Saturday, May 2, 2020

I Have No One: A Story of a Corona Victim


Disclaimer: This story is a work of fiction. All names, characters, events and incidents are products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead or actual event is coincidental. The author does not recommend any hospital or medicine for any disease.





What time is it?” Nisha asked, sounding very tired as she woke up uncharacteristically late at 11AM. Weekends or weekdays, Nisha woke up at 6AM every day.

Sunil was a little bit surprised. Staying home for the last 8 weeks due to the Corona pandemic did not deter Nisha’s positive attitude and high spirits. She loved parties, dancing, and hanging out with friends but she had adjusted to the new reality. Parties were converted to Zoom parties. The empty living room was converted to a gym. There was nowhere to go but she still woke up at 6AM. 

“It is 11 already. You woke up so late. Are you not doing Zumba today?” Sunil replied.

Even though she was an expert in Kathak and ballet, she loved Bollywood and Zumba for cardio. Health and fitness were the most important to her. Extremely disciplined that she would not skip the exercise even on her wedding day.

“Not sure.” She replied.

“What happened? You never miss a dance class, Ms. DANCING Queen.” Sunil asked, emphasizing on the word ‘dancing’.

“Just feeling lethargic.” Nisha replied.

“Do you want some coffee?” Sunil asked though he knew Nisha hardly drank coffee or tea. She measured proteins, carbs and fats in her diet. Coffee did not exist in her dictionary.

“Yes please. Can you make some? I really cannot get up.” Her answer surprised Sunil. She was usually an active person full of energy. 

The cooking was not his forte. But he did not want to start an argument. He was already devastated by the current US visa renewal situation. Nisha was the only sunshine in his life, and he wanted to keep her happy.

He managed to make some instant coffee and an omelette. He called Nisha to come out. On not getting any response from her for several minutes, he walked back into the bedroom. Nisha was sleeping again. He gently pushed her. He touched her forehead, and her temperature seemed normal. Finally, she woke up a bit annoyed and walked out to the dining area.

Sunlight peeking through the large window of the dining area cheered her up. Admiring mother nature’s beauty, she took the first sip of the coffee but stopped. It was bitter, but she did not complain. Perhaps the second time in their five years of married life Sunil ventured into the kitchen. Disheartening Sunil was not an option for her.

“You look pale. Are you okay?” It was not a question but more like a statement.

“I am fine. I am super fit. I always exercise and eat healthy. What can happen to me?” She replied.

“Do you like the omelette?” Sunil asked, noticing that Nisha stopped after one bite.

“It is delicious.”

“Then why don’t you finish it”

Disinterested in their conversation, her reply was short “I don’t feel like it.”

“Shall we make some fresh orange juice?” Sunil asked, realizing they had missed a Sunday morning healthy breakfast.

“No. Maybe later.”

“What is wrong with you today Nisha?”

“I am very tired.” 

Her short answers perturbed Sunil. Sunil and Nisha were very happily married and did not argue often. They shared their feelings. Nisha could read Sunil’s mind as he could hers. They were not perfect, but they loved each other immensely. When Nisha did not like something, she would not argue but express her disagreements. Same with Sunil.  

“Are you upset because we have to return to India and lockdown? I know it is a difficult time for us.”, Sunil asked.

US Immigration had declined Sunil’s H1B visa renewal. Sunil could not live in the USA anymore and they had to go back to India. But they could not return due to lockdown and suspended international flights. As soon as the flights opened, they were set to return to Delhi.

“No.” She replied

“What is wrong then? The lockdown will finish soon. We will go back.”

She did not bother to reply and walked back to the bedroom.

Sensing unusually cold behavior, Sunil decided to give up for the time being. Nisha loved life in NJ but did not mind returning to India. She was a very positive person and knew how to make the best out of the situation. She was very close to her parents and proximity to parents was a definite advantage in India. She did not care about the shattered dreams of making big in the USA. On the other hand, Sunil was tormented. He hoped for a miracle: a visa extension and finding a new job in the USA. All his efforts had been futile so far. Neither his company nor his private lawyer were able to help him to get visa extension. The Immigration department provided him additional time to stay in the USA because of the Corona pandemic, but he could not work for money. He was not looking forward to India. Both his parents were dead. He had nothing in India except a younger sister who was already a doctor working in a hospital. Nisha was his support and convinced him to use his time to revamp his skills and apply for better positions in India. 

