10 December, Busan, South Korea

By Ahalya Arulnayagam

It’s 9 am in the morning. I’m on my bed, lying still, hands by my side.

 I hear the phone buzzing. It’s my lab manager informing me that she is shutting down the lab for one week until we hear from our supervisor. Since last week, Covid in Busan has hit a peak, so the city has raised its restrictions to the highest possible level. The lab manager mentions all the safety protocols, text by text, and ends the conversation with a Kakao emoticon. I wait for her to finish texting because I know she has to Google translate everything for me while texting.  Then I text back: “Thank you. Stay safe” — of course with another emoticon. I ask myself, so what now?

I don’t feel like working today but I would have to if I was in the lab. Now the idea of working from my dormitory has unleashed the lazy devil inside me.

I get up, plug my phone into the charger and make my own cup of coffee – a black Americano – and sit by my laptop to watch the news. South Korea is crazy these days. People have gone insane; they’re tired of being isolated for more than 10 months. The infection numbers per day are crazy. No wonder my lab is shut down. Working from home (dorm) isn’t that easy for researchers like me. I make a couple of calls to my home in Sri Lanka for a regular check-in. I think about cooking something new and make vegetable biryani, which has been on my wish list for longtime. I always feel good about myself after cooking sessions.

I am sure he’s never going to call me, yet I am peeping at my phone in between my chores. I feel lonely, like a widowed old man who waits all week for the post. I realise there is a subtle pain in not being checked-on constantly, not being asked mundane questions about how your day was.

I walk down by the breakwater intending to streamline my messy thoughts. Face masks have become a crucial body part, though they’re messing with my skin. Yet, I don’t want to be legally punished.  I look around me at the deserted street and feel remorseful about not being able to fly back home during such a crisis.

Suddenly, I am startled by the crescent moon.

I take my phone out of the jacket and start typing words, tons of words; with edits and backspaces. Then I delete all of them and send “I miss you, a lot” with a sad smiley.  A minute later I receive a voice note saying “I miss you too”. I stare at the phone screen and smile.