I'm awake at the crack of dawn. My heart is humming with anticipation for the day that's in it. I'm like a kid on Christmas morning, excited and delighted and impatient to get the day going. Deliverance is at last at hand. Freedom in the offing. Today is the day when I'll be liberated from the yoke of the fear of the Coronavirus.
Today I get my jab.
I eat the breakfast of champions. Mexican. Juevos Rancheros. One of my favourites. A bit heavy for mid-week, it's more a weekend brunch. But what the hell – there's reason to go mad this morning. I go easy on the garlic though. For the past year, stuck in Covid-imposed anti-social prison, I've been shovelling garlic with wilful abandon into my cooking. Although the little bulb is renowned for its beneficial qualities in combating infectious disease and boosting the immune system, it's also infamous for the pungent whiff it imposes on air expelled from the lungs. I don't want my breath to stink today, though. I'll actually be meeting people. Sitting in close quarters with strangers. Conversing with them. In the same room. Legally. I'm giddy at the prospect.
After breakfast I read the newspaper. Then I do 20 minutes of Tai Chi, one of the many activities I've undertaken during the various lockdowns we've endured. Today, as I hoist the chi, hug the tree and give a bit of a stretch to my wearly old bones, there's an extra little bounce in my step – it's the frisky gambol of eager anticipation, a sensation which has been a noted absence in the screenplay of my recent past.
I take a shower and for the first time in months I dress in real clothes instead of sweats. It's a treat and I linger awhile in front of the mirror, admiring myself.
I make a cup of tea and do the crossword.
At noon it's time to hit the road. I'm chuffed. I happily motor over to the vaccination centre at Dublin City University (DCU) where platoons of security personnel in high-viz jackets guide and steer hoardes of sixtysomethings into an orderly queue. The sight of this great mass of humanity all in one place is strangely exhilarating.
It's also a reminder that human beings are created in all shapes and sizes. The annual Academy Awards presentations were on TV recently with all the attendant Tinseltown glamour. As is usual when watching such events, I couldn't help but notice that movie stars in their sixties and seventies, and even in their eighties sometimes, often look like they're in the prime of life. I suppose that when you can afford to spend a few hundred grand a year on maintenance you can at least disguise many of the ravages of the ageing process. This is not the case in DCU today. Alas, nor is it so in my mirror.
I join the queue. As I wait my turn, I contemplate the year that has passed. A ruthless, mindless pestilence whose only objective is to survive and thrive has inflicted and continues to inflict on the world a continuum of sacrifice and hardship. More hardship for some than for others. I take a quiet moment to acknowledge the damage done. The random unfairness of it all. The millions of lives lost. The deaths in lonely isolation. The pain and grief of the many friends and relatives denied the comfort and consolation of properly mourning the loss of loved ones.
The lineup moves along like a well-oiled machine and I'm soon ushered into a cubicle where I meet my angel of mercy. She's an affable auburn-haired woman with an easy smile and a demeanour that embodies the traits of kindness, personability and efficiency that seem to be common to nurses throughout the world. I swear I see a halo around her head.
She introduces herself. “I'm Niamh.”
“Saint Niamh,” I say.
She shrugs indulgently. I daresay it's not the first time that she's heard those words today. She sits me down and takes out her weapon. It's tiny. I don't know what I was expecting of the tool that would serve to stop the mighty COVID-19 in its tracks – some massive steampunk contraption perhaps, reminiscent of the tubes they used to inseminate horses in old TV episodes of All Creatures Great and Small. But no. She brandishes an innocuous, ridiculously small, regular old hypodermic needle. And without any ado she gives me the jab. A pinprick. No more.
“That's that,” she says. And she smiles her saintly smile.
My cup runneth over. I feel like hugging her but, alas, that's a no-no still. Instead, I thank her profusely and go on my inocculated way.
Outside, the sun seems to shine a little brighter, the grass is looking greener and trees and bushes appear to have a benevolent cast to them. The load I've been carrying feels lighter. I realise that I'm smiling.