I finished my daily work and was heading back home hurriedly with crisp notes of 5 hundred’s in my soiled hands.
My area smells of dry fish and chicken. My house is made of 4 cement walls and a patraa with holes. The diwaal putty was almost falling off and made a wonderful abstract design with shredded paint. The small cracks on the floor are perfect fissures for the ants. The house is exactly like it is imagined to be for a poor woman like me. My savings summed up to 2000, I was happy. I would get rid of dry roti and finally be able to eat vegetables and rice, a little oil would be in my luck too. The kirana dukaan wala and his son were talking something about a disease. Recently, everyone in the neighborhood had been talking about a new disease; I heard about it at the construction site too-something coronavirus. I didn’t care about it much because the most deadly one for us laborers has always been starvation.
8:30 am the radio started at my neighbor’s house and I walked down the bustling narrow streets towards kaamgaar chowk. It is a junction where we daily laborers line up for employment. I got picked up after 3 hours of longing to god and panting in the sun. I worked hard the whole day using the harmana and setting the bricks. All in a day’s work.
The next day at kaamgaar chowk, policemen were instructing everyone to go back home. A van with a huge speaker announced ‘’Due to coronavirus, a lockdown has been decided.’’ Initially, I didn’t understand the meaning of lockdown and wondered why it was related to the new disease. The van explained what would happen in the further days to come and each sentence spoken broke my heart. How was I supposed to work if everything is shut? I didn’t have savings for 15-20 days. The taste of the vegetable cooked in hot oil and steamed rice returned to my mouth. I shouldn’t have eaten the forbidden Rs 100 meal.
I was wrong; the coronavirus was deadlier than starvation. Coronavirus brought helplessness (another disease) and starvation with it! Afzal bhai was infected with corona and the ambulance took him away. He hasn’t returned since. Seema bai died and her body was taken away along with her family. I didn’t understand what and how to react to my friends dying day by day. Another van arrived and announced, our area had been declared as a red zone. Red was never my favorite color, I liked blue because Lord Shiva was blue. We were given a sanitizer and mask. I had seen sahaab use this transparent bottle before eating lunch. It had a magical liquid like thing which evaporated quickly. I had never imagined I would be provided the luxury of using something sahaab used
After 10 days, I was starving for roti now. A dry one would suffice, a piece would also suffice. I just needed something to eat. Standing in long lines at the kirana wala was useless because he increased the price of atta and other things. Water was my only elixir. Asha Tai, my neighbor helped with a mere sum of 20 rs when I begged her to do so. I couldn’t save money to buy anything from my kirana wala hence searched in another area; the police caught me and scolded me for disobeying them. It was humiliating.
I saw signs and paper stuck on the walls; showing preventive measures for coronavirus.
‘Stay at home’, ‘Maintain hygiene’ etc. I wondered was hygiene going to be a luxury I’ll be able to afford. The filthy public toilet which reeked of urine stink said so otherwise. Coronavirus demanded 6 feet distancing, I couldn’t comprehend how to distance myself from people who lived at 3 feet distance from me.
Day 30, I was almost as weak as a kitten. No food. No money. Additionally, I had been having a problem breathing for 15 days along with dry cough.
Sonu, Asha Tai’s who came to play with me was told to stay away. My neighbors wouldn’t interact with me anymore and deserted me. I felt hurt. It was just a little cough, I meant no harm.
That night, I felt immense pain in my chest; I crawled like a baby to the door and knocked with all the strength in me. All I remember is Asha Tai dialing some number with her mobile. After a while, an ambulance took me away. I waited for the light to shine. I waited for help.