18th July: New Flatmate-Friends and a Trip to Greece

Woke up to the sound of banging at 5:34am. Initially, I thought my flatmate Susan might be at the door. Maybe her recently extracted wisdom teeth were causing her enough pain to justify waking me up at five in the morning. The pain would have had to be significant though for Susan to have bothered me so early in the morning – we had only lived together (and known each other) for three weeks and social conventions dictate that in such a case, one doesn’t wake up their new friend so early in the morning for something minor. Admittedly, we’d had to become friends while Susan was shielding before her operation, which meant she didn’t leave the house for a fortnight, she’d disinfect everything I’d touch, and we’d have cheap Cava and talk about boys from six feet apart in our living room. The way we met each other and got to know one another was already quite odd. When I relented and walked up to the door, Susan was not there.

The next morning, the banging was still there. ‘It’s probably Hannah’, Susan said after getting me up and talking after eight, ‘I think she’s had another fall. She’s not picking up though, and I don’t want to go check.’ Hannah, our upstairs elderly neighbor, has a habit of using the bus without a facemask and, with Susan recuperating from her surgery, we can’t afford to expose her to the virus. Susan looked as pale as she had the previous few days, pre-liquid breakfast, post codeine. ‘Hannah shouldn’t be living on her own anymore’, Susan remarked as I groggily walked into the bathroom. By the time I was out of the bathroom, another neighbour and Susan were coordinating how to get Hannah to contact the emergency services. I heard bits and bobs of what was going on outside as my phone rang: it was my mum.

‘How are you feeling about being in the UK now? You’ve been there for five years. Do you see a future for yourself there?’ Mum was never one to hold back from starting hard conversations, not even on a Saturday morning. I told her that what I got was obviously not what I was expecting when I was thirteen and decided to move here, and I don’t know what the economy and the job market will look like when this is all over, but I still prefer this place to any other place. I then told her how much I appreciated her. I love her very much, and not seeing her in ages because of travel restrictions to Romania has made me miss her a lot. Not knowing when I’ll be able to safely go home in the future given the fears of a second wave in December, and the new, post-Brexit travel rules after the 1st of January 2021, sometimes makes my stomach churn. I’m scared of leaving and not being able to come back. I’m scared of putting off my trip back: my grandma is 74. It’s nice to hear mum’s voice, though.

Sam arrived at 12:30. After a bit of chatting between the three of us, Sam and I start cleaning the flat: I take the bathroom, he takes the kitchen, living room and hallway. After we’re done, Susan assures us that things won’t always be like this and that she will do more round the house in the future. At the moment, though, I’d found it helpful to have Sam come and help, because I was not managing with the housework given that Susan was in no state to contribute.

I took Sam out for a coffee. We went to a Greek place and we had two lattes and two small baklavas. The waitress, the conversation, debating whether to have a small or a big piece of baklava, whether or not to have sugar with the latte, comparing prices: it was all like it had been before. I couldn’t help but be ecstatic – this kind of thing had become a faraway memory in March, a luxury that had been taken away for an indeterminate amount of time. Now that it was back, it still felt pretty ephemeral, like playing at being a society until something happens and we have to hide away again and go back into survival mode. The newspapers in the coffeeshop were Greek. So were a myriad of products on the shelves. It felt a bit like being in Greece, and the brilliant sunshine contributed to that. It felt like being on holiday for about thirty minutes.

Once we were back home, I remembered to put the engagement ring from Sam back on my finger. I’m still scared of wearing it outside because I don’t want to damage or lose it. I guess I’ll eventually get used to it all a bit more.

Sam spent most of the afternoon on our living room floor, playing the ukulele while Susan used his brain to organise a farewell party for a coworker. I spent some time working on my handwritten Cambridge memoir. That makes it sound far more posh than it actually is, but I found that thinking back to my uni days actually helped me deal with lockdown. Instead of keeping track of my lockdown days, my mind had switched to thinking about what had come before. Also, I wanted to write these down by hand because I wanted to have something I can physically hold and touch and show for my day’s work. I wanted to create something that could be read and wasn’t just an email or a file on my laptop.

Lockdown was a time when it felt like all that happened was waiting: first three weeks, then another three, then two, then two. Deadlines and extensions should have prepared me for this. Not so much waiting for things to come back to normal, just waiting for the next thing. Of course lockdown has been a really historically important time, and documenting that is a valuable endeavor. But lockdown itself was also defined by not much happening and by having to deal with sadness in that context. Remember how at the beginning of lockdown we all felt collective grief? Like we’d lost something. We didn’t have much to do except to feel that way. I ended up spending quite a bit of time thinking back to happier times – escapism at its best, such that now, I have a better account of my life at uni than I do of my thoughts during this pandemic.

In the evening, the aforementioned farewell party took place: a quizz night over zoom. There was great joy in being able to celebrate with our friend, but we all felt well known pangs of bitter sweetness at the loveliness and simultaneous limpness of this social encounter. Something is better than nothing, but it’s not the real thing. We’re all a bit number to the pain of loss than we’d been three months before. I walked Sam home in the evening, and I kissed him before he left. Technically, this is against the rules. I kissed him and held him because I don’t know when and if this will be taken away from me again as it was in March, and I want to make the most of it now. Under the dark 11pm night sky in a surprisingly warm North London, I kissed him like I hadn’t in a while, and it made me feel safe and happy in a new way.