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  • Lia Vernescu

defaced / dehumanised

A friend forwarded a message: I have replaced my doormat. Instead of the WELCOME!, I put the GO HOME! one. We laugh bitterly, and say: better the GO AWAY! one. My husband's comment: They all started resembling us. Yes. I agree. That’s how we used to be anyway. Now, it got worse:

  • A few days ago an Amazon package was delivered. The driver rang the entry phone and kindly offered to bring the package up to our door. That meant him entering the building, using the elevator twice, hovering by the apartment door and on the communal floor.... Horrified, we said NO, gracias!, just leave it inside the building on the ground floor, we'll pick it up later, do not come up! The poor guy was surprised: Are you sure? I could bring it up to your door! NO, there's no need, gracias! After hanging up, we looked at each other, exasperated by the paradoxical, contradictory feelings that are torturing us continuously since this nightmare began: there was this nice guy, willing to help - as all Spanish people always are -, being a genuine human being - and us? look at us: we refused him, rejected him, told him to go away, we were being HORRIFIED by his good intentions, by his being a nice human being, by his offering to help! ... And it didn't stop there:

  • I was delaying the moment to go downstairs and fetch the package, exasperated by the ritual I have to go through each time I leave the apartment (even for a short trip to take the rubbish out): change clothes, put the mask on, the gloves, disinfect before and after, disinfect the door handles, the inside of the elevator, etc etc etc., and because I wanted to put some time between me and the package, to give it time to "rest", maybe the bugs will not be as fresh and will die a bit... But that was not a good idea. After a while, the doorbell. My husband: Oh no, I knew it! He knew that if I didn't go to fetch the package, a neighbour might bring it upstairs; a particular neighbour, the one below us, Armando. We froze: Human at the door! Danger! What do we do now? To open or not to open the door? I tell my husband: Do not open! and I rush into the galeria to put at least one glove on. He was on the phone with his father and got instantly confused, driven nuts by too many contradictory feelings, thoughts, choices, decisions to take. So, to bloody stop the dilemmas, he just opened the door, relying on the fact that Armando, being a doctor, surely he was to wear a mask, keep the distance, take precautions. No. There was Armando, in his gown and slippers, right by the doorframe and not two meters away, no mask, no gloves, nothing. You've got a parcel, it was left downstairs for you, I thought I'd bring it up, says Armando, holding the parcel high and thrusting it towards my husband with the address label up. My husband does not stretch the hand to take it. There is this long, awkward moment when they freeze in that position. Thank you, muchisimas gracias a Usted, muy amable, but please leave it on the floor, I will pick it up later! says my husband. Dumbfounded by the refusal, Armando inches forward: Anda, hombre! Take it! (as if: what the heck is wrong with you?!) And my husband takes the parcel, thanks him again, and feels compelled to initiate a neighbourly chat, to my exasperation: any additional second and any talk between them mean more bug exposure. After the door finally slams shut, we have a nervous breakdown. Gloves on, I pick the damned parcel up and throw it in a bucket of chloride, cursing my earlier procrastination to go downstairs and fetch it. Trying to reinstate normality and pretend that nothing bad happened, my husband continues to talk to his father on the phone (after vigorously washing hands and face, and spraying alcohol). I feel horribly guilty for potentially exposing him to the virus, and sulk, cursing again the Chinese pangolin-and-bat-eaters for destroying humanity and THE humanity within us. Suddenly, I realise that my husband did not change his clothes and did not have a shower after the exposure. I abruptly stop his phone conversation and rush him to the shower, wash your hair too! and, poor him, he does just that. Halfway through his taking the shower, I realise the boiler wasn't on, so there was no hot water. I rush him out of the shower, oh my God, you could catch a pneumonia, and these are not the times to catch a pneumonia! I throw at him the thickest clothes I find in the wardrobe and put the hot aircon on, and the radiator. Very distraught, he is a nervous wreck. Me too. We do not speak until very late. This virus is dehumanising us! Any nice human being is now an alien, a threat, an enemy, a death bringer! What are we turning into? We’re not human anymore! We’re not humane!

Well, not only us, but even the pigeons became ... inhumane. I was looking out of the balcony and saw this:

The two apparently innocent and oh-how-sweet pigeons in the left hand low corner are actually killing a baby duck. I could hear the baby duck squealing terribly and did not know where the desperate sound was coming from. Then I noticed the pigeons frantically hitting and pecking at a grey bundle that, I then realised, it was a live creature and, correlating the squeals with the movements I was watching, I understood what I was seeing: two pigeons horridly killing a baby duck. They even fought for it, crossed the river with it in their pecks and continued to hit-and peck-and pluck until no sound came any longer and until their victim did not flap and move anymore. I was horrified. Killer pigeons. Horrid (covid) killer pigeons. I will never look at the pigeons with the same eyes anymore.

Is this how it's going to be?

Is this how we are going to look? Darth Vader-ish? Forever snouted? A mask like a snout plonked on our faces?

Is this how we are going to be? Defaced? Muted? Suppressed? Faces covered, hands gloved, 2 metres apart? Terrified that people might cross our path?

Is this how I am going to go out - only for shopping food, and always fully covid deathdance costumed, suffocating under mask and face shield, and going through the draining, absurd rituals of disinfecting before and after?

This is how we are going to talk to friends? Through a mask? Muffled and shouting at each other? What conversation is that going to be?

Will we ever go out with joy again? Elegantly dressed, lipstick on (will we ever wear lipstick outdoors? under the snout of the mask?!), breeze in our hair, sun on our skin, carefree and smiling? Or are we going to be freaked out forever?

Will we ever hug our friends and our families again? Enjoy a meal, a long conversation, a good time together?

Will we ever see people smiling on the street? Will we ever see someone's smile again?

Will we ever see a theatre play, live, in a theatre again? Will we ever go to the theatre again? To a bookshop? Will we ever have a stroll in the park, or by the sea?

Will the lovers romantically kiss again on a bench under a tree?

Will grandparents take their grandchildren out for a stroll?

Will me and my husband go out together again and WITHOUT A MASK plonked on our faces?

Will we ever look and behave like humans again on the streets?

What have they done to humanity, those morbid Chinese experimenting with animal viruses in their primitive laboratories? How could they do this to humanity? They killed it. They killed us. Joykillers.

(that's me in the photo, geared up not to attack anybody, but only to receive a food delivery)


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