“Get your things now!” screamed Tolani Williams at his teenage daughter, Ashley. He was frantically stuffing things into a little duffel bag.

“Daddy? What’s going on? Where are we going?” asked, the clearly terrified teenager.

He looked at her. She still looked beautiful even with the strain of the last couple of days. She had lost weight. She had her mother’s high cheekbones, bright eyes and full lips. Her natural hair was neck length. It looked haggard now, but so did his. He hadn’t shaved in over a week, his hair was a mess and he was sure his clothes stank.

That’s what happens when there’s an epidemic.

Tolani had no idea how it started. Two weeks could do a lot to an entire nation. One moment everyone was fine, next minute, dead bodies started piling up. The last news report he’d read – over a week ago – had dubbed the virus the ‘Black Death’. It was sweeping through Nigeria. The blame had been set at the feet of NAFDAC. It was believed that they hadn’t done their jobs properly. Within one week, millions had died.

The Black Death seemed to kill people within a week. People bled from their noses, then there was the frequent vomiting, bulimia set in, then dementia, paranoia and finally the heart stops.

Death.

Tolani was a Hewlett Packard employee; he worked with the sales department. While in school he’d dropped out of medical school when it became too annoying and expensive. So he had an idea of what was going on.

Within 2 weeks, mass hysteria had set into the population. People were dying everywhere, hospitals were overcrowded, but there was no one to attend to patients. Churches were the worst. People went there waiting for a miracle. Transportation had shut down, businesses followed suit. Soon people were on the street taking what they wanted from stores. It was suddenly like a post-apocalyptic wasteland.

Pandemonium was everywhere.

Tolani was packing because he and his daughter were deemed even more dangerous specie. For some unfathomable reason, neither of them had succumbed to the virus. He had so far not met anyone else like that. For some reason, they were being hunted. The prevalent belief was that if a person who was unaffected could be sacrificed, his/her blood could heal an infected party. This belief had become widespread and suddenly everyone was searching for an immune person.

Tolani knew he and his daughter were living on borrowed time and it was only a matter before they were found out and killed, but if they could get to a safety zone…..

It was their only lifeline. There were a few safe zones in Lagos, two that he knew of: Banana Island and another closer to Epe. It seemed as if the rich and powerful had gotten wind of the virus on time and had created a mini community, shutting themselves from the outside world and people trying to escape. People stood before the gates of each settlement daily, begging to be let in, but there were military personnel so entrance was impossible.

Tolani was hoping they could prove their immunity to them and somehow be saved. He had to believe it, it was the only hope for he and his daughter.

He rubbed his temples. He was scared.

Suddenly, he heard some noise outside.

“We don check this house?” a rough voice said from outside.

“No o! Oya, e be like say I see candle for there.”

Shit! They’d seen light, he’d only wanted to use it to pack

“ASHLEY!” he screamed. They had to go out through the back. They’d scale the fence and run for the spot where he parked the car. He had kept it in a mechanic’s yard, muddied it up and smashed the glass in the hope that no one would believe it was working.

There was a bang on the door. He jumped. They were trying to come in.

“Ashley,” he whispered urgently. His daughter ran to him and together they made for the kitchen where the back door was located.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

They were kicking the door open.

Tolani swallowed his fear and opened the kitchen door as quietly as he could. It wouldn’t do if it became a chase.

CRASH!

They’d gotten in.

“Hurry!” Tolani urged his daughter to scale the fence. Thank God she’d had the good sense to wear jeans and not some stupid skirt. She jumped over the fence with an agility that momentarily surprised him. He was just going over the wall himself, when their assailants got into the kitchen.

Someone spotted him.

“See them! See them!” he shouted, alerting his fellow looters.

Tolani’s heart was beating rapidly now.

Shit! This was definitely going to be a chase.

“Run Ashley, Run!” he screamed.

 

***********

Accra.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re dealing with something we’ve never seen before.”

Dr Emeka Ikechukwu addressed a conference room filled with many important people who were all waiting on the good doctor to speak. It was a briefing for major players in the nation – key officials of NAFDAC, Ministry of Health, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

They had gathered in the Ghanaian capital city to listen to the report of the epidemic they were dealing with. The president had hand picked a team of doctors with Dr Emeka as the leader to research and get in touch with as many people as possible and find out what they could. They hadn’t had much time and it had only been a week.

He cleared his throat.

“The N1H2 virus is a para      

“Please could you just break it down in simple English with none of the usual mumbo jumbo? We still have to report to our superiors who in turn have to inform the international community.” the minister of health, Dr Abbali said.

Emeka calmed himself.

“Of course sir,” he continued

“If you’ll look at the screen behind me here, you’ll see a rough description of what the N1H2 virus entails.”

