Categories
Slices from Life

Moving from the Podium to the Helm

By Meredith Stephens

For many years my preferred pastimes had been reading, writing, drinking coffee and avoiding exercise. Admittedly, I did cycle to and from work and between my office and classrooms and I had a weight routine that consisted of carrying books up and down stairs. I was proud of having built my exercise routine into my daily movements rather than having to go out of my way to get fit.

It was February and the Japanese winter was dragging on. My office faced north, and it was already dark even though it was early evening. I had a sudden desire to return to Australia earlier than planned to catch the end of the summer and be reunited with my adult children, Emilia and Annika. I made a quick call to the office to let them know of my plans, and then logged on to the airlines and brought my flight forward a week. Little did I know I would continue in Australia not only that summer but also the following summer.

I found myself arriving in Adelaide shortly before the outbreak of a global pandemic and the closing of international borders. I landed bedraggled after my eighteen-hour journey. I descended the escalators to the carousel and waited for my baggage. A short wiry man was staring at me from the other side of the carousel. I averted my gaze, but he walked towards me and stood squarely in front of me. I met his eyes and stared at him for thirty seconds. Gradually, I saw the face of the teenager he once was.

“Are you Alec?” I probed.

I hadn’t seen Alec for twenty years or so since my undergraduate days. His piercing pale blue eyes were unchanged, but his mop of shoulder-length dark curly hair had turned grey and was now neatly trimmed.

“Yes, Meredith,” he acknowledged.

He told me that he had just returned from the UK where he worked as a merchant banker, and that he escaped the northern winter each year to the sail in the Australian summer. We exchanged news about our life events over the past twenty years. I looked up and noticed the other passengers had vanished, and there were only two suitcases moving around on the carousel.

“Let’s catch up again while you are here. Can I have your number?” Alec asked.

I gave him my number and exited the terminal. The sunlight was blinding, and I pushed my suitcases to the kerb and waited until my daughter Emilia drove past to pick me up.

A few days later, Alec sent me an email inviting me to a cafe in Norwood. He picked me up in his dark green Nissan Pathfinder and drove us there.

“I used to have a crush on you at university,” he confided as we exited the car and walked towards the cafe. I was taken aback. Alec had always been so focused on his studies and I could not imagine that he would ever have been interested in anything other than academic topics. I continued feeling stunned by this admission and looked away. I had always admired his quick questioning mind, not to mention his dark curly hair and pale blue eyes, but I said nothing.

Since leaving university Alec had taken up sailing, and he even preferred the sea to the land. He invited me, Emilia, and Annika to sail with him and his sister Verity to Kangaroo Island, south of Adelaide. We eagerly accepted, and soon we found ourselves on his boat heading to the island. Emilia and Annika position themselves at the front of the boat.

Alec liked to keep his use of diesel on the boat to a minimum. Once out at sea, he set the sails and turned off the engine. I was not sure how to help him with the sails, but I did my best to loosen the rope in the winch as he called out instructions to me above the sound of the wind.

Alec had carefully planned the menus for the trip. Because of the panic-buying of milk in the supermarket, there was no cow milk left and he had bought goat milk. He made an espresso coffee for me. I had never had coffee with goat milk before but it was tasty.

Emilia and Annika remained at the front of the boat, and soon Alec summoned his voice to penetrate through the wind to pronounce ‘Dolphins!’ Soon the girls spotted a school of dolphins accompanying us at the front of the boat.

As we sailed along the north coast of Kangaroo Island we passed Smith Bay. Alec informed me that there was a plan to develop a port there. He mentioned that pine forests had been established twenty years ago even though there was no way of getting the wood off the island. The proposed port would provide a means of exporting wood chips. Alec was opposed to this plan because of the threat to the local marine ecosystem, not to mention the dolphins.

We continued west to Dashwood Bay where we anchored for the night. I slumbered peacefully in my cabin as it gently rocked from side to side. Alec had promised to take Emilia and Annika to snorkel with dolphins in the bay. In the morning I was woken by the light penetrating through the cabin window. Alec ushered Verity, Emilia, and Annika on to the dinghy, and took them to the shore.

I remained on board, content to enjoy snorkeling vicariously. I did not miss out, because as I sat at the stern the surface of the water was broken by splashes when dolphins passed by. Finally, the party returned and Alec set sail for the mainland. We farewelled a landscape devoid of human activity apart from a single homestead and a single car parked on the beach.

