Stepping outside was a sensory overload. As someone who had not stepped outside the 10 mile radius of a small Lincolnshire village for 100 days it was pretty monumental even getting on a bus. Face masks and social distancing in practice – although there were 4 people on the double decker bus including the driver.
But I found a sudden and unexpected joy in such a tiny journey. It snapped my limbs into liquid when the bus lurched forward, speeding up the slow landscape into a new light. Poppies blurring a smeary red across the fields, the hills ebbing away, the houses receding back. After months of busying myself at a desk, in a house venturing outside only to watch nature – the closest I had been to travel was pushing through a run as a breathless way of gathering speed against the inertia – there I was moving at 5omph feeling small and magic and excited again at the outside world.
We locked down in March’s bare branched silence – Spring peeling its way in, unfurling outside the window of the rented cottage, leaf by leaf. Listening to the crows. And even when Midsummer announced itself there were so many quickened hours of daylight I didn’t believe it still got dark. My faith held the elusive night’s existence in the same way I held a belief that this all could be over; that a world could exist with vaccines to guide everyone equally to safety with zero transmission rates. I still hold out a small hope that we will come through this, better and kinder.
That same unravelled thought led me to realise I couldn’t remember the last time I walked on a street in darkness – the beauty of shadows bathed in acidic yellow streetlight. Yet all through Winter I lived in the dark, inhabiting the same grey shadows commuting early doors and late nights on dark streets greeting the same worried faces on the platform under illuminated lights. Shuffling into seats and passing days, complaining at the dark sulk it let loose in me. Nothing foretold anything about what would become of these rituals when the pandemic struck. Soon all the commuters disappeared into home offices or office homes. The furloughs, the redundancies and economic gloom are just one side of the devastation wreaked by Covid – the other is a lost life behind every of the 500,000 deaths. This is the battle that weighs heavy on us all.
What did I do while the numbers on the screen raced and days passed quick as breath? Like most people I did not know what day it was and constantly thought about food while I refreshed the endless news cycle. I zoom-watched my friends and family take on new roles as caregivers, homeschoolers, super-multi-taskers and day-dreamers. In less than a few weeks the world became divided by class lines; those who knew what a sour-dough starter was and those on the front line who went out to work each day. I guiltily plodded on and wandered the green lush wonder of the landscape. I became lost as the wind howled over the flat plains, emptying out the last of what I thought mattered.
I stumbled on a railway crossing where an abandoned bar and hotel stood. Peeking through the conservatory window -the table set as if they ate breakfast, stood up and left. Bean juice dried at the edges of the plate – a violent streak of yolk on the knife where it lain unpaired from the fork. I was always taught to to set them in the middle to say you’d finished. Perhaps they never had time to finish at all.
I realised that in the high pelt of sun stalks of corn are almost blue before they yellow. I watched light pinging off glass and listened to the sound of the grass being mowed -the hum and cut of blades. I watched rare planes streak vapour trails across the sky and stood still. I learned the smell after rain is called petrichor after the Greek petra, “rock”, or petros, “stone”, and īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology. I inhaled the petrichor at dawn in a garden I first thought so vast, only to grow used to its small strange reality. The lilac blossom and scent of roses outlasted my anger. But still don’t know what day it is or how to make sour-dough.
I am sure I am not alone with nervousness towards leaving lockdown – weighing up the risks alongside the political encouragement to get back to ‘normal’. I look around at the roads filled up, pavements busy and shops open as if each one of us is living on slightly different pages of a distorted history book. Each staking a claim on the experience and working out what route to take.
Which way now?