Tuesday, March 24th, 2020
It’s day 8 of distance learning, day 11 of social distancing. At first, people were jokingly referring to this as “Corona-cation.” It was sunny and warm, and the first day of online teaching began with pancakes and coffee on the balcony. I believe my husband and I even toasted to the “time off.” A few days later, we found a Coronavirus playlist on Spotify. We made Aperol Spritzes and listened to “It’s the End of the Word as We Know it” by R.E.M.
The first week teaching on Zoom went better than expected. Lucky for me, I teach teenagers, who are already used to being on screens 24/7. I often find myself wondering what my peers in elementary are doing–especially after I get off a FaceTime call with my 6-year-old niece. Imagine an entire day of eyeball closeups and tongues.
I’ve become quite close with the 10 students I check in with each morning. “We’re each other’s family during this strange time,” I tell them, and it feels that way. That is, if your family dynamic consists of sharing funny memes and asking one another to rate their mental health on a scale of 1-10 via Google Form.
Two days ago, the weather turned ugly. Overnight, the temperature went from 75 to 30, and the sky spilled sheets of sleet and freezing rain. Then came the winds. “Would you look at the sky?” asked my husband. A yellow, cloudy haze seemed to build from behind neighboring apartments, and I was reminded of what it was like to watch the yellow dust roll into the city of Shanghai when I lived in China.
The stately evergreen trees outside the window rocked back and forth, and the power lines looked as if they were being manipulated by a pair of invisible giants, in an attempt to play a game of double dutch. The sidewalks were empty and so were the streets, except for the cars parked bumper-to-bumper. Sirens sounded in the distance. “How many times have you heard ambulances today?” I asked my husband. “I couldn’t say,” was his response.
It was lunch time, which meant the dog needed to go out. I put on my down coat, buttoned up to my neck, and secured the fur-lined hood. We got to the elevator and I pressed the button with my knuckle. How many people have been in here today, I wondered. How many buttons have been touched?
We got outside and the wind immediately whipped my hood back. I hugged my elbows in tight and hunched over, walking as quickly as possible. “Come on, Charlie. Do your business, so we can go back inside, and I can wash my hands,” I said out loud.
A few minutes later, we reached the end of the street and headed back for the apartment. About 10 meters in front of us was a woman about my age, wearing a similar coat. She was carrying fist-fulls of plastic shopping bags and her face was covered with a surgical mask. As we approached, her stride hastened, and she hurried to unlock the door to her apartment building. We made eye contact, then she quickly looked away.
Just after she disappeared into the shadows of her lobby, I spotted a suspicious looking object on the ground. “Charlie,” I called, “Heel.” Just in case it was a bone. That dog, even after four years of training and domestication, is still a Chinese street dog.
“What the hell,” I said aloud,” as I bent over to have a closer look. A finger. An index finger with a long, acrylic nail attached.
The wind roared, and the woman in the mask’s face flashed in front of me. Charlie and I ran back home, knuckle on the elevator’s buttons, keys dropped in the bowl, faucet turned on hot. As I pumped the soap and sang the “Happy Birthday” song, I looked down at my own index fingers.
My husband, still working at his new office (aka the dining room table), looked up at me. “What’s the strangest thing you can imagine seeing on the ground outside,” I asked. (He was not amused. Almost two weeks living and working together does that.) “I don’t know, what’d you see?”
“A finger. A fake finger, but a finger none-the-less. These are strange times.”
I went back upstairs to my office and checked my phone. Push notification: “Coronavirus in Romania: President places the whole country under quarantine, gets the Army to the streets.” I opened the story to find that, starting tomorrow, travel outside my home will be monitored between 6am to 10pm, and restricted during the night.
Exceptions are for essential workers commuting to and from places of business, grocery store shopping, and dog walking. Once again, I felt grateful for Charlie, but couldn’t help but think, In a time of panic and lockdown–when the world is literally fighting over toilet paper rolls, someone thought to get fake fingers.
Maybe the world isn’t so bad after all.