Alec and I shared the helm for a while but he was feeling tired from the morning snorkeling so I took over. I didn’t expect it would be so cold in the middle of summer, and my left hand slowly became numb. I scanned the horizon for small fishing boats which may not have satellite systems to notify them of our presence. I imagined being distracted for a moment and colliding with one of them. Alec noticed how tense I was and relieved me of my duty. I returned to my cabin and enjoyed the bouncing motion as we crossed the waves of Investigator Strait at a ninety-degree angle on our beam.

It took a pandemic to force me away from my lifestyle of cycling to work and ascending and descending stairs many times a day carrying books. Border closures led to a sequence of events in which I found myself sailing for the first time in my life. I caught the look of wonder in Annika’s eyes and thought we might be dreaming. I closed my eyes and imagined myself once again working in Japan. However, when I opened my eyes we were still on the boat. The pandemic had brought about a revolution in my lifestyle, but one of the few continuities was that my pastimes continued to be reading, writing, and drinking coffee. Even if it was with goat milk.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Musings

No Longer Smug in South Australia

Meredith Stephens gives a first person account of how the pandemic free South Australia is faring balancing fears

Not only does Australia feel geographically isolated, South Australia feels isolated within Australia. Thanks to this isolation we somehow feel immune to the pandemic and enjoy months of zero cases. We look at the evening news aghast as cases soar in Europe and America. Finally, our neighbouring state Victoria gets the numbers under control, and travel between the states becomes possible. Alex has been looking forward to the borders with Tasmania opening so he can sail there from Adelaide and circumnavigate the island. First, he will sail to the historic town of Robe in the south-east of the state, and from there he will sail to Tasmania, weather permitting. He enjoys the extensive preparation, ordering a new inflatable life raft, a new dinghy, a new chart plotter, and installing a wind turbine. He has the standing rigging replaced too.

I want to sail with Alex but can’t because I’m teaching online. I wouldn’t be able to readily access the internet at sea due to the slow satellite connection. I ask Alex to prepare one of his T-shirts for me to take to bed in his absence. He wears the same T-shirt for several days in order to permeate it with his scent.

Suddenly there is news of a six-day lockdown. We have been spared lockdowns to date as we have smugly watched television news of excruciating lockdowns elsewhere. We have until midnight to attend to immediate business. The Chief Medical Officer appears on television and tells us we must decide where we will stay for the next six days. I opt to stay with my ailing mother and take Alex’s T-shirt with me to comfort myself.

I part from Alex and dutifully head to my mother’s home. After making her dinner and cups of tea, I accompany her to her bed, and make sure she takes her medicines. I heat her wheat bags to place behind her neck and on her toes. I watch some television to distract myself, and then exchange texts with Alex. Next, I have to face the night away from him. I don his T-shirt and hope his scent will soothe me to sleep, but it’s no substitute. I wake up with pain throbbing in my right temple and shooting up the right side of my neck. I touch my temple and feel the familiar dilated vein.

I must teach two classes online. I want to cancel because of my migraine, but if I do so I must make up the classes, so I persist with the lessons. The bright light of the screen pierces my eyes, but I find relief when I usher the students into breakout rooms and lie down for five minutes each time they interact with one another.

I search the house for pain relief. I beg Mum for some of her prescribed opiate tablets. She only has two left and permits me to have a quarter of one which she has cut out with the tablet cutter. Then the pain intensifies. I cannot find any aspirin but manage to find some Panadol from an expired blister pack. This gives me no relief. I am not sure I could get a doctor’s appointment at such short notice. Going to the emergency room would be counterproductive during a pandemic. I resolve to go to my daughter’s house. I know that she has two left-over prescribed opiate tablets. I determine to make the long drive despite the injunction not to leave the house. I go into Mum’s room to explain, but she is sleeping. So I leave a note on her bedside table. I leave my laptop there because I will be back in the evening.

I venture onto the deserted main roads. Will I be stopped and questioned by the police? After twenty minutes of driving, I see ten police cars on the opposite side of the main road, stopping drivers. I resolve not to take that route when I return to Mum’s. When I arrive at my daughter’s house, there is a text from Mum:

“Where are you? Are you okay? I am worried about you. I heard you leave.”

