Tuesday 11:00 a.m. 79,000 dead
“Naturally, I’m just sick about you not working. We both are,” Quan said. While she spoke, Mrs. Hammadi wrote down Nia’s instructions on a notepad using a sparkly purple pen. There was a unicorn at the top of the pad, a rainbow flowing from its tail. She knew: neither the stationery nor the writing implement were Mrs. Hammadi’s.
Nia arrived at the Hammadi’s house as soon as she could, but it still seemed she got there later than Mrs. Hammadi had hoped. Nia had just barely rung the doorbell when the front door flew open and Mrs. Hammadi, already wearing a white lab coat, ushered Nia inside quickly.
“I know,” she said. Nia wasn’t aware she had been staring at the coat, but she must have been since Mrs. Hammadi made a point of mentioning it. “But if they’re as strapped for supplies as we’re afraid they are, we thought it best if we dug these out of our closet.”
Now in the well-appointed and tastefully designed kitchen, Mrs. Hammadi continued to both speak instructions and write down others. Nia didn’t see how the woman could do both simultaneously. And she knew speaking would only serve to distract her, so Nia kept quiet. She didn’t see the children anywhere. It was a large house, they could have been anywhere. Well, the Hammadis were both doctors, of course it was a large house.
“But we are so glad you’re able to help us out like this. Our regular nanny had to be with her mother and our back-up sitter has a cough. She’s probably not infected, but you can’t be too sure. And the testing kits are more rare than diamonds.”
“I’m glad I’m able to help,” Nia told her. “That’s the worst part of this whole thing. It’s not like a hurricane or natural disaster where you can donate food or volunteer somewhere. It’s nice to not feel so helpless, which is all I was doing at home.”
She wasn’t listening anymore. Mrs. Hammadi was double-checking the list. Her husband Jamal walked briskly into the kitchen. Mr. Hammadi, like his wife, was also wearing a hospital smock. He went to the refrigerator and grabbed two plastic bottles of water.
“I think that’s everything. Here,” Mrs. Hammadi handed Nia the note. “Doctor’s handwriting. You can read it though, yes?”
“Thank you for coming on such short notice, Nia,” Mr. Hammadi said. His voice was so liquid and cool. She figured he made a great doctor. Even bad news delivered in a voice like that would be made easier to hear. “We hope your mother didn’t volunteer you. When Quan told her what our situation was…”
“Like I told Mrs. Hammadi, I’m just glad I can help.”
“We have no idea what we’re walking into, but the word is it’s starting to get fairly…demanding,” Mrs. Hammadi said. “You’re prepared to spend the night?”
“Good.” She pulled her pitch black hair back into a ponytail, producing an elastic band seemingly out of thin air and tying it back. She looked at her husband. “Did you say goodbye to the girls?”
“Yes. You go. Hurry.”
She dashed out of the kitchen. Mr. Hammadi handed Nia a black American Express card.
“This is in case you need anything. If you need to go to the store or anything. I don’t know how you’ll do that exactly. Or, you know, if there’s an emergency. You need to buy supplies for the invasion.” He paused. “I’m sorry. I guess that’s not very funny, is it?”
“It’s a little funny,” Nia told him, trying to make him feel better about the borderline tasteful joke. “And my mom said she’d be able to get anything if we needed it,” Nia told him.
“Well, if you do need to use it, just sign my name. It’ll be fine. Everyone you know well?”
His quick conversational shift in gears threw her for a second. Nia was a little distracted anyway. This briefing was so lacking in detail. “Yes, Mr. Hammadi. Everyone’s doing well. As can be expected.”
“Good, good. Scary stuff, eh?”
Mrs. Hammadi flew back into the room.
“Let’s go,” she told her husband. “Nia, again: live saver. Our cell numbers are on the fridge, but only call if it’s absolutely necessary. I doubt we’ll have time to chat. Still, I’ll call you when we’re able and check in from time to time. Hopefully we’ll be back before tomorrow evening.”
“I wouldn’t put a timeline on it, Quan. And Nia knows the situation, she’s prepared.”
“I have nowhere to go. I can quarantine just as well here as I can at home,” Nia assured them. Standing there with nothing to do, Nia suddenly felt self-conscious. Nia was a tall girl, with large everything. Large hands, large feet, large breasts. Both Mr. and Mrs. Hammadi were considerably shorter than she was. Mrs. Hammadi by a good five inches at least. Nia was an attractive girl, indeed she looked like the quintessential beach volleyball player, long sun-bleached blonde hair, russet skin. But when she was around shorter people, when things were like they were now, her standing, feeling useless, towering above them while the Hammadis buzzed around in their kitchen, she felt too big for the room, gangly, and inelegant. Maybe if she knew the Hammadis better she’d have been more comfortable with them. She’d met them once, maybe twice, and only briefly when they were at her house visiting her parents for a dinner party or during one of the holiday nights her mom and dad opened their home for anyone who wanted to come by. Her mother was a proud wassail mixer and over the years, what started as just a family notion became an all-encompassing Christmas tradition. But the speed with which Mr. and Mrs. Hammadi were moving didn’t necessarily lend itself to small talk and Nia never really found a point to interject herself into the conversation.