"Wuhan: After" by Megan Monroe
Imagine being inside for seventy-six days and then it just...stops.
I remember the nights with empty streets before the quarantine became more serious. I remember driving a moped for the first time. There was a full moon and the buildings were lit up red with yellow Chinese characters. It was cold; it was calm. I got lost in myself; I got lost in the person who prompted me to drive his moped. It was dangerous. Even seeing someone so close like this was dangerous. I just couldn’t help myself. It’s terrifying being so alone. You start to drink to let go; you take too many pills and collapse into yourself.
20,000 people overcrowded the metro because it was up and running again. The community only lets you go outside to the shops if you have a valid reason, a letter or online confirmation of health, a normal temperature, and a sheet where they mark how long you’ve been outside; you are only allowed out two hours a day. We drove to a place called “Han Street.” Most of the retail stores were closed; most of the food vendors were open.
This culture that I have immersed myself in has its own traditional flurry of snacks and meals. We are no longer allowed to gather. Seventy-six days without company dinners. I remember the private rooms, the lazy-susan that took up the whole table. The men smoked cigarettes, and always offered them to me. We had wine, we cheered. “Gambei” as the glasses clinked together; “finish your drink.”
We now gather in the office, seated around a short table with children’s chairs, staying quiet so the neighbors won’t know. We still drink wine. “Gambei.” I believe the men slip away to smoke their cigarettes, putting a wall between us.
I still can’t sleep at night; I still can’t dream.