I am Maria living in London. Only last year in January, I celebrated my 80th birthday. My family came from different corners of the world to celebrate with me that included my two daughters, a son, and their five children. We had a laugh, memories, and moments.
From the age of forty-five, I have had the pleasure of celebrating two occasions a year, when my two bed flat comes to life again and leaves not an inch to tread on except mattresses, blankets, toys, books, and beverages. All my children had something to share and munch on the story.
It is either Christmas or my birthday when I enjoy the company, warmth, and hugs of my family. Otherwise, I live on my own for the rest of the year, though my carer comes for two hours four days a week. My world had become confined to my carer and a few photos that have my memories carved in them.
I feel some inner solace every time my carer hugs me like it is the other medicine prescribed by my doctor to take every day. Her chubby face covered in a scarf reminds me of my childhood when my mother would cover my head with her kerchief before taking me to attend mass prayers in the Church.
Her colourful dress makes my heartbeat run a bit faster and puts some glow on my face when I look at myself in the mirror.
She keeps saying, “I can tell how beautiful you would have been at your young age. The glow on your face makes you look younger. Keep smiling, at least for me”.
And, I would burst into loud laughter.
Cleaning, cooking, and shopping are all done by her. The wages she earns by doing chores for me provide her two meals a day. Her husband earns to pay the mortgage but they are happy and contented by what they do and what they earn. She makes me talk for hours and tell her everything that has happened in my life, good or bad. She is a great listener.
I have told her many times how my life had turned upside down but she keeps re-jogging those memories.
My husband passed away the day we were celebrating our twentieth wedding anniversary. We had such a good time at the Cotswold cottage that we had hired. It was like landing on the moon.
All of a sudden, he felt pain in his chest, dropped on the floor, hands trembling and breathing heavily, and within half an hour he was declared dead by the ambulance doctor.
The anniversary gift was still in his pocket. Rose bouquet was fresh near the dining table, and the salmon dish had spread aroma in the room.
It was a nightmare that took my soul out of my body. My dreams crumbled and I turned into an emotional wreck.
There was no source of income except the pension I was due to get from the government. That meagre amount had kept food on my plate and had given me a little bit of dignity in my solitary life.
You may find me smiling but sometimes I feel often lost and ache in the chest. My loneliness has become more depressing after this news of the pandemic. The lockdown announced, again and again, had prevented me to just walk around the long corridor outside my flat. I am accustomed to living on my own but living without help or carer or any human presence is very painful, now unbearable too.
At the announcement of the first crackdown back last march, the first call I got in the morning was from my social carer. She was sad that she could not come anymore until the lockdown restrictions were lifted. Medical experts have said that old people like me are more susceptible to Covid19. Due to other ailments, experts have written me off. My carer says that “it is not only my age that can kill me but my age has become a trap for her as well”.
Anybody coming in contact with me can also be infected with the virus as if they have found it in my blood. The carer sounded very upset for leaving me alone in the middle of the ocean.
After a few days, I had to find a way to go to the market and arrange food and medicine until the lockdown was over.
In a way, I had to restart living a life of my own.
Because of running out of bread and milk, I dared to go out with the help of a walker and collecting few eatables in a small bag from a large store nearby. The entrance of the store was a little bumpy; I narrowly escaped falling several times because of my brittle bones.
After buying food items I reached the Pharmacy counter where every shelf had been left empty and cleared. When I asked the chemist for a pack of Paracetamol, he said without looking at me, “We have run out of pain killers. Yet, it can’t save you from Corona. Go home and stay in Quarantine. Haven’t you heard, anyone over seventy will have to shield themselves or they will die with infection”.
“Was he infuriated by me or had he become frustrated?” I couldn’t figure it out.
My bodyweight seemed doubled the moment I left the market.
It was getting harder to keep a hold on a walker and carry my bodyweight with a bag of food items.
Everyone was running on the road. It was like they were running away from the death that had spread its tentacles everywhere. The fear and anguish were written on every face I saw on the road.
