By Sunila Galappatti
I am restless, dissipated, finally feeling confined. Suddenly it feels too much to live and eat and work and play in the same room. To some degree, we did it before lockdown too, but it feels different now. I suddenly find I can’t concentrate on work when my husband and son are negotiating a jigsaw or reading a story or arguing behind me. Then I find it hard in turn to think of activities for my son when my husband takes his allocated hours at the computer. I wouldn’t dream of complaining about these things.
I haven’t carried a handbag since March. I don’t really need to – I rarely go anywhere on my own anymore. My husband and I go shopping once a week between 10 and 12 on Friday morning while our son is with his grandmother. We go masked and armed with sanitiser and that slightly pressed feeling we have when out in public now, anxious, hot and trying not to touch the itchy cotton stretched across our faces. If we run out of something midweek, we don’t replace it. Because of a stray vulnerability I am especially shielded – I go out less than my husband does, I also don’t drive. Our son who might need it most, goes out least of all.
If we’re up early enough and enthusiastically enough, we walk in the park while it’s empty. The three year old wears a mask only as an accessory, not to be left out. We can afford to let him pull it on and off, hallmarks of bad mask practice, only because the risk of infection is evidently low in Sri Lanka at the moment. We go to visit another part of our family, we have been to the houses of three sets of friends. Tonight we counted – since the middle of May when the lockdown eased in our ‘high-risk’ part of Sri Lanka, we’ve been to 17 different places including a supermarket, a market, a pharmacy, three ATMs, two parks, the edge of a forest and the ocean. We started with the ocean and took a few weeks to succumb to the supermarket. It seems like a lot of places when we count them on our fingers but who would have imagined previously we could trace two months of movement on our fingers or even remember at all. We now live on tiny planet confined to its axis, the horizon a measured two metres away.
Last night, while Kusal was working I talked to two friends on the phone, something I’ve rarely done in recent years. It reminded me of the way we talked to friends on the phone when we were young – trying to make sense of the life we found around us.
The first friend I spoke to was in London, we have known each other since we were 18. She rang already laughing, after reading a disgruntled text message I’d sent. We compared notes and narrowed it down to a sense of abandon we are missing from life as we knew it before. ‘It isn’t even that I would necessarily want to be in muddy field at a music festival,’ she said, ‘I’m just conscious that I may never do anything like that again’. I said ‘I just wish I could do something unplanned – nowadays I go out for purpose, I never sidetrack into something else.’ We have learnt a lot about contentment of late but lost some exuberance.
The next friend I spoke to lives just twenty minutes’ across the city. We talked about the feeling that people have made it through lockdown and emerged into trouble. So many people we know have fallen and broken bones since the end of lockdown. We know the worst of everything is yet to come but some part of these last months – the uncertainty, grief and anger in them – is already coming home to roost.
This morning at the supermarket, Kusal and I bumped into several people we know (this is not unusual in Colombo). But we were all awkward – happy to see each other but what do we talk of now? Our easiest conversation was with a woman we barely know – whom we’d seen almost every day through lockdown because our children befriended each other playing on the empty street outside our houses. I felt faintly compelled to explain our embarrassingly heaped trolleys – that this particular morning we were re-stocking dry goods to prepare for a second lockdown should it come. But then I glanced at our friends’ trollies and they didn’t look all that different.
I have nothing to complain of but I’m conscious of losing focus. During the lockdown we had a gentleness, we always ate with our child, we spent quiet times playing board games with him, we cycled in our deserted streets, we looked after each other, we were all present. We felt closer to the rest of the world then than we do now – conscious it was there, quieted. Now we feel the distance, the world is peopled and noisy but at arm’s length. We often wonder where a day has got to, our parenting is at its lowest ebb, we shout at our child, he rages back. There is no stillness to be found in the house though we search and search for it.