It is Monday and it is night. In Ezeiza the hums of the flights that pass over the houses in the neighborhood are no longer heard. They only arrive at one flight per day, or two, or at most three. Ours arrives at 21:12 and it is all a mystery.
Passengers from the interior of the country will leave the plane first. We will not see them again. They will upload them to buses bound for different provinces and each one will have a different luck. Those who arrive in Formosa will sleep 14 days in the Police Academy, in rather bad conditions, without hot water and in beds huddled next to each other. Those who arrive in Santa Fe will do it to Rosario or Santa Fe, the capital, and then they will have to get a transport to their town. Each panorama of each province is dissimilar and unclear.
Those of us who are domiciled in capital, on the other hand, know what awaits us: total and absolute isolation in a hotel arranged by the City Government.
We left the plane and walked down the sleeve in the dark. An officer from the PSA (Airport Security Police) is waiting for us, who walks us to a table where several volunteers ask us for the data. We deliver the DNI, they check the information, before they measure the temperature, and then they take us to the buses. Half an hour later we will all be at the Feirs Park hotel, in the Retiro neighborhood. It is the one that touched us luckily on this flight and is, indeed, lucky.
We check in again one by one at the hotel and they give us our room key. 506 is mine, on the fifth floor. They bathe me in disinfectant, they do the same with the elevator, and I head there. The next 8 days I will see nothing but those four walls, the odd silhouette from the hallway, hands with light blue gloves, masks and masks that escape, and the odd doctor. But for that it is missing: for now, I have just arrived at my room.
506 is wide. It has a kind of L-shaped anteroom with a small refrigerator, a filter coffee maker, and a large table. Then, the main rectangle of the room: a giant bed, a phone next to it, a mirror in front of the closet, a 32-inch LCD television, and a window towards the back of the building. On the opposite side of the window, the bathroom, giant.
At nine in the morning it is the first time they knock on the door. I don’t get to see the volunteer who does it. I barely open, I find the plastic breakfast tray on a stool. It is the system used to keep the insulation to the maximum: they leave the food on the tray, knock on the door and walk away. This will happen in the morning with breakfast, at noon with lunch, in the afternoon with a snack and at night with dinner.
They are two different services, or so it seems. Breakfast and snack consist of a disposable cup with a tea or coffee bag and a cereal bar or sometimes a yogurt or an apple, and on one occasion a cupcake. Lunch and dinner come in metal trays and, since there is no microwave in the room or anything to heat it, you have to eat it as soon as it arrives. Cakes, pasta, meat, chicken … the menu is varied and those who order vegetarian receive it. The other demands can be met by everyone making delivery orders, which a volunteer climbs from the hotel lobby to the room.
Every day in the afternoon the phone rings. A voice on the other side asks for symptoms: “Did you have a fever? Pain when swallowing? Loss of taste? ” It is a day-to-day health control that is complemented by swabbing, which only happens on the seventh day.
Of course, the phone, social media and zoom chats are contact with the worldBut there is something more real in those phone calls. The fact that that voice inhabits the same building as you is suddenly significant. Sometimes I hear the neighbors in the next room ask the volunteers who leave them food something. Those who assist us are City Government employees who volunteer to participate in the operation. I pay no attention to what they say but to the event of the conversation.
What seemed easy at first, with the passing of days becomes distressing. Not seeing faces, not interacting, not looking across another wall or seeing the movement of a car … Those little things, even if you are in a luxury hotel, become essential for sanity, for the spirit, for the spirit. What seems like one thing in the morning suddenly seems another in the afternoon. And while nothing changes in front of you, everything is changing inside.
Each of the volunteers who leaves things on the outside of the room wears gloves and a chinstrap. Sometimes, after leaving the food, small conversations take place at a distance. The carpet that continues towards the hallway is blue, the one in the room is turning yellow with drawings in red. I notice these details and write them down. I have four apples to eat, with each meal they leave one and I can’t finish them. On one occasion I wanted to reject it, but they insisted that I might need it. I feel at fault not eating my apples.
Outside I only see light and hear the noise of two air conditioners located on the ground floor. In the background is the rulero, that iconic building on Avenida del Libertador. I spend many minutes looking at it. In the afternoon, around four, it is the time of the sun. The rays that shine through the crack that forms between one skyscraper and the other make a triangle of heat in my room. Sometimes I sit down to watch it grow and disappear. Time is revealed in graceless details, in reality montages of my own imagination. The weight is not only that of the hotel days, it is added to that of the previous wait in the country in which each one was stranded. Personally, I was 20 days in Mexico without being able to return. Previously, I traveled half the world from Lebanon to be able to get to Mexico City where they told me that there was a possibility to be repatriated. But there are people who are still in Mexico, and the same in the rest of the world. They are already reaching 40 stranded days. What chance do they not get crazy of all this they have?
I walk through my room. The bed is always made. The habit that I cannot incorporate in my house, in the hotel is an iron task that I do not abandon. The bed made and me walking around the room. Sometimes I stop, tracing back and forth on the mat. Each step is an intimate declaration of freedom. The world is a hotel room that is shrinking little by little, as in the scene of the first Star Wars, when they fall into the garbage can and the walls approach.
Suddenly it is the seventh day and time passed. There are empty water bottles piled up all over the place. There are disposable glasses next to the bed, next to the TV, next to the refrigerator. There’s a beer can, a half-drink bottle of whiskey that a friend sent me, and several cereal bar wrappers. There are two towels drying in different places, used by one person. They call my room and ask me about the symptoms. There are none. About the end, almost as if he had almost forgotten, he says to me: “Today they are probably going to pass the swab.” It is the test that determines whether or not one has a coronavirus at that time.
I cut the phone and bathe, as if preparing for a big event. In a few hours there is a knock on the door. A SAME doctor in a nuclear power suit greets me kindly. He looks for a hyssop and asks me to open my mouth. Take the sample from my throat. Then a sample through the nose with another swab. They both keep them in a plastic tube and put them in a bag that says “Bio Security”.
My samples will go to the Muñiz Hospital to be analyzed. Results can take between 48 and 72 hours, minimum. If I test positive, they will call me to let me know. If negative, chances are they won’t call me. They offer me to leave the hotel that same day and wait for the results at my house. Finally I leave the next day, for a logistical matter.
It is day eight. I ask for a remis and I keep my things. The towels, a closed garbage bag, the half-made bed and two apples that I couldn’t eat remain. For a moment, I felt like I could spend my entire life in that room, without seeing anyone, compulsively consuming series and sunbathing huddled in front of the bed, at daylight, of my triangle. But it was all an illusion: the moment I saw the street everything was misconfigured again.
I arrived in a few minutes at my apartment, where I completed one more week of total isolation. So I said that I would do it in an affidavit that I signed before leaving the hotel, and I did so.
Some seek to compare situations, try to understand how something will be based on how this was. On any given day of life I could do it myself. I don’t think it makes sense in this pandemic. If isolation is of any use, I tell myself, it is to learn – even if by force – that some answers are not in the others.
I can go back to the street now, go to the market or throw away the garbage. How extraordinary it will be to walk on the sidewalk.