“People are dropping dead on the pavement there,” said Stokes, we were sitting in his tiny rent-controlled apartment.
“Yeah, they can’t even deal with it, they’re just leaving them there.” He mostly gets his news from the internet, the only exception being Fox News, which is permanently tuned in on the 14inch TV facing his cramped loft bed.
It seems like he is not sure how to frame China. The right wing media has led him to believe that they’re alright one minute, because of their affiliation with Russia, and in the next they accuse them of being savages who eat dogs and steal American technology. Now, apparently, they also abandon their dead on the pavement. But one thing was clear, this new disease that was in our midst, had come from there, and Trump was referring to it as “The China disease”.
I chose to let Stokes’ information sit where it fell, in a neutral zone that was tacitly agreed between us, a safe place that would not threaten our friendship. He was getting close to the no-go area by bringing this up, but we both could agree on one thing, we were now living in the Epicentre of a new mysterious disease.
On the five-minute walk over to his apartment, it felt like I was making a dash for safety during an air raid, a mysterious enemy was in our midst. I found myself sticking to the centre of the street, afraid of the pavement, where people could get too close. Overnight, humans had become afraid of each other. Occasionally a young college student from NYU would carelessly jog from behind, almost touching, I would pull my shoulder away like he was a hot poker.
The early news from the health department was very confusing, and because they came to the conclusion that this pandemic was not interested in young people, the copious population of students in Manhattan, laughed and jogged their way from pillar to post while everyone else was scared stiff. Fresh air was not yet pronounced to be a panacea, the only preventative measure announced as certain, was avoidance of other humans. And having Donald Trump at the helm was terrifying.
After a few days of sneaking around in fear, I found myself going up on the roof, if I wanted to be outside it seemed like the safest place to be.
Then the ambulances started, one after another, screaming up First Avenue, we looked down at them from the lip of the flat roof, it was time to get out of the city. Everything was closed down, so what was the point? Ireland was on lockdown, and I wouldn’t get any work there either, but New York was frightening. So we got on an empty plane, and came home.
We picked up our yellow leaflet at the airport, telling us to quarantine for two weeks, and drove down in our car. A friend had left it at the airport with the keys on the front left wheel.
The leaflet said that we could go out but couldn’t be near anyone. Friends left food at our doorstep and waved hello from the hedge, Wexford was a ghost town.
One sunny day, Clare and I drove over to the Kaats Strand, to breathe the sea air. I pulled my trousers up and waded in the shallow water, Wexford Town bided its time, silently across the river. We were alone with the birds, while drinking our coffee we watched them glide to land, we were home, peace at last.
Remember? It was only a couple of years ago.