Valeria Flores stared out the window. The streets had become so empty since Vancouver had been put on lockdown. She missed the laughter and music that would carry into her family’s flower shop. Now, the streets were empty and full of silence.
“Valeria, tengo trabajo para ti.” Valeria, I have work for you, her Mamà called from the back of the shop.
Valeria smiled at her younger cousins, as she walked to the back of the shop. They were young and didn’t fully understand why fewer customers frequented the shop nowadays. Lucky.
Valeria was 15, and an employee at Cariño Flores, her family’s flower shop. The shop was named after her Mamà, the Cariño, or Sweetie, of her family, and Flores, her last name, meaning flowers.
Today, however, her Mamà was no Cariño.
“Dàte prisa, Valeria!” Hurry up!
“Sorry.” She quickened her pace and found her Mamà in the storage room.
“The trash needs to be taken out! Soñador de día! It’s almost closing time.” Mamà shook her finger at Valeria. Daydreamer. The term was not an endearment.
Valeria turned to take out the big trash bin in the storage room. She felt ashamed for causing her Mamà stress, especially with the possibility of losing the shop soon.
She lifted the smelly bag of trash out of its bin, avoiding eye contact with her Mamà.
Heading to the alley behind the shop, Valeria inhaled the scent of flowers. She was grateful for her family’s safety and the money they received from the government to keep the shop open.
“Go back to Wuhan!” someone yelled, followed by the sound of a fight breaking out.
Valeria was startled, and dropped the bag of trash, causing it to break open. Two boys were in the middle of a fight, right in the ally.
“Kyle, Akemi ?” She recognized the two boys. They went to the same school, though they weren't friends. Akemi was 16, and Kyle 17.
“Stop it!” She yelled when they didn’t even glance at her.
Kyle aimed his fist at Akemi’s face.
Valeria winced at the noise it made when it connected to Akemi’s face.
“Kyle, stop! You’re hurting him!”
Kyle hesitated, then lowered his fist. He had a cut lip, and Akemi a black eye.
“Valeria?” Akemi asked.
She nodded. “What are you doing in the alley behind my family’s shop?”
Akemi glared at Kyle. “He followed me, so I ran down this alley. He thinks I’m from Wuhan and that I have the virus.”
Kyle started to protest, but Valeria cut in.
“Kyle, everyone knows Akemi is Japanese, not Chinese. If you’re so scared of the virus, then why did you start a fight? That’s not social distancing.”
Kyle turned red. “You wouldn’t understand, you’re just a freshman.”
“Then help me understand.” She motioned for Kyle and Akemi to sit on a couple of empty crates.
The three of them sat down.
Akemi spoke first. He was quiet as if he was reluctant to share. "Most of my extended family lives in Japan. We were supposed to visit them over Spring break, since my Grandmother is sick and possibly dying. This virus is our worst nightmare. If anyone in the family gives it to my Grandmother, she will die.”
They won’t understand. Least of all Kyle, Akemi thought, scared that he had shared too much.
“I’m sorry for picking a fight with you, I didn’t realize.” Kyle looked ashamed.
“I guess I’m just frustrated that our prom and our graduation ceremonies are cancelled this year. I feel like this whole situation is annoying, and a pain for me. I wasn’t thinking of anyone else.”
Kyle almost looked surprised to hear the words coming out of his mouth. He hadn’t taken a look at his actions and how selfish he was being.
Akemi nodded. “I get it. I just feel so helpless right now. I’m an ocean apart from my Grandmother, and I don’t want her to die.”
Valeria spoke up. “My family’s shop might close. It was a wedding present from my Abuela and Abuelo to my parents, and I’ve played and worked there my whole life. Nobody is buying flowers during a pandemic. I don’t see how we’ll be able to make ends meet. I’m scared for all of us.”
She met Akemi’s eyes first, then Kyle’s. There they were, two almost strangers who had shared some of their biggest fears with her. Strangely, it gave her hope.
Hope; that if someone like Kyle was able to talk about his feelings with someone he had picked a fight with, maybe other people could do the same.
“I think I have an idea. What if we started an Instagram account where we matched people together to discuss the current situation in group chats, or on the comments of our posts. We could post questions like, ‘How does the coronavirus make you feel?’ or ‘How has COVID-19 impacted your mental health?’ “
Kyle and Akemi were nodding.
“Akemi, are you still into photography?” Valeria asked.
“What if we posted photos of hopeful things like the first time you hug your friends once this is all over, or learning a new skill while in quarantine?”
Kyle was smiling. “Or the fact that prom isn’t cancelled forever, it’s just delayed for a bit," he added.
Akemi cracked a faint smile. “We could thank all of the front line workers for taking care of people like my Grandmother.”
As her new friends started to brainstorm ideas for the account, Valeria stared down the alley onto the street beyond.
For the first time in over a month, Valeria was hopeful that the streets would be filled with laughter and music again one day.