9 June, Colombo, Sri Lanka

By Sunila Galappatti

Sri Lanka announced today the dates for reopening schools, staggered through July.  The Elections Commission will announce a date for the General Election this week.  The airport is set to receive incoming flights from 1 August.  The red line for new cases (all from quarantine centres, we’re told) and the green line for recoveries keep crossing on the graph, neck and neck in the race.  In theory, we’re unlocked.

My husband and I keep having the same conversation in circles – shall we decide it’s ok to see a few friends? We make the same arguments in favour – it does genuinely seem like there is no spread in the community now, we may as well get out a bit before the airport re-opens in August and there could be another lockdown, we’ll keep the circle small for what it’s worth. And yet instead of making a decision, we just have the conversation again. Without discussing it expressly, we don’t take our son to the supermarket.

The truth is we neither know what we’re waiting for – what is different today than it was last week – nor what it is we really want to do.  The place we really wanted to go we managed to go once – what do we do next? I don’t think it is really the fear of adding to transmission or becoming infected ourselves, it is the knowledge that this isn’t over, either the pandemic or its many lethal side-effects.  While we feel suspended it is hard to make plans or have ideas. Little things occur to me.  This morning I said I’d like to get some pyjamas made for our son, and then immediately thought — well later, of course.

All week we have been buoyed by the courage and tenacity of the Black Lives Matter protests, it feels the world has begun turning again.  It has brought life to us even as we contemplate the death of protest and opposition immediately around us.  We talk about politics in snatches, the politics of different places in turn and the politics of the world at large — we always talked but we agree we talk to each other even more now. Knowing it is the height of privilege to do so, a sign that the pandemic did not really touch our life (not yet), we are disappointed how normal ‘normal’ looks, disappointed about the things that haven’t been forced to change.  Occasionally, I force myself to look again and register the masks that hide half of everyone’s faces.

When I feel bored by the monotonous domesticity of our days – while more often I feel contented and lucky – I wonder if for the first time in my life I am craving art according to its first principles.  Over the last few months I have felt unprompted rushes of gratitude that I spent the first part of my adult life in the sprawling, teeming, city of London – in my mind a sort of ultimate antithesis to social distancing.  Curiously, I keep revisiting one night in a tiny dangerously crowded bar on Hanway Street dancing to fabulously eclectic music.  To those who know the place, we had been at Bradleys till closing, and then stumbled into the Troy bar because it was there.  I may even have been over 30.

Twice in my life I have looked ‘back’ on my past – the first was when I met my husband and felt a shift in the techtonic plates: very suddenly everything that had come before became my ‘past’.  This is the second time.  I feel relieved that to a fault I’ve always spent what time and money I had to spare on other people, the arts, food and travel – or shall we say the performance of life itself.  And we have lived that way as a family too – we went on too many road trips, had too many parties.  The last we had was our customary leap year party on the 29th of February (each time it comes round).  It was a huge, crowded party, and we can’t believe now that we didn’t think of cancelling it. Sri Lanka had only seen one case of Covid-19 at the time.  A Chinese woman who was visiting then showed symptoms, but by the time of our party she had already recovered and gone home.  Two weeks later we had our first ‘local’ case, as it was called – a tour guide who had contracted the disease from a party of travellers from Italy; within days we locked down. 

This evening in the park we see children for the first time since the start of the lockdown – and so many of them at once.  This park is just minutes’ walk from our house and we have been many times as two lone adults and a small child in completely quieted park.  But tonight there are two small boys fishing in the pond, two small girls swinging on the exercise machines, others running.  Kavan asks if he can join them and ruefully we tell him, not yet, ‘because of the quarantine’.  Our child is not naturally obedient, I’m struck that he heeds us, something about the gravity of quarantine has struck a little deeper. 

We have the conversation again, we think we’ve made some decisions.