He turned to the projector screen behind him, where there was a model of a human being displayed. He pressed the play button and the audience watched, fascinated as the virus entered the human blood stream and replicated within a cell, effectively killing it, then bursting out of the ruptured cell and moving on to the next one.

“What you’re seeing here is how we believe the virus works. First it attaches itself to the host cell, then it releases genetic instructions into the cell, pretends to be an ally when in fact it’s a foe. The injected genetic material then goes ahead to recruit, if you will, the host cell’s enzymes. The enzymes make parts for more virus particles. The new particles assemble the parts into new viruses and finally the new virus particles break free from the host cell and the process repeats itself

“All of this happens usually within 96-120 hours. It shuts down all bodily functions pretty rapidly and then it overloads the heart and shuts it down. Death follows.”

A bleak silence fell over the room.

“How is it passed?” asked the vice president of Nigeria, Alhaji Umar.

“We believe it originated from packaged or bottled water, but it has also become clear that it can be passed by contact to exposed skin.”

Murmurs were going round the room

“Do we have a cure?” asked another figure.

“No. this is alien to us, we don’t have enough information on how to deal with it. We’ve worked with our counterparts from around the world; they have never seen anything like it.”

The vice president sighed.

“How many people are infected?”

It was the doctor’s turn to sigh, in response. He went through the slides on the projector and picked out another model. This showed the estimated amount of people living in Nigeria.

“Our findings tell us that the virus has multiple points of origination, which is why we suspect water, probably a company that distributes nationwide. As it stands, we can count around 86million people infected.” He paused for effect.

“If it isn’t curbed, the numbers could look like this within a week.” He motioned to the model. The ‘estimated potential infected’ bar kept rising.

“My God!” exclaimed Mrs Chike, head of NAFDAC.

The virus would wipe out the entire nation in the space of a week and a half

 

***********

Washington DC

The president of the United States paced around the oval office. His advisors kept quiet as they watched the 56 year old President Hayes ponder what he’d just heard.

The Black Death was steadily killing Nigerians. They had found no cure. Containment was an issue. Ghana had closed her borders, as had Togo. But reports were filtering in that Benin Republic had also been compromised. This meant it was highly for it to spread even further. There were some safe zones though – Niger state that had a relatively low population. Places in Lagos and most states had small safe zones. But for how long would that last?

He was in the room with the Vice President, his Chief of Staff, the Defence Minister, the director of the NSA and the jockeys from the senate.

“Mr President?” General Lance Garret, the minister for defence said. The president turned to him absently.

“I have to say sir, to protect ourselves and the rest of the world; we might have to consider the Russians’ opinion that we nuke them.”

This was met with a mixture of outrage, scepticism and encouragement.

“You can’t be serious!” yelled the chief of staff, “That’s approximately 150 million people you want to kill”

“Yes, but our projection shows that almost ¾ of that number have been infected and are going to die anyway.” retorted the head of the NSA, Carl Bertrand.

“Yes, but have we tried other solutions?” piped one of the senate jockeys.

General Garret looked at him with disgust.

President Hayes felt conflicted. He understood the logic of the Russians, but could he really have the blood of 150 million plus people on his hands?

His advisers were still yelling and arguing with each other, raising points and countering them. President Hayes felt suffocated.

“The room please.” He said into the din.

No one heard him, they kept on arguing.

“The goddamned room please!” he yelled.

They stopped immediately. One by one, they made their way out of the room, till Hayes was alone.

He stood on the seal in the middle of the room.

“What the hell do I do?” he asked the now quiet office.

 

**********

In various parts of Nigeria, things were happening.

 

***********

Port Harcourt.

Wilson received a phone call in England from his father. He was worried sick, reports of the Black Death had been all over the news, and there had even been peaceful protests by Nigerians in various countries, aided by their more generous white neighbours, asking for a resolution, help in any way to find a cure and evacuate the healthy. The general public did not know how bad the situation was though and it was better that way.

“Papa! I’ve been so worried. God! What’s going on?”

His father’s voice was empty. Bleak. Filled with despair.

“Willy, I’m sorry for everything. I was a horrible father. Please forgive me.”

He might have been horrible, but this wasn’t the time to dwell on it.

“Papa, you gave me an education, look at where I am today. I was able to achieve all this because of you.”

The line was silent for a while.

“Willy.” His voice was breaking, “I’m proud of you.”

It was the first time he’d ever said it.

Dread filled Wilson. There was something very wrong.

Then it hit him.

“Papa? Don’t!”

BANG!

It was too late

His father had just shot himself.

 

******

Abuja.

They lay in each other’s arms.

They’d taken a shower together with the last bucket the water. Boye could already feel his body weakening.

“Alice, I love you.”

