Hope bloomed as beds of white daisies by the Amsterdam canals. Asmita embodied the effervescent spirit of Spring. She hummed ‘la vie en Rose’, as she bicycled to her workplace. She beamed everytime she thought about Ashutosh’s return from India, in a month’s time.
Asmita and her husband Ashutosh, like many Indian couples had come overseas with the hope of saving for a secure future. Hence, non-essential travel had taken a back seat. However, now that they had worked hard and saved for two long years, Asmita could finally think of exploring the continent. Paris was to be the first to be checked-off from the wish list. ‘What a lovely surprise it would be for Ashutosh!’ Asmita thought.
‘Hello Ms. Sunshine!’ Roeland and Vijaya, Asmita’s colleagues at the pharmacy greeted her.
‘You read about the first case of Covid-19 in Netherlands, Asmi? The man had visited, Lombardy, it seems. We are doomed.’ Vijaya stated.
‘Oh Viji! Don’t say that. The Dutch are very practical people. They will take timely measures.’ Asmita replied.
‘Let’s hope and pray. However, it is a really formidable virus, as you know. Only a lockdown can probably save us.’ Vijaya replied.
True to Vijaya’s words, the virus had multiplied from 1 to 614 cases, between 27th Feb and 12th March.
There were huge queues in the pharmacy store. The medicines were rationed. Asmita and her colleagues were instructed to wear masks and gloves while administering medicines to the customers. Fear was lurking behind most hearts.
‘The government has announced school closure. My husband’s office too has asked the employees to work from home. Some relief. But, look at us, all stuck here. We are sure to die.’ Vijaya remarked.
Inadvertently overlooking Vijaya’s remark, Asmita blurted ‘Today is the 15th of March, right? Guess who’s landing here on the 27th?
‘I am happy your Ashutosh will be here soon. It’s the warmth of love that we need the most in these times.’
‘Oh Viji! Yesterday, during the video call, I saw a helplessness in Ashutosh’s eyes that I had never seen before. I will hold him in my arms and drive all his sadness away, the moment he lands. I don’t care about visiting Paris or Switzerland, anymore.’ Asmita said.
Roeland seemed really upset. He hadn’t greeted Vijaya and Asmita today.
‘Hey, what’s wrong buddy?’ Asmita asked him.
‘My mom was sick. They didn’t test her, dismissing it as a regular flu. Yesterday night, she had to be admitted to the hospital. She is battling against the Coronavirus.’ They could see tears welling up in Roeland’s eyes.
‘I don’t know if I will ever see her again’.
Covid-19 was no longer a news headline but a stark reality of their lives, now.
By 23rd March, the number of reported positive cases in Netherlands had touched 5000.
Asmita was looking exhausted.
‘You are all right, Asmi?’ Vijaya asked
‘Yeah, I am okay. Have got a tiny cold, and been feeling a little tired. That’s all.’
‘Ohhh… no fever, right?’
‘No, no fever.’ Asmita smiled.
‘Viji, you know, India is under a 21-day lockdown? Ashutosh couldn’t fly today.’
‘Oh no! Why did he wait for so long with this wicked Coronavirus looming large in the horizon?’
‘He had to wait till his father was discharged from the hospital after the bypass
surgery. Ashu doesn’t have any siblings, and his mom couldn’t have done it all by herself. Now, I am cursing myself for not having accompanied him. Life is so difficult without Ashu, you know, especially in these uncertain times.’
‘The Corona cases are peaking now. Roeland’s mother passed away, today morning. It’s unlikely that they will let Roeland take care of the last rites.’ Vijaya said, fighting her tears.
Asmita would have normally gone and hugged her best friend but now hugging was off-limits. She helplessly looked at Vijaya, as she wiped her own tears.
Asmita was coughing, every now and then.
‘Asmita, go home and take rest till the cold and cough is gone’, Asmita’s manager instructed her.
By evening, Asmita had a high fever and the throat pain was getting worse. Nothing seemed to be helping. She had doubts that she had contracted the Coronavirus. But, she stayed true to the Dutch advisory, and tried to wait it out by suppressing her fever with anti-pyretic medicines.
‘If only I knew life could be so unpredictable, I would have made good of every moment. I would have spent more time and expressed my love and concern more frequently, to the people who matter.’ Asmita thought.
On the 5th day of illness, Asmita started having respiratory problems. She couldn’t bear to lie down as breathing itself felt like a torturous exercise. She fumbled for her phone and called the medical helpline.
Asmita was almost senseless for the next few days with numerous tubes and needles clamped to her body. Vijaya, Asmita’s emergency contact, had been informed about Asmita and how she was fighting a lone battle against the deadly Coronavirus. Vijaya wished she could see Asmita, just once, but it was not to be. Such was the nature of this merciless virus. Vijaya, too, had contracted the virus but thankfully she was fighting it off without needing a hospitalisation.
On the 6th day, Asmita’s doctor announced, ‘You have been a brave warrior Ms Debroy. If things continue to improve, and I am sure they will, we should be able to discharge you by this weekend.’
True to the good doctor’s prophecy, Asmita was discharged on the 10th day of her hospitalisation.
‘Sweetheart, your lucky wife has vanquished the deadly Coronavirus. Come back, soon. We will celebrate each precious day.’ Asmita told Ashutosh, smiling jubiliantly.
‘So grateful for you, my dear friend. Thank you for the prayers.’ Asmita told Vijaya during the video call. The two friends smiled through their tears.
‘Being alive had never felt so brilliant’, Asmita mused, dangling her feet from her old recliner, and fiddling with her semi-operational TV remote.
Photo By: Thomas Vogel
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