I had it all planned, I was going to leave my job, I had been saving for months for it, and I was going to go travelling, like a free spirit, for a year or so, ready to see the wonders of the world. The last week at my work was quite emotional and the googdbye party, a pretty good one. I was ready for it, the moment I had been waiting for months. And then the bloody virus, they said, was out of control, expanding like crazy, infecting more and more people – almost like a Zombie movie situation -, collapsing the health system of more and more countries.
We had heard about the damned virus in the previous months, but it was nothing that we took seriously, because it was mostly in two or three countries very far away. But people move remarkably easy these days, so the virus starting to expand beyond the borders of those three countries in Asia. Europe started to present more and more cases, the north of Italy started to be considered a new hotspot, they were talking about confinement, just like in China. They were talking about closing the borders. That was the first of my upsetting moments. I had a trip planned to Milan for a week, I had been studying Italian in the university and it seemed just right to do a bit of an immersion, to practise my new linguistic skill. But that first trip didn’t happen, the very day I was supposed to fly they cancelled most flights. They made it public, the North of Italy was to do two or more weeks of issolation, people’s freedom of movement was limited, only for work and other unavoidable reasons.
That week I was a bit down, as my first plan had to be cancelled. But I continued to be positive about my decision of quitting a job that made me sad most of the time and the feeling that I could die any day now, so I wanted to live first. I was positive still, Spain was my next destination, and then Portugal. A couple of weeks would hopefully allow for things to calm down. Oh, how wrong I was! In only a week and a half, the spread of the virus continued, the media continued the overload of information about the topic, hysteria started to spread, even faster than the virus.
By the end of the following week, they were talking of having the capital of Spain and a couple of northern cities where the number of cases was quite acute, locked up. People panicked and with the prospect of two weeks of confinement, they fled to their holiday houses, in the coast. By doing that they took the virus to the coast, where the numbers of infected people also rocketed. It was ridiculous, the images of supermarkets being totally emptied by frenzy buyers, people joking and worrying alike on social media, and the government trying to ask for the citizens to remain calm and responsible. But people were not responsible, each for their own, they didn’t respect the confinement advise, specially for those who had symptoms, and used the freed up time to go the bar with friends, go for a walk or the beach.
As a result, as numbers of people testing positive for the virus continued to rise, the Spanish government had to declare a state of alarm, similar to the one in times of war. I was following the development of events from my home in Scotland and I found the measure surprising. People were not allowed to go in groups of more than three in the streets. People were allowed only to go from home to work or to get essentials. If people did not work in the Health service or other indispensable services, they were strongly advised to stay home. Schools were closed, all teaching and learning was to happen online. All public events were cancelled. Borders were controlled by the police and the military was also deployed in the streets to help and make sure people respected the measures.
I was in awe at all this. It was like a war situation, but all because of a virus that showed itself very similarly to the flu. Of course, there were vulnerable sectors of the population, that should they get the virus, they would have serious complications – those with underlying conditions, the elderly and those with a depressed inmune system. I understood that there was some high risk for a section of the population that would have to be specially careful. I understood that the health system was struggling to cope with all the extra patients due to the virus. But what I could not possibly understand was why the government considered necessary to stop all normal life, in order to try to bring down the numbers of ill people. I was puzzled, but most of all, I was starting to feel deeply annoyed, as I realised that my future plans to go to Spain were in jeopardy.
The following week my fears confirmed: all flights to and from Spain had been cancelled. There was no way I was going to go there now. First Italy, then Spain. My third destination in my travels was going to be Portugal, but, oh, wait for it, Portugal was also closing borders and applying similar confinement measures, despite the fact that they did not have such a big presence of the virus. They were doing it more as a precautionary measure. I was really upset by all that by then. I truly was. I thought of how sometimes people are very lucky and have good timing in all the things they choose to do and do in life. People who have a plan and then implement it and so they can be happy and pleased about it. And then there was me, who had the disposition and the ability to do stuff, but there were always external events that ended up crashing all my plans.
To top my despair up, the following week there was a estatement from the government of the UK – who until then refused to stop the normal routine and asked of people to continue working as normal -, saying that by the end of that week all schools and nurseries would close until further notice. Colleagues from my previous school messaged me in a light mood saying that I should have stayed and wait for the summer, because I was going nowhere and I would have been paid still anyway. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back – I looked at the phone and looked out of the window, and started to cry. I had not left the house in three days by then, because I had been feeling more and more down, I had been feeling that venturing out would not help me feeling better for not being able to travel to other countries. I had lost all desire to do anything at all. Firstly, when all this started and I had seen that maybe I was not going to be able to travel as much, I kept saying to myself that this was a funny cosmic joke, I also told myself that maybe I could use the time to read and, most importantly, write. I wanted to write another book, I wanted to do something about my literary career – basically getting it started. But I had not been able to write anything decent and ended up watching Netflix stuff and getting more and more obsessed with a particular actor. I was not only down, I was depressed. The days had started to be longer and for some lucky line up of the planets, the weather had been good for all that week. But I could not care less, I was home going only from the bed to the sofa, and from the sofa to the bathroom or the kitchen to satisfy basic needs.
Why? I wondered continuously, why the hell did this happen? Why was I so unlucky with my timing? This morning I received a text from another colleague from my previous job, suggesting that I find a temporary job in a supermarket, that they were looking to hire people for very short terms. I looked at the phone in dismay: why the hell would I want to work in a supermarket? I don’t want to bloody work in a supermarket, I want to bloody travel. Last night I dreamt with selling my flat and leaving this country. The prospect of having to stay here for longer is starting to look unbearable and I have to do deep breathings and try to stay calm and think: this will not go on forever.