Day 19 in isolation, or is it day 20? I’ve lost count now as every minute, hour and day muddles into one. Short, quiet nights are rudely interrupted by streams of sunlight creeping under the shutters- sunlight we can only admire from behind the glass of the window.
Scooping up my drowsy baby I make my way to the living room, cats at my feet, and walk to the balcony. Throwing the doors open wide, I let in the clean and unpolluted air and the deafening silence from the street below. The trees outside, barren for months now, are starting to sprout with green and eager buds. I smile to myself as I think that these nubile plants have more freedom than me for now.
I place my daughter down on the carpet and she amuses herself with a stack of coloured wooden blocks. She sits contentedly, cooing like the wood pigeons that I can now hear clearly as there is no chaotic beeping, honking, chatter and sirens to drown them out.
Switching on the coffee machine, the sweet smell reaches my nose and I hum a leftover melody from a song I heard before we had to stay at home. I cook pancakes and hand them to my daughter who happily stuffs the warm, cooked batter into her smiling mouth.
Taking my coffee, I sit on the balcony and observe the street below. Every day at around this time, a solitary man staggers past. Red-faced and dishevelled he shouts at the closed shop windows as he passes, conversing with the air around him. The two bored-looking policemen that sit on the roundabout, watching and waiting for anyone but him, don’t give him a second glance.
Rising to my feet, shooing the cats away from the ledge, I retreat inside. For the next few hours, my daughter climbs all over me- pulling my hair, planting wet kisses on my head, and grabbing at my face. In between her enthusiastic outbursts interspersed with singing, I scroll through the news and reply to questions from concerned residents. There is little information available to foreigners and I do my best to inform them.
My apartment is quite big and full of light, but these days it feels so small. I could describe every inch of it in the minutest detail- the brush strokes on the art, the threads on the qilims, the inevitable cat hairs that dance in the slight breeze from the crack in the window. I pace up and down, absentmindedly picking up, putting down, thumbing, examining and looking. I tidy, I rearrange, I sit and stare at the blank wall.
After some hours, my daughter is tired so I lay her down in her crib. She snuffles sweetly as she sleeps, exhaling with far more feeling than a carefree baby should have.
Logging onto my computer with another coffee in my hand, I start to write. Read, write, publish, share, read, write, publish, share. Repeat.
As the hours pass and the updates keep coming, I feel a ball of anxiety growing in my chest. After each announcement, I find myself taking a moment to tell myself to be calm. It will pass. Things will change. Everything will be ok. Breathe.
The restrictions are getting tougher now. We can only go outside to the grocery or pharmacy during two short windows of time. I know it’s necessary, I understand why, but it’s still hard to process.
I just keep praying to myself that it passes soon and that things go back to the way they were before. I hope all these restrictions will be lifted. I think of what the future holds, how long this could go on for, and my smiling child with her blissful innocence and obliviousness to what is happening around her.
I miss our walks. Her in her wrap bouncing, staring, smiling and warbling. Me enjoying the vibrancy of the city around us. I miss wandering through the streets, taking photos and smiling at people I know. Stopping for coffee in a small cafe, making small talk in broken Shqip, and thanking kind strangers for the “marshalla” directed at my child. I miss bumping into an old friend, or a new one, exchanging pleasantries and small talk. I miss browsing shops and vegetable stalls, picking up bargains or sweet treats to devour back at home. I miss the dirty chaos that comes with living in a big city, yet sometimes and somehow I almost find myself embracing this enforced peace.
I try to be positive. To relax and enjoy the time that we have been given to exist without many of the pressures of everyday life. I remind myself that I am fortunate not to be out of work and I feel sadness for those whose lives and incomes are being devastated by the pandemic.
I try to stop my mind from wandering, from speculating, from imagining. I know there will be time for that later, to ask more questions, to demand more answers but for now, we must stay inside. It is my job to ask questions and seek answers, but for now, I have none. We must stay inside.
Another dead, another 15 infected. Another country on lockdown, another border closed. Tens become hundreds, hundreds become thousands, and thousands become…I hope to myself that it doesn’t come to that.
I try to stay calm with those that misinform, that don’t understand and who care more for the temporary restriction on liberty than they do the people around them. Again, I try to stop my mind from wandering.
As evening falls and everyone sleeps but me, I retreat once more to my balcony. My platform, my space, my only way to get to the outside world. Some stray dogs in the street below seem to be having some kind of meeting, barking, and growling before scampering away into the blackness of the abandoned streets.
I breathe in the quiet, the calm, the cool air and I take a long sip of heady red wine that just confuses my already confused mind.
Tomorrow is one day closer to this ending.