It is a very summery day for March. Then again Milano has not seen a real winter since 1986. All store windows now sport a sign which reads, ‘Only one client at a time’. The usual homeless kid is sitting out in front of the Tobacco store, all bundled up. The empty coffee can, he uses to collect spare change, is as empty as the streets are.
I pass by the bar where the local pensioners usually meet.They too have suspended their gatherings, to stay in line with the new regulations. I spot Mr. Bonetti, who lives in my building. Looking freshly steamed and pressed as always.
“Good day Mr. Bonetti,” I say, shielding my eyes from the sun, he must be at least twice my height.
Mr. Bonetti barely nods hello as he scoots by me, heading down the street, in the opposite direction. No chit chat today. Mr. Bonetti and his wife are a stylish looking, upper class couple who have been living in Milan their entire lives. We live in the same building, where I rent and they own several apartments.
Mrs Bonetti is a petite woman with childlike features topped by a sweet disposition, which makes up for her husband’s bearishness. Although over the years Mr. Bonetti has softened up.
He went from a grumpy old man to never missing a chance to chat with me and have a laugh or two. It’s so true what they say, about not judging people based on first impressions. Inside Mr. Bonetti’s rigid, stretched out form, dwells a passionate, life loving, young and mischievous version, I get glimpses of the once young and sprite Marco Bonnetti. He must have been a lady killer in his days, his smile still has the power to short circuit an entire neighborhood.
Mrs Bonetti, on her daily rounds, usually meets up with a group of ladies, at the local cafe in the neighborhood. She is always impeccable with matching this and tha. Permanently manicured nails, meticulously paired with her lipstick. She boasts a thick silver mane and not one strand of hair is ever out of place.
These ladies, six in total, have been meeting at the same time every day, for as long as I’ve lived in the neighborhood, which is almost a decade. Two of the women always have their dogs with them, the widows.
One of the two widows, Mrs Motta, a matronly looking woman, the antithesis of Mrs Bonetti. Mrs Motta has a wiry energy, for a person with a stout build, which is exacerbated by her chain smoking. Even on a good day Mrs Motta sounds grumpy. She always wears the same grey wool coat in winter and she has her place at the cafe carved out.
I make my way to the front gate of my building and head to the reception area where the mailboxes are.
At the elevator, a neighbor is waiting, I join her and she chooses to take the stairs, leaving me the elevator all to myself.
I open the door to my apartment to find 2 large suitcases in the hallway. Marcella, my roommate steps out of her room with a smaller suitcase, which she sets next to the other two.
“My mother is terribly worried and she wants me home in Rome.”
“You know there is a travel ban and even if you manage to get on the last train to Rome tonight, you are taking a big risk?”
“I’m not taking the train, I will be taking a taxi.”
“A taxi? That is going to cost you a fortune, I mean a quick calculation. That would be well over 1000€ for certain.”
“1200€, I checked, that is what it will cost.”
“Do you have that kind of money?”
Marcella is a student in Milan. Her family in Rome live in Settecamini, an urban zone of Agro Romano, a thirty minute drive from Rome. They are not wealthy by any means, and a scholarship is what has made it possible for Marcella to study in Milan.
“My mother insisted, you have no idea, she must have called me at least 60 times today. I have some money as a down payment for the taxi and she will pay the rest when I get there.”
“How is your mother doing?”
“Here you can ask her yourself, that’s her calling again.” She hands me her phone.
“Hello, Mrs Gioia, Marcella is just getting the last of her things, she’s ready to leave shortly. How are you doing?”
“Oh you can’t imagine, life has gotten so complicated with this CoronaVirus. I had to get something called an App for my phone, so I can do groceries and have them delivered.”
Mrs Gioia has a very loud manner of speech, on the telephone, I’ve never actually met her.
“You know people over 65 are not allowed to go out. It took me over one hour to figure out how to use this shopping app. When I was finally ready to check out, the first delivery date available was in 3 weeks. Thank god Marcella is coming home.”
“Well I guess it’s good bye then.” Marcella takes the phone.
“Ma, I’ll call you from the taxi ok?” Marcella instinctively leans towards me for the traditional 3 kisses on the cheek. She freezes in her tracks. “This sucks, I don’t know, I mean I want to hug you but.”
“Go on now Marcella, I’ll see you soon enough, when all this madness is behind us.”
As I prepare dinner, I reflect on how none of us, not me, not you, no one was expecting reality to make such a sudden shift. The world as we knew it, life as we knew it, seems to be far gone now and the terrifying thought is, we don’t know what it will transform into.
I take half the dinner, an apple, a liter of water and place everything in a bag. I head back out onto the deserted streets. It’s raining. The street lights are still off, the neighborhood is plunged in darkness. I find the homeless kid in his usual night spot, where he stretches out in his sleeping bag, under the cover of a storefront.
“Hello, I brought you something hot to eat, some fresh fruit and water.” I hand him the bag.
