Notes from Barcelona. Creative Non-Fiction by Shane Cassidy

The morning call of a warbling owl is our new reality in Barcelona.They’ve replaced the snarling rattle of motorbikes and cars pumping fumes out of their exhausts.

The pigeons have taken back control of the avenues and plazas. Unaccustomed to such liberty, they now turn their beaks up at the extra effort of flight.

Instead they stroll about on two feet.

“Where are all the people?” I’m sure they wonder.

“Where are our dinners of restaurant leftovers and back lane bins full to the brim?”

Two parrots, splendid in green and yellow take turns at giving chase to each other.

They glide graciously across the green treetops.

When this began, we could see our neighbours across the street.

Then the clocks went forward, the trees flowered and even our balcony companions have disappeared behind the leaves.

There was an article in the newspaper a few weeks ago. ‘How Europeans are maintaining their sanity during the lockdown.’

It spoke about Spanish residents exercising by running up and down their apartment block stairs.

So I do that now.

When my neighbours pass, I make a show of pulling my t-shirt over my mouth and turning into the wall.

Up on the shared rooftop we wave over at other rooftop dwellers.

Beer cans crack open, couples synchronise their jumping jacks and topless women bronze themselves.

Each evening a man laps his rooftop for an hour or so. Round and round he goes.

Below him, on a private terrace, the father of a young family laps his terrace table.

On the opposite building, a young mother steps out onto her balcony, draws her manicured hand slowly to her mouth and lights her cigarette.

With her elbows resting on the balcony she smiles over at the young father.

He often stops to chat. Topless, breathless, sweating. She takes long, slow drags of her cigarette, eyeing him all the time.

The absence of people and traffic in our area creates a village atmosphere. I welcome the silence, the calmness, the serenity of no cars.

It’s naive to think that this exists everywhere. There are hospital wards and devastated family homes full of grief. Angry, tearless cries of desperation and despair.
In France, a printed docket is required to justify leaving your apartment. In Barcelona, a canine companion and a pooper scooper is your passport to freedom. The dogs of Spain have never been fitter.

The police have silent motorbikes. We watch from above as they stop couples and reproach them for being out together.

They must have been fed up yesterday because they lectured a young couple. Eventually the woman took out money and passed it to her boyfriend.

He took it and turned for the shop. She excused herself to the police again.

“I’m sorry. We did’t realise. I’m going directly home right now. He will do the shopping.”

But they must have seen this spectacle hundreds of times already.

“You could have given him the money before he left,” the police reproached her.

Then he said something else but I couldn’t hear.

Online, the internet tells of the tragedy of the victims and the heroism of health care workers and frontline staff.

Their efforts and courage are staggeringly brave. Like the Italians before us, we applaud and cheer for them every evening.

I’m sure they’re grateful for the recognition but would appreciate proper protective equipment just as much.

When we get our groceries home, we wash everything. The tins, the bottles, the lot.

“Even the banana skins” we told Sandra’s parents over Zoom.

“Will we continue to do that when this is over?”

Nobody had an answer.

Later I wondered how this might permanently change some of our habits.

“Will we still wash our hands for 20 seconds each time we come home?”

We didn’t have an answer.

I got a message from a friend back in Ireland about how he’s trying to cope with the boredom.

“Are you bored?” I asked Sandra.

“I love spending these days with you.”

It feels like stolen time. Each afternoon kiss or shared coffee is a little treat that normal life wouldn’t have allowed us.

We should be in separate offices right now, having sucked up polluted air to get there.

It’s the first time I’ve thought of my parents as being vulnerable. It’s as though a small crack has appeared in the chink of invincibility around them.

Each day I draw all my loved ones into my minds eye and give thanks that they’re all healthy. There are moments you’d love to be able to hit the pause button on. But we cannot so I give thanks again.

I have no sad stories to tell about the pandemic. Nor do I wish to have them. I’m one of the fortunate ones.

The owls warble, the pigeons ramble and across the street a manicured hand lights another cigarette.

Shane Cassidy is an Irish writer, based in Barcelona. He writes short stories, essays, creative non-fiction and overly elaborate WhatsApp messages.

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