The break

The man stood by the side of the window. He held his wrist behind his back —his grip was tight—, as if he was trying to hold himself back; and he felt the tension in his neck as he scanned the old buildings on the other side of the river. It was a beautiful day, not a soul on the street. One could say it was a perfect world, so pretty and peaceful, the light sandstone facades, the small windows emerging from the steep slate roofs, and the red geraniums spilling from their cast iron balconies.  And yet it was an eerie silence, and no balcony was without an onlooker like him. Sitting or standing behind the rails of the cast iron balconies opposite his building they spent hours. It had been over a month in confinement, and he was beginning to feel like a prisoner. Grocery shopping, one person at a time was the rule, children forbidden outside. 

So he was thinking, —unaware— of ways of breaking the rules. And there were some exceptions: parents were allowed to take their children to the supermarket, if they were single. Also dog owners were allowed to take their dogs out, as long as they walked the dog no further than 100 metres from their residence, and no longer than for 15 minutes. Knowing this, one day he promised his ten year old daughter a walk, just 100 metre walk, with their dog. But what a stupid promise this was, he now thought as he gazed at the shimmering blue water in the river. He took a deep breath. He would not risk it he decided, no matter what she said, because people had been given hefty fines for breaking the law, and many arrested. 

“Can you get us more orange juice please dear?”

He turned and stared down with a frown at his wife, she was laying on a beach towel on the floor boards, his daughter next to her. It was just after one, when the sun rays would come in and grant them,—for thirty minutes—, thirty centimetres of sunlight. They took turns, and every day they would pretend they were at the beach. 

She really had made an effort this time,   —he though—. They were both in their bathers. His wife had over sized sunglasses.  

“Did you hear me?” she yelled.

He ignored her, and turned to the window again. That day the river was calm., and the sun so high.  He focused on the mulberry trees now sprouting, all along the empty footpath.  There were no police in the area.  It felt good to see. The apartment had never being so quiet, nor the air so clean, he couldn’t smell any car fumes any more. He felt his daughter’s small soft hand slip into his. She stood next to him and together they looked out.

“Is today the day, Daddy?”

“Not today” he snapped.

She shook her hand out of his and sat next to her mother. But he decided to ignore her. The city had never been so peaceful. He could even open the window wide, and without the roaring sound of cars in the Avenue, three floors below, he felt spring like he had never before.  It was glorious, fresh air and silence, and in the background the faint sound of waves as a reminder, that the ocean was not far.   

Two  police officers suddenly emerged by the bridge, soon they would go. His breath became shallow.  What was he worried about? He thought to himself:, soon they would go, it was the change of shifts he had been waiting for.

He turned to his wife and daughter again. Their skin was covered in coconut oil. They both had their eyes closed as his wife spoke with a voice that imitated the woman from the meditation phone app she played to their daughter when she couldn’t sleep. But she sounded sheepish.

“See when you close your eyes if you close them and look into the sky…”

“Mum! That doesn’t make sense!” the girl complained. 

“You look. Close them. You look and that sky is so blue, and the sun is so hot.  I can hear the waves, they are so gentle, and this sun so hot. And it doesn’t matter what you say I am at the beach right now. Nothing to worry about.”

They were not at the beach, he thought, the whole thing was ridiculous, they were at home, locked up. He felt irritated.

“So are you ready for your walk darling?” he interrupted.  

Hearing this, his wife sprang up and took her glasses off to take a good look at her husband. He had moved away from the window and had made an effort to appear calm by letting himself collapse on the sofa.

They had 25 minutes to get out before the next shift, then the police would get back on the street.

The girl leaped up, looked at her father and stormed off into her room.

“Oh my God!I am getting dressed!” she yelled.

Listen he whispered to his wife:

“You need to relax Ok? the police are knocking off now. I’ll take her with the dog.  You don’t answer the door if they call.”  

“Would they come up here to check?” she asked sheepishly.

“Listen, the story is: she is with me, no mother.  I need to take dogs out, and she can’t be left on her own at home.  We are following the law.” 

The woman took her straw hat off and wiped her brow.  Her lower lip shivered. 

“But she does have a mother and I am here in the house… she is not allowed to go, you know the rules”

“Breathe” he ordered as he pressed his hands down on her shoulders.

“I just don’t want you to get caught.  We have at least two months of this and if you get caught, the fine is big and they could even arrest you.”

Guilt took over.  It was wrong, she thought.  And as she rested her eyes on the apartment block opposite she saw the old man sitting with his Chiwawa on his lap in his tiny balcony.  He never felt the sun, on that side of the street. She was fortunate, to get 30 minutes of sun everyday. Now everyone would be watching them break the rule.

Their daughter barged in with their small scruffy dog in her arms. 

“Oh my God my God mum I am so happy !  I cant believe I’m going to go out mum!”

“Enjoy your walk!” she sang.

And in no time she could see them from the same window where her husband stood a few minutes ago, tiny from the distance, their dog pulling strong, and her daughter skipping in delight as they approached the bridge. They were unaware, she then realised, that a police car was following them, and her heart racing.  

There were no other cars on the wide streets, no people, just her daughter, her husband, the dog and that slowly approaching police car from behind, then it passed them, only to turn back and come to a halt right next to them. Her hands were sweating, the mobile phone called.  She picked it up immediately from the floor, and heard her mother’s voice.  She wouldn’t worry her. 

“How were things there in Spain?” she had asked with that familiar and frail voice of hers. 

“Nothing to worry about mum,” she said as she saw the policemen get out of the car. 

Yes, they were no longer in fear of the virus.  Her voice trembled.  “We are lucky, we are healthy, no symptoms mum.” her hand began to shake as she held the phone to her ear.

“Not a worry in the world, we just need to wait till this is over, they are a little bit strict in this country.”

Then, her eyes still on her husband,  saw how the police officer took notes and her husband handed something over to the him, it was probably his Id card. How she wished they never left the house.

“I have to go mum. Sorry, we are well, safe at home, nothing to worry about.  Not scared anymore.” Sweat was dropping from her forehead. Her hands shaking hard now.

Then she watched as her eyesight became blurry and her head light. It was a few eternal minutes until she witnessed the police get back in their car and leave. 

Her heart was thumping, her mother’s words still in her mind “see nothing to worry about, you don’t have any symptoms! You are all healthy!  Nothing to be scared about anymore”.

Minutes later her husband and daughter were at the door. 

“Mum! The police had no mask and they spoke to Dad really close Mum! Do you think we are going to get the virus from the police?”

“Forget about the virus, and just be happy the police didn’t get you” replied her father as he took his shoes off at the door.

And they both drank wine anxiously as their daughter took her father’s usual position by the window.  And she held her wrist with one hand and stared down into the street. 

“But what if the police get you dad?”

Paula   San Sebastian Abril 2020