Anil hears the baby crying upstairs in her nursery. She’s woken up from her mid-day nap. Earlier today than usual, he thinks with a lopsided smile. He hears the sounds as his wife opens the door to the yellow wallpapered room, rocks Arya back and forth, murmuring against her ear. Snatches from a familiar Hindi lullaby crowd his mind.
Anil shakes his head, forces himself to concentrate on the email sent from his boss about the reopening of distribution channels to China. In less than an hour, I’ll have time to go meet baby Arya. Eat my lunch with her perched on my lap. She will coo and gurgle. I’ll talk back to her. Teach her how to say ‘Papa’. Arya will look at me and laugh. Ah, what bliss. A wide, genuine smile like curling oil spreads across his face. Thank you, Bhagwan for this pandemic!
Ten months ago, when Arya had been born and his four weeks’ paternity leave had expired, he’d been dreading the two-hour commute to his job in Silicon Valley. Resigned to spending a few minutes with the baby if he reached home in time before her bedtime at 6 p.m. To saying goodbye to the sleeping infant when he left for work at 7 a.m.
Anil stretches his arms over his head in a ripple of under-used muscles and feels a ray of sunlight from the open office window strike his upturned face.
Sometimes he feels a stab of survivor’s guilt. While the newspapers reported every day how many people were dying of Covid-19, and his colleagues griped about quarantine-induced cabin fever and sharing at-home-work-spaces with Zoom schoolrooms, he could only feel gratitude. Enjoying the freedoms that remote work paired with disposable income as a data processor at Global Informatics afforded him. Using this pause in the typical fast-running current of his professional social-class life to enjoy his reshaped family with a newborn.
Ping. ping. Ah, his last meeting before the break for lunch.
Five hours later, Anil snaps his laptop shut, looking askance at his rotund belly—an unfortunate by-product of being at home during the pandemic. His mind buzzes as he lopes across the living-room, his chest tight with anticipation at the thought of giving Arya a bath.
“Anil,” comes his wife’s strident voice from over the banisters. “The trash cans!”
“Oh, fuck,” he mouths then strides back towards the office and out the side door.
He half-drags, half-carries the garbage cans overflowing with soiled diapers that saturate the air with a foul odor—across the miniature front lawn and to the side of the road. Across the street, his neighbor Steve—a large burly man with thick black hair and thick eyebrows—waves at him.
“Howdy Anil, how goes you?” Steve asks, loud as a bell.
“Can’t complain. How about you?”
“Doing well, man. You’ve seen the stock market? Crazy, huh?” Steve jiggles a toothpick in his mouth and bounces on the balls of his feet.
Aah, yes. Steve, a high-powered executive at Apple and others in high-paying high-tech jobs had relished seeing the Dow finish roughly 60% up since March. Anil remembers a Wall Street Journal article that “workers with bachelor degrees or higher had nearly fully recovered jobs lost in early spring by September. Meanwhile, the vast majority of workers struggling in shocking numbers are without college degrees.”
A few houses away, the lid of a trash can clatters into the road. Steve is still talking. His son, Chad—a millennial—working as an account executive with a San Francisco-based public relations agency had ended his pricey lease and is now traveling all over Europe with his fiancee while working remotely.
“I’m glad Chad and Lydia are reaping the benefits of being able to work from wherever, but I have a lot of empathy for people who are struggling. The good news is that our family charitable trust has been trending upwards since March and my company and others will match what we donate.” Steve finishes as he bids goodnight to Anil.
Sitting across from his wife at the dinner table, Anil sees her eyes—that speak of long, sleepless hours—light up at the meal he’s cooked for her: rajma with rice and okra. She’d been able to fit a nap and a phone call to her brother in the one hour since he’d taken over the baby chores.
“Dev and his family are doing well. Their sales are through the roof,” says his wife. His wife’s brother owns a string of convenience stores in Texas. “People are buying liquor, hand sanitizer, and boxed pizza in truckloads, and it’s been difficult for him to keep up with demand.”
Anil nods slowly. Yes, many small businesses were thriving during the coronavirus pandemic—delivery services, grocery stores, fitness equipment companies. But, what of those left behind?
He casts his mind back to the telephone conversation he’d had yesterday with his 83-year-old mom sequestered in her apartment in New Delhi. In exchanging pleasantries with her, he’d realized that he could hear Meena, their maid-servant, sobbing in the background. Meena had been working for his parents for 30 years and was practically a family member.
“She can’t afford to send her son and daughter to school anymore,” his mom explained. “Since the death of her husband last month, money’s been tight. Her son has had to find work at a tea-stall while her nine-year-old daughter is working in a tailoring factory to make ends meet.”
I’ll talk to Steve tomorrow, Anil decides, lacing his fingers under his chin. Set up a Go-Fund to help those whom this disease has hit the hardest. He grabs a fork and prepares to savor his first mouthful.
A minute later an ear-splitting wail interrupts their cherished dinner hour and Anil scrapes his chair back with a resigned sigh.
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