Like birds of prey struggling in cages, humans were trapped in their own houses that appeared no less than prisons during the lockdown. Covid-19 gave social animals an experience of unasked house-arrest. This became worse during the monsoon season when Kolkata streets were flooded with murky water from over-spilling drains. The mosquitoes bred freely. The virus spread independently. The death rate rose uncontrollably.
I lived on the ground floor of a house at a corner of the narrow lane. Like every year, one morning, I woke up and saw the water from roads seeping through the corners of my house. Within a few hours, my home became a pool for small fishes and worms. I lived alone. And, my only companion was my gumboot.
I saw my neighbour sit on the veranda alone, with her feet folded on top. I arranged my shoes on the top shelf and removed the cables. I re-arranged my fridge and gave the soaked blankets for washing. And then, exhausted, I finally went to the kitchen to cook my dinner. Just then, my phone rang. It was a call from my mother living in Delhi.
“Beta, how are you? I saw the news of the extreme rainfall in Kolkata.”
“I am living with leech, maa,” I said, “probably a parasite is better than a virus.”
“Listen. Order food. Go to a friend’s place.”
“Maa, the services are disrupted because of lockdown. I can’t go anywhere even if I want to,” I said, “Where is Pa?”
“He’s sleeping. He was remembering you just this evening,” she said, “he went to the door and started saying, I have a flight to catch. Let him wake up, I’ll ask him to call you.”
“Ask him to have his medicines on time,” I reminded her.
“Your sister-in-law has arranged it in containers and labelled them.”
“But you can’t read. And he hates when people mess with his things.”
“But she is very organised, and he is fond of her,” I rolled my eyes as she praised her.
“Okay. Take care of yourself and him. Delhi is a red-zone for Covid.”
I kept the phone. I saw a leech swim near my gumboot, and I immediately killed it with salt. The salt dissolved, leaving no traces behind.
I sat with my dinner on my iron bed. The smell of the damp walls wouldn’t let me rest. Wearing the gumboots gave me cold trench feet, and working in water gave me an aching leg. I had a painkiller which made me drowsy, and I didn’t realise when I fell asleep.
In the middle of the night, I felt someone shake my feet. I sat straight hurriedly. There was a figure standing near the door of my dark room. As it came closer, I lighted my torch. It was my father.
“Pa…pa. Are you well?”
“They left no traces,” his airy voice said.
The apparition-like figure stepped backward and gradually dissolved in thin air as I kept staring. It’s just a dream, I said to myself.
I turned my phone to switch off my torchlight and noticed 27 missed calls from my brother. My heart started pounding loud; I could feel it hitting my head. I called back immediately.
“Didi, where were you!” he said, shouting at me, “Daddy is no more.”
I gulped as my phone fell from my hand and slipped into the water. I could hear a flight go above my home. I was not on the flight. Yet, I met him before he departed. Would they burn him without me, leaving no traces behind?