Nick is in his backyard, watering the tomato seedlings that he has just set out to harden before planting them in the garden. Big drops of rain are coming down, dropping the size of half-dollars. They slap the broad leaves of the maple tree, punch the mulch bags at one corner of the yard and clang against the watering can he set down on the deck.

“More rain,” his wife Sheela shakes her head and walks to the edge of the deck,loops her arms around a post and leans out into the rain.

“It’s fine, at least the weather will cool down a little.” Nick ducks back under the covered patio. He wipes the rain from his face with his blue handkerchief, and then folds  the handkerchief up and stuffs it back into his hip pocket. Their fourteen years old dog Quirky stops chasing the lizard and runs to the deck. She shakes the rain water from her body and leans against Sheela’s dress,hiding half of her face into it. She thinks somedays Sheela and Iwan do some type of evil game where thunder and rain appear from nowhere and Quirky has to hide herself either under the bed or in a corner of Iwan’s study room to protect herself.The wind is up now.Rain has scattered across the front part of the deck and three of them retreat toward the house.

Nick walks into the bathroom, pours a good amount of hand soap and  washes his hand singing ABC D.. Sheela laughs. “ It is scary, but at least people are listening,following the simple act of washing and bleaching their hands like Macbeth’s.” She looks at her own hands and sighs. “ My hands are already rashy from scrubbing, soaping and sanitizing.” She continues, “ I wonder how long we have to stay at home and work.” She moves the Time magazine from the top of the sofa to the coffee table and sits. Nick emerges from the bathroom, goes straight to his study room and comes back with his laptop. He sits on the sofa besides his wife. He tilts back and clasps his hands behind his head. “ This is just like a plague! But hopefully this crazy thing will be over in another week or two.Aggressive quarantine measures, when fully enforced, could choke the spread of the virus,that’s what the doctors are saying.” he says opening his laptop.

Sheela leaves the room and returns with a yellow notebook. “ Nick, listen! I know you have to work from home and I should do mine, but I would like to read something to cheer up our spirit.” she smiles standing in front of her husband. Nick nods his head and says carefully, “ Go ahead, but please make it shorter than the last one you recited- “ A Psalm of Life”, so that I will be able to start working on my project.”

 Sheela clears her throat. This one is called Daisy Time by Pickthall.

  “See, the grass is full of stars,Fallen in their brightness;

Hearts they have of shining gold,Rays of shining whiteness.

Buttercups have honeyed hearts,Bees they love the clover,

But I love the daisies’ dance,All the meadow over.

Blow, O blow, you happy winds,Singing summer’s praises,

Up the field and down the field,A-dancing with the daisies.”

Nick beams.“Really a very beautiful poem!” “Well, thanks for sharing.”

Sheela’s smile is openly delighted. “ This is my part of entertainment for us.Now I will go back to do my own thing.” Sheela walks into her living room and stands at a window. Out the window, she could see a lone boy in a yellow raincoat walking, his skateboard under his arm. It is hard to see his face clearly but he looks lost in thought,oblivious to his surroundings. She decides to call her daughter to check if she is doing okay. “ Hi Grace,how is your fever? Did you talks to your doctor?”

“ I will be a fine mom. And there is no testing here yet.Yesterday I had a little trouble breathing and the doctor asked me to get a small inhaler and to rest.”Grace sighs. “Not to worry mom,I will let you know if anything happens.” 

Sheela pulls an oak chair and sits down. “Are you still having chest pain? What is your temperature right now?” Nick hears his wife’s shrill voice and runs into the room. “ What’s the matter?”He asks nervously.

“Sheela puts her daughter in speakerphone. “Tell your dad everything that you told me.” she demands. Her daughter sighs! “ Guys,please calm down. I have taken tylenol and am working from home. Give me a few hours and I will call you back as soon as I am done with a conference call with my boss. Is that okay Mom?” she asks before hanging the phone. A tense silence falls in the room.