Nisha was his lifeline.

His thoughts were interrupted by his phone ringer. Deepa, her younger sister was calling. Scared to break the news about him not getting HIB renewal, he ignored her call. Deepa never wanted him to live in the USA and warned her about uncertainty. Deepa was 3 years younger than him, but after their parents’ death in a car accident she assumed the role of the parent. With her sensible and rational thought process, she was always a leader.

He heard Nisha’s phone ringing in the bedroom, and it went blank after several rings. He guessed it was Deepa.

Deepa called him again, after not hearing from Nisha.  This time he picked up the phone.

“Hey, where have you guys been? I have been trying to talk to you for days.”, Deepa seemed irritated.

“We are here. How are you?”, Sunil replied

“I am very busy in the hospital. We expect a lot of patients. How is the situation there? Are you staying home?”, she replied.

“Yes. We are home.”, he replied.

“Where is Nisha? I need a recipe.”

It was common for Deepa to ask Nisha for different kinds of recipes. Sunil took the phone to the bedroom, but Nisha was in a deep sleep.

“She is sleeping. I will ask her to call you back.”

“Sunil, it is 12PM in NJ. Why is she sleeping? Wake her up please.” Deepa insisted.

Sunil tried to wake Deepa up. Though sleeping, she seemed in pain. He moved her and she was very warm. He touched her forehead, it was hot.  Raising the voice, he almost yelled her name. She woke up.

“Oh. I am so cold. Can you get me another blanket?” The first sentence Nisha uttered.

Overhearing on the phone, Deepa asked on the phone “What is wrong with Nisha?”

“Hold on Deepa. I will call you back” Sunil hung up.

While checking her temperature, Sunil put another blanket on her shivering body. She was running at 102F. She was obviously sick.

His phone started ringing again and it was Deepa.

“What is wrong with Nisha?”, Deepa instantly asked as he answered the phone.

“She seems to have high fever.”

“How much?” Suddenly the doctor in Deepa started talking.

“102F”

“That is really high. For how long?”

“Just now. She was okay this morning.”

“I called her many times in the morning. She did not pick up.”

“Yes. She woke up late. She did not exercise or eat anything.”

“Is she tired?” Deepa asked one more question

“Yes, and she is shivering.”

“Oh my god. She may be infected with the Corona.” Deepa said loudly, almost screaming.

“How is that possible? We have been home for the last six weeks.”

“I don’t care. You need to call a doctor.”, She said forcibly.

“It is Sunday”, Sunil replied.

“It does not matter. Take her to urgent care NOW.” Deepa said.

“Let me ask her.”

“Let me talk to her please.”, Deepa said.

Sunil tried to give the phone to Nisha, but Nisha would not move or respond to her.

“She does not want to talk. She should be fine. She is healthy. Don’t worry.” Sunil said.

“Okay. Please make her some chicken soup and give her Paracetamol. I mean Tylenol.” Deepa almost ordered his older brother with authority.

“Okay”

“I will call you back in an hour. Don’t take it easy.”, She said.
“Hey little sister, just trust me. We did not go out for six weeks. Most likely she just has a cold.”, Sunil replied.

Never liked being called ‘little sister’, Deepa got annoyed but restrained “I am a doctor big bro. Please listen to me. Please PLEASE give her chicken soup, Orange juice and Tylenol. She needs to be physically strong. I will call you back in an hour”

“She is very strong. She is very conscious about her fitness and she dances for hours and always has a lot of energy. She is probably fine” Sunil replied.

Sensing the conversation is not going anywhere, Deepa said “Okay. But please give her some chicken soup and Tylenol. She has fever.” She hung up.

He did not admit to his sister, but he began to worry. Nisha was generally healthy but with the Corona Virus everywhere, there is a chance Nisha was infected. But he discarded the idea as they did not go out anywhere.

Considering the high fever, he decided to follow Deepa’s advice. He made some chicken soup and almost forced Nisha to have some along with two tablets of Tylenol.

Deepa called right after an hour. Thanks to technology, WhatsApp calls are free. He thought.

“Did you give her some Tylenol and Chicken soup?” She asked instantly.

“Yes.”

She turned on the video of the WhatsApp call.

