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Entry in the diary of Kia Sim

Sunday, 6 January 2053

The government issued the order only moments ago. Our city has entered a lockdown.

I don’t know what to think. There’s been talk of a virus, something strong enough to urge a pandemic out of hiding, but I can’t believe if those rumours are true.

For now, public facilities and transport have been made to close, so The Cook would have to prepare all our meals from now on. It’s not quite an issue though. I’ve recently upgraded her to an improved, refined model, and her cooking is quite flawless. My work as an author will continue just the same, though I wonder what my editor Ms. Martin will have to say about this. Probably not much, she doesn’t breathe anyway.

These are strange times. Today marks the thirtieth year since the Coronavirus pandemic ended. Thirty years, it’s unbelievable. And the resurgence of another virus now, it can’t be a coincidence, can it?

This morning I brought Aunt Nova to attend the unveiling of a remoulded monument at town square. It’s been made a huge deal, though at first I could not comprehend the significance of commemorating an event so far removed from myself. The monument had been there since I was born, a statue of a man in a doctor’s coat staring out to the horizon, (I suppose through time it grew to rust and had to be remade), not that I had personally glimpsed it before.

Although I had no interest in attending such an event, in opposition to her characteristically solitary nature, Aunt Nova had insisted on going, the steel of her earth brown eyes glinting (even through the hologram), and knowing that she had been through the pandemic, it troubled my conscience to deny her such a chance at peace.

So, iron-fisted grip on the handlebars, I wheeled Aunt Nova through the growing crowd. Above us, the dark sky was barely shining in the absence of stars. Though it was only early morning, the marketplace streets were already thronged with strangers and architects and servicemen, rushing to make the last preparations for the big reveal. I was distracted by the atmosphere of humming anticipation around us. It felt like an oncoming storm.

Decades ago, the second generation of ministers had declared an anniversary to commemorate the end of the Coronavirus pandemic. Such events took place every ten years. Early this month, works on the new sculpture ensued. It was only to be unveiled on the thirtieth anniversary. Today.

I parked Aunt Nova and I in a quiet spot next to an unused market stand, out of the way from the passers-by, taking the chance to survey our surroundings.

At the heart of the commotion, the square in which the monument was erected was in the center of town, its four mosaic corners each adorned with a motif of our city’s virtues. Unity, Loyalty, Justice and Equality, repainted yearly with a set of fresh colours. They glowed in the dim light of the street lamps, a promise I’d like to think as unyielding, unbroken, and year by year, renewed.

Most of those gathered were clustered around a raised stage, and behind the stage a tall monument, shrouded in cloth. Curious onlookers surrounded the monument, some murmuring conspicuously to another, some merely gaping in awe. Realization struck me. They were praying. Something unnamed began to swell in my chest.

Before long, an elegantly-dressed lady walked up to the stage, stood behind the podium. She had a professional air about her, her clothes were not the light-weight, tech-weaved garments most wore. Instead, she was donned in an old-fashioned suit, her hair wrapped tightly in a hand-tied bun. The crowd hushed. She removed her computer headgear. I recognized her, her brilliant eyes and clever smile. She was our district’s minister.

I am confident that she gave a speech, though I cannot recall what she said. Aunt Nova seemed changed under the cover of the morning darkness, as if something had slipped. Only when the rousing applause for the minister’s speech came, I spotted it. Her fingers were visibly trembling.

I was at a loss of any source of comfort, and so I turned away.

Eventually, the monument was revealed. The huge, dove-white cloth was withdrawn, and as it pulled back, fluttering in the sudden breeze, I squinted to make out the details.

The sculpture was large, a bulging form against the cloudy sky. It was not just a person, but people, a mass of faces that stuck out towards the world with marble-frozen expressions of determination. There were the faces of doctors, nurses, delivery men, officers, looking out into the crowd, looking toward.

The minister beamed. “In the past, we had only honoured one. Now, it is my duty to make amends. We will honour all.”

Then, candles, already lit, were passed along the crowd, a turning tide of light against the darkness. Aunt Nova took two, handed one to me.

The glow it emitted was an orange bright, the flame on its wick danced to the wind. Gingerly, I cupped it in my hands, its power so fragile and strong. A strange hold had come across the crowd, and as if in unspoken agreement, we observed a minute of silence. The same wave of collective remembrance and grief swept over me. Inexplicable tears sprang into my eyes. I tried hard to blink them away.

Finally, the ceremony ended. When the crowd had cleared, Aunt Nova finally motioned to me. She wished to get a closer glimpse at the monument.

I wheeled us close. On weakened legs, Aunt Nova stood. I moved hastily forward to support her, but in her headstrong nature, she shrugged me away.

Helpless, I could do nothing but watch as she hobbled over. Placing slender fingers on the various faces, she slowly circled the monument, as if in a search of something. Curious, I followed close behind. All of a sudden, she paused. The pads of her thumb brushing gently against a singular face. They no longer shook.

I stepped forward, beside her, That face she caressed was one of a woman’s. Donned in a healthcare worker’s uniform, (the fabric weaved into the marble in such a way, it seemed to move), she had clear, big eyes, shoulder-length hair, the softest smile. And in the deep recesses of memory, a single tug.

And Aunt Nova, the saddest smile on her lips (I knew, though through her headgear I could not see), asking. “Do you recognize her?”

Writing this now, and knowing that I could not⁠— did not, the guilt hangs onto me like an unwilling ghost. Oh, may the saints forgive me. I know now, and I wonder if it is too late.

My mother. Her face on the monument. The anguish breaking on Aunt Nova’s.

“This was my mother?” My voice was quiet.

“A nurse. My sister,” Aunt Nova confirmed. “She was never the bravest one, but she was the only one willing to fight in it all. And in that biological war she fought, beside the doctors, though it was only them who got the recognition. She was, after all, a lowly nurse. But today, that wrong is righted. With the news of another oncoming tide, I brought you here. I should know.”

Tears spring into the well of my eyes. The unnamed thing inside me thrives, blossoms.

“She was the one of the best, and so they asked for my permission for her face to be immortalized. She is, she will be.”

“She…I knew she passed… but,” My tongue goes numb in shaping the words. “Thirty years ago?”

“Thirty years ago, yes…Just before you were born, dear. The pandemic took my legs, and her too. It took your childhood. Though it seems so... far away now.”

I don’t remember much of what happened after that. When I regain my senses, I am back in this room, a weighted blanket laid on my shoulders. A steaming cup of chocolate had been brewed and was set up neatly on the bedside table, though the taste of salt is still bitter on my tongue.

Now, nursing the hot beverage and facing the fresh fact of my mother’s death, the blow of a possible pandemic hits a spot so much closer to home. I think of all that could go wrong. The vulnerable getting sick, families becoming broken, those in power wielding selfishness as a shield, those meant to nurse us losing their lives in exchange. A world in chaos, diminishing, unlearning.

But I remind myself that in spite of this, there is a dense forming of light at the end of this tunnel, a singing from a distant future. Before blacking out, I remember tracing my mother’s gaze to the sky, and together, glimpsing the arising dawn.

They have been through this once before. And so I think, this time, and the many times after this, there will be hope.

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