Chapter 8: Bita

January 20, 2020 

Bita went to back to her bed in the morning. Her body was aching, and she had an irritable, dry cough that would not stop. She was chilled to her bone, and she kept adding more blankets over her. She had no appetite ever since she lost her sense of taste and smell for a few days ago. She had to go to work every day to clean different houses, but she knew she couldn’t that day.

Most of her clients lived in San Francisco or Palo Alto areas. She enjoyed being in their mansion houses or penthouse condos, wondering what it would be like to live like that. She imagined one day she and her family will live like that—rich and famous, the American dreams. Maybe her grandkids would grow up in this country and let her live in a luxurious house like that someday. As she sat and watched the Bay views during a short lunch break in the middle of cleaning, she imagined herself living in luxury and chuckled. But she took pride in doing a good job cleaning, as if all these places are hers.

All her business was referrals from rich doctors. Her first cleaning job was from a rich doctor in the Palo Alto area, referred by her friend who could not add any other houses to her full list. After about two years, she was introduced to other wealthy people connected to the Palo Alto doctor, and she now had a good solid clientele for herself. Her schedule was full for every weekday and even every Saturday.

She did not have a car to drive. If she was going to San Francisco to clean a house, she had to take the Caltrain and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) for an hour and a half each way. Palo Alto was a much shorter trip. Because of the long train rides, she could only clean one house per day. On Sundays, she took her family to the nearby park and sometimes, actually rarely, they went to the Islam mosque during Ramadan.

She called the doctor’s wife who lived in Palo Alto that morning and told her she was too sick to clean her house that day. She realized she had never called in sick and missed her work before. She needed the money.

Last November, she got a flu shot from the nearby drugstore, but she didn’t because it cost $20 per person. She had her two grandkids and elderly parents get flu shots, but her husband, Payman, and Bita decided to tough it out and save the $40 to buy more food they needed. She now regretted that decision. She thought maybe it was just the flu, and she would get better tomorrow or the next day if she just rested and slept.

They lived in a small one-bedroom apartment. The grandkids and her parents slept in the living room, and she and her husband in the bedroom. The bathroom was almost always occupied by someone throughout the day, and especially in the morning. They all took turns going into the bathroom, and often interrupted by someone who had an emergency, which was guaranteed to be followed by a fight.

About three months ago, Payman lost his job at the San Jose Airport. They lived close to the airport, and Payman used to work in airport security for a while, but they fired him. He had a fight with his senior colleague who joked to him, “you look like a terrorist and shouldn’t work in airport security,” because he had a long, bushy beard.

His nationality as a Persian with dark-colored skin did not help him. Ignorant Americans call all Arabic-speaking people middle eastern regardless of the nationality, and to some people of these nationalities all looked like terrorists. Payman didn’t even speak the Arab language. He spoke Farsi, but some Americans did not care to know the difference.

Bita was told by her husband he was sorry about the whole thing, and he regrets punching his senior colleague in his face, which cost him his job. But she knew that he was secretly proud of himself. Bita was concerned about his bad temper and drinking habits, which became more frequent these days. He could not find a decent job, especially one with medical insurance benefits for his family like the previous job he had.

Their grandkids were growing up; the six-year-old boy needed to go to public grade school soon, and the four-year-old boy should be in kindergarten, but they couldn’t afford the school fees. They weren’t able to afford kindergarten for the first boy either, even when Payman was working at the airport. He could not keep his job for over one or two years at a time. He worked many odd jobs; picking almonds in the orchards, seasonal grape picking for a winery, keeping beehives, janitor jobs at schools and offices, and sometimes helping Bita clean houses. He always had many excuses to quit or get fired from his jobs. It seemed to him people did not like his looks, and he had no luck.

Bita’s clients also did not like to have Payman in their homes, even though the cleaning time was much faster when he was there to help her. Her clients told her they just wanted Bita to clean the house alone, and not to have a man with a beard touching their property.

