I was using public transport for the first time in weeks, and although deserted, I still encountered people in the same train carriage as me. My beloved London was quiet now, and the absence of people struck all the more with a deep blue sky above me.
I was on my way to volunteer in a food kitchen, and it had taken everything out of me not to boast on social media about it. Mostly, I had just wanted to see people again, in flesh, away from my laptop.
Once outside and with my morning shift done, I couldn’t resist walking back home instead of taking the bus. The air was so sweet, and I wasn’t sure if it was my imagination that I could tell the lack of pollution. Walking over the Thames, I was walking past couples here and there, some wearing masks, some holding hands. The river was oddly quiet, all boats at standstill.
The office buildings in central London were dark, empty, each one of them having their own ‘due to unforeseen circumstances…’ notice on their door. Instead of dystopian, it felt peaceful to me. What a privilege to witness my home of choice asleep in this strange time. I counted myself lucky to be young and maybe naively feeling safe, able to walk the streets without much worry. I took mental screenshots of the sushi bars, the protein shake shacks, the hot yoga studios, at any other time lined with people, now closed. A perverse yet haunting beauty.
I wasn’t far off home now, and decided to hop to the shops to get some lunch. Of course, all the local spots still open were lined with people around the block on this sunny weekend. The corner shop had to make due, and instead of consolation dinner, my sandwich burned in my bag like a well-earned treasure.
The silver lining of this pandemic is, I thought, that even ham and cheese is appreciated. Parents with strollers and dogs pass me by, and I aim to catch glances with each of them, knowing that for the rest of the day, I will be alone at home. Each smile returned I am grateful for, more than the hundreds I would have received a few months ago.
In London, it turns out, one isn’t even alone when a lockdown is in place, when nobody is wandering the streets out of choice. The trees are still larger and greener than the ones where I was born, and when the sun is out (all three days of the year), I wouldn’t trade this city for the Bahamas. Soon the streets will be full of us again, and I’m sure I will swear at tourists and train delays again, but today, I am grateful.