Quarantined COVID positive : Rimli Bhattacharya



Like every day I was strolling on the barren field which grew only thorns, cactus and some shrubs—pardon me I don’t know their names. The lone banyan tree stood as a proof that this land had once been dense with foliage. But that doesn’t matter to me. I walk towards the selfie point and pose for a photograph. 


The field housed a two storied, 200 bed hospital and not many knew they were also giving the vaccines meant to fight the Coronavirus. And thus the selfie point.


Amma (mother), don’t take photos unless you are vaccinated”, Sushil mama (uncle) warns me. I give him a hard glare. Neither am I of the age of his mother nor am I of his caste. How dare he calls me Amma? But I keep my mouth shut as he is the only companion of me during these trying days. 


A new family enters. They park their car on the ground crushing a cactus. Good riddance, I thought. May be I can try my luck with them.


“They won’t allow a COVID positive person to enter the hospital. They will throw you out”, Sushil mama who was now sitting under the tree trying to light his beedi (tobacco) warns me.


“They won’t allow a COVID patient...” I mimicked, “then how did you get your first dose? Weren’t you running a fever then? You cannot lie to me.”


Amma, try and understand. You will infect others. Hence this decision of quantum”


“It's quarantine, you shudra (untouchable, lower caste). Learn to spell correctly and then give me your share of advice.  


I hear some noises coming out from the reception area. The hospital was disorganized then, it is disorganized now.


***


It was a Saturday when my uncle called me up saying they are going for the vaccination. I wasn’t even aware. He spoke of downloading some Aarogya Setu app and check the details. I didn’t want to sound like a fool, so I told him I too will get one for myself. 


“But it’s only for people above 45 years or who have comorbidity diseases in them”


“Yes yes, I know I know. I have hypertension”


“Better get the shots for you”


I had never been this ignorant in the past. But ever since I became a widow I have stopped purchasing newspapers. My son is ten and neither does he need a newspaper nor do I. The only thing I knew was there has been an outbreak of a pandemic of some virus named COVID 19. The thing had started since 2010 when our entire working system came to a halt. Neither there were vaccines nor were any medicines, there was death everywhere. 


I too lost my husband. He would keep things to himself and had tried to sound normal. Neither did he allow me to come close nor did he allow our son to go and play with him, as they would on other days. I was anxious. I kept asking him to check with a doctor but he wouldn’t. The thing is he was an obstinate man. I couldn’t even feed him even a morsel of rice, he would only ask for water but that needed to be kept on the floor. He was feeble. Each time he tried reaching for the pitcher I would run to help and he would stop me from getting close to him. On the third day he died. 


Our neighbors poured in. And I was hysterical. I had lost the only earning member of the house.


“Don’t cry Mala. We are there. By the way what had happened to him? You never told us anything. Not even when you stood in the line yesterday for buying vegetables”


“I don’t know myself. He stopped eating and just died”


“Did he have fever?”


“He didn’t allow me to touch him, but he had unrelenting dry cough”


There was a slight commotion among the crowd and one by one everyone left our house telling that they would be back soon. I was scared. We mother and son both sat huddled near the body grieving. No one came. I tried opening my door. First I thought it was jammed, then I realized there is a notice from the municipality dangling on the door: “QUARANTINED COVID POSITIVE”. I had fainted.


Sushil mama, the mortician of this hospital had carried the rotten body two days later.


***


This is the second upsurge of the pandemic. But as my uncle said, we now have vaccines to fight it out. Today is my fifth day of visit to this hospital to get my dose but the staff is completely ignoring me. 


And Sushil mama who is now smoking a beedi is running a fever. He had taken the first dose of the vaccine, still he had developed a temperature and that dry cough. 


“Can’t they understand that I have got a child back at home? I need to cook. Mama aye mama are you sleeping?”


Bola, bola amma bola (say mother say)” 


“Stop calling me amma, shudra”


I go inside to check about the commotion. There is no vaccine. They are asking the couple to call and come. The man appeared powerful. He nearly held the RMO by his collars. I clapped. Good job. The hospital staff have not even bothered mentioning me of the non-availability of the vaccine. They deserved this.


I walk back to the selfie point. Now I am worried. I have left my son alone at home. Not exactly alone but have asked my uncle to keep a check on him.


Aye mama if I get vaccinated the blotch on my head will be erased forever. Aik (See) mama I have never kept a disease to myself. See now, I didn’t have any symptoms except the running nose but still I came leaving my son alone..They should understand.”


I walk towards the banyan tree and sit beside the shudra. I am a Brahmin (upper caste) and this fever has made me stoop to the level of an untouchable.


I didn’t know when I have fallen asleep. The siren of an ambulance woke me up.


I run to see who it is this time.


They are removing a tiny body. It’s covered. I know him. I know him.


Aai ga mama, majha porga (Look uncle, it’s my son). What has he done?”


Mama comes running. Coughing relentlessly he holds me tight. A shudra, a lower caste touching an upper caste. But now it felt soothing.


“Death due to hunger and COVID”, the doctor says.


“Any relatives?”


“No, the entire family has been wiped away by COVID.”


I hold my son beneath the cover. He is at peace. I promise him that I will search my hunt now.


No farewell. No goodbye. Someone will be COVID positive soon. 

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