Wide Open Roads

by Niegel Fanio Simon

No one told us when the barricade would be removed.

For months, our nondescript street had been separated from the main thoroughfare by a haphazard barrier. It was obviously made from scrap wood, but ours was concededly better compared to the other streets whose barricades were made of police tape. Whether an actual crime had been committed in that street, no passerby could be wiser.

It became the norm to ask the Grab driver to pass through the only open street near us every time we ordered. I had also become an expert at ducking under barbed wires to get to the wet market or the bakery.

Never in my life did I ever imagine that buying bread could be even remotely feel like passing a battlefield. And yet, I found myself wary every time I went out. I avoided getting too close to people. My mask and face shield constituted my armor – something I absolutely needed if I wanted to avoid an encounter with the men roaming in camouflage.

And even though I cringed as much as the next guy every time someone said “new normal,” that’s what it is. Or was.

No one told us when the barricade would be removed.

I don’t know when they did it, but I remember the first time I stepped out and it was no longer there. It was late in the afternoon. I had been marveling at how perfect the weather was when I instinctively looked to where the barricade should have been.

I forgot why exactly I ventured out that day, but I still remember the feeling of wonder. Had our street always been so wide? I had lived on this street all 24 years of my life, and somehow, in that moment, it felt foreign. Even the vandalism along the main road seemed new, even though it couldn’t have been. Surely, street vandals were scared of catching COVID too?

I stepped closer, then fumbled back. My destination required I take the opposite route but I found myself lingering just the same. I thought, “Is this what the Filipinos back then felt when they saw General McArthur waded the waters of Red Beach?”. Quickly, I admonished myself for the unfair comparison. This lockdown was nothing compared to a real war, and yet, that was still my first thought.

This was the new new normal. Definitely not the old normal, but not quite the new normal I had gotten used it.

It would take weeks until the open old road became familiar again – mostly because I had to stay inside. GCQ or not, we still had a moral obligation to. Yet, going out could not be avoided forever.

The next time I had taken the car out, I realized just how convenient the lack of barrier was. I no longer had to take the back end; no longer had to maneuver the car with my passable driving skills. Exiting our street and entering another, at the crossroad, I whisper words of gratitude for the reclamation of old spaces, and for the appreciation of the familiar invited by this new normal.