When Coronavirus Comes Calling
A five-year-old declares, 'I wish to always have my favourite pancake in my world.'
An E-mail of Hope
He sent the e-mail to the school reserving seats for his daughter for the fall session. It’s in the new city they are relocating to. On the checklist, he ticks off School. House on Rent and Work Permit had been marked complete two weeks ago.
On the laptop screen, the ticker of the News channel scrolls, screaming in capital letters, ‘RESTRICTIONS ON INTERNATIONAL TRAVEL. COUNTRY IN LOCKDOWN.’
A minister in Germany commits suicide.
A prime minister apologizes. A genocide had gone amok under his leadership once and yet he rose oblivious to regret. I write and rewrite the previous sentence because I desperately want to blame the abstract noun, genocide. Why is it an abstract noun, anyway, when there are tangible bodies that give it a name? And what about a pogrom? The homeless from which can be touched and tossed with bamboo canes in shelters and hospitals to this day. Aren’t those the qualities of a concrete noun?
Well, the premier had expressed no guilt for turning away towards another spotlight then. And now, a virus has taken both over.
Suddenly, I think about the minister in Germany who felt deeply worried about his country before his final step and then I feel the severity of what we have in our hands, the virus obviously.
A Love Story
Most stories have a beginning, a climax, and a resolution that leads to an end. In the 80’s, I saw on screen many a dying lover confess to a not dying lover the reason behind their pretentious hate towards the undying lover. The dying lover often had cancer, thereby, saving the not dying lover the pain of separation.
Here’s a corollary. If a dying lover were to decide to clarify a doubt of a not dying lover, 'Why is it that you never loved me?' And the not dying lover in one final act of extended benevolence reassures the dying lover, 'But, I’ve always loved you.' Should the dying lover believe the not dying lover or should the dying lover die a less-than-satisfactory death?
Someone said that thoughts of love from a dying person are not suitably macabre.
‘Does it need more horror?’ I ask.
Thoughts of dying love by a heart beating alive and thoughts of a Living God by a heart dying, it seems, make the cut.
An Unforgiving Mother
Over breakfast, she recounted the trick she played last year on April Fools’ Day. Then, she described the trick her friend played on her mother. Biting into an apple, she unfolded the prank her classmates pulled on their teacher. While setting up the table for lunch, she recounted how she fooled her School Van’s driver. Over lunch, she retold one she pulled on her grandmother many years back. Later, she revealed how she had played one on her little brother. Then, with tea, she relayed how her gang of friends had pranked another gang of girls in class. Over dinner, she cried that she could not fool her mother because the sun had set on the day.
That night, her mother cried because she felt she lacked humour.
The Porn Scam
Rose received an e-mail with her password mentioned in the Subject line, the message claiming to possess a recording of her enjoying porn, ‘pay up or see yourself,’ its words threatening. Another friend received an e-mail too.
A quick search on the Internet revealed the scam to have run its course four years back.
‘Desperation for livelihood during a lockdown—recycled scams,’ my friend declared on the phone, sighed, and then managed to change the password that she had put-off tinkering for a decade, in memory of a deep, abandoned love affair, guns@Rose123.
The Cycle of Craving
My husband ventured out for groceries yesterday. It seems our stock, which was meant to last the lockdown period, hadn’t been enough. Either our estimates were wrong or our culinary experiments had taken flamboyant flight. The latter could be due to companionship he and I had discovered after over a decade or due to the humble reason of a lack of alternative entertainment.
But, here’s the cycle of fat that followed. It resulted in working out to deplete the reserves we seemed to be building up which then led to feeding calories into what was lost. There was also, lest I forget, the cycle of munching on snacks because they were wrapped in colourful packets at home unlike at the office. Although, that cycle of snacks also circled around the snacks at the store yesterday, simply because they caught his eye. My husband clearly had to consider exigencies and supplies running out during this period of lockdown, and what if the children craved snacks? Worse still, what if we ran out of staples? A packet of fries wouldn’t offset the diet of a diabetic trying to keep away from a virus that although posed most danger to people with underlying medical problems, would not dare harm someone who owned a gym, now would it?
Today we received a picture of my husband’s father. His hair had greyed. He had let go of colouring them during the lockdown. Maybe, he could not get his hands on a pack of hair colour.
He looked old, and although we knew his age and were aware of the details of his debilitating health, we were taken aback.
I had seen my father’s grey hair a couple of years ago. It had taken my breath away and so I understood what my husband felt when he saw his symbol of strength, weakened.
My husband closed the picture as quickly as he had opened it. The screen of his mobile phone reflected his face and then he touched the crow’s feet at the corner of his right eye.
