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To Reach My Mother: A COVID-19 Story

| This is the 527th story of Our Life Logs |


I hail from a small town in Tamilnadu, India. My mother worked as domestic help and my father was a mason at construction sites in a faraway town. My parents separated soon after I was born in the early 2000s, so I spent most of my time at my mother’s place and would rarely visit my father since he had to be on the move because of his job. 

Being uneducated themselves, my parents wanted to formally educate me at any cost. Despite this, I did not excel in school. At 10 years old, I said, “I hate school and I am not going back. Never again.” After months of pleading, my parents finally gave up and let me drop out of school. 

After that, I most meandered around with other girls who dropped out. Those days were incredible. Sure, my days may have been aimless, but I figured that I’d find a purpose in life later. For the next several years, I enjoyed being young and free.

In 2019, COVID-19 hit China and quickly spread to other parts of the world. At the time, I was unaware. Being from a poor part of the country without access to the internet or TV, no one really knew what the coronavirus actually was. Not to mention, I was so involved in myself that I never cared to know what was happening around me. Ignorance really is bliss. 

It wasn’t long after my 17th birthday when I got a call that my mom was sick. At the time, I was staying at my father’s place and just assumed she had nothing more than an ordinary flu. By that time, a lockdown had been announced and all the public transport services were shut down. But my mother was sick and needed me, so I decided I’d do whatever it took to get to her. 

My father wanted to accompany me, but his arthritis kept him at home. Though he hated the idea of me going alone, I couldn’t stay. I was determined to go with all the grit and determination in my soul. Unbeknownst to what laid ahead of me, I began the 76-kilometer walk with only water, biscuits, bananas, and the little money given to me by my father. It would take about two days to reach my mother, a small sacrifice for being there in her time of need. 

On March 28, 2020, at 7 AM, I stepped onto the dirt road. In the morning light, I had no trouble. But as the day wore on, the sun became scorching hot and sweat dripped from every inch of my body. I completed the first 20 KMs, taking breaks every hour to rehydrate and wash my face before I decided I need a much longer rest. With parched lips and swollen feet, I stopped in a small village on my way. Upon explaining my situation, the villagers welcomed me and offered food.  

During my time there, I listened in on village discussions, all circling the topic of the coronavirus. The people had learned of the first We, the “Economically-Weaker Section,” did not have internet or regular TV news updates. All we knew of the virus was the fear and confusion that crept in. 

Apparently, the first case had popped up in India in early March, but we, the Economically​-Weaker Section, did not have a clear understanding of the virus. We assumed that COVID-19 was a pest that could be killed by sprinkling coffee grounds and spraying essential oils around the house. 

After thanking the villagers for their hospitality, I decided that I needed to continue my journey. 

I continued walking for another 21 KM, taking breaks every now and then, until I reached the halfway mark, the Samayapuram Temple, around 8 PM. I’d never felt so exhausted; every muscle in my body ached. I couldn’t help but look back and think of the role my mom had played in my life so far, and of how lonely and sick she must have been. 

I needed a place to sleep for the night, and unlike the village I had visited earlier that day, nobody near the temple would take me into their home. They knew enough about the virus to know that letting a stranger sleep at their place might get them infected. I was left with no other choice than to sleep outside the temple with beggars. 

As I laid down near the entrance, I heard the people discuss how deadly and infectious the virus was, how it originated in a faraway country called China, and had started to spread globally. I learned about how people might recover without needing hospital treatment, how it spreads from person to person through droplets of water from an infected person to others, and how important it was to wash hands regularly. I finally understood the gravity of the situation and I feared that my mom’s sickness was linked to this deadly virus. All that stood between my mother and me was 35 KM; I was more determined than ever to close the gap. 

Bright and early at 6 AM, I set off. The previous day, I had avoided the National Highways to prevent myself from being caught by the highway police for violating the lockdown orders. But that day, I felt I had no choice. My instinct was telling me I needed to hurry and reach my mother. 

As soon as I entered the highways, I witnessed a swarm of migrant workers from the South with no money and food. They narrated to me how they had been traveling for days, resting throughout the day on reaching a toll plaza and resuming their walk at sunset. They did not know as to how long it might take for them to reach their home or if they’ll survive. Walking with them, I felt safer. 

