A Morning in Mid-March
The first of our 2020 reflection pieces. The global pandemic from nature's perspective by Maddie Noton.
The houses are awash with morning sunlight. The reflective glimmers of their windows face the gaze of the blue skyline, and below is a burrow of tiny houses and shops. The brewing buzz of the city hums away like a diligent bumblebee as the approaching sun drowsily arises from its slumber.
Perched upon a windowsill, the awakening dawn is observed by a robin. Like always, he prepares to greet the day. A redbreast and golden beak glow under a spotlight of sunshine whilst a pair of black, beady eyes survey potential flight routes through the city. Finally, he chooses a curved seat of black metal on which to rest. Extending his wings, he springs forward and rides the blowing breeze, deep into the heart of the city. He soars, skimming across rooftops of houses; gliding past unopened blinds and dances by an array of doors, waiting to be opened.
But when his thin talons meet the cool touch of the metallic material, he notices an eerie and incomprehensible silence. The townspeople - the lively hustle and bustle of their rushing feet and bodies - are absent. The frivolous music of their movement is replaced by a looming quiet, which stretches and smothers itself over the surroundings. The robin turns his sharp sight to the shops, which stand devoid of their usual visitors who wade in and out like clockwork. Despite the sun’s strengthening glare, their interior lights, which often emit an artificial glow, cease to shine.
This incongruent darkness unsettles the robin, who now hops off his pedestal to traverse the empty pathway ahead. Bumbling along, he recognises a quaint café, consistently swimming with customers and their hot beverages, which they curl their pale fingers around as the steam dances up from its surface. It perches on the corner of the district – a familiar sight: the door, offering invitation in a welcoming poise; scatterings of pastry crumbs assembled in a beckoning breakfast buffet and the rhythmic sway of feet, which cascade in step to the soft music from within. Fuelled by nostalgic enthusiasm and anticipating a hearty, morning snack, the robin quickens his approach.
But something is amiss.
Upon arrival, he sees shelves of untouched coffee cups; chairs resting on their front legs against the empty tables and the invitation of entry diminished by a glass door sealed shut. He hears the ghostly whistle of the wind, eclipsing any audible lullaby of music and rustling through the rickety chairs, which chatter in place of the conversations of customers encumbered on their seats.
The robin clambers onto a table and puzzles over this odd morning. For as long as he remembers, as the light and warmth of the day routinely chase away the stifling darkness and cover the empty walkways, so too do the crowds of people. Yet now, in their absence, the robin is accompanied solely by intermittent specs of dust, which occupy the undisturbed air and gently jostle against their neighbours.
The robin’s watchful gaze searches the street, expectant of the usual crowd of come-and-goers, but not even a mere whisper of the usual activity is present. He chooses to further investigate and sets off in the direction of the local park, where the normal hubbub of the town congregates in jovial masses. The visitors of this particular spot often bear wicker baskets of small pastries and other such goods, and – if feeling generous – they offer small samplings to the robin. Having now anticipated (and yet missed out on) breakfast, the robin is ready for a feast, and so hurriedly skips towards the park.
But, instead, he stumbles upon a ghost town.
As the grass brushes against his forlorn feathers, he scans the hilly desert. The trees appear unmoved by this strange abandonment, their jackets of green leaves hugging the oak beneath. So too are the flowers still blooming and brandishing their beauty amidst a gentle breeze. Yet their stagnant poise only draws close attention to the lifelessness of the scene, the empty echo of the valley.
Suddenly, a person! A tall, fluorescently dressed individual sporting large, circular instruments over her ears, appears in sight.
The robin is startled yet pleased with this confirmation of life. Politely, he steps forward to greet her, but she moves at a surprisingly quick pace: long legs bending and pushing off the ground with strange velocity. As the robin nears, he notices tight-fitting lycra, which clings to her skin, and he hears heavy breathing emitting from a red, flushed face.
Then, as peculiar as the first, another person appears from the opposing direction.
Again, dressed in similar attire and likewise panting like a dog, he approaches at speed, neither stopping for the robin nor even casting a sideward glance.
The pair acknowledge one another with a brief nod, but do not speak. It would appear that the individuals create an extraordinary amount of distance between themselves when it is apparent to the robin that the path allows room for multiple passers-by.
As fast as they appeared, the two are gone and the park resettles itself in its original isolated ambience.
In a perplexing trance, the robin paces the park, the town, the shops, the cafes, the side streets, the main streets and the houses. The sunshine and its blanket of warmth begin to evanesce and retreat, painting the blue, cloudless sky in a piercing shade of orange. The sun itself succumbs to fatigue and sinks like a teardrop over the pastoral landscape.
The robin completes his journey in the heart of the town, stopping at the familiar, metallic resting point on which he favours rest. Although he cannot fathom an explanation for the town’s sudden depletion of movement and activity, he assures himself that with the replenishment of day, the regularity of life will be reinstated.
Satisfied in this confident conclusion, he marks the end of his day with a sleepy yawn, stretching out his feathery wings before leaping into his flight home.
As he gathers height, the city shrinks away with the day’s light. The robin, preoccupied with the contemplation of the strange happenings of the day, does not notice the illumination of lights below his timid body, which beam from the windows of houses, stretching far and wide over the landscape.
Instead, he anticipates a revitalising nap. He will return tomorrow to greet the day as usual.
Maddie Noton is a second year MA Italian and English Literature student at the University of Edinburgh. This piece was edited by Phoebe McKechnie and Tamara El-Halawani.