Our circumstances affect how we respond to and use words. Close. Contact. Close contact. In close contact. Being a close contact. Each one of us became a close contact when we received LB’s apologetic message that she’d tested positive for Covid-19. She was so, so sorry. No, we hadn’t hugged. No, we hadn’t kissed. But yes, there were times we hadn’t been more than 1,5m apart - maskless. We had used their bathroom and lounged on their couches. We had used their cutlery and eaten – oh, the food - at the same dining table. And we’d laughed heartily and spoken late into the evening and solved some of the world’s problems. We almost missed curfew, we were having such a good time. Together. Close. Contact was accepting the invitation, then ringing the intercom to announce our arrival. It was the excitement of seeing familiar faces we’d diligently avoided contact with. It was the lowering of masks to reveal a smile and express joy and relief. There was the leisurely walk through the airy, light-filled space they called home, rebuilt after being razed to the ground by a fire that consumed everything. It was ooh-ing and ah-ing at the architect and interior designer’s superb work, running fingers along surfaces, opening doors and peeking through windows into a neighbour’s backyard, revealed by a recently trimmed hedge. Being in close contact was a much longed-for reunion and convivium with friends who may as well be family who, like us, relished their time during the most stringent lockdown with loved ones. Our two families - despite our respective worlds being altered by curtailed income, obliterated revenue streams and depleted bank accounts - enjoyed the silence of the mountains; and city neighbourhoods recently repopulated by birds, bugs, butterflies (lots of butterflies) and flora formerly banished from our consciousness through our own busy deliberations, noise pollution, air pollution and the over-zealous manicuring of lawns, hedges, shrubs and flowerbeds. We had ventured too close and were plunged back into our own private high-level lockdown, just as the easing of restrictions around the country came into effect. Just as we felt confident enough that our caution would hold out. Being a close contact meant isolation and no visits or visitors, no errands, no leisure excursions for the following ten days. We would be cocooned once more, as we had been for the many months prior to that, in our apartment. In close contact. Precious ones - relatives by blood and love - delivered treats they’d specially selected with thought and care. Little One, who had only just spent two days back at school after a month of remote learning, had to resume online lessons. There would be no morning school run, just onesie-clad, tousle-haired transport to video-linked lessons with classmates and teachers. We resumed nightly breastmilk feeds after a hiatus I thought was the end - and slept in a little longer while little friends in our apartment block readied themselves for school. The rest of the city, with their long-awaited presidential permission, transitioned into being busy-but-not-as-busy-as-before again. The sound of traffic on our once quiet roads got louder and louder. The fumes from far-off factories, operating once more at full capacity, wafted into our hilltop idyll and altered the fragrance of the spring air to a smell-with-a-slight-odour. But the birds did not retreat and we welcomed their boisterous morning song, even as hedge-trimmers and weed-eaters were set to work in the surrounding gardens and lawnmowers criss-crossed the public parks that are our neighbourhood’s lungs. And while all of that was happening, we baked and danced and laughed and snuggled. At the end of our confinement we were resolute. We would be more cautious in future. We would be careful not to drop our guard when we went out. We would miss those ten days filled with the aroma of cake, the spontaneous dancing, laughter and extra morning snuggles while we were close contacts.
Shannon Kenny is a writer and actor from Durban, South Africa. She and her family enjoy magnificent views over the city and ocean from their hilltop flat. They value love above all else.
Connect with Shannon via her website at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or on Twitter: @ShannonKenny031