Someone to Someone for Oxygen

‘We need oxygen cylinder for our son. Do you have any contact? Please help us.’

Kovuuri G. Reddy
Wordsmith Library

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While she was kneading the non-wholegrain wheat flour to make chapatis for her family, the mother of three and the wife of a jobless husband heard a bleep on her old cell phone. It was lying on the table in the other room; the only other room. She asked her studious daughter — unlike the other two — to check the message. The daughter checked the message and translated it to her mother. ‘We need an oxygen cylinder for our son. Do you have any contact? Please help us.’ The mother told the daughter to send that message, along with the phone number, to the neighbourhood sabziwallah and to her employers, for whom she worked as a maid.

The sabziwallah saw the message when he was sorting out mound after mound of vegetables. Sometimes there is a god or government in someone, he thought, but that god or government can overlook their subjects. The vegetable vendor forwarded that message of prayer for oxygen he had received to all the numbers on his mobile phone.

Many of the recipients of that message ignored the sabziwallah. But a few of them, who realized his importance in brutal lockdown days, forwarded the message to some of their contacts.

A security guard of a broad, tall block of hundreds of flats forwarded that message he had received to most of the residents in the building he was guarding.

A young real estate agent, bored and scared and house-bound for the pandemic, read that message. He could not rule out to himself that he or his family would be in that situation. Yet he carefully checked all the contact numbers on his smartphone. He forwarded that message to all nine persons who had purchased flats through him, and got them registered in Benami names.

Among the nine recipients of that message was an upper-division clerk in the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment. The aged clerk was in his office without work but could not stay at home without work. He read the message, saddened. He stood up and looked out of the window. He saw an autorickshaw moving at high speed with oxygen cylinders in the passenger seat. He asked himself: To whom can the country deliver social justice and empowerment, when you have no oxygen cylinders in hospitals? Despite the disappointment, he forwarded that to all the NGOs in his contact list. They were the NGOs who had been receiving government grants irrespective of the political parties in power.

A young social worker received an alert on her smartphone while she was crawling on the floor of the gym in her house. Concerned, she alerted her father, who had ignored that message of ‘prayer for oxygen’ to act now. The father regretted the state of affairs in the country but blamed the people for being callous. Moreover, that message made him think whether this is the time to think about health rights over human rights on behalf of his organization. Now out of the concern and out of love for his daughter, he forwarded the message he had received from the clerk, who had also sent it to his daughter, to his nephew. The social worker father had also partly funded his nephew's education when he was studying medicine.

The doctor on duty had stopped looking at his mobile phone because he had been receiving uninterrupted messages and phone calls for beds and oxygen in his hospital. But his assistant brought his mobile phone upon noticing that there was a message was from one VIP uncle. The doctor read the message: ‘We need an oxygen cylinder for our son. Do you have any contact? Please help us.’ The doctor called the mobile number of the person who had originally sent the message to known and unknown people.

A young woman haltingly responded, suppressing the choke of tears in her throat, ‘Who is this?’

The doctor said, ‘Somehow we will manage an oxygen cylinder, please — ’

Another elderly voice answered the doctor, ‘God has taken away my son. Just now.’

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Kovuuri G. Reddy
Wordsmith Library

Independent journalist; short, short story writer; living in Sweden. Worked as a broadcast journalist and teaching journalsim and media in England and India.