“In ainm an athair, agus and mhac, agus an spiorad naomh. (Translation: In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). Amen. Please God, protect my parents as they head to work tomorrow, my brother who will start school soon and my sister who leaves for university. Please bring us back together, safe and well, as we are right now. Amen.”
Growing up in Catholic Ireland and in a very religious household, I have always been encouraged to pray; when I wake up, before I eat and before I go to sleep. I never really stuck to those rigid rules but for as long as I can remember, I’ve made a habit of praying for the safety of me and my family and to give my thanks to God before I fall asleep. On those nights when I’m too exhausted to pray, the mornings that follow are spent feeling off, miserable even. So as soon as I wake up, I pray, and those prayers bring me comfort like nothing else could.
As my parents left for work I’d wonder if that was it – if I had lost them to this pandemic, if I had lost them to the governments outrageous handling of this virus – if death had finally pounced.
Recently, I’ve felt death hovering around me often. I have felt its presence in full force, like a physical thing; a monster standing in the corner of my room, waiting to pounce. It’s almost as though it watches over my family as we go about our daily lives, trying to maintain a sense of normalcy.
I felt its presence more than ever at the beginning of lockdown. I was so depressed and I found it difficult to function. As my parents left for work I’d wonder if that was it – if I had lost them to this pandemic, if I had lost them to the governments outrageous handling of this virus – if death had finally pounced. Both of my parents are key workers, my mother a nurse, my father working in security. People in my mother’s care home were dying of COVID-19 and all she was being given for protection was a basic mask, a plastic apron and some gloves.
In May, the ONS reported that male security guards in the U.K. are at the highest risk of dying from COVID-19. This devastating statistic rang round and round in my head until I was in a permanent daze. I begged my parents to take time off. In their old age and with their pre-existing medical conditions, I did not want to lose them to their work. I came to the realisation that I was grieving for people I still had in my life.
Let’s not forget that when this pandemic started, people were casually stating “but it only affects the elderly and immunocompromised!” as if they aren’t people too?
As the weeks went by, I was trying to come to terms with our new reality. I was crying less and had to accept the fact that my parents had to work. My little brother went back to school for the last remaining weeks of the summer term as it wasn’t sustainable for him, a young active boy with Down syndrome, to be locked in our small house. He was sad, confused and acting out. So when his school offered him a place (1 of 2 students in his class to return), he was overjoyed. He even shed a tear or two.
As happy as I was for him, I was worried. My brother has had to face his own mortality more times than I can count. Many disabled people are not naive to the reality of being hospitalised and facing death. They know this life can be taken from them in an instant, with many people, including doctors, seeing them as disposable. And let’s not forget that when this pandemic started, people were casually stating “but it only affects the elderly and immunocompromised!” as if they aren’t people too?
I’ve realised more and more how close Black people are to death. Life is short for everyone, but in this world it’s even shorter for Black people. How is any of this freedom?
And then Ahmaud Arbery was killed. And then George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Tony McDade. Dominique Rem’mie Fells. Belly Mujinga. We heard the news about Elijah McClain and Shukri Abdi. Oluwatoyin Salau and, most recently, the attempted murder of Jacob Blake. As the days, weeks and months have gone by during lockdown, I’ve realised more and more how close Black people are to death. How everything and everyone is trying and succeeding in killing us before our time. Life is short for everyone, but in this world it’s even shorter for Black people. How is any of this freedom?
I thank God that as I close my eyes at night, my family close their eyes too. That as I dream, they too dream; of worlds without violence, of having long fulfilled lives, of going on adventures, of our family back home in Nigeria.
Halima is a writer and the Founding Editor of Ashamed Magazine. @ughalima