This story is by Tahmina C Islam and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
During her childhood, Tamara’s dad shared with her his story of a near-fatal accident. Passing through the mountains, his train got derailed and fell off a steep cliff. As a young boy he enjoyed the long stretches of the journey on his way to boarding school, travelling through the scenic, winding, mountainous tracts of Shillong, Meghalaya to Lucknow in northern British India.
He remembered laying on the steep slopes with the wounded, not even knowing he would survive the night before help came. Several days later, he vaguely remembered when his younger brother was standing next to him. He realized he was alive and breathing in a hospital bed.
She could only visualize the scene when they travelled to the north of Sweden. They went by the Arctic Circle night train from Stockholm to Narvik in Norway. It first passed through stretches of scenic forests until it reached Kiruna in Lapland above the Arctic Circle. Then it crossed through the mountainous regions of Bjorkliden, Abisko and Riksgransen, the sprawling ski resort. The landscape was stunning with snowcapped mountains, the endless sky and deep gorges below.
When the train moved along the edge of the cliff, they felt perched high up on the mountain top. They rushed to the window to catch a view. It reminded Tamara of her dad’s calamity and got instant goosebumps.
Down below, they could see a hairline fjord, winding its way to the harbour of Narvik, which lay on the shores of this Ofotfjord, opening into the Norweigian Sea.
She thought, “What if an accident occurred? Maybe we end up hanging on the cliff’s edge between life and death, in the manner her dad had described.” It was a scary thought!
Childhood stories remain in your memories until such a fate knocks at the door. As fate had it, her son’s flight to come home for vacation got cancelled. News broke out of a virus spreading fast around the world, called Covid-19. EVERYTHING ON NEWS WAS COMING IN PATCHES, FROM THE EAST IN WUHAN, CHINA, TO IRAN, ITALY and FRANCE, Now, it affected New York in the US too. The first news of lockdown of major cities and air-line closures made headlines in the world news! It was like a deadly war.
A strange emptiness had taken over her, as she thought how she lost her dear husband only the year before, from a major heart attack. She checked the outbound flights from her country. They were open. Instantly, she decided for an onward journey to New York where her son lived.
The first available flight, she found, was the very next day. She had a teen-age daughter, and together she was quick to pack minimum clothes and left for the airport. They were careful wearing masks, using antiseptic lotions and keeping a distance from people. These instructions came at the last minute with the tickets!
When she reached Dubai she learnt her flight was the last outbound from home. The airport appeared deserted. People were tense. She worried whether it would strand them in Dubai. As never before, a monster virus threatened humanity!
When they arrived at JFK, she was happy to see her son. “She was she lucky to have her little family together and safe again,” she thought, looking out at the empty streets from the car window. She arrived just before they announced lockdown in NY city. It hit badly on the city. Everything appeared dim in the dead of night.
People lost all contacts between themselves as the television became their only companion. News channels were going through the one and only news, “The Covid 19 pandemic!” Patients overwhelmed the hospitals while coffins jammed the hallway. The funeral homes had accumulated the dead waiting to be buried. At a later time, they dug out mass graves. It was unreal. People lost near and dears ones in the blink of an eye.
Frontline doctors and nurses were exhausted in managing the elderly patients who had the severe form of the disease. Most of the intensive care units (ICU) were full. Continuous duties in closed doors at the ICU units soon took a toll on the frontline workers. They too suffered seriously as days passed by.
To meet the patients’ demands, operation theaters were converted to ICUs.. Each day new rules and policies came up as mutants of the viruses lurked around. Her son worked as a resident and now the ICUs were in shortage of on duty doctors. He called home, “Mom, they won’t allow us to meet our families any more, we must work with the frontliners”.
After finishing her daily chores, she laid beside her daughter thinking atleast the young were not affected yet. She noticed suddenly, that her daughter was already in bed very early. She had been coughing the night before. Now, fever had ensued. It kept raising the thermometer bars. On the third day, she was gasping for breath. Soon she curled up in bed and lay in exhaustion into a fragile lump of flesh. It was happening quick. This was their last day of quarantine since arrival.
“Where did she pick it up from, it must have been from the flight, Or?” she kept searching in her mind.
She jumped up from bed, stopped all her curious thoughts. She called a cab and rushed to the nearest hospital without even calling for her son. She couldn’t believe the monster had arrived at their doorstep! That ride to the hospital was a bumpy one, one like that steep train ride on the edge of the cliff, as the majestic mountianscape peeped in at the backdrop looking for a sign of hope. But now her courage and strength were slipping, as the downhill slope of her dad’s train wreck nightmare. The worst likely scenarios occupied her thoughts as the taxi sped on. She kept saying, “faster, please faster” to the cab driver.
When they arrived at the hospital, it was a total chaos at the emergency. Hospital beds were all occupied. Patients were coughing, groaning in pain and choking. Oxygen cannulas and monitoring devices surrounded the beds. Shortage of oxygen panicked the nurses. Two of them, came to her daughter’s trolley. Before even examination, they found her gasping, and whisked her away at once. Tamara stood in somber awe!
“Where was she, where was her son and now where was her daughter?” her blank face questioned.
She could see dead bodies being wheeled away while she kept standing. People were running around masked and terrified. She felt an urgency for water and was on the verge of collapse. She got help and regained. After hours of waiting in vain, she left.
The next few nights were daunting. She shivered alone in bed at night. The entire month went by when only her patience and silence were her companions. As days went Tamara’s train-wreck nightmare resurfaced several times, she herself felt gasping for breath in the middle of the night. She kept reassuring herself, “Hold on, it’s all going to be all right”. But nothing was all-right.
As many people were seeking for help, it jammed theor telephone connections. The petrified callers waited in long queues. The frontline doctors and nurses worked day and night shifts. Her son was in continuous ICU duty separated from the family and she fought alone. Above all her daughter fought alone.
At home, anxiety reached its heights, with no sign of her daughter nor her son, She thought she too had the fever and cough. Only to find out that it terrified her. Only calmness and prayers helped her.
Three weeks later, her son called, “We are in quarantine, I shall be home in two days, hope everything is well.”
She gave him the shocking news! He did not come back. Her daughter’s condition got worse. The next four weeks, their life was in distress and dismay.
Then one morning, in the early hours of dawn, when the glow of the twilight heralded a new beginning, she saw her daughter calling her. She stood by the window, watching until the rays of the sun were streaming against an orange radiance in the sky. The phone kept ringing. It scared her to pick it up. She gathered her wits and received the call.
Her son’s voice on the other end whispered, “Mom, she moved. Yes, Mom, she is waking up”.
She did not know what to expect. Too many death news from ethnic minorities had already reached her.
Tamara sighed in thankfulness. She rushed to the hospital. “She came to the emergency the other night, with a clump of breathless, crumbled body of her daughter.” She thought. Now, after two entire months of ordeal, heavens smiled at her. She sent blessings for those “round-the-clock frontline angels” by her daughter’s bedside who brought her back to life again.