Photo by nima gerivani 

As his self-pity deepened, Payman was drinking more heavily, and behaving poorly by verbally abusing her, his grandchildren, and even her parents. He did not hit anyone or throw things, but she was afraid of Payman hitting her, or even worse, hitting their grandkids in front of her parents. His ugly side showed when his temper flared.

Bita and Payman had one daughter, who left her two kids when they were two years-old and six-months old. Her daughter was not married when she had her two children. Bita was not even sure if these two kids had the same father. Her daughter became a drug addict and had been fighting depression since her teenage years. She hung out with a wrong crowd. No matter what Bita did—and she tried paid counseling and strict disciplines—her daughter would not stop doing drugs, mostly methamphetamines.

Payman beat her severely once when she was sixteen because she was pregnant. Bita had to take her to the abortion clinic and paid cash for it. Soon after that, her daughter ran out of the house and did not come back until she had her two kids, now without their father. She showed up to Bita’s apartment one day and left the kids. She took off saying nothing. Bita and Payman adopted their grandchildren shortly after that.

Bita’s parents came to live with them while they were visiting them from Iran in their tiny apartment two years ago. At first, the whole family was excited to have them visiting and helping with the chores while they were working, and there was the added benefit of having reliable and permanent babysitters, but now, Bita and Payman were worried about the undocumented nature of their stay in America. They had just a three-month visa to visit their family in America, and that time had well passed.

Bita lectured her parents to not to go outside too much or cause any problems with their neighbors or with Payman. She was afraid her parents would be deported back to Iran if they were caught. She was also afraid Payman would lose control of himself and display violent behavior in a small contained space with her parents when she was out working. She was also scared about not having enough money, or the ability to pay for medical bills if her grandkids or anyone got injured. She was concerned about the lack of food in her refrigerator to feed six people, a large family, if she couldn’t work like today. She had to spend an enormous amount of money filling the refrigerator every fourth day or so.

Today, she couldn’t think or care about the whole family dynamics. She had to sleep off her flu. She closed the door behind her and slept the whole day. Periodically her family checked on her, encouraging her to eat at least some soup, but she couldn’t get up to eat. Payman went out to the drugstore and got her some Theraflu powder, dissolving it in warm water as a tea, and she drank that, then went back to sleep. She was thinking in between her dreams, where did she get this flu from? She has so much human contact from her train rides and in her close neighborhoods, but she remembered when she worked at Mrs. Kong’s place on the last two consecutive Fridays, she noticed Mrs. Kong was hacking with the same dry cough she had now. But Mrs. Kong never lay down in her bed with a fever or any other symptoms. At least, Mrs. Kong never told her she was very sick.

Bita would know because she changed Mrs. Kong’s bed every week, and the sheets were not soaking wet with sweat like hers are now. She thought she should go next Friday to see Mrs. Kong and ask her if she was very sick like she is at some point. 

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Chapter 7: Baduk (GO)

January 26, 2020
From COVID 19: A novel inspired by real events

Mrs. Emily Lee Parker was excited to see her neighbor Mrs. Kong finally come back from Wuhan, China on January 6, 2020. Mrs. Kong was there for almost two months. She left right before the Thanksgiving holiday to visit her sister’s family. Mrs. Kong lived alone in San Francisco after her husband passed away about two years ago.

She was becoming more and more lonely living in a big mansion all alone, so the trips to China became frequent and routine. She was even contemplating a permanent move to Wuhan, China, where her sister and sister’s family lived.

What am I going to do in a seven-bedroom house by myself? The kids are all grown up and have their own families to look after all over the States, and they’re not even visiting me in San Francisco, she thought.

The only friend she had was Emily, who lived next door to her, Pand they played the game Baduk regularly; on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Mrs. Kong, like Emily, was a woman of means and lived in a quiet residential area in Potrero Hill.