“Can I speak with Nisha and please turn the video on.”, She asked.

Gaining some energy from the chicken soup, Nisha sat down and smiled at the phone.

“Hey Deepa. I am fine. I just have a cold.” Nisha said.

“I hope it is just a cold. Why do you look pale?” Deepa did not believe her.

“Oh! Maybe I did not put on any makeup. Why are you up so late? Is it not very late in India?”

“Don’t change the subject Nisha. I want you to call the doctor or go to urgent care.”

“I will be fine. We haven’t gone out for weeks. I am already feeling better. Sunil’s chicken soup helped.”, Nisha replied.

After hanging up, Nisha thought of getting up but could not. She felt as if she walked for more than hundred miles without food or water.  An hour of intense exercise every day made her very strong, but this was like a month’s workout.
With muscle aches and zero energy and ignoring phone calls from hundreds of her friends, she stayed in bed for a long time. She lost track of time. 

Hours later, Sunil brought some more chicken soup, a toast, and tea. Forcing herself to eat, she managed to swallow a few bites. She was still warm though she was not shivering anymore. The temperature was lower too. After watching the Tylenol work, Sunil gave her more tablets.

A few hours passed.

SUNIL. SUNIL. Sunil heard a fainted scream from the bed.
Nisha was trying to walk to the bathroom, but she could not. Standing holding the bedside, she was out of breath. Holding her arm, Sunil tried to help her. She was as warm as a hot plate.

“I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” She tried to speak.

“Oh my god. She has all signs of the Corona infection”, Sunil thought. 

Totally shocked and confused, Sunil had no idea what to do. He could not think. He could not focus. Bewildered, he sat down on the bed next to Nisha with his head in his hands. Overwhelmed, he started hitting the bed frame with his hand.
Realizing a quick action was needed, he calmed down and turned on the computer. He googled for Corona symptoms and found the NJ Coronavirus hotline. Instantly a nurse came to line. After listening to symptoms, she asked him to take Nisha to Valley Side Hospital, Ridgewood, the closest hospital she could find where they could treat Corona.

As Nisha was hardly able to breathe, he ignored the Nurse’s suggestion of putting a mask on her face. He called 911 and by the time the ambulance came, Nisha had fainted. With utmost care, they took her to the hospital.

Driving to the hospital, he kept thinking about his bad luck. He had lost his job, he couldn’t stay in the USA, he couldn’t return to India. Stuck in a country that he wanted to call home but had to leave soon and did want to return to the country that was home. And now his favorite person, the love of his life, the only good thing in life was stuck by an alien virus. He cursed Donald Trump, cursed US Immigration, cursed US, cursed the Chinese, cursed the red traffic light, and cursed God. With tears in his eyes and visibly looking shaken, he reached to the hospital desk and enquired about his wife. The reception area was blocked with a glass, and the receptionist had a mask on her face.

Through the glass, he said, “My wife Nisha Sehgal is admitted here.”

“She is in Corona ward. You cannot go there. But we have a few questions for you Sir.”

“Yes.”

“Did you travel anywhere recently?”

“No.”

“Did you attend any function or an event?”

“No. We have been at home for the last eight weeks.”

“Are you sure sir? Did you go to the grocery store?”

“No. We got home delivered.”

“Did you go to the pharmacy?”

“No”

“Did you step out for a walk?”

“Yes. But we maintained a six feet distance.”

“Did you visit a friend?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Did a friend visit you?”

“No way.”

“Sir, please think if you have been in contact with someone.”

Sunil suddenly realized that they went to Indian grocery store.

“I think we went to an Indian grocery store.”

“Oh. You will need to go to the third room on the right. We need to test you too”

She gave him directions to the Corona Testing room.

Through a small hole of a thick glass window, a hand with a full glove handed him a small wooden strip and paperwork to fill out. Carefully the masked man with the glove, took a sample from his nose. Tucking away his case number and phone number to call, he walked back. They asked him to call back after a few hours. Because he did not have any symptoms but was possibly infected, he was asked to wear a mask and stay home for four weeks. 

He enquired about Nisha again. Nisha was on a ventilator. She could not breath without support.

His life support was on a support system.

His phone started ringing. It was Deepa.

“Hey, how is Nisha?”

“She is in hospital.”