“I left a note by your bedside table. Didn’t you see it?”

“No. I missed it.”

“I’ll come back tonight.”

“No, Darling. I’ll be okay for the night. It’s too dangerous for you to drive in your condition.”

“Okay then. I’ll pop back tomorrow morning in time to Zoom my classes.”

Then my sister Rebecca texts me and asks after Mum. I explain that I have had to leave her in search of pain relief. I continue that I am worried about having left the house, but then my other sister Jemima forwards me a government message from social media saying that you may leave the house to care for an infirm relative or friend. Now I can consider my daughter’s house to be my base, and my trip to Mum’s to be legitimate. Rebecca and Jemima offer to take turns to stay with Mum until I recover.

I retrieve one of the prescribed opiate tablets at my daughter’s house, but the pain persists until the morning. I telephone the local clinic and make a telehealth appointment. The doctor calls me back at the appointed time and texts me a script.

Alex texts me asking how I am, and I send him the government message indicating that movement to care for someone who is unwell is legitimate. He offers to visit me and pick up the medicine on the way. My daughter shows me how to forward the script to him on my phone. Alex receives it and promises to come. I absorb his resonant voice, gentle tone, and the calm in his measured and carefully articulated speech. The tension eases and somehow, I find myself explaining to him that I am finally without pain.

Alex arrives at my door with my prescription tablets, but by now the pain has subsided. Knowing that I have left my laptop at Mum’s, he has brought me one of his. Not only that, he has brought South Australian yellowfish tuna which we can eat as sashimi, oysters, and some salmon. We sit down together while he explains to me how to use the Chromebook laptop, but rather than fixing my eyes on the screen I fix them on him, and once again imbibe his scent. We enjoy each other’s company for an hour before Alex has to return home.

Then my daughter informs us that the lockdown has been shortened. It appears that there was a misunderstanding during one of the contact tracing interviews and that the lockdown period will be reduced to three days. Travel within the state will be permitted.

Alex is relieved that at least he will not have to forego sailing, even though the circumnavigation of Tasmania will have to wait. Instead, he will sail into Spencer Gulf, within the state. The ocean is beckoning him, and he is grateful that he can now heed her call. The months of planning equipment, meals, and reading material will have paid off; he can resume his position at the helm, catch fish and squid for his meals, make use of his instinctive sense of wind direction, and be free to move or to stay according to whim, without a single care for COVID.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies entitled What’s Cooking Mom? Narratives about Food and Family, The Migrant Maternal: “Birthing” New Lives Abroad, and Twenty-First Century Friendshipall published by Demeter Press, Canada.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL

Categories
Poetry

Giants and more…

By John Grey

Giants

The elephant enclosure

is dotted with heaps of hay.

Three giant gray thirty-somethings

jolt each other softly,

as trunkfuls of feed

are packed into open mouths.

A crowd gathers behind a fence,

watches these gentle behemoths

fills their massive bodies.

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A sign nailed to a post

gives Latin name,

location in the wild,

color-codes Loxodonta Africana

as threatened.

Herds and habitat are shrinking.

There’s so little that can live

on such a grand scale.

.

The Law-giver

Shorter days panic

the apples into ripening.

Those that don’t fall

are plucked, fill buckets,

are trafficked from orchard

to ramshackle road-side shack

where scrawled sign and cheap scales

make for a fleeting Autumn store.

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Bright red Washingtons are traded

for crisp green Washingtons.

A plush, juicy Granny Smith

is sold to a bent, age-smudged Granny Smith.

.

A gray-haired woman holds court

from her ancient lawn-chair,

while noisy children chase dogs

in and out of her legs.

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A guy in a Buick drives up,

checks through a bushel so fresh,

the smell of the tree is still on their skin.

He scowls at the spots, the bruises.

.

The first law of apples is that

the scruffier the look, the tastier the fruit.

The red-cheeked woman in rumpled dress,

is the law-giver.

John Grey is an Australian poet, US resident. Recently published in Sin Fronteras, Dalhousie Review and Qwerty with work upcoming in West Trade Review, Willard and Maple and Connecticut River Review.

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PLEASE NOTE: ARTICLES CAN ONLY BE REPRODUCED IN OTHER SITES WITH DUE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT TO BORDERLESS JOURNAL.

