This story has a happy ending.
(Note: If you look in the dictionary, updated to the summer of 2021, the meaning of happy reads “still breathing”.)
It was Sunday evening and I was feeling feverish.
We were in the third week of April. The city of Delhi had gone into lockdown the day before, with nearly 25,000 people having tested positive that day. Bad news had begun to filter in from different quarters. A week ago, our next-door neighbours had tested positive, and we had amplified our caution since.
Earlier in the day, I’d had a fight with my mother, who was visiting us from Kolkata, and initially I thought it might be guilt. (I tend to lapse into being a sulky teenager around her and the fever, I thought optimistically, was a resurgence of my childhood stratagem for forgiveness.) “It can’t be Covid,” I said, pulling a blanket over myself and burying my head grumpily into the pillow.
I genuinely believed it couldn’t be Covid—even though everyone else around us was getting it. For one, we had stepped out only once in the last week, on errands, and not removed our masks. (Okay fine, I had removed my mask to sip from a small paper cup full of tea but there had been no one in the vicinity.) For another, we were already dealing with a health crisis. S had been diagnosed with Extrapulmonary TB a few weeks ago, and was in the throes of heavy medication. Surely we wouldn’t now get Covid?
I slept badly, the fever rose. In the middle of the night I took a paracetamol.
When the fever continued to wax and wane, I called our doctor. A friend. He knew most of my neuroses. Was this a neurotic fever?
He said, gently, that there was nothing to panic. But we should get tested. We had already quarantined ourselves in our bedroom, leaving my parents the run of the house. They’d had Covid last year and received one shot of the vaccine, but we couldn’t put them at risk.
Even though, of course, it was not Covid.
Things were disastrous in the city. Hospitals were running low on oxygen, people were gasping for breath, dying in great indignity, cremated on the fly. Even getting tested was a challenge. Luckily, the gentleman we had befriended during the hundred TB-diagnosis tests last month, came home and swabbed our noses, having finagled two test-kits from somewhere.
My report came at night. It was Covid.
From the other side of the door, my father said: “Check your sense of smell.”
I picked up my tub of Nivea and held it close to my face. Nothing. I brought it close, so much so that the tip of my nose was flecked in white. Nothing. My heart skipped a beat. To sniff and sniff and draw a blank is a frightening experience. By then, S had a fever too. At dawn, his report came in. It was Covid.
And thus began our quarantine for real. I am not going to be dramatic and say it was imprisonment; it was not. We had our own bed and books and plentiful supply of paracetamols. We had loving meals placed on a chair outside the door three times a day. We had the internet, and I met my students in class one day, lapping up all their affection. We had our phones, and kept in touch with friends across the city and country, many of who—like my editor—had the virus too. We spoke to our doctor at regular intervals. I did feel acute fatigue and S’s temperature came and went every day, unlike mine, which had gone away in 48 hours, but our oxygen levels held. Compared to how bad it was for so many, we reminded ourselves we were lucky.
There were some levities too. For instance, the parent pricing model I usually followed came crashing down. “The milk you buy is `150 a litre?!” my mother thundered. “You had said it was `80!”
“It’s organic,” I shouted back. “The cows listen to jazz.”
The second week was full of dark moods. S was already suffering acutely under the side-effects of his TB medicines and got no sleep. My mind dredged up painful memories from the past and paraded them all day. I cordoned off a corner as my “crying corner”. I even made a list of my (pitiful) worldly possessions and left notes for their disbursement, if…
And then we would hear of another untimely death, or about a friend in the hospital on ventilator, and the mind would snap back into its grooves. We couldn’t be ungrateful; we had been spared. We would open the windows. Outside, even though the unearthly silence was rent by ambulance sirens and the odd sound of police barriers being dragged across the concrete, the sunlight was falling generously on the trees and the birds were chirping merrily, as though it was a usual day in the world.
Author and teacher; her latest book is Friends from College