I live at a busy crossroads a few buildings from the corner of the main road which cuts at an angle leaning in toward my street. The main road leads past the hospital into the city and spans 6 lanes that hug tram tracks in between. The cross street is the path that the fire engines take, they’re housed not far away, I can hear them coming in the distance wailing their way through the streets with deep horn honks as they clear each intersection on their approach. Continuing over the main thoroughfare the road splinters to enter the beach suburbs where suburban tourists would flock on weekends, in the other direction the road travels back around the lake.
There’s a petrol station across the street on the corner of the crossroads that’s open 24hrs; the position is a gateway to and from the city for chaos, emergencies, and the commute. Nobody commutes anymore, everyone is locked away at home twitching their curtains to glimpse the outside world. The sirens haven’t stopped though with mainly police and ambulance sirens frequenting at all hours.
Day and night there’s sirens yet no one is around. In between the sirens there’s helicopters overhead constantly tracing the grid layout of the city streets. When the sound of them fades I can still see them further out over the city trailing across the sky.
It’s strange looking up at the stars at night, they twinkle with a brilliance that seems a little too bright at times. I wish I knew the stars better at a glance but for a lifetime I have spent my nights inside spent from my days scurrying after life. There’s time to stop and look up now, the annoyance of the helicopters has served to draw me out to look up at the beauty above and wonder if I’m looking at a star or a satellite.
The fee for freedom daily is paid with paranoia, fear and confusion. There’s also fines for breaking rules which change regularly or not, no one’s really sure. With all this though the 24 hr petrol station never closes and cars continue to stop for petrol, people continue to walk there at all hours through the darkness to buy cigarettes and snacks. The intersection traffic lights continue with their sequence with the regular beep of the cross-walk warning that you need to wait for the red man to change to green before you can walk even though there’s nobody there.
Further back down my street away from the main road there is a boarding house, further down the street again there’s another. These places are filled with people who have broken lives and lost hope. Before the city was restricted I’d watch them from my window struggle their way up the street in turn to visit the petrol station to buy ciggies or a packet of chips, or whatever excuse got them out of their boarding house room for a spell. Some use walkers, some don’t, but they all limp and teeter their way along the footpath labouring the few blocks walk. Their meagre routines built around miniscule incomes had shrunk even more with mask wearing enforcements. Outdone by the journey before masks most had to stop to catch their breath, when coerced into wearing them they donned masks to comply. The parade of their trek declined into stops and starts to sit and catch their breath for some, others pressed on with gapping masks for breathing or walked mask free with a cigarette or coffee in hand. There’s a fine for breathing fresh air but none for walking mask free holding a cigarette or coffee.
When life was as it was before there would be noise on the street over the weekend with dealers in the petrol station carpark and late-night partiers returning in the early hours, during the week it was comparatively quiet. Lockup or down or whichever direction you prefer confused time making any night a free for all. Darkness gave cover to the never-ending party that some sort to lose themselves in to escape where there was no escape or freedom. Evidence littered the footpath every morning in the wake of night-time slurred bickering rambling along the streets in all shapes and forms with a collection of beer bottles and stubbed out butts and sometimes an occasional shoe. A break from the rowdy night street dwellers only comes when roadworkers claim the streets breaking up the road with diggers until the breaking of dawn.
During the day a high-rise is going up across the street, they broke ground as restrictions began. When the night ruckus fades, and the sun rises the construction workers emerge with whirring drills and obnoxiously loud machinery to set to work at hemming in the streetscape. My view across the street to the open sky has filled with scaffolding and men wearing safety colours who keep their chins strapped with dangling masks to be able to breath as they labour throughout the day.
As the sun sets the workers leave and so it begins all again with the only respite Sunday, I know it’s Sunday because that’s the only day that there is no construction. The world has to shut down for now we’re told or we could die or somebody somewhere could unless they work in construction of course, high-rises are essential after all.