Jannatul Ferdous Tulona
It was about half past eleven when three soft knocks fell on the door to her single room and shook Nia awake from her nap. Her eyes hadn’t gotten used to the darkness yet. She frantically fumbled around in circles searching for the only thing that mattered most — the mask. Without waiting long, a faint voice floated in, calling her name. It was Eunice, the girl two doors down the hall.
“What?” Nia snapped back.
“We were going to the store to shop for stuff. Wanna join?”
“No!” she almost screamed, the fear flooding out from her in loud echoes. She held her breath until she heard Eunice and her other flatmates lock the main door and walk out. Silence, sadness, anguish, and defeat fell on her at once. She sighed meekly, and slumped on the bed. Just when she’d thought her days couldn’t get any darker, the power decided to run out today in the girls’ hostel. She closed her eyes and nostalgia brought back old, happy memories.
Eunice, Reese, Nia, and Eli had been neighbours for two years, friends for a year and a half. There was only one cinema, one proper “mall” in the city, and one bus from the university that took the students out to these on weekends. Nia smiled at the times they’d curse the city for being still stuck in the 80’s, the time Reese made pancakes for everyone and the eggs turned out bad, Eunice waking everyone up at 4 in the morning because there was a cockroach in the sink, or the first time Nia had made kheer and become famous.
Nia felt her stomach growl angrily at the thought of food. A proper meal was a hazy memory now, the last thing she’d eaten was frozen yoghurt, sometime in the morning. Anger flared up in her. It was THEIR fault! They were not her friends! Had they been, could they have left her stranded, scared, and starving, all by herself? They were the ones to blame for this disastrous outbreak anyway! If it were not for them, she would not be caged up in this room like a zoo animal! The shops now are emptier than a desert, and a trip outside is suicide! Nia had little energy left to vent her rage, while her sense of logic was rather blinded by deprivation. She couldn’t help but feel mad hatred towards the same people she had shared a home with for so long…
On staggering knees, she got up and opened the door. Her mask was still nowhere to be found in the dark, but she did not care anymore. A strange sense of hollowness had taken over, and she felt drawn outside, as if the end to all her misery stood there, at the gates of her prison.
Outside, there was an enormous, bald moon, bathing everything in molten silver. Nia stood there, holding the railings of the verandah for support. Her eyes felt heavier than ever; her body, light as a stick doll’s, swayed a little in the soft breeze. She felt like she was floating and drowning at the same time, under some spell. An enchanting darkness was opening its arms wide for her, and she, inevitably, fell into them.
She woke up to half-familiar, muffled whispers near her. It was bright daylight. She was in a hospital. While she tried to figure out if this or last night was a dream, Reese stood up and almost ambushed her with a bear hug. Eunice, who was just beside her, held her back. They looked elated, but Nia’s heart fell. It could never be good news if she was in a hospital. Was she going to be quarantined here? Was she going to die? Frozen by horror, she could barely mouth a question and instead kept gaping for words.
“You became unconscious from malnutrition, that’s it. Calm down.” Eli confirmed, watching her go blue in the face from panic.
“Could’ve at least told us you were out of food.” Reese frowned at Nia disapprovingly.
“And what would you feed me, pancakes?” Nia winked at her and the four erupted into peels of laughter.
Jannatul Ferdous is a procrastinator by day, poet by night.