It’s quite amazing how much joy you can get from little things when you haven’t got much else.
Hearing some hotel horror stories, Mum has tucked in a French press and packet of Vittoria into my sister’s suitcase, and after three days without a latte you’ve no idea how good that one tastes. Then there’s the toast – with the new Vegemite – and I barely look at the slightly stale pastries that were in the breakfast bag left outside our door last night.
I take everything onto the balcony and eat amid the noise and bustle of a Sydney weekday morning. Trucks fly through the puddles, clumps of umbrella’ed workers hustle across the intersection in regular batches off the train.
Nobody sees me. And if they did, they would have no idea I’m sequestered up here like a potential plague carrier, my germy breath dispersed before it can hit the ground two stories below.
But I don’t care. I can stretch my legs, enjoy a leisured breakfast, know that I have paid leave from work and absolutely no cooking, shopping, errands or housework for the next two weeks.
As the kids get stuck into their remote schooling, I putter around, taking delight in tiny, ridiculous actions. Deep in the suitcase I discover printed calendar pages, the days ready to be checked off Crusoe-style. But how to put them up on the wall? I scan the apartment, then spot yesterday’s oranges, still ignored. Yes! Fruit stickers! Proud of my upcycling skills, I admire the calendar posters and efficiently write in “Covid test” on Days 2 and 12.
I’ve just finished the washing up when there’s a call on the room phone. It’s the nurse, checking we haven’t got Covid and asking after our mental health in a fetching Scottish accent.
“I’m fine,” I say, asking my daughter an eyebrow question. She nods, laughing. “Yes, we’re all fine. Thanks!”
And it’s completely, ironically true. Locked up for two weeks in a room, with my father slowly dying a couple of towns away, we’re actually in far better mental health than we’ve been for the last year. No worrying about every little cough. No stressing about how long you’ve been inside the supermarket, or that awful woman behind you who keeps taking off her mask and sneezing. No agonizing over test results, or missing all your friends, or wondering if you just made a terrible decision by going for a socially-distanced walk with them. No reading the death news or case counts and wondering who’s going to die next. Just – eating what you’re given and waiting 14 days to join the normal, happy, Covid-free life just beyond the balcony. Of course our mental health has improved.
But back to the exciting schedule of the day. My son finishes his morning classes and takes a nap. I do some yoga, read the news. Eat fancy caprese sandwiches with my daughter on the balcony. Make a cup of tea.
Then I notice the crowd of squawking myna birds occupying the Moreton Bay fig across the road. They wheel and dump, crash-landing into the palm trees outside the window. Hey! What if I could elevate my prison status by befriending a bird? That would give me purpose, a goal. I start tossing bits of Danish pastry onto the footpath, pausing as a couple of soldiers walk by with newly-arrived quarantine luggage.
My kids are shocked – feeding wildlife? I explain the invasive nature of myna birds in Australia, and how losing one or two to human contact would probably be a good thing, then keep tossing Danish crumbs, eventually luring a couple of birds onto the balcony below. Finally – triumph! – one hops onto the railing and cocks an eye. He chirrups. I coo back, delighted at my Dr. Doolittle abilities.
It’s been a big day, and it’s not over yet. I install the SIM card my sister thoughtfully packed, then call Mum. Dad and I joke around, quietly enjoying the absence of those dreadful seven thousand miles of separation.
A friend calls to chat. I answer some emails, do a Zoom meeting from the bathroom to avoid interrupting my kids’ classes, and spend a sweaty 20 minutes on a “Mamma Mia” YouTube dance workout before tucking into the Mexican casserole dinner left, as always, outside the door.
It’s all so thrilling that by 9pm I’m bushed. Opening the balcony door, I say a silent good night to the fig tree, where the mynas are already asleep, then sink into exhausted oblivion.