Many people on the same road have reached out to help me many times in the past. Corona and fear have changed it in a fraction of a moment.
Exhaustion didn’t let me continue anymore. I reached near the bus stop to sit on the bench and catch my breath. I was about to sit on the bench when the middle-aged woman already sitting there immediately stood up and ran away; in a way I had become an untouchable. I did not understand why those who would smile and help aged people were suddenly running away from me. Was it me that had become leper or the whole aged population in the world had been declared untouchable?
My breath had become heavy. My mind was racing with weird thoughts. I might pass out…….
Somebody might have called for the ambulance. I saw paramedics with an ambulance that had a siren on to alert people to stay away. One of the paramedics wearing a hazmat suit took my hand and helped me to get into the ambulance.
“My bag of food”…I spoke in a whisper; the paramedic went down the ambulance and placed the bag on the front seat.
In a few minutes, I was rushed to a nearby hospital.
The room I was kept waiting in was empty with a single chair.
The nurse, covered in plastic overall, came with a computer that was connected with many wires and tubes, measuring temperature to blood pressure to heart rate to pulse. Before she started muttering to herself I told her that I haven’t been out of England for the last twenty years. No one has come to my house since last Thursday. I’m not coughing. I have no flu or my heart is not weak. And, I am not suffering from Corona.
She looked at me in surprise and asked, “Why are you here then?”
“I don’t know. Nobody has asked me until I was bundled up into an ambulance. Do me a favour. Send me home so that you can look after somebody else who needs medical help”.
“Sure, I will do it as you want me to do after I check your temperature and pulse. I promise”. She reassured me.
I was tested for covid19. Hurrah, I was declared clear of the virus, my heart was running like a horse and my breath had become normal.
The nurse left me back in the ambulance and insisted that I avoid going out for errands.
I wanted to tell her what shall I eat or how shall I buy it but I knew everybody was struggling to come to terms with the new ways of life. And, everybody was behaving weirdly. It had made life more difficult for those who depend on the support or help of others.
I would often think what is the point of living at this age anyway? Dependence makes us pray for death every moment and wouldn’t it be a blessing to die with corona so that nobody had to be bothered with funeral or last rites.
I reached home with paramedics who placed food items on my kitchen counter.
I felt quite tired but I wanted paramedics to stay with me for longer so that I can brew tea and enjoy with them. I didn’t dare to offer them. They left in a hurry as they had another emergency call from somebody.
I got my chair close to the window.
Everyone in the neighbourhood was busy in their world. Nobody had a clue what was happening in another household. Living in a rich world may sound very glamorous but one has to pay for it in some other way.
My isolation was eating me inside. Terror and fear had engulfed me. “What if I die now, no one would ever come to know about my death for months. It was better to die in hospital. At least, a nurse or doctor would be there“.
I started calling my children who would usually talk on weekends.
Before my greeting, the eldest daughter had a bit of advice for me, “eat the only one-time meal as the stores have been running out of stock”.
The younger daughter felt happy that her father was lucky to have passed away before this horrible virus.
My son apologized because he was in a grocery shop.
Everybody was so engrossed in their worries that they had forgotten who I was.
I switched on ITV and Prime Minister Boris Johnson was addressing the nation, saying that we must be prepared to lose our loved ones in these unprecedented times.
There comes a time in life when people like me have to juggle with the fact that should we mourn or feel happy. The situation, myself and the aged population of the world trapped in was incomprehensible.
Sleep had been missing for several days now. Every time I turn the TV on, horrible footage of hospitals and patients makes me feverish. There was some news about Italy that doctors have been told not to waste medicine or time on the elderly patients. In one of the richest countries in the world, the United States of America, some people were buying guns to shoot those suffering from coronary heart disease. I put off the TV and tried to read. My concentration was missing like a beat in my heart.
I don’t know how long I had cried and shouted, “I am only old. I am not infected by virus yet. God, let me have at least a dignified death”.
Writer is an ex-editor of BBC.