FICTION: Day 300
The President is due to speak in a few hours. Word is he’s going to announce a total lockdown lasting two weeks at least. We’ve already been told to work from home and go out for exercise and essentials only. It hasn’t bothered me much. I already work from home, and on weekdays only venture out to go to Carrefour or take a jog.
I went on my normal run at ten this morning. There were fewer people on the Seine concourse than usual and no one walking the streets except for a few stray tourists clutching cameras and hand sanitiser. The river was high. So high I had to run on the concrete barriers to navigate flooded sections of the footpath. It seemed a bad omen.
But I feel lucky in a sense. Mann and Camus had to imagine their plagues. I’m living mine. That’s why I decided to document it all starting here at day zero. All of my jobs have been postponed. I’ll have plenty of time on my hands. Perhaps I'll finally try my hand at fiction too.
The President announced the expected lockdown starting at eleven o'clock this morning and going for a minimum of fifteen days. Leaving the house is only permitted if absolutely necessary, and police and gendarmes have been deployed to ensure the rules are respected.
But what are the rules? Is physical exercise absolutely necessary? What about going to work? I spoke to my friend Paul who works at the airport and he agreed it was ambiguous. The President went on about war and national unity for twenty minutes and didn’t tell us what the restrictions actually mean.
I went to Carrefour this morning. It was busier than usual. Some were hoarding essentials but most of the shelves were well stocked. Maybe that French stubbornness will work in my favour for a change.
Everything is much clearer now. We can leave our homes at any time but only for exercise or to pick up essentials, and we must carry a signed declaration or risk being fined on the spot.
I went for a jog this morning. The streets were quiet and few were exercising by the Seine. I stopped several times on my parcours to admire the deserted city. And whenever I crossed paths with another jogger I was met with a smile and polite bonjour. I had my signed form in my pocket but it was unnecessary in the end. There were no police in sight.
I picked up some wine and a gourmet frozen pizza on my way home. I’ve got to maintain morale somehow! As I sat down to eat I heard the sound of applause echoing through the streets to honour the nurses and doctors. It was a touching moment.
The streets are cleaner. Everyone is getting au fait with a new hobby. We should do a confinement every year!
Last night they announced certain rules would have to change. People have been visiting friends, moving from one quartier to another. From now on jogging is permitted only within two kilometres of one’s home and cycling is banned altogether. It’s a shame the government had to take this step. But privileges were being abused. A few selfish people were putting the whole community at risk.
I didn’t sleep much last night. Some mad homeless man was screaming abuse at the Romanian embassy across the road from my building. Something about a ‘European crisis.' He was waving a sheaf of papers in the air like a passenger setting sail for the new world.
I watched through my window as the police came and took him away. It was a relief, but it made me wonder. Where are they taking these people? Why is there somewhere to put them now when there wasn’t anywhere before?
No police on my way to and from the supermarket this morning. I’m starting to feel foolish for carrying my signed declaration everywhere. And yet I only venture out once every two or three days for fear of being accosted. The barrier is psychological, I now realise. Perhaps a functioning police state needs no police as William Burroughs said.
Inside the supermarket the staff wore surgical masks and gloves and sat behind transparent plastic sheets. It’s funny how last month's minimum wagers are the heroes among us now. I passed the pharmacy on the way home to buy a mask but they told me they’d run out and expected a new shipment soon.
The President announced the prolongation last night. Another two weeks. We were two thirds of the way through only to have the length of the confinement doubled. It’s a little demoralising but understandable given the circumstances. Deaths are steadily rising. Several hundred per day now. Cities are shutting down from New York to Moscow to Istanbul.
My mother told me she’s going to have to go back to work once all this is over. She’d announced her retirement at 70 years of age. After raising four kids. It doesn't seem fair.
I have moments of frustration, but I know I’m not alone. This crisis affects everyone, but it will all be over soon. And I have things to work on now. I finished my first short story. It was harder than I expected but I think it’s pretty good in the end!
The borders have been sealed and all passenger planes grounded. The runways are to be used for transporting essential goods only. Yesterday a plane carrying surgical masks from China to France was seized by Czech authorities while refuelling in Prague. Normally something like this would cause a diplomatic scandal. But nations are at the ends of their resources. I spoke to Paul. He said the flow of goods is slowing by the day and that he fears being laid off.
Nothing much has changed on the ground, except we’re only allowed out once a day now and a 6pm curfew has come into effect. The police are more visible. There are checkpoints at each end of my street. And to come and go a signed declaration must be shown to the authorities.
On the upside I've taken up baking. This morning I made a marble cake with chocolate icing. It wasn’t bad, especially for a first effort! And the story I wrote is turning into a novel. It’s about the prison of the mind, the prison from which I’m slowly extricating myself. Darwin and Shakespeare produced some of their best works while confined during plagues. Who knows, maybe I’ll produce something great myself.
The Prime Minister announced a further prolongation last night. They didn’t say when the next provisional end date was but promised to keep the situation under review and lift restrictions as soon as possible. I feel strangely at ease about it all. I’m working on my projects, and my routine is never interrupted by work or visitors like before. This whole thing has made me realise my old life was a vast confinement, the pressure to work the true barrier to realising my potential.
