It Comes Closer

By Titus Green

We took note, in that fleeting-attention deprived 21st Century way, of the beast’s escape. Like a ravenous tiger set free among mountain goats, we learned from the search engines that something biological and dangerous was feasting on the health of people in a far-off Chinese city. The internet fed us bite sized McNuggets of misery and suffering from Asia, alongside the celebrity promotion pieces telling us about how a reality television star’s new thong was sending the world crazy. We saw stricken Chinese supine on hospital beds, and medics looking bloated in baggy white anti-contamination suits. We saw people dragged from homes, kicking and screaming, by masked baton-wielding police. Some new-year schadenfreude for the sadistic or sick-minded maybe. Something to ‘joke’ drunkenly about to friends in the recesses of city bars where the remarks would escape smartphone capture and Yahoo viral ignominy. We read hasty copy about hastily created hospitals, of prefabricated quality, assembled by civic workers bulldozing earth for their country’s survival. Cynics posted sarcastically under the stories. Made in China. They’ll collapse in days. This was February 2020. The nouns ‘hazmat suit’ and ‘self-isolation’ had not yet infected our conversation. The World-o-Meter website ticked over, updating meticulously the statistics of death from the largest, hungriest tiger of the Asian economic streak. From Saudi Arabia, I swiped habitually for World-o-Meter each morning. I was just another lousy rubbernecker among millions engaged in this worthless morning ritual. An ESL teaching veteran of over twenty years, I’d lived through my share of strife in Asia. It would pass, I thought. Wrong was I.

I worked on, teaching undergraduates at a vocational university. My daily job preoccupations rationed my visits to the coronavirus stories. I had a full menu of work to attend to, and grade-hungry students who could have cared less about the ‘lethal lurgy’ that was a full continent away. “China has plenty of people,” said one of my undergraduates to titters that rippled around the class. The sentiment had two aspects: China can lose a few thousand souls and still live and two, it’s too far away to bother us. Grades were all that mattered to them! The titillation of the biological beast from the east was a mere finger-swipe away, if they wanted a break from the gaming apps exhausting the CPUs of their Huawei phones.

Slowly, the size, menace and destructive power of this dormant volcano of pestilence became clear. It had erupted, and the wind of inevitability was carrying its ash closer home, thousands of miles from its own starting home! I had a Skype interview for a short summer course I intended to teach during my lengthy summer vacation. Academic English to Chinese students; for so long the fecund financial grass that had fed the cash-cows of British universities and kept provosts in good living.

“We can’t confirm the course will run. The global situation is unpredictable, the course recruitment might be a problem,” the department head said cagily. This was February 15th and the menace now had a technical name for the media to pump into their keyboards ad infinitum. It had the phonetic qualities of an over-sold cleaning product, COVID19.

Planes were still flying. Borders weren’t closing. Some people from China travelled and the virus that had muscled and murdered its way out of the small minor compartment of the world, stowed itself on board their flesh and blood. Panic bombs were detonating in Italy. The giant, invisible vandal of health had landed and the nation’s elderly were perishing with shocking alacrity as hospitals swelled. An Italian Facebook friend with an interest in Literature posted a portrait of Edgar Allen Poe and I commented that ‘Masque of the Red Death’ had never been more balefully significant or its allegorical force more bruising. Who would be The Masque of COVID19’s Prince Prospero? Several world leaders were auditioning competently for this lead role in the narrative.

In Saudi Arabia, colleagues pondered for how long the kingdom could stay out of the path of the corona virus. Just as soon as these musings left their lips, the news that an expatriate taxi driver of unstated origin in Bahrain was infected reached us. Now, the menace was becoming less distant. Less abstract. It lurked across the King Fahad Causeway, its menacing miasma thickening like the demonic mist of John Carpenter’s film The Fog. When would it start floating towards us? A week later, the border to Bahrain was closed, and the first infections inside the kingdom were confirmed. It was March.

Our students were removed from the university and sent back to their hometowns! Hasty training workshops for online teaching were organized: Silicon Valley’s bells and whistles were going to be the buoyancy aids keeping our vulnerable teaching program afloat. Meanwhile, my country’s Prime Minister had been put into intensive care by the contagion. It had forced its way into his social eco-system and ambushed him. European death tolls rose and video news bulletins were becoming unnervingly similar to their clichéd portrayals in Hollywood catastrophe movies. Deaths. Panic. Military on the streets and Lockdowns.

The malls and markets of Al-Khobar have been closed and I am facing curfew for the first time in my 49 years, and I am in a foreign land. We may or may not go out at such and such a time. Masks and gloves are ‘the new normal’ (an odious expression I would like to drop into a swimming pools of napalm). This marauding disease, this Genghis Khan of sickness is crippling the economy, the sick are filling hospitals and the healthy are filled with terror. The morning-prayer calls have never sounded more plaintive. It is April 2020 and COVID19 is no longer remote. It is closer…

 

Author Bio:

Author Pic Titus - NR
Titus Green is a writer and teacher of English Language. He was born in Vancouver, Canada but grew up in the United Kingdom. For the past 22 years he has lived and worked overseas teaching English as a foreign language. His short fiction has appeared in numerous online and print literary platforms like Adelaide Literary Magazine and others. More of Titus’ writings can be found at https://titusgreenfiction.com/

 

 

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