Categories
Musings

When your Child Becomes a Vegan

By Meredith Stephens

“Stop cooking meat! I can smell it all the way up here,” my younger daughter Annika upbraided me from her upstairs bedroom.

I had made a rare purchase of mincemeat as part of a packet of ingredients to be assembled for the evening meal. Choices were so limited when you had a vegan in the family. I had almost given up buying meat and chicken, but persisted in buying eggs, fish and dairy. Eventually I found words to describe myself which I could use to feel virtuous, such as a ‘pescatarian’ – a fish eating vegetarian, and ‘flexitarian’ – a vegetarian when it was convenient. Annika didn’t mind if I made vegetarian dishes, but wouldn’t partake unless they were vegan.

“It’s okay for you to be vegan,” I retorted. “But you don’t have to impose your values on the rest of us. You don’t always conform to my values either.”                                                                                                                                                        

“Like what?” she asked.

“I’m not getting into that now. It’s okay for you not to eat meat but you can’t force the rest of us to give it up too,” I repeated.

I descended the stairs to the kitchen and took in the unusual smell of cooking meat, which has been absent from our kitchen for a couple of years. Then I bravely assembled the meal, spreading out the wrap, adding the mince mixture and topping it off with some tzatziki (a Greek yogurt sauce. I folded the wrap and sat down to eat it with my trusted Labrador Tia in front of me. Tia fixed her eyes on me unwaveringly and pricked up her ears. It was my habit to share all my meals and snacks with her.

When we had bought her at the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) I had asked the vet whether it was okay to give her human food. He asked whether I meant sharing my toast with her in the morning. When I nodded he affirmed, “Of course!” From that moment I considered myself to have official approval to share any healthy food with Tia. If I were eating an apple, I would bite off one bit for her and one for me. When I was making a salad, I would hygienically feed her lettuce leaves, tomato tops, or slices of cucumber. (I do confess to feeding her occasional crumbs from my chocolate cake when no-one was looking.) The day that Annika scolded me for cooking meat, Tia was even more excited than usual. She was anticipating that I would share the mincemeat with her. I started to ingest the meat, but the smell put me off, so I passed most of it off to Tia. Needless to say, she was delighted. However, she didn’t savour it, but rather gulped it down quickly without leaving time to enjoy it.

Annika had always shown a sensitivity to the feelings of animals, even rodents. When we first moved into our house we would sometimes see a sudden movement as a mouse darted between the sofa and the fireplace. It was embarrassing to have a well-to-do guest suddenly ask you, “Was that a mouse?”

I wasn’t sure how to get rid of mice without killing them, and tried sonic deterrents which you could plug into an electric socket. Once Annika spotted a mouse in the house. She thought it was a native mouse, a marsupial, because its forelegs were shorter than its hind legs. She could even see the mouse’s heart beating through its chest as it trembled. Then she felt sorry for it and left it alone. After that I asked my husband to deal with the mice, and didn’t ask any more questions. The mice disappeared.

Until Annika became a vegan I had disassociated meat from animals. The packets of neatly wrapped meat in the supermarkets had nothing to do with the animals that you passed on farms in drives through the country. One day Annika drew a connection between Tia and meat, asking if I would eat Tia. From then on I could associate meat with living animals. The meat shelves in the supermarket became distasteful and I had to look the other way as I passed.

A friend has a business selling kangaroo meat overseas. She made a post on social media explaining why kangaroo meat is better than meat from farms; kangaroos are game, and they are not killed in the abbatoirs. I hesitated over the ‘like’ button as I read this. I was convinced by her argument but reluctant to agree with the notion of killing Australia’s national symbol, featured in our Coat of Arms and decorating the tail of the national carrier.

A kangaroo in the countryside

I work overseas and return to Australia every holiday. My pleasure in Australia’s fauna and flora is enhanced because of my long absences. When I return I am delighted to spot kangaroos in the countryside, possums in tree hollows, and koalas sleeping in trees in the neighbourhood.

Possum

A koala on a tree

Every morning is a visual and auditory feast. I spot rainbow lorikeets on the balcony, and cockatoos feeding on neighbouring lawns.

Cockatoos on the neighbour’s lawn

I listen to families of kookaburras cackling, and magpies serenading me. I am enjoying the fauna more than ever, and I can understand Annika’s feelings for them.

