In the beginning.
There were rumblings from Europe in March about a strange flu-type virus that had originated from a wet market in China but nothing really affected us until the end of March. There were a few anxious moments and muffled predictions of doom and gloom which were whispered in corridors and between cigarette butts in smoking areas. However, we continued to beam happily about being positive and carried on sticking Prestic under our desk-tops.
We watched as consumers abroad piled hundreds of toilet rolls into shopping trolleys. Surely if they needed so much toilet paper, they should have seen a doctor long before Covid-19? However, I admit to sneaking the extra roll or two into my ‘prior’ to lock-down shopping just in case we could only fight off the virus by wielding a sheet of 3 ply.
And then the N.C.C.C. show was launched on National TV.
This was entirely new to our nation. Other than the State of the Nation Address that happens once a year we had never been addressed directly via the tube. It’s common knowledge that when someone arrives in our living rooms albeit through a TV set, we feel intimately involved in the discussion. Most of us were aware that something sinister was afoot and lowered our voices and converted our eyebrows into believable expressions of concern. We huddled together in little gasps of anticipation.
We were not disappointed.
The suspense built, fuelled by a long wait which was effectively filled with pregnant pauses and meaningless prattle from the TV presenters. Finally, the moment arrived, and the lead actor appeared behind a simple podium propped up by the image of an energetic sign language interpreter, bouncing like popcorn. As the curtain rose, he referred to each of us as his fellow South Africans and we were proud.
We listened in silence about the coming pandemic and we gravely nodded when he announced the lock-down. The statistics and facts presented made us reach for the phone to call Granny. We knew that as good citizens we needed to embrace a month of crawling through hardship.
Swimming in unchartered waters.
This was the first time most heard the phrase of ‘swimming in uncharted waters’. My only recollection of this phrase was when writing a project in junior high about a sea cucumber that flings itself into uncharted waters and swims with its tentacles splayed. There was a moment of serious concern about having to stock up on sea cucumbers, but this was hastily replaced by flattening the curve.
When I looked at my middle section this seemed like a really good idea.
Finally, he blessed us and wished us courage for this difficult time. He referred to the National Covid Command Council which even in its impressive use of alliteration sounded ominous. Facebook lit up with commendations of his courage, strength, and a steadfast belief that he would lead us through the valley of darkness, and we were proud.
We were also all very relieved that JZ was pre-occupied with polishing his shoes for another court hearing and CR was our man. The National Covid Command Council was to climb down from their treehouse to launch us into Level 5 in the next few days.
A faint discomfort started to itch.
Again, we were in a heightened state of anticipation when the supporting actors arrived in our living rooms. The costume director crowned the leading lady with bolts of bunched curtains and created a Bugsy Malone villain resplendent in a 1930’s hat and curled lip. We didn’t notice the other members of the cast.
A faint discomfort started to itch when a quivering voice informed us that tobacco and alcohol were erecting tents in the enemy camp. Curfews, strenuous policing, and closure of all businesses were announced. Our pride tottered a tad, but 30 days was doable.
Move over cauliflower and almond milk and enter carrot cake and pineapple beer as each day now stretched to 72 hours.
Finally, on the 87th of May, some of the restrictions were eased.
The show started to wane as weeks passed without regular episodes. The 30-day sentence ticked by and moved into injury time without an end in sight. The lead actor appeared to duff his lines during the next few episodes but the supporting cast corrected the mistake, especially after he uttered the wrong lines on the smoking ban. Their understudies the DA (aka Dubious Actors) were blue and wailed loudly that the show was out of control and sat in judgment of the scriptwriters. Even the technical staff waivered and were unable to keep to deadlines.
Finally, on the 87th of May, some of the restrictions were eased. Some were allowed back to bond with their Prestic and taxis could operate but with reduced numbers. I’m not a maths boff but to social distance by 1.5 meters in a taxi surely meant having to mount extra seats on the roof?
Those left behind at home finally understood that flattening the curve related not to our expanding bellies but our bank balances. No longer did we rush to watch the next performance of the N.C.C.C. It lost all momentum and could be likened to the last episode of ‘The Game of Thrones’ as it went no-where with a dodgy ending.
Somewhere between the 124th of May and the something of June we slid into Level 3.
At this stage, we didn’t know we had options. We didn’t know there was an advanced level three and possibly a standard version.
Those of us without parole stared through our keyholes in desperation. We all started cutting notches in our totem poles to count the number of orders being canceled and stayed in bed until sunset. Previously we would have been up at dawn to check if an email had arrived from the Tourism Relief Fund.
Social media was dominated by intellectual conversations about the best series to binge-watch and how to cut hair with nail clippers.
We all got shin splints from charging to the bottle stores as alcohol moved back into our camp. Even those who only indulge in water (yes, those very same people who enjoy lentils and boiled cabbage) joined the race. We all flattened even more curves on boxed wine and Black Labels.
Still, the referee did not blow the whistle.
But the show came back.
The Leading actor looked tired and depressed.
We were still his fellow South Africans and hairdressers and beauty therapists were granted parole. He spun his tongue around impressive statistics which was admirable as the previous figures relating to the 30 days of lockdown had been poorly enunciated. However previously, the head of the Tourism Relief Fund had referred to 300 days so perhaps we just didn’t listen properly. We are now in an advanced stage of level 3 but were not informed if there is going to be a superior advanced level of 3 and maybe an extension of the superior level of the advanced or standard level.
The leading lady remained in the dressing room as she was exhausted from having to attend court sessions and defer blows from vicious nicotine addicts
However sit-down restaurants have been given the green light. I think this is to keep those of us still locked up occupied. We need to figure out how we are going to slurp our tomato soup through the side of our masks? Perhaps we need a small pocket below the fabric to catch the roast beef and panna cotta which defy being mashed through our masks.
Most accommodation except anything close to home or too comfortable can open. Again, this is part of the quiz. No-one is allowed to travel except for business purposes so unless your property is near a business who employs people that have to travel each day from another province it could be a bit tricky to dirty your linen.
The rest of us will concentrate on the riddle to attract tourism business from African countries or Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
We all realized that the N.C.C.C. scriptwriters had lost their jobs.
Our poor leading actor had to improvise and fluff out his lines by finding other topics to fill the time. He addressed the sad situation of awful abuse of women and children which is in no way humorous but perhaps if 19 000 criminals had not been released to make way for those refusing to wear masks, this situation may not be as tragic.
He carefully, once again, spoke to those, who must be finding it difficult to concentrate, that we must ‘Wash Hands’. I wonder if under Level 3 superior advanced we may also be allowed to shower?
Our exquisite land still lies unblemished, below cold skies, waiting for the day when tourists will fill the quiet places and people will all have jobs and be able to walk amongst friends without being suspicious of anyone who sneezes.
I am told a non-fiction book is about to be launched. It is called:
By Stephen King.