The Mask-less Janitor
The Mask-less Janitor5 mins 37 5 mins 37
“Bad news, Mr. Brown”, the doctor announced handing over a report to a gobsmacked person, who looked wan and white with fear, his hands trembling as he received the report. Even though he knew what to expect he lowered his eyes to the wordings in the paper just to be sure. This wasn’t right. Maybe the testing kit was faulty? He has been tested positive for Covid-19.
The doctor’s eyes crinkled in what appeared to be a smile but were concealed by the mask.
“There’s nothing to worry about”, he placated. “Just another battle to win”, he attempted at appeasing Richard who still sat open-mouthed with shock. “You have to put in a few more days at the hospital. Fourteen at max. That isn’t a hard thing, is it? Now, you’re just 25 and belong to the low-risk category; hence, you have a higher percent chance of recovering.”
Richard stared at the doctor, his face uncomprehending.
“I hope you didn’t violate your quarantine?”
“No, I didn’t. I was staying with my girlfriend”, his voice cracked with emotion.
“Well, the cops will be right here to enquire about your quarantine stay and prepare the route map. So, suit yourself”, the doctor informed before leaving the room. Richard got up from the stretcher, his face in his hands, unbelieving, hoping against hope that all this would be a nightmare and that he would wake up to find Liz lying by his side, her soft hair tickling his face. But unfortunately, it wasn’t.
Would I have passed it to Lizzy? No way! Please, God, spare her, he thought.
It was the eighth day of isolation. Turning his head, he acknowledged the entry of a janitor approaching the room, disinfectants in hand. For a moment, his eyes rested upon her; something about her struck as odd yet she looked normal; her brown eyes squinted to shield her eyes from the spray of liquid, hair tied into a bun, her uniform hanging off her thin frame.
“What?”, she snapped, her reedy voice tinged with annoyance as she caught him staring at her.
Richard jumped out of his reverie, looking abashed.
“I’m sorry, I was just...”, he stuttered, looking away from her, color rising to his cheeks.
“Ogling? Is that the word?”, she asked a hint of sarcasm in her tone.
“No, absolutely not”, he blurted. “It was just… there’s something...”, he trailed off.
She looked at him her brows crinkled with confusion.
“Oh yes!”, he exclaimed. “You’re not wearing a mask. I was trying to figure out what looked odd. Well?” he raised a brow.
“Shortage”, she replied tersely, wiping the counter on which tonic, tablets, capsules, and medicines were placed. “Preference is accorded to the front-line workers.”
Richard nodded in reply, contemplating the situation. He wasn’t sure if masks could act as a weapon against the disease, but it felt somewhat essential. If she did not have one, does it make her more prone to the disease? he pondered.
Thanking the doctor and the nurses, he departed, eyes teary with gratitude. Hoping none of them would contract the disease, he walked out to the starry evening, shuddering as cold air brushed his face. Embarking the vehicle, he began the journey home.
Taking the back seat as per guidelines, he peered out the window. The world was tranquil; completely motionless and hushed. Only the sounds of nature, which was earlier muffled by honks and horns, remained; birds chirping, the rustling of grass, the swishing of wind, branches creaking, trees swaying, the river flowing. The stark reality struck him. Earth was witnessing a volte-face; humans, which once thrived, with blatant pride and ugliness is now replaced by the creatures which were forced to remain in the shadows, intimidated by humans. We who ruled the world, the fearless, the invincible, the omnipotent, the omniscient, the omnipresent setting out to conquer the universe had been vanquished by a nanoscopic virus. How mortifying!
Slowly, he crept into the house, dragging his suitcase with him after bidding adieu to the driver. Applying a dollop of sanitizer, he scrubbed his hands before slowly turning the door handle and slipping inside, locked it behind him.
“If it isn’t spaghetti Bolognese”, he drawled, watching Lizzy set the table for supper.
“Richie”, she breathed, running toward him with open arms.
He was engulfed by a bear-hug and he hugged back, lifting her off her feet. For a moment, they relished the oblivion they were pulled into; each ensconcing themselves in each other’s warmth unbeknownst to anything that is happening around nor things that happened nor bothered about things that would happen.
“I didn’t hear you coming”, she said, her voice muffled.
Pulling asunder, he smiled.
Weeks passed. The janitor had experienced severe symptoms of Covid-19 and even before it was confirmed, she knew she had contracted the disease. From where she had no clue. There had been an inflow of Covid-19 patients the last week and though she had maintained distancing and washed her hands thoroughly every twenty seconds, the lack of adequate personal protection equipment remained a black dot. She knew she couldn’t afford the cure. And her only property was mortgaged. Which means, fingers crossed.
She has exhausted nearly three-fourth of her savings on the treatment up until now, though it was only the fifth day. Lying on the stretcher, she began musing.
The janitor was completely willing to give herself to death and was more than happy to remove her wretched self from this world.
Maybe death frightened only those people who had to leave something behind. A child, husband, parents, or maybe some property or at least a friend. It was all her fault, she knew it. Maybe being infertile, wasn’t but that sense of insecurity she felt lingering around her, demolished her life. The PTSD she is still suffering since the divorce had not yet been healed. Or maybe she was too afraid of negligence, ostracization, exclusion.
She was jolted from her thoughts by a caretaker approaching the ward.
“Here”, the woman handed her an envelope and a parcel.
Wide-eyed at the prospect, she wondered who it might be. Who sent ‘her’ a letter? What an idiosyncrasy!
Embrangled and piqued at the quirk, she opened the parcel with curious hands and was astounded to find bills neatly arranged in it along with a small pouch that contained a cloth mask. Pulling out the letter from the envelope, she read:
Hope the money will meet all the hospital expenses. Wishing you a speedy recovery! Good luck!