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Lockdown Memories

It has been four years already since Naga, as with the rest of the world, locked itself down.

No one ever expected it to happen - that cities will have boundaries and that there will be authorities that will keep outsiders from coming in and insiders from leaving the place.

I was home on the 13th and what I did was to heed the advice that we, who were coming from Manila, should either report to the hospital or any other places designated by the city or check in at any of the hotels of our choice. I opted to go to Villa Caceres where I chanced upon the band that could not leave on time and some other visitors, most of whom were returning to foreign outposts.

I remember my first night at the hotel. I went out at about 10 in the evening and stepped out into Magsaysay. I stayed in the middle of the road for about thirty minutes because no car was passing by. Everyone, it seemed, was staying indoors. ‘

The reason for the enforced isolation was this virus we were all ignorant of. Was it passed on to humans by other animals? Could one be infected by a touch? Or was it airborne?

No one really knew. What we only knew was the impact it had on the world.

Death was everywhere.

The second day in the hotel, the distancing was already in full force. The tables were set apart and we would not even talk with each other. I could overhear some of these guests frantically calling travel agents and being told their plane was not sure to arrive, that tickets were being arranged, that they could go perhaps to this airport and from there catch another plane to another place….

The world was in shambles then.

Inside my hotel room, I stopped watching the newscast of how Covid-19 was affecting the people in other countries. Every time I saw patients gasping for breath, or expiring, I would be also hyperventilating. Alone in my room. I felt the world for me was coming to an end. It was at this point that I bravely ventured outside the hotel.

Outside, I saw some entrepreneurial men and women selling rice and viands. The groceries were closing early and every day, it appeared to be more difficult to buy and source things.

After seven days, I came home. There in our house in Ramaida Village a life of silence and anxiety began, with little joys in between. My sister in-law, Ate Naomi, and I began praying the rosary each night. It was our own succor. For a non-prayerful person like me, it was odd to see how these old formulaic prayers were assuring me, keeping me calm.

There were good moments such as when we were allowed to go out. The idea of being in a car and moving around the city was precious. I recall how we were able to go to the Centro and discover that, around Plaza Rizal were barricades that did not allow the people to go as far as Tabuco bridge. It felt like those wartime films where a bridge was the only connection to freedom. This time, though, the bridge became a link to where the possible virus carriers could come in and bring death.

Were there photos taken of these horrible signposts? Could we still gather documents when our city was under siege by an enemy that was unseen?

And what about the deaths caused by the virus? Do we care at all to gather their names not as heroes or heroines or martyrs but as a reminder of the dark days that began in 2020 and continued on till the second and third year after that?

Do we give names to our grief?

Now, we ask ourselves, when did the lockdown stop? The question is tricky. First, there were the vaccines; second, we began questioning the efficacy of these interventions. Then, finally, we had to admit one fact: better to believe in anything that promised cure or salvation than to be sitting ducks. Before we knew it, the masks had to go. The world was once more clean.

Our obsession with plants, which was our way of looking to Nature for salvation, ceased. During the lockdown, the kindness to strangers was apparent. We all became good neighbors. But when normalcy was apparent, we again became human beings - territorial, rigid, full of ourselves. Kindness became suspect.

We cannot wish upon ourselves another pandemic but we can always remember the dark, scary days when we became good persons again, when we looked at the world and realized it was our only home and that when death was most certain, we had our lives - the memories of place, time and loved ones - as the best gift we ever received as humans.


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