The thing about Mr. O is that he doesn’t say much. That’s dandy because after three weeks at home, I’ve grown accustomed to long periods of silence. I live with two kind and agreeable roommates (my friend Cristina and her 11-year-old daughter Irene), but without a word we often migrate to separate corners of our top floor apartment.
Yesterday I had a stroll to take with Mr. O and since there are so few opportunities to do so, I put on a blue skirt, boots and a pair of dangly earrings. Then I descended the quiet stairs I’ve been running up and down every other day to preserve some semblance of cardiovascular fitness. It was a cloudy day outside but I felt a thrill as the walls fell away.
“Which way should we go?” I asked Mr. O, but another of his merits is that he lets me make the decisions.
I’ll admit initially Mr. O was less companion and more knock-off Prada bag because I was swinging him around with glee as I relished the fresh air. I noticed that birds also chirped in the trees I couldn’t see from my terrace or the courtyard below our apartment and that around the corner the daffodils were a paler shade of yellow.
A car passed and I looked up to find a matching curiosity in the driver’s eyes.
“Where on earth is she going?” he was likely thinking since other than a handful of dog walkers and one man in headphones avoiding eye contact, I was the only pedestrian.
“Where is he going?” I was asking myself because we’re not supposed to vacate our neighborhoods and everything deemed inessential is buttoned up. Perhaps the driver was doing the same thing I was in mixing a lingering dab of Italian furbizia, the crafty ingenuity necessary to manage life in Italy, with a vat of good old-fashioned cabin fever.
In terms of rebelliousness, a lengthier than necessary walk with Mr. O to the neighborhood compost bin was on the scale of buttoning up a jacket before your nail polish has dried all the way. Yet I felt like a diamond thief as I turned corners I didn’t need to turn and pet a dog through a metal fence I didn’t touch just in case the beer virus really can survive on metal up to nine days.
Ever since I was yelled at in a threatening manner on my bike, I’ve been keenly aware of other people’s reactions to me being outside. It’s like we’re in a giant social experiment which has turned us all into miniature police officers in various stages of training, programmed in weeks to react to a new set of “rights” and “wrongs.”
As if to prove my theory, a woman unloading groceries from her car cast me a military-grade suspicious gaze. I transferred Mr. O to my other hand to hide him as I passed an organic container and struck up a gay whistle that sounded like a horror movie theme song as it reverberated off the empty concrete.
By then Mr. O had taken on the role of companion like the volleyball in “Cast Away” that Tom Hanks character calls “Wilson.” So perhaps I wanted to prolong our time together when I settled on an empty bench shielded from the road by a fortress of bushes. And if a policeman came…?
“Ma’am, you are supposed to be in your house,” the officer would say.
“Yes sir, but I had to take out the compost,” I would answer, which in Italian is organico.
“What are you doing with it on this bench?” He would ask. Since “it” in Italian always has a sex and organico is “male,” he would’ve said, “What are you doing with him on this bench?”
“Saying goodbye,” I would say in the hopes that he too had had in these last three weeks a moment in which something like taking out the compost became akin to the quest for the Holy Grail.
Yet, what a singular pleasure to linger outside for a moment and gaze up at the sky. I thought about what I’d like to do when this viral fog lifts and we’re able to do things we took for granted before like riding on a train or hugging our friends. I thought about how glorious it will be to take my bike, tent, sleeping bag and stove and slumber beneath the stars.
I once bike toured with my ex-husband through several Croatian islands near Dubrovnik. We stayed put for two days in a small town because a roaring southerly wind called the “Jugo” (or Sirocco) had arrived. The locals told us that important decisions were discouraged during those powerful bouts of wind that affected people’s moods and health. I later read when the Jugo blows in, no Council sessions are held and no laws can be formed or changed. Crimes committed during these gales are also punished more leniently.
Famous Dubrovnik author Tereza Buconic wrote, “One does not even like oneself when Jugo is blowing, so how can a decision be made about another with such a confused mind?”
Sound a bit familiar?
Hence, although for the umpteenth time I also pondered touching base with one of my exes (even just to wave an olive branch or two) I decided it was ill-advised during an apocalypse. There’s actually a meme or seven in circulation based on this exact topic and articles by the New York Post and The Guardian that are giving my intuition a high five.
Besides for me, it becomes clearer each day that this is a period to honor the intangible and unconcrete. It’s the era of the inward gaze, of dreaming, imagining and cultivating the patience and flexibility we’ll all need when this challenge ends and ushers in a whole host of unforseen others.
A runner flew by, yanking me from my ruminations. Now here was a rebellion level on par with plugging your electric car into your neighbor’s outdoor wall outlet between the hours of midnight and four a.m. I exchanged a look with Mr. O, and together we made our way back to the main road. I was still “far” from the apartment in quarantine terms but I figured if any police passed, they’d be more keen on questioning the runner who had decided to dress in a subtle shade of neon yellow.
Then, I opened the compost bin closest to the apartment and placed Mr. O inside with a gaggle of his kin. It will be several days before I’ll have the hallowed excuse of leaving the apartment to take another ramble with him.
But perhaps tomorrow I could venture forth for a newspaper or if I felt feisty, a trip to the grocery store. Then I’d be separated from the apartment for long enough to miss it because grocery stores must now meter shoppers entering their premises. The other day I waited in a coiling line outside the Coop for forty minutes for the pleasure of re-stocking the fridge.
As I climbed back up the stairs and noted the pleasant ache of sore muscles, I chuckled. Call me crazy but aside from the bouts of sadness that are an inevitable part of this experience, I view it as an absurd adventure. After all, I’d just gone on decent a walk with a bag of compost and come away with a new friend.