The Potrero Hill neighborhood house, affectionately known as the NABE, sits at the top of De Haro Street at Southern Heights Avenue, and has an incredible view of San Francisco, both the Bay and East Bay. It is also next to the Mission District in downtown, where there are ample restaurants and shopping, providing convenience to those living in a busy city.

Photo by from Pexels

When Mrs. Kong goes to China, Emily takes care of looking after her house. She opens the house for the cleaning lady, Bita, who was from Iran. When Mrs. Kong was in China, Bita came to clean the house only once every other week. Bita took a bus or train to get there and needed the money to live. Neither Mrs. Kong nor Emily knew exactly which neighborhood in San Francisco Bita was commuting from. Bita was a sole breadwinner of the house, and her parents, two small children, and husband all lived in a small apartment crammed up like sardines. Bita often talked about her living situation with Emily and wanted to clean Emily’s house when Mrs. Kong was out of town. But Emily already had a cleaning lady from her church, a Korean woman who also cooked Korean meals. Bita could not help Emily since she is Persian, not Korean, and Emily politely declined the offer but felt guilty.

Like Mrs. Kong, Emily married a wealthy Caucasian husband. Even though Emily was living and loving the American life, she missed Korean home cooked food terribly, and had to eat rice and a Korean dish for at least one meal a day. Luckily, her husband also acquired a love for Korean food after living with her during 50 years of marriage and did not argue too much about the kitchen table every day. He quietly wished, however, not to smell kimchee in his milk and cheese in the refrigerator.

Emily kept her life fairly busy after her retirement as a research coordinator under her husband’s laboratory, where she met Samantha’s father, Dr. Robert Parker. He was a renowned obstetrics and gynecology doctor at the San Francisco Medical School, and now he was an emeritus professor, enjoying his fully retired life playing golf. They had ups and downs in their marriage just like any other couple, but the most difficult problem they had to go though was infertility.

Luckily, much of the financial and medical access burdens was somewhat eased because of the position Robert had in medicine. They had only one child in their 40s, Samantha, whom they raised like a princess. They thought about adopting another child, but the application never went through, and they did not see the need as Samantha kept them very busy along with their professional careers.

Emily was enjoying her retired life with Robert playing golf and traveling around the world. She also attended the California Culinary Academy, which was located a few blocks away at 350 Rhode Island Street. She really enjoyed international cooking classes. The facilities included professional kitchens, student-staffed restaurants, lecture classrooms, a library, and a culinary laboratory. Emily’s hope was to learn more about Korean cooking, but the curriculum of the school had not reached Korean food yet.

Another activity Emily enjoyed was playing Baduk with Mrs. Kong. They usually met in Mrs. Kong’s house because sometimes they got noisy playing the game, especially at the end, and they talked endlessly over tea and cookies. Emily did not want to bother Robert, who read his books quietly.

Baduk (Go) is an abstract strategy board game for two players. It has two different colored stones; one set white and the other black, and an empty board which is a 19 x 19 grid. Players take turns placing one stone at a time, and the aim is to surround more territory than the opponent. The person with the black stones plays first, and Emily and Mrs. Kong often fought to have the black stones. Although China invented the game 2,500 years ago, it was Emily who taught Mrs. Kong how to play, and since then they were both hooked. They played the game for hours. Sometimes, Emily experimented in cooking international food she learned from the culinary school with Mrs. Kong, but Emily truthfully did not really have much talent in cooking. Mrs. Kong usually ended up cooking delicious Chinese food, but she let Emily try out a few dishes to spend more time with her.

Emily was picking Mrs. Kong up from the San Francisco airport that afternoon, as she had done for years now. Her drives to the airport had become more routine. It had been two months since she saw Mrs. Kong, and she missed her and was looking forward to having her friend back to play Baduk. Emily would also demonstrate her ability to make crème brûlée, a dessert dish she recently learned.