“Don’t tell me she is infected.”

“Unfortunately, she is infected.”

“Did you get the test on yourself?”

“I am infected too.”

“Oh shit. Sorry. How did you get it?”

“Probably an Indian grocery store.”

“Do you have fever?”

“No. I have no symptoms.”

“If you have a fever or feel out of breath, you need to go to hospital.” Deepa advised in a doctor’s tone.

“Ok.” He sighed.

“Call me if you need anything. Whatever I can do from India, I will do.”

“Ok.”

“Did you speak with Nisha’s parents?”

“No. Not yet. It is early in the morning in India. But why are you up so early?”

“I have to go to the hospital. The days are long. It is busy here.”

“My doctor sister is helping people.”

“I wish I could help Nisha.”

“She will be fine. Hospitals are good here.”

“Please take care. My hospital van is here. I got to go.”, Deepa hung up.

The moment Sunil hung up. His phone started ringing again. It was his mother-in-Law, Sunita Verma.

Very reluctantly, he answered the call.

“Hello Mom.” Nisha had made sure Sunil addressed her mom as Mom instead of Mrs. Verma or auntie.

“Where is Nisha? I have been trying to call her. Is everything okay?”, She sounded worried.

“She will be okay.” Sunil replied in a very soft voice.

Reference of the future tense startled Mrs. Verma.

“What is wrong?” She almost yelled.

“She has a slight fever.”, He replied, trying to decide how to tell Nisha’s mom.

“Where is she? I want to speak with her.”

“You cannot.”

“What is wrong Sunil? Where is Nisha? I need to speak with her.”

“She is in hospital.”, He finally replied with the truth.

“HOSPITAL. WHY”, She screamed on the phone.

“High Fever. For precautions, we admitted her to the hospital.”

“TELL ME THE TRUTH.” Speculating more, she asked hysterically.

“She is. She is. Maybe she is infected with the Coronavirus.” He finally managed to say it.

“WHAT?”, She started crying.

Listening to her screams, Rakesh Verma, Nisha’s dad, took the phone from her.

“What is wrong Sunil?”, Mr. Verma asked calmly. Mr. Verma’s calmness compensated for his wife’s hysteria in many situations.

“She has Corona. But she will be fine. She is young and healthy.”, Sunil managed to reply.

“But why is she hospitalized?”

“She had breathing issues.” Finally, Sunil told them the whole story.

Within two sentences a calm Mr. Verma turned tense. He had handled deaths in family, sickness, accidents, job losses, and riots. But he did not know how to deal with this situation.

“Oh Crap. What the fuck? You could not take care of our daughter.”, First time in his life, Mr. Verma used this F word.

“She will be fine.” He almost started crying.

“She better recover.”, Mr. Verma said loudly.

A call waiting tone began to ring on Sunil’s phone. It was a call from the hospital. He found an excuse to hang up. He took the call from the hospital.

“It is him.” He replied with confirmation of his name.

“Sir, you were tested in the Ridgewood hospital today?”, The hospital staff asked.

“Yes.”

“Sir, your results are positive for the Corona infection. You need to take utmost care.”

“What? Am I infected too?”

“Yes sir. Sorry.”

“What do I need to do?”, He asked.

“You need to stay home. You cannot be in contact with anyone else at all.”

“What happens if I feel sick?”

“You need to call us or call 911 if there is an emergency.”

As soon as he hung up, his phone started ringing again as if the caller knew he had hung up. Mr. Verma was online.

“What did hospital people say? Is Nisha okay?”, Mr. Verma asked.

“I am also infected. That was expected.”

“Please take care. Let us know if we can do something from India.”

“I want to be alone for a few minutes”, Sunil said and hung up.

Sunil kept sitting staring at the white cathedral ceiling.
Back in India, trying to console his wife, Mr. Verma provided some facts, “More than 90% patients recover completely. Nisha will be fine.”

Children’s age, marital status, or physical distance cannot change a mom. Tensed, stressed with her heart palpitating, she demanded “We need to go to the USA.”

“Do you want to go to the USA?”

“I want to see Nisha. We need to go to the USA.”

“We can’t. We can’t even go out of the house.” Mr. Verma replied.

“I want to see Nisha. Do something.” She said in a commanding tone.

“What can I do?”

