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The Ashes

He was a caged parakeet knowing the confines of the walled-in existence only could be helpful for her.
story based on COVID-19
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He had been waiting for the phone call from the hospital. Why hadn’t they called in the last three days? They had promised they would. It wasn’t right at all, but he didn’t know what else to do other than wait.

Last time he called them they promised to get back. They hadn’t of course. These days of waiting had drained his sap away. Just an honest answer from them would be enough. He wasn’t that soft in the head not to understand this delay tactic.

But no one these days tells you the truth anymore, especially if it hurts. Not even Mom. He was always trying to protect her but it was lost on her. The last five days she was running a low grade fever with an ever so slight a cough, almost like her normal springtime allergies, and yet she was fantasizing about a Scandinavian calming of senses. She wanted to wrap herself in gray and white and surround herself with a Swedish vibe to be oblivious of the dire predictions on TV. She was in denial, he knew. But the spa was closed of course. The COVID-19 onslaught, the deaths, the waiting for the PPE’s for the life givers and ventilators for the critically ill, and the hope of those wanting to come back home was a whole new reality.

For the millionth time, he wished he hadn’t sneaked in Dada’s favorite Marlboro to the nursing home. He knew Dada had emphysema and smoking was the hugest no-no.

But he knew she couldn’t possibly block out the electronic and online noise about man’s most recent combat against a lethal invisible enemy despite his urging to shut out the blasts. Maybe he was the one needing a buffer to distance reality. Until now she had always shielded him from everything , now it was his turn to do the same to his mom. He was trying his best.

He was a caged parakeet knowing the confines of the walled-in existence only could be helpful for her. Most people his age had never heard the word quarantine mentioned before. Hanging out at the smoke bar was a story out of the pages of a history book now. He had to give Mom a chance. He hadn’t given one to his grandpa. He would live the rest of his life with the cruel reminder of sunbathing on the beaches and pub hopping while carrying nothing but an infinitesimal virus to pass on to his favorite human being on the planet: his Dada. Life comes too loaded at times.

They were quarantined: isolated, insulated in their own bubble. Waiting it out. And then would they be allowed? With every single day he felt stripped of the least dignity that an inevitable end of life situation signified for family members wanting to perform the mourning rituals to say goodbye to a loved one. The soul’s journey to another life was lonely, but so was theirs in secluded grieving, sequestered for what seemed an eternity.

For the millionth time, he wished he hadn’t sneaked in Dada’s favorite Marlboro to the nursing home. He knew Dada had emphysema and smoking was the hugest no-no. But then even lonely old people need treats sometimes to cheer them up in their isolation. And he himself couldn’t have felt better. Just back from his spring break on the Miami beach, he wanted to make grandpa feel special as well. Who’d have known?

The telephone was ringing.

“ It was the funeral home Mom, not the hospital.”
“Did they promise to keep the ashes for us until whenever?”
“Yeah they’ll hold on to the urn.”
“ We will give him a decent farewell Dev and drown the ashes in the Ganga someday, right?”

Someday, that would be his atonement. Yes, someday he would also confess to her.

Vishnupriya is a bilingual writer of poetry, essays, flash and short fiction. She has published several poems, short stories and essays in multiple North American and Indian magazines, periodicals, webzines, portals, and blogs, including her own. She is the proud recipient of the Gayatri Gamarsh Memorial Award for Literary Excellence in 2019. She has dabbled in broadcasting, voice-overs for documentary films, and script writing for varied events.

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