COVID and the daughter’s boyfriend
It’s been a few months now since COVID moved into our neighborhoods and made itself comfortable. If COVID could be a person, it would be the tattooed, lip-pierced boyfriend your daughter introduced you to months ago, and you commented privately on the ridiculously stiff and spiky black corona of hair where the part on his head should be. And you prayed that he would be passing through, like others before him, gone by summer, incinerated by warmer weather, poof!
Summer rolls around and the spiked Corona is still around, lounging on your sofa, scarfing up your snacks, and moving his toothbrush and hand sanitizer into the spare bedroom. He’s now metastasized into a fiancée, who has been kicked out of his apartment (all of Europe and the Far East and China) and needs a place to stay—the good old USA.
COVID evokes the same feelings as the daughter’s scruffy, disruptive boyfriend turned fiancée, who isn’t planning on leaving anytime soon. (There’s also a distant possibility of him murdering everyone and decamping with the family silver in the middle of the night, a scenario which keeps you on high alert, all the time.)
So, what is our “new normal” now that COVID isn’t going anywhere? It’s getting neurotic.
The Sneeze at the Grocery Story
I was at a grocery store when I felt a tickle in my nose under the surgical mask. To my horror, it was a sneeze, pushing its way out through my nostrils with a final contraction designed to eject the snot baby into the atmosphere. I didn’t have time to think before I went ‘Achooo!’
When I looked up, I was alone in the aisle. The two people near me had dive-bombed to the floor and were crawling towards the exit. An assistant came running and shouted at me from a great distance, as if I were at the end of a long tunnel. Are you sick, Maam?
“I’m fine,” I mumbled and slunk, full of shame, out of the store.
One would think I had fired a gun—no wait, that was 2019. Nobody is afraid of being shot anymore. Not with COVID around.
The Fateful Trip to the Pharmacy
I was all equipped for this. We’ve been practicing for months, after all. Mask, gloves, goggles (eyes are susceptible too), tight clothing which doesn’t brush against things or people, boots, crossbody slung close to the hip not a giant bag swinging around inviting germs by hobnobbing with other people’s elbows or arms.
CVS, with its blessed automatic doors that slid open without touching, was a haven of social distancing and plexiglass partitions. The pharmacy counter had an extra table between the counter and the pharmacist to ensure over 6 feet of distance.
I picked up my medications and sailed out, soothed by the completely flawless, touchless, encounter with the pharmacy.
I peeled off my plastic gloves, discarded them in the outside trashcan and sat in the car. I was about to turn the key in the ignition when my beautifully constructed germ-free encounter suddenly collapsed.
I HAD LEANED AGAINST THE TABLE IN FRONT OF THE COUNTER WHILE TALKING TO THE PHARMACIST. THE BOTTOM OF MY T-SHIRT AND MY CROSS BODY HAD BRUSHED AND REMAINED PRESSED FOR A TIME AGAINST A SURFACE WHICH COULD HAVE BEEN CONTAMINATED.
I threw my cross body off and flung it on the seat next to me as if it were a vile thing, crawling with germs. What about the t-shirt? The COVID tribe of viruses could be doing a dance on it right now if it had picked up anything from the customer before me, who, now that I thought about it, was an elderly man looking pale and sick, and who may even have sniffled. Now that I was jogging my memory, yes, I was pretty sure he had sniffled. And, he’d gripped the table with both hands to keep his balance.
Where was my disinfectant? I fumbled desperately through my bag—I had forgotten it at home! No, I wasn’t going back into that CVS cesspool of possible COVID encounters! To my horror, here I was, stuck in a contaminated t-shirt, upon which the COVID cannibals could very well be doing a dance in preparation for their upcoming feast—me!
Dare I tear off the Corona virus festival shirt and fling it onto my contaminated crossbody? That would leave me in my underclothes – all saucy lace and frills, bought on Victoria’s Secret special sale – driving home two traffic lights away.
This is the USA, the birthplace of toplessness after all, I told myself. No one bats an eyelid. It was just a five-minute trip back home. Who could I possibly run into, in my car, in the middle of the afternoon? I was going to whoosh home, straight into my garage, and charge upstairs for a bath. I tore off my shirt, hunched over the steering wheel and sped down the road.
At the next intersection I tried desperately to sail through the traffic light, but it was too late. I was staring steadfastly ahead, counting down the seconds and a movement made me glance quickly left. It was my neighbor’s father-in-law Mr. Narsimha, smiling back at me, waving his hand. Mr. Narsimha, who had hosted his grandson’s naming ceremony in early January. He nodded and waved in recognition. Mercifully, the light turned red. I shot out of there like a cannonball and nearly totaled my car speed-swerving into my garage!
COVID almost killed me, but not the way you would imagine!
Jyoti Minocha is a DC-based educator and writer who holds a Masters in Creative Writing from Johns Hopkins and is working on a novel about the Partition.