Sri Lanka

Reader and Writer

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

est. 26 Oct 2020

Message to Readers

Final Draft.

Polymerase Chain Reaction

December 7, 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, 15 years. 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 going on?” My sister asked me, her voice drenched in 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 reminded 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: 981

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

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  • Anne Blackwood

    Re: Oh! I also read a poetry book by Robin Merril that was amazing. I love her novels, and her poetry is quite the treat as well.

    10 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    Re: Oh, there is an ancient Chinese poet that I read a lot of works by called Li Bai. Shel Silverstein is a clever poet. And Billy Collins has a really interesting piece called Introduction to Poetry. I really ought to read more of Emily Dickinson's work, because her poem Hope Is The Thing With Feathers is wonderful.

    10 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    Re: Hehe okay so this is weird but I actually don't read a lot of poetry outside of this site. However, a spoken word poet that I'm obsessed with is Sarah Kay (A Bird Made of Birds, The Art of Capture, and If I Should Have a Daughter), and I really like Phil Kaye (Repetition and Beginning, Middle, & End) too (they've done The Origin Story and When Love Arrives together).

    10 months ago
  • Mpm#1

    Re: Thank you so much, I’m glad you enjoyed it!
    I really like how you described it as a tsunami. I’ve heard it described many ways before, but a tsunami is probably the most accurate and appropriate metaphor. I also liked, “ 2020 was never a year to breathe anyway.” I live in rural NYS, and despite being far away from the riots and having very few cases near me, I still felt as though I needed to hold my breath. Very good piece my friend!

    10 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    Re: Thank you thank you thank you!
    So I basically just learned through trial and error and reading a bunch of poetry until I got it. I wish I could be of more help, but Paisley Blue gave such great advice. poetri did a piece reacting to her old poetry, so if you wanna read that, it has a few tips slipped in there.

    10 months ago
  • Paisley Blue

    re: of course! i'm so glad it helped! :) and if you want me to take down my extremely long comment so it doesn't clog up your piece, just lmk! :) hope you're having a great day!! <3

    10 months ago
  • Paisley Blue

    re: i'm so glad you liked my poem! and of COURSE i can help you out! :) i don't really have any particular way that i use line breaks, but i can share how i decide when to start a new line!
    When i write poetry, i say the lines to myself (like, in my head) as i write them. as i write the lines, i try to think about where i want the emphasis to be--which words, which beats, stuff like that.
    One thing that has helped me is getting more used to using punctuation in poetry, so i'd suggest playing around with that! most of the time, i split a sentence into one or two lines. I have a habit of ending a sentence, and then writing the first word or so of the next sentence at the end of that line, such as
    "i am writing this poem. i am
    writing this poem" (sorry for the bad example lol). this gives it a bit more of a staggered feel, it adds a little space, or breath, into the sentence.
    i take the last word of the sentence and make it a new line, like this
    "i am writing this
    poem. i am writing this poem". this gives it a more breathless feel to me, as though it is slightly rushed.
    Really, you just have to play around with where you want the beats to be--where you want people to pause and stuff like that.
    also, i am by no means an expert, this is just what i've found that works for me! :) I hope it helps a bit! More than anything, i'd suggest just experimenting to find what you like and what feels right to you.
    Best of luck, dear! Hope your day is going well! (also, thank you for all of the support on my pieces--you are such a kind, sweet presence! I'm very grateful for your comments <3 )

    10 months ago
  • Stone of Jade

    re: no i thank you for the spam XD your feedback was so encouraging and helpful! Thank you for taking time out of your day to read my story! it means so much <3

    10 months ago
  • SunV

    re: That's so cool!

    And Hamilton! The only other person I know in person who's watched Hamilton is my Mom XD. But, my Half-Yearly exams get over a day before Christmas, and I've persuaded my friends to watch it with me after that!

    10 months ago
  • Stone of Jade

    oh wow this is amazing. i didn't read the prev drafts but this is so powerful and so meaningful! i hope it will do well in the competition! "2020 a year to breathe away" really fits this past year.

    Chapter 5 for On The High Seas has been published :)

    10 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    Re: Thank you! Haha maybe. I have done the poetry writing comp and the speechwriting one, but I'm mostly a poet, so the others don't really play to my strengths or inspiration.

    10 months ago
  • Anne Blackwood

    Oh my gosh how did you manage to make this even better than the last draft?? So amazing. Good luck!

    10 months ago