An invisible and powerful force is spreading across the planet, it is gaining speed and strength, as it tears down the foundation and fabric of our society. This force is showing us that in a world that wants to put up walls, boundaries don’t exist, that we all belong to one species. Far too many have forgotten this.
“Are you warm enough or do you need more blankets?” I ask the nameless young man huddled on the ground, surrounded by all his worldly belongings, which fit into a medium sized red suitcase.
“No, that’s fine, I’m fine, thank you.”
“Where are you from?”
“Ukraine, I am from Ukraine.”
“I was in Moldova several years ago, beautiful land and people.” He nods in approval as he organizes the food I brought him.
“Enjoy your meal then. Will I find you here tomorrow as well?”
“Yes, I come here at night only, at 8 o’clock usually.”
I wish him a good meal and a good rest and tell him I’ll be back to check on him the following day. In the dark he thanks me quietly, with a smile.
On my solitary walk back home, my cell phone makes me jump as it rings with the bouncy music, which sounds completely inappropriate under present circumstances. It’s Gabriele, an acquaintance not quite a friend.
“Gabriele, what’s on your mind, I haven’t heard from you in what, 2 years?”
“You won’t believe this, this is unbelievable. My brother got arrested for travelling outside the city without permission, three months in jail.”
“Gabriele, that is terrible news, I’m so sorry.”
“He was making one last delivery, a Venitian mirror, my dad and I restored and we really need the money, right now, business was slow and now it’s come to a total halt. This is surreal.”
Gabriele’s family have been in the antique restoration business for generations.
“What do you make of this situation, I mean I was reading some article about what’s really going on, but it’s hard to figure out what is true and what isn’t. I mean most of my friends are in denial and then there are conspiracy theories that are actually starting to make sense to me, you know what I mean?”
“I hear you Gabriele.”
“What do you think?”
“First off I think it has become a delicate balance for most of us, whether to give in to our gut instincts, our rational minds or paranoia, especially since all three are justified at the moment.”
“I’m going ape shit crazy, I think I have left a permanent groove on my floor from pacing back and forth for days. I don’t even bother dressing anymore. I stay in my boxers all day. I don’t cook, I’ve been binging on peanuts and mini Vienna weiners. I even forgot to take a shit this morning. Nothing makes sense anymore.”
Gabriele is naturally high strung at the best of times. I’m just not sure why he is calling me, but I suspect he has been scraping through his contacts and has called everyone he ever met. He’s got the lockdown blues.
“Maybe your diet needs to change Gabriele, sounds like you may be constipated, more than forgetful.”
“I almost forgot why I was calling. I thought we might get together you know. Have some wine. Hey I can cook for you.”
“Gabriele I don’t mean to offend you but it’s not going to happen. You and me. We tried years ago, remember.”
“No, no that’s not what I meant. Just a nice meal and good wine together that’s all.”
“Tell you what, once the situation is under control and I don’t risk getting arrested for a Wieners and peanut dinner, then we’ll talk about it.”
“Got you. I’m a bit lonely and cagey, you know. I’m not ashamed to tell you I am also afraid. Do you believe there is a sinister plan at work here,are they culling us for what is to come? I mean you must be familiar with these so-called conspiracy theories right?”
“Sure. It is the Universe conspiring to make us into a better species. This invisible enemy has no prejudices, no favorite race, religion or political associations. This invisible enemy has shown us that we are all one and made of the same stuff. It is in times such as these that we are revealed to ourselves and to others, moments that lay bare the truth about who we are and the world we have built.”
“Wow Madda, you are creeping me out. That is deep and sounds like the second coming of Christ or an alien invasion or something if you put it in those words.”
“Stay strong Gabriele and make an effort, take a fucking shower. I can smell you from across town. You are wired, try and get some rest and don’t stress so much over something you can’t control.”
“Easier said than done, I can’t even see my parents, God you have no idea how much I miss my mother’s cooking and to think I used to complain about having to go over every Sunday, what I wouldn’t do now for a plate of her Carbonara.”
I turn on my computer and go online. The local news is live and the entire nation is commenting on the even “stricter measures” the government is considering to contain the threat which has put us all in lockdown.
Reading the comments, those that I can catch, as they are scrolling by so fast on the thread it reminds me of the credits at the end of a TV series, they were never intended to be read.
I can smell the fear in those comments. The same people that fought tooth and nail against the initial quarantine rules, before the lockdown, those that in rebellion arranged large gatherings and festivities, they are some of the same people that are now screaming at the government to stop vacillating and move ahead with stricter measures.
They have been tamed by their own guilt and fear and they have entered another level of unconsciousness. The outbreak has become a platform for every cause on the planet. Someone comments with ‘Dear God don’t make the outbreak stop until Abortion is abolished.’
People are lost in the matrix more than ever. The collective mass’ subconscious is projecting onto the virus its own state of profound confusion and dissociation from reality.
The virus is a catalyst in our initiation in terror, myself included. All that fear in each and everyone of us, tucked away and hidden has just joined yours and the fear of millions of others.