MAY 12, past 9:30 a.m. The 60th day of my home quarantine, and I resolved to go beyond the 2-kilometer radius farthest point I’d gone in the two times I ventured out of home.
Instead of the nearer – to St. Jude Village, that is –Walter Mart, I drove myself to SM City Pampanga, that old happy affliction called “malling–itis” recurring in me.
No random trip this, but task-specific: withdraw from BDO what little cash I can to shore up the fast-dwindling home fund, buy my maintenance meds and the wife’s too, look for a Cebuana or Palawan branch to pick up a $100–remittance from a generous US-based friend.
I didn’t know if the security at St. Jude’s gate had any whiff of what was coming that day – ECQ turning to GCQ – but they were more lenient, simply waving on vehicles coming out of the village, after checking if thedrivers wore face mask.
Contrary to what I regularly see on FB, there was notraffic build-up leading to the checkpoints near the entry to NLEx, the police and tanods there taking but a cursory look at the drivers and whatever ID/passes shown them; no more questions of destination, purpose of travel, etc. just a reminder to keep the face mask on, even inside the car.
No line of vehicles entering SM, a nod from the security guards and onto the Mexico side parking, nearest the BDO branch, at 9:48 a.m.
Now, traffic – pedestrian that is – in the queue to the mall’s west entrance. The guard saying, “mall opens at 10 a.m.” but started letting in mallgoers in batches of five. I got in two minutes past 10 – past thermal scanning – 35.2C, and alcohol handwash.
Only to queue again: first to sign the bank’s logbook, then to the protocol-distanced monobloc chairs along the corridor fronting the bank. Uncomfortable with being number 26, I asked a guard if they have dispensed with senior lanes. He pointed me to a single line of unoccupied chairs at the leftmost row.
Soon as silver maned me occupied seat 1, I noticed a trio of grey hairs leaving their chairs in the regular queue to transfer to my lane. Yeah, it pays to ask to be ahead.
While I was not the first to enter the bank – again, after thermal scanning, 34.8C this time – I got straight to the priority lane counter, and in less than 10 minutes, transaction finished. It just got to show how little cash I withdrew. Before giving me the cash though, the bank teller asked me to remove my face mask to match with the picture in my depositor’s record on her computer. Could not help noticing her somewhat startled with all my facial hair now. Still she managed an almost inaudible “thank you, sir” through her face mask.
Out of the bank, after yet another alcohol hand wash.
Healthy Options, right next to BDO, for a bottle oforganic honey – 1:1 tablespoon with apple cider vinegar in a tall glass of warm water, my soon-as-I-wake-up tonic drink daily. Only three of us seniors inside the store. Again, alcohol handwash, after paying.
Watson’s next door for the meds. First and only one in line to the pharmacy. Three boxes of amlodipine/valsartan – 21 tablets in all – for my two-week dosage. The pharmacist taking longer with the wife’s meds, 10 kinds in all at 10 tablets/capsules each. And still ran short of one – some kind of coal in a sachet. Once more, hand washing with alcohol before leaving.
Looked at the watch to see it was only 10:38 a.m. and I was already done. That was fast, way, way faster than before ECQ when queues were longer and serving time slower – even on priority lanes – in just about any transaction at the mall, be it in the bank, pharmacies, eateries, coffeeshops, or at the department store.
Facility that could be out of fear of greater chances of getting the virus the longer the personal interactions lasted.
Still, that was so fast it was fun. Nearly shouted “Extended ECQ, bring it on.” The sense of triumphal felicity though instantly crashing to melancholy at a mere turn of the head – to the darkened barricaded corridor of closed shops as far as the eye could see.
I did not expect it could hit that hard – with heavy steps and heavier heart to walk through and see one’s happy place so uncharacteristically forlorn, so devoid ofgaiety, so bereft of…life.
Uniqlo. Santouka. Starbucks. Go-to spots all. Allshuttered down. I could not even peer at Ramen Nagi. It was much too much. Had to leave SM City Pampanga in a rush, else I would have sung dirges even in broad daylight.
Sped through JASA looking for a Mercury Drug branch to get the last in the wife’s incomplete reseta.
Passed two – Dolores near the church and at WalterMart – with snaking lines from the sidewalks down tothe streets. Thought of proceeding all the way to Angeles City but stopped right after Colegio Sebastian seeing an MD branch absent any human presence but a single security guard by its entrance. Long story short –out of the car, got priority number card, alcohol handwashed, entered, go directly to the plastic partitioned counter, handed the prescription, pharmacist got the meds, paid, got the change, alcohol handwashed, out of the store, into the car. Less than 10 minutes, wow. Yeah, I could do this.
Time to look then for a Cebuana, the kids said Palawan was always crowded, on the way back home. Long lines at one in front of the San Agustin church. Proceeded to the one by the side of the JASA-Dolores flyover – all but one in line. Buenas. Finished the form just in time for my call with two customers inside the shop done with their payout. Submitted the form with a government-issued ID, and got P4,890 for the Benjamin. Short end of the bargain with the exchange rate at P50 to $1. Just have to accept it.
The burning heat of the sun felt like noontime early September in Dubai. Still wanted trip downtown San Fernando but could not afford the risk of sunstroke, so onward home, arriving at 11:42. Just in time for a lunch of suwam mais, pritong dalagang bukid, halabos na hipon with chopped mango, tomatoes and bagoong as sawsawan. Burp.
So, if I could do this under ECQ, I could do even more under GCQ, right?
Alas, the IQ and the EQ say otherwise: The danger of Covid-19 is still here. Expose thyself not.
One senior’s day out, after months homed-in is enough.There’s still so much to live for, to love for, to pray for, to hope for…like SM malling again, in full operation wistfully.
Well, in another two weeks, maybe.