Six feet away
Manila— I just came from a walk in the rain. The Philippines was experiencing its first typhoon that was devastating a number of provinces upon making landfall, while a lesser storm signal hoisted over Metro Manila brought drizzles with cold winds that temporarily offset the summer heat. I didn’t open my umbrella as I wanted to feel the little icy raindrops on my skin.
The few people I met on the street also seemed to enjoy the rainy weather. No one bothered to use an umbrella. Even behind their face masks, I could see them smiling because of the comfortable temperature while we distanced ourselves upon approaching each other.
I took a different route from my regular walk. I saw some food outlets already open for delivery, pickup or takeout. I looked at Dunkin’s pre-boxed donuts for sale, but I didn’t like the choices; so, I moved along. Why do they put so much topping on donuts? Then I checked a roast chicken stall. I didn’t like chicken at that moment, perhaps because I wasn’t hungry.
Then I saw the drugstore-grocery. I stopped and stood six feet behind the last person in line, who, it turned out, was familiar. We talked for a while. Our exchange of pleasantries was the same of two people seeing each other after a long time, but the gestures were different and strange. We talked from six feet apart, our arms on our sides. We tried to stifle our excited voices, but the distance between us didn’t help much
I’m lucky to be staying in a business area where there are no crowds of residents, that’s why there’re no policemen on duty to check on IDs and quarantine passes. I’m lucky that I can go out freely, unlike in areas where people are given little time to buy essentials in the supermarket and where things get stressful because of the crowds and the discomfort.
The empty streets with rows of closed establishments have been my world for more than two months now since the city was placed on a lockdown. I walk these streets with the thought that they were once crowded, that they were pulsating with life after dark. On these streets, the sight of jeepneys maneuvering around cars for space gave a measure of comfort to people looking for places to dine in, smoke, drink or have a conversation.
When I reached home, the rains came down in torrents. As I took pains washing and cleaning up my clothes and the stuff that I bought, I thought of how long these health and precautionary activities required of us will become habits and rituals for a long time, or for life.
Health and science experts say it will be like this for something like forever, with the way viruses move and the way our environment has changed. They say minimizing contact will disable people and eventually make them lonely and isolated, causing their natural defenses to deactivate. But they cite creative instances where people in many parts of the world express their determination to fight.
I see on social media little stories of strength and hope. So, I won’t mind doing the preventive and protective measures for years. I also don’t mind conversing with friends in front of a screen. I’m just sad about the way we will continue to live as social beings, right now in a lonely planet where we cannot even touch each other anymore because we are six feet apart and away from each other.
Diana Mendoza is a journalist based in Manila. Send feedback to email@example.com