In Dante’s “Inferno,” Limbo was the first circle of hell, its vastness housing those who had been excluded from salvation. Souls are forever lost, through no fault of their own but because they had lived before Christ or had not been baptized. Their only punishment is deprivation.
In July, over a year into the pandemic, torrential rains began to sweep Luzon. The virus likewise barged into our home. Its threat had become all too real, like rainwater seeping through our rusted roof, forming puddles on the tiled floor, as though one wrong step and I would slip and crack my head.
Fourteen days, I would count, but they felt like years. Toward the end, I missed the sun, its blaze and light, and the bliss of my arrogance.
My sister contracted COVID-19. She was still unvaccinated, the only one remaining in our household. My mother was a senior citizen, my father had a comorbidity, and I was a public employee with access to a vaccine shot. My sister did not have any such qualifications. She registered for vaccination in early June, but the vaccine rollout was, as expected, slower than slow.
At home, we first doubted the unwanted visitor. It was part denial, part ignorance. My sister complained of a mild headache on Day 1, but that was normal during flu season, and she also worked from home while the rest of us were vaccinated. On the second day, however, I, too, began showing symptoms, and at work no less. I arrived home only for my fears to come true: My sister had lost her sense of taste.
We got tested on a Monday, the day the President delivered his last Sona. I listened to him speak of the number of vaccines acquired and how many had been vaccinated by that time. He asked for patience while the rest, like my sister, awaited their turn.
His remarks made little sense to me. Patience is all this country has. All we do is anxiously wait for a sense of safety, which has not yet come, not even in the vaccine era.
The next day, the hospital e-mailed us the results: I tested negative, but my sister was positive.
The doctor gave good advice, but I also learned that nothing was certain with COVID-19. Fever would leave one day, but return the next. I quickly recovered in two days, but my sister’s condition grew worse. We were told to expect around 14 days to recover, and so it was what we did: Stay in isolation, follow health protocols, and dread the worst.
The unholy amount of disinfectant I inhaled could not have been safe, and I also lost count of the liters of water that had to be boiled for daily rounds of steaming. About three days into isolation, my mother also fell ill. My guess was that the vaccine was fighting the virus that had invaded her body. Our ranks shrank to two, and it was up to me and my father to hold the fort.
Meanwhile, a welter of sentiments stirred in me. I swallowed my pride and admitted that I might have become too used to this “new normal.” I had consistently worn masks, of course, but then I would, at times, neglect to spray alcohol or quickly change clothes upon coming home. I succumbed to quarantine fatigue, I discovered. I could defend my case, but I would lose. I was one of the reasons my sister got COVID-19; her coughing got so severe that I felt guilty for it.
Some mornings, the sun would peek through, but no sooner was it out than the rain would lash again by noon. Likewise, I also saw slivers of hope in how the pandemic was being handled, but would eventually realize that I was just trying to lay aside my sense of dread. The vaccines did come, but so did a more perilous variant of the virus. Just as we had barely managed to pull through the first wave, Delta came, ushering in a new pandemic spiral.
Around this time, I read news of how heavy rains had destroyed homes and displaced thousands of people in Luzon. All I could think of then was how fast the number of active cases would soar, but reality dawned on me just as quickly: Those displaced would likely have no time to think of wearing a mask or observing physical distancing while they desperately struggled to survive. Meanwhile, I had to put out another basin to catch raindrops from our ceiling.
The disaster slapped me hard: COVID-19 was a grave threat, but it was only one of many. And thousands if not more were facing such threats head-on, because they had been left to fend for themselves.
My contempt for many things grew in those two weeks — my self-importance, the government’s indolence, our collective helplessness.
In no time, the 12th day of isolation came, and with it my sister’s question: Could she perhaps now go out of her room? Her fever had left and her coughing had lessened. Our mother was feeling better, too.
But it was only the day after the complete isolation period that I felt it: The worst was over.
The sun returned, too, and I couldn’t help but see it as a divine symbol. As the rains vanished, so did the virus leave our home. Things returned to the way they were—except this time, I knew better than to fall prey to false assurances. I can believe in better days, but I know they will not come any time soon. Until then, we’re stuck in limbo.