WOW | Fiction

How are you going to cope with life if you can’t laugh off anything?  

Sahara Sharma
Nepali Independent Filmmaker based in New York

My friend sent me a joke the other day. He wanted to write a pun about the Coronavirus. Although the pandemic is far from over, I can understand how the pun was nothing more than an attempt at being funny or clever on Facebook. He meant no harm, I know. It was only a joke. Sadly, the virus has been no joke. The number of people affected has crossed 25 million worldwide and more and more small businesses are closing doors. The recovery doesn’t look easy.

I’ve been inside for months now; work and school have gone online. And it looks like social distancing will be a part of life for some time because the streets and parks here are still mostly empty. And if I am to be honest, I haven’t gotten used to this silence, especially on weekends when people used to come out for strolls and the local farmers market was abuzz with food tasting and games. Now, it’s no cash and you only go pick up what you ordered beforehand.

I don’t fully understand how things look from Nepal but I am guessing the panic hasn’t subsided. For years my parents have had this routine of sending me stickers on social media, but since the pandemic, they insist on talking. My mother still asks to check my pantry sometimes. She has a list of “rice, oil, beans and salt” and insists I have those at all times, and I do. I am not the kind to panic, I never did a ‘Corona grocery haul’ but that’s probably because I always have extra of everything.

There’s no shortage of anything now, but back in April, I went to three different neighbourhood grocery stores and none had hand-wash. I checked Amazon and Walmart and both were sold out. I saw people walking on the streets with PPE on and an old lady at the post office yelled at me to move away further. These are really strange times!

When my friend sent me that joke about the virus, I’d sent him a snarly reply. And so he didn’t post it, but now I don’t know how I feel about that.

The only good thing about all this has to be that I have time to clean up little corners in the house, those that I didn’t imagine could get dirty. I wipe and dust until I am physically exhausted and sometimes I sleep in the afternoons! The sun is warm and reminds me of the days when I was home during vacation. My siblings and I went to different schools so we had holidays at different times of the year. For an entire month, I would be home alone with my grandmother, Mua. We’d spend days doing nothing, and in those days too the streets stayed silent, occasionally interrupted by a motorcycle or tractor passing. Who’d have thought New York could feel like Bardiya!

Now because I am always fiddling all over the house I noticed something funny with my bathroom sink and called up the maintenance guy for help. Dan is a chatty fellow and these days I make him Nepali style doodh chiya every time he comes over so we can sit down for some Nepali style chiya guff. We share all kinds of stories. He’s convinced Nepali food is the best and he tells me my house smells of food every time he comes over. I am not sure I should take that as a compliment. This time around what began with a conversation of facemasks (I’d clogged the sink with the clay mask I’d been using, another perk of working from home!) reached childhood and upbringing.

Dan grew up here in Upstate New York – it was a different New York, he tells me adding “We’d go fishing on my uncles’ truck and grill a huge Channel Catfish for dinner and in the evenings, we’d light firecrackers anytime we felt like it. We’d get those M-80’s and just shoot it up in the air. You can’t do that anymore, it’s illegal!”

He says, New York now has too many rules. Everyone is too politically correct, everyone’s so stuck up, he tells me. You can’t make a single joke without offending somebody. How are you going to cope with life if you can’t laugh off anything?

When my friend sent me that joke about the virus, I’d sent him a snarly reply. And so he didn’t post it, but now I don’t know how I feel about that.