The siren wailed in the distance signaling the end of the curfew. It was 6 o’clock in the morning. Cameron never set the alarm, because that shrill, high pitched wail always woke her up. In the beginning she hated it, but as time went by, she found it convenient.
She got out of bed and went straight to the shower. Personal hygiene was very important for her work. Then she got dressed and went to the kitchen to prepare breakfast; a hot cup of coffee and a piece of cake. After that, she put on her jacket, took the bag with the clean green scrubs in, grabbed the car key and left for the hospital, where she worked as a doctor.
Cameron started the car and drove out of the parking lot into the main street. She had her papers ready, in case she was stopped by a policeman for paper control. Supermarkets and bakeries opened at 7:30, but people had already started to make short queues. “Please avoid overcrowding”, “ You are kindly requested to keep a 2-metre distance between you”, “Only x people in the shop at the same time” , “A face mask is required”, “Please use anti-bacterial hand gel”, said the signs almost everywhere. The signs were old but nobody dared to take them down. Not yet, at least.
“Better safe that sorry”, thought Cameron as she drove towards the central hospital. It had been a year since the president had proudly announced the coveted discovery of a vaccine. The country had finally managed to achieve herd immunity through vaccination, and the virus transmission had been eliminated to a great extent, but not completely. “The next big step is to open the retail shops and shopping malls. Then we can open schools and universities” he had said. And he did. But somehow, people had acquired new habits, which they were reluctant to shed.
Cameron parked her car, wore her face mask and went out, taking her things with her. She went through the hospital main entrance into the hospital. She very quickly changed clothes in the changing room and went to her office. She checked yesterday’s numbers:
500 confirmed cases
187 in ICU
Cameron felt disheartened. The numbers were good, compared to the ones of the past years. But that meant that the virus was still mutating and spreading among people. Lost in thoughts, she heard a knock on the door. It was Alex, another hospital doctor.
- Morning, Cameron. Still reviewing last day’s figures.
- Good morning, Alex. Yeah, still.
- Come on, get up. We need you in ICU. We’ve got a newcomer. He’s seriously infected and has to be intubated. And we’ve got a couple for HDU. They came this morning with fever, coughing and tiredness and did a rapid diagnostic test. They were both positive.
- I’m on my way. Thank you, Alex.
Cameron got out of the office and went to the changing room to prepare for ICU and HDU, where she would spend most of the day. She had to wear a disposable protection suit and cap, and wear a face mask, a face shield and disposable gloves. She was lucky they still had plenty of disposable protection suits. Then she came out and walked towards ICU.
On her way, she passed by other hospital wards, where patients lay in beds. It was still forbidden to have an escort, so they lay alone and did their best to help each other. Her eye caught an old lady. She was emaciated from the disease. Cameron approached her and asked whether she needed anything.
- Water, said the lady quietly.
Cameron filled a cup with water and gave the old lady to drink.
- Thank you doctor, whispered the old lady.
- What is your problem? asked Cameron.
- Pancreatic cancer, replied the old lady.
Cameron understood the old lady had few chances of recovery. But her calm face and courage in her voice impressed her. The lady was a real fighter, an everyday hero.
- I wish you to get well soon, said Cameron
- You know, doctor, your job isn’t just a common profession, it is a function. I would never be able to do it, not for all the tea in China.
- Thank you. Have a good day, said Cameron and left before the old lady could see tears forming in her eyes.
The day passed quickly and Cameron’s shift came to an end. It was almost 5 o’clock. The siren would wail again and the curfew would start, so she had to be home as soon as possible. There was no time for shopping or any other outdoor activities. Cameron made a beeline back to her apartment. She was dead tired. She would have a shower, then prepare a sandwich and milk for dinner, and would go straight to bed.
“Ding, ding, ding” was heard all over the sitting room from her laptop. It was skype, her sister Jenny was calling. Cameron went to answer the call.
- Good evening, sis! Did you save the world today?
