The wind was blowing quite strongly in the late evening. He looked all around, all of them that stood in line were swaying with gay abandon in the wind. The wind caressing them was fresh and rather sweet. He did not remember such a refreshing feel to the wind in a long time. He looked up. The sky was darkening the bright blue that had been around all day. It was clear and pristine. He could see the nearly full moon waiting in the corner for darkness to envelop so that it could come onto the stage of the sky. He suddenly spotted a few stars starting to twinkle in the dusk sky. It was amazing – he did not remember seeing the blue color or the stars in a long time.
Another gust of wind came and he leaned forward with it to see the road. Much like the past few days, even today it was absolutely empty. What had happened? He looked in front. The buildings across the road were slowly getting illuminated as the lights came on inside. They were all home, why did they not come out as they usually did. The breeze was so nice these days. He let out a loud sigh and shook his thick crown of leaves. What had happened? He wondered again. He called out to the one standing next to him. He was an old Peepal in their line of Ashokas, so often they ignored him. However, he was definitely the wise one among them.
“Hey Peepal, why have the people stopped coming out of their houses? It has been days since they walked in the park behind us. There are no cars or vehicles on the road also. This deathly silence is somehow eerie.”
“Ashoka, you are being silly. Why are you wondering about them. It is so nice to not have them around. See how in a few days the air has become so fresh! Enjoy this break. Frankly who cares what has happened to them. They do not think about us!’
He kept quiet. If Peepal did not know then the other Ashokas in the line would not know either. He did not agree with Peepal. He wanted to know what had happened to the people.
At that moment the Maina came back to her nest that had been on his branches for long. She was tired. She was sinking into slumber, when Ashoka asked “Maina you fly all around the place. Are you seeing what the people are doing? Why are they not coming out?”
Maina opened her slumbering eyes. He had spoken to her after ages. He let her nest in his branches without any conversation. They co-existed simply and amiably. He was right, the roads had fallen silent. She had not got up a single night in the last few days due to the screech of brakes! She tried to recall her flying path of the day. They were all home. They came out in their balconies, on the terraces and in the spaces between buildings, but they did not gather around each other as they used to. Was something amiss?
“They are all in their homes Ashoka. But why they have stopped stepping out I don’t know. I will try and find out tomorrow.”
He was very disappointed. He fell silent and watched the buildings in front. The balconies had people. Lights were on in every house, but they did not come out.
Just then he felt the familiar stream of liquid squirting his trunk. The Mongrel was back.
“Hey you, what has happened to the people, why are they not coming out of their houses?” He addressed him.
Mongrel stood on his four legs and looked up. He had never spoken to Ashoka, but he had a sense Ashoka resented his peeing there on a daily basis. But now he had echoed what had been troubling Mongrel too. He felt like hugging Ashoka. At last someone had felt the same way. Mongrel missed the people because his daily meals had become difficult. No one fed him anymore. He was having to fend for himself. If Ashoka was also troubled then something must be happening to the people. Otherwise up there, near the skies, Ashoka did not have such things to worry about.
“I will find out Ashoka. Give me sometime, I will be back.”
“Where will you find out from Mongrel, all your friends who are pets, only walk in their colonies for a short while nowadays. I see them everyday longingly looking in the direction of the park behind! Now that time is over for today’ Maina called out from her nest.
“Maina, my friend Genius lives on the ground floor of the last building of the colony. He has a small lawn in the house he roams in. Let me see if he talks to me. He can be very snooty” Saying so Mongrel loped towards the building, crossing the empty road as if he owned it.
Ashoka decided to sleep. Mongrel rarely returned to this spot. However the silence overwhelmed him. He dozed intermittently awaiting morning. Maina too could not sleep despite being tired.
Much after midnight Ashoka felt someone gnawing at his trunk. He looked and saw it was the Mongrel, looking quite bemused.
“I can tell you what has happened. There is a virus, they call it Corona. It is jumping across the human race making them very ill and often killing them too. They are protecting themselves from it by staying away from each other, till they find a cure or something like that”
“When will they come out and start their lives again?” Maina chirped from her nest.
“They don’t know. They are working towards it.”
“Ashoka, you have met Corona ever? Although they say he is a new one on the block” Mongrel asked.
“I know some of the bats that come here in their mating season. They know some Coronas, but they manage to deal with them.” Maina informed the group.
“So the people are not going to be around for sometime it seems”, Peepal thundered joining the conversation.
They all fell silent. This newcomer Corona had tilted the balance in their favour. After such a long time. But it was strange too, to live in a space devoid of people.
“This Corona seems to be an intelligent fellow. He has made it such that the humans are cornered, while we in nature continue to thrive. Spring is in the air. The number of flowers that are blooming in the park have attracted so many butterflies. The air is fresh, the noises are few. We should be grateful to it” Peepal declared.
“Strange you say so Peepal. Genius told me that his owner says to him every evening that if Corona has taught him one thing it is gratitude. For all the things in his life that he had never thought about earlier.” Mongrel said.
“We inhabit the same planet Mongrel. Our needs, feelings and expectations are not different. The humans have to comprehend that. Let us hope this battle with Corona makes them aware and responsive. Till then let us enjoy our day in the sun.”