This night was yet again a monochrome of mangled dreams; bizarre, vicious and chillingly real. It always ended with me trapped in a cold, lonely mountainous terrain and being tossed from the hills into nothingness. As I plummeted downwards at top speed, the desolate landscape echoed my screams…
I woke up, wincing and shielding my eyes from the harshness of the sun, gasping for breath. Sweat pouring down my face and completely drenching my kurta, I sprang from my bed, wiping off the perspiration .Shaking my head, I splashed my face with cold water and sitting by my window, I looked out, sipping the hot Tulsi tea Ma had silently left by my bedside.
The fragrant notes from the brew wafted up to my nose in swirls and smoke that took the shape of her; Purnima….
I closed my eyes as she hopped and pranced before me as a bubbly school girl in pigtails, then in to a striking young woman, with eyes full of rainbows and stars and today…
My eyes flew open, flooding up with tears. How could everything change in a matter of seconds? I stared ahead, my mind going back, to when it all began, to the beginning…
The beginning when that terrible phone call came to me from ‘The Wuhan Medical University….’
Wuhan Medical University
It had been a deceptively non-descript day. The only hint to doomsday would been the sky that had looked peculiar with the agitated clouds transmuting into strange shapes, as if trying to say something…
Tonight, as I tossed around restlessly, a stranger called fear, crippled my senses. Conflicting, confusing thoughts chased each other even as Professor Chang’s baritone words earlier in the day, echoed in my ears, “The virus, has spread way beyond control. We have been advised by the government to ask our foreign students to hurry back to their homeland before the borders close. Goodbye, my friends…”
I got up, knowing sleeping today would be impossible.
My final year exams were around the corner and this calamity had destroyed all the hopes and dreams of a small-town girl who had worked hard to have those two magical words, ‘ Dr’ being appended to her name that too from the prestigious Wuhan University.
With a heavy heart, I decided to go home. Who would I turn to in this difficult time except my best childhood buddy, Ambar’s…
Her name flashed on my phone and I immediately sat up straight like an overcharged electric rod! Abandoning the file, I was working on, I closed my eyes and putting the phone to my ears, eagerly sought to hear her,” Hello Ambar….”
I know an idiotic grin must have spread across my face as I crashed into my swivel chair and allowed her husky, breathless voice to wash over my senses, as always…
But today, the urgency in her voice, rang alarm bells.
Controlling my anxities, I assured her that I would arrange everything for her safe return in Bhilwara.
And on the day she arrived, her parents, were more than happy to let me pick her up from the airport.
She all but ran towards me, greeting me with her trademark bear hug and chattering to the dozen!
O, I loved everything about her and was so glad she was back. As I escorted her back home, I resolved that I would open up the veiled floodgates of my childhood emotions and would place my bare, pulsating heart at her feet…
“Aaru, I am back home. Everything’s good. This is perfect, isn’t it?”, she chimed in her musical voice.
She couldn’t have been more wrong….
“Mom, I am back”, I shouted in exhilaration as I entered my house and threw myself over mom and dad! They came running to me and we hugged each other like those best friends who were meeting each other after a long exile!
The aroma of hot kachoris wafted in the house and beckoned to me to devour them, ” My favourite! Mmmmmm “
As I took a bite, my eyes closed in appreciation and gratefulness at being back.
I also planned to hop onto my darling, my Scooty and roam around my beloved city where I had spent my entire childhood! It was the textile hub of our country; quaint and peaceful. How lovely to explore it again!
O life is good!
Had I spoken too soon?
For, the next day, I had the telltale signs of a brewing sore throat and cough. I thought it must be due to weather change. I had innumerable herbal concoctions prepared by my mother and underwent steaming too but my condition seemed to only deteriorate. By the next morning, I was running a fever. At my father’s behest, we visited the doctor. He prescribed the usual goods for flu and asked me to follow the general precautions so my parents don’t contract the viral too.
But, the morrow had other plans….
The following day, one of our more reputed hospitals had declared that twenty – two people, including some of their doctors, nurses, attendants and a few patients, had all been diagnosed with Corona. The hospital had been sealed and a curfew was declared in our small town, effective immediately.
My heart suddenly felt like lead. My body went cold, hands felt clammy.
My mother switched on the television and every channel blared, “The borders of Bhilwara have been sealed, due to a sudden Corona virus explosion!”
The question now, of whether mine was just a due-to-weather-change fever or I had the dreaded Corona, gnawed at me, uncomfortably.
But what if…what if all this had happened because of me…?
Before I could solve this riddle, the bell rang omniously, making me jump. I opened the door with hands and legs shaking.
The city’s health officials stood before me. They had traced me through my travel history. They took my swab test and asked me to self-quarantine until we knew for sure. Those waiting hours were the longest of my life…
I received a solemn call soon after that I had tested positive but small mercies, my parents tested negative!
Since I was the only one to be tested positive, amongst the others who had flown along with me from Wuhan, technically, I was ‘The Virus’! So, I was given a list of instructions and was asked to pack and be ready for quarantine indefenitely.