- Like every day, said Cameron smiling. She always enjoyed her sister’s occasional teasing comments.
- Guess what. I know a guy who knows a guy who has a friend. His name’s Johnny and seems perfect for you.
- Oh Jenny, the connection’s breaking up. Can we talk about it some other time?
- You won’t get away this time, Cameron. I have arranged everything. Brunch on Sunday: Me, hubby, Johnny and you.
- We’ll see. Night night, Jenny.
Cameron was satisfied with her life and didn’t want to change anything. She didn’t feel lonely, on the contrary, she was utterly busy; with her work, with her hobbies, with herself. The last thing she needed was a man in her life. Bur for Jenny this was unthinkable. Jenny hated loneliness; she found it boring and unbearable.
Before going to bed, Cameron looked out of the window. She always enjoyed the view that time of the day. The sun had set and twilight was still glowing. Soon it would be dark. Soon the rooftops would gleam under the full moon. The last few years had been a nightmare, which was almost over. But nothing was certain yet. Humanity had to be on the alert.
Then Cameron lay in bed and covered herself up to the ears with her blanket. Within minutes she was fast asleep.
Cameron’s weekends were quiet, ordinary and pretty much identical. She had the same routine since the days of quarantine and lockdown. She found no reason to change it anyway, since it was so convenient.
On Saturday morning she would visit the supermarket, with a shopping list in hand. She wore a face mask, used anti-bacterial hand gel at the entrance and kept her distance throughout the place. Then she would come back home, wash her hands, put everything into place and cook lunch, usually an easy-made meal such as spaghetti or pizza. As for the rest of the day, she would either read a medical journal, or listen to music, or maybe see a film. Occasionally, she would make video calls on Skype to Jenny or some friend of hers. On Sundays, she would begin the day by running on the treadmill, then cook a light meal for lunch, video call Jenny, read medical journals, read the Sunday paper, listen to music maybe, and so on.
Social gatherings were still permitted in outdoor spaces, with a limited number of people, so when the weather was good she would meet either Jenny or a friend of hers for brunch in some café. That Sunday morning her cellphone rang. It was Jenny.
- Morning, sis! What a day, isn’t it!
- Good morning, Jenny. Yes, it is a wonderful day today.
- Let’s go out today, shall we? We could catch up on our news and catch some sun at the same time. What do you say?
- Yep, sure, why not?
- OK! Meet me in an hour, at the usual place.
- See you there.
Cameron and Jenny loved “Sea shells”. It was a café on the sea front, with a wonderful view of the sea and the marina. When the weather was good, the people sat outdoors and enjoyed the view. It also had the best hot chocolate in the city. Cameron found a good table and sat down. The waitress came and Cameron gave her order proudly; French hot chocolate. The waitress smiled warmly and disappeared inside the café.
Within minutes Cameron was enjoying her hot chocolate with whipped cream on top. In the meantime, a good-looking young man appeared and started to search the tables with his eyes. Finally, he moved, stopped in front of Cameron’s and asked politely:
- Excuse me, are you Cameron, Jenny’s sister?
Cameron’s eyes opened wide. Before she could utter a word, the man continued affably.
- Nice to meet you Cameron. I’m Johnny, and I’m Jenny’s friend. Jenny told me she might be late, and obviously she is. Can I take a seat?
- Nice to meet you, Johnny. Yes, please do.
Johnny chose a chair next to Cameron and sat down. Cameron couldn’t help but notice his beautiful shoulder length dark hair and wide blue eyes. He was a handsome young man, and seemed outgoing and smart, which made her feel comfortable.
- Jenny told me you are a doctor at the city’s central hospital.
- Yes, I am. Strange, Jenny told me nothing about you.
- I came like a bolt from the blue for you then, he said and laughed. Ok, let me introduce myself to you. I’m Johnny and I am a chemist. I own a small drugstore on the outskirts of the city but my ambition is to open an international drugstore in the city centre, where people of all nationalities would find consultation and medications.
