Connected, Yet Separated – Part 1

Connected, Yet Separated; by Boakyewaa Glover; Part 1

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It was pitch black outside, the power was off and her phone only had 1% battery life, if that. She had been making so many frantic calls that she was certain the 1% message was false. If she touched the phone in any way right now, it would die immediately. She placed the phone carefully on her bed and stood above it, staring at it, even though it was barely visible in the darkness. Her hands were clenched, and she was praying and crying at the same time. She’d been standing there like that for at least a few minutes, willing the phone to ring, for it to be him. Then the phone rang. The noise pierced the stillness of the room and she was startled. She’d been praying for the call but it still took her by surprise. His name was vivid on the screen. She grabbed it, she attempted to say hello, but no words came out of her mouth.

“Drew? Drew? Are you there?” he said.

“Drew?”

Then the phone went dead.

Drew screamed, instantly. No! No, no, no, don’t die on me, she cried.

It was him, he was okay, at least it sounded like it. Was his voice hoarse? Did he sound normal? Was he struggling to breathe? His voice was in her ear barely seconds ago and now she couldn’t even remember how he sounded. Her heart was pounding, she had been waiting for this call for days!

Drew grabbed her bag and ran out of the house. She had to find power to charge her phone now. She didn’t care about the lock down, she didn’t care what it took, she had to call him back, right now. She wasn’t going to wait for the power company to deem her neighborhood worthy of power. In any case, didn’t the President recently guarantee that there would be no power cuts? Did they have any inkling how vital consistent power was at a time like this? If you couldn’t be with a loved one, the least they could do for you was provide you with bloody, consistent power!

She drove fast out of her gate and down her bumpy road, and it was only when she got to the end of the road that she remembered – she had a car charger! She could have sat in her car and charged her phone earlier in the day! She’d wasted the whole day. She slapped her forehead hard and pulled over to the side of the road. Her mind was a mess, she couldn’t think straight. She dug into her glove compartment and yanked the charger out of the British Airways pouch that she had converted into a holder for cords. She plugged her phone in and waited for the Apple sign to pop up. She tapped the steering wheel impatiently. It was dark, and very late, and the road she was on was completely deserted. She was panicky but she knew she couldn’t just sit there, inviting robbers to attack her in Mars Red GLK. She put the car back in drive and drove back home, glancing at the phone every few seconds. Once she was through her gate, the phone came back on.

She dialed his number frantically. He answered immediately.

“Drew?”

He sounded incredibly hoarse, but alive.  

“Hans? Oh God! I’ve been worried sick! I’ve been calling you for two days! Do you have any idea what it’s been like? I don’t know where you live, I don’t know your friends, I don’t know your family, I don’t know anyone! I’ve been going through your Facebook friends, and sending messages. What happened? Where have you been? Are you okay?”

She was rambling, panic evident in her voice, she was struggling to breathe. It had been a rough 48 hours.

Hans and Drew had been friends for almost 10 years. They met in graduate school in New York and remained fast friends. Hans was a German student in the civil engineering program, and Drew was a Ghanaian student at Business School. They happened to live in the same apartment building and that was it. At a point, Drew knew Hans had feelings for her but the timing was not right for her. She was obsessed with an ex she couldn’t move on from, and she was hoping for reconciliation. She liked Hans a lot, but her heart wasn’t there. Once they graduated, Drew remained in New York, and Hans went to work for a while in DC. They still kept in touch and visited each other, but still kept it platonic. Hans moved back to Germany, and Drew remained in New York a little longer. Eventually, she decided to move back to Ghana as well and start afresh, no exes, no baggage. The company she worked for in New York decided to start an office in West Africa, and Drew convinced them that Ghana was truly the gateway to investment in Africa. That was about six years ago, and she and Hans continued to stay friends. It wasn’t the same as before, but they tried. The calls were less, the texts were infrequent and somewhere along the line it became a courtesy interaction. She cared about him a lot, but she sensed he had now placed her firmly in the friendship zone. She didn’t blame him. She was indecisive when it came to guys. To be honest, she was either indecisive or obsessive, no middle ground.

Drew and Hans saw each other about once a year, mainly because her company had their second headquarters in Germany. As the head of the Ghana office, her role enabled her to travel to both Germany and New York frequently. Initially, she and Hans would just have lunch, catch up and then that was it, each person disappeared into their lives. Over time, Drew wanted more but wasn’t sure how to broach it. They took a weekend trip to Cologne once, but they stayed in different rooms, and somehow, despite how close they were for two days, nothing happened. It was then that Drew realized that was it, they were friends and nothing more.

She allowed herself to simply enjoy the friendship, no expectations. Somehow, the shift in her mindset helped them grow closer. She could share anything with him, without worrying about what he would think of her. She could be herself. She felt she had truly moved on, until the COVID-19 virus swept the globe.

