This pandemic is far from over, but it’s my vaccine day and I want to be hopeful
Irish Abroad: I’m having my jab at an entertainment venue. It makes me pine for that life
Sarah McKevitt at Brighton’s beach huts
Sarah McKevitt left Dublin with her husband and two daughters over 10 years ago. She has lived in Dubai, Houston, in the US and, more recently, Brighton and Hove, in the UK. She worked as a geoscientist and is currently writing about mixed-race identity
I’m early for my vaccination appointment, so I linger a while on the Brighton seafront in the spring sunshine. Two students are hanging over the railings discussing how their A-level results will be calculated, their gaze fixed on a tall willowy girl in grey combats and a leopard-print crop top who is stylishly roller-skating in reverse ellipses on the esplanade below.
At the end of the pier the fairground rides are alive again, whirling and brightly lit after the spectral scenes of winter lockdown, when the pier was shuttered and in darkness.
I show my booking reference at the entrance to a long, tented tunnel and am waved through. For a giddy moment I imagine I could be attending a concert at the Brighton Centre, now requisitioned as a vaccination hub. We relocated here from Houston, Texas, six months before the pandemic and had been looking forward to what the city had to offer, as well as it being a short hop from Ireland. So near, now so far.
Inside, volunteer marshals in high-visibility vests direct people into snaking queues designated by the yellow spots on the ground that have become ingrained into our psyche over the past year. At my daughter’s school the spots have been replaced by Brighton-themed ice-cream-cone and candy-floss icons, but they convey the same message: keep 2m social distance.
I’m given vaccination pamphlets and asked to confirm my details. Being half-Irish, half-Indian/Sri Lankan, I don’t fit any of the tick boxes and am left to choose multiple mixed ethnicities, but there are many more ways of being defined as an Irish person other than what is embodied in a form.
White-walled clinical booths have transformed this entertainment space into one resembling an austere field hospital
Another line trails upstairs into the dark-walled auditorium, where stacked bleachers and a curtained stage border the black-painted floor, which is punctuated with regular yellow spots. We move like chess pieces in some kind of giant board game. White-walled clinical booths have transformed this entertainment space into one resembling an austere field hospital.
The man ahead of me shuffles along with some difficulty on two sticks. I keep a vacant yellow spot for him as he shifts from one blue plastic chair to the next. He won’t skip the line and is adamant that he will queue, he says, in proper British fashion, while maintaining a good-natured banter about marathon running with anyone who offers him help.
His spot neighbour, the young girl with the kind face, is wearing a red-and-black checked cold-shoulder shirt with cut-out shoulder detail. He considers perhaps that she has fashioned this ingenious design modification especially for vaccination purposes. She replies with bemusement that she has indeed picked it out specially. I catch her eye and we smile over our masks.
I want to resonate with music, search through the melee and try to recall where I sat on a blue plastic chair and took a shot in my arm
I’m directed to my allotted booth; I get to pick which arm I wish to be jabbed in, and I sit on a blue plastic chair. The shot takes less than a minute, and I exit through the shuttered bar at the back of the hall alongside the other newly vaccinated people. We leave with the sense of collective elation you get at the end of a concert and appreciate what a privilege it is to have been here today.
With new variants, the differential rates of vaccine rollout in Europe, and, more especially, inequitable global vaccine distribution (or vaccine apartheid), which benefits only wealthy nations, this pandemic is far from over.
For now, though, I want to be hopeful. I want to return to a raucous concert, trying not to squeeze my plastic cup of overpriced beer to overflowing as I negotiate my way through the crowd. I want to remember how it looked when it was laid out with clinical precision with lines and spots and booths. I want to resonate with music and, just for a moment, search through the melee and try to recall where I sat on a blue plastic chair and took a shot in my arm.
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