Pandemic and Love
by Asharika Jaward

Sometimes it takes a tragedy to jolt us out of this rosy bubble that we envelope ourselves in and sometimes it takes a pandemic!

Megha tapped impatiently on her table. She noticed that her finger nails had whittled down considerably over the last few days- a reflection of the duress she was under.

Anuk wasn’t picking up.

‘And they say distance makes the heart grow fonder’ Megha muttered under her breath.

If anything, the pandemic had served to show her how brittle everything was- how fragile. In the course of a few months nothing mattered anymore- the pointless arguments, the bickering; it all seemed so trivial now.

She looked down at the papers in her hand. They had wanted to part ways and the documentation had come through but then the pandemic happened and they had ended up stuck apart at two different places. It had given her a reality check, of all the high-ended expectations we have from our life partner. It made her crave for the familiarity- a few stolen kisses, the bone-crushing hugs, the musty smell of cologne and and those solid arms that held her at night.

Ironically, how often do we give up on what we have, in the fixation of what we might?

The pandemic worked in strange ways, Megha realized. For some couples it was a harsh wake-up call of what they had been tolerating so far. Take her neighbours Sama and Dilum for example. Married happily for 14 years and after suddenly being cooped up together for 14 months, their marriage started unravelling under the added strain. Megha would often hear their dispirited arguments well into the wee hours of the night. It was as if the time together had shown them a version of their partner that they hadn’t seen before or as if the pandemic was just serving as a catalyst for a relationship that was already going downhill.

In Megha’s case, the pandemic had quite the opposite effect. It taught her to live in the moment. All her careful planning for years had gone up in smoke and she realized that, that was okay. The milestones that were laid down by adults when she was little and by herself as she was growing up, didn’t matter anymore.

She badly wanted to share this with Anuk; to tell him that she understood his carefree attitude better now that life had turned so unpredictable. How often had he chided her for getting caught up in the rat race.

Yet even as she yearned to set things straight, Anuk was far away on foreign soils, confined to a hospital bed, battling with Covid with no way to reach out to the people he loved.

With a heavy heart she sent out an ardent prayer that all was well with him.

 

******

 

Darshi lifted the lid and peeped inside, a small unuttered prayer on her lips. There was just one spoon left. Maybe she could drag it out for one more day. She could hear little Viyu and Kesara howling in the background. The baby couldn’t understand why there was no milk anymore and longed to suckle at her mother’s breast.

Darshi’s first born- Kesara was growing skinnier each day and it tormented her to see those doe like eyes asking if there wasn’t anything to eat. Janith had gone out to look for some work. Fat chance that anyone would want to employ him in the middle of a pandemic. He would step out each morning like a fugitive on the run, keeping a sharp lookout for the policemen who walked about with their batons in hand ready to beat up anyone who wasn’t complying with the law.

‘Sir, my babies are hungry’ he had once protested.

‘We are all in the same boat. Just stay at home’ they had reprimanded as they beat him black and blue.

It didn’t deter him from looking for some work; some means of keeping death at the doorway. They were both ashamed of what they had been lowered to. They were ashamed to ask for help from their proud relatives, for weren’t they well off all these years and highly looked up to? How agonizing to suddenly become needy when all this time, it was always they who were at the forefront in providing for an ailing relative, a deserving student or a destitute co-worker.

 

******

 

Nadiya had some new tenants moving in. An elderly father and his two daughters. The father had to undergo a kidney transplant. They wanted a location closer to the hospital. Maasi, her mother-in-law had protested about taking ‘unknown’ people into the house.

‘Who knows what type of disease they will bring in!’ she admonished. ‘Think about the little one. My son won’t approve.’

Nadiya stifled a smile. Earlier Maasi would go on about people being from different castes or religions. Since the pandemic her fears had shifted and now her latest obsession was that a dark and dangerous disease would cross their threshold and strangle them to death.

Nadiya took a tray laden with a strong pot of tea up to her new tenants. She left it at their doorstep after letting them know. Pandemic or not, they needed all the help they could get. She turned to go back in when she noticed a frail and wiry man standing in the garden.

‘I’m here for Dhora’ (sir) he said.

Nadiya pointed upstairs. She heard a van start up a few minutes later and guessed that they were off to the hospital.

The wiry man came back first.

He was in a state. It seemed the elderly man had passed away on the way to the hospital.

‘How unlucky I am’ the distraught man lamented. ‘I wanted to save my children. To make sure we don’t land on the streets. I agreed to donate my kidney to Dhora. They promised me a lot of money. It would have paid my mortgage. Alas! Alas! Even the Gods have forsaken us’ he screamed in anguish like a man possessed.

The man’s name was janith and although Nadiya had just met him she could feel his pain- this powerful love of family over self. Who in their right minds would sell a part of themselves to save the people they love?

 

******

 

Ting! A message alert. Megha grappled at her phone. Anuk! He was okay. She thanked her stars. The pandemic was a rebirth- a reminder to give priority to the things that mattered and she felt like a butterfly just emerging from its cocoon.

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