Manila— I realized that things became different the moment I looked at the items on the table during my first coffeeshop visit six months into the lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. I had a tall to-go cup of coffee beside a takeout paper bag containing a slice of banana bread, (because the dine-in plate, fork and knife were already a no-no), and a small glass of warm water.
Beside those stuff was my face shield, a small bottle of spray alcohol and my face mask inside the paper bag provided by the barista, who politely requested me to stay for only 30 minutes or one-hour tops, as per health protocols. The takeout, ready-to-go food arrangements and the request— which was more of a directive — not to linger were my only options.
So, my coffeeshop visits have changed, and so is my life. In my first few meetups with close friends, our face shields mingled with the plates and utensils on the dining table, and we talked with plexiglasses dividing us. In the most recent get together, we dined while our overseas-based friend joined us virtually through a video call.
But that’s alright; I took deep breaths while I did things I didn’t choose to do. We all did, and still do. In 2020, we all lived dangerously; the year we told ourselves things would be better when all these are over, even if we didn’t know what these were and when they would be over.
But time marched on and it’s 2021. Most of us don’t want to look back at the year past that showed us a world that looked like our nightmares, but I do because the year that just ended was also the time that I realized I needed so little to survive the day-to-day. I lived with only a few clothes, footwear and bags. I wrapped and put aside the unused pairs of shoes; some of them are chipping off. I packed most of my unused clothes in my suitcases, so if we’re all going someplace or some planet where the deadliest virus in living memory is not going to stalk us, I’m ready.
The first few weeks of the hard lockdown were quiet and frightening, but I liked that time because I was able to hear my thoughts, and that helped me heal a little bit. I miss the empty, lonely streets; there was a certain calmness in the unsettling surroundings.
Most people want to go back to what they deemed as normal, or the way things were. I would want that too, but I think I would rather go back only to the things that are worth rushing back to. I have figured out some of those things; the others I have yet to ascertain.
Although I will welcome 2021 with the way I looked in 2020 – with a face mask, fogged eyeglasses and the harsh load of a face shield— I will be rushing back to the way I was, with the same prayers and dreams.
Because it’s a new year, we know that some of us are heading anew for blunders and broken hearts. Some of us are already seeing the faint flicker of our expected horizons. And like any other new year, we know that 2021 will get lonely sometimes, but the excitement continues. It won’t hurt if we start living in it.
Diana G. Mendoza is a freelance journalist based in Manila. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org