December 18, 2020
I had turned into a pomegranate. The sound of my dry seeds scattering resonated through the room as I was thrown into a corner. I was scared of my dry rind cracking, of the sound of the dry seeds… I was a pomegranate, a red one…
I awoke to find myself trembling , I shuffled my hands and legs to make sure I was still a human being. I heard a cough, a nonstop cough. It was Maria, the girl next door. She’d been sick for days. With a swollen head and still afraid of the dry pomegranate, I gathered all my strength, got up from the bed, and went into Maria’s room. She was burning with fever.
I dialed the Asielzoekercentrum (AZC) asking them to come to her assistance. Within an hour a nurse showed up. She checked her up and said: “she has to take a COVID test.” Maria and I stared at the nurse in shock. Moments later, the Central Orgaan opvang asielzoekers (COA) personnel came in and locked the house door.
Then began the quarantine. All other residents had abandoned the house in advance, so Maria and I were the only ones left. Behind the locked door and enclosed by the walls I returned to my room and sat on the bed gazing at a chunk of gray sky through the skylight feeling desperate and dreadful, not of the disease, for sure, but of the loneliness within these walls.
Maria’s whining filled the house. She was in pain. I gathered my strength, got up, and went to her room. A wan smile appeared on her chalky lips as she looked at me and thanked me. Her feverish body was bathed in cold sweat. Picturing death for an ephemeral second, I began trembling, yet I came to my senses and hurriedly shook my head to get rid of that thought. Maria looked at me worriedly, perhaps having momentarily seen through my eyes the same thought.
Two days passed in total apprehension when, in the morning of the second day, the COA personnel knocked and asked for Maria. She was pronounced to have contracted COVID19 and was to be transferred to a COVID patients’ facility. Spellbound as she was, a look of horror animated her eyes. Before long, a vehicle arrived and took her away. The quarantine extended for two more weeks. Now I was left on my own with these walls, loneliness, and the ominous shadow of the disease.
I walked up the stairs, my whole body aching, stepped into the common-room, and gazed through the window at the creek running behind the house. Its bank was teeming with migrant birds. Their cacophony filled my ears. I closed my eyes and listened. The migrant birds’ twittering reminded me of the story The Little Prince, and there came before my eyes my favorite childhood scene where the prince flew with migrant birds to reach his small planet. I wished I could fly away with these birds to some faraway place where you wouldn’t be barred from entering, locked in, banished to a no-man’s-land. I realized I was in a distant place, but not like the birds; like them, very far from home but unlike them denied any territory. As I smiled bitterly and opened my eyes, a host of migrant birds began to fly, and I felt envious of them. If only human beings could also fly to wherever they wanted and their sky was just as limitless as that of these birds….
Three more days passed. Feverish as I was, my whole body writhed in restlessness. I kept pacing in my room so as not to let my feet forget how to walk. With a short breath, I sat on the edge of the bed staring at the wall. Thoughts whirled inside my head as I kept talking to myself, answering myself, judging, reprimanding and, at times, even commending myself. I had turned into two separate women who were sometimes at war and at other times at peace. The white bedroom wall felt like it was closing in on me so much so that it pushed my breath back at me. The other walls joined in, encroaching one at a time, making it impossible to breathe. I presumed I was going to die within these walls, a lonely death in an uncharted territory off the map of the world . I shook my head and moved my body aimlessly. I wanted to get up, not to die within these walls. Trudging to the kitchen my body and mind worn out, I struggled to cook some soup for myself to survive.
Days passed… four, five, six days and now it had been a week since the lockdown started. The internet connection of the whole AZC was lost for two full days within these walls. Now I was dazed, confused, and angry, reproaching myself…you wouldn’t have been confined lonely within these walls in a faraway quarter with an undefined future if you had led a life similar to other women contenting yourself with living in your own house, being someone’s wife, and a child’s mother and not struggling for something you deemed as just and true. I wish you were just like those other women…
Seven, eight, nine…the days passed. On the nineth day the Wi-Fi connection was secured, so I saw dad’s message on my phone and passed the day reading it over. In his message he wrote “keep going since there ain’t no country for the cowards in this world.” I closed my eyes as tears ran down my cheeks and kept repeating to myself “keep going since there ain’t no country for the cowards in this world.” So, I did keep going…
Ten whole days in isolation. No one bothered in all this time to knock and ask about my health. My food supply was diminishing. It was as if this was the house of the forgotten. But sitting behind the little table in my room I felt I was doing better since I didn’t have a fever. I tried to study Dutch again, did my homework, and did some cooking with whatever was left of my food supply, even taking pride in my cooking innovations despite the shortage! My frail being was striving for survival now.
Eleventh, twelfth, and then came the thirteenth day. I was tired of daily chores and my body lacked the vitality it once had. I lay down and fell asleep. Once again, the sound of dry pomegranate seeds resonated in my head. Looking at my body, I realized I had turned into a tree, a dried pomegranate tree with my trunk rotten and branches devoid of leaves. Where are my red flowers? I was afraid. This rotten trunk is not my body…
All of a sudden, my mom came forward and caressed my dried-up body; how warm her hands were. Hold me tighter, mom…. Then came forth my sister, opened her arms, stood by my mom’s side and hugged me. How kind your hands are. Further away a little girl with curly hair and rosy cheeks was smiling at me. I called her. She came closer and rubbed her petite hands against my dried-up body. I feared her soft little hands would be injured by my body. Oh darling, don’t rub your hands against it… And then appeared my dad. He rested his head on my body and spoke softly: “keep going, my gal. There ain’t no country for the cowards in this world.” I feel warm. The sap of vitality rises from my roots and comes up flowing through my body. Buds appear along my body. My branches begin blooming with the red flowers of pomegranate.
The wind rattled my window with a terrible noise. I opened my eyes. I had dreamed I was abloom. A smile appeared on my lips as a tear-drop ran down my cheek.
When the last day of quarantine arrived, one of the COA personnel showed up at my doorstep and removed the quarantine sticker from my door. As he left, I went outside. The dim sunlight shone on my face. Turning my head toward the sunshine, I looked in the daylight at my hands and nails to which I had applied a gorgeous red nail varnish the night before. Now they were shining in the sunlight. I took a few steps in front of a window and looked at my reflection in the glass.
I was still a pomegranate, a bright red pomegranate…
Ghazaal Yousefi was born in 1986 in Iran. She grew up in a family with a history of political and social activism. In Iran, she studied law and journalism. She has always had a passion for writing about social problems as she believes it can be beneficial to her community and her country. She worked as a journalist in Iran but had to come to the Netherlands because the Islamic government of Iran took issue with her work. She has been living in a Dutch asylum centre (AZC) as a refugee for almost two years. But her passion for writing has not waned: “It’s an important part of my personality. It’s the only way for me to talk about what I see and what I think…”
Featured image: John Singer Sargent, Pomegranates, 1908