They sip on their pina coladas and have breezy conversations. It’s a hot sunny day, and they are on the move. Literally.
“No shoes, no shirt, no problem…”, Kenny Chesney croons in the background. “Blues what blues? I ain’t got em…” The music is tasteful and not too loud. They party without care. They’ve waited a year for this vacation.
Some have saved for this but all are seated in the lap of luxury. Newly married couples and retirees. Rich trust fund kids. People with money to burn. Purchasing whatever money can buy without blinking. Price tags mean nothing to them. Workers mill around like bees, clamoring for tips worth more than a month’s salary. They love their jobs. It’s always summer time in this joint. Fun, fun and then some more fun!
Fast forward to two weeks later. The news hits them slowly. Most think it is either a bad joke or a terrible rumour. The most cynical do not believe a word of it. This was totally unexpected.
The acclaimed movie Contagion comes to mind.
“Pandemics are for third world countries.”
People share their thoughts and fears. Shrugging it off they assume this will be over within a week. A month later, the passengers are now all stuck on a dream cruise ship. The dream is fast turning into a nightmare they can’t seem to wake up from. Even though they are in the middle of affluence, money does not matter anymore here. Neither do titles or positions.
Everyone is on first name basis now. No more ‘Sirs’ or ‘Madams.’ In the face of this little known disease, the worker and the client are now one. People panic and cry till their tears dry up. It’s of no use now. The virus is spreading like wildfire. Insurance will not cover it. The mortality rate seems high but some countries are managing.
The plastic smiles are long gone. In their place misery, anger and regret. The erstwhile merrymakers desperately desire to be back on land but no country wants them now. Unlike before, nobody is begging them to land on their shores and purchase local curios. Even the welcoming developing countries now wave them away. Rejected and dejected, they despair. Death hangs in the air. People avoid each other and keep their distance. Health is now more desirable than wealth.
The only people boarding and getting off are the medical staff clad in what look like spacesuits. A helicopter lands with more supplies. The hazmat attire they are donning protects them as they check the crew and guests for any symptoms. The incubation period lasts two weeks so people are asked to be patient. However, patience is running out.
It’s like a scene from a horror movie. The holiday goers are marooned in a makeshift prison. They could hardly wait to get on board and now they can’t wait to get off this crucible of sorts.
There is no entertainment. There is really nothing to do. Every news channel is talking about the pandemic. It has a name now: the Coronavirus or Covid-19. The medics in masked faces and clean, over sanitized hands, keep dragging people out on stretchers. Toes first. People they had danced with, eaten with…people like them. Now forever marked with a label instead of a name.
Those are the unlucky ones. They have seen their fellow holidaymakers infected. Everyone is now affected. International news brings no relief. Worldwide the death toll keeps rising. They wonder will they be next. Will they depart the boat in a body bag, or on a bedsheet when the bags run out? Will there be anyone left to cry for them?
There now remains an awkward silence in the air. It is as if everyone knows it will not end well. The prayers are desperate now. Everyone hungers for answers. Total strangers are now friends. People seek solace in each other but it doesn’t come. Like in the Titanic, the ship seems to be literally sinking and nobody is coming to save them. The lifeboats are few. Money cannot buy their freedom now. Nothing can. All they have now is time, and it is fast running out fast. Maybe we should’ve listened to Ray Charles when he said we should live each day as if it’s our last, because one day it will be.