Sheela is getting a severe headache now.Iwan stands there quietly with his one arm on his wife’s shoulder. They don’t know what to say. 

Sheela is toying with her phone for a while and then decides to call her son.After the four rings, her son answers the phone.” Hi Mom! How are you?” he is breathing hard. Sheela pushes the chair and stands up straight. “I am fine. Why are you breathing so hard? Do you have temperature or cough?” 

“ Mom, I am fine. I was at home working for the last two days and today I decided to come to the trail for running.“He is still breathing hard but laughs.“ I am taking care of myself mom, so not to worry. How are you and dad?”

Sheela leans against the chair.” We are fine.I am home too, so decided to check on you. Go ahead, finish your run and call me back later.”

“ Mom, make sure not to go to any stores.If you need groceries, then call and order for delivery.” he continues with his sentence. “ I heard that according to both of your age, you will be more susepetible to corona virus, so stay indoors,wash your hands frequently. And mom, call me if you need anything. Bye!” he hangs the phone. Now a small reassuring smile plays on her lips to know that her son is fine.But, she has to wait to hear back from her daughter. Waiting is really hard! Nick Turns around to go back to his work. He stops at the door and turns his face towards his wife.She seems more worried. “ Sheela why don’t you go for a walk or do some writing or sketching.” 

“ I should.” she says.

Rain has stopped. Sheela takes her rain jacket and puts on her shoes for a walk.She has been walking for an half an hour, enjoying the greenery on both sides- all the trees with new baby leaves and pretty flowers of white redbud tree and eastern redbud tree. She comes to a bridge across a stream and stops to sit down for a while and starts to hike again. It starts to rain again. Avoiding the slippery wet rock lower down, she picks a route over high, turfed banks and sure enough, within minutes the sweat is pouring into her eyes along with the rain. She drinks from her water bottle and pushes on, taking advantage of the solitude. After five minutes of listening to the rain rattling on the fabric of her rain jacket, she climbs up.After a while the rain stops.  As the rain ceased and a long fissure in the cloud permitted a tiny consolation of diluted sunlight, it began to happen at last- she began to feel good. Perhaps it is no more than the effect of endorphins released by muscular exertion.

 On near level ground now, she strides across the  grass towards the track to return home.She pulls out a handkerchief and her cell phone from her jacket pocket. She stops in the middle of the trail to wipe her sweat. Then she checks her cellphone for any missed call but there is none. So she puts the phone back in her pocket and starts walking. She spots a dog,impossibly tiny Yorkies, two silky gold and blue-gray mops spinning across the trail and they look like her friend Jade’s dogs. They are upon her, bouncing up, their stubby tails wildly tick-tocking. The smaller dog places one paw on her shoe and turns his doll face upward. His nose is a shiny black triangle, and his eyelashes full of feathers. He gives Sheela a single decorous flick with his tongue.

“Lucy, Greta!” Jade comes running towards them and stops near Sheela. “ O’,I found them! Thanks Sheela! Did you know I was on the phone talking with my mom and suddenly they disappeared from my sight. I have been calling their names and looking under each bush and around the big trees to find them but all in vain.” She takes a big gulp of water from her water bottle and carries both of her dogs in her arms. Sheela says,crisply, with a toss of her head. “They are so so cute! And how is your mom doing? Is she still in Europe?”

Jade sits on a bench nearby holding her dogs. “ I was just talking with her. She is stuck there until she will be able to take a flight back.She is very worried, but nothing can be done at this point.” Jade replies wearily. Her eyes filled with tears.

 Sheela walks forward to give her friend a hug but she stops remembering the corona Virus.She should not touch her. “ Make a point to talk to her everyday, so that she will not feel alone or have anxiety attacks.” Sheela says. 

Jade sighs! “ That’s the only thing I could do now.So how are you?”

“Fine! Taking everyday as it comes.It is really nice to see you and I will call you sometimes to chat with you.”