“You know so many people. You have contacts in the Ministry. Call them.”

“There is a lockdown in India. We are not allowed to leave the house.”

“It is an emergency. They will let us go.”

“Even the flights are not going.”, He brought up a legitimate concern.

“There might be some flights. Do something. Find out.”

Mr. Verma called his friend in Air India, and he was told what is written in newspapers. No flights.

Mrs. Verma started hauling. She wanted to be with her daughter at her difficult times.

“I want to see Nisha.”, Mrs. Verma kept saying.

“How?”, Mr. Verma yelled for the first time in his life.

Starting from nothing, Mr. Verma had accumulated a lot of wealth with his entrepreneurship and investing in diverse businesses of garment exports and restaurant chains.  With several apartments in the area, he enjoyed living in a large house in an upscale community in South Delhi. He had a large network in the local and federal government. He was an extroverted man with many friends at high places; he was very resourceful.

He always had a solution to every problem but not this time.
All his fancy cars and full-time drivers could not even take him to the airport. His doctor friends could not provide a cure for his daughter. His two sons could not bring his daughter home. His airline friends could not get him a ticket – not even economy class. His large comfortable house could not provide comfort to his sick daughter. His number of maids could not make a single dish for his daughter. With millions of rupees in Indian banks and US dollars in Swiss accounts, he could not buy his daughter’s cure.  The idols of Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, Shiva in his gold-plated temple did not listen to his prayers anymore.

He never felt more helpless in his life, not even when he barely had food for one meal during his childhood.

Suddenly he realized he can transfer money to the USA for a better hospital or more comfortable room. He picked up the phone and called Sunil.

“Hey Sunil, I am going to transfer 50,000 US Dollars to your account.”, He did not ask. He just told him.

“Why? I have enough money.”, Sunil was not happy.

“I want a better room for my daughter.”

“The hospital is full. They have told me that. It was hard enough to find a spot.”

“You can still try. Ask them.”, Mr. Verma would not give up.

“I did. The hospital is full.” Sunil felt frustrated.

Mr. Verma sighed with frustration and hung up.
Sitting in his living room, Sunil did not know what to do anymore. His wife was in the hospital with such an infectious disease and he himself was infected.

The phone rang again. Since the quarantine, the phone rang all the time. This time it was Anjali, Nisha’s friend.

“Why would Anjali call me?” He thought.

“Sunil, where is Nisha? Her phone does not seem to work.”, Anjali asked after perfunctory greetings. Anjali was Nisha’s gym buddy and best friend among her many other best friends.

“Oh My God. That is not possible. It is not a joke.”, Anjali’s reaction was intense when Sunil told her about Nisha.

“It is true. I am infected too.”, Sunil uttered.

“Where did you get it from?”, Anjali asked.

“I think from the Indian Grocery Store. But I’m not sure.”, Sunil provided the best possible guess.

“Indian grocery stores are congested and unclean.”

“I know. It’s too late.”

“I will come and drop some food outside in 30 minutes.”

“That will be nice. Thanks.”

Right at 30 minutes, he heard a car stop outside. Through the window, he could see Anjali with a mask and scarf fully covering her face. With gloves on her hands, she put a box outside her door. Without ringing the doorbell, she walked back to the car. She called him after she sat inside the car and closed the window. She was very cautious.

In the regular course, he would have waited to pick up the box from outside. But he was already infected. He stepped out to pick up the box and found himself being stared at by neighbors. His neighbor sitting on the front porch got up, went inside, and closed his front door. The other neighbor walked back home from the driveway without reaching her mailbox. They were scared and worried, and they had legitimate reasons for that. No one wants a Corona infected neighbor. He felt judged. He felt small. He felt inferior. He felt unclean. He felt isolated. First time he realized why several Corona patients did not come forward.

