Chapter 1 by The Moving Type
4 unhappy faces in squares across the laptop screen were forced to smile.
“Could you guys stay still and try to look a little happier?” urged Tara with her phone held up, ready to capture a moment in time no one wanted to be a part of. It was Day 6 of the lockdown and everyone was starting to feel it.
“At least we get to work in our pyjamas,” Adi offered. Only if you still have a job thought Rob as he picked up his controller to unpause the new Street Fight IV game he had played nonstop over the last few days. As his character shot up a grocery store and rode away on a red Harley Davidson to the sound of police sirens, Rob spoke up for the first time during their group call, "Hey, did you guys manage to spot any of the drones flying around? That’s how they’re watching the streets."
Reflexively a few heads turned towards their nearest windows. There was a photo like stillness outside. Uncomfortable with the quiet, Nadia tapped on her window along to the sound of smooth jazz that filled her bedroom. Hard to imagine the post-apocalyptic worlds that only existed in the movies had suddenly become their own. In a quick few months, the entire world had stopped fighting with each other and were forced to combat one common enemy. One that wasn’t racist, sexist or political; the relentless virus Budlyt-19, fittingly dubbed by the media as The Seeker. Scientists say a wet market hosted by poor hygienic conditions presented a unique opportunity that allowed the virus to make the jump from snakes to human beings. Either way, the virus had spread. Fast. It had claimed over 15,000 lives in only 3 months, announcing its arrival with 2 deceptively common symptoms: fever and sweats. 3 weeks later if you woke up to a bloody nose, it was already too late. As medical professionals scrambled for answers, the healthy charged to the nearest hospitals confusing the common cold with The Seeker, wasting precious time and resources that were critical to the infected. Consequently, Governments across the globe started to impose strict lockdowns resulting in people hiding scared in their own homes.
“Nope,” replied Tara as an intrusive flash went off. She thumbed through a couple of filters finally settling on one that adjusted the light so that her nose looked slimmer, and clicked ‘Post’. Her phone lit up almost immediately to a steady stream of notifications.
Nadia eyed the picture and laughed. “You can see the mess in my room, thanks T. This isn’t how I want to appear to the masses." Last year a video of Tara doing her makeup using only cooking ingredients went fairly viral and now she was in spitting distance to being Finsta Famous. Rested against an expensive monochromatic art piece of the city's oldest tower, Tara wasn’t listening. She seemed more distracted by her phone than usual.
The iconic Trida Tower was a short walk away from each of their houses and was home to a beautiful cinema that was recently refurbished and even boasted a highly acclaimed chef whose wholesome food and foul mouth made for an entertainment experience that saw everyone from hormonal tweens to erratic families to passive pensioners shuffle in and out of their giant golden revolving doors. The country of Matana was blessed with enough beauty but it was the brains behind the city that made it a contemporary hotspot for tourists all year round. With numbers doubling year on year, it eventually was the greed that resulted in Matana being one of the last to close its borders. “The gravity of the situation is only starting to come to light,” remarked their sweaty Prime Minister Greoff. Ironic choice of words considering the predictions for some very dark times ahead. In an effort to salvage their sanity through solidarity, the 4 friends got on a call at least once a day to check-in and download on each other. Or as Adi liked to call it their compos mentis.
“Adi, what should we do about dinner?” quizzed Nadia. Her older cousin was the only relative she had in town so moving down the hall from him in an apartment complex smack in the middle of the city encouraged a big sigh of relief from their families back home. And, for a bachelor in his late twenties, Adi was a phenomenal cook.
“I think we could manage some Pasta,” replied Adi, “I’ll check the kitchen." He got up to leave and Rob yelled after him, “I can’t wait to come over once this is over. I miss your lasagna, man."
A few minutes later after exhausting the customary sighs of frustration, exchanging holiday dreams in exotic locations and opinions on what shows were the most binge-worthy, Tara yawned and said her goodbyes. She had to call her parents and wanted to try out some quarantine themed video ideas before bed. Rob said he had a game with his brother and left the chat not long after. Adi still hadn’t reappeared in his square.
A round of applause outside Nadia’s window cut through the catchy riff of the song; it had become a tradition in the city for people to lean outside their windows and show their support towards everyone from the medical professionals to the delivery boys for a few minutes each night. It was now past 9 pm. As she slipped on her fluffy slides to make her way over to Adi’s, a message popped up on her phone from a number she did not recognise. It simply read: Be careful of the door to the left of your floor.