Fr. Pat Amobi Chukwuma

As the coronavirus pandemic spread in many states of Nigeria, some of the state governors ordered their citizens to stay at home or to put on face masks whenever they step out of their houses for some exigencies. Medical doctors and nurses wear face masks during surgery in order to avoid contamination. Criminals wear face masks to disguise themselves. Generally, people wear face masks to protect themselves from contracting infectious endemic or pandemic diseases. For whichever purpose, once you wear a face mask your identity becomes nebulous.

At the initial outbreak of coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, a young Igbo man who lives in the Middle Belt of Nigeria, came back home to see his mother. As a safety measure against COVID-19 he was wearing a face mask. He arrived home when it was getting dark. When he knocked at the door, his mother came forward with anxiety to open it.

But before opening the door she enquired in a loud voice, “Who are you please?” The son replied in an esoteric voice, “I am Ikem your son.” The mother went on to ask, “Are you really my son, Ikem? If yes, then why are you speaking like a masquerade?” With anger he shouted, “Mama, open the door and see me face to face!” The frightened mother with jittery opened the door narrowly and peeped. Seeing the strange figure, she shouted, “Chim-oo! Efue m-oo! Are you my son or a ghost?” She closed the door with all her strength. But the masked Ikem used his masculine power to push it wide open.

The poor woman urinated on her clothes as she was running into the kitchen for her dear life which has no duplicate. At this moment, Ikem pulled of his face mask and shouted, “Mama, come back! Fear not! Look at me! It is Ikem your son!” With urine still dripping down her legs she turned back, ran and embraced him. Breathing like a lizard that fell from a tall tree she said, “My son Ikem, why did you frighten me by wearing face mask? Indeed I took you for a ghost.” With smiles Ikem answered, “Mama, there is an outbreak of a pandemic disease worldwide including Nigeria called coronavirus.” She exclaimed, “Coro what? I hope it has not disfigured your precious face.

Welcome my dear son. Please sit down and tell me more about the coro. But permit me to go inside the bathroom and wash off this hot urine caused by fear. I will be back in few minutes.” As she went out, her son Ikem settled on a bottle of dry gin to scare the deadly virus from entering into his body.

Yes, either one stays at home or goes out wearing a face mask is a personal option. Those who cannot stay at a spot for a long time choose going out with face mask. As policemen were enforcing the stay-at-home order, a certain masquerade from the underworld came along with his long bamboo stick. One of the policemen shouted, “Stop there! Why are you disobeying the stay-at-home order?” The masquerade replied esoterically, “Officer, the order is for human beings and not for us spirits.”

The policeman retorted, “Shut up! You are under arrest. When you reach the station we shall know whether you are a human being or a spirit.” The masquerade was arrested instantly and conveyed to the station in police patrol van.

Inside the Divisional Police Officer’s (DPO) office, the masquerade stood for cross-examination. The DPO asked him, “Yes, Mr. Masquerade, why did you flout the Government order of staying at home or wear a face mask?” The masquerade replied, “Sir, the order is for human beings. I came from the world of the spirits. Therefore I have no home. I wander between the spiritual world and the physical world. On the other hand, I am not only wearing a face mask but a body mask. Hence I have not flouted any order.”

The DPO glanced at him with red eyes and asked, “What do you mean? If you are a spirit, disappear immediately before my face or you will see pepper now.” To avoid embarrassment the masquerade unmasked his face before the DPO and asserted, “Sir, you see; I was a human being before. Then I died and became a spirit.” This infuriated the DPO more. He ordered one of his men to give the masquerade 24 lashes of cane to determine whether he is a human being or a spirit. On hearing this, the half masked being knelt down before the DPO and pleaded, “Sir, have mercy. I am a masked human being. It is hunger that drove me out to look for money. Hunger has no identity.”

The DPO and his men couldn’t help laughing. The masquerade also joined in the laughter. What a dramatic scene!
Indeed the coronavirus pandemic has turned Nigerians and all people in the world into half spirit and half human. On one of these days, I was officiating in the church wearing my face mask. The congregants stood also wearing their face masks. We were all praying and singing like ghosts.

I was imaging that we were in another world. At a point in the Eucharistic celebration, I spread out my hands and said, “The Lord be with you.” The congregants responded, “And with your spirit.” After the Divine Worship, one of the congregants (a woman) courageously approached me and said, “Father, it is now that I understand why we say ‘And with your spirit.’ In fact when you were standing at the altar with your face mask, you looked exactly like a real spirit.” I started laughing. Surprisingly the woman with all seriousness said, “Father, it is not a laughing matter. You are a real spirit.
I am sure you do not eat what we human beings eat.” I frowned at her and remarked, “I hope you are not possessed.” She replied, “I am not possessed. Rather I see visions.” She went away fulfilled and I went into the Chapel meditatively.

Some people are funny. As I was walking along a busy street wearing my face mask against the COVID-19, I saw a man on his own special face mask. With a razor or scissors he carefully cut open at two places: the mouth and the nose. I accosted him and put this question, “What kind of face mask are you wearing?” He answered, “Man of God, do you want me to die? Air must enter into my nose and food must enter into my mouth. Coronavirus or no coronavirus, man must breathe and eat. My mouth was shut up. We departed in opposite directions.

Indeed hunger drove out many people from staying at home to wandering about to look for food. One man despairingly asserted, “Instead of staying at home and die of hunger, let coronavirus kill me on the way. A hungry man has no strength to put on face mask. If he does so, he will be choked of breath and die off.”

Coronavirus started in a Chinese city called Wuhan in 2019. Hence it is abbreviated COVID-19. From there the virus spread to the whole world at the same time. That is why it is called a pandemic disease. A disease which spreads only to certain geographical area is known as endemic. Pandemic and Endemic are sibling virus diseases. Surely, Pandemic is older than Endemic. Both share ‘demic’ in common. Am I correct to say that a person who has traveled to various countries of the world is pandemic while a person who has not traveled outside his country is endemic?

The above grammatical expressions remind me of my two priest-friends from Cameroun when I was studying in Germany. The one living by my left was always on the road. To be on the road is expressed in German language as ‘unterwegs’. Hence I nicknamed him Unterwegsmann. ‘Man’ in English is the same as ‘Mann’ in German. The other living by my right was always inside his room. Room in German is called ‘Zimmer’. The Z here is pronounced like T. Thus I nicknamed him Zimmermann because he rarely went out of his room. But in actual sense Zimmermann in German means a carpenter in English. Language and grammar are really expressive by nature.

In the same manner, pandemic and endemic diseases are deadly by nature. Therefore stay at home, wash your hands severally with soap in running water, maintain social distance and wear your face mask in a crowded place to avoid contracting coronavirus. Prevention, they say, is better than cure. Above all, we must fall on our knees and call on the Almighty God to deliver us from both endemic and pandemic virus diseases. This was why the Pontiff, His Holiness Pope Francis, called for global prayers, fasting and almsgiving on 14 May 2020. Coronavirus is a dangerous disease but God is the ultimate Healer.