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Drew steadied herself against the dining chair. Her heart was beating fast. She moved away from the dining table completely and walked through the large glass doors onto the porch. She leaned against the railing and took a deep breath.
“Lina, is everything okay? Is Hans okay?”
“Yes, Hans is fine. I hope I didn’t frighten you. He’s not quite out of the woods yet, but he made it through the night without the respirator. He gave me your number, he wanted us to be in touch, just in case. I didn’t think it was necessary, but he insisted. He’s going to be fine. I believe that.”
Drew let out a sigh of relief. This was all becoming a little bit too much for her. She knew she was dramatic but Lina’s ‘we need to talk’ was definitely over the top. Didn’t she realize that would be scary?
“I’m actually glad he gave you my number. I’ve been worried and I realized I didn’t have access to anyone else in his network.”
“Yes, well, he’s never mentioned you either, so I was surprised he insisted that I call.”
Drew scowled, this Lina woman, not particularly nice.
“We’ve known each other a pretty long time, but I guess we’ve had a bit of an isolated and protected friendship.”
“Okay, well, he’s fine. You don’t need to call me to check in, I’m sure he’ll call you when he’s back home safely with us and all better. It could be a while.”
Drew understood Lina clearly. She was being polite but she was warning Drew against calling her, no matter what, even if it took months for Hans to call her, Drew wasn’t to call Lina. At least, she’d get a death notification.
“Sure, I’ll wait to hear from Hans then. Thank you for calling me. I appreciate it. Bye.”
“Bye,” Lina said abruptly and then hung up.
Drew understood Lina a little bit. It must have been annoying, to talk to your son who’s in the hospital, far away from you, fighting a deadly virus, and he asks you to call a girl he’s never mentioned, someone you’ve never met? An African mother probably wouldn’t do it. Drew chuckled, thinking of what her mother would say if her brother ever asked her to do that. ‘You want me to call your cheap girlfriends for you? The ones you never introduced us to? If she was so important, why don’t we know her already? Herh, if you die and she doesn’t know, it is her problem. I don’t have time to comfort myself and your girlfriends. Foolishness.’
“Mommie? Do you need a hug?”
Drew turned around and smiled at her daughter.
“I’m better now, but I would never say no to a hug. Come here.”
Drew pulled Ama into her arms for a big hug. She squeezed her daughter tight. She’d spent a long time worrying about Hans, but it was now time to focus on her baby girl and her work, and keeping her family safe from the virus that was steadily sweeping Ghana’s major cities. What she had here in her arms, that was most important to her.
For the next month, Drew buried herself in work, her daughter and her home. The lock down in place across parts of Ghana dragged on. The cases were not ebbing. Most of the employees that worked in her company’s Ghana office could work from home, and even though she considered a small salary cut for all staff, she didn’t go through with it. It would have been justified because no one was incurring any transport costs to get to work, but the company was also saving money on power, office maintenance and some consumables. As a company, they were actually pretty busy, helping clients across Africa manage their personal and company finances and investments to ensure they could survive the pandemic for the long-term. Financial advisors were in demand, and her office in particular was working hard to devise creative solutions for small businesses in the region.
Drew was busy and she tried not to think about Hans as the weeks dragged on. She called him a few times but his phone was permanently off. If the situation was bad, Lina would have called her, she wouldn’t be so cruel not to call.
So when she eventually saw his name pop up on her screen, Drew was in a place of calm and peace.
“Hey stranger,” she said coolly. She was excited but she didn’t want to show it.
“Wow, I love it. You sound great. I think the coronavirus may have improved your voice. You sound husky, sexy.”
“Oh wow, what did I sound like before? A baby?”
Drew smiled but she didn’t answer.
“So you’re all good? What’s up? Where are you?”