“Sure.See you later” Sheela takes off from there.

*If you are stuck at home during this hard time then relax- Do a puzzle,Listen to music, write poetry or a haiku, play board games. 

Just like other hard times, this will also pass.


A memorable encounter

Worldly Encounters

The friendly, English-speaking extraterrestrial you run into outside your house is asking you to recommend the one book, movie, or song that explains what humans are all about.

A Friday evening in May. The weather is surprisingly gorgeous. I decide to take a long walk with my dog in the trail.The beautiful songs of the white-winged dove, Carolina Wren, Northern Mocking bird and the simple notes of  Northern Cardinal makes the walk more enjoyable.The Blue Jay, American Robin, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Nutmeg Spice finches fly around the trees and chirp like hyperactive monkeys. On the both sides of the trail the tall and elegant trees rise up like feathers to tickle the sky. A few trees with beautiful and colorful flowers punctuate the landscape. My dog enjoys the hide-and seek game with all the squirrels and meet a few new friends as the white poodle, a friendly Labrador and a pretty Pit bull Terrier. It is almost eight when I decide to return home. There is no light in the trail so I try to walk faster and suddenly I see a spark of blue light to my right. I stop and look around and I do not see any thing special so I keep walking. But my dog pulls the leash and starts barking. I stop and look around. Now fear creeps into my mind. I start to run with the dog. My knees give up so after fifteen minutes I stop and try to breathe. I am not a runner. I can do kick boxing for more than one hour or be in the Ripped class for a longer time but running is the last thing. So we stop close to a wooden bench on the side of the trail. As I bend down to stretch my legs, I hear a strange voice.

“Hello! Why are you running so fast? I am trying to talk to you.”

I stop breathing, grip the leash tightly and turn slowly. The voice is very different from a human.I do not notice any body but pinprick flashes of light and colored moving shape. My dog starts barking. I try to wipe the sweat from my eyes, tuck a few stray hairs behind my ear and look again. There is a shadow much taller than me. I gather some courage, crane my neck and say,”Hello! Who are you? why are you following us? And where are you? I can not see you.”

I am a space traveler. But do not be afraid. It is better for you not to see me. I have seen how you screamed and shut the front door of your house that day when your tabby cat brought a dead mouse as a gift. Also the other day you saw the big brown tree roach on your back deck, you screamed and ran into your kitchen,which is very confusing to me. Now you are breathing very abnormally like a dragon. So please do not. I am harmless. I meet a lots of humans on this earth but I have chosen you. From the last three weeks I have been following you everywhere; in your home, in your work, in your garden and in the gym to know you more. I think you are a very nice person and I can rely on you.” The shadow moves closer to me and says,” I have a very curious mind with lots of questions about humans. I am confident that you can answer all my questions.” Then the blue light in the shadow flickers again.

I try to be brave and strong. The simplicity in the voice touches my heart.I wipe my sweat and try to calm the anxious dog.Then I lift my eyes towards the shadow and say,” O’ you speak in English! What is playing in your mind? Then I swallow, clear my throat and say,” I mean, what is your question?”

The shadow moves closer. Now I can feel his or her or it’s existence. I hear a deep laugh as if it comes from a machine. And I  feel a little emotion in that laugh.

I am very curious to know about the humans; their origin and their evolution, everything.”

I am very surprised with the question. We think, write and read so many strange things about the existence in other planets and here I am standing so close to one of them who is so friendly, nice and just wants to know about humans. I look at the shadow, smile and say, ” Yes I know one or two books that may help you.There is one book called ‘ The 10,000 year explosion’ by Gregory Cochran in my book collection, which you can borrow but I think you will like more the new one ‘The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Evolution’, a fascinating history of life on earth, by the renowned biologist  and thinker Richard Dawkins.”

I hear the deep voice again.” Yes and thank you. I would like to borrow your book and also to read the new one.”

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