Dark in, dark outJust before the lockdown was announced, a bus appears as a post-apocalyptic travel package.
One hour to go. One post on my Facebook feed read: “When in trouble, people flee Kathmandu—self-centred.” I felt it, I hit back: “Not fleeing, rather falling back towards home. That’s where people want to die, if they must.”
The phone rang. It was the bus company.
The guy on the other end said I couldn’t make it if I didn’t run to the pickup spot. He called half an hour before arrival, and the spot was half an hour away! I hitched a ride halfway, then took a cab at double the price—Rs 150—to the stop. Far too much, I think to myself.
The bus folk were prepared to proffer every ounce of their linguistic repertoire to encourage my timeliness. I, 7A, was who they were waiting for, so there was no point of didacticism. Once on the bus, I walked down the carpet, or mat, or whatever it was lying on the aisle. I had just made it. Had I missed it, I’d be posting on Facebook about how I remained valiantly in the Capital.
I brandished my mask and fastened it to hide my face. Tweaking its nose, I marched to 7A. The bus appeared to be a post-apocalyptic travel package, awaiting its last survivor. My seat was visible from afar; it was the only one empty. I sauntered further down the aisle regally, not because I was dressed so; rather the people parted, moving to extremes to avoid any contact.
The guy next to me demarcated a space between us enough to fit a child. But there was no child. I looked at him, he seemed more interested in the broken USB port in the seat afront him; maybe he wanted to fix it. We were silently square.
But there was this particular man, right behind me, scaring the shit out of everyone. The next couple of hours his clatter, crude and creative, crashed into my cochlear duct. Backed by another lady in the same row, they chewed the fat about economics, science, virology, epidemiology, politics, psychology.
The others gradually succumbed to this subtlety ultimately. The woman in the B-column would often jump out of her seat to make a point; the country was all over the talk, stuff like how leaders should have acted—we know this stuff, don’t we?
A random voice yelled: “They say dozens have been killed in the hospitals. The façade is delusional,” followed by an outright rejection, “You’re panicking for no reason, Nepalis consume plenty of turmeric and herbs; no way we’re going to die.”
From secret foreign agents meddling in the mud to insiders taking helicopters to hover over rooftops to sprinkle showers of ‘medicines’, I heard it all and couldn’t decide who won the vehicular (p)residential debate. The only thing I contributed was a ‘yeah’ that nobody paid attention to.
And then silence. Only the engine rolling. We were indeed leaving Kathmandu, unattended, unchaperoned. Deserted, the bus must have its own stories to tell to the ones who’ve never been willing to listen, neither the ones ‘belonging’, nor the ones longing. The Capital was entangled in classificatory tropes of outsider and insider, the endgame was simple: somebody must take the entire blame. Who then? Mostly the government.
“Earthquakes and invading coruna; we must have done something gravely wrong to have faced it,” the lady began, again. So there it was. The man added, “Lord Pashupatinath will save us all.” With this closing remark, silence. I cannot say whether the Lord will save us all, but he definitely saved me the rest of the night.
The number of Covid patients are rising. I saw the numbers before rushing to get out of Kathmandu After all, these numbers in the world we live in mattered. Doctors see your numbers to assure you’re alive there; numbers determine how well a country is doing—the right numbers of economy of course, not the statistically insignificant numbers of the poor and hungry—each of these numbers represented in a neatly fashioned table categorically placed country wise were human beings. Those numbers are not just random entities but stand-ins for the fate of humanity on this blue dot.
But more than the virus out there, the virus inside was more troublesome. We are the ones who believe viruses can be killed by helicopter sprays. We’re the ones who blame the government for every stutter in the earth's rotation. The cause is not the government's, not in entirety. What makes us believe in things that aren’t there? No, I’m not talking about god. God is not the problem.
It is us, I realise. In the face of crisis, we can't put emotion in one pan, and reason, logic, and evidence in the other. We find someone to blame. Anyone. We spark panic. We don't ask what we can do.
By the time I reached Inaruwa, it was six in the morning. And I hadn't slept. I dragged the cumbersome bags home, un-frenzied. Some things kept me awake for a while but I lost the battle to bed.