My balcony has filled up with sand. Barely three arm-spans long and one arm-span wide, it’s a space I’d taken for granted, using it only to dust the sand off towels, and take a gasp of air when working up to deadlines. But today, on the balmy fifth day of quarantine, I’m out here, looking at the sea, which continues, in spite of everything.
Five days into confinement, I have never felt so powerless as a human being, and fancy trading in my body for a more avian form. The seagulls, pigeons, and chubby little brown birds, who hop all about this city, and whose name I never bothered to learn, are free to go, gather and take zig-zagging paths, unquestioned. They’re also (as far as I know) completely immune to coronavirus. Their smugness is evident in song that is ever chirpier and shriller: it’s spring, the days are longer, and this time, there are far fewer humans to disrupt the party.
I am an animal too, of the corralled variety. For the first time on my balcony, I’m properly paying attention to the beings living opposite: the man with binoculars facing the ocean, the gym-addicted smoker who wears superhero pyjamas, the older woman in her pink bathrobe, the girl decking out the table-cloth, making the pigeons scatter. We’re all guided by instinct out to the sun, to glance warily at each other, because after all, we’re strangers ( and this is the Basque country, not Andalusía). Every night at 8pm, we clap and cheer for the health workers, and are united by something, that as of a week ago, affects us all. In some ways, we’re forced to copy the birds, who never had any illusion of being in control, and pardon the cliché, flock together. It’s by remembering the others in my species – those who are strange to me, as well as familiar, that I can be accepting of the current restrictions on my freedom, a policeman bringing me back in line; when I take that extraneous step on my outing to the grocery store.
Right now, it’s time to be a roosting bird, and clean the sand off my balcony, which nowadays isn’t just a spot of airy relief, but an extension of my nest.
This is my second post about being quarantined in San Sebastián. As this situation will continue indefinitely, it likely won’t be my last