Come December, I always dig out the air tickets for India, my land of birth, whose warmth and humidity take some stoicism to bear at other times. If India happens at the time to be indulging its seasonal sport of lynching Muslims or teargassing Kashmiris, I might stray to some equable climate in Mexico City or Manizales.
2020 was different. The unusual year of a pandemic created the unwelcome prospect that, should I survive the confined space of an aircraft, supposedly ideal for contagion, wherever I land I could be coyly asked to enter a quarantine for thirty days. A quarantine – thank Heavens, most authorities don’t know that the word means forty days – in a sanitized hotel is not my idea of amusement.
Prudently and prosaically, I chose to pass my days in the company of the one person I know to be free of toxic viruses or murderous intentions, myself. I will, I decided, pass my winter days by myself, with the aid of written letters, spoken words and lighted screens. If I needed added salve, I would seek comfort from a redoubtable couple, Tequila and Tom Collins.
Then came the snow.
I got up, made what American cookbooks call a French Omelet (though Gaullic friends have the gall to tell me that no Frenchman ever eats that stuff) and stood at the window with a cup of coffee in hand. The tiniest flakes of snow were floating down absentmindedly. They seemed to hover in the air uncertainly before choosing to land in my front yard. They melted slowly once they hit the ground. The earth wasn’t yet cold enough to receive them appropriately,
Slowly the flakes became plumper, came down directly and landed with a visible splat. They landed on my bushes, on the curving FengShui-approved pathway to my front door, even daringly on the glass-pane of the door. They quickly started filling up the crevices between the stones that make up the circular stonework that holds a single chair where I occasionally sit and read a book.
Soon the flakes weren’t melting at all, but staying put like a white shroud, covering the ground, every inch of the walkway, every leaf of the bushes. In a few minutes you could see nothing of my green bushes or gray stones; they had all turned milk-white. I looked up at the large oaks and birches that fringe my home. Fall had come and gone, taking away all their vast wealth of leaves. Now their bare branches were all whitewashed and stood in a strange reverse silhouette against gray-indigo sky.
Then the snowfall reached its apogee. It started coming down in a prodigal shower. All you could see were large shards of whitest-white snow pouring out of some fairy-tale hopper all over, as far as I could see. There were spellbound faces of children at other windows, peering at the magical transformation of an ordinary townscape into a wonderland. Everything was white, everything was pure and clean, everything was just perfect. It was beautiful.
It snowed the entire day. When I went to bed Tuesday night, I could still hear the soft landing of snowy abundance. And the occasional swishing of a freezing wind wriggling through the trees at the back of my home.
Three days have passed. As I walk my usual route, I notice an occasional sliver of snow sticking to a dogwood tree and a melting little pile of dark snow on a street corner. The thick veneer of ice that covered the lake is all gone, with only a small floe or two moving aimlessly with currents.
Other people are also moving around. Some are taking their morning constitutional. Some others starting their cars and rushing to work. Many I see at their windows or balconies, drinking their morning coffee, taking a new look at their familiar scene that had looked so unfamiliar three days back.
Not a trace left of the enchanted, dreamlike magic show that enveloped our whole world wondrously days ago. Like a true magician, winter pulled a gorgeous white curtain to adorn instantly everything I could see, and, then, with a sweep of its imperial wand, made the mystic curtain disappear forever.