Kavya took a deep breath and released it—exhaling deeply—just as her mother, a yoga teacher, had taught her to do. Last month she had finally set foot at the University of Miami campus—a day she’d been dreaming of since she entered high school.
True, college no longer looked as it had when she’d toured the campus in April 2019 with her mom and brother—at that time, crowds blocked the hallways and stairs. Kids here, kids there, everywhere, laughing, shouting, rushing to and fro, greeting one another, and talking over their plans for the school year. She’d spent the time roaming around, familiarizing herself with the layout of the campus, and learning the names of the various fraternities and the buildings where they were housed—some old and vine-clad, others new and shiny in the sun.
Things were different now—she was sealed in the bubble of a virus-tested dorm, classes online, already knowing her room and floormates via months on the University’s media social site. But, the pandemic couldn’t take everything away from them—going off to college was for Kavya, her first plunge into freedom and adulthood. Going away to college meant leaving behind the restrictions her traditional Indian family tried to impose—no late nights, no sleepovers, no male friends, no wearing crop tops, or shorts. Over raised voices and the repeated questioning of her choices, it seemed she’d been waiting for this moment forever. Aaah! To be an undergrad, where she would be encouraged to take risks and find new connections in dining halls and laundry rooms.
Being confined to an extra-long twin bed in a stuffy dorm room, peering out at the world through barred windows for the weekend was not going to cut it for her. It was the fall 2020 semester, yes, but one collegiate rite of passage was not to be missed! Fraternity Rush Party at Dave’s bar, the flyer handed to her surreptitiously—under cover of a voluminous tome—while she studied in the library, proclaimed in loud, defiant tones.
Kavya smoothed down the short and figure-hugging red dress that she had bought, especially for an evening such as this. As the fabric adjusted perfectly around her hourglass figure, she threw a Kate Spade handbag jauntily over her shoulder and closed the dorm room behind her, a blue mask clasped in her hand. Taking the stairs two at a time, she ran down to the main hall and through a door leading to the outside.
Fifteen minutes later, she was downing back shots of tequila along with twenty other first-year students. The bar was crowded, and no one was wearing masks.
“More, More, More,” the voices around her screamed, and Kavya wasn’t going to be shown up by some wimpy, white girls in the drinking department.
At that moment, the virus was “out of sight, out of mind.” No one knew anyone who’d contracted it, they were young and healthy; besides, they’d heard from the mayor and the governor that everything was fine.
Five days later, Kavya woke up with a dry tight cough. Relentless cold shivers racked her body as she sweated and wetted her sheets. When she looked in the mirror, her pallor was a translucent yellow, and her eyes were red-lined.
“Ping, ping,“ her phone buzzed repeatedly, frantically, incessantly.
Kat Clayton: Boom. Positive.
Laura Spear: Boom. Positive.
Eric Crisp: Boom. Positive.
Kavya fell backward into the bed, clutching at the sheets. In her mind’s eye, she could see the cramped apartment with the water-stained walls in which she had grown up, still smelling faintly of the incense Ma burned every morning in front of the altar containing the statues of the Hindu Gods and Goddesses,
“Jo Bowega to pawega. You reap as you sow,” her mother’s ominous words ringing in her ears.
Sarah Hartley reporting, “A group of 16 undergraduate students have tested positive for coronavirus after a night out at a recently re-opened Florida bar. Three members of the group who spoke to CNN Tuesday said they want to remind the public that the pandemic is not over yet.
The University is sending the students home.”
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