It was March 2020 when she got the news, a little over three months since COVID-19 appeared in Wuhan, China. She was surrounded by family, and they were watching a movie in her living room, but she was distracted. She hadn’t heard from Hans in weeks. He was working in Italy, had been there for 6 months now. The impact of the virus in Italy was devastating, and she was anxious. The last time they spoke, he said he was heading back to Berlin, to be with his family. That was a month ago. She had called him several times since then, but his line was constantly busy. Then in March, Hans called. He had contracted the coronavirus and he was really sick, alone in a rented apartment in Italy. His diagnosis had been confirmed at the hospital but he was sent back to his apartment to quarantine at home, because he seemed like a relatively healthy, young man. He didn’t feel particularly healthy. He said what he was going through was like nothing he had ever felt before. He said comparing the virus to the common flu was a complete affront to the virus. He was immobilized in bed, in severe pain, with a fever that threatened to burn through his clothes. Drew felt completely helpless. She didn’t want to badger him with questions, like, why didn’t he go back to the hospital, did he have neighbors who could help him safely, how was he getting food and basic essentials, what meds was he taking, etc. She had a long list, but he didn’t seem particularly chatty. She called him daily for a week, sometimes he answered, and sometimes he didn’t. Sometimes he could talk and sometimes he was barely audible.

And then two days ago, he called her. It was almost 1am in Accra, but she was up, obsessively scrolling through news articles on the virus. She answered quickly. He sounded so bad, she could barely make out his words, but she heard him very clearly say, ‘I’m dying, Drew.’ Then he hung up. She tried to call him back but his phone was off. She didn’t sleep at all that night. She tried his line every half hour. After six hours of trying, she realized she was completely isolated from Hans’ circle. They had no friends in common. They were in different programs at grad school, so different sets of friends. And even though they hang out a lot, it was mostly just them. They never integrated their friends. She had met a couple of his family members, but she didn’t have their numbers. It was just horrifying to her. She’d known Hans for 10 years, and suddenly, she realized she wasn’t really an integral part of his life. She was completely on the outside. How was that even possible? How she could know someone like that, care for him, be friends for this long, and have zero contact information for anyone in his circle? She didn’t even know who his closest friends were!

For two days, Drew turned into Nancy Drew, her namesake. Her bookworm mother insisted on giving her that name, and now she wished she had gained more than a name. Her sleuthing skills were abysmal. She became a stalker, going through Hans’ Facebook page and messaging those she deduced to be his close friends. No one replied. And Hans didn’t have any of his family members in his Facebook contact list. He once mentioned that he didn’t want his family to have insights to his life like that. Just as her parents didn’t give her a helpful name, there wasn’t much she could do with his name either! Hans Weber was a pretty common German name. She didn’t even have his address, in Italy or Germany! She called a few people in her Berlin office, asked for advice, but no one was helpful. She didn’t blame them. They never met Hans, she didn’t tell anyone there about him, and she had zero details about his life in Germany or his life in Italy. She had never visited him at his home, they simply met in restaurants. They were connected and yet completely separated.

For two days, Drew was in complete freefall, and she went along with the madness. She called hospitals, police numbers, emergency numbers, but the lines were either busy or the language barrier meant they hung up on her after a few seconds. She was completely lost. On the second day, she told her pastor the story, they prayed together and then she waited.

Then Hans called, right before her phone died. And now she was in her car, phone plugged into the charger, sobbing like a baby, grateful she had finally gotten through, but still racked by fear.

Hans allowed her to cry and let it out, but she couldn’t seem to stop, so he went ahead and talked.

“I’m so sorry, I wanted to call you, but everything has been a mess. They came for me, somehow they came for me. I’ve been in the hospital. I was on a ventilator for a little over a day. They said I can manage, they moved the ventilator to someone else. I really thought I was going to die. I’ve never been so afraid.”

Drew tried to still her tears. She had been afraid, but he had been too. He was the one living through this, the one whose life was on the line, and here she was, crying and not acknowledging his experience and his fears, to the extent that he was apologizing. She took a deep breath.

“It’s okay, don’t apologize. I panicked. I was worried. I’m so glad you’re getting help, getting treatment. It’s going to be okay, I really believe that. It’s going to be okay.”

They talked for a few minutes. Then she could hear someone in the background, it sounded like he was being asked to put the phone away, to rest. She started to panic again. What if they hung up and that was it? Was this the time to stay something?

“Drew, I have to go, I will call, I promise.”

Her breathing became erratic. She wanted to tell him she loved him, she wanted to tell him to find a way to let her know he was okay. But if he died, how could he possibly do that? It was a morbid thought. She had this burning desire to express love to him and to also ask for a contact she could reach out to if things took a turn for the worst and she couldn’t reach him. She wasn’t sure she could survive not being able to reach him.

“Hans, it will be okay. I promise. Stay strong. You’ll be fine. I believe it. Have faith.”

Then the line went dead. She felt it was better to reassure him, than to put her needs before his. She wasn’t sure if he heard it all.

She laid her head on the steering wheel and cried, deep and loud. What now?

TO BE CONTINUED