"The Situation" II - Fairfax, VA

At first I thought there was something I was missing...

Helon Habila (USA/Nigeria) is the author of four novels, the latest of which, Travelers (2020), is about African migrants in Europe, and of the nonfiction The Chibok Girls. He is the editor of the Granta Book of African Short Story, and a contributing editor to the VQR. His awards include The Virginia Library Fiction Prize, and the Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction. He teaches creative writing at George Mason University.


Material things cannot save you. This is perhaps best exemplified in the earliest days of the pandemic when we all frenziedly started stocking up on food and other essential supplies, especially toilet paper. At first I thought there was something I was missing—could there be some secret cure or formula associated with toilet paper that I didn’t know? I guess it was not only me thinking the same thing, because by now almost everybody was caught up in the frenzy—people were running into stores and grabbing toilet paper by the cartload. Most stores had to put up signs rationing customers to one pack of toilet paper.

Eventually the frenzy died down, and after the initial shortage it turned out there was enough toilet paper to go around, and, there was no secret cure associated with toilet paper. People were just stocking up because it was an instinctive psychological reaction to fear and the unknown; a primitive desire to hoard and to surround ourselves with food and other necessities. I guess the lesson this has taught me is that most of the things we think we need, we accumulate out of some primordial desire to appear to be in charge, but in reality we don’t need them, and when the chips are down, these things won’t save us and we don’t control what will happen to us tomorrow. I wish we’d all remember this after the pandemic is gone, and focus more on things that really matter, like family, friendship, our health, the environment.