In Shakespeare’s Hamlet there’s a line – “I could be bound in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space.”
Today is March 26, 2020. On the tenth day of the COVID-19 pandemic. I wake up to birdsong of crested red cardinals, whippoorwills, warblers and woodpeckers. Outside in the garden a cluster of yellow and coral poppies are opening their eyes. A blue jay hops and skips from one branch to another talking to his friends about cherry blossoms. A mallard family is quacking their morning assembly by the lake. A baby frog opens his mouth and then stops in mid croak remembering it is dawn and not dusk. I slowly enter body consciousness after a night of dreamless slumber. By now the birds have finished most of their psalms, I rub my eyes and dutifully join in the last hymnal. I have noticed that since most people and their cars are in quarantine, birds and buzzing creatures have become more prolific in their hum in our shared space.
I pass fingers through my uncombed hair and sip my turmeric and cardamom chai. These days I leave a pot of tea simmering on the stove. They say theophylline and theobromine alkaloids in tea don’t allow the stealthy coronavirus to gain a foothold in your throat. I breathe through both nostrils and blow out the stale air. I think of my mother listening to Gauri Aarti on the other side of the planet. Her baby fine hair is oiled and combed and her soft skin wrapped in banana leaves. Mother’s affect is sweet, her body and aura clean. She says: Your thoughts become more neatly organized after you have combed your hair. I don’t argue with her but draw a comb through my curls and braid them.
I think of nurturing times spent in her company. How she kept me clean, healthy, dressed in hand-stitched and beautifully embroidered frocks and pinafores. She waited for me everyday with a flavorful meal and a delectable dessert to soothe my sweet tooth. Then she listened and laughed as I regaled her with my day in school, college, medical school, on the bus, in the train and later at my in-laws’ place. Mother had a rule. Every garment and footwear worn outside the house had to be put for washing as soon as we returned home. We were not allowed to eat street food and because of this golden edict, we escaped several infectious diseases while growing up in India.
Today when this now airborne virus has spread to 198 countries, infected more than 468, 644 cases and taken 21,191 lives, I am reminded of all the safety precautions mothers instill in their children. This overwhelming disease is causing an insurmountable cost to the world economy!
We are hunkered down in our abodes and are drawing from familiar resources, old medicines, previous epidemics. Let us take this time to pay homage to the creator of this universe and ask the mother goddess to listen to our plea. After all as I am only a half of my mother’s half, so are you and you and you in Wuhan, in Italy, in Spain, in New York, in Los Angeles,in Seattle…. Together we can overcome this by using our collective intelligence.
The Sun has rolled higher in the blue sky and I have finished my tea. I look at the light through the slats falling on the French knotted neckline of my mother’s soft blue dress. I imagine her sitting at her dressing table and deftly kohlIng her eyes, pearling her neck, and twisting the tendrils escaping from her chignon. I can never forget the way she looks at my dad as he holds her hand and leads her out for an evening stroll in the park. My fingers rest on the soft fabric of the blue dress and I hold it up to the sun. I want to put it on but I hesitate. Today I will offer it to the Sun as a salutation from my mother because it is not my time to do it. Take this blue dress on your golden chariot to the blue heavens and ask the blue goddess to provide the healthcare workers with an endless supply of blue protective masks because in this solitary hour as they work and care for the sick we can share our stories of life, health, survival, maturity, loyalty, harmony, stability, and peace to heal everyone.
I am relieved that volunteers are making face masks and the federal government is encouraging citizens to wear masks, not N95s but regular surgical ones, home made, bandanas, scarves, any kind really… anything to cover their nose and mouth and to prevent them from touching their face. Let’s hope and pray that all of us can come together virtually to protect the ailing humanity from this fatal affliction.
Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner. She drew the featured image as a symbol of her love for her father.