Date released:
July 19, 2021
Short story
Photo credit:


Sneeze! A little action that involves expelling mucus filled with irritants from the nasal cavities. A little action that gets me itching with fear.

Sneeze! I backed away from the young man sitting next to me in this dingy little bus. Well, I moved as far as I could go. It was nearly impossible to do that when it was so cramped in here and the weather, a hot blazing one, didn’t seem to favour me. I wanted out of this bus immediately.

“Stop the bus, driver", I cried out as soon as the thought to leave the bus crossed my mind. The bus came to an abrupt stop. It was so sudden if any vehicle had been directly behind this one, we would have all alighted to watch two grown men go head to head at each other about driving ethics and probably-if and when they had run out of points someone's mother.

I reached for my bag, fumbling through it until I found a crumpled note that I handed over to a man sitting in the opposite direction of the rows of chairs in the bus-the conductor. He snatched the money greedily. His hands momentarily touched mine in the process, and it wasn't the cinematic 'sparks flying’ moment. No, it only served as a trigger for my 'itching feeling'. My mouth was twitching underneath my nose mask. I got down from the bus and heaved a sigh of relief as I reach for my sanitiser. Squirt! Squirt! A sound that brought comfort to my skin, especially when it was done within thirty seconds of contact with another human's skin.

I rubbed the cold liquid against my arms and looked ahead to my destination. The road, dirty and dusty, snaked towards an end that couldn't be seen until you were close. My destination was close to this, and I was glad I had come down now.

With my nose mask intact and an umbrella over my head, I started the long walk towards my stop. I passed by a couple, hand in hand, shoulder to shoulder.

‘Do they not know what was going on out here?‘, I wondered as I glared at them, only calming down when I had caught a reflection of myself in a large mirror placed on the sidewalk. I needed to get my act together.

I thought of Bobby, my boyfriend of four years.

"This could have been your fifth year," I said under my breath rather bitterly as I continued the walk. He would have been twenty-eight in July, and we would have been five years in August. This was how it was supposed to be, how it should have been, but the pandemic came.

Bobby was gone before he could have turned twenty-eight, and by August, I was sitting home alone, packing all his stuff into an empty box and trying hard not to think of his body lying dead in the hospital.

"We can't hand out the patient because this is a critical virus, and we wouldn’t want anyone to contact it, “ the woman had said over the phone that day, informing me of his death and denying my request to have his body sent to me. She had said anyone like there were loads of people, but anyone was only me, and now it would remain that way.

I had never taken the pandemic seriously, but after that day, my life changed forever. I felt the urge to squirt another dose of the cold liquid on my skin. If I felt the urge, then it must have been the right thing to do to apply it. I lifted the bottle over my left arm, but a loud giggle startled me, and the bottle fell to the floor. The content stayed intact.

I turned my attention to my left, where two boys played loudly across the street. More giggling followed. One of the boys, having seen what had happened, crossed over to pick the bottle up, but I was furious.

“Keep it right where you saw it, young man” I yelled, catching the attention of passer-byes. I knew I had to pacify my anger or it would become a big deal, not just for this boy who didn’t look a day over ten.

“Aunty I was just trying to he-“

“Whatever” I said, snatching the bottle from him with a handkerchief over my receiving hands. I wasn’t going to let my day get ruined by this ignorant boy.

"Don't you know there's a pandemic out there and that you shouldn't go touching people's things,” I yelled again, this time I didn’t care about the people walking by with their phones lifted high above their heads, probably trying to get this on camera.

Would it make it to the news? It probably would, there wasn't really anything eye-catching these days and all people talked about was the pandemic or some random event that took place on the street, like this one. I could already imagine myself being dragged about on national television.

I paused, my mind replaying images of Bobby. I had only seen him once that week, just before he died. He had gone on a road trip, and I only caught a glimpse of his silhouette as he hurried off on a Monday morning.

My eye shifted back to the scenario in front of me. What would Bobby have thought of me, right here and now? I stared at the kid who was close to tears. I let out a hiss and moved towards the destination. After all, it was why I came here in the first place. I wish I hadn’t come. I wish I hadn’t opened the door and let my neighbour, Stella, in. I wish I hadn’t listened to her ‘advice’ and I wish I hadn’t promised to come to this place. I could have been home on the couch, reading a book after cleaning the place out for the sixth time that morning, but sadly, that wasn’t the case. I had to make do with reading my book in the hallway, perhaps, as I waited for someone to attend to me.

A bright yellow gate came into view not too long after and I let out another sigh of relief. This time I felt my spirit lift and sink at the same time. I thought it a funny feeling. As I approached the gate, a man in white overalls, a nose mask and gloves stepped out. He screamed safe and I wasn’t alarmed by his choice of attire in the middle of the day, especially with the weather being so hot.

“Are you here for the session?” he said kindly, his eyes smiling which meant his mouth must be curved in one too.

“Yes” I said as calmly as I could, still a bit furious from my previous encounter.

“Well it’s nice of you to stop by, I’m Mister Preye,” he said. His hands stayed where they were, never leaving his side in the gesture of a handshake. Yes, he was safe to interact with. He seemed to understand. I let out a small chuckle “Thank you, I’m Deli”.

He ushered me inside the building, and I knew at once this was the right place to go. This was where I needed to be. My neighbour’s words rang softly in the far corner of my mind, “they help those who have been traumatised by the pandemic."

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