19 March, Colombo, Sri Lanka

By Rukshani Weerasooriya

Renouk’s alarm goes off. It is 5:00am. Although Colombo is not on lockdown (as yet), most of Sri Lanka is ‘working from home,’ and therefore waking up a little later (I imagine). But not Renouk. He is an incurable ‘morning person,’ and more significantly, a self-employed tennis coach. So it was a choice, for him, between continuing to work, but with some caution and responsibility, or not having any work/income at all, for an indefinite period of time. He chose the former. Given the nature of his sport, the fact that all his courts are out of doors, and his students bring their own racquets etc. with them, there is nothing ill-advised about this. In fact it’s providing people a neat way to keep more than the prescribed 2 metres’ distance from each other, while still being able to meet and stay fit. All this to say, while I appreciate Renouk’s version of ‘working from home,’ I still struggle to appreciate being woken up so much earlier than I need to be awake.

By 6:00am I have cooked and dished out a small portion of rolled oats, doused it in milk, and am waiting for my one year old to let me know she is mad about it being morning already (she takes after me).

6:14am, Zara is awake and screaming her little face off. The day has officially begun.

The social distancing life is not too different for Zara and me, from the life we’ve lived since her birth. I quit my job in corporate law two years ago because I hated it. While in search of a new one, I found I was pregnant with Zara. After having Zara, taking up a job (other than her) seemed quite out of the question for me. Even now, while I sometimes feel I’m losing my mind doing the ammi-life, I also know there’s no other life I’d rather be doing. Add Covid-19 social distancing to it, and all my introvert dreams have come true. But sshhh, you aren’t supposed to hear me say this.

A bowl of oats, half a banana, some cubes of papaw, a scoop of yoghurt, 4 oz of cold milk, 3 story books, a bath with 8 rubber duckies (counted religiously), and a 40 minute rocking session later, Zara takes her morning nap. I am elated that she is asleep by 8:45am, leaving me some time to get myself organized for the day. I settle down on the couch and wonder if I can make myself a cup of tea quietly enough not to wake her up. Before I know it, 30 minutes have passed. I decide I will make that tea, and I stand up to go put the kettle on. Then I hear the dreaded sound of Zara awaking from her nap. It was a 30 minute nap. I’ve had no tea. It’s going to be a long day.

We have a part-time cook, Maheswari, who comes in on Mondays and Thursdays. We would like to ask her not to come in during this period, for her safety and ours, but she bears an extraordinary financial load for her family, and is too dignified a human being to be comfortable with an indefinite paid-leave arrangement. Besides, she works so hard at multiple jobs as it is, just to survive, that Covid-19 anxiety doesn’t even seem to factor in to her day.

I am expecting Maheswari to arrive any time now. She stays the night, every night, at the General Hospital, at the bedside of her sick mother. My heart has always gone out to her on this account, but now there is another element, a selfish element. She has a habit of touching Zara all over, the moment she walks in through our door. What if she carries Covid-19 from the hospital to Zara? When she came over on Monday, I reluctantly, and quite awkwardly, addressed this issue with her, using lines I’d rehearsed over the weekend. I didn’t enjoy the exchange, however brief, but I’m glad I did it.  

Maheswari calls me at 9:42am to say there aren’t many buses.  “I might be late, but I am coming, missy” she says. “It’s okay if you’re late, I’m not going anywhere,” I reply, trying to keep things light. Things are light, but you know, also not.

I am pleased to see Maheswari go straight to the kitchen sink, as soon as she arrives, at 11:00am. She then makes tea for herself and me, stirring noisily since Zara is awake.

On a normal day, Renouk works long hours, and I often complain that I only see him after dark. But these days aren’t quite normal. Very few students still want lessons. Today, he is all done by lunch time. I should be sad for him, his lack of income etc., but I can’t remember the last time he would have this many daytime hours at home with me, so I am delighted. It is lovely to feel his warm, sun darkened, skin against my arm, as we sit side-by-side on the living room floor, trying to feed Zara her lunch.

Lunch – Zara’s and ours – followed by more story books, another bottle of milk, more rocking – takes about two hours. But they are two hours divided between us today.

During Zara’s nap, I sit across the dining table from Renouk and try to do some studying. Renouk is poring over his accounts, trying to see how to keep his coaching business afloat in the present situation. He recently acquired two new courts. The investment was heavy. Things just seem uncertain right now. I am studying as I recently got a job as a part-time A-Level Law teacher. I was supposed to start this month, but with school closures etc., I was informed that my new start date will be at the beginning of the second term (whenever that will be).

Zara wakes up from her nap around 4:00pm. As Maheswari leaves, armed with a packed dinner for her sister and herself, the three of us spend the first evening we’ve had together in months, watching TV, doing some couples’ yoga poses (which turn out really funny), and trying to invent ‘family yoga poses’ with Zara in the mix. We manage to feed Zara a banana-oatmeal pancake, without too much fuss, proceed to have our own dinner quite early, as it turns out we’re both starving, and then start winding Zara down for bed.

It’s funny, but while sickness and death seem to lurk around every corner, our home is full of life tonight.