- That sounds great, said Cameron impressed.
- It is. I would already have done it, but you see, the pandemic delayed my plans. Everyone’s plans. Maybe in the foreseeable future… who knows. Do you believe we are on the way to herd immunity, as they say?
- The government has followed a steady vaccination plan, which seems to have born fruit. But I am not totally convinced that we are out of danger yet. Personally, I still follow the measures the virologists propose and try to stay safe as much as possible.
- You are doing the right thing. I do the same.
Cameron and Johnny talked and talked for quite a long time. They both felt as if they had known each other a long time ago, and it was a pleasant feeling. In the end, they agreed to exchange cellphone numbers and arrange to meet again.
- Say hello to Jenny from me, Cameron.
- I will, Johnny. See you.
Cameron returned to her flat, enthusiastic about her new friend. Johnny was smart, witty and interesting. She wasn’t sure they would meet again, because both had busy schedules and lives. But she wanted to meet that man again, or at least stay in touch with him.
Cameron and Johnny met several times again. For brunch again, sometimes dinner at her place, and sometimes lunch at his. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship and, who knew, maybe something more. Given the circumstances, they were both afraid to make long-term plans.
Cameron switched the tv on exactly on time. The President was about to make a serious announcement she didn’t want to miss. She turned up the volume and waited for a couple of minutes. Then the broadcast started:
“Dear fellow citizens.
It is a great pleasure to announce the end of the pandemic. The figures have shown that the virus is now a thing of the past. 0 confirmed cases, 0 patients in ICU and 0 deaths for the past year. Our specialists agree that our vaccination plan was mainly responsible for this successful outcome. But everything would have been in vain without your cooperation and complete compliance with the protective measures. And I thank you, each and every one of you, for that. I also thank our heroes, the medical staff of our country, for their superhuman efforts and personal sacrifices they made all along.
We are now free to return to normalcy. Shops, schools and the food industry can open again. The tourist industry is safe again. Everything is back to normal. Time for prosperity.
God bless you all.”
Cameron switched off the tv. She stood there, motionless for some time. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to believe it. A virus- free world was everybody’s dream. But Cameron was doubtful about it. She knew full well that the deadly virus was lurking in the shadows, and that it would reappear when the time was appropriate or when people had become careless enough, or when a strong mutant was bold enough. Cameron had her reservations, but preferred to keep herself to herself. “we’ve made it to the life raft. Dry land is far away” Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist, used to say. And Cameron couldn’t agree more.
The sound of Skype video call filled the small sitting room. It was Johnny.
- Cameron, I have some serious announcements to make too. Turn the volume up and hear me well.
- OK, said Cameron holding her breath. What is it?
- I have thought about it very well. I’m going to transfer my drugstore to the centre of the city and make it international, as I had told you.
- That’s great news, Johnny. I’m happy for you. I wish you luck.
- And, Cameron, I have a second one, even better than the first.
- Oh really? What could be better than that?
- Cameron, said Johnny with a serious tone in his voice, I hate to say this with a video call but… will you marry me?
Cameron froze. She didn’t expect it so soon, she hadn’t seen it coming at all. But she had to give a reply, and soon.
- Johnny, that was the most original proposal I have ever had. And, yes, I will marry you.
- Great ! said Johnny and hung up.
“He must be on his way here,” Cameron thought and smiled.
Her cellphone rang impatiently. Cameron thought it was Johnny again, but no. This time it was Alex, from the hospital.
- Good evening, Cameron. I think you have to come over here. We have a newcomer. Fever, coughing and tiredness. We have quarantined him in a ward and have already done a rapid diagnostic test. He’s positive.
- I’m on my way, Alex. Keep it confidential for the time being.
Cameron thought that the post-pandemic era was yet to come. Either that, or more pandemics would follow. Humankind had to be constantly on the alert. “Prevention is better than cure”, thought Cameron. She sent Johnny a quick text and got ready for the hospital as quickly as possible.