Madrid, in a pandemic?


'Have you had Corona yet?', my housemate's friend's friend asked me as we were sitting in a bar, 'No? Oh, don't worry, you'll get it soon.' As if I was ever worried about not getting Covid.

I'm now overwhelmed with an alternate universe in which Corona doesn't seem to exist, or at least doesn't seem to be something that makes you shiver at the mere thought of it. In Madrid, I get to go back to how life was before the pandemic. Well, aside from the obligatory face masks everywhere on the streets, the 10 o'clock curfew, and my crippling anxiety about sharing tapas with people.

It already started at the airport. After the deserted entrance and boarding hall, I quickly found myself on a tiny airplane seat cramped between one Candy-Crush playing woman 10 centimeters to my left and a Plants-vs-Zombies playing man 30 centimeters to my right. In front of me, a family with five children, none of which above 10, tried to understand how to fly while entertaining their army of toddlers, while on the seat behind me a woman attempted to change her baby's diaper, only asked in the last second to use the lavatories for this.

People were chatting, laughing, crying (the babies, that is), putting their luggage in the overhead compartments while pressing their bodies against me to reach. But even those that were just silently and absently staring into the air made me uncomfortable. Trying to avoid eye contact with anyone, I made myself into a tiny ball, attempting to escape this burst of closeness. I thought it would be different once I landed.

Restaurants and Cafés are opened in Madrid until 9pm. By 10pm you have to be home. These seem to be the only rules anyone actually cares about. The fact that you're not allowed to be more than four people at one table is thrown overboard when the waiter asks you to scooch together so that more people can fit in the already overcrowded bar. And returning home by 10 is easy when you party with neighbors and let any additional friends sleep on the couch. The rules, I noticed, are easy to circumvent when you stop caring about Corona. For the latter, I heard two reasons: 1. "I've already had it", or 2. "I will get it anyway, so better now than during exam week."

I go back to my room in which the bedsheets are still drying and I can't walk without stepping on something that has burst out of my suitcase. I feel like I'm caught in a dilemma. Madrid seems to be the little red devil on my shoulder whispering that everything will be ok, that I'm young, that I have nothing to fear, that I need to make friends. At the same time, the little angel in a doctor's coat on the other shoulder reminds me of the four quarantines I did, of the tired eyes of healthcare workers, of the millions of coffins on TV.

And so, the little devil and little angel fight in my head, leaving me confused as I wander through Madrid's streets to clear my head.

Jesler van Houdt

Madrid, in a pandemic?
Jesler van Houdt
Jesler at the deserted airport.jpeg
Bars and restaurants are open in Madrid.jpeg