I’m Still Me

Day of quarantine: #9. How people react to the social distancing during Argentina’s COVID-19 quarantine

By Laly

March 28, 2020

There is fear in the air… and it’s thick. Walking among the few people that are in the streets – purchasing essential things – I feel as if we were strangers transiting a dangerous neighborhood known for its robberies; kids thrown in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games: “Who is the enemy? I promise you it isn’t me.”

That second trip to the market on Friday was a failure too; when I got there the line of people to get inside was much longer, but I gave it a try one more time: 

“Is this the end of the line?” I asked a woman.

She hid her mouth under her sweater, looked at the floor and nodded. I stood six feet away and two more people came right after me; they looked at the line, took a few steps backwards to keep their distance and – just like the woman in front of me – they stood looking at the floor. 

I tilted my head to the side to make eye contact with the woman and I smiled at her … and she shyly smiled back at me. I asked her, “How are you coping with this?”… and that’s all it took the get three people to share their theories, experiences and feelings about this.

We talked for a while, but for me the anxiety was too much to bare; two men were standing in the middle of the street taking pictures with their phones and I felt trapped in a bizarre social experiment.

Across the street there was pharmacy – which seemed empty from the far – so I decided to go there to get at least cleaning products and hair dye; my depression doesn’t react quite well to the grey hair; hair dye, is essential. When I got to the front door I asked the security guard, “Can I go inside?” He said yes; there was in fact no one yet.

I started walking towards the perfume section and as I was approaching the hair dye shelves, one of the employees – a woman – stood in front of me; her suite and make-up were flawless, but instead of having a fragrance in her hands and asking me to stretch my wrist to try it on me, she was holding her own hands and she asked me:

 “What do you need?”

“Hair dye,” I said, pointing the shelf

“Ok, they are there,” she said stepping away

 “I know…”, I said smiling at her.

She was unease; she looked like a person on its first day at a new job who didn’t know how to act, how to stand nor how or when to talk… and she has probably worked there for decades.

Then the other day I went around the block over Matilde’s; she is a funny Italian woman in her late seventies who owns a Kiosco with her husband; their son – Mariano – also works with them. When I’m in Argentina, I live in this house my parents lived for twenty years; so Matilde and her family know me and my family.

And I love them… Sometimes I go over Matilde’s to buy one pack of cigarettes just to take a break and talk to her for a while. She has always the Argentinian news displaying on an old TV, and her husband is sitting in a small chair behind the counter; one can barely see his head. When I enter I ask her, “So, what happened now?,” and so she tells me about the latest politician’s fuck up and complains about the country, while her husband nods without adding a word.

Then she reminisces about Italy, tells me another story regarding her family and how beautiful life over there is; and to the customers who enter behind me she says: “She doesn’t understand this; she lives in New York.” She likes saying that; I like not to contradict her; we share a sense of feeling we’re outsiders and it bonds us.

The other day I went over Matilde’s and she wasn’t there, nor her husband… I asked Mariano for a pack of cigarettes and when I was handing him the money he froze and looked at me… so I put the money over the counter and I stepped back… And all I could think of was: “I’m still me…”

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