“Ne hou, Emily! Long time, no see, xie xie,” Mrs. Kong exclaimed as she came out from the narrow terminal to where the luggage was being picked up. Mrs. Kong spoke increasingly more Chinese mixed with English when she came back from China. Emily also spoke “Konglish,” a mixture of Korean and English to her many times. Between the three languages they often mixed, they understood each other fairly well and had no problems communicating.

“I worry, you come from Wuhan. You okay? Many sick from Wuhan,” Emily said. She could speak perfect English, but for some reason, when she was with Mrs. Kong, she did not want to speak English perfectly.

“Okay, okay, no sick.”

“Your family okay? Your sister?”

“Shi, shi.” Emily gathered that meant yes in Mandarin.

“Miss you. Your house ok. Bita came yesterday—clean your house,” Emily said.

“Xie xie, let’s play Baduk. No people, family play Baduk. I miss playing.”

They drove back to the NABE. Emily noticed Mrs. Kong was sniffing and coughing a little. Emily gave her the Kleenex tissues from behind the seat while she was driving. It was a very long reach to get the Kleenex tissue box. It is rather common to have sniffing after a long flight, Emily thought.

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Chapter 6: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Ed Liu was constantly calling Samantha, but his cell phone calls did not go through. It just said, NOT AVAILABLE. He left multiple voice messages. Texts did not go through either and kept saying, DELIVERY FAILED. 

Where the hell is she, he thought. He knew she was rather apprehensive about the new autopsy rotation and mentioned something about Hart Island. He did not even know where that was. He thought it was some autopsy place in the Bronx near her apartment. It had been a long time since he last saw her because he hardly had time and they lived far apart. 

He lived in Washington DC, had finished his PhD in infectious diseases in the pandemic division and worked at Abby Laboratory as a scientist focusing on virology. The last time they saw each other was right before Christmas time when he stopped in New York for a few hours before he took off to Ohio to visit his parents. The CDC sent him to Atlanta multiple times during his internship year, and to South Africa once last year to visit their lab for a collaborative research project on the Ebola virus. 

This time, he was back at the CDC where several people with expertise in virology gathered to visit Wuhan, China to determine the origin of the coronavirus. He could not believe they had chosen him to represent the US group. His boss, Dr. Allen, trusted Ed more than himself to represent Abby and to understand the virology, and often said Ed “is the guru of viruses.” Ed had extensive expertise in viruses and was widely recognized for his intelligence. Dr. Allen trusted Ed exclusively, and made him the Associate Research Director only after a few years. Dr. Allen was the company CEO who dealt with the financial and overall control of Abby Laboratory and did not have the technical and scientific knowledge as Ed.

There would be ten people going to China. The World Health Organization (WHO) went to Wuhan, China in early January 2020, but they had failed to return fully informed about the magnitude of the contagious nature of the virus. 

In fact, it was reported as an epidemic only in the region of Wuhan and was not expected to spread like SARS in 2002, which spread worldwide within a few months and then was quickly contained. Now, the CDC did not trust WHO reports for obvious reasons. COVID-19 was thought to have arisen from a seafood market, perhaps in smuggled pangolins used for both food and medicine. 

Another possibility was bats, because these two animals have similar genetic codes as what we find in the coronavirus. Exactly how the virus jumped from a wild animal to other animals or humans remains a mystery. It amazed the CDC group China already had the full genetic code for COVID-19. Their speed in research was impressive. However, there was a rumor now that the virus may not have originated from the seafood market.

According to Wikipedia, Wuhan is the 9th largest city in China with 11 million people, and may be the location of the pivotal Battle of the Red Cliffs, which stopped Cao Cao’s incursion into southern China at the end of the Eastern Han dynasty. In comparison, New York City has a population of less than 9 million, founded perhaps 1,400 years after the end of the Eastern Han dynasty.

The Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) lab is located just three miles away from the seafood market. A scientist from the WIV said that COVID-19 was most likely spread from a bat since its genetic makeup is 96% identical to the sequence of COVID-19.

