With the heavy downpour outside, the hall was packed full. People pushed slightly against each other in their bid to get more comfortable. The air was stale and thick with the smell of perspiration and bad breath, even with the windows wide open.
The Art Exhibition had long since been abandoned. No one was paying any particular interest to the different paintings of landscape and self portraits or the sculptures hung for viewing. The crowd, made up of the intended art invitees and the impromptu art lovers, were paying lip service to the exhibition.
The host, eager to still make sales, moved through the throng of guests, greeting and chatting as she tried to rekindle the fast dying interest.
Babine watched this with half interest. Her arms were wrapped softly around her form. She felt cold, despite the jacket she had on. The weather, which had been slightly hot, had suddenly done a one hundred and eighty degree change with the onslaught of the rain.
It was a good thing she had opted for heels today, as against the flat ballet shoes she usually wore. At first feet ten inches, she seemed to go on forever in heels but at least wearing it meant her feet wouldn’t get soaked and dirtied today.
The rain finally reduced to light trickles that pattered against the roofing.
Babine glanced at her watch. God! It was 3:00pm. Four hours since the rain started. Where had the time gone so soon. Glancing around, she saw people leaning against the wall, obviously frustrated with the forced inactivity brought about by the rain. A few like herself were glancing outside, trying to judge if they could risk the drizzle.
It was a different scene outside. A slight river had pooled a few feet away and the water rushed on in waves.
Babine frowned and pulled her trouser above her ankle. A bus moved over the kerb and she joined the throng of people that rushed for it.
She got a seat beside a man that was heavily soaked through and seemingly unaware of it. She shrugged and swallowed her sympathy. If he didn’t feel cold or embarrassed at being wet, why should she care.
He coughed, then sneezed. Babine turned slightly as the man didn’t cover his face. She became uncomfortable when the sneezing continued. It was obvious he was coming down with a cold, but he could cover his nose to keep from spreading it.
“Take care”, she muttered.
“Thank you”, came the labored response between bouts of sneeze.
“Here”, Babine handed him a white handkerchief.”You could get some procold when the bus drops you off”, she suggested.
The man nodded and turned to smile his appreciation. Babine smiled back, then glanced at her palm. Something struck at her and her eyes flew up.
His eyes were red. Bloodshot. She blinked as the man continued sneezing. He seemed completely unaware of the colour of his eyes.
“Are you okay, sir?” His breath were coming in short bursts now and he seemed….dizzy?”Are you okay?”
“I feel……..faint”, he said, gripping Babine by her arm. His hold on her arm was strong and she flinched from the force of it. It felt like he was trying to draw the life out of her.
She tried to disentangle the hand, but it seemed to loosen of its own accord and fell limply to the man’s side.
“Water”, he weazed. “I need…..water.”
Babine looked around frantically. This was confusing and her brain had temporarily shut down. She needed to get others involved. Surely they must have noticed the man wasn’t feeling too good. This was Lagos where strangers helped each other. They had to help this man.
As she looked around, she noticed that whatever was wrong with the man by her side didn’t seem to have gotten just him. There were people coughing and wheezing all around her. Why hadn’t she noticed it before.
A woman stood up unsteadily behind, slowly making her way towards the front. Where she was heading to, Babine had no idea. She got to the middle of the aisle and slumped, convulsing vigorously on the floor.
Babine gasped and was on her feet in seconds, rushing to the woman, the man beside her forgotten.
Something was seriously wrong. They had to stop the vehicle.
“Driver, please, I need help!”she yelled, shaking the woman as she continued convulsing.”Driver!”
Her eyes flew towards the driver and she saw his figure slumped over the steering. The vehicle suddenly screeched, then swerved haphazardly to the right. It continued to bounce and jerk as it went.
Babine held on tight to a rail, intent on being safe. She was conscious of people being lifted from their seats and tossed about.
The vehicle hit a tree stump and rolled over, continuing its decent.
Babine held on still, muttering a prayer. Never would she have imagined her end would come this way.
The bus came to an abrupt stop and she was conscious of being forcibly pried off the rail and thrown against the side. Her forehead made the first contact and she groaned as sharp pain shot through her. A gash was opened on her forehead and blood flowed freely from it over her face.
The pain! God! The excruciating pain. It clouded her mind, racked her body. That was all she could think of.
A dark maze seemed to descend over her and she welcomed it. A relief; anything but this pain. She reached out to it, passing out.
Alex watched his colleagues. It had stopped raining over thirty minutes ago. When it started, none of them had taken it serious, but it soon increased and swept into the room through the windows.
Everyone scampered about shutting windows and trying to get files out of the ways. It was a good thing his desk was well away from the window. This was one disadvantage that had come in handy this time.
He grinned sympathetically at kunle, his friend and colleague who had wet patches over his shirt and held equally wet documents in his hands.
Kunle had often rubbed the fact that his desk was by the window in, claiming to have the best view and natural breeze. “Sorry man”, Alex muttered.”I guess you were unlucky”.
