Contagion: A story by Preethi Warrier
She tried fighting back her tears as they packed him, her husband of ten years. It was just last night they had cooked dinner, watched tv, and put the kids to sleep. He had complained of some uneasiness in the middle of the night, she had struggled to get anyone to help. In her locality, with hundreds of shanties huddled together, strewn across a few cents of marshland, the contagion had claimed a few lives and rendered many infected. Amidst the lockdown and panic, even the closest neighbors hesitated, she had somehow managed an ambulance.
In less than an hour, they declared it was a massive heart attack, but when she suggested calling her relatives, the doctors refused. Wasn’t their fault, the hospital happened to be in the red zone, the beds were overflowing, they needed to be careful.
In the early hours of the morning, her husband was cremated, with none of his siblings or friends to accompany him in his last journey. There weren’t any last rites, just her and the dreaded carriers. She had in fact discouraged his parents to travel from their hometown, what for, she thought. They wouldn’t see their son again, then why risk their lives?
But then back home, her kids would be fast asleep. She had to gather them, the contagion had denied them a last glimpse of their father.
She collected his ashes and rushed home. The relatives were calling incessantly, she was confused, afraid.
Her daughter raised her head, “Hi Ma, where’s father?”
Her little son rubbed his sleepy eyes and embraced her.
“After you left last night, the aunty next door wanted to know if father had covid, and if we were all ill. Once we closed the door, I heard them advising their kids not to play with us, to lock us inside…Does he really have the disease mother?”
She broke into tears, she could now finally cry her heart out. Less than a few hours and her entire life had turned topsy turvy.
But she knew she had to be brave, she had to survive, for the two of them. A while ago, she had no clue how she could handle his demise, but she had. She wouldn’t bend, she would start with eradicating the stigma around the contagion, trying to calm the anxiety and end the discrimination against those who were being shunned by the society thanks to an illness.