The Crazy Experience Of Seeing People After Years

Traditional yaka mask wearing a seasonal hat. Merry Christmas

Two years. Two fucking years. Staring at the same walls, farting into the same sofa cushions. Venturing out with foggy glasses and constant trepidation. Holding out in stubborn anticipation, that one day it’ll all be over. But then it’s just another day. Then another and another and another day. It’s been years, but it might as well have been one terribly long day.

In this third year of our Lord COVID-19, we are sticking our necks out a bit. We've seen friends from 10,000 km away and 10 km away, which has been equally far for years now. We've barely seen any of these people. Kilometers are immaterial to a nanometer virus and any distance greater than two metres has been insurmountable to us.

Are we wise to see friends now? I don't know. Cases are low in Sri Lanka, we're triple-boosted and as tested as we can be. Is this enough? No, it's never enough, but we've honestly had enough. I'm honestly just dying to be a human being.

The Dying

It wasn't like this last year, whenever that was. People were just dying. Last year Auntie stayed in the guestroom and we never opened the door. We served her and Uncle food on plastic tables outside and never ate together. We handed them jugs of water through the door, which quickly closed. It felt inhospitable, absurd even, but then she actually got hospitalized. She actually died of COVID-19. And we couldn't even go to the funeral. Though she was in our house, I never even saw her face, dead or alive.

I remember when Nihal Mama died and we couldn't make it back for the funeral. We were 15,000 km away, we just couldn't, but in a strange way I've never processed the death. I keep expecting him to be here, because I never saw him leave. He's just around the corner somewhere, his moustache always smiling, his bushy eyebrows always bright. He's still a physically distant relative, just on the other side. I didn't understand the value of funerals until then. You really need to walk people out the door so they can leave. So you can leave.

The world must be full of unprocessed trauma like this today. We've barely been able to attend funerals, especially for COVID victims. How many bodies were disposed of but not laid to rest? It's not even that we don't get to live, we don't even get to die properly. That's another level of fucked up.

Later, when my Seeya died, I was there for everything. We waited with the body all night, extremely uncomfortable in rattan chairs, a pointless act of solidarity with someone who wasn't there. But I realize it wasn't pointless now. It was the period at the end of a life sentence. It was a literal point that let me divide my life into before and after and move on, leaving the dead.

Today death lacks the rite punctuation. It's just numbers. COVID deaths are just a numbers in a CSV. Other deaths are just remainders. Death is processed into charts but left unprocessed in hearts. And so we wander on, ghosts in our own homes, surrounded by ghosts waiting for their proper funeral rites.

The Living

And yet we are quite technically alive. We are shot, double-shot, boostered, we have been shielding for years. We have read the reports, we have the retorts, we understand the importance of ventilation. So we wear masks in the elevator to holiday parties and remove them when we arrive. We have holiday parties because, at this point, fuck it, it's not enough to just survive.

It's not just funerals, we haven't had birthdays, Eid, Vesak, Thai Pongal, and now Christmas. Sharing one plate of sawan would be COVID-central. We can't all crowd into the city to watch the pandol lights. Nobody's going door-to-door with sweet pongal rice. None of the gods of this island can protect us, and none of them have been properly celebrated in years. This is, perhaps, their wrath.

Instead, we line up for the communion of a needle. We scour our hands with holy liquid, we cover our faces lest we offend the elder gods. Instead of hugs we make signs of benediction, instead of scripture we seek the latest studies. Science does indeed deliver miracles, it just doesn't deliver meaning. But I'll take it for now.

For Now

As I write this Omicron is sweeping the globe. When you read this, god knows where in the Greek alphabet we'll be. Perhaps Sanskrit. And yet as I write this Omicron isn't sweeping here (it will) and it isn't affecting me. And so, we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

However briefly, however incompletely, we return to a past where people had holiday parties, where they had friends, where a culture wasn't something microbes grew in but was something lived in, by us.

And so amidst the dying, on this godsforsaken island, we're living if only for a while. We had five kids for a birthday party. We had five couples over for drinks. We open all the doors, we swat away the mosquitoes, we take rapid tests if we've got them, and then we try to forget it all. We talk about the old times, we talk about being older, we compare grey hairs and bellies (ho, ho ho). We pass the time and, fuck it, we pass joints. It's been two years that felt like one interminable day. Sometimes you just want a night off.