Its 11am and I’m in Gibraltar peering over my parent’s fourth-floor balcony.
The street below me is empty, lifeless.
Its the time of day when I would previously watch people swarm the streets like bees round a honeypot. Sounds of laughter, conversations and lively music, due to the organist stationed right outside my parent’s block of flats.
Its March 13th, and it isn’t an average day, it’s the first week of lockdown and the streets below are empty. Cafe’s, bars. retailers, perfumery shops now all closed without a signal of when it will end.
It’s a scene that in my 52 years of returning to visit my birthplace Gibraltar, I have not seen before. Not through any terrorist attacks or political unrest.
Yet this British peninsular at the tip of Spain is on lockdown and I feel as if I’m watching a parallel universe.
I’ve had no coronavirus symptoms, but remain isolated with my elderly parents awaiting my airline’s decision to send rescue flights to bring passengers like myself back to London.
Anxious days waiting to be reunited with my daughter who is waiting for me in London. Torn between my parents in Gibraltar and my daughter abroad.
My attachment to the old world I knew slowly losing its grip as I resist the transition to a new way of living. I feel I’ve regressed to a state of partial displacement.
There is so much I’m feeling right now.
After days of anxiously refreshing my e-mail inbox for news from my airline, I’ve been notified that I can finally leave Gibraltar.
I’m not sure if to be sad or relieved as I rush around to pack a suitcase with all my necessities, whilst feebly saying a heartbreaking goodbye to my 95-year-old parents sitting in their tiny flat.
My mum held out her wrinkled arm, whilst I hang on to the waft of her perfumery which lingered within the warm air. I wanted to package every smell, token and emotion to take away.
My fathers wave as he sat immobile on his preferred place on the sofa, confused, not understanding why I couldn’t pause to give him a hug. I tried to recall all the other times I have said goodbye to them. Remembering what these hugs, kisses and touch felt like.
Today there is no hug, no kiss, no touch. This simple act of love which I crave is forbidden.
As I compose myself in the lift descending down their block of flats, I sob like a child, not knowing when I will see them again.
I arrived at an almost empty airport and upon entering the plane waiting on the tarmac (with very few people on board) it hits me that there is no way back from my decision to leave.
I had abandoned Gibraltar on Lockdown not knowing what scenario would await me at my destination.
As I touch down on British soil, the lockdown in London is enforced within 24 hours.
I have left one restriction to commence another.
At this moment, I wish I could have stuffed everyone in a suitcase so I could isolate with all the people I love, but just not possible.
My daughter’s open arms await me in London.
Momentarily we forget we can’t embrace, yet it’s Mother’s Day. I have said goodbye to my own mother barely hours ago, unable to hug her, and now my daughter is facing the same conundrum with me.
As I sit back in my daughter’s car, I stare out of the window where I’m met by the same theme of deserted streets that I left behind in Gibraltar.
This made the loss of the world I knew feel even stronger. I don’t recognise who we are, where we are or who we’ve become anymore. The world I inhabited pre-March is no longer the world we’re in. Our homes and countries physically look the same, but the background noise by which it all existed is missing.
This has triggered a sense of loss which is difficult to articulate.
The human race has now been divided into different categories.
Those who have had coronavirus and survived it, those who have succumbed to the virus and haven’t survived, and those who have never had it (I’m in the latter camp).
We tend to slot ourselves into one of these categories. Some wear it proudly and others with shame.
I seem to be waiting for this invisible virus to either ignore or choose me as it sees fit. Like sitting ducks waiting to be picked, but this time, I prefer to be rejected from this fate.
I believe we will divide life into two separate periods
Life before and after coronavirus.
The news reports have been converted into death lists, as day upon tedious day, the figures of mortalities are announced. We, in turn, listen to the figures as if listening to the lottery results.
In days gone by, I used to complain about the celebrity gossip included within the news reports, yet I miss those days of normalcy. Give me any celebrities disclosure of affairs, divorces and politicians indiscretions rather than this.
As soon as I awaken, there is only one goal I have in mind.