Paul has been laid off. There are no more planes coming in or out of France. We’ll have to survive on local produce. But that’s the way it should be. And there are worse cuisines on which to sustain oneself! In truth the change of diet means nothing. The significance is symbolic. The drawbridge has been lifted. We’re left to our own devices now.
All hospitals are full. So are the annexes that were created to handle the overflow. The government has distributed guides to all households on how to care for non-critically ill sufferers.
I’ve been venturing out less in the last week. Partly because I’m in danger of being infected or infecting others. Partly because I’m now possessed of a general lethargy and indifference towards everything outside.
Nothing interests me except the birds, and they come to my window sill at dusk every evening to feed on the slivers of bread I leave them anyway. The novel is going well. I feel new paths opening up, that I'm only at the beginning.
The lockdown is total now. No going out for any reason at all, and anyone caught on the streets will be arrested and taken to jail. Rationing has been introduced to ensure social distancing is absolute and that there’s enough food to feed the nation into the medium to long term. It’s an extreme measure, but one which I wholly support. Were the public to sense there was a shortage panic would ensue and the vulnerable left with nothing.
An agent of the state arrives at our building every morning to drop off our package of food for the day, and we’re all designated a time to retrieve it. Every day I listen as my neighbours open their doors starting at 7.30 am on the bottom floor and reaching me at 8.50. It’s remarkable how disciplined everyone is.
The food isn't bad. A croissant and a piece of fruit for breakfast, a sandwich for lunch, a ready-made meal for dinner. Today we got pizza—ham and mozzarella—not bad at all! At the beginning it was a little unnerving, but now I view it as just one less thing to worry about. And it won’t be for long. The curve is set to peak soon and then it’s back to our old lives. It will take some readjusting!
The internet is down. I tried everything to get it going again but the problem seems to come from the source. Movies and news articles were my only source of diversion besides my stories and my baking, and I can't speak to anyone due to the bad signal in my building. I’ll get more work done of course. But it’s hard to see what distinguishes me from a prisoner now.
The national broadcasts have stopped, but the police read out the number of casualties and give us updates from the government through loudspeakers every evening. Each time it ends with the same message about solidarity and national unity and the cry Vive la France! echoes through the streets.
My neighbours recite the words with real pride. I join in, but only so that I don't arouse suspicion. A man who lives in the building opposite mine eyes me off sometimes, as though assessing my level of patriotism. I don’t want to risk my rations being reduced. They’ve already been cut enough. No more couscous or pizza. Usually we get potatoes and a bit of meat for dinner now.
I awoke to the sound of gunfire last night. The noise was incredible in the middle of the silent city. I jumped out of bed and crouched in the corner until I plucked up the courage to peer through my window. I could see scared faces doing the same in the buildings around me. Eventually I opened my window and poked my head out to see the source of the commotion.
A floodlight illuminated the road near the arch on the rue de l’Exposition. A young man and woman lay on the ground near the checkpoint, their bags just visible in the shadows a few feet away.
Where did they think they were going? Did they really think they could get past the police unnoticed? I felt bad for them, but hopefully this will serve as a warning for anyone else who chooses to endanger the whole community.
The rations have shrunk yet further. We’re down to a croissant for breakfast, a cheese sandwich for lunch, potatoes with vegetables for dinner and a piece of fruit every other day. On Saturdays we get meat and a bar of chocolate. It's enough to keep me going.
My hair is long now. I barely recognise myself in the mirror in my hallway. But a new look seems fitting. I’ve outgrown my old self. The man who was locked into this room half a year ago simply doesn't exist any more.
I’ve finished the novel and read philosophy night and day. I downloaded most of the Western canon before the internet went down. It all seems like fate. That it’s a prefigured path I’m on. That I’ve collected the raw materials and will soon begin to build.
I’m not sure I’ll be writing in here much from now on. There’s not much more to say. I’ve relinquished the objective world and now live in my own mind.
I thought I should record something given it's day 300. I only know this because I started marking my wall every morning after the internet cut out. I have no idea what day it is, but then words like tuesday and saturday are just mechanisms of social control which I’m free of now anyway.
I’ve lost quite a bit of weight and as winter has set in I sit at my desk most of the day wrapped in two or three blankets. Now that I think about it it must be around Christmas time.
I wonder how my family are doing back in Australia where its warm. Perhaps they’re thinking of me. I doubt I could muster the energy to speak to them even if I had the means. I don’t of course, only the pen and paper with which I'm writing this message which could well be my last.
If anyone finds me please tell my mother not to be sad. It’s been a wonderful time for which I feel nothing but gratitude. I’ve finally found the truth stripped of every false construct with which the world had hitherto blinded me.
I must confess, it would be nice to be held one last time. I forget what that feels like. In truth I forget what happened to the world I once knew and why it was all taken away. All I know is something went wrong and it’s much worse out there than it is in here. No one can hurt me in my little apartment. Here I’m safe and free.