Peer Review by Luminescent (Canada)

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Polymerase Chain Reaction

By: Starlitskies


Few weeks into lockdown, these were the words the world fed me daily. Every message, every headline, every notification. It reached you wherever you were, unavoidable, it parted your lips and made you consume it. And then, it consumed you.

Everyday, new cases bloomed like mushrooms in the wild, rising in number. Fast and unpredictable. The government closed schools, closed borders and the country closed in on itself as the second wave rolled through. It wasn’t a wave. It was a Tsunami.

For the sake of being aware, I made myself look at the graphs and graphs of statistics. There was one titled Daily Cases with a slanting line reaching for the sky, not a single glance downwards. The other was a bar graph titled Daily Deaths and it resembled a little staircase which kept on climbing higher.

The news was near and yet far away. Sometimes a case sprung nearby, a bullet whizzing close to my ear. But so far I was never in its path. My life was untouched. I didn’t leave the house and I was safe inside the apartment.

That day, I picked up my mother’s phone to read the news. The glass glowed when I pressed the home button and three red circles glared back at me. Amma had left her hospital-chat open on her phone and a long message followed the circles. The insistence of the warning made my eyes skim over the three lines of text and within a second, had me rushing to the kitchen.

“Amma! Look at this!” I said, breathless.

My mother looked up from the rotti dough she was kneading and her brow furrowed as she noticed my urgency. I held the phone in front of her zooming in on the text to make it larger. With each passing second, panic filled her eyes and by the time she was done, it brimmed over, filling her face. 

The message read; Patient: Seya Perera, 15yrs. We performed plasma exchange on this child at ward 09, on the 24th of October. Now both mother and child have tested positive for COVID19. Please let us know the risk assessment.

My siblings crowded into the kitchen.

“What’s wrong?” My sister asked me. 

“COVID contact.” I breathed shakily.

I remembered the 24th. I was the one who opened the door when Amma arrived home after working the morning shift. The shapeless hospital scrubs reduced her round figure to a simple, light blue square. As she washed her hands and sanitised her stethoscope, she told me about her patient. A girl that needed a plasma exchange. A beautiful girl, wasted away, she said. It didn’t seem significant then. 

My mother was not old, but she was not young either. If she caught it… I stopped my thoughts from running further. She was on her phone now, calling my father, who was at work, stuck in a twenty four hour shift at the hospital. 

I saw what I had not seen before, or had seen but chosen to ignore. I noticed the grey streaking her ebony strands. And noticed how she strained to rise from the sofa, how her voice sounded weary when she said putha, and how her reading glasses perched on the bridge of her nose. 

I googled the symptoms of coronavirus and the overworked page stared back at me. A path that many had tread. How many fingers had typed these words? How many eyes had looked upon them? But most importantly, where were they now? Safe at home or flying with the winds as flecks of ash?

I shivered.

The list was short. Fever. Dry cough. Tiredness. I gulped. And then I strained my ears to listen for a cough or a sniffle or a sneeze.

Questions drummed at the back of my mind, ceaseless, like the monsoon rains. Sniffle? Sneeze? Did those not count? PCR?What did it stand for? 

Google says, Polymerase Chain Reaction.

They advised her to get a Polymerase Chain Reaction test. She came home after giving her sample and after following the decontamination ritual, with care, from start to end, I found her lying on the bed. 

“Amma, what’s wrong?” I asked, sitting down beside her.

“I’m just tired.” She said. Tiredness. 

“It’s been a stressful day.” She backed her statement. I let her sleep.

The results were due in two days. Minutes ran into hours, hours ran into days and days ran forever. I watched closely. Listened carefully. The others did the same. Running through the list of symptoms over and over like one washes rice. Washing it time and time again, scanning for husks, rocks and dirt. I watered the flowers, made sambol for the rotti and did my school work. I texted a friend for emotional support. Don't worry. Be positive, she replied. I deleted the message for myself.

The day the test results were due, I woke up late after a sleepless night. My parents weren’t home. My mother had already left for the hospital and I found my sister sitting in front of the phone while my brother paced back and forth, waiting for her to call. 

 At 9.15am, the phone rang. I answered. 

“Amma?” I breathed into the phone. Chaos in my mind. Words colliding. 

Cases. Deaths. PCR. Positive. Positive.

"Negative" she sighed.

Word count: 888

Putha: Word used to address both male (mostly) and female children.
Rotti: Bread, especially a flat round bread
Sambol: A spicy condiment made with chilli and coconut. 

Message to Readers

I would be so grateful if you guys could review this. I would even do review for review. If so, please leave a link to your piece in the comments. Much love. <3

Peer Review

I thoroughly appreciated the essence of this piece; the overwhelming anxiety of worrying, not only about yourself, but the wellbeing of those you love, especially if one of them is a healthcare worker in the thick of a pandemic.

This stort was beautifully written. The sole part I would elaborate more on is the concluding paragraphs. A suggestion, if I may, is to throw poetic prose into the ending. Make sentences short. Dramatic. Daunting. Show, don't tell.

As I mentioned before, the essence of the piece was spectacular, but I personally would like a bigger climax.

You are an amazing writer! You describe scenes and emotions with such honesty, withholding nothing. Which makes the reader immediately drawn to the protagonist. Their 'voice' is so relatable and non intimidating. Bravo, my friend!

Reviewer Comments

Please take note that everything I have written is based completely on my personal opinions. I could be wrong. I could be right. The truth is, it all depends on your preference because this is your personal story. Continue writing! Continue persevering! I do not doubt your talent and capabilities.