Bells, Breezes, and Sirens

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Bells, Breezes, and Sirens

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The warmest April on record, yet we were all stuck inside. The streets usually congested with the honks of angry black cabbies, the loud hum of overused mufflers on double decker buses and the low rumble of the tube running underfoot were silent. The metropolis of over nine million people had come to a standstill. Windows usually closed to protect against the sleet or smog, were opened to quiet clean breezes. London felt serene, almost idyllic, until the piercing siren of an ambulance run would cut through that fairytale.

Before COVID I never paid attention to the St. John’s Ambulance First Aid Training facility on my street, only occasionally seeing the paramedics pop in the Arabic supermarket next door during lunch. As the news was counting the number of days we were in lockdown, I started counting the number of ambulances lining my street; popping my head out the open windows, looking up and down the road. However, sitting in my favorite chair in my flat, back to the window, I could avoid the grim sight, a constant reminder of the reality of the pandemic.

I would take my tea in that purple chair, alternating between endless Netflix shows and books, the church bells across the street the only thing to remind me of time. The warm sun and smog less breeze would join the bells drifting through the open windows. Through the books and shows, I not only escaped COVID but my small London flat. The silence of the city amplifying my imagination, only to be shattered by that first initial scream of the sirens, jolting me back to reality. Willing to sacrifice the warm breeze at my back, I closed my windows to protect my ears and the fantasies I had created. However, the double paned windows, sturdy enough to block out the honks of angry black cabbies, were no match for the sirens.

Unable to even slightly defend against the shock of the sirens when surrounded by the new silence of the city, I learned to live with it. I reopened my windows to let in bells, breezes, and sirens, instead tuning my ear to notice the ambulance’s first turn of the engine to brace for the piercing scream that would soon follow. As the days continued, my ears started to acclimate to this new normal, with each ambulance run making me jump a little less off my chair. Though my body and mind would never accept the sound enough to not to jolt me even from the deepest sleep, as if to remind me that this was anything but normal.

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This item was submitted on May 27, 2022 by Kaitlin Kwiatkowski using the form “Share Your Story” on the site “A Journal of the Plague Year”:

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