He had no appetite, but he needed to be strong and able to fight the beast. As he ate homemade chicken curry, his phone rang again. It was Simran. Simran was one of the youngest and most reliable friends of Nisha.  While relaying the condition of Nisha, he started shaking. Suddenly he felt very cold and out of breath. His phone fell on the food. He thought he would die, and then he fainted. Realizing something was not right, Simran called 911 and gave Sunil’s address. Simran and the ambulance arrived at the same time. Fortunately, the door was open and the medical crew took Sunil to hospital. Simran followed them to the hospital. At that time, no one realized Simran’s presence of mind and crisis handling skills. Simran was very close to Nisha and Sunil.  Being Facebook friends with Deepa, she quickly called her. Deepa tried to maintain her calm. Being a doctor, she had been treating Corona patients in India. But with her only sibling and her sister-in-law struggling with Corona in a country that was 8000 miles away, she began to break down. Deepa was in tears. Besides working long hours in the hospital, Deepa was shaken by a relative’s death, but she did not disclose that to Simran. Since it was the first time talking to Deepa  on the phone, Simran tried to reason with her to be calm and stay strong. Simran promised Deep to check on Sunil and Nisha every six hours and keep Deepa informed. This was the best she could do.

Simran kept her promise. She was in and out of hospital and regularly checked on both. The best she could do was to communicate the status to Deepa and Nisha’s family in India.

Two days later, Sunil gained his senses back, but he thought he was dead. Lying on a makeshift bed practically in a corridor and a ventilator on his nose, with numerous tubes on his body and several machines connected to him, he sensed aliens around him. Two aliens with heavy blue outfits, long gloves, masks on the face, and a glass hood covering their whole faces approached him. He could see a green light blinking inside the hood. Very reluctantly touching, they examined him as he was the dirtiest object on this earth. At that time, he realized he was alive and medical staff were taking care of him. He felt weak, thin, and did not have any energy. The medical crew removed the ventilator. They needed all the ventilators.

“You are lucky. You will be fine.”, The first statement the female doctor made. He heard her but barely.

The doctors left him.

Slowly gaining the full consciousness, the very first thought was Nisha. Though married for five years, he felt like a newlywed every day and enjoyed every moment of her company. “How is Nisha, where is she?” He thought. He instantly wanted to see Nisha and start what seemed like a second birth. Looking around he tried to find someone who could tell him about Nisha but he only saw covered faces. Patients were covered with ventilators and machines. Medical staff were covered with masks and hoods. No one was allowed to show the face. Showing your face and breathing directly from the outside was not an option. Breathing air with the dangerous virus around was like breathing poison. 

When and how did the environment become so toxic?

No one stopped by him. No one would talk to him. No one really had time for him. Everyone was busy running from one direction to the other. A set of staff would bring new patients in, and set up ventilators and machines. Another set was bringing in new supplies. A set of staff on the desk were making phone calls through microphone and air pods in the ear inside the hood. A set of staff were cleaning the floors and supplies. With numerous patients admitted, medical staff walked and worked as fast as possible to save every second of their time. It was a war zone and the enemy was invisible. Perhaps the enemy was everywhere around that hall. Suddenly he realized how difficult it was for his own sister Deepa in India. Suddenly he had far more respect for his sister. He felt proud to be the brother of a doctor sister who was serving Corona victims in a country where medical resources were scarce. He wanted to speak with Deepa and hug her.

A day later he was discharged. Not fully recovered but he was totally out of danger. He still had no idea about Nisha. No one came to see him in the hospital. He asked the examining doctor about Nisha, but he asked him to wait till he was discharged.

Back at reception he asked about Nisha. He wanted to know if Nisha was still in the hospital or discharged.

He asked the receptionist, “Is Nisha Sehgal still in the hospital?”

She typed on the computer. She made a phone call and another staff member came out.

She introduced her as a Catherine, a Social Worker.  Why does he need to see a Social Worker? He could not figure it out.

The nurse very slowly said “Sir, she passed away two days back.”  She said through the mask.

“She was young. She cannot die. I made it out. Can you double check?”

“Sir. Yes. Let me double check if you want.” The nurse made a few phone calls and nodded her head.

“Sir, I am so sorry. Nisha Sehgal passed away two days back. No one has claimed her body.”

He did not know how to react. He was silent. He was dead silent. He was tormented. Grief took over him. He was alone. He wanted to die. He started crying. No one would listen to his sobs. No one could help him. No one could comfort him. No one could touch him. No one could come close to him. No one could talk to him. This is the time he needed someone most, but no one was there. No friends. No family.

All alone, he moaned and moaned for a long time.

After a long time, he gathered himself.  From the window, he saw Simran standing outside covering her face with a mask and a scarf. She signaled him to call her, but he had no phone. He did not know where his phone was. He asked the receptionist if he could make a phone call.