There was speculation that patient zero in Wuhan did not contract the virus from the seafood market, but from within the lab led by a local scientist who also worked on bats at the Wuhan Municipal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Chinese government withdrew this from newspapers as speculation and stated that there was no evidence the virus came from laboratories in Wuhan. They emphatically denied any link to the institute and proclaimed that they have a strict regulatory regime and code of conduct for research.

The WHO also supported the Chinese government, stating that COVID-19 did not come from the laboratories in Wuhan. They added that the only reason the Wuhan lab knew so much about the coronavirus was because of Dr. Shei, the Director of the Institute, had studied the topic for most of her life since SARS in 2003.

Ed did not think he was qualified to be there. They chose him to visit Wuhan, China, along with other gifted scientists from all over the US to determine several things; the origin of the virus, its evolution in nature and spillover to humans, and whether it was an accidental or deliberate release from a lab, or a genetic manipulation of a pathogen as a bioweapon. He was excited for the opportunity even though only reason they chose him was because he is Chinese, but he hardly spoke the language. At least he could speak some and communicate the basics.

He was born in Ohio to Chinese parents who immigrated there as scientists. They were both PhDs at Ohio State University and worked in the research laboratories in the medical field. It disappointed them that Ed did not go into medicine, but his younger brothers saved him by becoming medical doctors. 

The middle brother was already practicing, and his youngest brother was in residency. His parents always said that Ed was the smartest, tallest, and most handsome of all his siblings. Ed was fit, especially after his ROTC military training, and he maintained his muscular and fit body and postures. Ed was not satisfied with simply learning medical knowledge, but he had to dig deeply with one focus—he preferred to understand viruses that can cause pandemics, devastating the entire globe much more than any human diseases. To develop a vaccine against a specific virus could be more powerful and heroic than what any medical doctor could achieve, in his opinion. Ed was proud of his accomplishments and confident in his own ability to save the world when the time came to show his heroism. His parents had an innate bias that Ed should be a medical doctor or lawyer, but Ed knew a PhD can discover cures for diseases more than medical doctors. Ed did not want to argue against his parents for he was an obedient and honorable son who would never lecture his parents.

They were not too happy about Ed seeing Samantha for many years. They wanted their firstborn male child to carry out their names and maintain their Chinese heritage by marrying a Chinese girl. Also, they were devout Buddhists and Samantha and her family were Christians.

Ed was a source of disappointment from his parent’s perspectives. His parents expected too much of Ed, maybe because he was a first-born son. No woman was good enough for Ed because he was “so smart, tall, physically fit, stunningly handsome, kind and gentle” as his parents always put it. Deep down, Ed was confident his parents accepted him. Perhaps his parents worried most about his future income as a scientist, just like themselves, who were less than medical doctors.

Ed thought going back to Wuhan, China as a virologist expert would make them even more proud. They indeed were immensely proud and joked with him over the phone about getting a cute, young Chinese wife while he was visiting China.

They expected the trip to be at least one week, depending on the progress of their findings. They were all staying at the same hotel near the Wuhan lab. Wuhan still had a strict lockdown and curfew orders from the government in place. So, unfortunately, a tour was not on their agenda. Also, the Chinese government was reluctant of their visit to the WIV, and Ed was not sure how they would treat a bunch of US scientists. After all, the WHO scientists came, checked and approved of all the findings from the WIV.

They were all expected to fly to China late tomorrow evening, and it frustrated Ed that Samantha was unreachable. He did not have much more time to call her since there were a lot of meetings scheduled before their departure. 

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Now in paperback: A female perspective on Covid-19, life, medicine and God
The Unseen Doctor

Ms. Apple is a practicing pathologist…she brings a perspective to the effect of the pandemic that unfortunately is seldom seen, and millions would be enriched and informed by her unique vision…The story begins with a woman intern pathologist arriving on Hart Island to an unimaginable scene of mass burials. The web of relationships and events expands to an international scope. This is a medical but personal story, not a political one. I hope everyone can read and share this book, whose proceeds are going to charity.

