If unchallenged, I tend to fall into routine. I like to do things over and over again, laying down time and experience like a mille crepe cake. I am very good at the deep-dive, the excavation and the marvel of the everyday, the plumbing of the depths.
The lockdown is throwing this into relief, like the sun setting at an off-angle, the shadows cast differently. I walk the dog and buy vegetables, same as always. But there is something discordant in the air.
Yesterday was the first day that the new measures fell into place. The wet market was crowded almost like normal, but everyone manoeuvred around each other with great delicacy, like first-time drivers on the road, fawnlike and fragile. Giving each other plenty of room, quick to give way.
I used to smile at passersby, hoping they would be charmed by Chai, but now I step aside quietly and give them berth to pass. Both acts are acts of care, I think, in different ways. I am the enemy, the asymptomatic enemy, and I must keep myself apart from all these fragile older folks. And yet I am vulnerable too, who knows who has spat here, the other day I licked my finger to pull apart a doggy poop bag, habitual, and felt a lurch of unease in my stomach. I have become my own enemy, I am on both sides of the war, attacking, defending, sparring with ghosts.
I used to see the neighbourhood cast of characters when I walked the dog, but now, not as much anymore. I think about Auntie Rosalind and how she would come down for a workout, then do the crossword at the senior activity center, then maybe sit at the multi-purpose hall for a while, and her weekly trips to church, and how she would have none of these for some time to come. I haven’t seen her in a long while. What an inconvenience is for me is a catastrophe to her.
In fact the other day I walked between two people sitting at the drop-off point. One an uncle with a tube in his nose. The other the nun in a wheelchair. “It’s god-ordained,” one of them said. “Yes, it’s fated,” replied the other.
One of my neighbours has just had a baby, and my other elderly neighbour’s wife is in the hospital nursing a broken ankle, so he’s alone, both encapsulated in bubbles of isolation and anxiety and fear.
Mo is home now all the time. We set up work stations and share lunch. My desk faces the window, and the rubber plant that Cat gave me when I moved in gives shape to the sky. Sometimes we cook, and at night, midnight, we take Chai out for a last walk, strolling through the empty streets. Last night the moon was dinnerplate big, a serving dish. Time slips by very fast. I wake up, feed the dog, have breakfast and shower, walk him, clean his face and paws and brush his teeth, do the laundry, put away clothes, make the bed, and suddenly it’s noon.
I can do mundane work, like cleaning up translated transcripts, or maybe read, but writing seems beyond me. I am slow, slow, slow, frustrated at the frivolity of my work, donating money online and feeling useless. My friend Yasmin tells me that her friend has been called to work on the health frontlines, and that enables her to write.
We act because we envision a future. We imagine, we project, we hope or we despair. It is fundamental to our humanness. I wrote to my boss the other day: “Everything is in flux,” and she echoed, “Yes, everything is in flux.” It is very hard to operate when the fact of life now is underpinned by vulnerability that we cannot fend off. It is beyond the economic, beyond the political, a risk, nuclear warfare, climate change, plague. Last night I dreamed that I was on a double-decker bus leaving Kathmandu, with Chai on my lap and a bag under my feet. The bus turned into an airplane and I saw the Himalayas and the open sky and water. I was trying to call my sister, I was trying to leave everything behind. Air travel, now a dream.
I FaceTime my sister every day and wave at my parents in the background. I play games with my friends online, a comfort to hear their voices over Discord. I leave messages unreplied, somehow unable to muster up the energy to connect beyond my immediate circle. I fall behind badly on work. I reread old books, refusing to read new ones. Like everyone else, I bake banana bread. I am safe, here in Singapore, in my own home, and young, and healthy, and living still an untrammelled life, but you never know, you never know. I am usually a hopeful person, scratching at the soil of my little life to find growing things. This is mostly a sad post, and I am sorry.
Things become ordinary so quickly. I want to write when I am still at the cusp of things, before I fall into the everyday on the other side.