EXCLUSIVE | Read a Nozizwe Cynthia Jele short story about Covid-19 lockdown

29 March 2020 - 00:00 By Nozizwe Cynthia Jele
"You are to stay in your room for your own protection."
"You are to stay in your room for your own protection."
Image: 123RF/Olena Siedykh

Nozizwe Cynthia Jele's debut novel 'Happiness is a Four-Letter Word' won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book. Her latest novel is 'The Ones with Purpose'.

In this short story, titled 'Lockdown', she imagines the hell of being trapped all alone in a hotel room for weeks on end in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic:

June 14 2020. He's been here for 90 days. He knows this because on the day the president announced he would be addressing the nation, he made sure he was seated in front of the television. He had stared at the screen as the president said the government was locking down the country. The virus was spreading at an alarming rate.

The call from hotel reception came immediately after the address.

"Sir, it's Noma at reception. Did you watch the briefing?"

"Yes. I need to go home."

"Afraid you can't, sir. Airports have closed. No movement is allowed. Soldiers are already out on the streets. We will do everything possible to make you comfortable until the lockdown is lifted."

"How long will it last for?"

"We don't know. You are to stay in your room for your own protection, sir. Anything else I can assist you with?"

He shook his head.

"Sir?"

"No."

He hung up and walked towards the window. When the time was right, he would walk and let the sea swallow him.

He pulled a chair, took out his laptop and wrote: March 15 2020. LOCKDOWN.

March 21 2020. A tap at the door announces his lunch. He opens it to find a tray of food on the floor.

They clean his room covered in white protective coveralls. He cannot see their faces. He phones his mother and daughter daily. No, I'm not scared, I will be home soon.

May 3 2020. News flashes on the screen. VIRUS. ISOLATE. TEST. TREAT. TRACE. New infections quadruple, deaths too. He stops watching the news. Masked soldiers move slowly on the streets.

May 29 2020. The power cuts are intermittent. He keeps the kettle heated.

He cannot remember why he is here. The sea sings. Networks are gone. He dials reception: doooooooooooop.

He wakes up and sits in a single movement. A sound. He stands, draws open the curtains with force. A dozen pairs of glassy eyes stare at him. He stumbles backwards. The pigeons watch him with mild curiosity before flying away. He follows their movement until they disappear.

He trains his eyes back to the sea, gasps at the sight of bodies wading in and out of the waves. He turns to the pier further along the beach, lined with rows of fishing rods. Joggers pass by. He shuts and opens his eyes.

The phone rings, startling him.

"Mr Makhanya, this is a wakeup call. The president will start his address any time now."

He is silent.

"Sir?"

"Where am I?"

"At the Legends Hotel, sir."

"When did I check in?"

"Two hours ago."

He turns to the television.

March 15 2020. PREPARE FOR LOCKDOWN! BORDER CLOSURES. TRAVEL BANS. CURFEWS. COUNTRY SHUTTING DOWN. THE VIRUS IS HERE.

"Sir?"