By Marivir Montebon and Elizabeth Cueva, Esq.
This is the story of Eloisa, a Filipina, who works as a nurse at the Elmhurst Hospital, the epicenter of the COVID19 contagion in New York written by Story Weavers Ann Constantino Beck, DJ Chinita, Elizabeth Cueva, Grace Labaguis, Joyce Andes-David, Lara Gregory, Laura Garcia, Mona Kuker, Muriel Iturralde, Nieva Quezon-Burdick, Vanette Colmenares, Vivian Talambiras-Cruz, Cristina DC Pastor, and Marivir Montebon.
It’s been a week since Eloisa has avoided George. She cannot get over her doubt, thus ignoring all his text messages and calls. Besides, the stress from her work at the hospital was too much to handle.
After 7 p.m., she would rush home, remove and sanitize her shoes, put all clothes in the washer and run to the shower to keep clean and safe. This routine has already become mechanical to her. She’d boil water for her tea and eat some microwave warmed pre-fixed meal catered from a Filipino neighbor. Dinners are her only full meal for the entire day. She survives on health drinks during her 12-hour shift.
Being a health buff, Eloisa swallows several vitamin pills in the evening as she watches Netflix or chats with her family in Surigao on the computer. The thought of the lack of N95 masks and ventilators irritates and worries her. The supply came in so much better this week than in the previous weeks, but they were still made to re-use their N95 up to three shifts before they return them to the supply room for sanitation and recycling. My God, she’d silently pray.
Life in New York is unbelievably crazy hectic…and dangerous. So goodbye, George, well for now, she decided.
Another week has passed. She and her team continued to manage taking care of their patients afflicted with COVID-19. Michael has become too concerned of her. But she likes it, giggles at the thought of him so openly caring, as the other nurses and staff would tease them too. The Michael – Eloisa love team on the 2nd floor was the necessary break from their morbid working conditions. They were the love in time of COVID19. As Michael continues to be forward, Eloisa maintains her Maria Clara-ish syndrome, all for the fun of it. Eloisa however knew that she was falling fast for Michael.
But for several nights, she noticed that has not seen George in the building, and no more messages from him. Hmmm. What could have happened?
The 12th of May was a perfectly fine evening to walk home. Eloisa sat to watch TV after dinner. The breaking news — Man from Queens charged with drug trafficking and fraud. The heck, that’s George! Eloisa squirted the warm tea from her mouth. OMG. Siyet. George Brandon. They are one and the same! Eloisa shouted, prompting Brianne to come out of his room. What happened? Are you okay?
Look at the news! Oh my God!, said Brianne. That’s George! Oh my God.
Brianne sobs. Eloisa was surprised. Why are you crying?
I’ve been dating that guy, since you dumped him! He is a crook! Oh no…no…!
You’re dating him!? Eloisa exclaimed. Yes!, said Brianne as he cried louder.
I am sorry, Brianne. But it is good to find out this early he’s in for no good, said Eloisa.
Yes, but it hurts, he said wailing. I lent him money. He said his mother was sick!
Three thousand, Brianne said.
Yes, Brianne said sobbing.
Eloisa patted Brianne’s shoulder and stood, I think we should just drink this…apple cider! We don’t have wine here.
She handed a glass of apple cider to Brianne. Cheers!
Cheers! Eloisa drank her tea that became cold, and Brianne gobbled the apple cider. We should buy some wine soon, Brianne said. And they both laughed.
The following morning was the usual mad rush. Michael met Eloisa, both wearing masks and gloves, at the lobby. Hey, did you see the news about George Brandon? George asked with a muffled voice behind his mask.
Yes, I saw it. That’s crazy right?, Eloisa replied.
Yes. But seriously, El, can I ask you out for dinner? Tonight or on Thursday.
Where? There are no more restaurants.
In my mother’s home. I’d like you to meet her. She is Filipina too.
Really? But it is not safe these days.
Just this once. We are not sick or not feeling well. It is my mother’s birthday, she is 80. It means so much to me that you’d meet her. It won’t take long. She’s with my older sister. There’s just four of us.
Okay. How about social distancing!?
We have a big dining table, he laughed.
Okay, fine. Thursday evening then. After work.
Michael flashes a big grin at Eloisa. Yes, he screamed delightfully as the two went to the supply room to get their N95.
