This story is by Mario J Alles and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was 10 days before the Easter Break.
David was a Pipeline Engineer attached to one of the Main Oil Pipelines deep in the UAE Desert. He had spent the last two years working in one of the most barren and desolate landscapes in the Middle East conducting Inspections and Maintenance across the 200 Mile long pipeline. Despite being in a country which boasted one of the most popular and vibrant cities in the Middle East, David’s Job meant that he saw very little of it. Instead he spent vast swathes of his time in self-isolation as he traversed the Sand Dunes in his Truck.
Hailing from New York David had spent most of his life in remote areas. While he still missed the Hustle and Bustle of cities like Dubai and New York he was used to spending most of his time in Isolation. However this land was like no other he had been in. The Desert landscape was both beautiful and Mysterious; a harsh environment for people, animals and plants due to the extreme heat and little resources. Once travelled by the Bedouin, the nomadic desert traveller, the area is comprised of Plains, Sand sheets, Sabhkas, Burqas and Mesas. Standing atop a rock outcrop one would feel all alone in the world with only Sand dunes stretching out in all directions.
He missed his family. His wife and 4 year old Son were based in New York and were awaiting his arrival over the Easter weekend. Besides the traditional Easter Sunday celebration he also had his sons 5th birthday to look forward to. Time may seem to standstill in this desolate landscape, but the rest of the world seemed to be flying ahead. Due to his travel in the remote desert region, news from the rest of the world was sporadic and far between. He took the opportunity to catch up on the News and his Social media whenever a window opened up for Data connectivity but he was always behind the curve.
The first he had heard of the virus was in December when it had first been detected in Wuhan. It wasn’t something to take seriously; he was sure that someone will come up with a solution and it would blow over. Besides the region he was in was nothing like Wuhan. The expert advice of the day was to socially distance oneself and no environment on earth could naturally cater to that like his current one. There was no people for Miles around with hardly any opportunity for human interaction. As long as he could avoid the teeming wildlife just below the surface everything would be fine.
David was on a 12 day field iterinary. This was his last assignment before his much needed break. The assignment was longer than usual and he had had to inspect a section of the pipeline in a particularly remote region of the country. While the journey itself was largely uneventful, he had had to make a minor detour in his truck due to a washed out section of the desert track. This was normal at this time of year; this was flash flood season as the winter chill was ebbing and the landscape became gradually hotter. While he stocked enough fuel and provisions for this assignment things were running a bit low due to the switchback. He was supposed to check in to the next way station the next day in order to complete his assignment. From thereon transport would be arranged for the 300 km journey to the City.
The first time he noticed something was amiss was when he tried to radio the Way station in advance. Abdul, his usual contact at the Way station was not answering the Radio. David kept calling in 30 minutes apart from his truck radio but there was no response. He kept driving through the barren landscape until he could finally see the Way station shimmering in the hot desert air. 40 minutes across the rough terrain brought him to the beaten track that would lead him into the station.
As he drove up to the Station premises, there was no customary shouted greeting from Abdul. David parked his truck, lifted his travel bag from the back and stepped in to the Station. “Hey Abdul… where are you habibi?” shouted David as he swiped his key card and pushed open the door. Silence greeted him interrupted only by the mechanical beeps emanating from the testing machinery. This was strange; the station itself was build to accommodate a group of 10 and had to have at least 1 person on site at all times. David punched in his access codes which authorised him to use the comm systems and dialed in to HQ. Surprisingly there was no response. David decided to use the opportunity to access the Internet to catch up on the last 12 days and thats when the new reality hit him like a freight train.
The virus had spread rapidly causing chaos in its wake and across the Globe governments had taken measures to place countries on lockdown. The consequences of the spread of the disease had yet to be fully grasped however countries were instigating various measure to instill social distancing and quarantine measures to curb the rapid spread. People were being told to self-isolate and avoid travel with airports around the world shutting its doors. His own company had pulled back its field operatives and withdrawn from the region temporarily.
And amidst this pandemonium, David had slipped through the cracks. The stark realization that he was in the middle of the Desert with no other human being for miles around began to dawn on David. Growing up as a city slicker he could never have imagined being isolated in this day and age. But the world had changed in the last 10 days bringing about a situation that was scarcely believable a month ago.
A situation that was expected to be resolved in a few days began to drag on for weeks. David was now completely dependent on the main comms for news and updates on the outside world and in his isolation he could view the morbid changes being brought about by the Pandemic as if in a movie. Despite his ability to communicate with his family a true sense of loneliness began to permeate his psyche. The connectedness of the modern world was a stark reality to being isolated in the middle of the Desert.
As David went through the motions of disbelief, worry, helplessness, frustration and anger for being in such a situation it also made him realise that everyone out there was undergoing the same emotions. While his circumstances were slightly different in a broader sense he was locked in just like so many others in their own homes. His situation was a microcosm of what the world was facing. The sense of frustration was overwhelming at times but people had no choice. Despite David’s desire to break out of his ‘jail’ he was unable to do so; the natural environment was his barrier while Law & Order was what kept the result of the world inside.
David wasn’t sure when exactly things started to change but as the weeks wore on there prevailed a sense of inevitability on the way events were unfolding. And within him there developed a sense of acceptance of the new norm. He was beginning to appreciate the times spent with family and friends. Events that had been an inconvenience took on a new significance and he wondered why he ever complained of attending them. Life’s simple pleasures took on a new significance.
The dependence on technology took on a new significance as well as science fiction of decades past took on a new reality. While it was easy to have a sense of morbidity, the desire to get on with life began to prevail. In his isolated room he began to witness Groups of people stepping up through innovation, courage and dedication to their profession. The manner in which people put aside differences to beat the unseen enemy and to stand up for the greater good was heartwarming. And as time flowed he realised that hope was what kept people moving forwards. And in that hope people will need to keep doing what they have always been doing, but just do it differently. While he knew his family was safe, he awaited the day when he would be able to finally visit them. He realised that when he finally came out of isolation, the world will be a different place. And that this will be the case for everyone who survived the Pandemic.
It was 10 days before Easter Break that the World that he knew changed forever.