By Rezeile Eigo Brahim
Change of Plans, Change of Hearts
When the lockdown was announced, we had a plan: stock up on essentials, follow health protocols, try to not get sick. We bought vitamin supplements and altered our diets, getting as much fruit and vegetables to ensure that our immune system could fight the dreaded virus. We were prepared. Or so we thought.
Near the end of March 2020, just a couple of weeks after the early cancellation of classes, my husband complained of pain in his lower abdomen. I thought it was just indigestion, or maybe flatulence. I denied the thought of it being serious because I wanted to stick to our plan of staying away from the hospital. But his pain worsened. It became so unbearable for him that it left me no choice but to rush him to the emergency room.
I packed our bags and dropped off the kids at my in-laws. While my seven-year-old was happily playing and running around without the slightest care in the world, my youngest was bitterly sobbing in protest. I soothed him with hugs and kisses and promises. I told him it would be just a few days. But as it turned out, I was not able to see him and his brother for three weeks.
The hospital admission was admirably fast and smooth. I was able to quickly secure a room. My husband’s urologist and surgeon, whom we already contacted prior that day, came immediately and was very supportive. My husband needed an emergency surgery. However, there was a little complication. A possible COVID-19 patient was in the operating room, and it needed thorough disinfection before my husband could undergo his operation. So it was scheduled early the next day. Faced in a need of making a sudden decision and knowing the risk of COVID-19, our fear and panic escalated. Settling in our room that night, we talked and prayed together, for a while forgetting the serious rift we had previously, a dent in our relationship that we were still working hard to fix.
On the day of the operation, I remember holding my husband’s hand in a firm, reassuring grip before the orderlies wheeled him to the operating room. I stayed watching through the glass doors of the OR until they disappeared out of my sight. And then I was alone. Hospital COVID-19 protocol allowed only one visitor. I sat there outside the OR and waited the longest two hours and forty minutes of my life, the silence broken only by occasional echoes of disembodied footfalls somewhere in the halls. As the minutes continued to drag on with nobody else to talk to and with nothing else to do, I found myself holding on to my wedding ring, circling it around my finger. And in that moment I wanted nothing in the world but his safety. No matter how difficult the challenge we suffered that almost broke us apart, I knew that I still did not want to lose the man I had married.
The days in the hospital following his successful surgery were spent in both his recovery and in us contemplating the struggles and hard times we had gone and were going through. And somehow, in the midst of knowing the uncertainties ahead, coupled with the fear of a medical emergency, we reestablished a stronger bond and a restored marital mutual trust.
Although the hospital stay was only eight days, we had to be home-quarantined for two weeks as a precaution against possible COVID-19 transmission. Work leaves were filed, and the children stayed at the in-laws. This was the first time in eight years that we were spending some long alone time together. The quarantine protocols had given us the much-needed moment for our hearts to recuperate too. The fourteen days were spent in sleeping in, cuddles, and long talks over afternoon tea. We were able to rekindle intimacy without being intimate. Just like our dating days. It might not be COVID-19 that directly hit us, but our foiled lockdown plans, the emergency surgery, and being quarantined together reconnected us and brought us back closer than ever. We were in that battle together.
The Voice in the Window
I was having my tea on the porch and watching my two boys as they got their bicycles ready. It was a sunny afternoon about three months into the lockdown. Every day was a struggle to keep seven-year-old Wiki and four-year-old Mamon from being bored. And since I did not want them to have too much screen time, I made sure to keep them busy by inventing games, making arts and crafts, or simply playing along with whatever fantasy world they had in mind for the day.
The boys were happily racing on their bikes on our wide lawn when a sad, pleading voice came floating from our neighbor’s window. “Kuya Wiki . . . Kuya . . .”
It was Gab, the daughter of our neighbor. Their window opens directly to our lawn. Gab’s plump little face peered at the boys with longing.
“Kuya!” she called again.
The boys stopped in their tracks to look up, acknowledging Gab. She used to come to our house to play before the pandemic.
“Kuya, could you please come around to my house,” she said in perfectly articulated English. “Please, kuya. Let’s play. I’m stuck here forever.” It had always delighted me to hear the little girl speak like she’s best friends with Peppa, but now it just made me sad that her only company for the rest of the quarantine was the pink piglet on television.
Wiki answered a firm no, explaining about the virus. TV and the internet had made the kids well aware of what was happening around and why they were not allowed to go outside. Mamon even calls COVID-19 the “yayay ng Earth.” It is quite surprisingly impressive to know how little children are very perceptive and cognizant of their environment.
“I’m so lonely!” Gab whimpered. “I have no friends!” Louder now. Suddenly the jalousie closed with a loud clank. Then we heard banging of doors, shuffling of tiny feet, and then a loud rapping at the gate.
The boys looked at me. Although they had declined Gab, their eyes spoke what their hearts truly yearned for. As I watched the desperation formed on their little faces, I wanted very much to tell them to open the gate and let them play with Gab. I wanted to disregard all protocols and just let them enjoy like they had always done before the virus restricted everyone. But I heaved a sigh and shook my head, a gesture they clearly understood and, although grudgingly, followed. They unwillingly waved goodbye at Gab and ran inside.
“Sorry, Gab,” I said. “Kuya Wiki and Mamon can’t play with you.”
“Oh, okay,” Gab responded in a soft voice, defeated.
Her dad soon came to fetch her, carrying a stick. While the kids and I huddled in the bedroom, we could still hear Gab quietly crying as she was being led back to their home.
“Umiyak siya, Mama,” Wiki whispered. “Kawawa naman si Gab.” His words sent pangs of guilt and sadness in my heart. Was it too much? Did I overreact? I was torn between wanting them to value the importance of following laws and protocols and wanting them to value friendship. Patiently, I explained to them that Gab was still their friend, and after the pandemic, they would have their play dates again and ride their bikes together. They huddled closer to me, and I hugged them tighter, trying to suppress my tears. My heart broke for Gab, for my sons, and for all the children who were forced to endure isolation, feeling frustrated and in desperate want of company.