Not only that, times of global turmoil when movement is restricted are ideal for slowing down and appreciating nature. As Alain de Botton says on his homepage, “You normally have to be bashed about a bit by life to see the point of daffodils, sunsets and uneventful nice days.” In these tumultuous and uncertain times there is an exquisite pleasure to be had in communing with animals and birds. Now I can find the time to still myself for long enough to enjoy watching the sulphur-crested cockatoos squawking as they land on the lawn to peck for their dinner.

Nevertheless, my dietary resolutions are more due to the impact of the younger generation than the enhanced appreciation of wildlife afforded by the time for reflection in the lockdown. I will probably remain a pescatarian, or even a flexitarian. I won’t become a vegan and I will respect the choices of my friends and family to eat whatever they want. However, I do understand the younger generation’s commitment to veganism, and am prepared to admit that older is not necessarily wiser.

Meredith Stephens is an applied linguist in Japan. Her work has appeared in Transnational Literature, The Blue Nib, The Font – A Literary Journal for Language Teachers, The Journal of Literature in Language Teaching, The Writers’ and Readers’ MagazineReading in a Foreign Languageand in chapters in anthologies entitled What’s Cooking Mom? Narratives about Food and Family, The Migrant Maternal: “Birthing” New Lives Abroad, and Twenty-First Century Friendshipall published by Demeter Press, Canada.

Categories
Stories

Flash Fiction: Strangers

By Tina Morganella

The African man selling trinkets looks less out of place than me. In jeans and slippers he lopes over the sand, going between beachgoers calling out, “Signora, buon prezzo”, promising a “good price” in an accent that will never sound Italian. His smile is docile but nervous as he approaches three elderly Italians, plump and soft, golden and wrinkled, walking along the sand in their bikinis. He calls one of them by name. Regulars. They pluck at the jewels on offer – great hoops of gold-coloured earrings, chunks of necklaces with matching bracelets. They slip them on and turn their wrists this way and that. They gently prod each other and admire or admonish. The trinket seller senses a sale. He nods and offers other similar items. He’s gently insistent, but there are also unnerving silences that sound to me like desperate appeals for help. 

One of the ladies starts to haggle over the price of a bracelet. She halves the number and he looks betrayed and disappointed. He offers her another number in return and she shakes her head. She’s starting to move away now, waving her hands dismissively. He tilts his head to one side, holding out the bracelet, willing her to take it. She hesitates and takes it in her hands again. But then she makes a decision and brusquely hands it back to him. She says once more, sternly “No”, and walks away. One of her friends lingers for a moment, still listening to his appeal, trying to be kinder and smiling at him apologetically. But then she too turns and joins the others.

He looks angrily after them, “What do you want lady? You talk and talk and talk….” He rearranges his wares, shrugging them on his shoulder, over his forearm, around his neck, and lopes on. “Signora, buon prezzo, buon prezzo.” The call is woeful. The sun forces him to squint as he forges on.  

When he approaches me next my sympathy melts in the sun. I barely glance up from my book, my mouth a line, my eyes unsmiling, avoiding contact. When he, in English, offers me matching sets, I say no, no, several times, loudly, clearly. Annoyed. And as he walks on I’m immediately ashamed. Forgetting that in front of me was a man earning a living.  A man who felt the sting of “no” like anyone else would, and who perhaps heard it ring in his ears long into the night, disturbing his sleep. I watched him move slowly down the beach, hovering gently between groups, being waved away, sent on.

Under a hat and glasses, shaded by an umbrella and mostly clothed, the trinket seller had immediately recognised me as a fellow foreigner. I am overdressed, over cautious. On my own. Pale and cloudy, not sharp and strongly outlined like the Italians. They are minimally dressed, drowsy and lolling in the direct sun – professional couples on holidays feed morsels to small dogs; couples stroll hand in hand, slick with love and affection; and teenagers scoff and jab at each other, all bluster and swagger. The murmur of the ocean is a gentle and lulling hum, still discernible over the laughter and chatter. But behind me violent cliffs loom skyward, the blue sky presses down, heavy and suffocating. I’m half way between the wide expanse of blue, both sky and sea, and the menace of the earth.

