themselves better than he was—except of course Ronald, who looked constipated and almost white.
Ken took deep breaths and tried to calm himself. “Tell me everything,” he said with a start.
Tom faced him. “All I know is what I’ve heard from the news. There is a viral epidemic sweeping through the south and south eastern states. It’s very deadly, and it kills in hours. From what is happening, we’ve not been able to contain its spread. As at now, ten states are affected, over forty two million people are dead. The infection shows no sign of stopping.”
“When did it start?”
“Yesterday,” Temitope replied. He turned and looked at Ken; he wore a green jacket. Fear flickered through his eyes and he spoke in a hushed tone: “I received a call from my aunt. She told me to turn on the TV. This was by four this morning. That was when we found out. It started in Uyo and then spread to other cities. Now the whole state is a ghost town.”
“What?!” Ken shot to his feet with renewed fear. It was as if the reality of their situation had just dawned on him.
“The disease emanated from somewhere in Uyo,” Temitope said. “According to the reporter, there were screams of horror across the state and its surroundings as people woke with strange illnesses and dead spouses, children, or friends. By the time the news station was able to dispatch a helicopter to the state, it was already dead.”
“That’s why we didn’t alert you, Ken,” Tom added quickly, tears welling up in his eyes. “There was nothing that could have been done. She’s gone.”
Ken’s mind was blank.
There was another distant explosion followed by a series of explosions that seem to get closer and louder.
Ronald looked at the widow and said, “It’s getting worse out there. I reckon the virus has hit Umuahia”—he sighed—“these are truly the end times.”
“Ken,” Tom said, coming to stand in his front.
Ken’s eyelids fluttered as his eyes regained focus; tears rolled down his cheeks. “She can’t be dead,” he stuttered, “we are supposed to get married on Saturday…”
Tom nodded as if he understood. “I’m sorry, Ken.”
Ken shook his head. “SHE CANNOT BE DEAD!”
There was a silence.
Everyone turned to look at him: Ronald, Temitope, Joseph, and Gerald.
Ken’s eyes watered and lost focus again. He let his gaze wonder from Temitope’s grim look and settle on the TV screen. The helicopter had swooped in closer to the ground and currently traversed a highway. Pillars of smoke emanated from the burning vehicles. Lifeless bodies lay strewn about in odd, impossible positions. Ken saw the body of a child that couldn’t have been more than seven years old; his hands were mangled and his bloody face contorted into a shriek. There was a lady’s body beside the boy who could have been his mother; her head was face down on the red crusty granite, two feet away from her body. Ken turned away from the desolation of the virus.
“I’m going after her,” Ken announced.
“Are you mad?” Ronald said. “The moment you step out there, you will get infected. Perhaps, she’s dead.”
“There’s an army blockade on all the major entry points into Uyo,” Gerald said. “You won’t get past the soldiers.”
“If this news is true,” Ken said, “then those soldiers are either long gone or long dead.” Ken spun on his heels, effectively ending the conversation, and marched off into his room.
Tom followed him. “You can’t seriously be considering this,” he said.
Ken threw away his clothes and entered the bathroom. “She might still be alive,” he shouted over the hot shower.
When he came out of the bathroom, Tom said, “You’re smarter than this, Ken. You saw those pictures on the TV. Uyo is gone. So is she.”
Ken wiped his wet body with a towel and immediately grabbed a pair of grey trousers, a white, collared long sleeve, and a grey jacket. “I have to try,” he said in response.
“Try what?” yelled Tom. “Try and get yourself infected? What’s the matter with you? Not a single soul lives in Uyo. Over forty million people are dead. What makes her different?”
Ken ignored his best friends rant and retrieved his wallet from the wardrobe. He grabbed his car keys and turned to face Tom. “I’m leaving for Uyo. If I die, then so be it. Life is nothing without her. That’s why she’s different.” He walked out. In the parlor, his friends stared at him with looks of hopelessness, but none spoke.
“I’ve got to do this, guys,” Ken said to them. “Stay here and don’t go out. There’s enough food and water to last for a week. Hopefully before then, we’d have contained this virus.”
“Does such hope really exist?” Gerald, the oldest of the bunch, asked. “So many people have died in one day. New cases have been reported in several other states. Can we recover from this?”
Frankly, Ken didn’t know. All he wanted was to find Emma. He hoped to God she was alive.
“I’m coming with you,” Tom said behind him.
Ken turned. “I can’t—”
Tom’s sharp hiss silenced him. “If you think I’m letting you go alone, then you’re dumber than I thought.”
Ken allowed a smile. “Put on something with a long sleeve.
Tom nodded and left the room. He returned after a while with a brown, white-striped long-sleeves polo. They said their final goodbyes and left the house.
The Prado SUV stood, imposing, in the driveway, a black beauty. They hopped in while Gerald opened the gate. Ken reversed into the street; Gerald shut the gates the moment his tailgate cleared the compound. The street seemed unchanged except that Mr. Anyawu’s house was burning. Two cars that had collided with each other stood as one in their path. Behind them, another car was on fire. And another had crashed into a gate. There were no bodies on the ground. Good, Ken thought.
Ken slowly guided the car around the wreck and gunned it down the street. The sun was strong in the sky. They were headed for Uyo.