My world stopped when Ian, my only sibling, tested positive for covid-19 barely five months after Kenya announced its first case. Since we live together, I suspected I might be positive, too, and went into quarantine with him at home for 17 days. While we knew our youthfulness gave us a slight advantage over this monster virus, it did not matter at that point for dread had seized our thoughts.
In the interim, since neither my elder brother nor I could leave home, our friends helped shop and deliver groceries to our doorstep. We also received a million calls and texts from family, who wasted no time sending home remedies. My aunt turned certified doctor sent herbal leaves from the village with clear instructions: To be boiled and used to steam the virus out of your body.
In the early days of quarantine, I broke down over the possibility of dying. Ian helped me through my panic attack with a long, tight hug and, for a moment, we forgot about social distancing. Covid-19 or not, we rarely embraced, and this seemed to reassure us that everything was going to be okay. What’s more, encouraging video conversations with our parents helped ease my anxiety. Thankfully, we only experienced headaches and no other symptoms, and we went about life as usual, with him cooking and me cleaning.
In an attempt to distract ourselves, we spent our days reading, binged on television shows, exercised, learnt how to build a website from scratch and tried brainstorming business ideas. With nowhere to go, we found ourselves spending more time together than we ever had, bonding over childhood memories and reminiscing about fights over the TV remote. We chatted about money, adulthood, our dreams and aspirations, and where we envisioned ourselves in five years. In retrospect, this was ironic considering we weren't certain of what the next day might hold for both of us.
As days bled into one another, leaving hazy memories of the previous day, I replayed one conversation in my head. Ian had revealed to me that although he experienced mild symptoms, the constant worry about death drained him mentally. He also expressed gratitude for my presence, which moved me because I was used to relying on him, and here he was being vulnerable and turning to me for support. At that moment, I fully understood the meaning of having someone’s back.
As quarantine dragged on and the number of covid-19 cases rose in Kenya, we received news that some of our friends had lost family members and went through a torrent of conflicting emotions together: despair, loneliness, anger and sadness, fearing the worst while hoping for the best. I remembered all the goodbyes I had said to my friends, realising they could easily be the last, wondering if my hugs should have been tighter. In moments like these, you acquire a keen understanding of the fragility of life, of the things that really matter and those that don't.
Indeed, 2020 has been a rough year, and attempts to find a silver lining during this pandemic almost feels like invalidating the pain it’s inflicted on many lives around the world. Still, I can't stop marvelling at the love that family and friends showered on me and Ian during quarantine, or how the potentially fatal episode brought us closer together. I wouldn’t trade that experience with him for anything in the world.