Sri Lanka

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Scribble Chums with remi'sgotinkstains, useless :) and em wilder.

est. 26 Oct 2020

Message to Readers

I made a lot of changes to the previous draft. I'd be really thankful for some feedback. Have a good day/night! :)

Polymerase Chain Reaction

December 6, 2020


Two weeks into lockdown, these were the words the world fed me daily. Every message, every headline, and every notification. You couldn't escape it. It reached you wherever you were, unavoidable, it parted your lips and made you consume it, and then, it consumed you. 

Day by day, 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, but in my eyes, it wasn't a wave. It was a tsunami

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. So were my sister and brother, but not my parents. 

That day, I picked up my mother’s phone to read the news. The cold glass glowed when I pressed the home button, and three red circles glared back at me. My mother 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 roti 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. With each passing second, panic filled her eyes and by the time she was done reading, it brimmed over, filling her face.  

The message read; Patient: Seya Perera, 15years. We performed plasma exchange on this child at ward 9 on the 24th of October. Now both the patient and the patient's parent have tested positive for COVID-19. Please let us know the risk assessment. 

My siblings crowded into the kitchen, and all of a sudden the room felt too small. The smooth, white countertops were overwhelming, and the curry on the stove bubbled violently. It wasn't cooked, but I turned it off. 

“What’s wrong?” My sister asked me, her voice drenched with fear.

“Amma has come in contact with a COVID patient.” 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 sanitized her stethoscope, she told me about her patient, Seya Perera, who underwent 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 ineffable thought. She was on her phone now, calling my father, who was 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 gray streaking her ebony strands. I 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? Most importantly, where were those people 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, a sniffle, or a sneeze. But I couldn't hear anything amid the din of questions that drummed at the back of my mind, ceaseless like the monsoon rains. Sniffle? Sneeze? Did those not count? PCR? P-C-R?

Google says, Polymerase Chain Reaction. 

The hospital advised her to undergo a PCR test. She came home after giving her sample, and after following the decontamination routine, 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 stayed with her until her breathing deepened. She didn't cough. Or sniffle. Or sneeze. 

The results were due in forty-eight hours, and the house fell silent. Noiseless. Soundless. Hushed. So silent, I could hear five anxious heartbeats ricocheting off the white walls. I could hear minds churning, running through the list of symptoms over and over like one washes rice, washing it time and time again, looking for husks, rocks, and dirt.

Once, this soundless silence splintered, and the whistle of the kettle pierced the tension. It wailed, and it screamed. It wailed, and it screamed like the siren of an ambulance, and I? I couldn't breathe. 2020 was never a year to breathe anyway. Everything reminds me of that. The loops of my mask tugged at my ears, whispering, don't breathe. The smoke from the bushfires entered their lungs, whispering, don't breathe. The knee on his neck pushed harder and harder, but before it whispered, he yelled, I can't breathe! He yelled it over and over, but 2020 was never a year to breathe anyway.

The day the test results were due, I woke up late after a sleepless night. My parents had left for the hospital. My sister sat in front of the phone. My brother paced back and forth. We waited for her to call. 

 At 9.15 am, the phone rang. I answered.  

“Amma?” I whispered into the phone. Chaos in my mind, and yet I hear, 

Cases. Deaths. PCR. Positive. Positive. 

She breathed, "Negative."
Word count: 978

Amma: Mother
Roti: A flat round bread
Putha: Used to address both male (mostly) and female children.

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  • Anne Blackwood

    Re: Lol seeing as how I plan on moving at least halfway across the country after college, the chances are slim, but a girl can dream. Haha I totally get giving people relationship advice with no real experience. Oh, Ness did end up getting the real answer, but she has been banned from telling anyone else.
    P. S. You're welcome!

    10 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    Re: Ikr! Andrea & Leo are the real-life version of Cinna imo. Those gowns aren't exactly what I had in mind (I designed mine b4 seeing them), but they really capture the idea.
    Haha everyone loves to ask about C. He's a guy I have a little bit of a crush on (thank goodness not as severe as my usual crushes). Which is dumb because he's in college (not weird bc I'm a junior and knew him b4 he graduated) and in a couple of years I'll be in college over halfway across the country and it's all pathetic, but the heart wants what it wants XD. And apparently right now it wants somebody who's basically perfect who's at least a few hours away and might still have a girlfriend. Oh, and I think it's safe to say that one of the names she guessed is correct.
    You're welcome! I mean it!

    10 months ago
  • wavewriter

    This piece is so, so good. I want to say something original, but all the previous comments say it for me. I really felt for you through this entire piece. Good luck in the competition!! :D

    Re: Thank you so so much!!

    10 months ago
  • swansatcoole

    Absolutely floored by this piece! You've managed to capture so many parts of life in this pandemic so perfectly. There are so many lines that I adore in this, but "I saw what I had not seen before or had seen but chosen to ignore," is an exact experience I've had this year. I also thought the line, "Safe at home or flying with the winds as flecks of ash?" was particularly profound. Amazing work!

    10 months ago
  • Bertrand

    wow, this is so vivid. Doctors have had a brave fight in this period for sure.
    And, you incorporation of dialogue is incredible. this piece holds most(maybe all) aspects of what a good piece should have. Good luck!!!

    10 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    Oh my gosh. I keep thinking I've read the winning piece and then getting stopped in my tracks by writing like this. It's so vivid, so anxiety-infused, so painfully real.
    "I stopped my ineffable thought." That hits so hard and might be my favorite line for its simplicity. Maybe I'm biased because ineffable is my favorite word, but it really is amazing.
    And the repetition of "2020 was never a year to breathe anyway." is so powerful.

    10 months ago