It’s been a wild ride of a year, with plenty of things after us from a fatal virus to angry murder hornets, and here I thought this would all be over by April. You see when the lockdown started, I too thought “Oh, I can finally work from home. It’ll be like a day off, everyday.” And so I made a plan as I bid my colleagues goodbye for what I thought was going to be a month and charted out my days. Breakfast with a walk in my garden at 8, shower and skincare routine at 8:30, work at 9, lunch at noon as I sit on my garden swing, and switch off from work at 5; bonus: try to squeeze in a quick at-home workout? I was going to reclaim my twenties, build a healthier lifestyle, and rediscover my talents. But work days kept stretching longer and my walks reduced as I started to notice the emptiness around me.
It was a rainy August now and people around me had all gone home. I went out of my house, for the bare minimum of groceries, after which I would take a rigorous shower and keep rubbing my hands dry, till they almost cracked. And one day, they did. It was the 23rd of August and I had woken up with a slight heaviness in the head. I thought it was probably the result of watching Netflix till 3 AM the night before and just shrugged it off as I went about my day. But somewhere around lunch, I started coughing and my throat felt drier by the minute. I checked my temperature and it was an even 100 degrees. Maybe it was the rainy weather?
I continued to stare at the two spreads of a dinosaur book open in front of me. The deadline was ticking closer and I couldn’t figure out for the life of me if the size of the illustration of the Eoraptor placed next to an Iguanodon was correct in scale. I checked my phone for a second, scrolling mindlessly like I did during work hours to keep one hand busy and saw the same daily updates of deaths in my city on the news. They had just become numbers now and somewhere deep down, everyone had accepted the virus as a rite of passage we would all go through at some point.
I checked my temperature again and it had risen slightly to 100.2 degrees. I would’ve picked up my phone and called to tell someone, have them tell me that it’s just a common cough and that I’ll be fine by the morning, but I didn’t have anyone to call. My parents were back home dealing with their own troubled marriage and apart from the occasional news update that they sent me, I didn’t hear much from them.
I decided to get a rapid test and to my lack of surprise tested positive. I wanted to go back home immediately; I didn’t need a reason to stay inside anymore, that was just my way of life. But as I sat in the driver’s seat, I felt my head spin and my vision faded as the lady outside the report centre called out, “Ma’am? Are you okay? Ma’am!”
I don’t know what happened next but I woke up in a tent on a green coloured metal bed with what seemed like a hundred others like me. We were all dressed in a plain white gown and I was suddenly very aware of the pockets of air created by the buttons at my backside. I looked down at my arms to see a thin plastic tube inserted into me with drops of a clear liquid flowing gradually. I opened my mouth to speak, to ask the nurse that walked in from the door facing me about what happened, but my tongue ran dry and I could taste the bitter twang of copper. They came in every now and then, dressed up like astronauts that had embarked upon a journey to outer space. And every time that I thought of saying something, I couldn’t. “We don’t have any more beds available,” I heard them whisper to each other as they stood next to an old man who, like me, couldn’t stop coughing when a violent attack came.
At some point they dimmed the lights of this boxed-in ward, but sleep evaded me. I was transfixed at the black plastic sheets that covered the metal beds underneath and wondered if that was a measure for cleaning or to make the room look even smaller and more crowded than it was. I reached out for my phone kept on the table beside my bed and tried to sit up. I then continued scrolling news feeds for a minute till today’s active cases count came in – I too was a mere number now. Just then I thought I saw something move underneath a bed.
I am aware that I should have just stayed in but I was a little too carefree at this point. I was already infected, what’s the worst that could happen? I slowly got up from my bed and bent down to face the black plastic that hung loosely on the sides. It seemed thinner now, like the garbage bags that I used back at home and just lifted a corner up to find what looked like a bigger garbage bag knotted shut. I pulled at a tie and it opened a little. Something a little pale glistened underneath.
My nerves heightened and I felt a return of the heaviness in my head along with a churning of my stomach. I hope the others don’t hear it and wake up. I pulled at the tie a little more and used my right hand to widen the opening and there it was – I was looking right at the previous occupant of my bed.