Elizabeth: Dinner at Michael and his sister’s place in Astoria to celebrate the 80th birthday of their mother, Sofia, went along so swimmingly. There was a sense of warmth, conviviality and familiarity. Eloisa felt so at home. Everyone made her feel that she belonged and was part of the Salva family. It was the perfect balm to ease her longing for her bucolic hometown in Surigao and her family there.
After dinner, Eloisa offered to help clear the dishes and bring them to the kitchen sink and dishwasher. Michael followed her to the kitchen. They were finally alone together. The kitchen space was tight that they couldn’t possible observe enough 6 feet distance as Michael grazed her arm to get some cups from the cupboard. “Oh em gee. But, the heck with social distancing,” Eloisa thought.
“Can I offer you something warm?”, Michael asked Eloisa. She suddenly felt giddily nervous. Eloisa just noticed Michael’s strong masculine jawline, full luscious lip and straight Italian-Filipino nose that were always covered by the N95 facemark when they were at work at the hospital. She thought how handsome he is. She muttered, “Oh yes, please.”
Michael proceeded to get the kettle to brew some concoction at the oven. Eloisa caught herself admiring his profile, broad shoulders, strong arms and his neat hands with lean fingers. He then said, “Here, have some piping hot salabat.” As she reached out for the cup, their fingers touched. “Oooh!” Eloisa exclaimed not because the cup was hot but because they both felt an electric jolt run from their fingers through their veins. She felt her blood rush up her cheek. It felt so taboo — this is the time for “social distancing” after all. Then they both caught themselves just laughing with each other.
“You know salabat?”, Eloisa asked thinking that while Michael was part-Filipino, she thought he was more American in his ways. “Of course. Mama taught me how to make this potent ginger brew. She swears by its soothing and healing power!” They both laughed heartily knowing that they have more things in common. Eloisa noticed that Michael’s dimples come out whenever he smiles or laughs. “Oh my, can he be cuter? He is my Captain Ri.” Eloisa caught herself referencing to the lead character in the Korean telenovela Crash Landing On You that had been the crazed during the Covid19 lockdown.
Michael then softly asked Eloisa, “Is there anything else you want?” Eloisa could only utter, “Oh, honey.” She then embarrassingly checked herself, “I mean, honey, I want some, honey. I mean, Manuka honey. You know, I heard it’s got healing properties, too, and is an anti-inflammatory.” Eloisa felt her cheeks burning. Michael’s brown eyes glimmered and his mouth curled in a smile revealing his deep dimples. He looked deeply in Eloisa’s eyes, “Yes, honey. As you wish.” She felt like she was melting… into him. They felt a deep connection that transcended the ordinary, a celestial connection that made them feel invincible amidst this earthly contagion.
Sofia, Michael’s mother, while sitting at the dining area, caught the interaction between the two in the kitchen. She serenely smiled with the knowing of a woman who had lived, survived and thrived in all of her 90 years of existence. She recognized what was happening. After all, she had felt the same when Michael’s father courted her back in the days. They survived the aftermath of WW2. Their love made them stronger in the face of adversity. She knew with certainty that she will be loved and taken cared of by these two loving people in the warmth of their home “With peace and love, to live in joy of heart and harmony” for the rest of her earthly existence. She smiled contentedly.
They — the family, including Eloisa — all gathered in the sala to sing karaoke. Michael, a Filipino-at-heart nostalgia buff, chose an old Tito Mina ditty and sang…. “Honey, What else can I do? If i can’t tell you how I feel, let me sing to you…about the special way I get, whenever you’re around, it may be strange, but it’s true. Honey. Honey, if you only knew. How much better I feel now that I’ve let you know. I hope I didn’t bring you down. But then again, this song is just for you. Only you, oh honey.” Eloisa sat snugly in the sofa enjoying Michael’s mellifluous voice. She smiled at the thought, “Michael and Eloisa. Mi-El — like those corny portmanteaus of love teams — BinJin, TomCarl, KimXi. MIEL — the Spanish for honey.”
In the warmth of that home with family together, she felt the dhikr of her heart like the soft humming of bees, neither loud nor disturbing. All of them felt the warmth, the peace and the love.
“He who loves honey shall be patient with the sting of the bees.” (A Sufi saying.) This is Love in the Time of Covid 19.