Right or left?
Jamal Mia couldn’t remember. His head hurt, a vein on his forehead throbbed constantly. He kept looking left and right — trying to remember which one led to the exit. He dared not lose his way.
“I’m going home,” he wiped a stream of snot coming out of his nose with his left hand. His hand felt warm against his skin. Fever, with a touch of cold. Sickness — as old as time.
“Nothing to worry about. Left.”
He kept walking along the corridor in long, eager strides. At 3 am, it was pitch black inside the cyclone shelter, which had been turned into a makeshift quarantine-facility, or so they had been told. This rusty old building had stood abandoned for as long as he could remember. Once a den for wayward drug addicts and prostitutes, it was sheltering fifty people, with twice as many mice living with them.
Jamal Mia looked around, and hoped his eyes would adapt to the darkness. He stretched out his hand, and felt the coldness of the wall. He shivered. They drew blood from his veins in these walls. They told his family that he could be infected. It didn’t make any sense. Jamal Mia knew something was amiss. Those ignorant fools and sinners had no idea what this thing, this virus, was.
Jamal Mia stood in front of a door. It should have been open. The ward boy had taken fifty taka for this.
“I’ll keep the doors open before I go to bed. But remember, I can’t vouch for the other guard. If you get caught, I don’t know you. Now, give me the money,” the ward boy had said. He was an idol worshipper. These idol worshippers would do anything for money. No wonder God’s wrath was upon this land.
Jamal Mia pushed the door. A deafening crack snapped through the silence of the cyclone shelter. He stood there frozen for a few seconds, ready to run if anyone came. No one came. He peered inside. Nobody was there. The exit shouldn’t be more than three minutes from here. The vein on his forehead kept throbbing. He could almost hear it.
He remembered the first day they came to his village and took two people from Parimal Datta’s house. They covered them in strange protective gear, and carried them away in a government ambulance. It was too late for them, Jamal Mia knew.
Forgive them, God. Forgive them.
The entire village panicked. Jamal Mia, a respected man in the community, had gone to assure them. “We have nothing to fear, brothers. Our people have suffered enough at the hands of these non-believers. God was watching. God was listening. Now, He has answered. One cannot foresee God’s plan. But a believer must endure. We are God’s chosen ones,” Jamal Mia had said in an assuring tone.
His daughter Fatima, who used to go to school with Shyamol Datta’s daughter, didn’t look convinced. “They were good people, Abba,” Fatima had said.
Jamal Mia stubbed a toe in the dark. Maybe it was a brick. He stopped walking. He was out of breath. A sharp, hissing sound came out of his chest as he inhaled laboriously. He put a hand over his mouth to hold in a stubborn cough.
“This place has made me sick. Those damp floors and sticky mattresses!” Jamal Mia was irate.
There were two doctors and two ward boys but there was no testing equipment. They had taken his samples days ago, and still, he hadn’t heard a thing. They didn’t bring people to a place like this to be cured. Jamal Mia knew. He heard stories — stories of governments killing their own people in the dark if they suspected they might have the virus. China, Korea, America, India — all over the world.
Lands of sinners.
Jamal Mia expected no good news to ever come out of those places. There were a few people in the facility who had come back from those countries. Only God knew what abominable sins they had committed there. Drugs, gambling, disgraceful deeds with girls, befriending felons.
Forgive them, God. Forgive them.
What if their governments were planning to kill them, too? Who would believe that he didn’t have the virus? If only his test results had come back, they’d have known what he had — just a common flu. What was taking them so long? They must have joined the army of the faithless. Everything was a part of the conspiracy. But it wasn’t the thought of getting killed that made Jamal Mia restless.
He sat down on the floor. He needed a moment to catch his breath. This thing he had, it was nothing but a common flu, it couldn’t be.
“I belong to God’s chosen ones. God would never punish me with the same weapon he sent for the sinners.”
He needed to go back to his family. He was going home, and that would be the end of this series of unfortunate mishaps.
“Did I not do enough? I have prayed, and I have not sinned. I have not sinned, have I?”
He coughed. The sound echoed through the dark corridor. At the far end of the corridor, a light
was switched on.
He got to his feet. He must keep moving. Around him, the cyclone shelter was lurking. It would swallow him alive if he didn’t get out of its mouth.
“I don’t belong here. I don’t have the virus.”
He could see the front gate. Cold breeze from outside brushed Jamal Mia’s bare cheeks. He shivered. He was almost free. Everything would be better once he saw Fatima’s face. He’d feel better.
“This cyclone shelter is robbing me off of my faith.”
He collapsed on his knees and vomited violently. His head felt light. He tasted bile in his mouth.
“It’s not fair. I have not sinned.”
Jamal Mia could hear footsteps approaching him fast. A familiar voice spoke, “What are you doing here?”
“Hold him. You go, and wake Yousuf up. Tell him to get the ambulance,” the familiar voice ordered someone.
Another familiar voice replied, “Where will you take him, sir? There’s nowhere to go. Hospitals are no longer better than this cyclone shelter. Leave him there, and save yourself.”
“Just shut up, and do what I say. And where are your goddamn gloves?”
Jamal Mia vomited again. The doctor jumped back to avoid the sickness touching his dress. Jamal Mia kept wheezing.
“It’s not fair. It’s not fair. Don’t rob me off of my faith.”
The doctor came close to him again — slowly and carefully this time.
He said to Jamal, “You’ll be alright. There’s no need to panic.”
“Forgive me, God,” Jamal said.
“I want you to breathe,” the doctor said.
“Take me back inside. I have sinned,” Jamal Mia looked at the doctor. Behind him, two ward boys came running.
Jamal Mia opened his mouth to say something. The only sound that came out was the hissing from his lungs.
Nayeem Ehtesham loves to read and believes his degree in computer science has helped him write funny stories using his computer.