Today, Sunday the 31st of May, is the next-to-last day of lockdown. It has been two and a half months. Day after tomorrow restaurants and cafés open; today the church bells chimed their hearts out as the first Mass in more than 75 days was celebrated.
I have a friend who hasn’t been out in two and a half months except two or three times to the supermarket. I, of course, have been in and out all along, and, except for my morning and afternoon visits to the cafés to have a coffee and chat, my life hasn’t changed that much. But nothing felt the same all this time. The streets were quiet, people wore masks (they still do) and said ‘hello’ from afar (they are getting a bit closer, but still keeping distance). No kisses even on one cheek, much less on both which is the custom… It was as if everything had gone into stand-still… waiting, holding its breath.
Today, as I walked past my friend’s house I rang the bell and she invited me in for a coffee… just like before. We sat at her kitchen table, chatted and sipped our cups of coffee. Day after tomorrow we will be going to the café to join the coffee group once more.
As I step outside and turn to walk home, I stop for a moment and listen to the church bells still chiming away. Tears come to my eyes: ‘This is what it must have been like the day WWII ended and the bells could finally chime again,’ I think as I strike out for home.
At home the Magnolia awaits me: yes, Magnolia, with a capital M. You see, there is a magnolia tree right up the avenue from me and when I walk that way with Salomé and the tree is flowering, I can smell it from a block away. Now it is flowering, and day before yesterday, when I walked past the dark, shady tree, I saw the Magnolia: it was a bud but it had already lost its protective rust covering and was all white, ready to burst open. It was on a low branch… the temptation was too much. I clipped it and smuggled it back home with me: what a delight! I would smell its sweet perfume as long as it lasted.
Of course, this is not the first time I have absconded with one of my neighbor’s magnolia blossoms but, somehow, lockdown has created a heightened state of consciousness and, suddenly, my Magnolia became a living thing, a newcomer to my small apartment.
When I got home, I trimmed off the extra leaves so as to give her more power, filled a small glass vase with fresh water and placed her gently on the dining table in her new home. Throughout the afternoon, the pregnant bud grew plumper to the point of bursting. The perfume was still faint, barely discernable. When I went to bed, I anticipated the delight that awaited me in the morning with the perfume, but I never expected the marvel that was to fill my life for two whole days.
At 9 a.m. I noticed the bud had begun to open and the room was filled with the sweetest, most delicate perfume. I took a picture, topped up the water in the vase, said ‘thank you’ and ‘good morning’ to Magnolia, and went about my morning.
When I came home an hour later from my walk, the delicious scent greeted me the moment I opened the door. I went to see how Magnolia was doing and noticed progress. The wonder of the miracle of life filled me and I decided to follow the unfolding of this miracle throughout the day. Half an hour later, Magnolia looked like this:
I can’t even begin to describe the perfume that was wafting out of the unfurling bloom and filling the apartment. It would be what joy and love and tenderness all combined would smell like if they were a perfume.
Our love affair was on; there was no avoiding her allure and my curiousness as to what was thereof to unfold (literally). I longed to have a video recorder that could record for hours and then be speeded up so I could see her move myself for –no matter how I tried to make myself patient and stare at her moment after moment- I could not capture even one slight pulse of a movement, and yet, not even 90 minutes later she had bloomed.
How did she move ever so slightly, ever so cautiously that my eye could not capture even the slightest twitch? All day long I observed her, breathing in her heavenly perfume and thanking the heavens I had been so bold as to steal her for my own.
And then, around five o’clock in the afternoon, as the sun began its descent in the western sky, something even more miraculous happened: she began closing her petals slowly around her center once more. By five thirty she was halfway closed, and –although she never got back to being a bud again, by evening, there was no doubt she had gone to beddy-bye.
She and I slept all night. The following morning, I arose to the sweet, blessed scent of Magnolia, at around 7:30. The day promised to bring in the summer full on, and be hot and sunny and even vaporous. But in spite of its brightness and warmth, Miss Magnolia didn’t budge until around 9 a.m.
In spite of being a ‘sleeper’, she hurried to start her big day and was more than half-way open twenty-six minutes later with her yellow and red stamen filaments beginning already to fall.
Two hours later, she had finished her job and by evening she was ready and willing to go to sleep, having done a hard day’s work.
My house continues smelling of sweet magnolia blooms, but I feel sad, knowing that the following day, although she will open again, her petals will begin to brown and her perfume to smell a bit stale and soon, too very soon I will be obliged to consecrate her once more to the ground via compost.
So summer comes, the magnolia blossom does what a blossom is destined to do and the Lockdown comes to an end slowly…
I can only wonder what the world will bring tomorrow.