Someone asked me earlier whether my beach at home looked out to the ocean or the sea. I had no idea what he was talking about. Confused I kept asking him to repeat himself. Voices were raised. When I finally understood what he meant, I faltered – I didn’t know the answer. What does it matter? He smiled patronisingly at me: “Never mind.” But what does it matter? I want to know. He wouldn’t say.

A shadow falls over my book. Before I can even look up an elderly woman is saying, in Italian, “Scusa signorina, can you look and tell me if my ear is completely covered by the bathing cap?” She assumes I will understand, and I do understand enough. But I still stare at her for a moment, processing. That she assumes I will recognise her words, her request, pleases and puzzles me. She has a sweet face and a patient smile. She is very plump, and is very pale for an Italian. Despite her obvious age, her eyes are lit with youth. She is standing quite still, waiting for me to get up and check her bathing cap.

“No, it’s not….,” I tell her, “wait”.

“Oh thank you. I’ve had an ear infection and my doctor said not to get water in it. But I have to go for my swim, of course.” She is serene.

The nape of her neck looks damp, threads of silver hair escape the cap. I try to tug the plastic over her ear. Her skin is soft and hot. I realise I have to tug reasonably hard and she braces herself and nods encouragingly. I touch her earlobe, brush her cheek. Then I gently nudge her to turn, so I can check the other ear. She obliges; it’s ok. She seems unmoved by the intimacy but I shiver at touching a stranger. Not in revulsion, but breathless and moved by her trust. 

I tell her, “You’re ok now,” in English. She pats her covered ears, satisfied.

“Come ti  chiama signorina?” she asks.

“Mi chiamo Serena.”

She nods once and smiles, “Grazie Serena.” Then turns towards the sea. I sit down again and watch as she shuffles slowly towards the water, wades in up to her thighs and then pushes herself under. I see her arms move rhythmically, her cap peaking above the gentle waves. I watch her until she becomes a pinpoint and I can no longer recognise the stranger.

Tina Morganella is a freelance writer and copy editor with an MPhil in creative writing from the University of Adelaide, Australia. Tina is most interested in short fiction, memoir and travel literature and has most recently been published in Rush (US), STORGY Magazine (UK), Tulpa Magazine (Australia), Sky Island Journal (US), Entropy (US) and Sudo (Australia). She also has nonfiction articles published in the Australian press (The Big Issue, The Australian, The Adelaide Advertiser).

Categories
Musings

In time of a growing pandemic: Some thoughts

By Zeenat Khan

On Sunday morning, I hardly noticed that the Japanese Magnolia outside my study room window is in full bloom as it is mid-March. Every year, in late winter, some of the area trees do flower before leaves start to come. That is the first sign to remind us that spring is upon us. There is an undeniably joyous feeling to it and most of us get busy in planning flurries of activities after a long winter. But on Friday afternoon, at 3 PM President Trump declaring National Emergency had everyone put in a panic mode. He had to do it because of the growing spread of the corona virus across states as it is affecting 49 states now. After that, there was no time to enjoy or contemplate about the advancing season.In time of crisis it is hard to put feelings into words. The anxiety that is gripping the world is very challenging. To say people are feeling “scared” is an understatement to describe the kind of fear the people around the world seem to be feeling. The signs are everywhere you go in big and small way, it is written on the faces of people.

Instead of going to the nursery to choose spring flowering plants, people were frantically going to supermarkets to load up on supplies this weekend. The erratic fear is that the supply chain will be seriously disrupted in case of a serious pandemic. There will be no one to drive the interstate supply trucks if thousands of people fall sick to the virus. This year that feeling of urgency to make a to-do list has been seriously diminished by the corona virus epidemic. Now the priority for most people is to plan for the very uncertain next few months. The virus is acting as a metaphor the populist leaders such as Trump fear and detest about the outside world. It is clear that the world leaders are not working together in an effective and coordinated way to contain the spread of the virus and that is really scary. During the day, there are so many new updates on the virus and its spread that it is hard to keep track. Within 24 hours things can take a dramatic turn, as a lot can happen in that time. Trump so far has pledged 50 billion to fight this.

No matter what you do or how many precautions you take, the virus news is on your mind constantly. For the last few days, I have been feeling slightly depressed seeing many conflicting news and what it means globally as we are one big society. Last night, just before going to bed, it was disheartening to read in al.monitor.com that the spread of corona virus in Iran has shown no sign of slowing down. Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has made a public plea for sanctions to be eased and medical supplies. He also wrote a letter to the UN Secretary General sating US sanctions “obstacles to the sale of medicine, medical supplies and humanitarian goods.”