Alice stared back at him lovingly. She couldn’t understand how he could still love her, she looked gaunt. Her hair was a mess, her tongue felt heavy, she felt demented and weak. Yet he still looked at her like she was the most beautiful thing in the world.

“I love you too.” She replied weakly.

Boye. Her Boye. Now they’ll be together forever. She felt the darkness begin to take hold. She welcomed it. She was sure he felt it too. She managed a smile. Everything was going to be okay.

“See you in a bit,” she said with that same weak smile

They died in each other’s arms.

 

*****

Lagos.

Yaro was having a smoke when he saw them: A mother carrying her child. The baby couldn’t have been more than a couple of months old. Yaro was one of the soldiers that had been stationed at the gate to the banana island safe haven.

It was 4:00AM.

The usually crowded front of the gate was now deserted. Most people had given up. There’ll be others in the morning, begging to get in, but they’d be fewer, they must have realized that there was no way anyone was going to let them in. His partner was asleep. He’d be relieved in another hour or so.

He wondered why Mr Tony had gone out of the safe haven. It wasn’t safe outside, but he’d said he felt claustrophobic – whatever that meant – and since he was the General’s son, he’d let him leave with the Hummer. He’d at least gone in a Hazmat suit, it was compulsory that they all wear one, Yaro was wearing one too. It kept them immune to the virus.

The mother was staggering towards the gates. Yaro had to stop her. She looked on the verge of death. He pitied her, but she couldn’t come in.

“Madam. You no fit enter.” The woman’s eyes were glazed. Yaro had watched men die, he’d killed one or two himself but this was sad.

“Abeg,” said the woman in a voice so weak, Yaro almost didn’t hear it. “My pikin. My pikin. Abeg, my p…p…” she fell down slowly. The child fell with her and started crying. Each wail from the baby was like a knife through Yaro’s heart.

Even on the floor, the woman’s hands kept twitching as she reached for her baby. She’ll never carry him again, never kiss him again or see him grow up.

“M…m…my…pikin. Abeg.”

Her hands stopped twitching.

She was dead.

The baby kept crying, wailing even. It was driving Yaro crazy. The baby was probably infected too.  Yaro felt bile rise in his throat. He opened the gate just a bit and stepped out, walking towards the wailing baby.

“Yes,” he said to himself, “I’m doing the baby a favour.”

He brought out his handgun and pointed it at the baby.

“Yes, it’s for the baby’s good.”

He was disgusted with himself

He closed his eyes and pulled the trigger.

 

*****

“Stop there! Who are you?”

Ashley froze

She felt her father’s grip on her arm tighten. They were on the Third Mainland Bridge. The car had given up on them much earlier. It’s not like they could have driven it much farther anyway. The bridge was a graveyard of abandoned cars, partly to deter people from heading to the safe zone. They had no other choice but to walk and had been stopped by three men, vagrants from the looks of it. But then again, everyone was a vagrant at that point.

“Well done chairman,” hailed Tolani in the most local voice he could muster. “We just dey stroll” Ashley noticed a slight shake in his voice. They were in dangerous territory.

The three men were in tattered clothes. One was tall, dark and well built. Another was squat, fat, with a scary beard. The third was wiry and sickly looking. Ashley guessed he was the closest to death.

“Ah okay. We all dey together na.” the wiry one said amiably. “Why at this time?”

Ashley felt her father tug at her hand, pulling her along slowly

“Err…We just dey stroll na.”

“Why you come dey rush? Shebi na everybody go die?” said the squat one suspiciously.

Ashley’s heart was beating faster.

“They’re not bleeding,” said the tall one suddenly. He had intelligent eyes. They were also dark and foreboding.

“They don’t look sick.”

There was silence.

“Ashley, MOVE!”

She didn’t need telling twice. She ran. It just dawned on the men the implications of this and they gave chase immediately. The tall one being the first to react, grabbed her father’s arm.

Tolani swung and punched him square in the face. He let go immediately. Ashley was already way ahead. She looked back frequently to make sure that her father, Tolani, was keeping up. She weaved between broken down cars, jumped over broken glass and just kept moving.

Ashley looked back once more. She saw her father, doing the same.

It was a mistake on his part

Ashley saw the tall one, who’d been the most persistent of their pursuers, leap from a car and crash into Tolani, tackling him. Tolani who’d been looking back, had been unable to anticipate or block this. In no time, the others were upon him.

“DAD!” Ashley screamed, horrified.

“Go! He screamed fiercely. He wasn’t even fighting them. Why wasn’t he fighting them? She looked at her father once more, two of the men had held him down, the third, the tall one, was coming after her. Her father’s eyes were pleading. Ashley’s eyes blurred, but she turned to keep running.

Her lungs burned, her legs were aching and she felt weak. He was gaining on her. He was so close now. Was this the end?

She saw as he reached out to arm grab her and she screamed.

