In the Yard
“Is it your cat that is meowing at such a high pitch so early in the morning? What is happening?”
“Oh, Frimousse just saw the packet of Friskies in the neighbour’s house and got super excited. Let me take her away from here so that you can work in peace,” said Aurore.
Marie looked out of the window and saw the grey clouds gathering in the horizon despite the shaft of sunlight that fell on the terrace. She will have to finish the report for the university and press the “send” button before it starts raining and her mood becomes rotten.
It had been nearly a year for her, working from home due to the pandemic. As she had not closed the windows, she could hear the news floating in from the neighbour’s TV.
Cats have been found to have been infected with the coronavirus giving rise to speculation that some patients might have caught the infection from their pets.”
“Well, I must remember to clean the windowsills with sanitizing wipes hereafter. The cat plays there,” Marie told herself and got back to her keyboard.
She tried to concentrate and get her work done. When she looked up again, it was already half past twelve. She switched on her television and started washing some lettuce to make some salad for lunch.
Three experts were being interviewed in an outdoor setting. It is clear the virus jumped from the animal to the human, which animal is the question. Is it the bat or the pangolin?
“Leave the bat alone!” a group in favour of protection of bats wagged a cardboard from behind the journalist’s head.
And what is your view on the hypothesis that this virus could have been the result of some laboratory manipulations and that it by accident that it got out and spread around the world?
“The experts in genetics are quite clear about it. No chance. SARS-COV2 is a naturally occurring virus. Not manufactured in a petri dish in a lab.” One of the experts shook his head decisively.
There was a cacophony suddenly from the onlookers. “Hey, what is a pangolin? How does it look like? Tell the Chinese to stop eating any damned thing that runs on four legs!”
The journalist looked at the camera and announced that after the new strain that was found in minks reared for their precious fur, minks were being culled in Denmark by way of controlling the infection.
Marie recalled the slaughtering of cows after the mad-cow disease and the killing of sheep after the foot and mouth disease and the slaughtering of ducks after the H1N1 virus scare.
She remembered scenes of hundreds of birds being sucked into the cleaning trucks and then shoved into burial grounds.
Will the virus die or survive, she used to wonder then.
She took out a carrot and began peeling its skin.
She recalled the terrible images of the Ebola victims and the three-dimensional images of viruses that periodically adorned television screens.
Suddenly, her appetite was gone. She looked dolefully at the salad bowl, now filled to the brim with nutritious greens.
The telephone rang. It was Nora.
“Marie, what are you working on for the domotics colloquium?”
“Nora, I was wondering whether I should work on robots in the form of pet animals.”
“You mean like Tamagotchi?”
“That sounds cute. All the best then.”
“And what are you working on?”
“I am thinking along the lines of something like “the surveillant surveilled.”
“Yes, I have heard about that. The cameras that you install keep an eye on you.”
“Basically, I am going to look at privacy as a right that is eroded.”
“You know, the buzz word these days is retrofit. Imagine that one day instead of typing, we will actually be sitting at a table and writing.”
“I have got to go. I am running short of FFP masks.”
Pierre was back from his jogging. He watched health coaches on YouTube warning people from becoming couchpotatoes during the pandemic and inspired, he had set new athletic goals for himself within the allowed radius of 10 km.
He was about to open the fridge.
“Please remember to wash your hands with soap,” Marie reminded him.
He opened the tap for a now-familiar ritual. Earlier, he would have glugged straight from the fridge.
“I saw new neighbours shifting into the corner house.” Marie was still thinking about her salad.
“Oh, moving is allowed during lockdown?”
“I believe yes.”
With his hands clean, Pierre grabbed a bottle of water and picked up some lettuce from her salad bowl. He winked at Marie.
After lunch and a cup of coffee, she returned to work. All was quiet around.
“Bow, wow,” she heard a dog bark.
“My goodness, as if the cats are not enough, now we have a dog? Soon, there will be a war between the two.” Marie walked to her window, crossly, wondering where the noise was coming from.
“Marti, Marti, come here catch this ball!” A girl was playing with her dog. It was a white Maltese puppy and looked charming.
Marie felt forgiving, suddenly. “OK, let us learn to be oblivious to meows and barks,” she smiled at the scene of the two young things playing.
She heard the sound of the postman dumping a packet in her mailbox.
“Let me see what that is. Must be the books I had been waiting for.” As she opened her door, Marti came and sniffed her feet.
Marie was a bit taken aback and was afraid to stroke it. The dog jumped as it wanted her to take it in her arms.
Could Marti be a carrier of Covid 19? Better be careful.
Marie stood still, unmoving, as the owner called her dog to order. The two women exchanged awkward smiles; what had the world come to?
As the day bore on, Marie forgot all about Marti and went about her business. The next morning when she opened the window, it was not the cat but the dog that greeted her.
“Bonjour Marti,” Marie said, more out of politeness to the neighbour. The dog wagged its ears.
She drew the curtains and disappeared from the scene. This became a morning ritual after a few days.
One day, Marie was waiting for the delivery man. The dog followed him and came to the doorsteps of her house.
She attempted some conversation. “Be nice, Marti. He is not a stranger. Just came to deliver some food to me.”
The dog’s owner appeared. “Unfortunately, Marti does not understand what you say.” She laughed. Marie was a little disconcerted but she bent down, on a sudden whim, and stroked the dog.
Later, as she worked around her house, she had an idea. Marie went to her computer and sat down to search for dog toys from an online website.
Before she knew it, an hour had passed! The toy world for dogs of all sizes was a kingdom of commodities, but finally, she found a ball that she thought would amuse the dog but not harm it any way. She ordered it straight away. I will gift it to Marti tomorrow and see how happy he would be.
Marie again heard the thud in the mailbox. When she opened the door, she saw Marti sitting upright on the terrace. The owner’s wife was controlling him with a stern look. Marti’s eyes were sad.
Marie got back quickly. Perhaps Marti had done something silly and been rebuked.
The next day she received the delivery notification on her phone. While waiting to open the door to the delivery man, she bumped into Aurore.
“Do you know the news?”
“The neighbours have shifted. Last night they did not sleep here.”
Here is what you ordered, the postman stuck a packet in her arms and left.
Marie understood why Marti did not smile or jump the previous day.
The wife was expecting, Aurore said. They must have found a bigger house in the vicinity. But no Marti to be seen anywhere.
The house was soon rented to a couple of women. They seemed to be animal minders. They came with cages and pets and a lot of noise.
One girl was training a Staffordshire terrier. He looked wicked, menacing, nothing like Marti.
“You are supposed to keep him on a leash,” said Marie surprised by the ferocious barking.
“He is a just a baby!” dismissed the woman.
The other girl had a brown Golden Retriever which was friendly.
The town was agog with older people getting the first viral vaccine while the newspapers reported such vaccinations going awry among younger people.
Everybody was busy finding doses of one or other of the messenger RNA vaccines and scheduling an appointment for vaccination on their mobile applications.
While coming back from the vaccination centre, Marie noticed moving vans.
“Too quick, the break-up,” Aurore said.
“The girl who was training the dog left. The younger woman does not have the money to pay the rent. She is moving to live with her mother.”
Marie went in and impulsively searched for the ball.
“What are you planning to do?” Pierre said. “These girls did not even say hullo to any one of us.”
“Never mind.” Marie hurried.
There was a stranger helping the girl put the last things in the van. They were about to shut the doors.
“Hullo,” Marie said. “This was a ball bought for another dog that left. Perhaps your dog could play with it”.
“Oh, thank you. That’s kind of you,” the girl smiled.
Off went the van and along with them the memories of dogs that animated the courtyard.