We had walked for 15 KM when we saw a lorry carrying farm produce and decided to get in and travel as far as the lorry would take us. My heart started pounding faster by the minute as we rode in the back with a heap of watermelons. Having covered 20 KM in minutes, I thanked him quickly for the help and raced to my mother. 

I arrived to find her with a hovering fever and no one to look after her. When I asked for her symptoms, she complained of a headache, sore throat, and a loss of taste. For safety reasons, and in the midst of job losses, the households where my mother had been working decided to lay her off. Not long after, she got sick. I took my mother to the Government Hospital for a check-up, where I was told that her symptoms were not severe and that she should not come back unless she had difficulty breathing. 

With whatever little money and household supplies left, we quarantined ourselves inside the house and followed the medications prescribed by the doctor. All my life, my mom had taken care of all the daily chores while I ran and played, but with her sick, the roles were reversed. With the increase in the difficulty of a household chore, the respect I had for her grew.

My mother used to tell me how difficult it was to take care of me all by herself, how tense she was all the time, how worried she was when I’d fall sick. She would check up on me periodically to see if I was fine and breathing, and would sit beside me until I woke up. Back then, I had made fun of her for acting so silly. Now, I finally understood. As my mother slept, the house fell completely silent except for the chirping of birds outside. It was so deafening and scary that I started checking on her like she did when I was a kid. All her concerns made sense now.  

My mother slept most of the next day in an isolated room. I gave her the recommended tablets, syrup, and home remedies as I took care of all the chores. I distanced myself from her when my presence was not needed. I knew that if I fell sick too, no one else would be able to help us.  

Living in a close-knit community, everyone knows each other well and looks out for each other. So, when a couple days after I arrived I received a knock on the door from a neighbor inquiring after my mother, I wasn’t surprised. She said he hadn’t heard from my mother in days and was worried. I confessed to her that my mother was feeling unwell and the doctor had advised us to stay indoors for a week. There was a rush of emotions on her face as she turned to leave, not uttering a word. 

Within the next hour, the word had spread throughout our village. Neighbors had turned into strangers with the snap of a finger. It was their survival instinct. Nobody wanted to get infected. They had started avoiding us so fast that it hit me hard right in the face. It was heartbreaking to feel so abandoned.

After a couple more days, we had run out of food. I reached out to a household where my mother had been working to help me with money, and thankfully, they obliged. I had to travel to their place to collect the money. Donning a mask, I approached an elder of my village to ask that they look after my mother until I returned. They must have seen it in my eyes how much I was struggling because they agreed. When I returned, I got right back to work.

Things were getting hard by the day. Though I had started to get a grasp of things, I was still bad at multitasking. I was striving to take care of my mother, cook, maintain the house, and honestly, try to stay sane.  

The next day, a miracle I was hoping for happened. The neighbor granny who cared for my mom had explained to the others in the village how badly I needed help, and their scared hearts began to open and lend a hand. I started finding cooked meals, food supplies, and fruits at my doorstep. My eyes watered at the kindness people were showing us. My faith in humanity had been restored. 

From there, my mother fought the virus with all her might and when went to the doctor for a follow-up, they found that she was getting better. 

With a few more days of rest (which felt like an eternity) my mother acknowledged my presence by giving me a soft smile. For the first time in days, I felt hopeful and sure that she would recover completely very soon. I dozed off, my head resting in her lap.

Days later, I woke up to the familiar smell of coffee. It must be just a dream. Isn’t Mother sick?  I pinched myself very hard before rushing to the kitchen. But then, I saw her, my mother, standing right in front of me. Though she had not recovered fully, her eyes shone brightly. She stroked my hair and kissed me on the forehead. I felt all warm and loved inside. It was at that moment I realized that I had come a long way from being a self-centered kid to a mature girl. Caring for my mother, I realized just how precious life is, and how one must not waste it. 

 This is the story of Prabha Manahar

Prabha, 17, now resides in Trichy, Tamil Nadu, India with her mother. Quarantine has made her realize how she had taken things for granted. Her first day out of quarantine would involve her friends, visiting a movie with her gang, or simply spend time with them. But before that, she would like to hug her father and convince her separated parents to reunite. The quarantine has made her realize they would be stronger together than apart.

This story first touched our hearts on April 28, 2020.

| Writer: Dhivya Sairam | Editor: Colleen Walker |

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