—Book reviews on Amazon

Thanksgiving. What’s on God’s mind?

November 20, 2020
In the Book of Amos, Chapter 4: 1-13, God speaks through his prophet Amos that He sent several hardships and tragedies to wake up the people of Israel. God is humorous calling the privileged women of Israel, “Listen to me, You Fat Cows living in Samaria.” God was referring to the women who are pampered, sleek and well fed who selfishly oppress the helpless in order to support their lavish lifestyles. The Lord God sent famine, lack of rain, striking farms and vineyards with blight and mildew, locusts devouring figs and olive trees, plagues, killing young men in war, the stench of death filling the air and still the people of Israel did not return their hearts to God who shaped the mountains, stirs up the winds and reveals His thoughts to mankind. He turns the light of dawn into darkness and treads on the height of the earth. The Lord God of Heaven’s Armies is His name!

Almost two days, we had a dense fog in the mornings in Southern California. I couldn’t see just 6 feet away. Just a month ago, we had severe fires close to our mountains with eerie orange sky with soot on the very street I cannot see due to fog. 

Photo by Sippakorn Yamkasikorn from Pexels

As the Thanksgiving Holidays approaches, I am thinking and looking back what a tumultuous year this 2020 has been, thus far.  God allowed the world to experience the pandemic with a novel coronavirus with the death count of 1.34 million as of today and 55.6 million infections. The US leads the way with the death count of 252K and 11.8 million infections. It is still unbelievable that US is the top country to be affected by this unfortunate COVID-19. We are used to leading the technology, medicine, economy, wealth and respect for human rights and democracy but not in the viral infection rate, and I am embarrassed about this.

This year, we had seen the invisible and formidable virus affecting nondiscriminatory way; now we see our immediate families, friends and coworkers getting infected by the virus. We had more fires than any other years in southwestern states. We had more hurricanes in eastern states than any other times and we even ran out of naming the hurricanes and used the final alphabet letter Z, zeta 2020. We had the world’s largest hornet called Asian Giant Hornet, better known as murder hornets in Washington state alarming to infest the country. This is reminding me of the Amos time when God sent sequential calamities. 

Independence Hall, PA, site of the ratification for independence

These incidences are on top of the usual natural calamities such as tornadoes and floods, not to mention our man-made tragedies of racial discrimination outbreaks and violent demonstrations and looting. And to top it off, the election year for presidency manifested how our country is divided and the first time ever in 244-years-old history where our very definition of democracy is questioned by the current president not conceding since the Declaration of Independence was ratified by the US Second Continental Congress on July 4, 1776.

Is God saying anything to us? Is He saying return to me as He said through Amos for the people of Israel? Are we still ignoring God because we did not get the message? Is God allowing all these calamities for us to turn our heads toward Him? It is impossible to know what is in God’s mind.  

With Thanksgiving holidays coming around the corner,  I can reflect and even the very question what is the meaning of all these? What a year 2020 has been thus far! Still, I have this life, the miracles of time that I breath in this very life is not my own to waste. Each day is precious. Tomorrow is not promised nor guaranteed. And I am thankful for just the fact I can breathe.

Who can possibly fathom what’s on God’s mind. I do not know the meaning of all the happenings in 2020. What I do know is I have life today and I will choose to listen to what God has to say to me today with thanksgiving heart.

