I was sitting wearily on the sofa. I returned from college an hour ago. It would be around six or seven in the evening for my parents to come back home. In the past one year I couldn't get well acquainted with anyone in college. It was difficult to get over this feeling of being left out. My parents' company couldn't please me. Moreover, they almost had no time to spare besides their profession.
It was five minutes to six in the evening. Our cook Madhuri was to come right now but she was absent. She made our lunch and dinner every day. My mother couldn't cope with so much labor inside and outside of the house. Suddenly the doorbell rang. Father entered the room as I opened the door.
"Did Madhuri not come ?"
"Still not. She might be late," I said.
My father was a computer teacher in a high school. Mother was employed in a private firm. Despite the father's objection she didn't agree to quit her job. Today mother returned home much later than usual. After some time father asked her hesitantly, "what will be of dinner tonight?"
"Why, didn't Madhuri come ?"
"Oh, then I shall be late to cook. I'm exhausted." Mother told exasperatedly.
"There is no point in doing your job with such hardship !", said father.
"Why should I give up what I've achieved after an immense effort !"
Mother stormed off. The dinner was not prepared on account of this trivial dispute. But like every day at nine ó clock I kept an eye on TV news with my father. "Coronavirus has spread over hundreds of countries around the world"— told a female voice on TV. The matter was getting serious day by day to what we had not much-paid heed even a few days ago. Having had noodles we retired to bed but I couldn't sleep. Someone's existence came to my mind. He did exist but it was as if concealed. It was the existence of my grandfather who had been sent to an old age home four years ago. After my grandma's demise, in the rigors of professional life, he seemed to be a burden to my parents. The person who had a great role in my solitary life was now at an old age home. The night passed with random thoughts.
I got ready for college in haste feeling so drowsy the next day. Madhuri came on time today. My parents left for their own destinations without uttering a single word with each other, though I tried to speak with mother.
Having held three classes a staff came with a notice at college. Everyone's face expressed subdued excitement. Within a minute the declaration of lockdown throughout the state was on every lip; along with the suspension of schools, colleges, and universities. I heard for the first time that everyone has to remain "isolated" in order to prevent the contagion. I was not conversant with the word 'quarantine' before.
I returned home shortly. Mother's anger subsided that night. The suddenness of such social milieu rendered us confounded and those terms 'self-quarantine', 'social-distancing' had become bywords for sheer dismay. Lockdown had been imposed across the country–the undeniable dilemma of life began as well. The mother's office was declared closed rather unofficially. After several days it was no longer possible for Madhuri to visit our house to cook. Therefore the regular duty of cooking devolved on her mother through she didn't hesitate to accept it.
One morning the phone rang up by an unknown number. I received the call.
"Deepankar Roy speaking ?"
"No, I'm his son Soumyadeep, who are you ?"
"I'm speaking from 'Santineer' old age home. I've some important talks with your father. Please give him the phone if he is around."
Giving a brief account of the man I handed the phone off to my father anxiously for the actual reason of this phonecall was grandfather beyond controversy. A stream of evil thoughts flowed in my mind. They argued over something for some time.
"It's a robbery in broad daylight, so to speak that they are claiming thirty thousand rupees for emergencies now! Whereas I paid some advances three months ago !" Father lashed out and shouted hanging up the phone. Mother was standing behind.
"It's just an unfair demand !", she told.
"Even if the money is not given within a week it would bear hard upon them to keep father there !"
Father was simply freaked out getting such poor demeanor from the authorities of the old age home.
"No more! Any further payments would spur them on into doing more immoral acts. I must bring father back." I saw the mother's tacit agreement in awe. Without any prediction, this great decision was made all of a sudden. Nothing had happened with me more delightful than this in the past four years. Obtaining good marks in exams brings only those of hackneyed feeling of elation for fleeting moments.
Within two days father came home accompanied by grandfather but grandfather's face made me sad. A frightening smile hid the distortion of his face. Mother quickly took him inside holding his hand. I comprehended entirely out of any confusion that grandfather's only concern was his son and daughter-in-law might take him to another old age home a few days later — this could be transient happiness of returning home!
Mother and I bowed down touching his feet. He said, "Soumya, it seems you have grown up a lot, meeting after this long haitus." Although I would visit 'Santineer' every year during puja vacation with my parents to meet him.
"Bouma, Khoka are you well ?"
His words failed to reach father's ears rather he took a digression.
"The forty-eight years old familiar city had brought forth its most unusual form. The whole city seemed so dead !"
His eyes evinced disappointment.
A little later mother geared up for making grandfather's favorite dishes at lunch.
Everyone was 'isolated' in their houses. All the negative aspects of the lockdown appeared on TV whenever we turned it on. But the warm amicable company of grandfather never let me feel any semblance of monotony.
Thirty days passed of quarantine since the extension of lockdown. A colleague of my mother's office made a phone call one day.
"Hello...Soma, our company might collapse soon. They are laying off many employees...."
The lady on the line told almost weeping! Simultaneously there was a frown of incredibility on mother's brow. She might not have expected such bad tidings from her colleague. After a long grievous conversation over the phone mother looked once at us blankly and went to her room at a slow pace. Those anticipations of many economists on TV in this regard crossed my mind. I never thought those evil forebodings would fall on us and come true like this. I felt so sorry for mother.
"Bouma, don't be so upset, you have Deepankar", the grandfather said with a tone of consolation.
Now for two days mother had been doing all her household chores along with a sullen-looking face holding her peace. Father didn't dare to ask anything about her job. The quarantine period had brought everything to a standstill.
At present each of us was quite apprised of her not remaining a private employee anymore.
One day at noon while sitting at our balcony two doves alighted on the railing. I was taken aback at the sight for I had not seen any dove in our surroundings before. The outcome of mankind's immurement might have given their open nature back. Unaware of people's ongoing plight they indicated the natural ecstasy by cooing. Two weeks passed; mother admitted the reality. Now her only identity was a 'homemaker'. Was it disgraceful? I don't think so. She called us for the meal and again we had dinner together just like we used to do four years ago. Though the only addition was her cooking and I would not disregard her by comparing it. On that night while reposing on the bed my eyes were focused on the stars twinkling dimly in the sky. A vista of celestial beauty — nobody kept track of how long such view had not been seen in the night sky of Kolkata. Then I remembered these days of captivity. Besides many people's death, economic downturn, and uncertain future the quarantine period would bear testimony to the reconciliation of our family forever. During this time I relished my mother's cooking, got back the company of grandfather, the night sky exposed its true form sloughing off all the pollutions. That's something I had derived from this quarantine and that's all my jaded soul searched for.