Looking out the window

I have a friend, Cheeseboy, who returned to Melbourne a bit over a week ago and has been in hotel quarantine since.

We’re in contact regularly. He’s by himself in a small room he can’t leave, so, naturally, he gets a bit restless with it.

I remember I was out somewhere when he returned. The call came through on my mobile phone on a Thursday night, and though I had expected his return, it came as a surprise to see his name flash up on screen. He was on the bus taking him from the airport to his hotel. I could hear the creaks and groans of the bus in the background, the air breaks as they came on, the change of gear as it accelerated. It felt kind of surreal, but it also reminded me of much much more innocuous times when I’ve been on an airport bus – often, heading for unpredicted adventure.

We had a zoom chat for a couple of hours last Saturday, then connected again later to watch the A-League soccer – him in his hotel room, me at home (I had to pause my broadcast to sync). It’s pretty odd.

Since, we’ve caught up a few more times, including an hour or so last night, as well as exchanging messages throughout the week.

As you would expect, his is a quiet life. Pretty dull and uneventful actually, which is want in your hotel quarantine, I expect. He gets his meals delivered at regular intervals (5pm for dinner!), heralded by a knock on the door. He was to wait a bit then to collect it from his hotel doorstep. He hardly sees anyone, and his only personal contact is for his regular covid tests. He’s got a window that looks out over the Westgate freeway, and sometimes he’ll describe the traffic.

He has his laptop and so has returned to work remotely – as everyone else is. He’s hired an exercise bike to get some exercise and does laps of the room every day until he’s done 5,000 paces. The room is pleasant, the food not bad – though all in paper bags – and he has access to the internet and pay-TV. He orders in a real coffee occasionally and bought a bottle of wine last week. He thinks he might swap out the standard breakfast of cereal for bacon and eggs on Sunday. For a cost. He’s out next Friday, by which time hopefully all of us are out of lockdown.

He feels pretty safe, though bored and itching to get out and see his family again. I’m keen to see him too as he’s one of my best mates and I’ve missed our Saturday morning walks, as has Rigby. When we catch up next – perhaps next Saturday – he’ll have a lot to tell me, and though the routine will be familiar, so much will have changed since we last walked together – about six weeks ago.

These are definitely strange times. I imagine a time somewhere in the future when covid is a memory and we all feel safe to move around and travel and live what we used to call a normal life. I’m hoping such a time will come – I expect it will, though not the same, and in the background will be the lurking threat. But still – something different to now. How will I feel then? How will I look back upon this time?

I remember sometimes my travels to exotic places, so vivid at the time and full of experience. I cherish those memories, and there are parts of it that remain vivid to me. But still, even the vivid bits sometimes feel foreign. I was there, I did these things, I felt them, and though they were rich in memory they become one dimensional. My memory is of the feeling, but the feeling itself is lost.

Will it be like that for this pandemic? Will I look back upon it with a sense of lived experience, or will it appear to me as a strange and unlikely event? Will I feel it still? Or will it just be words? And how will it leave me? What will I have learnt from it? Will I be different in the end? When it finishes – when I get out and about and live freely – what will I feel? Relief? Liberation? Anger? Enlightened? Will I step-change into a different state of mind?

All such speculation is premature. We’re not out of it and won’t be for a while yet – and maybe we never will really. Maybe this is just the first in what will be a succession of battles with evolving biology (not to mention climate change, etc). What is the point in even wondering? Because to wonder is to hope, and to hope is to be human. And because, at some point, we must begin to conceive of what comes next.

I can’t wait. I need for there to be more, and I think that’s the same for millions.

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