Debut eBook novel: Chapter 1

CHAPTER 1: Hart Island March 31, 2020 It was a drizzly and cold rainy day. Samantha was sent to Hart Island for observation during the forensic pathology rotation in her third year of residency. She was dragging her feet as she was asked to report to Hart Island a day early before her rotation started on April 1. She had never been to Hart Island. She was already regretting her decision to be a pathologist, and in residency training during the pandemic with COVID-19. With her luck, her autopsy rotation in April is when the death rate is expected to have a surge. She had several choices for her autopsy rotation, and she chose the Long Island Hospital associated with the coroner’s office because her friends in residency said it was the least busy morgue and it would be easier than going to any of the other New York City morgues where the death rates were at least 10 times higher. This estimate was during the non-pandemic time. If she had a choice to switch her rotation schedule now, she would jump on it in a heartbeat, but the schedule was done in June of 2019 for the entire year. No one in her class would switch their autopsy rotation with her during the pandemic. Who would have guessed last year that in April 2020 there would be a surge in death rates due to a pandemic in the US? The boat ride was only three miles, crossing under the Pelham Bay Park Bridge and the City Island Bridge, but it felt an eternity. The boat she took had only five other people, and the captain. They all appeared to be physically fit, rough looking men. She felt out of place. The boat was open without any roof to avoid dreadful rain, so she stood the entire time holding on to her parka hood over her head. Her hands were getting so numb with cold even though she had gloves on. It was dreadful to even think to sit on the cold and wet iron seats in the boat. She had no idea who these men were in the boat with her. They were watching her uncomfortably, likely wondering why an attractive young female was going to Potter’s field, a burial site. That was the same question Samantha had in her mind as she rode in a run-down old peeling-green colored boat with rough looking guys who are probably going there to dig burial sites. Why did she have to go there when she signed up to attend the Long Island Hospital coroner’s office? What would she learn about autopsy there? Would she have a decent and safe place to stay? Where would she stay; in a decrepit old prison? Would she be able to meet her attending doctor from Long Island Hospital? Who in their right mind would ask a pathology resident to join them at Hart Island for training? In fact, no one should do autopsies on the dead due to COVID-19. Why a week there? Why did they summon her a day earlier? No one in her residency could help prepare her or answer her questions because no one had ever gone to Hart Island for an autopsy rotation. The assignment was given to her a day before by her hospital in the Bronx, New York, her home hospital. Let’s just hope that it will be just one week, she thought. The fog grew more dense as they approached Hart Island. The men around her became more and more apprehensive as they were approaching the port, but they seemed to know what to do. The ropes were pulled to tie the boat. They were moving rapidly as the captain carefully parked the boat. Samantha felt her chest getting tense as one of the men extended his hairy hand to her so she could jump onto land. She took it. The boat was bobbing as she took a faithful jump at least three feet away to land. She grunted as she safely landed on the grass. Thank God she only had a lightweight duffle bag. A disappointment settled in as no one was around the port to greet her. It appeared to be an empty grass field for miles with eerie sound of wind blowing. Most of the shoreline was black rocky cliffs. No one else was there and no other boats were parked around the island. It was not a tourist destination by any means. She could make out some faint building structures in the midst of the fog. Everything looked dark and gloomy. Sad feelings arose from the entire island, as if all those buried bodies were crying. It was matching the history of Hart Island, 45 acres, a mile-long island which took bodies of people with no known next of kin since 1869. Back in that time, the people with tuberculosis were forced to live there as infection spread in New York City. The tuberculosis cases were rampant and afflicted one in seven Americans. The New York City government bought the island and built a few rehabilitation places for the people who were exiled from the city due to their diseases. This remote island was a perfect place to separate the diseased people for quarantine. No family or friends were allowed to visit. They faced lonely deaths and were buried there without funeral services. In fact, no one knew when they were dead. The diseased bodies from tuberculosis were buried on the northern tip of the island. In 1985, the AIDS epidemic drove the funeral homes to close their doors to those who died of the disease. The island buried the bodies stricken with AIDS, and most likely became the single largest burial ground in the country for people with AIDS. They were buried in the middle section of