With jelly hands, I got prepared and was soon taken to the hospital as prisoner…
But what really broke me was that look in my parents’ eyes and how barricades and signboards were put around our house, making them ostracized as well.
I looked at Ambar’s house longingly, missing him so much. But somehow, I felt calmer just thinking about him.
As the vehicle took me far far away from them all, I helplessly looked behind at my parents with tears in my eyes. This was all my fault. I should have never come back. I had unwittingly become a bane for my people whereas I had wanted to become a doctor to serve my country. O how horrid!
Ma Durga, where are you??
I have never hated myself as much as I now did. How could I not be there when she needed me the most? I paced my room like a caged animal, hating myself, boiling with impotent rage at everything. Especially since, we had lost all contact with her now. It was a horrible waiting game….
What compounded it all, was that as cases increased in geometric progression and the virus went on a rampage, infecting all and sundry, people developed an extreme hatred for Purnima, proclaiming her as the carrier of evil, the root cause of this crisis. The internet was spewed with venom and death wishes for her. The only assurance was that Purnima would be blissfully unaware of ll the venom..
Helpless and imprisoned within my four walls due to the lockdown, I merely existed, eating and drinking just to keep body and soul together. I was grateful my family understood and left me alone, while silently supporting me. We made sure that Purnima’s parents had all the essential supplies and called them several times a day to ensure they didn’t break down.
I took care of everyone except the one person I so badly wanted to….
I sent her many voice messages of laughter, of hope, of jokes, imagining she heard them and they gave her strength.
O someone give me a wand so I can make everything alright….!
There was no longer any difference between days and nights; both equally wretched. I burned myself between my office work, thinking and praying for her. And sleeping in snatches, that too riddled with nightmares but always hopeful to hear some good news.
And then one day, the news came.
Purnima was now on the ventilator. The prognosis was hopeless.
And then placing my head in my hands, I cried…
Everyone was very kind to me and I was taken to a clean room and bed and treatment was begun immediately. It felt strange and terrifying to see the doctors hovering over me in PEP kits and the uncertainty of it all.
I placed my hand over my heart, trying to stop its thudding.
I lay down on her bed weakly.
The virus had started showing all signs to mark his territory as I felt like somebody had sucked me of all my energy.
I was all alone in my room. The blank walls, my only companion. It felt strange and terrifying to see the doctors hovering over me in PEP kits and the uncertainty of it all..
. An indescribable pain had started gnawing at my body. Ants crawled in my throat, making it impossible for me to swallow. A terrible, throbbing headache, high fever accompanied with delirium and severe body ache, especially the joints; Ah! the virus had started playing its role.
Tears rolled out of my eyes incessantly. I had dreamt of serving my nation as a proud doctor, but alas! Now, I was the primary reason for bringing tsunami to my beautiful abode. I should not have come back, I should have died there….
I threw my glass on the floor, deeply agonised. Like the broken glass shards, my dreams lay scattered, which could never be stitched again.
Suddenly I felt breathlessness, as if someone was strangulating me. I tried to breathe, only gasps….I pressed the bell, pulling every ounce of me together and collapsed.
There was panic all around and I was shifted to the ICU. My Oxygen levels had greatly dipped. I was put on the ventilator. It felt like the room was swimming around. Part dark, part light, something, maybe life? was slipping away like sand….
I remembered him as that shy, smiling guy, sharing his lunch with me, tackling the bully, cheering me, comforting me that everything would be fine.
Was this love? I wondered. He had always been my best friend. Supporting me in my every decision, picking me up whenever I failed. Ohh! I realised this only now, when everything was going away. Everyone knew, I can see it now It was only me who couldn’t see it at all.
If only God would spare me just one chance, I would tell him my feelings, how I never realized until now, what I really feel for him!
My breathing became more labored. Each struggling breath said Ambar, Ambar…
Everything went black.
I rubbed my eyes as the morning rays kissed me. I looked around, squinting with disorientation.
Ahhh! It was unbelievable but I was alive, out of the ICU, back in my old hospital room, breathing!
Frenetically, I searched for my phone. I didn’t want to miss the chance bestowed upon me.
I grabbed the phone, messaged my heart’s content to Ambar:
It was just another day, drab and hopeless.
I rubbed my eyes in disbelief, trying to make sense if it all when I received a video call from her.
I switched on my video with trepidation.
Voila! There she was. My eyes bled, seeing her resembling a bag of skeletons. But nothing could take away the fire from her eyes.
We simply stared at each other for ages, tears raining freely, in complete silence.
Words had no business here, when eyes and hearts did all our talking.
And then, Purnima mouthed a silent, ‘ I Love You’ tracing a heart in the air.
Thank you, God….
I was immersed in my office files, occasionally recollecting and smiling at how far we had come. When my wife, Purnima appeared from nowhere and kissed my lips noisily.
Just then my teenaged daughter happened to chance upon us. And with a disgusted expression, said haughtily “Get a room guys!”
I blushed furiously.
But Purnima shot back, her eyes glinting wickedly, “We will!”
I blushed even more…!!!