Present Day, Mumbai, India 2020
Young Raman sat dejectedly by the asphalt road. The sun beat down upon his bare-skinned shoulders. The viral invasion that had the world in its grip, was taking a toll on his livelihood. With fewer customers venturing out, he struggled to carry enough cash home. The eldest of five siblings, the sixteen-year-old shoeshine boy was adamant that despite the hullabaloo, he would not close shop. Though unschooled, he had gathered enough knowledge about this pathological entity that had created havoc around the world. Besides, his old Ma yelled out the precautions after him, every single morning.
Just then a bike wheezed past him and halted. A man dressed in the overalls of a popular takeaway joint, came sauntering and stood before him. Raman looked up squinting into the sun. The man wiped the sweat off his brow and regarded him.
“Chal, Chhote*! Earn a buck while we both wither away under the fiery sun!”
Raman promptly complied, pulling his toolbox out. The man watched his young, sunburnt hands moving in a deft, rhythmic fashion, polishing away.
“What do you think you are doing, sitting here taking in the infectious, poisonous fumes in the atmosphere?”, asked the man, suddenly.
“Sahabji*, I live in the nearby Chawl. We’ve had far worse down there. You’d think a small microbe could stop me? We’d die anyway, if I didn’t bring in some money home,” he finished, matter-of-factly.
“True. Or we could die a macabre death by the hands of our own politicians – in a farcical fight in the name of religion! But you know it’s not your common cold virus. It’s insidious and highly dangerous!”
Raman looked up at the man, surprised. But nothing prepared him for what happened next. The man reached into his backpack and out came a brand-new, protective face mask.
“Here, take this. I bought a spare one, just today. They are selling them at such exorbitant prices, the rascals! It’s daylight robbery, I tell you! Anyway, use it, if you are insisting on sitting here all day. Some of us don’t have the pleasure of working from home!” He winked at him, paid him for his duties and before Raman could say another word, the good Samaritan zoomed off into the unknown.
Present Day, Ottawa, Canada 2020
“Is everything alright?”, asked the young woman, nervously. Dr Mcarthy had just finished examining the young woman.
“You are seven weeks already, and perfectly healthy. Both you and your unborn baby,” reassured the elderly gynaecologist.
“Oh, that’s a relief!” A pregnant pause.
“Doctor, is it alright if I could choose to terminate it? I mean, this isn’t the best of times. Perhaps, later?”
The doctor understood the anxiety lining the young mother’s face.
“Well, you could. But it takes a lot to make a baby. And sometimes the very thing you postpone for later has a way of making you wait for it, the next time around!”She smiled.
“Doctor, I am scared,” blurted out her patient.
“I understand. But don’t worry. As long as you take the necessary precautions, you and your child are absolutely safe! And which one of us is promised tomorrow, tell me?” asked the mature woman, with gentleness. As she saw the younger woman’s face crumble, she added:
“’Hope is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all.’ That’s quoting Emily Dickenson’s famous poem – and one of my very favorites.”
She let her cry for a while in silence before the latter thanked her and left her chamber.
Later that evening, she sat alone in her living room. Her wrinkled hands, gingerly, held a document. It was the consent form, a doctor friend had handed her, that very day. It expressed the last wish of her dying husband. The consent on Euthanasia. He had fought long and hard. Now he had grown tired and very, very afraid. As the virus ravaged his already weakened body, it was his only desire to give up on the fight. While he still could. With dignity.
A tear ran down her frail face. She decided to let him go. The darkness of dusk closed in on her.
“But I, too, am afraid, Darling! Of living without you,” she sobbed.
Present day, Chemnitz, East Germany 2020
Mrs Adebayo was returning home from the supermarket when she spotted them. They were heading towards her from the opposite direction. She bowed her head quickly and continued walking. She could have crossed onto the other side – it did occur to her! – but she stood her ground. Yes, there was the Corona scare, but this was pure evil that made her heart quicken. Neo-Nazis. The men drew closer, eyeing her. As they passed each other on the sidewalk, one of them, a bull-necked man with knitted brows, spat out in a thick German accent, “Scheisse*! Bloody refugees!”
The hurled abuse cut through her heart. She hastened her steps and reached her apartment, short of breath.
Old Mrs Schmidt had been watching from her living room window. Having seen her colored neighbor, she too had muttered under her breath. Just then her doorbell rang. She saw the gentle-faced African woman beaming at her.
Oh, her audacity!
“I was out for supplies, Mrs Schmidt! Since I haven’t seen you out much since the Lockdown, I thought I would get you something. We are in luck: A whole pack of toilet-paper rolls!”
She handed them out to her triumphantly.
An awkward silence. Presently, the older woman found her voice.”Thank you.” Then she almost hesitantly, added:
“We are all going to die tomorrow. We might as well die as heroes, heh?”
Ah, Corona, the common denominator!
Adebayo’s face exuded warmth. She made her way up the stairs in an indomitable will.
Dying, undying Human Spirit! For you, it’s another day.
‘Chal ,Chhote’ ~ Colloquial Hindi for ‘Come on, lad’.
‘Sahabji’ ~ Master; spoken formerly in respect.
‘Scheisse’ ~ A German cuss word.
Photo By: Pablo Heimplatz