I ride my bicycle

The bike ride to the Indian grocery store in Tooting was the first time I had ventured more than two miles away from my home in six weeks. Since we moved to London, I had been holding a fear of double decker buses bearing in on me while bicycling. Now, we have bigger, more urgent fears.

Discovering new lanes and tunnels and parks, bicycling by skateparks, following directions from my phone, I rode by Wimbledon Commons, one thousand acres of countryside in the middle of Wimbledon. I felt again that pang of guilt at the beauty of this city where the parks have been kept open. The Commons though not full had plenty of people keeping space between themselves and kicking ball, playing, running, exercising, walking in the early summer sun.

In India, an uncle of mine spent an entire day in an ambulance trying to find a hospital in Kolkata that would take him in for a respiratory distress, earlier misdiagnosed for two weeks as typhoid. In a small town in Andhra Pradesh where another aunt and uncle live with their daughter, the apartment building is now in quarantine after a resident in the building tested positive. It has been three days now and the uncle is running out of his diabetes testing needles and my aunt of her blood pressure meds. They eat dal and rice, they have run out of tea. They will not be able to leave their apartment for twenty one days and no one has yet figured out how or if they will receive their meds or any more food. The stories of migrant laborers from India to Singapore are painful to read.

I will stand in line at the Indian groceries and after I buy my chilis and rice and okra and dal, I will bicycle back home with them. Afterwards I will call uncles and aunts in India and talk to them and relive again being the child I once was to them.

Eating that strawberry

It was always out there. Danger, possibility of it. Now it has a name. The name of a virus.

When we dropped our children to school and got our hair cut and when we drank coffee in a shop seated near the door, looking out at the street and passersby, when we stood at the bus stop and climbed up holding on to the rails, on a subway back to back with other commuters, sharing the cramped air, our bags and bodies almost touching, headphones on our ears.

I read a parable yesterday. A woman is being chased by a tiger. She is running away as fast as she can, when she sees a rope hanging on the side of a mountain. She jumps off and holds on to the rope but when she looks down she sees there are more tigers. Near her she sees a strawberry plant, a few bright red strawberries. When she looks up, she sees a mouse biting the very rope she is holding on to. She looks up, she looks down, she looks at the tigers and the mouse. Then she picks up a strawberry, puts it in her mouth and eats it slowly, enjoying it thoroughly.

Our life has always been this way, dangerous. Only now it feels we aree more keenly aware of it and the only way to keep sane every day is to focus on eating that strawberry.

Loving memories

The cherry trees in the cemetery are shedding their petals. On my morning run yesterday I found the narrow pathways between the graves covered in pink. After a couple of warm days, I was not prepared for the wind and the cloud covered grey skies.

Running in the cemetery comforts me though I can’t really explain why or what it is about these mostly ancient gravestones that ground me. Maybe because it seems they contain by their very essence the mystery of what it means to be alive?

Boris Johnson left the hospital and is recuperating in his country home.

The cemetery had only a few occupants, mostly dog walkers, a few exercising amidst the stones marking lives once lived. A girl did drills with a band, a camera posed precariously above the gravestone, her clothes and a bag lay the head of the stone. I wondered if it was someone she could have known that allowed her that level of intimacy.

I could hear the birds in the trees, flowers and leaves coming to life as winter nears its end. When the paths merge into the grass, I always turn around and start a new loop. It is a small cemetery. Most of the inner small paths end at a gravestone or two. I see as I keep running from the corner of my eyes the words Loving Memory carved on many of them. Grandma, mom, sister, brother, father, grandfather, child.

I had seen yesterday morning an aerial photograph of a gravesite on a New York island where coffins are being buried of Covid-19 victims. It is a long shot of an empty stretch of land, in the backdrop a long building. No words carved in stone for them.

I look for something positive, generous, kind to hold on to every day. Some days I find it in myself, some days in the news, on social media, in the supermarket or in my home. Some days I find it, the days I don’t, I despair and convince myself that I need to look harder.

When I am back at my desk later in the day, the girls come by to sit on my lap, tell me a story, complain or settle a fight. I breathe in the scents of their wriggling bodies and hope to create in my own bones and flesh an imprint of their youth, a remembrance of this time.

The Aftermath

They say we are awaiting a new world order, after this pandemic passes and we rush off into the busyness that constitutes our modern life, we will find that the world is not the same. The enormity of a virus invasion is bigger than we can envisage, jobs lost, broken economies, broken homes and so many dead before their time.

Cloistered in my own home with my children, husband, brother and dog, we have reconfigured our days to a slower rhythm. During these Easter holidays the children don’t have access to their phones or laptops. We watch movies together as a family and when my husband and I are working at our desks, we give them the time to figure out what to do with theirs. It is a luxury they have never had before.

As modern parents we have filled their days with school and after school classes. We have wanted to give them the best lest they fall behind. Over the last few days after the initial annoyances and sulks resulting from not having the internet, I have watched them lie on the couches reading for hours, the oldest gives an inordinate amount of attention to colors. Her art is a psychedelic dream of neons and shimmers. I feel I am peeping into her teenage heart. They play pretend games and help us clean the house and prep meals and clean up after. Their fingers linger on the piano keys.

The privilege of our isolation does not escape me. Sometimes I stand on the narrow patio of our home that faces what used to be a busy road, now quietened of traffic and I watch the people pass by. There are gloves and masks and mothers and children. London has not shut down as completely as many other European cities. Occasionally I go for a run and dodge other pedestrians. It is a like playing a game to veer away from people only I have always been that way.

I do not miss school drop offs and pick ups, I do not miss having to do small talk and small smiles with people I don’t know. I don’t miss all the things that we have to do in a world where outward action is more important than our isolated moments of meanderings. I have long been looking for a home. In the last ten years we have moved eleven times, from house to house, job to job, one state to another and countries and continents. I am complicit in the current human condition of overuse and abuse. The earth has begged us to stop in a way we cannot ignore.

Today when there is no choice, when all travel plans have been canceled, I sit at my table and am glad for a sky empty of airplanes and look down at the tiny backyard where the children find patches of sun to sit in and picnic. I watch carefully the many seeds I have planted come to sprout, blueberries and raspberries and tomatoes and lettuce, radish, beets, carrots, strawberries. They will not be rushed. They peep out bright green from the soil and then slowly they bend towards the sun. This is what I hope for us too. A gentle turning towards the light and no need for anything more.