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It all began on a Monday afternoon.

I was walking home from work with a newly acquired headache. No big deal really except that I learned, early the same morning, that the virus had spread to the neighborhood where my workplace was situated. I had decided to avoid bodily contacts, even handshakes. But the rush of joy at seeing old friends broke the newly erected walls of protective measures. How harmful could one, or two, or more handshakes be? I had thought.

The person must show symptoms before the virus can be transmitted or must be at the point of death; anybody who still has the strength to walk cannot transmit it.

But I was still bothered about the headache, even though it was a mild throb.

It takes about two to twenty one days before symptoms begin to manifest.

I heard a friend say it took about sixty one days to show forth in a man’s semen during a laboratory test. Sixty one days was an exception to the maximum period, therefore a period less than two days could also be a possibility.

Who, then, was the cause of this headache? Was it one of my colleagues? The one with sweaty palms? The one, who had sores on his arms, calling it a football injury? Or the guy with red eyes? Or was it in the public bus? The sweaty fat woman who kept brushing against me every time the bus plunged into a pothole? Maybe, it was the conductor who screamed at me, jets of spits landing on my face, for not producing change. Or it was Mallam Saliu’s suya that I sneaked out of the house to buy the other night. Maybe I should have gotten a hand sanitizer. Maybe I should have eaten bitter kola. Maybe…

“Oga, you just tanda for here since, wetin you wan buy?” It was the pharmacist’s attendant.

“Sorry, just one sachet of paracetamol and one pure water.”

I flushed down two tablets of paracetamol before getting home. I decided not to tell anyone of the headache. They may think the headache is a kind of symptom; and then the panic, the ostracizing, the abandonment at the quarantine centre—or maybe an zealous hero may permanently abate the menace, hand me the cure of death.

Positive thoughts. Positive thoughts.

Belief is a state of mind. Constant belief through persistence is faith. Constant belief through persistence becomes reality. It is just a mild headache and nothing more.

If symptoms persists after three days please see a doctor.

The mild headache will subside within two days max, I thought to myself.

Positive thoughts. Positive thoughts.

If I am asked why I look dull, I would make no mention of the headache, “it is just normal stress from work,” would be my reply.


I woke up the next morning without the headache. My mother later came to my room to tell me of a new cure or preventive measure: warm saltwater, to bath and to drink. Last week, it was bitter kola, now this. This is just ridiculous. It is scientifically impossible. Salt water cannot destroy virus. It is just highly illogical.

“It is all over the internet, she replied.”

“Not all things on the internet are true Mama.”

“Eyin alakowe yi sha. Just be careful and don’t shake anybody o, please.”

“Yes ma.”

“And please try to bath with saltwater, it wouldn’t remove anything from you,” she said before leaving the room.

When I was about to have my bath, the headache came back. It did not come alone. It brought with it a mild fever, reawakening my fears. It wouldn’t remove anything from me to add a handful of salt to this bucket of water, I heard myself say.

I would later join those mocking others on social media for having their bath with saltwater.


“Six people died from hypertension today,” Imisi said.

Imisi is the second daughter of our next door neighbor. She is older with two years. Our families have known each other for the past ten years. Ten years ago, my family moved to this area—when this area was just a thick bush strewn with a few foot-worn paths and fewer houses. Imisi and I had tried breaking through the walls of family-friend zone, but as soon as we escape, the walls become a powerful magnet pulling us back to its core.


“Saltwater is like poison for hypertensive people. They thought it would help cure or prevent the virus.”

“It’s ironic. Running from death towards the safety of another death.”

“I tell you. I even have running nose.” She blowed into her handkerchief.

“Don’t touch me o!”

She jumped off her chair and rubbed my face all over, I feigned death and we both laughed.

“But if I have this stuff ehn, I won’t go down alone o. I’m touching everyone I see,” she said.

I neither mentioned the headaches nor the fever.  I only laughed.


Another symptom is diaorrhea.

I stuffed myself the night before and paid three unusual visits to the toilet. Could it be diaorrhea? But shouldn’t one vomit at the same time? My mother also complained of having difficulties while passing out faeces. She said it first started with her purging, after which she used some self-administered drugs that stopped the purging.

“Now I know I want to pupu but no matter how hard I try, nothing comes out.”

I thought I had transmitted whatever I had to her. Anyone who looked carefully at my shirt would notice the subtle pump of my breast pocket.

“Maybe you should call Daddy Idris.” Daddy Idris is the unofficial family doctor. He attends our church. If any of us falls sick, he is usually the last resort. After self medication fails.

After asking twice whether or not my mother was running a fever, Daddy Idris prescribed drugs for her over the phone.

“God help us all,” she said, after the call ended, to no one in particular.

God was the one most people began calling in this dire period of need, especially the afflicted ones. New prophets have risen, diagnosing widespread immorality as the root cause of the disease, prescribing repentance as the cure, and claiming that a refusal to accept remedy would bring the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah on the sufferer. It was also a ploy to win new believers to their faith.


On my way to work, I stopped the Danfo so I could come out and  vomit by the side of the road. Was it just car-sickness from the bus undulating on potholed roads?

Before I was done throwing up, the driver drove off and threw out my transport fare. My ball-crumpled hundred Naira note, slowly unfolding, was on the ground next to my vomit.

Later in the day, I would hear of the man who clutched his chest and slumped at the airport, dying minutes later as no one would dare touch him.

But then, there were also  anti-hypertension pills peeping out of his breast pocket.




Post Image by Bankole Oluwafemi via Flickr.

Badmus-gbolahanGbolahan Badmus was born in Lagos, presently schools in the North, and lives somewhere between borders. He is training to be a lawyer and something better. He blogs not to regularly at


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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

2 Responses to “Bitter Kola, Saltwater and Other Remedies | By Gbolahan Badmus | An Ebola Story” Subscribe

  1. Oluafolabi October 4, 2014 at 12:09 pm #

    Wow! Great read. I think I know Gbolahan. Did he study Law at OAU?


  1. Short Story: “Bitter Kola, Saltwater and other Remedies” by Gbolahan Badmus | The African Writer - November 30, 2014

    […] […]

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