I read the ‘Work from Home Directives’ with growing trepidation. My data is in the office desktop and I have a deadline looming. Popping my anxiolytics, I curse my fate for the timing of this lockdown, hoping my Company can sustain this economic disaster.
I have started exercising on my balcony. My muscles make noises like a bubble wrap popping, when put in action, but the confinement has necessitated a minimum physical activity. Work from Home gives my brain ample opportunity to overthink, driving me crazy. Every time I sneeze, I worry about the possible contagion.
An old man from the opposite balcony gives me a toothy smile. My anti-social reflexes kick in and I pull the curtains. The rest of the morning, I spend online, campaigning against Chinese on social media and praising ancient Indian civilization. I try ordering food from a local deli and am surprised when they refuse. Now, I have to buy supplies to cook. Great.
The scene outside is surprising. The city really is on pause. We are made to stand at fixed spots like we did during the school assembly. The shops give out only limited supplies per person.
Too sore to exercise after yesterday’s squats, I settle for Pranayama. A mynha coos relentlessly at the railing and I get up to shoo it away. Mr. Toothy Grin is back at his balcony. This time, he tries to wave. I ignore him again.
Corona Alerts on my social media have triggered my panic attack. The number of patients is on a rise. I am convinced I will die, coughing myself to death! Either that or I run out of my rations and starve.
Why God why? I moved to Mumbai after my divorce. I broke ties with my pesky meddling relatives. Made sure they left me alone. Was it all worth this?
I cry myself hoarse in the morning for a full twenty minutes before my mobile rings. It is my sister, Shikha whom I have been avoiding for a month. I pick up her call.
Shikha has convinced me over the phone, that there is nothing wrong going for a walk. I feel better in weeks, as I put on my earphones and set out with great enthusiasm.
Worst decision ever. Shikha is an idiot. A policeman saw me and flung his lathi with a frightening precision. So, here I am at the window with a cup of tea, nursing a painful ankle and a bruised ego. I finally message a few old friends, hoping they will reply back and ask how I am coping.
I set up a paint board and decide to resume my old hobby. The Myna is my subject. After being at it for two hours, I have to admit, painting helps with stress better than pill popping and mobile surfing. Eventually, my thoughts drift to Mr. Toothy Grin. He has not ventured out in the last few days. Hmm.
I got added in my school WhatsApp group and have been chatting with a few old friends making my days a smidgen more cheerful. The exercises are helping; my tush hurts less with every stretching session.
I peep through the window hoping to see him. But no one turns up. His plants look withered too.
I take a stock of my dwindling supplies. A trip to the grocery is need of the hour. Dressed in a mask, rubber gloves and goggles (which are completely unnecessary but look stylish), I venture out of my society. On an impulse, I decide to pay the old man a visit.
The security helps with his name and flat.
His wrinkled face bursts into a smile as he sees me.
“Didn’t see you at the window and got worried.” I am horribly awkward. “I am heading to the Market. Would you like anything?”
“Thank you dear. I have bad arthritis. Could you please refill my prescription? My pain is getting worse.” I nod. “Do you stay alone?” I ask.
“I lost my wife to a heart ailment last year. The senior citizens in this society are my family now.” I felt like a low-life for avoiding him all this while.
Shyly, he makes one more request.
“Mrs. Kotecha stays on your floor. Could you give her these? ”He hands me a packet of Oreo cookies. “They are her favourites. It’s her birthday tomorrow.”
Touched, I promised to deliver the biscuits and leave with his prescription and grocery list.
Walking out in the open after thirteen days, I think about the old man at the mercy of his medications, and no one to check on him. A few homeless people loiter on the roads looking hopefully at my packages. I had read about the daily workers being worst hit in this nightmare and realise I am among the lucky few.
“Mrs Kotecha?” An elderly lady who opens the door nods. I hand over the packet of Oreos. “Mr. Tarachand has sent those for you. Happy Birthday.” I wish her.
She perks up and takes my hand. “He is a sweetie. My son won’t get them for me, I am a diabetic, you see.” Great, I have bought her poison.
She seems to read my thoughts. “Don’t worry dear, I won’t eat these all at once.” Like a naughty child, she looks around and takes out a toffee from her pocket. She presses it in my hands as a tip for my errand and shoos me away before we are caught with her bounty.
Mrs. Kotecha waves from my balcony. Mr. Tarachand jauntily waves back. She has become a regular visitor. Two of us at my balcony and Mr. Tarachand at his balcony have tea together every morning, as the myna chirps in the background.
At peace with myself and full of gratitude for the universe, I thank my fates.
Photo courtesy: Fa Barbosa, Unsplash
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