the island. Now, the island was being used to bury the COVID-19 infected corpses. The cemetery was now controlled by the Department of Corrections. The city began to hire contract workers, who along with the inmates buried the dead as more bodies piled in from the city in refrigerated trucks. The workers dug several large linear holes, 12 feet deep, for the COVID-19 inflicted dead bodies on the southern part of the island. The whole island had been used as a common public burial ground for more than 150 years, containing more than one million unclaimed bodies. Samantha was walking toward the faintly visible building structures without knowing exactly where she was going. Men from the boat were also walking toward the buildings. No one talked. No one asked her where she was going. The wind swept and the cold rain blew in all directions as she tried to catch up with the men. There was no point opening up the umbrella as the cold rain was painfully hitting her face, fogging up her glasses. There appeared nothing to ensure hot meals as she was approaching the crumbling buildings. She regretted not packing at least a peanut butter sandwich for lunch. In front of the building site, a signpost stood with the inscription: POTTER’S FIELD. RESTRICTED AREA. At this point, she could not tell whether she was entering into the prison or a cremation memorial service center. She was merely following men. She did not know the exact purpose of their trip to Hart Island, but surely, it was for a different purpose from hers. They all entered into the white painted door with another sign, RISTRICTED AREA. In front was a desk attended by a uniformed male guard or policeman; Samantha could not decipher. “Can I help you?” asked the guard. “We are from Gabby construction in the Bronx. I am John, he is Brad, that guy over there is Scott and that punk on this side is Ted.” All eyes went to the punk and some chuckled. “Ok. We were expecting you. You can go next door here and get yourself a hazmat suit. Change your clothes and you will be given a locker to put your belongings. Then someone there will tell you where to go.” Then the guard looked at Samantha momentarily hidden by bulky men. “What about you? What are you doing here?” the guard said. “Uhm, I am, I am here to, to meet Dr. Falkner?” Samantha said timidly. All the guys were still there, hanging around to see Samantha as they were curious to see what this girl was all about. “Oh, yeah, I heard about you. He is not here yet. You can sit there and wait for him.” The guard was pointing his finger at the chair at the end of his desk. Samantha moved toward the chair to sit, when Ted, the punk said, “Who is Dr. Fucker? What is she up to? Is she digging the graves with us?” “Hey guys, move and mind your own business,” the guard said, pointing to the next door where they should be going. Reluctantly, the guys started to move and opening the door, looking back at Samantha, obviously not satisfied to know why she was there. The door finally closed, and all the men went somewhere else where Samantha could not follow any longer. The room became uncomfortably quiet. The guard was staring at the computer monitor and avoided eye contact with Samantha. She wanted to ask a million questions but decided to be quiet for a while. A clock on the wall sounded louder as the room became eerily quiet. She looked at the guard hoping to find a friendly gesture or eye contact at least, but to no avail. He was just looking at his computer. “Do you know when Dr. Falkner is coming to meet me here?” she mustered some courage and asked. “He should be here soon. I thought he is coming with you. Next boat is due in about an hour or so.” “Do you know what I am supposed to do here?” “You tell me. Your guess is good as mine.” Samantha was hoping he would divulge more information, but it was hard to get anything out of him. She wanted to know so many things; did he ever meet Dr. Falkner? What is he like? Does he come here often? Did any pathology resident come here last month with Dr. Falkner? Where is she going to stay for a week? Is she able to commute back and forth from her apartment in the Bronx? Are there boats coming and going and if so, how frequently? When is her next meal? Was she supposed to dig burial sites as those construction guys? Are they staying on this island for a while or are they commuting back and forth? She regretted not asking all these inquiries before she came here. The instruction she received a day before just said that she was to report at the Bronx port to catch a boat at 10: 00 am and meet Dr. Falkner, a medical examiner on Hart Island. Room and Board were to be provided for a week. She realized there was no ticket to board the boat. She did not see those construction guys paying for the ticket either. She sat there twiddling her thumbs and regretting not bringing a book or journal article to read. The rain was hitting the window next to her very hard now. She was glad that she was not riding in the boat now. She could not see anything through the window. It should face toward the water and she could not make out anything. It would be the longest hour she would ever experience in waiting.”

— COVID-19: Gripping novel inspired by real events (The Unseen Doctor Book 1) by Sophia K. Apple