I had vague notions of how this year would play out, and nothing I anticipated occurred. For me, I had hoped for a year of big things, where long-delayed dreams would be realised. My children all became teenagers in 2020, and I expected to claw back the time and space to pursue my own projects. Instead the Coronavirus spread throughout the world and upended not just my grand plans, but everyone’s.
Today on a sunny November morning, a magnificent thing has occurred. After 245 days of having at least one child at home, both my Lagos-based kids are at school at the same time. Maybe I can begin piecing the elements of my life back together. I can turn my attention to my delayed graduate school dissertation, the memoir my agent asked me to rewrite and the abandoned Lagos literary prize I had begun creating. I can shower my husband with romance, housetrain my feral new dogs and lose the 5kg I added to an already chubby little frame.
My life became small during the pandemic, then miniscule. In March, my eldest washed my phone to protect me from Coronavirus but sadly, my phone was not waterproof. I switched to an old phone I found in a drawer and spent the summer sending misspelled texts with the broken buttons and accidentally sharing my grocery list with my contacts. I cared for my husband and children. I cooked countless meals no one seemed to enjoy. I followed some pandemic trends, like making cocktails and whipped coffee, baking gorgeous cakes and crying myself to sleep.
I fielded video calls from my lonely, elderly parents who kept inquiring when we would come visit, while the airports in Nigeria were closed, and their delicate health required strict isolation from others anyway. There was a lot of pressure, so little joy, and then just when Nigeria seemed on the cusp of re-opening, the #EndSars protests began. Things that had seemed bad grew worse.
I began to engage in magical thinking. If we could just finish off this year, I told myself, 2021 would be different! It was clear to me that 2020 had been cursed. Perhaps it wasn’t the apocalypse but it was rotten to the core.
When I told my husband we just needed to hang on until 1 January 2021 for things to change, he was perplexed. “What will be different then?” he asked.
We were taking our morning walk and the impact of his pragmatism upon my delusion caused us both to stop in our tracks by the field where turkeys forage.
“You know,” I said, waving my hands in the air. “Things will start returning to normal. It will be a new year, so everything will turn around.” Hearing my secret wishes aloud made them sound ridiculous, even to me.
My husband stared at me for a long time. “Or things could get worse,” he said.
“Worse?” I said, feeling ill.
He shrugged and we kept walking, each of us lost in our thoughts.
Now the holidays are upon us, and for many, there seems to be little to celebrate. What do holidays even mean during a global pandemic? Just like my dashed plans for 2020, we keep stripping away things that we used to be taken for granted. Traveling has been scrapped, and most events have become virtual. I don’t like this strange, isolated version of living as much as the old way.
This holiday season, families may forego gifts, parties, and even spending time with loved ones who are stuck in foreign countries or have passed. For us, I expect our Christmas celebration will be the smallest on record. We have to continue forward in whatever we are enduring, keep evolving, find the joy in what we have and know that the lowered expectations and ambitions of this awful time cannot persist forever. It may take time for our lives to improve, but I remain hopeful.
Mona Zutshi Opubor is an Indian-American and Nigerian short story author and memoirist. She is studying for her MSt in Literature and Arts at the University of Oxford.
Read more at www.monazutshiopubor.com
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