By William J. Furney
I wasn’t so much invited into her apartment as ushered in without much of a choice, or a mask.
“Kein problem,” she said, but it could have been a problem, given the raging pandemic and her age, which I guessed somewhere in the mid-70s or even more advanced.
She, unable to speak Spanish or English and living alone, two doors down from me in my apartment building in Gran Canaria, was muttering something in her native tongue and pointing at the ceiling. As I surveyed her cramped yet homey flat, taking a peek inside the sacred bedroom space, I tried to figure out what she was on about.
Ah, the lamp — a decorative, Turkish kind — was “kaput” and she, a diminutive figure with wiry-gray hair who moved slowly, needed help in replacing the bulb. All six feet of me was able to reach the multicoloured lantern without standing on anything like a chair and unscrew the bulb via a hinged glass panel.
She rummaged in a kitchenette drawer for a replacement bulb. I surveyed her cluttered space and imagined her solitary life in this little rabbit-hutch box; it had all the signs of family life — pretty dining table, comfortable sofa for relaxing evenings, lots of momentos scattered about — minus a family.
On the door, an engraving announced it was the apartment of “J & J Spiegl” (see my photo above) but it seemed there was no longer a second J, ein Herr.
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Far outside this remote, subtropical island off the northwestern coast of Africa, the virus is ravaging countries like never before. This week, Britain had its highest number of daily fatalities since the disease erupted around the world this time last year, with 1,325 lives lost — and still, many people are going about in public in England and elsewhere in the UK without wearing face masks, lest the rectangular fabrics impinge upon their “personal freedoms”.
I know this because I was in England relatively recently, and many folk were going about their business sans mask, and live TV news reports from the UK, including today, show people sauntering about with no face coverings, as if they haven’t a care in the world. Elsewhere, it’s a legal requirement to mask-up in public — what’s the big deal with a bit of cloth? It’s to protect you, and those around you.
Britain is now in its third lockdown — although it’s lockdown-lite, as you’re still allowed out for exercise, and to the supermarket and other places — and with no date for when it might be lifted, it looks set to stay in place until close to Easter. More infectious variants of the multi-spiked pathogen and shopping and household mixing over the Christmas and New Year holidays are blamed for the sharp uptick in cases and deaths.
Mobility figures released this weekend show Brits are becoming more lax about lockdown and corona measures, such as social distancing, as covid-fatigue sets in and they think they won’t catch the bug. Others think it’s all a big hoax. Even as the British capital, London, declared a “major incident” due to covid cases inundating hospitals.
It’s not much better in other places in the world, including Germany, but there is talk of a hefty crackdown on covid-crims in the UK or it, and its dithering and delaying prime minister, might never get the disease under control.
The UK is now the first country in Europe — no longer in the European Union, thinking it’s better off without the prosperous economic bloc — to have suffered more than 80,000 covid deaths. Hard-hit Italy is almost at 78,400 fatalities; Spain, over 51,800; and France, 67,600.
At the end of this week, after enduring a year of covid, there were more than 89.2 million cases of infection and over 1.9 million deaths worldwide, according to the Coronavirus Resource Center from Johns Hopkins University. The United States leads global covid fatalities, with more than 369,800, followed by Brazil, at 201,460 as of writing, and India, which has lost almost 150,800 people to the virus.
These are countries with massive populations — US, 328.2 million; Brazil, 209.5 million; India, 1.35 billion, and many cases there are most likely not reported, due to a lack of health facilities.
Where is the world’s most populous country, China, in all of this? The authoritarian, Communist-ruled nation has slightly more people than India, at 1.39 billion, and it’s where novel coronavirus emerged — apparently from bats, at a live-food market in the city of Wuhan in Hubei province.
Giant China has had just over 96,500 infections and a mere 4,789 deaths.
Is it any wonder China blocked a World Health Organisation team this week from investigating the origins of coronavirus — and locked up a citizen journalist who reported on the early days of the outbreak?
Just like the vile and inhuman Trump, the neurotic mandarins in Beijing are the antithesis of what humanity should be about.
* * *
Frau Spiegl comes to me with a replacement bulb and touches me along my midriff. I let her, and assume that she needs the reassurance of feeling a fellow human, something she may be starved of, if her husband has passed away.
Perhaps, even though alone and isolated, she is better off on this lonely, isolated, covid-free island, even if she needs help to change a lightbulb. And she has the glorious winter heat.
I say “auf wiedersehen” to her and she turns away and fiddles with a bowl brimming with coins, extracting €1 and offering it to me for services rendered. It’s sweet; I decline; she thanks me. And I leave Frau Spiegl in her paradise bubble as the contagion swirls all around and shows no sign of abating.