Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 July 2018
At the end of March 2014, in a bar in the centre of Freetown, we are discussing the latest news from neighbouring Guinea: an outbreak of Ebola, a disease that has previously been undetected in the region. We don't really understand how it spreads yet, but later we will learn that it is transmitted through contact with an infected person's bodily fluids and is at its most virulent in dead bodies. Solomon, the hip-hop artist cum Belgium seller that has accompanied me through my research from the very beginning, jokes that if it reaches Sierra Leone, as some of the newspapers are suggesting, he will go and live in the hills around Freetown and only come down when it is over. A year later, in a different Freetown bar, one filled with humanitarian workers who have flooded in to stop the seemingly incontrollable spread of the deadly virus, I receive a call from another Belgium seller: Junior. We encountered Junior in the preceding pages as he fought violently with other sellers or recounted clashes with opposing political factions that left him wounded but triumphant. This time he is crying on the phone, and says he became sick as he was selling on Lightfoot Boston Street and as he collapsed everyone ran away, afraid to touch him or come near him in case he had Ebola. It's already dark and I have been strongly discouraged by my new employers from taking public transport, but what can I do? Junior and I have known each other for a long time. I charter a taxi and choose not to wear a seatbelt because someone in town said it could carry the virus: one of the many stories about Ebola that stick with me against my better judgement.
As I get into town I meet Solomon and we take Junior to Connaught hospital together. When we arrive, Junior is made to sit on a wooden bench: he is shaking and his eyes are bloodshot, he has a high fever.