Strange new worlds

Over the weekend, after ninety-nine days, I finally went home.

Only for the weekend, though. Shalla's still working from home, so I'm still staying here at the flat to make sure things run a bit more smoothly.

It's not that I don't want to go home. I miss being home. It's something I wouldn't admit, at least out loud, but I realize this when I'm on video chats with my folks and I notice my speaking getting more animated. Not that I'm reserved when I'm with my girlfriend; we're a different kind of animated, especially when the timing is right.

Anyway, I went home because it's my dad's birthday in a few days, and the folks back home decided to merge the birthday celebration with Father's Day. I mean, I already missed Mother's Day because it fell at the height of movement restrictions here in Manila, and in any case I can't go home by myself easily, nor can anybody pick me up easily.

Now, my dad's going to work, at least two weeks at a time as part of that so-called "new normal", and he's noted that there are no longer that many checkpoints, although there's still a curfew back home. (There is a curfew right here, too, although it's been shortened over the weekend, meaning the 7-Eleven downstairs is open for longer.) Already he brought over some extra clothes for me here, and this weekend, we went one step further, getting me and Shalla back to my place, to stay the night and catch up.

It's been very weird. For one, I haven't driven a car for fifteen weeks. I was bracing myself for the possibility that I would have to drive, because that's what my dad often does: "ikaw na mag-drive," he'd say, when he's feeling a little tired. I was anxious that, after being stuck within the same (roughly) 1.5-kilometer radius for almost four months, I would have no idea how the roads I often drove through would be. I might be so distracted I'd find myself in yet another car accident, and nobody, nobody, wants that.

I didn't drive, but that leads me to item number two: I haven't been in a car for fifteen weeks. Well, maybe less, because I recall taking a cab back to the flat on the very first day, when Shalla and I were still able to go to the grocery together. (I almost left my wallet there.) Now, this so-called new normal means we have to wear a mask inside the car, especially since there'll be three of us. I'm already uncomfortable with a mask while walking, because after a while it does get suffocating, and I start breathing a little more heavily to compensate, and I remember I'm an asthmatic, and doesn't that count as a comorbidity, and doesn't that mean I shouldn't be leaving the house for errands as well?

But then, we're off. It's weird, knowing that you're leaving the clutches of Mandaluyong, for once. There's the Guadalupe bridge. There's the business district in Makati. There's the Magallanes interchange and its many billboards. They're familiar places, and yet they feel new, because you haven't been there for so long after being there, or at least passing by them, so often. I mean, I did not leave the country for years. It's just three months, roughly four. There is this drama about everything changing in all that time, and yet a part of you wants to believe that it isn't wholly true.

Construction has resumed on the Skyway. The crews have managed to remove the center island, perhaps to replace it with more flexible barriers. Since when? I thought to myself.

We had to stop at the mall for cake. It was, of course, empty. It is a Saturday, and the mall is empty - all but the front of Conti's, where there seemed to be thirty or so people in line, half of which are riders. We decided not to go to the throng and went for Mary Grace, instead. I was fourth in line, but the line was much more confusing. Also, yes, it is much more expensive, but in these circumstances I did not want to wait. Also, you can no longer buy anything on impulse. Plan ahead for everything. And they all said me doing that was a bad thing.

There were some things I didn't expect when I got back home: my neighbor's dog from across the road still recognizing me, my younger brother providing a cheery "hello!" when he arrived from meetings. There were some things I did expect: getting a long hug from my mother, followed by questions about whether I have gotten thinner, or one of my dogs scowling at Shalla for no reason. And me eating. A lot. And being noisy, perhaps to Shalla's detriment.

Going home is like fitting your hand into a glove, or perhaps a mitten, a well-worn mitten: your fingers find your way around for a while, and then they find their place, and that's it. You're seeing familiar sights, the houses and buildings closer to home. But then, there's a checkpoint here, There aren't many people in the eateries, some of which have remained closed. Some of the things inside the house you've lived in for almost thirty years have moved around. You feel the bathroom is too small, but then, that's where nothing's changed. I haven't used liquid soap for months. That took some getting used to.

What I never got used to, surprisingly, was this feeling that I couldn't shake off. I am, for this weekend, a visitor in my own home. I have, without really knowing it, moved out and lived alone (well, not alone) for the past fifteen weeks. I have been stuck here in the flat for long periods of time - six weeks was the longest before this one, mostly for work-related logistical reasons - but I always knew then that I'd be back home soon. This time, perhaps because of how uncertain everything is - and how much more uncertain our leaders seem bent to make it out to be - I didn't have an end date in my head. As I slept in a room with air conditioning for the first time in a while, I grappled with the idea that I have two realities - the one I've always known, and the one I'm just making sense of - and I can't seem to reconcile them just yet.

I'm writing this from the flat now, on what apparently is the 100th day of the lockdown, although again, their maths and mine are different. I drove back here, because my dad's working from home for the next week and felt he didn't need to leave anyway. For me, that means the ability to drive to Megamall, slightly further than the Shang, to, in this case, get better curtains, and a new pair of glasses for Shalla, to replace the pair that I somehow keep stepping on. I will have to go back home so he can drive back to work, and maybe then things will be a little more familiar, and I'll rediscover more easily what made all that so comfortable. But, for now, it'll have to wait.

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