My mother – suddenly adept at finding YouTube videos online – asks me to sit beside her on her expensive, terribly uncomfortable, couch. She points the remote to the 60 inch television, whispering to me while biting her lip, “just watch. Don’t say anything.” She clutches my hand and I pull back. This is a perfect metaphor for our entangled relationship.
The large screen wakes up with a click and I see a man, presumably in a wet market, slicing a bat into thin pieces. Blood, darker red then my own, hits the makeshift walls, dampens the woman beside him. She continues, the fresh blood on her dark hands, using a mallet to flatten something skin colored.
He is thin, a red bandana tied tightly around his head. I make a joke, I tell her he must be part of the bloods, the infamous gang. She does not laugh. I am, at the best of times, not very funny.
She states, “This is how it happened. These people eating these weird things.” It is not a racist remark so much as an observation, her truth, though not mine. I mention that perhaps our societies gluttonous eating of cows and of pigs may seem strange to their culture. She is quiet, her eyes focused on the man with his knife, the desecrated bat and the blood.
The next video shows children, maybe 12 or 13 years old, all boys in thin white clothing, ripped, lined with dirt. An older boy walks up to the younger boys, he is thin and he is barefoot, he has a large white snake wrapped around a stick. They speak words I do not understand. A fire is quickly lit and the snake, passive as the older child’s hands are clipped tightly around its head, is placed in the fire. It does not die right away – it fights, trying to move away, to unwind itself from the stick. The younger boys surround it, much like in Lord of the Flies, stomping on it where the fire is lower to the ground. Its scales fall off in places but its eyes appear awake. They move. Its long tail slowly turns darker before blackening like ash. It is terrifying but I cannot look away. I am like my mother. Sick with fascination. The boys stand and clap and point to the camera I have forgotten must be filming. They hoot and holler like the kids in my neighborhood who play basketball on our quiet road.
The video ends and she looks at me, waiting, perhaps wondering if I have changed my mind. If I agree that it is difference in culture that has caused this pandemic. But no. This is not why we are living under the expanding wings of Coronavirus, I tell her. Not because of that particular bat or those kids – just kids – with the snake and its eyes. This is not why. How do you know she asks me, how can you possibly know?
I leave the expensive couch, I leave her to her bloody bats and snakes and wild ideas, and I wonder. It could be bats, it could be snakes, all the conspiracy theories, but it doesn’t matter. Does it? Not in this moment. Not anymore. It’s here. Now.
I stare at my daughter, she is 15 months old. She is small and she is not moving; her tiny hands clutch her favorite teddy bear, her increasingly curly hair falls over her eyes. She will be awake soon and she will need me to be her mother. But for now, she sleeps and I watch the baby monitor as I type. I notice the red scaly patches on my hands from washing them so much. I notice the birds outside my window. Things are still growing, moving on while we stand still, while we wait.