A SCARLET VIRUS, A SCARLET WORLD
‘I can’t see it,’ Sarah said.
‘Over there on the left. Do you see it now?’
Sarah gave a yelp of excitement, signifying that she had just seen the unthinkable through my Efil military-issue binoculars. What she had seen was what appeared to be a settlement – a group of weatherworn shacks stood in the distance. We were absolutely sure of the fact that there would actually be no people within the town: you see, three years ago, the world died!
Nevertheless, we took courage, for we knew a town meant a source for much needed supplies. My flask’s lightness confirmed to me that its contents were finished. Let me stop here for now and go back to what I said before. Like I said: three years ago, the world died, overcome by what became known as the scarlet virus – an infection that manifested as a scarlet cloud and filled our world. The scarlet mist was heavier than air and so it never dissipated. Instead, the mist spread and continued spreading until it had covered the entire planet, killing every life form it came into contact with. To survive, we had to wear protective chemical suits and haul a weighty breathing apparatus on our backs. The breathing apparatus had to be worn all the time, even while eating. This was made possible by attaching a canteen to the breathing apparatus, thus enabling the wearer to drink whilst wearing it. It was an ingenious device and is the reason why Sarah and I have survived this long. However, I sometimes wonder how we must look now under these suits. I wonder about Sarah; I loved her once – before the scarlet virus. I wonder at this moment, under this beautiful sky, if she still looks as beautiful as she once did. I know that this is impossible – we have been trudging around these three years with nothing but liquid for food. We are skeletons in the mist. I feel sick and desperately thin and I know that Sarah does, too. How we must look! If the time ever comes when we abandon these masks, I know that we will look upon one another with affection and kindness – but oh, what a sight it will be!
‘We should refill our canteens in the town; mine’s empty.’ I said.
‘Mine too, but are you sure it’s safe?’ Sarah replied.
I shrugged my shoulders in reply and took the Efil from Sarah. I looked through them and set my gaze at the town, straining to see any signs of life or of danger.
‘It looks deserted; we may as well risk it.’
Sarah said nothing, but I imagined that she would be frowning under her mask. Her frown was one of the things that most displeased me when we first met many years ago.
‘It’s a risk we’re going to have to take, Sarah; otherwise, we’ll die of starvation.’ I said defensively.
‘If you think that’s what we have to do, then that’s what we’ll do.’
‘Alright, then,’ I said, rather annoyed that I couldn’t see the expression on Sarah’s face to determine if she was angry with me or just concordant, as her words suggested. It’s a funny thing, the human face – capable of telling us what a person really thinks, as opposed to what their words trick us into thinking. I started down the hill we were on and headed toward the village. Sarah followed closely behind.
The ground was devoid of any vegetation or living creatures. And as we walked toward the settlement, I started to think how unlike the creation all this was – in the creation, man was the last thing to be created, but now at the close of civilization, he would be the last thing to be destroyed.
Even as we walked, the scarlet mist surrounded us. Like a medieval warlord besieging an ancient city to plunder it of its wealth, the mist hung over us, waiting for us to run out of oxygen. ‘Oxygen!’ I said out loud, kicking in frustration the blanket of scarlet dust that lay around us.
‘What did you say?’ asked Sarah.
‘I said we need oxygen.’ I replied, irritated that such an obviously important and vital thing had skipped my mind: but it is hard to remember anything on such empty stomachs; I had learnt long ago to ignore the hunger pangs – the groaning of my belly – but there were other things, like my reasoning, that could not be ignored so successfully.
@ Uzor Chinukwue 2011