“I’m in Berlin. I’ve been back a little over a week now. I was in the hospital in Italy for a week, it was really rough. Once I got out, I didn’t want to go back to my apartment over there, but they wouldn’t just let me leave either. I stayed at this recovery place they’ve set up for another week, and then my parents managed to get me out and back home. I’m in isolation at my parents’ house. No one knows how long the infection stays with you even after you’ve recovered, and some people get re-infected. But I don’t mind the isolation to be honest. It’s comforting that I can hear my parents upstairs, they bring me everything I need and their basement is honestly like a five-star hotel. I’m living large.”
Hans didn’t talk a lot so Drew was quite surprised but pleased with his ramble. He sounded really good.
“I’m sorry you went through this, and I’m really happy that you’re better, and home and doing okay.”
“Yeah me too.”
“But I need a favor,” she said mysteriously.
“Yeah? What’s up?”
“I need access to your entire contact list.”
Hans laughed, really loud and big, he even choked a little bit.
Drew leaned back in her chair and smiled. She was enjoying this lively version of Hans. She was in her home office, Ama was in her playroom watching Frozen II for the 100th time, so Drew felt relaxed enough to just talk with Hans.
“My entire contact list, hmmm, wow.”
“Honestly, I can’t do it again, go through what I went through when I couldn’t reach you. It was terrible. I couldn’t sleep.”
“Yeah, my friends told me about the crazy person who was messaging them repeatedly, looking for me.”
Drew groaned, “They told you? Ugh.”
Hans laughed, “Oh yeah, they told me. Some of them forwarded your message to me. They wanted to know if I knew this crazy person.”
Drew groaned again. She was mortified.
“Hey, hey, it’s okay. I think it was sweet. Thank you for looking for me like that. It meant a lot,” Hans said softly.
“That’s why I need your contact list,” Drew said, determined not to let him off the hook. She didn’t need his contact list, she just wanted to let him know that she needed some type of access or insights into his world, his life, his friends.
“Okay, how about a compromise? I’ll share my Favorites list with you instead. It’s a pretty solid list. If you’re determined to find me, you start with that.”
“Great, but don’t include girlfriends.”
“Oh damn, that eliminates half of the people on my Favorites list!” Hans said laughing, his new, big, deep laugh.
Drew chuckled, but she couldn’t tell if he was joking, and he didn’t clarify.
She decided she had to let him know how serious she was.
“Hans, jokes aside, I do mean it. I just need to have a way to make sure you’re okay. We have no idea when this pandemic is going to break. It’s scary times, and I just want to make sure I can reach those I care about, that I have a way to know they’re okay. And I’m definitely not going to call your mom if I can’t get through to you.”
She meant to be serious but the last bit made him laugh again.
She continued, “And I will send you the contacts for my parents and my close friends.”
“Okay, Drew, I’ll email you tonight, okay. But nothing is going to happen to us. I’ll call you every single day.”
His words melted her heart and she closed her eyes. How could she feel so much for someone she’d never been intimate with?
“That’s a deal. Let’s exchange lists, and let’s talk. Call me late at night though. I have a ton of work to get through on most days.”
“Or maybe you just want my voice to be the last voice you hear at night?”
He was flirting. Wow. Hans seemed to have a new lease on life. Deeper voice, bigger laugh, and now flirting? She could get used to this.
“Yeah, you caught me,” she flirted back.
“Alright Drew, I’ll call again tonight, and then every night. I promise.”
Hans lived up to his word. He didn’t miss a single night. He called around 10pm her time, and it was perfect for her. Ama was asleep in her own room, and Drew had showered and was already snuggled under her covers listening to music, a routine that helped her sleep like a baby. Initially, their talks were just about 30 minutes or so, and then it got longer and longer. They talked about everything, and she asked a lot of questions. She wanted to know him, really know him. He also asked questions, but he was never quite comfortable talking about Ama or Nik or her private life. She wanted to discuss all of that but he didn’t seem ready for that.
“One of my friends is planning on doing IVF, later in the year, if this pandemic ends by then. This situation has reminded us all that life is short,” she said during one of their calls.
Baby talk wasn’t his thing, but Drew wanted to know. What were his plans?
