Living abroad in a city like Berlin where 55 per cent of the population are younger than 45, it can often feel like a bubble of youth. Here, I don’t have elderly relatives. I spend my time socialising in circles with people mostly in their 20s and 30s instead, a feeling of anonymity arching over everything in a sprawling city with a complicated past and a rapidly changing present. During the first lockdown when “Corona” “Covid-19” “Lockdown” became part of our daily vocabulary and feelings of uncertainty, anxiety and instability were shared by most, I went jogging or walking most mornings to establish a sense of normalcy, to feel the presence of others and to breathe some fresh air. I felt enormously privileged to do so when others were confined to their four walls.
During these regular morning outings along the Panke, a small river close to where I live, I started to recognise the same faces. There were people walking dogs, young parents pushing prams with babies crying, and young children excitedly running ahead picking up twigs and whatever they could get their hands on, lone figures with earphones firmly in place with a focused expression as they sprinted ahead. Among the figures I passed was a woman in her mid 70s, immaculately put together every morning wearing a fur jacket, red lipstick and grey permed hair neatly arranged on her petite head. Her elderly dog waddled behind her as she gracefully strolled ahead looking calm and confident. She stood out among the majority of people wearing athleisure or jeans. I noticed her passing at the same time every morning. She rarely looked up. Once or twice we acknowledged each other with a nod but that was it. She became a sense of comfort, a sense of normalcy and a reminder of those family members back home. As the lockdown eased and we moved into the warm summer months with restaurants and bars opening again amid a temporary feeling of freedom, I abandoned this morning ritual and went back to being surrounded by people my own age. No grand looking fur wearing women in sight.
As the seemingly-endless summer days and nights came to a close, so did the temporary freedom we indulged in. As Covid cases rose and cold weather embraced Berlin once again, I returned to my routine. I hoped to spot this graceful figure once more. I took the same route only to pass fellow joggers and dog walkers. After a month of not seeing the figure in fur, I wondered if something had happened or if she had changed routes. She disappeared from view and slowly from my memory.
One evening while grocery shopping in Lidl, I spotted the black fur and the permed hair in an aisle amongst the tins of soup and pasta sauces.
It was definitely her. I smiled to myself and walked to the cashier.
As told to us by Zoë Harman Conlon.
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