‘The only job I have now is to stay sane – anything else beyond that is a bonus’

Covid Stories: Getting through the lockdown one day at a time, while living alone

Just before all of this kicked off, I finally evicted the last of a plague of pigeons that had taken up residence in my attic. So my household unit is just me, myself and I. My work dries up and calendar events topple like skittles. Ugly strike-throughs glare up from my diary – cancelled concerts, restaurant meals that won’t be eaten and flights that will take off without me.

I tell myself I’ve got this. I find myself grateful that the pigeons still coo me awake every morning, making noisy and valiant attempts to get back into their coop.

With no work to structure my day, I start off by drawing up a schedule. Blocks of time to be spent tackling admin and household tasks left permanently on the long finger. There’s online yoga to sign up for, books to be read, correspondence to be caught up with. All the stuff I’ve been meaning to do but can never find the time. Now time is all I have.

But I sit and stare at the walls, where the pictures still haven’t been hung. I realise that I’ve never been one for routine, so I abandon the schedule, choosing to be kind rather than raging with myself for not doing a single thing on the list. I give myself a pep talk. The only job I have now is to stay sane. Anything else achieved beyond that is a bonus.

Smug couples

I learn the words to a new song. The Rocky Road to Dublin. It makes me breathless and I get worried I have it. I go for socially distanced walks, gobbling up scraps of other people's conversations as I zig zag around them. Smug couples walking side by side hog the path. I throw myself into oncoming traffic to save them from my potential disease. They don't even notice me.

I get a text from the HSE telling me I’m a close contact of someone who has tested positive. I eat chocolate and download Zoom. I almost cry a few times; the day my parents arrive with a pot of soup and we have to talk through the window; when my neighbours leave a homemade pizza and a bottle of wine on the doorstep; and every time Leo makes another speech. But I don’t dare let myself go. There’s no one else to wipe away my tears and tell me it will all be okay, and I can’t trust myself to be up to the task.

I have belly laughs during virtual drinks with my mates. We talk about old times and better times and everything and nothing. I try not to get too jealous of the kids giving hugs on other people’s screens, spouses that pop by to say hi, or an arm that appears to top up someone else’s glass.

I do cry when I watch the news and see the young doctors coming home from Australia, fresh faced and eager to help. All the while the numbers go up, the clusters keep growing and Simon pleas with us to flatten the curve.

I turn off the news and listen to Lyric FM and RTÉ Gold. I dance around my kitchen and sing at the top of my lungs. Tiffany thinks we're alone now. I laugh and do a high kick.

Self-raising flour

Early one morning the cooing is so loud I jump out of bed and charge out onto the street in my pyjamas to check that the pigeons are still outside the chicken wire. They are. All three of them. A happy little family ruining my sleep.

I scrub my vegetables and bleach my biscuits. I bemoan the fact that I don’t have a freezer, a garden, baking tins or self-raising flour. I try not to think about the mortgage, the worst recession ever or when I’ll next get paid. I don’t get dressed for two days.

I do things I haven’t done in years such as clean my windows and eat beans on toast. I discover I actually like beans on toast and having clean windows. They give me a clearer view of the world outside my own. A world where other people don’t have a house to not clean, water to wash their hands raw, nor food in the fridge.

I finally apply for the Covid pandemic payment. I flirt with the idea of doing my taxes while I’m at it, but I need to keep something to procrastinate about. I look out the Windolened window and marvel at the fiery red sunset. It’s spectacular, even through the streaks in the glass.

I move into the spare room for a bit of variety. I can still hear the pigeons. I lie awake and fantasise about spikes and shotguns. I binge listen to true crime podcasts about murders and rapists and then wonder why I’m having weird dreams and can’t seem to sleep. I get annoyed that I can no longer blame the pigeons. I actually start doing yoga online.

My sister sends WhatsApp videos of my nephews. One has learned to ride a bike, and the other has mastered the scooter. I watch them over and over and long to cheer their talents in person. We have a Zoom family call on the day my niece was due to be christened. I lie on the couch and think how I can’t wait to bounce her on my knee. I wonder if I will ever again feel another’s touch.

I explore my 2km. People are better at keeping away now, though I still mutter and flap my arms out from my sides as a warning. Perhaps I am becoming a pigeon. I go to the shop for the first time in weeks but panic and come home with all the wrong stuff. I wonder if Jamie Oliver has a cheeky recipe for dinner made from mushrooms, strawberries and fruit pastilles. I queue for 45 minutes outside the butchers. It feels important to shop local and get steak for my dinner when I can't have my mother's roast lamb and gravy.

Sunbathe on beaches

I go out on an Easter Egg hunt. I don't find any, so I buy myself a bunch of flowers instead. They're yellow and orange and brighten up the kitchen. I smile as I do my fourth crossword. I mitch off my YouTube yoga class to eat steak, drink wine and watch movies. I have myself a Happy Easter.

I stay in bed late and read a book. From the window I see two guards walking along the street. One glances up and sees me looking down at them. I am momentarily embarrassed to be caught peeping and still in bed. Then I realise, sure what am I in a rush to get up for? So I think about or June or July, when I’ll sunbathe on beaches, swim in seas and walk with someone else by my side. I dream of hugs and kisses, beers and barbecues, family dinners and rakes of pints in the pub. I look forward to one massive hoolie when this is all over. Then I fear it may go on forever.

The pigeons are still trying to get back into the attic. They are free to fly wherever they want, yet they prefer to choose my house as home. I give myself a hug. And I know that if I end up growing old all alone, it’ll be okay. Because I’ve got this. And the pigeons.