The Virus Chronicles – Life in the City

The packed trains and busy streets have given way to empty carriages and an eerie silence as Melbourne locks down in the wake of COVID 19.

I always find a spot at the station car park and I always get a seat on the train. There are usually about four people in the carriage, two at either end, and a couple in the middle, so we all sit far apart.

The trains run so frequently I never bother with the timetable and I usually get an express. It amazes me that they’re all still running, considering how few passengers there are.

When I reach the city, I stop and get a coffee and I can take my pick of vendors. There’s a little coffee shop across from Parliament Station and a handful in Madame Brussels Lane. Today, I get a long black from the one across the station to take with me to work.

I’ve come in early and I would have liked to sit down inside the café and have it bought to me in a china cup by a friendly barista. I would have liked to find a quiet nook amongst the bump and jostle of people in woollen business suits and good-natured but harried floor staff. I would have liked to create that little oasis between myself and the working day. Just like I used to before COVID hit.

But of course, the inside of the café’s closed, so all I can do is peer through the window. I haven’t dressed warmly enough, so I draw my cardigan around me and hunch against the cold.

The girl in the patterned mask calls to me from behind her bullet-proof glass. She’s just like the tellers in the bank next door, but of course, the bank is closed.

The coffee in its cardboard cup is almost too hot to hold, and I pass it from one hand to another. I stand and wait for the lights to change, without having to press the button. The lights now change automatically, and crews of cleaners patrol the streets, constantly sanitizing anything that people are likely to touch.

I watch several busses pass through the intersection but there are hardly any cars. My son tells me I should drive in, but it doesn’t seem worth the effort. Parking is still expensive and my aversion to traffic has always kept me out of the city. I wouldn’t know the way.

I cross the road and walk through the expansive marble entrance to my building. I wave to the security guard as I do every morning and then again every night. I think it’s the same man every time, but with the mask on, it’s hard to tell.

At lunchtime, I escape from the office and hurry down the stairs to Madame Brussels Lane. The long, grey arcade is a wind tunnel today, and rather than find a spot outside, I almost think about heading back to the office and the shelter of the lunchroom.

There are a handful of eateries that remain open and I’ve done the rounds of all of them.  There is Greek, Asian and standard Aussie fare but after a month of takeaway lunches, it has taken a toll on my waistline and wallet.

As I hurry through the lane, I curse the combined locksmith and drycleaner for being closed. I really need a new key cut and my overcoat needs dry cleaning. I wore it on public transport all winter and I’m worried about the germs.

Avoiding the temptation of the cafes, I take my homemade sandwich and find a place to sit in the historic Little Lon precinct. I walk past the cordoned-off outdoor tables, the mock outhouse and the display of domestic artefacts where a little plaque informs me that women in the olden days became either sex-workers or domestic drudges.

I take a seat in the little native gardens near the blown-up black and white photos of women from colonial times. It’s 1.47pm and I’m the only one in sight.

When my husband ended our marriage a few months ago, I had to move fast. With only a few months before he stopped paying the rent, I had to find a job and a cheaper place to live. I am thankful to have found both.

With a tiring daily commute and a busy office job, I never have trouble sleeping at night. I hear reports on the news and friends telling me how lockdown life is seriously affecting their ability to sleep. Despite being envious of those who work from home, I am grateful to have missed the endless ground hog day of what the new normal has become.

With spring in the air, and COVID numbers falling, there is talk of restrictions ending earlier than expected. There is talk of streets being closed down to allow outdoor dining and some return to normal life just in time for the Grand Final, the Spring Carnival and Christmas.

I hope that all going well, that is going to happen.

I hope that we will soon get together in the city for brunch, lunch and a long-awaited drink.

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