Alasdair McLeod

A dark squall rolled in across the valley, and the jungle canopy rippled above the swollen river. Among the wind-battered trees a winding road led to a crooked wedge of houses that overlooked the river.

The sound of Reva’s laughter on a video-call was muffled by the hammering rain.

“Honestly it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in a staff meeting. Des had logged in to the call way too early, and while he was waiting he nodded off!”

“What? How is that even possible?!” asked Talia.

“He was slumped on his chair while more and more people signed in and saw him. He was still asleep when the meeting started. His volume must’ve been turned low as we couldn’t get his attention.”

“Some people can sleep through anything, I guess. I wish I could do it. Perhaps not in a meeting, though. It’s been a pandemic – apparently nothing is off limits now!”

“When we were on the third agenda point, he finally woke up. He quickly realized what had happened and apologized but then he muted himself and called a mate. He was laughing a lot, and I’m no lip-reader but I could see he was telling his friend the story of how he’d fallen asleep before a work conference call. The Head of Department kept going with the meeting, but everyone was watching the screen tile of Des grinning and talking. I can’t begin to imagine why he didn’t switch to his avatar and kill the camera.”

“He ought to be careful. With all the shutdowns, so many businesses have closed and workers are returning to their villages. We’re lucky to have jobs, so Des should tread carefully.”

Reva brought the camera close and ate a strip of fresh mango. She then took a sip from a large glass of red wine. Looking up and to the left she said, “Look at our terrible lives.”

“Poor us,” replied Talia. They both laughed.

“But Des probably doesn’t care. The shutdowns are changing us all in myriad ways. It seems to me that everyone is acting a bit unpredictably as they’ve started forgetting how to be with other people socially.”

“Everyone is waiting for things to go back to the way they were before, but those days are gone. With no-one to talk to, it’s making narcissists of us all!”

“There’s a scary thought, talk to you later.”

Branches were scraping back and forth along the gutters and Reva was unsettled by the noises as the wind blew some loose fabric around in the roof-space. She turned on the news to drown out the sounds.

The newscaster had just asked a question and the guest said, “In our homes, all around the world, we’re at a tipping point of loneliness in our locked down lives. The absence of meaningful community is the real story here.”

Reva’s attention drifted to a gecko that was creeping intermittently along the skirting board towards the kitchen trash can, ignoring the line of ants that had been plundering it all afternoon. She looked across at the window and the mantis eggs crusted on the outside of the glass in the upper right corner. A coppery millipede was disentangling itself from the fluffy edge of the doormat, and she shivered. There had been a small brown scorpion on her back patio the other day, and a snake on the gate. 

“Loneliness is the least of my problems!” she muttered to herself in reply to the last thing she had listened to on the television. Maybe it was because of all the time she was spending at home, she thought, that these days she noticed the invasive creepy crawlies more than ever before. She checked all the windows and doors to make sure the mosquito net frames were closed tightly and that the rain wasn’t being blown in.

She sneered at the unwashed dishes that filled the sink and curled up on the sofa with her smartphone. She scrolled through the names and dialled one.

“Hey Altan, are you busy tonight?”

“Nah, not really, why?”

“Wanna hook up? I’m bored.”

“Woah, not likely. Have you seen the weather? It’s crazy out there. I think the road to your place is closed anyway, there are fallen trees blocking the way.”  

Her face pinched with anger and she raked her fingernails along the arm of the sofa. “I was just thinking about that party three months ago where we first met, in between shutdowns when things opened up for a bit.”

“That was a weird party, people going off with strangers for a bit of action in the dark corners…”

“And up on the roof garden too! Everyone’s standards were lower than they used to be before all this so they got it on with anyone they could find. I don’t mean you and me, I mean everyone else that was there.”

“It was like, after so much time alone nobody knew how to talk to each other anymore, so they just went at it in the darkness!”

“So, I was thinking about us up there in the bushes that time… I wanna take care of you again, what do you say?”

She flung a cushion angrily across the room and it knocked over a lamp which promptly went out. If Altan wasn’t willing to bend the rules a bit or even make the effort to see her, he could go and screw himself. She wouldn’t be giving him any more chances.

She was miserable from the lack of direct human contact, and she was tired of the grinding personal erosion that came from sublimating her social life through video-calls and social media. Day by day the monsoon wave kept intruding into her house and her world, nature’s tendrils worming their way relentlessly into her food supplies and her bedroom. Bloody geckos!

Reva sensed her moods were becoming more aggressive. Remote work had not been kind to her – it had been a hero’s journey battling self-loathing and depression. But she had endured and unexpectedly discovered a stranger within her. Something stirring in her was fighting to shed the rudderless narcissism that had become her routine. She was tuning in to the ruthless predatory focus of the natural world that had been pushing in on her with the monsoon driving it. Soon enough she would be part of the inevitable wave of hedonism that would sweep through cities and towns when they opened up again. With the traditions of normal interaction forgotten, Reva and everyone she knew would abandon themselves to impulsive acts and reimagine human contact. The debris of their former communities would be renegotiated and bargained for. There would be chaos. Reva saw all this in her mind’s eye as she wept in quiet resentment from her rejection at one end of the sofa.

“I will find my tribe,” she said to herself in the darkness. “They are out there, and I will find them.”