What is terror? Is it that flash of white phosphorescent light that started in the innards and exploded soundlessly? First, a seizure quickened the pulse and the muscles of the heart, and then it dried the mouth, propelling every sinew, every nerve of the four limbs into a rush of running. It is definitely not like Lot’s wife at Gomorrah, there is no looking back. It is a straight flight, senseless, into the bayonet end. Let me recount, it is incendiary and blind. Lethal.
If you know how, you can see the early signals. In Monrovia, young hooligans loot a hospital for the blood-covered mattresses of death. In Freetown, doctors and nurses are killed for the mere fact of bringing concern to bear on a pernicious disease. In Lagos, more die in the first week from salt overload in the mistaken belief that saline drinks were panaceas. In Madrid, animal rights activists, ironically, clash with the police over the putting down of a dog when the owner is already mortally wounded. In Texas, there’s nowhere to quarantine a family already exposed to death.
And, this is only the firing of the starting gun.
Faced with the astronomical we can only comprehend the sluggish innumerate ten of the fingers on our hands. What are airport checks worth when the real and relevant distances are measured in six degrees of separation and not in nautical miles? This is like geologic to historic time, measured in millions of years compared to a few thousand years of history. Wholly incommensurate!
Tell me, what do you think about when in the centre of breathing, your breath catches on a snag? I lose all the thread of thought like geese flying formation style suddenly confronted by loss of air and unable to flap their wings or swoop through the warm current, plummeting, dropping like stone, like dead weight, their formation unraveling, so like my thoughts.
In this crisis, words miss the mark totally. As Camus said
even the sincerest grief [has] to make do with the set phrases of ordinary conversation.
current coin of language, the commonplaces of plain narrative, of anecdote and of their newspaper
must be enough since the anxiety & this sense of loss and of foreboding escapes the capacity of language. And hyperbole will not do. Yet, the extent of the disquiet, the panic and terror is extreme, very extreme.
In Saramago’s Blindness, another novel about an epidemic, this time not of the plague but of infectious blindness, metaphysical blindness, not the clinical blindness of cataracts or glaucoma, the only person with sight says
If we cannot live entirely like human beings, at least let us do everything in our power not to live entirely like animals.
Here, we have a talisman to live by. In this precarious period, fraught with anxiety, pregnant with panic, there is a serious risk of elemental emotions driving the humane out of the human, a very serious risk that like desperate animals, we shall sink our teeth into the neck of the other, salivating in the process. Yes, there is a real risk that we shall live entirely like animals.
Photos by Jan Oyebode