Seeing COVID-19 without sight

Seeing COVID-19 without sight

Nike was exhausted by the time she got home. What was supposed to be a quick trip to the supermarket had turned into a nightmarish hour and a half. As if things weren’t challenging enough for people like her, now this pandemic had made things even worse. She placed her cane by the door, like she always did so she would have to feel around for it, and hastily dumped the groceries on the kitchen counter.  She snatched the wretched surgical mask on her face and felt as relieved as a teenage boy that nearly got caught by his pious mother watching porn.  She could finally use her sense of smell, and her reward was the familiar scent of her kitchen as she washed her hands in the sink.

Nike glided her fingertips over the surface of the countertop until she heard the crackling sound of the nylon with her groceries. ‘Maybe I should’ve swallowed my pride and asked Mrs. Bature to send one of her children to the store for me.’ Nike thought as she pulled out the items she’d bought. She quickly dismissed the thought as she identified each provision by the shape of their pack and placed them in their designated position. It was enough that her neighbor had offered to make a weekly trip to the market to help her buy things like meat and vegetables. Nike didn’t want to feel like more of a burden. Besides, she suspected the woman was stealing from her by inflating the price of the food items. What could she do anyway? Mr. and Mrs. Bature were both teachers, so with schools shut down and five children to feed, they had to pinch somewhere. Before the pandemic, David, Nike’s husband, did the shopping, or they had someone deliver all the groceries to their house. But with the strict lockdown, the delivery service wasn’t operating, and David was stuck in Lagos. Initially, she’d moved into her sister’s house to make her husband feel more comfortable about her safety. But then her brother-in-law started coming into her room at night, and the arrangement failed when Nike grew tired of rebuffing him.

Nike wept like a baby when the Federal Government announced another 14-day extension to the lockdown. That was another two weeks she couldn’t work at the Jazz club in Abuja, where she played piano. If things kept on going at this rate, David might be out of a job too. The banking sector was known for as much job security as a tortoise was known for speed.  

More so, it was another two weeks she was on her own. On an average day, there was barely any provision for people living with disabilities, and now it was even more formidable. Merely crossing the road today was a near-death experience. Usually, if she were out on her own for whatever reason, strangers would be kind enough to let her hold onto their elbows till they got to the other side. But now, the streets were desolate, and everyone was trying to maintain social distance. Earlier today, either the man who attempted guiding her with his voice from the other side of the road had failed to pay attention, or the driver whose horn had startled her was too reckless. Nike figured it was the latter. She hadn’t heard his car in time, so he was probably speeding. By the heat radiating off his bonnet, Nike could tell he came mere inches from hitting her. She wanted to respond to his honking by slamming his car with her cane. But she resisted and quickly crossed to the other side.

The supermarket wasn’t any better. One of the security guards yelled at her for getting too close to the person in front of her. “Madam! You no see the box you supposed stand inside?” Nike began to wonder if these people were also blind. “Sorry, oga. I no fit see very well. Abeg, you fit help me go inside and pick some things?” She could tell from his tone he was reluctant but felt morally obligated to help. She audibly exhaled when he suggested writing down the five items she called out before realizing his mistake. Although he spent an obscenely long amount of time in the store before returning with the items, she told him to keep the change.  As she made her way home, cane in one hand and bags in the other, she hoped the pandemic would be over soon, and her life could at least go back to being less difficult.

**

 Nike is a fictional character based on the realities facing visually impaired people during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her story might be a product of my imagination, but her struggles are real. Staying home has forced people living with disabilities, particularly women, to be at more risk of experiencing sexual violence. Even without financial constraints, it’s also made it harder for them to access essential services such as markets and hospitals.

While the corona has dealt with everyone harshly, it’s been particularly more difficult for disabled people.  They are often relegated to the background and are sometimes left out of the loop when news spreads.  As COVID-19 cases dramatically increase in Africa, we must make provisions for the more vulnerable.

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  1. Absolutely loved this Tide. We rarely think of how difficult living in a pandemic can be for people with disabilities. Thank you for this thoughtful piece.

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