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Year 29 of the COVID Era - A Short Story - السنة 29 من التقويم الوبائي: قصة قصيرة




Autumn – Year 1 of the COVID Era


Raisa sat in the veranda and had breakfast with herself that Friday morning: an omelet with a few parsley leaves was what she fancied. Next was the cup of Ceylon tea with dried mint but its usual taste was diminished by a measure or two; sugar was in short supply, and money hard to come by or save. Early in the summer, the education district decided to close the school where she worked a cleaner as only eight pupils registered for the upcoming year. Raisa felt like she was in no-gravity zone, sitting astride between two limbos. As she gazed into the horizon, it looked interminable and impenetrable. It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. There were a few blessings for her to count. Her tummy was starting to bulge big time already; she was into her sixth month of pregnancy. Come February, she was hoping to give birth to twins. “O, yeah, twins”, she whispered, “that would be sweet”; she was a twin herself, and her only brother migrated to a foreign land far beyond the Godaa Mountains, many, many years ago never to come back. She didn’t want to dwell on the thought too much, … This was to be her first birth; she was in her late forties, and was glad things turned out to be the way did and were going smooth, thus far. The brouhaha in the veranda that Thursday afternoon some seventh months ago was still echoing in the chambers of her mind. It was her wedding day, the celebration was frugal, and it didn’t matter; only a few were in attendance, but there was reason enough to celebrate. After all, she had waited for the best part of thirty years for this moment to happen. And happen it did.


Her husband Emorre outlived that moment only by some five months. His departure happened inside two weeks. There was only she and an elderly couple at the cemetery for his burial. And there she was, once again, on her own, to face how time would pass henceforth, with no companion. In a manner of speaking, it was the start of an unchartered road into the strangest of terrains. At 8:3, the sun was so radiant she felt it in her spine and neck, and her eyes turned southward, away from light. Precious little noise came from the few neighboring houses, except for the intermittent barking of hungry dogs, the warbling of larks, and the clucking of Mrs. Solana’s chickens in the outer edge of the hamlet. The hamlet was a time capsule mostly unaffected by anything or anyone beyond its limits, but Raisa’s household did have a 50s battery-powered radio. Its antenna was broken at the base; FM stations could not be received after it sustained a fall. It had one single medium-wave station that was barely audible, but Raisa often glued her ears to the speakers and heard voices discussing what to her ears sounded like the Kuronaa Virus and something they called global warming.


And indeed, she felt it was getting warmer by the day, something unwitnessed in her whole lifetime. A lockdown decree had been enforced three weeks ago, and life came to a standstill. The pandemic hit the area hard, and by the look of it, several homes in the surrounding Zolofary Province were abandoned. The few farms where almost everyone and her brother worked also became desolate; their owners migrated God knows where; the last rain season only brought few wandering clouds at which the remaining squirrels gazed as though asking for a few drops to bring life back to drying shrubs and sugar canes on the banks of the creek nearby, but their prayers were lost in the increasing haze of the Zolofary sweltering afternoons.


In the morning, Raisa could still see clearly through the fog when she stood by the door in the veranda but in the afternoon, as the haze often closed in, and she could barely see the shapes of the few houses scattered in the vicinity. She knew there was nothing wrong with her eyesight, or at least she thought so, until one evening, when the sun was setting, haze intensified to an extreme, and the heat got far beyond her ability to adjust. That evening, she believed she saw silhouette-type shadows dragging their feet slowly in the distance. They were meandering like amorphous shapes with no purpose in life or death. She decided to cut the last two stalks of dates on her only palm tree, and then she brought all her yard tools, a water hose, a spade, an axe, and a wheelbarrow inside the house. She used whatever she had inside the house to barricade the door, and made up her mind to hunker down, and not step out again.


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Winter – Year 2 of the COVID Era


In the next few days, winter settled in, officially, by the count she inherited from the elders of the hamlet, and it wasn’t like any winter she’d known. It was only winter in name. It was as though the sun was at the zenith all winter-day long. So intense was the winter heat inside the house that it became inhabitable. By early December, Raisa took courage, dug into the space of her bedroom, and built something of a basement of less than four cubic meters. She knew she had to be strategic about it, prepare for an indefinite period of lockdown, and so dig this quite close the water well, now only half full. She placed the water hose just above the bottom of the well and extended it all the way to her cubicle to suck into it as needed. Her eyes were getting quite used to the darkness, and time, as we know it, started to lose its conventional meanings. She no longer could hear the cook-a-doodle-doo of the roosters, nor the barking of dogs or even the shrill owl hoots, and it dawned upon her that she might be starting to lose her ability to hear too. Her universe was morphing in ways she could still come close to grasping, but, of course, there wasn’t anyone else around to interact with, and so, as a matter of rule, when she was awake, she spoke to the fetus now in her seventh month; her words were seldom vocalized and seemed diverted, through some unfathomable power, from her vocal cords right into her womb.


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Spring – Year 2 of the COVID Era


One time stretch, after what seemed to her like an extended sleep, she woke up, and found that while lying fully stretched on her back, she could just as easily touch the bulging in her tummy as feet plates. It was only a while ago, she reckoned, her hand could only go so far down as the middle of her thighs, but this mutation sent a shudder through her shrinking spine. She stretched her hand to the stalk of dates just above where her head was lying and picked a handful of dates. To her surprise, she found she didn’t need more than one or two in a long while. Though she was isolated from the rest, she was happy in the knowledge she had enough reserves to cover an indefinite period, and she still had enough energy to dig down.


Digging she did. This time though, it was more like the digging of a hole straight inward, and into the womb of the earth. The heat from above was still intense, and it seemed she needed to reach the kind of optimal climate where it neither hot nor cold. With time passing, he was also getting slimmer and smaller, and her bone malleable like a worm. On the way down, she found a layer of clay with lots of spiral-like seashells of varying sizes. She thought that under different conditions, these shells, like her, might hold life inside them. Shortly thereafter, she found she too had gotten so miniscule and succumbed to a long sleep inside one such shell...


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Summer - Year 29 of the COVID Era


The world was still. There was neither light nor darkness. The sound of silence was everywhere, but there was no one to hear it. The hands of time, too, froze, and ticking didn’t exist. It’s been eight and twenty years since Raisa oversaw her self-burial, and she hasn’t woken up from inside her shell ever since. There was barely any conscience to witness the tectonic plates laboring, screeching, pushing hard against each other. The epicenter was some sixteen kilometers beneath, between Godaa and Raisa’s once hamlet. The earth groaned, belched, ejected her load from off its the womb, a new mountain-like shape with no name still. At the foot of this shape is a streak of muddy water chirping and intensifying by the hour. Somewhere on the escarpment were seashells and lots of things the wind would uncover.

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