COVID Companions is a series of creative pieces featuring snippets of life during COVID-19, with a special focus on the other individuals or creatures who are keeping us company during quarantine, lockdown, ‘circuit breaker’, or whatever your equivalent might be. 

I wake up at around 11am. I check my phone and ignore most of the messages and emails for now, I’ll get back to them later. I change into my workout clothes, roll out my mat, put on a video: 30-day ab challenge, 40-minute total body kickboxing, no equipment toning and sculpting routine. “This is good, this is progress,” I think. I wipe down my mat and put it back in its designated corner of my room. I look in the mirror, missing no angles, pinching and prodding at any bits of fat I’d rather have gone.

I wash my face, brush my teeth, shower, change and head downstairs. Mom is on her laptop working, and Dad is on his laptop watching those Facebook videos that Dads watch. Some days they look up, giving me certain tasks they need help with for the day. Other days there’s barely a glance. I go to the kitchen and get some fruit. I find some crackers that expire next week so I grab those too and head back upstairs into my room. Then back downstairs to do the dishes. And then back upstairs to contemplate starting to do something productive for the day but end up watching YouTube videos instead – book reviews, skincare tips, comedy sketches, cooking demonstrations, makeup tutorials, hauls.

I check the time – it is 2:47pm. Meaningful work or otherwise, I like not doing nothing. I’ve created a routine for myself without even realising it and I think I’m somewhat proud of that. Why do I feel proud though? It’s not like I did anything new – I’ve been exercising and watching “educational” youtube videos and documentaries for the past six or so years. But in this pandemic, these habits get new lives. What were once things I did to pass time mindlessly are now things I pay more attention to, because I can now structure my thoughts and progress around those activities. I can control what I want to gain from these activities, and in turn push myself forward more intentionally.

My time feels meaningfully occupied. I don’t miss outings, social gatherings, friends, and nature. I don’t feel any more lonely or isolated than I did pre-COVID. Is it wrong that I feel little desire to meet others, or to re-experience the elements of life curtailed by this pandemic? 

Heck, come to think about it, I don’t know how me 5 years ago would’ve handled being in this pandemic, suddenly cut off from society yet pressured to connect with my loved ones and myself. Somehow I don’t think I’d be as okay as I am now.

I start making dinner, an activity I can now also more purposefully engage in. Being vegan, I cook without using animal products – I am trying to make the point that vegan meals can be nutritious and tasty.  Is it selfish of me to impose my taste onto others? It is better for our health, for the animals and the environment after all, and for little extra effort. I think about all the people who label me as pretentious or for thinking I’m “holier-than-thou” because I’ve chosen to be vegan, to not purchase clothes that are not secondhand or otherwise ethically produced, for having a British/American twang to my accent that is characteristic of third culture kids educated in international schools. Do those opinions matter when we are trying to do the right thing?

Dinnertime is when I get the most face-to-face human interaction. The four of us, a picture of a family: a mother, a father, a son and a daughter. We take our respective seats at the kitchen table, the same ones we take every evening. Mom or Dad starts the conversation – something about work, something that was on the news, something about another family member. At some point I jump in. My brother might say a sentence or two at the tail end, usually a retort to an inconvenient occurrence or old-fashioned opinion. I think about what he’s thinking. I think about what each member of my family thinks about when they wake up in the morning, when they go through their day, before they sleep at night.

I think about what they think of me. What biases do they have towards or against me as their daughter or sister? What biases do I have towards or against them as my parents or brother? What other biases prevent us from staring at our biases in the first place? I want to ask them what they think of me but I don’t think I want to hear their answers.

So mostly, I have conversations with myself. It is how I process things, how I make sense of the world which has changed. I think of the effort which has gone into the pursuit of furthering my education, a pursuit now indefinitely postponed. Is it foolish to have assumed certainty of the future at one point? 

Principles and beliefs that I was so sure of have been questioned. My sense of self-worth went through cycles of knocking down and building up, each cycle of how I perceive myself somehow tethered to the one before. Is that how noticeable change occurs nonetheless, through the accumulation of small unnoticeable changes? 

Surely, I change everyday. Some days more than others. Some days for the better, others for the worse. Throughout this pandemic, I have cried over being interrupted while eating biscuits, felt immense joy over seeing two acquaintances from middle school reconnect on facebook, convinced myself that a particular group of what I consider to be my close friends secretly find me uninteresting and are just friends with me out of pity. I have been pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed re-reading my high school literature books. These are things that the pandemic has revealed. For other things which have not been brought to my attention, I might never know.  

Eventually, I wash my face, brush my teeth and get into bed. I’ve always enjoyed reading but these past few months, it has become an almost sacred practice to me. The opportunity to completely immerse myself to someone else’s story for even just an hour, to not have to think. It’s the part of my day that I cherish the most. At 2am, my head hits the pillow, my eyes close and my mind races. I think about my day, about all the things I thought about. I wonder what I will continue to think about for days, months, years to come and what I will never think about again. I think about all the things I’ve unearthed and discovered through this constant and conscious stream of dialogue I’ve been having, these conversations with myself.

Aishah is fascinated by the human condition and what makes us all different, and the same. She has explored this through her work in mental health counseling and advocacy, theatre performance and production, engagement in sustainability and conscious consumerism and all the spaces in between. She also has a penchant for the seemingly meaningless and enjoys celebrating this meaninglessness.