“Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees/ … is a strange and bitter crop,” sang the great Billie Holliday in the timeless blues anthem to prejudice and hate.
Mixed fruits the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) brings me although these are no less strange, rediscovered in their unfamiliarity in the jaundiced light of strange times, borne by a virus that feeds on people’s need for contact and intimacy and offering redemption through denial of the same.
“Can one take a bath after getting the vaccine?” According to the doctor debriefing our cordoned group, this question is the “most asked” by just vaccinated individuals.
The bath as a social ritual was long altered by the pandemic. Navigating the crosscurrents of Zoom meetings and Facebook Live webinars, we increasingly eschew a necessity that used to be essential for keeping face in the Asian context: the morning bath.
In a twinkling, we transform into mermen and -maids, donning an office shirt over last night’s pajamas or splashing water on a stale face to appear fresh and bright from the neck up for virtual encounters.
Stay-at-home and work-from-home are realities that transform us into cross-platform denizens, situated in the domestic while pivoting the new borderless social.
The new social, though, is an illusion camouflaging the anti-social. Leaving the vaccination hub located within a city’s financial and commercial district, the husband and I walk a few blocks to return to the carpark when I hear two women walking behind us.
I feel the tautening of my neck, back and arms as their voices, in loud, animated conversation, draw closer and closer.
My strides stumble as I debate whether to slow down or work faster. If we let them pass us, will they get close enough to release in that fatal second or two some of the super viral load of those infected with the delta variant? Or will I?
As if in rebuke, the voices behind us abruptly de-escalate. The women swerved for another direction.
The husband and I are back to being the solitary humans walking on the vacant sidewalks beside the wide, empty streets. In this apocalyptic landscape, I breathe better behind the layers of my personal protective equipment (PPE).
Remembering the debriefing, I reflect that, especially for the unvaccinated or the partially vaccinated, the bath is the prerequisite for purification, a sloughing off from possible contagion from other people so one can continue to function as a human counting out its days and nights in fear of playing host to an infection that breeds in living cells.
The vaccine came too late. I had become a shirker of flesh, a seeker of bubbles, another Covid mutant: the zombie.