It really hit hard that from March 13; Broadways theaters in New York City have gone dark and will remain so for a month at least. Broadway is the symbol of resilience and life in New York. Last time it had closed for 48 hours after 9/11. The premise that the show must go on has been defeated as it is no match against the threat of COVID-19. When I was emailing my daughter Friday evening,I called the virus an “invisible enemy” as that is what came to mind spontaneously. I keep on sending her news updates knowing full well that she is on top of things. The mother in me feels protective of her even though she is a grown up and has been a faculty member in one of the prestigious colleges in New England for the last 2 years. In response, she sends me the forward of the email from the college President that went to all the faculty members saying when the last in person class is going to be. He reassures that his institution is still safe from the virus as no one was tested for the virus. So he presumes everyone is safe and to wait another week and be done with the classes before spring break. After that the remainder of the semester will be online. She informed me that it’s a lot of pressure there to convert everything to online learning as the graduate classes she teaches are not meant to be online. But most of the faculty members feel the college should have closed the in person classes and should have done what other institutions in that state and all the adjoining states did. They all cancelled classes and sent everyone home after one student tested positive in another college very close by. As I was writing this piece I got information from my daughter where she said, “Yes, everything has closed as of last night.”

There are so many expert opinions that people are not sure which way to go as they themselves are not sure. Some argue that society cannot be shut down completely. But that is exactly what is happening. Italy is under total lock down. Spain is following Italy in terms of isolating towns and cities to reduce the spread of the virus. Each government is doing what they see is the right thing to do to save a large numbers of people escape this dreadful virus. Last night I heard on the radio that France is closing all restaurants among other things to limit the spread of the virus.

As I am editing this article on a Sunday afternoon, I can see the park across from my dining room window. Usually, on a warm day like today, the park is filled with children playing. There has been total silence there this weekend. Only I see a person walking around the park to get his daily exercise. According to WHO reports children are not at great risk for corona virus. But the parents are not taking any chances. The stillness in the neighbourhood is very eerie. Sometimes in late summer, it feels similar, as most families are on vacation before school starts in late August. This is an extraordinary time that calls for drastic measures to be taken. All Maryland schools shut down a week ago to avoid person to person contact. Many working parents were forced to find childcare for them. All the schools had sent letters home to parents asking the students not to return to school after spring break. Meanwhile, massive cleaning operations are underway in all the schools and colleges. Maryland’s corona virus cases continue to rise and as of this writing governor Larry Hogan’s office has confirmed 31 cases including five new cases overnight. He has declared state of emergency two weeks ago to get federal aid package that will facilitate to treat the disease faster.

The biggest dilemma for most families is how much food to store anticipating the worst. There are a couple of You Tubers that I follow from time to time. One of them is a lady in London. Yesterday, she posted a video as to how she is preparing for the coming weeks and months. For a family of five, among dry and frozen foods,she had dragged a sixty-pound Basmati rice bag to her third floor flat when the elevator was not working. The dry food items consisted of every kind of lentils and other nonperishable canned food that will last for months. Another vlogger had shown her followers how she is disinfecting her apartment with homemade solutions in Toronto. She was not that lucky to load up on supplies as the supermarket shelves are getting empty very fast and the lines are very long. And yes, the toilet paper panic is going in full force there as well like in Australia and America. The internet is floating with corny Toilet Paper jokes.

In my local supermarket, the cleaning and paper towel isles were totally empty when we went last Thursday night. The store was super crowded and many families came with children. Each member grabbed a shopping cart and was piling up every imaginable kind of food as if they will be facing a famine. We might, but we just don’t know. One couple was arguing over which super-size peanut butter to get. I looked at my cart with a week’s worth of supplies failing to make a decision as to how much food can I load for two people expecting the nastiest pandemic. Later on,I get a text from my daughter urging me not to go the supermarket and instead to have it delivered. I told her I don’t know while bagging my order if anyone will sneeze on my food and whether I will accept the bags thinking it is all safe. In time of crisis we can all descend into full scale paranoia. However,I console myself that perhaps in worst case scenario, the National Guard will feed people in the community if we all run out on supplies. But nonetheless, most of Saturday we were busy buying weeks’ worth of supplies from three different stores like others.