This goal has to take into account the time of day when I can avoid most people, as I must not come into contact with anyone. Taking the dog for its daily walk or popping to the shops for a kilo of grapes now requires military precision.
Yet I want to bump into people, I crave the connection, the conversations; the hustle and bustle of life are what I miss most. All the background sounds that accompanied my day.
Kids running noisily to school, the noise of busy traffic and men running hastily to synagogue for early morning prayer whilst double parking their cars on my street. I will never complain of this again.
Throughout the turbulence in my life, those sounds have always been the comforting background music which gave my life rhythm, routine and security.
Instead, nature has now become my comfort blanket.
The birds still awaken with their cacophony of sounds at the same hour. The grass is growing in my small back yard at the same rate it always did, and flowers have blossomed to reveal a selection of beautiful coloured roses and daffodils.
Spring season doesn’t wait, it continues its schedule regardless.
It’s routine doesn’t stop when ours has.
I watch a Netflix series as a distraction from the lockdown and watch the actors sitting side by side in a cafe ordering cappuccinos whilst chatting noisily. I watch with envy at their relaxed demeanour.
I watch this unfold, turn to my daughter blankly and say;
“Do you remember those days when we could drink frothy lattes in a cafe and socialise with friends?’
It’s not a question I would imagine asking six months ago, but I have developed such a sensitivity to what is now forbidden, that I’m baffled when I bear witness to it.
I’ve now been on lockdown for a total of four weeks. One week in Gibraltar and three weeks in London, and I recall what is absent with nostalgia.
At times I adapt to the new normal and this is both comforting and troubling.
I’m shaken by how quickly the abnormal (humans wearing gloves and a mask in a supermarket swerving trolleys to avoid other humans) became normality.
I guess this is how people are absorbed into cults; what seemed ludicrous behaviour at your initiation is normality by the time you spend a month within the confines of this.
I believe we’re all feeling a sense of unspoken grief.
A collective loss, and since our minds are occupied with getting food, paying bills and entertaining the kids, we might not even have acknowledged it yet.
Yet there are so many emotions that the lockdown has awakened.
Loss, anger, resentment, confusion, derailment, apathy, numbness, disbelief. I could go on and on.
The world has changed and instead of resisting it, I begin to surrender to what is rather than what isn’t. It’s not easy, but I know that this will be the healthiest way of processing.
The world has always been unpredictable, we’ve just never noticed it as we’ve been too busy, too distracted and preoccupied. We might have kept our lives tightly controlled through a variety of methods.
After all, there are a multitude of App’s created for any eventuality, giving you the illusion that you’ve got it all sorted. All under control.
But no App on your iPhone can undo the crisis we’re living through.
All the buffers used to block us from feeling life’s ups and downs have been removed, and in its place, we’ve been left socially isolated and unsure what the next step will be.
This is exposing a more vulnerable side which can invite existential questions. And this actually isn’t a bad thing.
We often view loss as negative and to be avoided at all costs. Yet I believe in giving it a voice rather than shutting it down. I focus on all those things I feel a loss for, but also where I have gained something from it.
The loss of social interactions has created more presence with my family.
The loss of work has created more resourcefulness to try something new.
The loss of routine has created a life which is less dictated by deadlines.
The loss of freedom has created more gratitude for what I do have.
Within this barrage of emotions, I notice how I’ve never felt more creative; it feels like an oxymoron. How can this be possible when nothing in life has felt more uncertain?
I’ve been writing more articles than I ever have and I’ve begun to post regular videos on Instagram with daily chapters of my book, not something I would ever have considered before.
But I’m not censoring any thoughts or feelings at the moment. If I feel sad, angry or irritated, then I let it be. If I feel creative, then I write, draw, record a video, whatever the creative expression needs, I allow it to come forth.
I believe in post-traumatic growth. Yes, it’s possible to grow from struggle, strife, uncertainty and crisis; and I’m not speaking personally, but globally.
We’re sitting in more uncertainty than ever, but we’re also more connected than we’ve ever been. The pandemic has transcended culture, religion and language and this is unifying in ways I’ve never experienced.
Despite my musings and reflections of lockdown, I remain hopeful that we will come out of this a stronger unit than ever before.