It seems that each day brings with it a new source of anxiety, as much as you want to keep a cool head.
A pleasant dinner and a cancelled picnic
Yesterday a friend called inviting me to dinner with him and his girlfriend, something we had agreed to do when they next came to Lisbon. They have been living in a small city up North with no virus detected cases yet and travelled by car. I bluntly told him I wasn’t going to a restaurant. He said okay, then we go and get the food and eat it at my place (an apartment that has been closed for some time) so I went along, with all the precautions: no kisses, no hugs, no touching, but then of course he laid the food on the table, and, even if we weren’t too near, as the table was a big one, I cannot help think – did I do the right thing, or should I have stayed at home?
Still, what a pleasant evening, standing outside at the balcony of an 11th floor and seeing the city at my feet, the river and the bridge in the distance and even a small glimpse of the Cristo-Rei statue, a huge statue of Jesus Christ facing the city of Lisbon with His arms open. It was built on behalf of all Portuguese mothers to thank Jesus that their sons did not have to go to war during WWII (Portugal was a neutral country). How we need Your protection again, I prayed silently.
Before dinner, as we drank a Gin tonic, and during the delicious meal (cold roast beef and chips) we completely forgot about these troubling times we are going through, and it seemed all was normal. But, unfortunately, it isn’t, and as I got back home, I was anxiously washing my hands because I had touched the elevator button, the doorknob, and so on and so on…
Yesterday my friends Beli and Gaby suggested a picnic in a park this afternoon, all within safe distances and so on… Somehow this morning as I woke up it seemed an absurd thing to do, and not long after there was a message from Gaby saying she was calling it off. I was relieved, as I was planning on doing the same.
Then my phone rang, and it was my cousin, who is a doctor. He spoke with a grave voice, saying he wanted to tell me what precautions to take. And one of them he said, is “Stay at home, stay at home, stay at home. Do not go out unless it is absolutely necessary! And if you do, do not touch anything unless you really have to, and have your disinfectant always with you!” I asked about him, how doctors were protecting themselves and was reassured to confirm that – unlike what I had been told yesterday by another doctor’s wife – he and his colleagues are duly protected, with masks and all the necessary paraphernalia. He added that this is a highly, highly contagious virus and also that some people may carry it without symptoms – that I already knew – never contracting the disease but passing it on. He also mentioned that it is very dangerous because when it causes pneumonia it causes a bilateral one – in the two lungs, which is not usual in other similar diseases. When I asked him if a walk in the park was allowed, he said no, we should all stay home. He added that in Spain the authorities have drones flying over the city’s spaces to send people home.
He added there was no way to be prepared for this virus, as its behaviour is completely different from Avian flu or SARS. The only way to avoid catastrophe is to contain it, and apparently its peak in Portugal is only expected for May, which really seems a long time.
I thanked him for his call and felt disheartened. Portugal and Spain are closing borders and I wonder how goods will come into the country, food and other stuff, in the months ahead. Pharmacies already have shortage of medicines and others are being rationed. There is a maximum number of people allowed inside supermarkets and online orders have raised so drastically that they are taking more than a week (and I believe more with each day that passes).
The I turn on the TV and the news are, as expected, that numbers are increasing – now we have more than 200 confirmed cases. A doctor is being interviewed and he stressed the importance, not only of washing and disinfecting hands but also of cleaning surfaces, door knobs, objects that we often touch. For these a detergent will do; another crucial word is clean, clean, clean. When I think that only two weeks ago we were still leading a normal life… Stupidly unaware of what the following days would bring.
One day after another
Tomorrow I will have to drop by the office to get some copies essential for my work, that I cannot print at home. I’ll come back straight away. I’ll tell dear Mimi (who has been with us for so many years and helped raise the boys) to stay home, and the boys will stay at their Dad’s in his house by the sea, 40 kilometres form Lisbon. Afonso will have to come to hospital to take out his stitches (and we pray all is well this time!) and he will have to be very careful not to touch anything, but it’s something he will have to do. I’ll come with him of course.
So, life goes on, on day 5 after the declaration of pandemic. Outside, the sun shines and I see the tree leaves move with the breeze, a breeze I won’t feel on my face. Nor will the sun shine on me today. As we have been indifferent to the suffering we have been causing Mother Nature these past decades, so is she indifferent to our human plight at this time. No matter what viruses and plagues assail us, the Earth will continue its journey around the sun, day will follow night and night will follow day. Spring will come, to nobody’s joy this year. Maybe, maybe when Summer arrives it will bring a little hope.
My spirits are low. I feel drained of energy. This cannot be. Writing is cathartic, so this is what I must do. I will close this diary for today, and dive into my book, and time travel to other, much kinder times, when I was young and the life I pictured before me held many wonderful dreams, and nightmares such as the one we are going through only belonged in the realm of science fiction.