Ageing a Little
My husband was prescribed spectacles. He purchased a pair the day before the lockdown. He looked old in them and I rued over his declining youth and over forthcoming inabilities.
‘Uncle Scrooge specs,’ I said.
His mother made a video call that night.
She interpreted my laugh as indifference, not as strength. For if she’d seen my heart beat or the memories of a healthy past that had flashed by, the ones I had seen shrivelled with my mind’s eye, she would not have blamed me for my husband’s fated ill-health.
Perhaps mental strength at ageing was appreciated less than mental weakness while ageing. Or maybe because it was as frivolous a thing as weak eyesight. Or was it the expectations from a woman?
Fear of Stepping Out
The lockdown has put in me a fear of stepping out. My family tells me its laziness. 'I should learn from the birds and wild animals who’ve reclaimed the streets after years,' they say. I agree. Perhaps, I should wait for years to pass.
The younger one tries out the older one’s clothes. They fit. The girls walk an imaginary ramp down the hall. They celebrate. They prepare for a party, even though, I scroll through news on the TV that the lockdown might get extended.
The Joy of Makeup
I woke up, brushed my teeth and decided to wash my face with a gently exfoliating scrub. I combed my hair and rubbed in some lotion. Then I lined my eyes with kohl and thickened those lashes with mascara. With lip gloss, I painted the lips and there shone on them a tint of pink. In flamboyant strokes, I grazed those cheekbones with a bronzer.
Through the camera of my laptop, I saw a person I had not seen for the past thirteen days of the lockdown. It seems she was happy to meet people at an online conference.
She Grew Up During the Lockdown
She had twenty teeth before the lockdown. ‘Mumma, I’m big,’ she said.
Today, she has nineteen. ‘Mumma, am I bigger?’
‘Yes, my dear, you grew up during the lockdown.’
A Lockdown Celebration
My birthday was a celebration. The family baked a cake, garnished a biryani with caramelized onions and sweetened the kheer with raisins and cashew nuts. I cut the cake with my parents and sister’s family who were present over a video call. Being miles away, they had stopped attending my birthday celebrations since I had become an adult. Wishes poured in through the day: online messages, phone calls, social media posts. My children gifted me a card with a flower drawn in yellow pencil in the morning, some hot chocolate fudge scooped into a bowl an hour later, a handmade book of assistance coupons made of sheets of paper stapled together with coupons that I could use for free tasks they would perform through the year, a treasure hunt in the evening, a kiss, a hug. Locked indoors, it was a birthday to remember much like the hundred-people party I had with friends at a nightclub last year.
A New Talent
In the mornings, he peeled, he chopped, then grated some and poached others. He also clicked through his e-mails and, after noon, he boiled juicy meats and blanched tough vegetables to go along with the protein. He felt with his fingers stars, ribbed pods, and barks, pure spices that he had lugged for me from his homeland late last year, after which he dunked the chicken breasts and thighs in the fragrant curry those virgin spices had made. The livers, he fried, and the fish he folded in chili paste which he then placed on a rack and grilled.
He ran through Excel spreadsheets and wound up marketing calls. Afterwards, he baked sweets, and those he sprinkled to a decadent finish, like the chef on YouTube had taught, with the tiniest pinch of chocolate powder dotted over white foamy coffee.
He spent his evenings learning new techniques and the weeks acquiring new skills. The lockdown, he spent discovering a new self.
When the locks open, I wonder who he will be?
We have ideals of giving to the deprived during this time of concern and there is kindness in our hearts to respond to a call for charity.
But then we see the people who advise us to give to others splurge on splendor and we are unkind, for we don’t want to be called gullible or foolish. Now depravity writhes within our souls.
The people who called for help seem to have made their contributions through their cries.
There is a sense of hopelessness in not knowing what lies beyond this period.
Hopelessness is followed by days of hope, in vaccines, in trials, in promises, which are, but, followed by failure.
I look for hope rising up on a wave again.
Contagion, E.T., come to pass.
Bruce Almighty—I now believe.
21 Days of Writing
I slip off this undertaking of recording the lockdown. Is it that I have skidded off a wagon which I had assumed would pass swiftly?
‘The lockdown has been extended by 21 days.’
I write, I miss, I twist on my berth in languid curls. I decide to enjoy the esse of this halt.
Bio: It was while working on the corporate ladder that Donna Abraham Tijo’s first short story won a contest and was published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Indian College Students (Westland Ltd, 2011). She then went on to publish her first novella Or Forever Hold Your Peace (AuthorsUpfront, 2014) on a whim. With learnings gathered over the following years, she contributed a short story ‘My Mama’s Girl’ to Escape Velocity (Write&Beyond, 2018). These days she’s adding final truths to her second novel, The Pheeki Lives of Geetanjali and Maryann.