Turtles All The Way Down

Yesterday, my 5-year-old son asked me if the virus would ever end. “Obviously”, said his 7-year-old sister, rolling her eyes, “otherwise we’d still have bubonic plague.” Also, William Lilly was the astrologer who was arrested for the Great Fire of London that killed plague rats because he predicted it in a book 15 years earlier. “He got lucky”, she informed her puzzled brother. What a difference an additional 2 years – and CBBC’s Horrible Histories – can have on your perspective.

Dad predicts that a second spike this winter will be deadlier than the first, like the Spanish influenza of 1918. At 72, and with Parkinson’s, he doesn’t fancy his chances. Therefore, he’s manning the defences of his 17th Century farmhouse, with the spare table outside the back door for Mr Sainsbury. I tried to persuade him to spend the winter out here, in Singapore. Community spread is low. But no vaccine means no visits. So, we’ll do Christmas on Zoom. At least he’s got his garden. He’ll be bottling pears for the winter. I wonder, though, where I would put my money, on COVID-19, or the rickety old staircase?

“Coronavirus.” Sounds like a beer. I have a friend who cannot hear “the virus that must not be named” addressed in her presence. Like the Dark Lord, its name is a summoning. She’ll lose it if you show her the emoji.

We are not prophets. Our horizon is diminishing as the world shifts on its axis. Yet, we shore these fragments against the fog.

At bedtime, I tell the children tales of faraway lands. Then, packing face masks in school bags, the ground humps beneath my feet. I go to the window and, gripping the sill, peer over the edge to see turtles, all the way down.

Kate, Singapore


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