It was over

Suddenly, she heard a screech. As she watched, a Hummer jeep came out of nowhere, careening towards her at incredible speed with bright headlights on. She felt the grip on her arm relax as the Jeep screeched to a halt in front of her. A man got out in a Hazmat suit, pointed a gun at her chaser and shot the man square between the eyes without batting an eyelid.

The tall one fell, his unseeing eyes, glazed in death.

The stranger stretched his hand towards Ashley.

“Come with me.” He said.

“But my dad…” Ashley attempted desperately. She couldn’t see his face, so she had no idea who it might be but his voice was kind.

“We have to go.”

Without waiting for her response, he pulled her into the car, turned the car around expertly just as he reversed and drove off.

“Why are you helping me?” said Ashley.

The strange man didn’t look at her.

“Everyone might be dying, but I wasn’t going to stand by and let them have you.”

A chivalrous man, thought Ashley.

He turned to her.

“I’m sorry, but I’ll have to drop you off soon. You understand right? You’re probably infected. I can’t risk the health of myself and everyone else. I’m still safe for now, hence the Hazmat suit.”

Ashley spoke quickly.

“No!” she exclaimed “You don’t understand. My father and I for some reason are immune to the virus.”

The man slammed on the brakes.

Ashley’s head hit the dashboard. It hurt. The man looked at her. She couldn’t see his face, but he seemed to be staring intently at her.

“My God,” he said softly.

“Your eyes are clear, you’re not bleeding, you look malnourished, but otherwise healthy. Amazing.”

He pulled off his helmet.

He was a handsome man, he looked well groomed and he had piercing intelligent eyes. Ashley suddenly felt embarrassed, she must look hideous.

“My name’s Tony.” He said. “And you just might be the only salvation for the entire nation.”

 

******

The lives of millions to save the lives of billions.

President Hayes was pondering on this as he made his way to the meeting room, where he was to hold clandestine meetings with the heads of state of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. It wouldn’t do to let the other members know, especially when the obliteration of an entire nation was on the agenda.

President Hayes was going to be the tie breaker. He knew Russia and China were in favour of the obliteration of Nigeria. The Brits and the French wanted to explore other options, try and find some cure. So it all came down to President Hayes.

He’d never felt so old in his life, why did it have to be like this? He’d made some tough calls in his time, but never one of this magnitude. As he got to the entrance of the meeting room flanked by members of the secret service, he felt tired. Tired of everything.

He sighed

He was going to vote in support.

He was going to destroy an entire nation

The lives of millions to save the lives of billions

 

**********

“Are you certain?” pressed an excited Dr Emeka.

“Yes,” said the voice at the other end of the line.

“We’ll get her over here when we send transportation then. This is great news. We might beat this thing yet.” Emeka cut the call. He was smiling. He hadn’t done that in close to two weeks. He’d just spoken to his cousin, Tony. They had been able to manage it with satellite phones, as conventional networks were gone. Tony seemed to be holding on to their only ray of hope.

An immune person.

This was excellent news. He’d been in touch with his cousin ever since the outbreak. In fact, it was due to the timeliness of Emeka finding out about the virus that he was able to warn Tony in time, who in turn had been able to get Emeka’s uncle, The General, to create the settlement in Banana Island. With the help of powerful residents, they’d been able to mobilize quickly and shut the place out from the outside world. It was also extremely handy that they were able to secure Hazmat suits, thanks to the head of a large research facility who also happened to be a resident of the area.

Therefore of all the very few secure settlements in the country, Banana Island was the safest. They were also the first to come up with a way to evacuate residents little by little. Thanks to links to friendly foreign governments, most notably the British, they’d been able to secure a military aircraft. It was coming to airlift them little by little. They couldn’t get many in because secrecy was paramount. If other settlements and powerful men found out, it could be a problem. They’d been able to build makeshift strip to use as a runway.

They were poised for the second evacuation today. And with this piece of news, maybe even their salvation and cure.

Emeka was excited.

One of his lab assistants came in then.

“Sir, we have a situation.”

Emeka groaned

“What now?” The assistant didn’t seem sure of how to convey her news. She was young, one of his best.

“Go on.” He prodded

“Well sir,” she started “We just got reports that it seems the Banana island settlement is under attack.

Dr Emeka’s eyes widened.

“What? Why?”

The assistant sighed.

“It’s unconfirmed, but it seems the horde of people who camp at the entrance, hoping to get in, revolted.”

“But why?” asked a bewildered Dr. Emeka

“It seems the incident was triggered by a shooting. One of the security guards killed a baby.”

“Jesus!”

Dr Emeka paled.

Tony and their only chance of survival were headed there right now! Was there a way to win? The situation looked bleak. He felt a sense of despair

He had to contact Tony or else, it was all over.