“I can imagine. I guess the baby boom everyone is expecting to come out of this pandemic isn’t just related to couples. Oh wait, I’m sorry, I somehow just assumed she was single because you said IVF.”
“Yeah, she’s single. She was in a relationship for a long time but they broke up last year and now that we’re going on 40, it’s a thought you know.”
“Yeah,” he said.
Drew shook her head and hit the mute button for a second. Oh my God, she screamed. Was she pushing too hard? She just wanted to know if kids were part of his plans. She wanted another baby, she wanted to settle down, get married and have more babies, soon. She was going to be 40 in less then three months. She unmuted.
“What about you? What are your plans? Marriage, babies?” There, she asked.
There was a long pause before he spoke.
“Yeah, eventually, I guess. It’s something I want, but it hasn’t happened. That’s basically it. I try not to stress about it. Yeah, I’m almost 40, but it’ll happen when it happens.”
“Okay, uhhh, cool. You can go with the whole ‘it’ll happen when it happens’ but I don’t quite have the luxury of time, you know. I’m going to be 40 in August and I do want another one, so I’ve been thinking a lot, about IVF and stuff, using donor sperm maybe, anonymous or otherwise.”
He hadn’t asked about her plans but she told him anyways, and it was a lot. She gripped the phone tightly. They were definitely in heavy convo territory now.
The silence stretched a bit and then he spoke.
“That’s smart, right? To think about it, plan for it. You have to do what’s best for you.”
Drew rolled her eyes at his response, what a perfect politically correct response. There was no emotion or feeling behind it.
“Hey listen,” he said, “I need to get a bit of sleep now. I’m heading back to my place tomorrow. My basement palace has been fun but I think a month is about all I can handle.”
“Yeah, I remember, of course. Get some rest, and all the best tomorrow.”
He didn’t call for the next few days. She chalked it up to his move, and settling back to his place and figuring out his work situation. His company had been floating some work to him but it wasn’t quite enough. She figured he was dealing with all that, so he was too busy to call, but deep down she knew it was the baby talk. She promised herself that if he called again, she would keep it light.
His calls resumed a week later, and they pretended that the awkward baby convo had never happened.
They kept talking for another six months, as the world around them dramatically and permanently changed. By May, global leaders and international organizations like the WHO realized that COVID-19 wasn’t going to adhere to casual, flexible measures. So in May, every single country instituted forceful lock-down procedures, even in countries that considered themselves highly democratic. The police and armies were deployed. Streets were completely deserted. The only movement were the security forces enforcing the lock down, health workers getting to and from work, trucks delivering essentials right to doorsteps, and Virus Investigators as they came to be known, people going door to door, offering tests, checking in on self-quarantine patients, contact tracing and hauling the very sick out of their homes, whether they liked it or not. Playtime was over for everyone.
The strict measures were implemented in Ghana as well, and even food vendors and supermarkets were forced to shut down. Contracts were given to select businesses and farmers in the rural areas to provide food stuff and trucks carted the food all over the country. Non-food essentials, like soap, tissue, medicines, were collated and sourced directly from manufacturers, housed in warehouses in the major cities and distributed to each household. It was a logistical nightmare in the beginning, but a system was gradually developed to ration and provide food and basic needs to each household.
It was the only way out of this, and by July, the cases in Ghana and globally started to ebb. In August, the lock down was still in place, and she spent her 40th birthday with Ama, making waffles, cakes and watching Onward, Ama’s new Frozen. She and Hans spoke that night, it was sweet, they’d been talking a little over five months then.
Then in September, Hans turned 40! There were global milestones as well. Ghana had managed to get through two months of zero cases, and nearly 60% of the population had been tested. Germany had had zero cases for three months. There was finally light at the end of the tunnel.
Hans and Drew celebrated online. They had a video chat, close to midnight, later than usual. She made a cake that had the inscription, ‘Happy 40th & Happy 6th.” They’d been talking for six months since he first called her when he got home to Germany. They didn’t have a label on whatever their relationship was, but it felt serious enough for her. No “I love you” had been exchanged, but words didn’t quite matter to her. What they had went beyond words, or so she thought.
