He was among the first signs of life I saw this morning. Clad in a t-shirt, jeans, and white face mask, he hefted a family-size pack of toilet paper under each arm.
This plaza, with its three strips of dog feces-laden grass, is the closest we have to a park. It has its regulars; the old men who come to play checkers, mothers lining the benches as their children play, the guys drinking cans at all hours. It’s a working-class neighborhood and this meager plaza is very much a part of the daily social fabric.
I know the people here by their dogs. Three Scruffy Terriers is buying a handful of pills from some guys on a bench. Shaggy Shiz Tsu is trying to break up yet another scrap with a passing pooch. Seated on my own bench, my observations are interrupted by a voice.
“No trabajas hoy?”
“No, y la semana que viene tampoco,” I reply, smiling slightly with familiarity.
Blue-Eyed Border Collie never passes up the opportunity to have a chat with me. Usually there with his puppy in the mornings, I see him fairly regularly when I take Maisie out before work. He sits down on the bench next to mine, his wrinkled blue eyes, as icy as his dog’s, hidden behind shades.
The line at the Mercadona started at 7 am this morning, he told me. For a store that opens at 9. It’s an illness, he says. He went to buy eggs and potatoes, and everything was gone. People were pushing carts stacked with cases of beer, flan. It was senseless.
I ask him if he thinks there will be a quarantine. Gazing across the plaza he says nonchalantly that if things continue to advance the way they do, there probably will be.
And just like that, I see the news this evening. The government is slated to enact a nationwide lockdown tomorrow morning. Only stores selling food will be open. Only essential travel is permitted.
The Valencian Community has shut down schools for an indefinite amount of time. I was told not to come in. My co-teachers didn’t have much information but they said they would let me know should things change.
So, here I am. I have an acceptable amount of food, the necessary creature comforts, and now unlimited time on my hands. I told myself it would be best if I had some structure. Schedule off some time during the day to do a bit of exercise. Devote time to studying Spanish, Dutch, Anatomy & Physiology. Write. Read. I’m not easily bored staying at home, especially in such a comfortable flat, but I think this isolation might start to nag at me. If I’m not careful, I’ll turn around and realize a week has gone by and I haven’t hardly left my bed.
I will have a daily escape though. I’ll still need to walk the dog.
Tonight, as we headed out on our usual route, I passed an elderly man, mask half off his face as he stood in the doorway of his building. He talked to a woman just inside. Motioning toward the square his sentence trails off.
“It’s normally full of people…” he says with disbelief.
And on a Saturday evening, it usually is – kids screaming, kicking soccer balls late into the night as groups of adults congregated around benches chat together. Now there are only a few stragglers who, after realizing that will be no party, drift out as they came in.
My downstairs neighbor’s singing will kill me before this virus does. But in a way, it’s reassuring to hear the sounds of life around me as I countdown to the unknown.