When the lockdown was declared here on the 18th of March, the hardest task that we faced was forcing Dad to stay home. Now how would you convince a man who’s almost 80 — and rarely caught a cold at a younger age — that there was a pandemic with flu-like symptoms?
Being a science teacher, Mom took upon herself lecturing him every morning about coronavirus that “hits the lungs of the elderly and kills them instantly”. Dad would cast her his iconic doubtful looks — who is she calling an old man anyway? – and mumbles: “Maybe!”.
Ten minutes after the lecture, he would pick his car keys and head to the petrol pump to get his daily essentials: bread and magazines. Although Dad watched different news channels to stay updated with the global COVID-19 situation, he found it hard to believe that whatever was happening around the world was happening here too concurrently.
After a week of this cycle (Mom lecturing and Dad not paying attention), I decided to intervene as the dutiful daughter by simply hiding his car keys (and later feigning innocence). This didn’t stop him of course. Part of my daily task changed into keeping an eye on him as he kept sneaking out to the nearby supermarket when everyone was busy.
Fat Mansoor and I would watch him from the balcony crossing the yard and heading to the main gate before I shout: “Where are you going, Baba?”. Dad would be startled for a second before muttering that he was just checking if the gate is closed properly (even Mansoor found that hard to believe).
Dad’s effort to escape the house didn’t stop at that. He started calling his brothers and nephews asking them to pick him up for their weekly family gathering that had stopped. I would hear him exclaiming on the phone: “What corona! Why would we catch corona when we know each other very well?”.
It amazed him to see my brother working from home and almost surrendered to the fact when the newspapers stopped coming to our house. By now he was getting restless from staying home all day and decided to give escaping it a last try. And what time would be better than when I’m away at the vet’s? Walking back into the house one day, I heard the booming tune of the BBC’s news theme playing in Dad’s room. There was no way that he would stand it unless he’d turned deaf while I was away. I went to check and he was nowhere to be seen.
Dad’s clever maneuver had even tricked my mom and brother into believing that he was watching the news. The question was: where was he? I called him on his mobile and after the second call he picked up to inform me that he’d stopped at the government office opposite of us to “say hello!”. Luckily, the office was closed the very next day.
Understanding how bored he must feel, I decided to change his routine by taking him for short daily walks around the neighbourhood. It took him a while to get used to wearing the mask and keeping a safe distance from others (and most importantly not removing the mask when greeting them!).
At his age Dad finds it hard to understand or cope with the forced isolation. He doesn’t like the quiet expat neighbours who’d smiled politely at him when he tries chatting with them: “Why is your dog sniffing the ground? No food at home?”. Getting no answer from them, we continue our walk silently until sunset.
Eid Mubarak folks!
Rasha al Raisi is a certified skills trainer and the author of: The World According to Bahja. firstname.lastname@example.org