“Wow, you went all out with this cake. Happy 6th? Is it Ama’s birthday as well? I thought she was turning five next month. Did I get it wrong?”
She laughed at Hans’ confusion. He looked cute, squinting as he read the inscription. His hair was long and tied back in a ponytail. He stopped cutting it back in January, way before shit hit the fan. He looked hippy and nerdy at the same time.
“No, she’s going to be five next month, you don’t have it wrong. This is to celebrate your birthday, and also to celebrate us. We’ve been talking for 6 months now.”
“Ohhhh wow, 6 months. That’s crazy. Ahh okay, cheers to us then.”
He raised a mock glass, and she did the same.
“So I have an idea, I’m thinking, maybe we can go on a survivors’ vacation,” she said staring at him.
He frowned, “A what?”
“Survivors’ vacation. I know, it’s a horrible name, but we survived. You lived through the virus and I survived not catching it. That’s surviving. We should celebrate that.”
She hated that long, drawn out ‘Okay’ of his. He was thinking and saying ‘Okay’ at the same time. She could read it on his face.
“What are you thinking?” he asked.
“Maldives! I’ve never been, I’ve always wanted to. It’s my dream vacation.”
She didn’t add that she’d been reserving Maldives for her honeymoon, but marriage seemed pretty far off right now.
“Okayyyyy,” he said quietly as he played with his ponytail. He took a deep breath and then looked straight at her.
She didn’t flinch. She was all in.
“Life is too short, you know. We need to live, celebrate that we’re still standing. What the world has been through this year, it’s unprecedented. We were part of that. We survived that,” she added.
He nodded, “Okayyyy.”
Drew looked away, to prevent him from seeing her eye roll. If she heard one more Okayyyy, she would hang up on him. She decided to shut up. She was selling this too hard.
There were both silent for a while. Hans was fidgeting with his hair and chewing his lower lip, thinking and nodding absentmindedly. Drew rolled her head from side to side, pretending to release non-existent tension in her neck. Eventually, he broke the silence.
“I think I’d be up for that, a vacation. I haven’t been to Maldives either.”
“We can go someplace else, honestly, or just forget about this,” she said quickly.
He chuckled softly, “It’s okay, it’s fine. You love the beach. Maldives is perfect.”
“Soooo, are we bringing family, friends?” he asked, grinning.
She grinned back, this was it. Could she say it? Could she be bold enough?
“I’m thinking it could just be you and me,” she said softly, biting her lower lip, trying to come across as coy and seductive.
“Sounds good. You and me,” he said, winking mischievously. He didn’t miss a beat.
She laughed and winked back.
“So, we’re really doing this huh,” he said.
Drew knew what he meant by this. They were going for it. They were actually going for it!
“Yes, we are. Let’s plan for Christmas. Maldives is best from December to April.”
“I’m all in. Let’s do it.”
That was all she needed to hear. She blew him a kiss. She didn’t know where it came from, it just happened! He didn’t blow one back, he just smiled and winked at her again.
They hang up shortly after and Drew lay quietly on her bed, the cake was sitting on a tray right next to her. She absentmindedly swiped some icing and licked it. Was she actually going to do this? A romantic vacation with Hans? Did she really care about him like that? Was she reading too much into their whole friendship? Was she wasting her time? She closed her eyes as the questions assaulted her. An idea that seemed fun and charming had now become terrifying. She was 40 years old, with a child. She didn’t have time for games. The minute she saw him, she was going to let him know how she felt, let him know what she wanted, and he could get right back on the plane if he wasn’t game.
Her phone started to ring again and she smiled before she picked it up, fantasizing that it was Hans calling to tell her he loved her, that he couldn’t wait to see her in Maldives and make some babies!
Drew lifted the phone up to her face eagerly. The smile drained from her face and she felt her heart skip a beat as she stared at the name on the phone. Nik.
TO BE CONTINUED