It’s one year to the day since I felt that first serious flicker of unease; 12 full months since something called coronavirus first made its presence felt in my life.
For it was on February 25, 2020, that I was scheduled to head off for a month’s stay in Venice, travelling by boat and train, a journey that would begin with an early morning ferry from Dublin to Holyhead on the 25th and finish with me – and Dudley, my dog – stepping off the overnight train from Paris and on to the platform in Santa Lucia station in Venice on the morning of the 28th.
The day before we were due to travel there was a kerfuffle at the Austrian border over a train travelling from Italy. In the town of Vo, in the Veneto region, the first coronavirus death had been recorded a few days earlier. Other cases were also being reported in the north of the country with alarming alacrity.
An alarm bell went off in my head. So, with a heavy heart, I cancelled the trip. Probably, as things turned out in Italy, one of the smartest decisions I have ever made.
Coronavirus had arrived like an unwelcome guest – but a guest that we all thought would soon be shown the door. Twelve months on and we are still trying to get it to pack its bags and clear off.
And while we are all doing all we can to help send it on its way, sometimes it’s just, well, really hard.
I have been fairly rigid in my adherence to the Covid ‘rules’. In my little world I have been tootling along, getting groceries delivered, washing my hands, stepping off pavements when out walking to avoid close contact and, more recently, wearing my mask outdoors if the street seems a bit too crowded for comfort.
No-one that I know well has even contracted Covid, let alone died from it. That, I discovered through a very raw encounter last Sunday, can make you complacent. For it’s easy, when you haven’t experienced the true horror, to let things slip.
This is what happened to me at the weekend, manifesting itself in an exchange that really brought things home, a brief encounter that has been going around in my head ever since.
I had dropped into Lidl. I rarely do that now as I am having all my groceries delivered, but it was Sunday afternoon, Lidl is a two-minute walk from my apartment, and I needed carrots. Sure, I’d be in and out in a flash.
So there I was in the vegetable aisle, as were a middle-aged couple, he with their trolley positioned like a barrier between us. That was when, because I didn’t want a large, pre-wrapped bag, I reached across the trolley to pick up a few loose carrots. I shouldn’t have done that. I was too close.
“Get back,” the woman shouted at me, backing away herself. Then came the words that have stayed with me all week: “I buried my sister on Friday. Covid. No symptoms. Found dead by her teenage daughter.”
She was so angry with me – and rightly so – but largely she was heartbroken; I could see the pain in her eyes.
I felt like I had crawled out from under a stone and should take myself straight back there. “I’m so sorry,” I mumbled. “You’re right, I was too close. I’m sorry, and I’m so very sorry about your sister.”
Covid doesn’t only happen to ‘other people’. I’ve just been lucky so far. Thousands of families haven’t.
For however long this nightmare pandemic stays with us, I will never forget that again.