Notes from a Pandemic: Outside

Going out. I’m going to leave the flat for the first time in three weeks. I can’t believe it has been that long; between working online, checking in with loved ones, reading the news, reacting to the news and sleeping a lot it has all gone by in a surreal, sometimes peaceful often anxious whirl.

Today is the designated day for buying more food. We made a list and checked if we really do need to go out. Talked about the difference between needs and wants. There is caution for ourselves and others. I read an article today about the importance of masks in reducing transmission of the virus. I tell my partner that it feels important to wear one. He listens to my regurgitation of a morning spent reading articles and checking scientific notes and agrees.

There’s a video on YouTube about using just two elastic bands and some material to make a mask. I stand with him on our balcony, the sun shining on us after a week of rain, folding material and laughing at various bad attempts. And this is it – the strange normality that we all have in the moments when we are not thinking about the virus. Human moments. I make a mask out of a pink pillowcase that ends up looking like a ridiculous bottom stuck onto my face. We fall about laughing. Our life here is about reusing and recycling, constantly discovering new ways to consume less and give new life to things we have; we are used to being seen as poor when in fact we feel richer for it. And here we are making masks from old scarves because people are dying, because we don’t want to die ourselves or cause any one else to; yet here we are also laughing and taking a picture because we look like we are going to hold up a petrol station. This is it –  balancing on a thin line between knowing and being.

Ready to leave the house I am wearing, a new improved mask, gloves and hair tied back. I slip on my shoes outside the door and leave my slippers at the ‘disinfection station’ we’ve set up by the front door: a bag for our clothes when we get back, box for the keys, phones, credit cards etc; slippers ready to head straight to the shower. My glasses steam up; the mask feels heavy and the gloves make my hands sweat.

Then I’m outside. Out listening to nothing but birdsong in the city centre. I cross the central plaza. It is completely empty. It is both the set of an apocalyptic film and a peaceful dream. The sound of the birds is wonderful. I can almost forget why my breath is misting behind a cloth mask. I pass a woman with her shopping trolley at a respectable distance. Two women trot through the square in high heels, estilo Córdobesa; wide tan trousers, cream shirts and glossy blond locks; they seem like ghosts from life a few weeks ago. They’re not wearing masks or gloves and eye me pityingly; don’t they know that the virus doesn’t care about beauty or social status?

IMG_0807
Plaza de las Tendillas, the central plaza in the city, deserted during quarantine.

At the supermarket, there is a man sitting in the doorway. A usually busy street with a bar across the road is simply filled with a silence that makes our presence together the more obvious. I say hello, he asks if I have any change and I’m sorry that I don’t and explain that we have to pay by card now. He nods and smiles. I feel like a privileged idiot. He is wearing gloves and has a bag beside him. I think of offering the pair of medical gloves I have in my bag and again feel silly. I could offer the apples I just bought. It is rude not to offer anything but I’m nervous about offending him and end up just hovering nearby as a young man arrives trailing two Shih Tzu dogs. He stops to tie them to the railing and the older man calls out to him, ‘I’ll hold them for you.’  ‘They’ll bite you’ he says and I wonder if it’s true. The older man says he doesn’t mind that he loves dogs, so he is handed the leash nonchalantly. He pulls the dogs closer to him and begins a conversation with them. The delight on his face is beautiful to see. He reaches out to touch the black and white dog and as promised it snaps at him baring its teeth before they both begin barking and yapping as only small dogs can. It makes me laugh and he laughs too. ‘Be careful.’ I call out to him, my voice hidden in folds of thick cloth. He looks at me and shakes his head as the dog rolls over and lets him pet its belly. He is in a world where only he and the dogs exist in the pure joy of this interaction.

The young man comes out of the shop. He’s carrying a large can of energy drink which he pops open with one hand. He takes a cigarette from behind his ear and lights it before grabbing the lead, ‘Cheers mate, see you.’ He calls out, music blaring from a mini boom box on his belt as he struts off. The older man is still smiling and watching the dogs as they go around the corner.

There is a thought I’ve had many times since quarantine began – it begins with ‘What about…’ and there is an endless list; homeless people, victims of sex traffing, abuse, domestic violence; all the way to animals abandoned by their owners. I feel guilty that I don’t have the answers.

I pass the bus stop near our flat and there are three women sat waiting, they all wear the same blue and white polo shirts with the brand of a cleaning services company on it. They are in their late fifties.

Outside, it doesn’t take long to feel the inequality of it.

 

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