The Bat, the Pigeon and the Doctor | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, July 04, 2020 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, July 04, 2020

The Bat, the Pigeon and the Doctor

"Mamaa, mama re! Would you like to munch on my toast and have a sip from my sugary milk tea?"

My five-month old son carefully listens to Nipa as she speaks. Nipa is a part-time maid servant at my mom's place. And she always has stories to tell.

"Don't you go again to your father's house my dear mama. When you are not here, we look for you everywhere. Where has the mama gone? Are you not my lokkhi mama, hmm?"

Lokkhi means nice and well-behaved, and my son nods his head affirmatively and replies, "Hu!"

Then he looks at her inquisitively and frowns.

"We haven't heard anything about Arup Roton today," I pause and ask Nipa, "How is he?"

"Unwell and troubled. His left hand is burnt. His mom and dad went to office, and he was kept under the surveillance of his pishi. That careless aunt made tea and kept it beside the feet of the thakur. The hot tea fell on his hand."

My son looks hurt. He leans his head on my shoulder and puts his arm around my neck.

I turn on the TV to divert his attention. A highly contagious virus in China is killing a lot of people. The virus transmits through respiratory droplets of infects people. The disease has originated from a wet market, they claim. Perhaps, it has been carried by the bats they eat.

"Tell me, tell me O Lord, who in the world can really eat those vicious bats?" Nipa whimpers as she stands up to get ready for her work.

April, 2020

I hear a siren and walk to the balcony. I see an ambulance in front of the opposite building.

Ammu suddenly arrives and shouts, "The virus is everywhere and you have opened that door to the balcony! There's a baby in the house!"

She immediately orders me to have a bath before touching the baby.

I feel sad and hopeless as I go to my bedroom. My son is fast asleep. He looks content and happy.

But I hear another distressed child crying somewhere. Is that Arup Roton? Both his parents have been working during this entire period of lockdown. His father is a policeman and his mother, a banker.

Apart from Nipa, who else can inform us about Arup? Nipa is not allowed inside the building because part-time helping hands, drivers, and even newspapers are banned in the area. If we need medicine or food, we call up the security guards. They ask the community police and request them to buy the essentials. And when things are brought, they are thoroughly cleaned and sanitized before they reach us.

With Nipa not being allowed, Ammu now has to do all the household chores alone. She is, consequently, always angry.

"Didn't I tell you to get a bath before your son wakes up?" I look at ammu as she glares and spits the words out.

I feel like bursting out, "What do you mean by 'your son'? Isn't he your grandson as well?" But no, I gulp down my rage.

It's really not a time to be impatient and agitated. We are all struggling to survive this containment.

May, 2020

During the afternoon, my son and I sit beside the window in my brother's room. My brother does his office work online, typing on his laptop. My son stares at him amazed.

My son also stares out the window and gazes at the sky. The Dhaka sky hasn't been so serene and clear in years. We watch birds of various kinds. They chirp, and they sing; they dance and they tweet.

We also watch kites being flown on the roof tops by little children and their fathers. The children cry out, "Abbu here, here goes our kite. Abbu, abbbuuu!"

Apart from abbu, other words are mostly indistinct. The afternoon sky resonates with their calling out to their fathers. My son listens to them carefully and tries to imitate them. Finally, after a whole week's effort, he calls out, "Abbu" loud and clear.

He also shouts abbu, abbu when he hears those children. Their fathers are at home. Where's his father? Does he know?

"Always calling abbu, abbu. His abbu is everything. He has his bath, splashes water and calls out, 'abbu.' He eats and he says, 'abbu.' Even after he sneezes, he utters 'abbu.'" My brother gets up from his chair and lifts my boy up from my lap as he speaks to him. He leaves with his nephew on his shoulder to see what Ammu has cooked for today's iftar.

I sit back and lean towards the window. Will there be a storm? A gust of hot wind surrounds me and the sky turns peach black. I see flocks of bats flying and covering the entire sky. Next, they try to enter through the window. I close it as fast as I can, but not before one rushes in.

It hangs from the curtain stand and starts swinging by covering its head with its pair of wings. Then it starts flapping them and makes a flight around the room. It approaches me and stares directly into my eyes.

I am about to faint when my brother turns on the light and cries out, "Apa, we are all waiting for you at the dining table."

***

Apart from me, everyone else in the house has gone to sleep after iftar. It's drizzling, and the breeze seems perfect for a nap after a long day of fasting. I sit with my hot mug of coffee and turn on the news channel. The highest number of new corona patients have been detected across the country today: almost nine hundred.

Ammu's phone rings. It's Nipa.

She enquires after her mama, and pleads to be allowed in.

"No one is allowed inside, Nipa. This disease is very dangerous," I try to explain.

"How long will this continue? All our money is spent. I cannot pay the slumlord. He will now kick us out. Neither I, nor my husband has any work. My little girl is having sugar dissolved in water. We can't afford milk," she starts crying.

"Will you come tomorrow? We will send you some money," I try to console her.

"Yes, sure, thank you, but how long will people help us like this? We are ready to work. I have heard markets will open next week. So, my husband will be able to open his fruit-and-vegetable shop again. No matter what you say, people will need help before Eid. I'll work for them."

"You don't need to come to our house," I feel petrified. A large number of corona patients are detected in her area.

"Are you throwing me off?" I hear the shudder in her tone.

"No, Nipa, you will again start working once this virus is gone. Don't worry," I try to pacify her.

After speaking with her I turn the TV off. People are already out in the streets in large numbers. Surely, they will flood the markets for Eid shopping. I wonder what will happen if all these people leave the city to head for their villages.

I come out from the living room and stand alone in the balcony. A pair of pigeons have built a nest on the sun shade right above where I am standing now. Perhaps they have laid eggs. The male pigeon grooms the female one with his beak, cleaning the fleas from her feathers. He shares his food with her. I hear the pigeons cooing too.

I look down and see a man walking alone on the empty road. I recognize his strides, his gestures and movements. He stands a little away from my building and removes his mask from his face. We smile at each other.

I rush inside to get my phone. I need to talk to him, not having spoken with him properly for so long. I find a text message from him instead.

"A patient arrived at the hospital this evening. His relatives reported of his kidneys being damaged. Only when he started having severe chest pain and breathing problem, and finally embraced death within an hour, his relatives confessed that he's actually a covid-19 patient. They hid the truth, otherwise, no hospital would admit him.

I along with my team of doctors and nurses treating that patient will be going into quarantine. I will come to visit if I am tested negative.

Give my love to our son."

 

Sanjeeda Husain is a Lecturer in the Department of English, University of Dhaka.

 

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