“Mr T will kill me today”, he complained. “This is the Oxyron Textile file we have been trying to get for over a year now. We finally did and now this. I better do something about it”.
Alex watched him leave and shook his head. So typical of Kunle to leave such an important document lying carelessly around.
The rain subsided and everything began to settle to its normal pace once again. The windows were thrown open by the cleaning staff as they mopped and tried to get some semblance of order back to the office.
Pedestrians were back on the street, ignoring the light trickle as they rushed to beat the time they’d already lost.
Alex went back to his seat. The day’s activities had been slowed and they were now well behind schedule. He would have to put in a few extra hours at the close of hours to make up.
“Hey man, I’m going for a bite. Are you coming?”Kunle was back leaning over his desk.
“Not quite, there’s so much……”, he started out, when Kunle suddenly sneezed into a rumpled handkerchief.
“Easy man”, Alex muttered and Kunle nodded. “Anyways, could you grab me a …..”Kunle’s cough again cut Alex short and he frowned when it didn’t seem to be stopping.
Kunle sat down, heaving as the cough seemed to give him some respite before continuing. “Easy. Easy,man”, Alex came around to him.”When did this start?”
“A little over ten minutes ago”, Kunle replied. “It started in the Litho room as I was drying those documents”.
“Such a short time, and it seems to have gotten this serious. Are you asthmatic?”
“No. There’s no history of such in my family”.
“Then you probably had it in you all this while”, Alex supplied.
Kunle shook his head. “Not likely. You know me, man, I hardly fall sick”.
Alex nodded. “Still there’s always a first time. Anyways, do something about it fast.”
“Sure”, Kunle glanced up.”Anyways……”
“Wow! Wow”, Alex backed off a little. “Don’t tell me you’ve been crying.”
“Wouldn’t you find that hard to believe”, Kunle replied.”That a small sickness like sneezing would reduce me to tears.”
“Then man, I don’t know what else would explain why your eyes are so red.”
Kunle’s brows creased in a frown, then suddenly straightened as he smiled. “Get out of here, man”, he shoved lightly at Alex. “I’m in no mood for games right now.”
“I’m serious, Kunle”, Alex persisted. “Your eyes are red and they look swollen. Anyone seeing you would think you’ve been crying or that something got into your eyes”.
“That’s strange”, Kunle’s frown returned. “I’d better check it out. Do you have a mirror? “
Alex cocked his head and pursed his lips. “Very funny, dude.”
Kunle chuckled and got up.”Time to try my charms on the ladies”, he winked and Alex laughed.
“Hey Vera, I need a mirror from that beautiful bag of yours”.
“What for?”Vera asked. “Are you into beauty and make-up now?”
Kunle struck a mock sexy pose and cocked his head. “You know a man’s got to look good for you ladies”, he replied with mock seriousness and Vera laughed.
“Here you go, look good away!” She sneezed. “Excuse me”.
“You are well excused and please join the club” Vera turned with pursed lips towards him and gasped. Kunle, your eyes! What happened?”
“I woke up and found them”, he joked, but his voice didn’t quite carry.”Actually, that’s why I need the mirror. Alex just pointed them out to me.”
“They look really swollen, like…..”
“I know”, Kunle cut, his tone suddenly serious. “Its quite unusual though”.
“Do something about it”, Vera suggested. “Get an eye drop or something”.
Kunle nodded and scratched his head. Vera coughed again, getting into a slight spasm.
“It looks like I have transferred it to you.”
Vera smiled weakly through the cough. “I had better sit down”, she said approaching her seat by the window. “Kunle, please could you help me with some water from the dispenser. This cough seems to be giving me a burning sensation in my chest”.
Kunle nodded, slightly troubled at having transferred the cough to Vera. It couldn’t be him, could it? Coughs didn’t get transferred so fast. But she had seemed fine before he approached her. Could she have come under in a matter of minutes?
“Cover up for me man”,he said. “I want to rush down to the pharmacy to pick up some drugs. I seem to have transferred the cough and sneezing to Vera”.
“That’s strange”, Alex frowned.”Those guys over there have been coughing and sneezing since they came in as well. If its a virus that is being passed, then its going round fast”.
Kunle shrugged. “I’ll see you”.
Alex leaned back in his seat after Kunle left and studied the office. He might have said it as a joke, but it was happening; the cough virus was spreading very fast.
Mrs Ogozor, the Accounts Manager, looked up and Alex was surprised to see she had been gotten by it too. Her eyes were also red. But how could a mild case of cough and catarrh be making eyes go red?
She leaned her forehead against the wall and he noticed she seemed to be weak. Alex approached her and leaned into her. “Are you alright, Mrs Ogozor?”
She glanced up at him through red eyes and muttered something he didn’t quite grab through swollen lips. Her face and what part of her arms and legs he could see were covered in rashes and boils.
“Christ!”He exclaimed. “What is going on here!”
“Painful….”, she muttered.”Burning…..”
“Alright, that’s it. Get up. We have to get you to a hospital”.
He held her by the shoulders and was half leading half dragging her towards the door when she gave a choked sob and slumped.