A Covid State of Mind
“Painful is not the right word, I wouldn’t describe it as painful,” was how a former colleague from a Delhi newspaper, who had been Covid tested several times on her own volition (she’s a hypochondriac who doesn’t want to cut back on her social life) responded to my “Does it hurt to do a PCR test, I read a piece on how some people are fainting?”
And then she added, “But it’s uncomfortable, especially, you know, when they thrust in that pointy thing up your nose.”
“Okay, stop right there,” I clapped hands on my ears like an effete drama queen.
“You’ve become quite insufferable — I hope you know that,” she observed.
“I know,” I said miserably. “Blame it on the pandemic.”
Ever since I decided to take a leap of faith and return to Dubai after a more than 18-month-long break in Delhi, I had been besieged with doubts. What was making me grapple with second thoughts was not just the second wave and my love for India’s capital city, but also the prospect of being tested thrice over. Once 72 hours before departure, once on arrival, once before being deemed fit for work.
“Don’t go away in these trying times,” my father pleaded. “I will disinherit your brother from the family fortune and give you everything if you stay back.”
I didn’t know there was a family fortune. There isn’t, he confirmed, but don’t go still.
He finally settled on a set of instructions. Gargling, steam inhalation, drinking gallons of “clear” water, eating healthy, not going out to socialise and so on and so forth.
Fortified by good advice, when I finally emerged out of Dubai airport one afternoon, and the weather hit me like a warm rod, I was already a PCR veteran with two tests in the last 72 hours under my belt. From hereon, I would be out
in the open, and no longer afford to
have hashtag #StayAtHome as my social media identity.
“Are you here to self-isolate?” the nice man at the hotel desk asked me.
“What do you mean?” I was immediately suspicious. “Are you asking me if I have Covid and I am checking in to quarantine?” And did the front-office woman just secure her mask tighter because the jury is still out on my status?
“Never mind, ma’am,” his eyes crinkled, I knew he was smiling behind his mask. “I’m sure you are fine — you’ll find out soon enough, when you receive your airport report.”
I tried to feel nonchalant while ordering a falafel sandwich from room service but there was a frisson of dread sneaking around my insides — as sneaky as the virus itself. A few hours later, when I got the message from PureHealth, I actually took a deep breath, sent up a silent prayer and then clicked on it. Okay. Negative. Relieved.
But I’ve been living in terror nonetheless. I woke up at 3am once imagining I was getting the beginnings of a sore throat and hyperventilated. Another time, as I was about to step into the premises of a particular building, the guard suddenly whipped out a thermal gun and scanned my wrist.
“36.2,” he deadpanned.
“Wait, what? Is that bad?” In my mind, I was furiously trying to convert Celsius into Fahrenheit and failing spectacularly in doing the math.
“No, you’re good,” he shrugged.
Damn you, why can’t you at least smile and say so?
While checking out potential homing spaces around the gently lapping waters of Dubai Marina, a friend — who insisted on accompanying me on my house-hunt in an effort to get me to discard my love for Bur Dubai and warm up to newer nuances in ‘south Dubai’ — told me she smelt unwashed clothes in an apartment that welcomed us with a jute doormat. “It’s very distinct, I can smell it through my mask,” she sniffed. “Maybe the earlier tenants didn’t believe in doing laundry?”
“Oh gosh, I cannot smell anything, does that mean I have Covid? Isn’t loss of smell a symptom?”
We went for a coffee soon after. Her idea. “You need to chill with a hot drink.”
When my cappuccino arrived in a ceramic cup, I pulled my mask down and was engulfed in caffeine redolence.
“I think I’m alright,” I beamed. “I can smell the coffee.”