Something strange has happened since the 17th of March at noon precisely – I have disappeared. But not entirely. Whilst inside my home, my husband, my daughter, her boyfriend, and the cat can all still see me perfectly well. I can even see myself reflected in the many unused mirrors in this house. The image I, and the others, actually see, isn’t great at the moment, admittedly. My hair has gone remarkably fluffy with very pale shades of ginger highlighting the general featheriness. My nose is red beyond belief – a mixture of un-sunscreened neglect in the perfect weather we’ve been having, and no lovely face powder to cover any hint of blaring rudolphity. No make-up gets put on at all at the moment. Why on earth would I bother? And my clothes are all the hideous ones that I would never dare to wear out, but oh so very comfy at home. In any case, all I’m trying to say is I’m pretty ugly (try explaining that to a French person) but I’m visible.
That all changes as soon as I step outside the front door, which I do following all the rules and regulations, with my attestation in one back pocket and my passport in the other, so no fretting please. This time I am allowed to spend outdoors exercising is precious. It’s a magic token to sanity. It’s a Willy Wonka golden ticket to adventure. It’s an hour to believe that I am free and serene and am simply going for a quiet Sunday stroll as I used to do in the old days. This token I feel must be used before someone comes along and takes it away. It has a special ice-cream flavour to it that I must enjoy at all costs because maybe the ice-cream van won’t be coming round tomorrow.
But however precious my time away from home has become, it is also a moment of great frustration and despair. Why? Not because I am afraid. I am not afraid. I am hurt. Why? Because nobody sees me. No, that’s incorrect, everybody sees me, I know they see me, but nobody looks at me. I have become transparent, see-through, a scraped-out, hollow version of myself. I am wearing Harry Potter’s Invisibility Cloak against my will. I am a floating phantom, seen only by my loved ones. I no longer exist beyond my own garden gate. The Invisible Woman is my new, unwanted middle name.
What has happened to these people who, in days of yore would nod and smile and utter a polite ‘Bonjour Madame’? Some would even stop, shake hands and ask about the girls or the cats or the flowers. We would cross paths, nudging shoulders; or stand close, looking into each others’ faces.
None of that takes place now. I try so hard to catch an eye as I move off the pavement and out onto the street to leave the necessary space between us. I stare and stare and fix a shy ‘I’m so sorry I am avoiding you but you know I have to’ smile onto my face. I desperately will them to see me, to notice my lopsided grin and understand it and smile back. But they don’t. They look straight ahead. Or down at their feet. Sometimes I try a bold ‘Bonjour’ but it gets blown away by their indifference, lost in the high grass and tumbling weeds that abound in the neighbourhood these days.
Yesterday I got angry. But why with her when it could have been with anyone, everyone? The poor thing was pregnant, coming from quite a distance on the same pavement, getting nearer and nearer, gazing right at me. Because of parked cars I had to leave it quite late to step aside, and as I did, her eyes went blank. Not a blink nor a flutter nor a sideways glance. She was like a round-bellied zombie, from a bad horror film. She was obviously scared. For herself, or for her unborn child. But of what? The virus hasn’t touched me. I was neither coughing nor sneezing nor blowing my nose in her direction. I didn’t hug her or kiss her or stroke her stupid face. I was more than two metres away. I was innocently out walking, just as she was. So I shouted ‘Look at me! Goddammit, look at me!’ But she feigned deafness or lack of English and just carried on walking, her features indecipherably shut. To me, to my possible germs, to my potential danger.
Because that is what I am now. Dangerous as well as invisible. That is what we all are. Not to be trusted or acknowledged. To be feared and ignored. Someone who may bring heartbreak and mourning into every single home. And in some people’s eyes I am now undoubtedly a very scary phenomenon indeed. Especially when I start shouting in the middle of the street….
By PoL Úbeda Hervàs flickr.com/photos/polubeda/