Salim, checked on his blinker which was still flashing red, and gently slid it back into his pocket.
Taking the last drag of his cigarette, he flicked it away to the piled trash which lay just outside the medical examination building. Courtesy of a recent virus breakout causing a decline in almost half of the population, one of the village huts was converted to a makeshift examination center.
Salim was tasked with controlling the epidemic as the chief public health examiner, specifically sent by the WHO considering his vast field experience in controlling many previous epidemics all over the world.
This unknown virus, was first reported in this village a couple months back, immediately alarming the medical authorities and notifying the WHO about the virus.
The only documented and proven pathology of the virus was that it spread through air, and resulted in respiratory manifestations finally leading to demise in an average time frame of 10 days.
The cases had significantly decreased the past weeks due to the strict quarantine measures taken. The whole village was under quarantine.
As Salim entered the building, a middle aged woman, extended her hand for a quick handshake “Welcome, doctor” she gave a brief smile and immediately pulled up her face mask.
The examination room was a huge, plain hall without any pillars to support the semi pukka hut.
The uneven floor was only slightly more domestic than the streets to walk on. Most villagers walked barefoot. The rough terrain hardly bothered their thick keratinized sole.
Two rows of examination stations were setup either side of the hall along the length. Two doors at the back, from where the people were called in to the stations.
The people who passed the quarantine would be shifted to the other side of the village, and kept there until the WHO were happy with the virus control.
“So, did you find anything today” He went straight to the task at hand.
“Nothing actually, fifty-six residents have been sent to the other side of the village, we haven’t found anything yet. Gripalan was the last detected case two weeks back and he passed away a couple day back. Nothing significant found yet.”
“OK, but that is good news that no new cases detected, how long before we finish the whole village. Then maybe we can break it down and compile the data”
“Maybe a week more, then we are done. Yes, we can then finally compile the date and send it over. A week, and we are done” there was a slight relief on her face as she said those words.
She escorted Salim to his station, and quickly continued to her.
Before Salim could settle down, the first person was called.
An old cachexic man, barely managed to walk across to the station.
Salim, pulled out the syringe ad first attempted the brachial artery, but couldn’t draw any blood. He was severely anemic and veins were barely visible in his arms.
He tried the radial but then he went for the carotid, along his neck. The last resort
Salim pushed his thumb against the carotid and felt a feeble pulse.
Piercing the vein almost parallel to his neck, he went a little deeper till finally the brick red fluid started filling the tube.
He took a drop of the blood and scanned it in the detector, still red. He was negative.
The person was free to go but Salim decided to add a few words of advice
“The test is complete and you are free of the virus, but I suggest you do a complete body check, in a hospital somewhere. You don’t look too well.”
“Yes, I seem to have a lot of weakness these days and..” a gut wrenching cough with a blood filled sputum splattered to the floor.
“And I have some cough also” he wiped the blood with his faded yellow shirt.
“OK…….” Salim took a back seat and let the old man finish off with his coughing.
After he was done with spreading blood tinged mucous all over, Salim continued “Please get yourself checked in a nearby hospital immediately” He handed over a receipt for checkup and sent him.
Salim already had a handful in controlling the virus. It wasn’t his job to take care of this guy.
So he moved on.
Luckily for him or his colleagues, their blinkers didn’t switch to green the whole day. Smooth day for the disease controllers.
The blinker was a special detector in invented by Salim himself, which was coded to detect any of the known microbial infection to ever infest a living being. On setting the blinker to any virus, a positive result would give the green signal.
In this case, all the known viruses and no virus was set red and anything outside code would turn green. A previous sample of the new virus from one of the first victims was coded to the blinker.
The Sun had slowly started setting, few rays of light passing through the center revealing the infinite dust particles in the hall, when a young woman with a child clinging to her arm walked nervously to his station.
She wore a loose white top with sleeves dangling down her arms and wrapped around by the child, coupled with white linen jumbo pants.
The child wore the miniature version of the same.
The young woman sat ahead and tried to make herself comfortable.
“Good afternoon” she gave a warm smile to Salim.
Noticing the mainland Asian features Salim was curious to know her more “What is your name”
“OK, where are you from”
“I am from Manipur” she answered quickly, as if she was expecting it.
Salim gazed at the little kid.
“And she is my…………I look after her………I am her companion you can say. Her name is adana” She gently patted adana’s back pushing her in front but Adana shied away deeper into her arms.
‘OK, is it possible to ask her to extend her arms like this. We need to draw some blood from the both of you”
Apalna, gently took the kid’s arm and extended it.
Only a slight wince on Adana’s small round face as Salim took out her precious blood.
He poured it to his blinker and it was still red. Salim was happy.
“Is she related to you” Salim questioned Apalna as he drew blood.
“Oh….no……but I take care of her and look after her. She has nobody else.”
Salim was taken back a little. He didn’t expect the kid to have tough past.
“One of my colleagues who worked with me in the cloth factory always bought Adana with her. So we developed a bond. One day she told me that she was running away with a landlord from a neighboring village and asked me to take care of Adana till she returned. So I took her. It’s been a year now. I am the only one she has.” Apalna gripped Adana’s hand tighter and reassured her with a smile. More than love and affection, there was a sense of determination and responsibility which Apalna upheld towards the child.
Salim didn’t respond, he had an agitated look on his face and kept fiddling with his test tube. He poured the last few drops of blood again to the blinker. He was checking the previous result again hoping his blinker was wrong.
As Salim lifted the blinker over his head, against the ray of sunlight seeping through one of the ventilation vents. The red light in the blinker slowly diffused to orange and finally blended to dark green. She was positive. She had the virus.
Salim had it confirmed.
He called his colleague and gave her the report.
A tinge of fear creeped into Apalna as she saw the nervousness on Salim’s face “What is it”
Salim looked over at the kid, innocent and totally unaware of painful and recurring abandonment she would face during the course of her ill fate childhood.
“I’m sorry Apalna, but we have detected the virus in your body” Salim gently placed the green blinker on the table confirming again, letting everyone look at it.
Apalna immediately held Adana tighter, knowing she only had a few more moments with her.
“We have to take you to our quarantine center, Apalna. We will have to run you tests and keep you away from human contact. I know it will be hard but that is what is best for everyone.” the middle aged woman took over.
“Don’t worry we will try our best” Salim added.
A couple of personnel’s in their white masks with plastic see through, and a huge white jumper suit were ready to escort her.
Adana was immediately pulled over by the middle aged woman to our side, with minimal force. There was no much resistance from Apalna, considering the only fact that only her being away was good for the child.
Adana was lucky to not have contacted the virus from her companion.
“Please can she come with me, to where we are going. I will stay away from her. But please let her come. She has no one else here” Apalna asked just like any other responsible caretaker would do.
“It is not possible, Apalna, the kid has to stay here. The village is quarantined, no one leaves the village without permit and detected cases are taken to our center. She has to stay here. We will make the appropriate arrangements for her. But more importantly we have to take care of you. The virus, inside your body has claimed a lot of lives and we need your cooperation in helping us prevent more casualties. Apalna you have to understand this. This is the only way and you have to help us.”
The middle aged woman had Adana gripped in her wrists.
Apalna knew there was no other way. So she mustered up all her courage and nodded in approval to be taken away.
She glanced over at Salim and he gave a slight nod. It was telepathically conceived by both that Adana had to protected and kept safe till she could get on her own feet.
Apalna was escorted out through the front door.
She could potentially be the person who would end the catastrophic course of this virus or she could be one of the many victims, leaving a small girl alone to fight this virus infected world.