Living in a crowded city, you tend to forget what a “quiet street” is. Car horns, brakes, people roaming around, laughing or arguing, the regular sound of trams and buses passing by, they’re all part of a daily routine we start internalizing sooner or later.
Quarantine has shown us that peace can be found even in the midst of a crowded boulevard, where not a day goes by without at least one traffic jam. Or at least, that’s how it used to be. Being on the sidewalk at rush hour and seeing just a car or two, it’s what I call a miracle, as enforced by the pandemic as it might have been.
While most employees were staying at home, working long-distance, the public institution which employs me couldn’t afford such a manner of keeping its projects going. Constantly having a piece of paper in my pocket which declared I must be in the office, I felt the air of the capital in one of the quietest and most solitary times it has had in years.
However, social distancing rules where not entirely forgotten at the office, so half of us worked for two weeks, then stayed at home a couple more, and vice-versa. Those were exhausting times, since staying at home half a month meant we needed to make sure of working the necessary number of hours in order to get fully paid. In short, we were there 12 hours a day, no weekend break.
On the other hand, my belief is that those hard days were the ones that brought us closer together. It’s actually funny, I’ll tell you why. Just a few months before, the boss of the institution was worried about the level of cohesion between personnel being quite low, which meant communication issues too. Enforced outings were tried, to no avail. Then, people work late nights together for a few weeks, collaboration and interaction being their only choice, and suddenly they’re friends. Couldn’t have planned that, could we?
After a long day, on the way home, no one in sight, just a police car or military vehicle here and there, insuring that people respect national quarantine rules. No shouts, no engine sounds, no one to ask questions, no grumpy faces, but dark silence. A person walking their dog, a street lamp lighting their ways.
Lying in bed at night, the usual street noise is completely absent, especially after 10 p.m. With no places open, nowhere to go, humans must find a new way of enjoying their time. Sitting by the window, book in hand, you see the lights coming from other windows in the buildings nearby, where other people just like you carry on with their isolated lives.
I’ve had the pleasure of trying nights at the office too, and I’m not being sarcastic about it. We had 24-hour shifts from time to time, working in pairs, staying overnight in bunk beds and guarding a couple of phones. Eating together, making conversations about anything and everything, catching some sleep in the safety of the dark buildings…
We used to wait outside for the sun to set, in the big yard surrounded by trees. The four homeless dogs fed by some colleagues were our friends and constant guards, the ones we could trust to sleep by the doors or underneath the windows, alerting us if something went wrong.
But it never did. How could it, since peace and quiet was all there was?
That’s a state, or a feeling, I wish I could have kept on for longer than it lasted. Let me say this: the first day after restrictions were lessened, you could see everything go back to its past normality. Not a week, but a day. I knew that when, going to a store close to home, I heard screeching tires, a horn, then saw two people getting out of their cars and start shouting at each other.
Aw man… How I wish I could have kept the silence of this pandemic…
Carmen Șurariu is freelance content writer and ghostwriter based in Romania.