In the midst of all the uncertainties, people are naturally panicking and acting like we are facing a war, in this instance with the ‘invisible virus.’ The news media is relentless in politicizing every issue particularly emphasizing the good prime minister of Canada vs bad president of US as the punchline after Justin’s wife Sophie Trudeau tested positive for the corona virus. Justin Trudeau is self-isolating him and working from home. Donald Trump was in close contact with some of the Brazilian delegates and one of them has confirmed that he has become infected with corona virus. Trump was standing right next to that person in his Florida Golf Club estate and there are pictures to prove it. Yet the White House at first denied the president having any contact with that person. Later Trump downplayed it saying that he is “not concerned.” No one can make sense of why he would say something like this after emphasizing the importance of social isolation and self-quarantine. Why Trump shouldn’t be concerned nor get tested boggled everyone’s mind. In this instance Trudeau looks to be the sensible person and as usual Trump is ignorant and obstinate. Later, on Friday he said would “likely” receive a coronavirus test “fairly soon” even as he minimized the prospects of having contracted the virus from a Brazilian press aide. The early reports were wrong and the Brazilian leader later announced he tested negative. But the episode “underscored the tenuous position Trump now finds himself: exposed to at least one person who has tested positive, in regular contact with others who have self-quarantined and under pressure to test himself.” After that he said on Friday afternoon that “most likely” he will get tested. Then he went ahead and had him tested on Friday night awaiting results.

It is unfathomable how Trump threw a lavish party with foreign dignitaries in these uncertain times by exposing himself to people who were later tested positive for the virus. Many of his family members were also at the party dancing away.

Amid darkness there is still hope and we need to take one day at a time and brace ourselves for a positive outcome. Until then, there is no choice but to follow the guidelines and try our best to keep us healthy. Amid the corona virus updates there are still other news stories that give me hope. Three Turkish men were sentenced last week to 125 years in prison for their part in Aylan Kurdi, 2-year-old Syrian boy’s drowning. We will never forget Aylan face down on a Turkish beach in 2015. Aylan died with his 5-year-old brother and their mother, only the father survived.When you read about the fate of Aryan’s killers, you think there is still justice in the world.

Humor is something that also keeps us from over worrying and going over the edge. Pete Buttigieg served an example as to how to keep humour alive when he was filling in for Jimmy Kimmel on Thursday night’s talk show on ABC. He was trying to make television audiences laugh who only consisted of the producers and crew members sitting at six feet apart. There are no live audiences now. As Pete finds himself unemployed after he dropped out of the presidential race, and no longer the mayor of South Bend, he went looking for a supposed job (any job) in Los Angeles. This was a prop for the show as it is often done as a segment. With his Harvard and Oxford degrees, Pete Buttigieg lands a job giving out free samples of pretzels to passersby. Wearing an apron with the store logo he stands in front of the store holding a tray. When he gave one person a second helping, the burly African American woman manager fires him on his first day. Moments like this makes you laugh really hard and for a few minutes and you forget how the nation is gripped in erratic fear.

Also, as you read the comic strip prepared by DrRavindra Khaiwal&Dr Suman Mor published in the Counter Currents, you learn how Superhero Vaayu comes to the rescue to explain to the kids in simple terms what corona virus is as they are in panic. Vaayu at the end asks the children to “follow the simple steps and break the chain of infection.” You as well think that we will beat this provided we follow all the basic hygiene and guidelines to contain the virus. Such expressions in a comic strip certainly gives you hope and you believe it with an almost childlike innocence.

I am an optimist by nature – there are solutions to each problem, even the deadly corona virus. As we go through these tough times, thinking of spring, a new start, can be immensely helpful. We cannot give into fear, doom and gloom, and we need to keep our spirits up. I hope, spring will symbolise new life and we will be absorbed in nature’s essence. In about a month, hopefully, I will be looking at the happy bluebird in my backyard, the robins and sparrows hopping and jumping in the new grass, and hear the sound of children playing outside. I believe we can defeat the “invisible enemy” and one day COVID-19 will just be a distant memory. May the force be with us.

Zeenat Khan writes from Maryland, USA

This was originally published in Countercurrents.org