“Ah. Someone left a phone for you. I almost forgot.’

As soon as the nurse handed him a cell phone, it started ringing. No name on the display. It was not his phone and appeared new.

“It is Simran”, Simran said as soon as he answered. She was watching from outside and waited for him to take the phone.

“Thanks. I am doomed. Nisha is gone.”

“I know. I am so so sorry. But you need to go home now.”

“How?”

“Come out. I have arranged for someone to pick you up. He has already recovered and now volunteering”

He came out of the hospital with a mask on.  A car stopped by him and he sat in the car .

Empty roads. Empty highways. Closed shops. Closed malls. Closed restaurants. No human on the road. The town was dead. He was dead inside. His soul was dead. A dead person driving through a dead town.

His new phone started ringing a minute after he entered the house as if someone had eyes and a camera around to track him.

“Sunil?”, it was Nisha’s dad.

“Hey. I am home now.”

“I know Simran just called me”, Mr. Verma said

“We lost Nisha. We lost Nisha. I don’t know what I will do without her.”

“I lost my daughter Sunil. Nisha’s mom has been crying since then.”

“I am totally lost.”

“Listen you have to do the last rites. Flights are not running yet”, Mr. Verma said.

“How can he be so selfish that he did not think about the funeral and last rituals?”, He uttered.

“Do it for us Sunil. This will be a huge favor. Can you please?”, The pain in Mr. Verma’s voice was so clear.  He almost begged Sunil to do the funeral.

“I will do it. It is my responsibility.”

“We can send you money if you want.”

“Please don’t talk about money. I don’t need anything in life now.”

After planning the funeral, he emailed all friends, family and acquaintances. The funeral was planned two weeks later. No one except Simran showed up. Everyone called and expressed grief. Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram were full of condolences, but only Simran was brave enough to come for the last respects. As it turned out Nisha only had one best friend, Simran. No words he could use to express the gratitude for her for calling 911, hospital visits, organizing phone calls, rides, and food and keeping their families informed.

His phone rang when he reached home.

“Hey”, It is Deepa.

“Hello?”

“Can you turn on the camera?”

He turned on the camera.

“You look better.” Deepa lied. Unshaven for months, pale and listless, he looked like an old man.

“I am not sure.”

“I prayed for Nisha.”

“It does not matter.”

“I did not tell you something before.”

“What?”

“Raj uncle passed away two weeks back. He had a heart attack.”

“Do I care?”, Sunil replied. Raj uncle was their dad’s brother. Raj uncle cheated their dad and stole his flourishing business.

“He tried to mend the bridges during his last days.”

“I don’t care Deepa. He cheated us.”

“I just wanted to tell you. He called me and wanted to see me.”

“Ok.”, Sunil never liked Raj Uncle.

“I could not go because of lockdown. I could not go to his funeral either.”

“It is okay Deepa.”

“His lawyer called me this morning. Raj Uncle left all his business, properties, and cash to us.”

“What?”

“Yes. He was so guilt ridden during his last days. He changed his will one week ago.”

“Did he die of Corona?”

“No. He had a heart attack. He felt very low lately staying home.”

“Why wouldn't he give his inheritance to his son?”

“Don’t know. His son knows about it, and they talked before he changed the will.”

“Anyway, what will I do with the money? I have lost everything I had in my life.”

“I know it is hard but try to look forward”, Deepa as usual acting like his parent.

“What do I have? You tell me. I have no one.” He stressed “I have no one’.

“Sunil Bhaiya, I don’t count for anything in your life.” For the first time after their parents’ death, she called him ‘Bhaiya – big brother’.

Just with one sentence, she became a little sister who needed his brother’s support. He looked through the screen and it was clear she had been crying. Her eyes were swollen. Her hair was not done. She looked overworked and thin. He had been selfish towards Deepa too. He had responsibility.

“I am sorry Deepa. Yes, I do have you.”

“We were together when mom and dad passed away. Together we will handle this too Bhaiya.”

“Yes”

“Just come home Bhaiya”, She almost cried.

“Yes. This time you will tie Rakhi in person.” Sunil affirmed.

Sunil saw a plane in the sky through the window. Soon he would fly out of here. Soon he would be back home.


(Thanks for Simrann Wadhwa for editing this story.)