I felt no difference.
All I knew was that I was in no mood to listen to my children yelling. I didn't want to hear another word of my husband's rambling. There was work to be done, and, as usual, nobody from my useless family would bother to help. They would sit and complain about their boring lives. I decided that I would not take another word of it.
"Let them worry about the work," I told myself. "Let's see how long it takes for them to realize that the work hasn't been done. It's no magical feat."
This plan in mind, I headed to the wet market for seafood and meats when I heard a voice call my name.
"Meili!" a woman called. It was a friend of mine: Ashley. She had grown up in America and had come to China for a visit. She frowned at me.
"You're still shopping at these wet markets, then?" she said disapprovingly.
I shrugged. "Of course. It's where I get my meat and fish."
Ashley looked around the cramped market. "What kind of animals do they sell here? Are those rats?"
"Of course those are rats. What did you expect? There's rats, and bats, and camels, and kangaroos and alligators and turtles and snakes and porcupines and centipedes." I licked my lips. "It's one yummy place."
Ashley looked like she could barf. "That's disgusting! In America we stick to limited types of food. And how could you think of eating all of these animals?"
I frowned. "We eat different animals in China. I know you eat cows and pigs and sheep in America, we just eat porcupines and pangolins."
She shrieked and pointed to an animal curled up in a ball. "Is that an armadillo?"
"No, that's a pangolin," I corrected her.
"This could literally be a zoo," she proclaimed, turning white. "Except you eat the animals here."
"Oh, shut up," I told her, and I continued purchasing my meat.
"Also, it's filthy," she added. "There's no hygiene. Are you sure you feel safe purchasing food from here for your family?"
"If my husband and kids get sick, it would be a holiday," I remarked coldly, and I paid for the various meats and bid her goodbye.
"Mama!" called Chang, my older son. "I've been waiting forever! Where's my dinner?"
I cackled silently, and put on a straight face as I entered the dimly lit room. "Chang, we are having stew today. The ingredients and recipe are on the counter. Go make your share, and drink it. Then wash your bowl and do your school work."
He scowled. "Why didn't you make it?"
I glared at him. "Is it my job to do everything in this house? Do I have to make all the food? Make it yourself for once!"
He rolled his eyes and presumably went to tell Liqin, my younger daughter. Together, they marched out of the house and slammed the door shut.
I was appalled, but I watched them through the window. I saw them head to my neighbor Xiuying's house, where, through her window, I saw her offer them some rice and dumplings. I realized that my plan had backfired on me. My children had been offered a meal at my neighbor's house.
As my husband started walking home, Liqin ran out from Xiuying's home and alerted him. He too, walked into Xiuying's tiny house and was offered a meal.
Enraged, I decided to eat alone. In silence, I arranged the stew and lapped the entire thing up like a hungry dog.
The next day passed as normal, but I made sure to avoid my children and husband for their tactless act about the stew.
The day after, I woke up with a runny nose, and a cough, and I was just sick of it. I decided to meet Zhang Wei, who knew the most about medicine and herbal treatment. As opposed to a doctor, he could give me advice for free. Many of his herbal treatments seemed to work.
"Cold-like symptoms?" He asked me, and he handed me a herbal syrup. "Take this. You should be feeling fine in no time."
"Thank you," I said, and I took the bottle from him. No sooner had I walked out of the shop, I felt my chest imploding. A fit of violent coughing erupted out of me. I collapsed onto the street, my heart pounding. I felt my forehead. I had literally turned into a volcano. I couldn't even breathe. I felt dizzy and sore, and I just wanted to throw up. I wanted to give up. What was wrong with me?
Thankfully, Zhang Wei rushed out to help me up. "You need a doctor," he said seriously. "This is a flu."
In an hour, I was laying on a hospital bed. The doctor was asking me questions about my sickness. After about ten minutes of interrogation, he allowed me to rest and went to consult with another doctor.
"Her sickness is ruthless," I heard him say.
I was given treatment and medicines, and I was told to eat certain pills at certain times of the day, and to drink certain fluids at other times of the day. I was given injections every day, and soon, I got better.
At my insistence, the doctors at the hospital kept me updated on what disease I may have had. They told me that many people at the wet market had procured similar illness, though their symptoms had not been as severe as mine. Still quarantined in the hospital, I set out to talk to every doctor there was to get a second opinion.
COVID-19, they called it. It was a coronavirus similar to SARS and MERS. I could have been one of the first to get it, they told me. It had also spread to the people who came in contact with me at the wet market, my husband, and my daughter Liqin. As much as I disliked my family's lack of taste, I didn't want them to experience the terrible symptoms I had.
"You had a more severe case," explained the doctor when I voiced my concerns aloud. "Most of the affected people have experienced mild, flu-like symptoms. But two vendors from the market have more severe symptoms. And one man was put on a ventilator yesterday night."
I gasped. A ventilator? How could this happen? Just because I shopped at the wet market? It can't have been my fault, I told myself.
But the world evidently thought otherwise. In a few months, the entire globe was under lockdown. There were new norms. Work had stopped. School had stopped. Sports had stopped. Parties had stopped. Clubs had stopped. Societies had stopped. Businesses had stopped. All public events had stopped. Things that have never before been cancelled stopped. Restaurants were closed. Buildings were closed. Entire organizations were shut down. People started dying by the thousands every day. People in Italy, then Iran, and Korea. Then Germany, and the UK, and then the United States. I started getting hate mail by the hundreds. News, media, and the entire television network were blasting China and Chinese traditions. It's all their fault, they said. They eat the weirdest animals at the most unsanitary places. We're stuck at home, afraid of a coronavirus, because of whoever ate that bat meat. They're making this story up to scare us all. I wanted to protest. The virus had to be from elsewhere. Maybe there wasn't a virus at all. It had probably been my neighbor who had fed Liqin the virus with her dumplings. Liqin possibly contracted it to me. It could not have been me.
But deep down, there was a sinking feeling in my already sunken stomach. It was me. I had caused this virus. The world was suffering because of me. The world was suffering because of me, my choice, and my mistake. I had unknowingly tortured millions of people across the globe. I had endangered people who I didn't even know, who I hadn't even met.
I was guilty.