Second Runner Up (Story) - The Year that Wasn't
The Year that Wasn't
~By Gargi Das, second year student
That year when Winter came, it brought with it, the lurking shadow of an icy cold disease. December was a premonition to the destruction, and silence the year could have in store but we, in all our sloppy extravaganza, eluded the probability of a lingering disaster. And hence, the warning winter faded into a catastrophic spring. Knocking on our doors was a fear that, as we got to know much later, will be an uninvited guest for the whole year. Sooner than we knew, the whole world was heading to where they had come from-- home.
Initially, I thought I’ll pass it off with intrepid incognizance. But that was as stupid as calling an animal dead because it made no sound. For the time is fleeting, and time is as substantial as matter gets. For anything that is disregarded, reimposes itself with greater vigor. And hence, “the year that wasn’t”, certainly was a scarred one.
The clitter-clatter and chitter-chatter, sound of footsteps, pavilions roaring with insomniac laughter, busy streets bustling with horns and blinding lights, everything came to an excruciatingly silent halt. And suddenly the air was replaced by walls. Opaque concrete lined up our lives as we kept mistaking the pandemic for a child’s play. But just like all miseries, this one too started with a sense of pleasure. Initially, the year felt like a lazy Saturday afternoon, one decorated by scents of rich Dalgona and old albums. It was as if an invisible force has suddenly freed every one of their duties and we could finally have it all to ourselves. No accounting and scratching for a day-end report, no classes, no dealing with the cranky neighbor next door, no awkward talks with people you didn’t want to recognize from a trip to the grocery shop, for masks had saved us all, apparently from more than just one problem. “So what’s wrong?” you thought, I thought. Maybe this could be the year of oblivion, a sweet one at that. Maybe this could be a year we could simply dismiss as “the one for fun”, the year that wasn’t embedded in government notices, the year that wasn’t present in school degrees, the year that wasn’t of discoveries. Only a year of invisibility. Thrilling, no?
But as with most of our castles, they break!
Fate is a cruel gambler. Soon people began to hoard groceries, masks, toilet papers, and every single thing. The sound of sirens and the sight of hearses dragged us out of our fragile Utopia. The account of Dead made the Living seem like a minority on the verge of illegitimate conversion. Oh, how we could make cities out of graveyards! The screams of dismay over the loss of a loved one echoed the neighborhood, cities, morgues, and hospitals. The air smelled like Death. The news flooded with how dead bodies were being dragged by garbage-carrying trucks and how corpses were interchanged. People were being robbed of their right to remembrance and sorrow-filled goodbyes. At places, bodies were not handed over to families to prevent the further spread of the disease.
The fight against the invisible was severe, and it was only getting worse with time hanging like gallows over our heads. It was just a matter of time. Generations could soon be wiped off. We were vulnerable. The Truth was sitting on our shoulders, but we weren't listening anymore. I
think the biggest purpose death served was to drag the Truth to our ears. When you lose a loved one, when you see Death close up, and the world shatters at once, you realize how susceptible you are. Thousands of people walking their way to their homes, a hundred more latching onto train handles, we could clearly see the country walking into a monochromatic cataclysm. Being alive became the biggest feat in itself.
And if you, my reader, feel exhausted after reading this, it is because the year was an exhausting one.
Soon the premier institutes of the country came forward with aids like cheap test kits and sanitizing tunnels, we knew awareness, prevention, and help had to happen at the very basic levels of the social ladder if we wanted to avert further damage. Some battles, after all, need to be fought with everyone. Just as anxiety, fear, and confinement became a part of life, we reached the climax and soon began to climb down the slope. This was the very faint ray we wanted to keep us going. But there have been terrible damage. Just like a coastal cyclone that leaves debris all around, the pandemic had left behind, albeit, a lot of debris. The world looked like a war ruin; wasted and silent. And we did exactly what we were supposed to do. Collecting memoirs and counting damage, looking at what was left and lost. With the drowning economy and loss of jobs, people ran helter-skelter for two square meals. The rising job insecurity and inflammation made life difficult for the well-to-do, let alone those in the clutches of poverty. People were afraid, anxious, and dissatisfied- seemed like another battle had just begun.
Of all, a particular section of the country had faced a huge setback, the students and academia. With everything coming to a stop, the hustle to live made education look like a luxury. With the worldwide closing down of educational institutions, academia receded to the background. Panic spread faster with the aid of technology. A small microbe had turned us into a veritable tinderbox. We were already missing the old normal. We were neither comfortable nor satisfied with the new normal. After almost six months of “house-arrested” holidays, we were being haunted by the sweet old memories. For months on end, the only things we would talk about were the night outs, leisure walks, dozing off on the comfortable sofas of the library, and the lots we didn’t get to experience. Loneliness had already possessed us. People were reduced to silhouettes. The virtual barrier had turned us into beings we no longer recognized as anxiety and mental health issues became a major concern.
But just like all miseries, it lessens.
I daresay the pandemic was an opportunity for introspection. With the quiet all around, it perhaps became a bit easier to hear the voice in our heads. We had so much time to calculate the void of the oblivion we were heading to. It was a great time for healing the wounds we had incurred. Despite the loss that there was, it was time to move on to a future that held promises. To mend our ways and begin again.
The clouds of dismay dispersed with the end of the first COVID wave. It was a fateful year, but the year had passed. The sun was rising. The air was no longer pungent. The lost freedom
could be reclaimed, with some restrictions of course. And so, the year that wasn’t, finally wasn’t anymore!