Not The Springtime We Expected

Not The Springtime We Expected

It’s 2pm on a Sunday in March and I’m sitting by the windowsill having my morning coffee. Ordinarily, my morning wouldn’t have started at 2pm, but time is different now and there is little ‘ordinary’ left about our world today.

The sunlight streaming through the window that gently kisses my face tells me spring has sprung.

The definition given by the Merriam-Webster dictionary of springtime is:

  • The season of spring
  • Youth sense
  • An early or flourishing stage of development.

But despite the natural flourishing of spring blooming all around me, it’s impossible to ignore the horrible decay that has pierced the heart of our world – the antithesis of everything springtime stands for.

But let’s turn back the clock to January, when we were blissfully unaware. It’s two months ago. Winter. London, England. Brrr, it’s cold.

I’m sitting in International Departures, wrapping my cheap leopard print coat tighter around myself as I clutch my boarding pass close to my body. I quit my job – despite friends and family suggesting I shouldn’t. Pfft, I’m confident I’ll be able to get a new job on my return. With at least £1,000 less than I ought to have saved, I am about to embark on the trip of a lifetime. God, imagine the stories I’ll be able to tell when I get back. Wait, am I at the wrong departure gate? Ahh, I knew I should’ve double checked the gate number like my Dad and boyfriend warned me to! “Excuse me Miss…”

Travel was normal then. Now it is becoming outlawed. Our Prime Minister told us last week that unnecessary travel is prohibited in the UK and, since then, most Britons have watched the daffodils bloom from captivity – like zoo animals: enclosed.  Trussed up in our household incubation roaming the narrow confines of our living spaces. Forced into extended communication with only, shudder, our dear relatives for companionship.

But before I ruminate further on the present situation, allow me to indulge in nostalgia once more. In fact, why shouldn’t you allow me? If you’re reading this from a position of self-isolation, then you have all the time in the world to indulge my leisurely ramblings. Oh, stop it! You’re spoiling me.

Now let’s rewind time back to February. One month ago. It’s still Winter. Kuramae, Tokyo. It’s not quite as cold as January, but brisk enough still that if attempting to go alfresco sans bra, you may be running the risk of appearing a little pointier than usual. But where were we…

“Thanks again Dad, I’ll pay you back as soon as I’m home x” I type. I click send.

Although I feel relieved to see my bank account return to credit, the oncoming guilt that I get on the rare occasions I ask my parents for money rushes through me like a fever. In order to temporarily assuage my guilt, I FaceTime my boyfriend. His smiling, tired, beanie-clad face appears on the screen, dimly lit in his dingy uni accommodation. He’s very busy you see, juggling a part-time job as a chef to pay rent, as well as starting his dissertation. I’m proud of him. I can’t wait to see him graduate in front of our city’s cathedral this summer

He tells me about his day, it’s been the usual: “Uni, uni, uni, fish, fish, fish (he works in a seafood restaurant), pot noodle and a ciggie for dinner at 12am,” etc. I end the FaceTime with a smile.

“See you in three days!” I type. As I tronk downstairs to make myself some dinner, my friends in the kitchen of our hostel are discussing a new virus that’s broken out in Wuhan, China.  It’s probably nothing, I think to myself, dreaming of home, seeing my family and boyfriend and starting a new job… Crap! Lost in my daydream, I’d crucified the instant ramen I had neglected to stir. Perhaps the burnt bits can double as a seasoning?

There are very few instant noodles in the supermarkets now. Those packets of pasta, loaves of bread, hand sanitisers and toilet rolls have been replaced with empty shelves.  I know because I’m stocking those shelves daily at 6am, having been drafted into the temporary workforce for food suppliers in a local supermarket.

Yes, I am incredibly grateful to have a job and an income.

No, Sheila, for the final time, I don’t know when we will have another delivery of toilet roll.

Now if you’re still with me, I’d like for us to jump back one final time to March, one week ago. Spring is finally here, Canterbury, South East England.

I’m walking down the high street when I check my phone to find out I’ve become unemployed indefinitely. I’d been juggling several jobs but working in hospitality came to a grinding halt when Boris Johnson advised UK citizens to avoid pubs, clubs and bars. I had been working at two different independent businesses which closed almost immediately. I felt isolated because of my lack of income and social interaction. You can’t do anything when you don’t know when or if you’ll get your next pay-check.

On my way to meet my boyfriend from work, I grabbed an iced latte from Café Nero. While I waited for him in the restaurant, I chatted to some of my old colleagues. They bemoaned how business has been slow lately. “At least you still have a job!” I quipped, waving my P45 like a sad crumbled flag.

Two days later, that restaurant closed. So did Café Nero and a lot of businesses in our town. My boyfriend is unemployed and his university is closed. You can’t work as a chef when the restaurants are shut. I want to hold his hand, but what if that spreads the virus further?

I’m sorry to sound so bleak.

Coronavirus has not just been a physical disease but an agent of disruption in all spheres of life. It revels as it laps hungrily at our sense of purpose, like a Potteresque dementor. It cackles as it drains our bank accounts down to dangerous levels and laughs maniacally as it stretches out a twisted decaying hand, fingers reaching slowly, but purposefully, for the wrinkled throats of our elderly grandparents.

Life in lockdown for me is fortunate – with financial support from my dad and my family, I’m safe and sound so far. But I speak from my experience alone. Life as we know it, is altered and keeps altering quicker than we can understand. Covid19 has spread like a poisonous fog over our planet and aims to choke us.

But we are the lucky ones. If you can, have some perspective. Think of Anne Frank hiding in Amsterdam from the evil of Nazi persecution. Think of our grandfathers, hunched in the trenches, wet from the rain, blood on their hands and mud in their mouths, fighting for their lives. Now is the time to be kind.

Vi siamo vicini con il pensiero.

Nuestros pensamientos estἁn con ustedes.

Let us send our thoughts to Italy and France, to China and now the US: their losses have been numerous and devastating. Let us send our best to the frontline workers. Let us stop panic buying. Let us find delights in the mundane as we self-isolate. Let us remain hopeful for the future. And, most importantly, let us please watch the daffodils and sunflowers blossom from our living room windows, helping our NHS protect the vulnerable so that next springtime we can hold hands again.

Photo by Benjamin Combs

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